What My No Really Means

I find it interesting that while for most human interactions we leave room for growth, change, human misunderstandings, imperfection and fallibility, when it comes to sex, it is either completely “enthusiastic with ongoing consent” or rape. The flattening of a wide variety of human experience into this binary is dangerous, not solely because the conversation loses meaning and gravity, but because we cannot actually move from a rape culture to a nurturance culture if we cannot name with nuance and clarity the variety and range of sexual experiences one can have. If we cannot clearly name the unease we feel in reading grace’s account, we lose the opportunity to discuss how indeed ansari’s actions were still wrong, very common as a measure of pushing boundaries, *and how to address it in future and create a world where people of all genders stop doing that*. Naming everything as rape flattens the discussion, reduces complexity, and is an insistence on our part to read requests and harassment by men as commands in the bedroom not due to any force or threat….but just because they are men and are somehow wielding patriarchy in the bedroom.

Think of the dangers of this. We are implicitly saying then that only men have the power to rape. We are saying that women NEVER cross lines (which is not true – women do). Sometimes we twist this and say: “welll when women do it, they don’t have patriarchal power so…” So what. So. What. Are we saying that because women are not men, they cannot rape or sexually assault or cross boundaries? Are we so invested in a narrative of our own powerlessness that we believe we cannot and indeed, do not exert power over other people? Worse, are we not saying *negative perceptions* of masculine initiation is tantamount to rape? Think of the implications of this – do you know what cis men say about trans women? They say trans women raped them by trapping them by not disclosing their status. Do you know what white women have said for centuries about black men? That they are sexually threatening by *virtue of existing* – this was the basis for lynchings, for inscribing a violent patriarchy into a man rather than understanding that we – all of us – enact kyriarchal violence in complex ways.

Are we then slipping into the second wave feminist years? Are we then saying that every interaction with every man risks rape if the sexual encounter wasn’t 100% satisfying? Even if it was satisfying, clearly patriarchy still exists even though we enjoyed it and agreed to it so are we still saying all sex comes with a power differential ie: patriarchy and therefore all sex is Rape? Is this dworkin 2.0? Or are we even more absurdly saying that the power differential is somehow eliminated when we consent?

Why am I living in a world where if I say i am equal to a man in a bedroom, the first people to disagree with me are feminists? I expect their argument clearly: They would say I’ve internalized patriarchy and am lying to myself but I would argue I’ve resisted patriarchy and come out the other side where in personal encounters I am indeed equal and act from a place of complete ownership of my actions and demand that men do the same in owning theirs.

Agreeing to a sexual act because you feel threatened is not the same as agreeing to a sexual.act because you’re uneasy with the request.

But look I get it: I wasn’t always able to do this. My journey took time. It took self compassion. It took a fine fine balance of understanding my own agency and power in situations where I may have internalized the notion that I am helpless *when in fact I wasn’t*.

Because to be empowered means to have power , to act from a place of power, and to quite a tired cliche: with great power comes great responsibility.

And I am starting to really see that many feminists are not afraid of men. They are afraid of power. Not other people’s power! Their own. We have inculcated an idea in the left that a position of marginalization and lack of power confers moral superiority and defers responsibility to the self and to others – If to be empowered means to have responsibility, we have at points subconsciously or not, as a movement, chosen to not be empowered in order to avoid that responsibility to ourselves.

And if that hurts, it should. It’s normal to feel hurt by this not because it’s victim blaming but because it hurts to recognise and know that we can do better for ourselves and *haven’t yet*. It is our deepest selves crying out for more not from the world, but from ourselves. This is hard work. It is unfair work. And this is the real reason why misogyny and patriarchal violence is a question of power – because we have to do this work to be really and truly ok in this world.

Part of the unease and insistence that this was sexual assault on the part of many cisgender feminists I know and respect is that we never talk about the management of our own actions as women and how we have also internalized patriarchal standards of “giving in” to repeated harassment. I mean we talk about it as men pushing our boundaries but not as something we can change through an understanding of what we owe ourselves. We speak of harassment only from a place of fear and never with a critical mindset to undo in practice the socialisation we have endured our whole lives to put other people’s desire – esp men’s sexual desire- ahead of our own needs for comfort and safety. Undoing our socialisation as women means that we let go of *our* tendencies to manage men’s feelings. It means we don’t make empty demands that they respect our no; we *assert* our no just as they *assert* sexual initiation. It means when they do not respect our no, the consequence is NOT that we “give in”! The consequence is that they are left WITHOUT us emotionally and sexually managing their sexual needs, because we have a right to our boundaries!

Just as men must do the work of stepping back and critically reflecting on how they make us uncomfortable, we must do the work of deconstructing all the ways we learned to say yes without ever learning to really say no.

And then we must say no. We must act on a no. We do this not from a a place of sexual gatekeeping but from a place of highest and deepest responsibility to ourselves, our bodies, our personal sense of comfort and boundaries thst no one else defines and for which we seek no external validation for.

Moments like these call on us to also ask ourselves how can we hold ourselves compassionately through choices we make that we would like to resist making in future? How does desirability factor into the compromises we make on boundaries? How important indeed are our own boundaries to us?

I refuse and reject wholeheartedly the sentiment that men are responsible for managing my feelings in the bedroom; I would give no one that power. If we are constantly telling men: “please, stop asking us to manage your feelings. Please we don’t want this work”, it is time we *acted* on that and STOPPED investing in this way in their needs. It is time we learned that the flip side of men demanding we nurture them is that we constantly seem to *acquiesce* and we constantly seem to say EVERY time we acquiesce it is because we are threatened and this is not true. This is a dangerous lie because we harm ourselves with this lie. We reify our position of relative powerlessness and cling to it as a moral high ground, when it is in fact a disempowering position.

Men are not responsible for managing my feelings in the bedroom, but they are however wholly responsible for their actions and this is why there is a difference between *acquiescing* to sexual activity after being harassed vs being coerced. Coercion requires force and threats as part of the equation of power. Rape and sexual assault requires sexual violation of a physical boundary, a body, not just verbal pestering.

In asking men to be more responsible in their initiation of sexual activity, we too must be more assertive about our terms of sexual engagement and stand in our own confidence and sense of self worth.

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Protected: Rage and Her Spells Of Power

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can’t

i think of you sometimes

and all that comes out in words are

i can’t do this

 

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Change

Jan 2018: Wow you sound so serious… do you have a sense of humour?
Dec 2017: Haha are you always this quiet?
Nov 2017: Idk, you seem to not want to talk…
Oct 2017: Are you still there?
Sept 2017: It’s just like a little hard to talk to you
August 2017: Yeah you seem like intense
July 2017:
June 2017:
May 2017:
March 2017:
April 2017:
Feb 2017: “The conversations were the best part”
Jan 2017: “You’re just so easy to talk to.”

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Online Dating: Mistakes Men Make In The First Conversation With Women And How To Fix Them

Image result for online dating

Image credit: http://www.bbc.co.uk/newsbeat/article/37278670/how-to-stay-safe-when-youre-dating-online

This is a blog post for men sincerely wanting to date women, and who are having trouble in our land of online dating.

1. Opening with a “joke” – DON’T
ex: “Did it hurt?” —> some variation of “when you fell from heaven” “when you crawled up from hell” “when you [something explicitly and sexually gross]”
So, you want to catch her attention and you want to make sure she notices, so you go for a joke, or a question-joke combo. The thing is, you and every other guy on the planet is trying some line, so it’s no longer unique. In the best case scenario, yeah she responds positively. But in the worst case scenario, she rolls her eyes, finds you cheesy already, and moves on. Actually, there’s a scenario worse than this, which is: you use jokes at the start that are nothing like your actual character or sense of humour. Either she dislikes it right away, and your actual personality could have meshed, or, she likes your initial jokes/sense of humour but as time goes on she sees you’re not really funny in a way she appreciates.

2. Opening with a term of endearment – DON’T
ex: babe, honey, cutie, darling, dear, baby, princess, anything else you can imagine a father saying to a very small infant daughter
Terms of endearment come later in a relationship. If you are not comfortable being called muffin, cutie patootie, squishycuteface by a total and complete stranger, chances are, the *grown woman* you are talking to is also not going to take kindly to be prematurely called by any term of endearment. You are not her father. She is not 4 years of age. Stop calling her cutesy names when you don’t know what kind of she-devil she may be on the inside. It also just feels like we’re getting catcalled by our phone screens, which is just upsetting. No one wants to be catcalled outside in the street, much less in our own homes, when we are peacefully swiping. Call her by her name because…

3. …You Want To Stay Respectful – DO
What does respect really mean? A lot of guys get confused by this. they think it means some type of old school chivalry, pulling out chairs, paying for meals, taking a hat off and whatnot. That’s not what I’m talking about and it’s not what most women are talking about either when we say we screen men to see if they are respectful or not. In simplest terms, respect is the very basic idea that every single person is reflected in every single other person at the level of the human spirit.  Yes, our outer selves are shaped by our lives, by our experiences, by what we have endured, but respect is a fundamental understanding of equality between all people. It means you are no better than a beggar, no worse than a millionaire. And it definitely does not mean you are better than a woman whereby she needs to be dependent on you, nor does it mean you need to grovel to seek her approval.

Here’s what it does mean though: you need to be able to see yourself reflected in her essential human nature. You need to be able to say “my human nature is at its core, the same as a woman’s. And her human nature is reflected in me, and mine in her.” That’s respect. And women who know who they are look for this quality in men.

4. Any variation of “I’m looking for a girl who isn’t like other girls” – DON’T
ex: “Wow you’re not like other girls at all”; “You’re so different from other girls”

You might think it is a great compliment to tell women that they are not like other women, but be aware that what you are saying is “I think women in general suck”. In a world that generally tells women they are lesser than men, many women will logically and rightfully read your statement as incredibly sexist, and that you do not respect the vast majority of women  in a general sense. This goes back to point 3: you want to ensure you’re showing her not only do you respect her,  but that you are a respectful person in general. Comparing her to *all womankind* is not a useful way to show you respect women in general. Instead, express your liking in other ways: tell her what you find attractive about her based on the conversation so far, and do NOT…

5. …Focus on her looks – DON’T

There are a few reasons for this. First, every single guy does it. You actually stand out if you DON’T do it. Second, it’s obvious you like her face – you swiped right, didn’t you? Actually, I know guys have a tendency to just swipe right a lot. I think this changes with age and personal growth as people become more discerning, and they eventually don’t swipe right as frequently. But the point remains: from her perspective, she’s like “yeah ofc you think I’m hot, but so what?” The reason is: women don’t usually swipe right unless they think your face is cute. It’s a given for them. If they’re talking to you, it’s obv they find you physically attractive, so saying it out loud almost sounds cheesy or cheap. If you’re going to say something about her looks, save it for a 3rd date, and keep it classy. Not “wow those lips could –  ” nope. Canceled. nuh uh. Try something simple like “That is a beautiful dress.” So instead of focusing on her looks, connect with her by

6. Focusing on her skills, aptitudes, accomplishments, goals – DO
Anything she’s written in her profile is fair game. Anything you found while creeping her Linkedin or facebook is not. This is a first conversation,  remember. Check out what she has written and see what resonates inside you. Did she write something about academics or her job that you also find meaningful or are interested by? Any places she’s traveled to that you have questions about? Also consider that you’re not interested in anything she does or who she is. This is an immediate red flag because it means even if you really like her face and maybe even her personality, you actually have a compatibility issue in terms of what your lives may look like.

7. Calling your ex clingy, berserk, crazy, bitchy, or any other negative thing – DON’T
This is a first conversation. Your ex has no business existing in a first conversation with a new person. But she was really crazy! You insist. My response: So? So what? The new girl you’re talking to doesn’t give a shit about your ex. She will however, instantly file away the fact that you speak negatively of exes, and that that may be her same fate should you both decide to part ways. Don’t get me wrong, people of all genders can be really awful. I’ve been awful. I’ve also been wronged. But none of that has place in a first conversation with anyone, because it’s stuff you save for sharing later once you have built up intimacy and trust and a genuine bond in a relationship.  “But WAIT,” you cry! “Wait,…”

8. “…I’m just being honest!” – DON’T
ex: “My ex was a crazy bitch – what come on, I’m just being honest.” ; ” Yeah that lipstick is like totally unnatural, I’m just being honest”; “I’m just being honest! you don’t want a LIAR do you?”

Ok. So. This is an increasingly prevalent thing I see happening, and the “don’t” I recommend here is not about actual authenticity. Of course no one wants a liar, and of course no one wants a dishonest response. The problem here isn’t about honesty: it’s about too much information. When you add “I’m just being honest!” in that way, it reeks of defensiveness, insecurity, and the need to share an opinion that in no way was asked for. It also demonstrates that you have 0 tact or appreciation for someone else’s life, experiences, or relation to issues that concern them. It is very telling if you are able to be unkind and honest but not kind and honest. You are not, in fact, telling it like it is as you think you are doing. You are telling her who you are, and who you are is someone who doesn’t know how to respect her as a human being. Instead, just be authentic. Do you feel weird that she asked about your ex? Say that. Say: “Hey, I feel a little weird actually talking about her, can we not?” Do you feel like you don’t like her lipstick shade in a picture? Good! Keep that to yourself because it’s her face you gigantic dink, and she doesn’t owe you anything about changing her face in a first conversation. This is a problem residing very merrily in the land of: “I have an opinion on a thing! The thing is likely something that rests under YOUR purview but I’m going to share it anyway!” What DO you do if you hate her lipstick in that one picture? You consider for yourself if you’re ok with it or not. Give yourself permission to like things about certain women and not about other women. But don’t try to change the personal preferences of women you meet. Chances are, if you’re not into them, they won’t be into you either so long as you’re honest about that.

9. Ok, but I just really think if she [x action/thing I, as a man who wants to date her, prefer], then things would be [so great because then I can date her with complete peace of mind!] – DON’T

Do not advise a stranger about their life. Actually this one is so important I’m going to write it again: Do not advise a stranger about their life. This is a bizarre and strange thing to do. You cannot possibly know more about her needs in a half hour texting conversation than she does about her own whole entire life. All this shows is that you are interested in changing someone who you do not know very well, and are incredibly judgmental. Instead…

10. Get to know her – DO
Actually get to know her. Not her measurements, and not the 2D projection of her face on your phone screen. This is you putting your best foot froward and showing that you have the capacity to care about her as a human being. If you want her to get to know you, you need to show you have the capacity to get to know her. Be open to getting to know who she is without a lot of preconceived notions. Part of this process is recognizing what you like and don’t like about someone, what you accept and will not accept from someone, what you tolerate and what you will not tolerate from someone. And that stuff only comes out when you let it come out. And keep in mind: she’s doing the same for you. She is seeing, with a discerning eye, what you are bringing to the table too.

11. Bringing Your Man Ego to the party – DON’T
example 11a) Man Ego Alert: “I am now going to tell you about your job/career/interest/area of study/something I saw on your profile that you do that you definitely know more about than me but I want to share my opinion of what you do based on the 0 understanding I have of your work”
You sound like a damn fool, son. This is not partnership material. This is not even “quick lay” material. This is “wow, this man is a child, approximately aged five, tugging on his mama’s apron in the kitchen, giving her cute sounding advice about the very complex casserole she is making.” The ONLY appropriate response to this type of drivel from women is gonna be a real quick “that’s cute.” Because it’s cute. in the way a literal infant is cute. Instead, ask her questions about the work she does so she can share.

example 11b) Man Ego Alert: “But it was just a compliment! Why can’t you just appreciate a compliment?”  On a lot of blogs for women, we’re told men like to be appreciated. Here’s what I’m going to tell you: do something worth appreciating before you demand appreciation from a woman especially in a first conversation. She doesn’t owe you *anything* at this point. You two are total strangers to one another. Demanding things from her right now is not the same as a polite and respectful ask. A good example of this is linked to number five, commenting on her looks, in the first conversation. You: “Omg I love your lips and your eyes…” Her:”Can we not talk about my looks actually?” You: “Omg I’m just complimenting you”. *record freeze* *rewind*. Ok men, what defines a compliment? Let’s think it through. A compliment is defined by the person *receiving* it. It’s only a compliment if the girl actually likes what you’re saying right. Otherwise it’s you throwing a comment at her and her curving you. And she gets to do that! It’s her body man, maybe she doesn’t want, in a first conversation, comments on her face! So you have two options at this point: you can either insist you meant it nicely, as a compliment, etc and that she should just take it or you can back off instantly and realise that what you experienced was actually just her boundary for how she wants to be treated. Take it or leave it. You can say “Ok, I don’t think this will work” and go on your way meeting women who will always accept your comments on them, or, you can say “Ok, Sorry about that – clearly my attempt at complimenting you backfired.” And I get it. It hurts right? A little sting. Because she clipped your ego, man! But here’s the thing, you can actually sit in that little sting for a bit and realise that you wanting to do nice things for her is still nice and kind of…vulnerable. And vulnerability is always good.  You making her uncomfortable with your desire is not nice. You insisting on your desire to comment on her face is not nice. But you stepping back and offering her a moment of vulnerability after she says: “Uh could we not talk about my face” is actually nice. She gave you a solid no, you can give her a solid “I understand.”

example 11c) Man Ego Alert: Projection. Suspicion.
We as women do not want to compete with the ex that wronged you. You might say “but girls do this to us all the time! They compare us to exes!” Maybe, and here’s where shit is not fair: we are living in a society that routinely blindsides women, asks us to be perfect while giving a lot of you passes for everything. We are asked to cook and clean and work and show appreciation, and be model hot, and be emotionally vulnerable, and be managing everybody’s emotions – so when we compare, we do it from a very real sense of self protection – and we are aces at it because we live in a sexist world that disenfranchises us every step of the way. This is not something you, as a man, are likely going to understand without a lot of work, but you gotta trust me on this: women protecting ourselves through comparison is usually not the same as men projecting their ex on every woman they meet. Part of the reason for the difference is that women, who have been taught from birth to manage our emotions,  actually have less bias when we do this comparison process. We do it with a more discerning eye. Men who often do not know their feelings very well because they haven’t been taught to be discerning are quicker to project negative traits without a lot of thought. This doesn’t mean you cannot protect yourself – you can and should  protect yourself emotionally because you are also meeting a stranger. The trick is to do it without projecting when she says something you don’t quite understand, or when she says something that you find yourself  reading a particularly negative way. Just ask her what she means. Stay open to the answer, but also stay discerning. You are interested in what she has to say but that doesn’t mean you have to accept it.

example 11d) Man Ego Alert: Defensiveness and Insecurity
You know what this is. You feel upset on the inside by something you can’t even fully name. You get mad. You try to assert control of the conversation. You try to assert a boundary but end up belittling her.  The only cure to this is comfort with your own boundaries, your vulnerabilities and your sense of self.  Which brings us to…

12. Be confident – DO
What is confidence though? A lot of men confuse this with bravado, ego, “chivalry”, “being a man”, etc. This is how I’m going to sum up confidence: Show her that you are at peace with where your life is headed and are internally a solid rock. You don’t have to be hyperactively happy about where your life is headed, or have a one-track excitement about it; all people are multifaceted, many people are living with depression, anxiety other struggles and confidence isn’t to say that someone cannot be vulnerable. Being at peace with your life shows her that you know yourself, are there for yourself, know your needs. In a first conversation, to be confident means that when you say yes, you mean it, and when you say no, you mean that too. At this stage, she is looking to see if you live up to your word, and to see if you can manage your own emotions in a healthy way. You shouldn’t be saying yes to everything she asks because that means you are just saying yes because you are worried she will leave. No one, regardless of gender, likes to see simpering, groveling attitudes. You also shouldn’t be saying no to everything she asks (unless of course, you find you dislike her, don’t want to be around her, and are losing interest in dating her) because if you keep saying now a) she’s gonna leave you , but more importantly b) saying no all the time means you’re not actually interested in partnership: you’re interested in controlling the direction of the relationship, making decisions, and never letting her take the lead because you’re scared of where it will go if she takes the lead. And that fear is part of insecurity. Confidence is the balance here:  being confident about your own life also shows you are open  to growth, change in a mindful and authentic way where you inherently trust the process. You trust that saying yes to things you want bring into your life things you want, and you trust that saying no to things you don’t want keeps out things you do not want. Confidence should feel like you’re on a sailboat, comfortable manning the thing, unafraid of the wind or the sea or the environment because you have yourself.

13. Show Interest and Be Receptive to Interest – DO
So many men these days seem incapable of making a plan. Make a plan, Stan! Not because we are incapable of making one, but because we’re actually annoyed that men seem incapable of actually formulating an idea for things. Here is what you need to make a plan:
1. an event, eg: coffee (let’s just keep it simple)
2. a time, eg: 7pm
3. a date, eg: Next Thursday?

This doesn’t mean you need to lay it all out like that in a single, motormouth second. “Uh so how about coffee next thursday 7pm?” no. canceled. stop that.
But what you can do is ask courteously “Hey, would you be into meeting for a coffee, maybe next Thursday?” Her: “Sure… yeah, what time were you thinking?” You: “Would around 7pm work?” Her: “Yeah that works great!” or “Actually, could we move it to 8? I have dancing with polar bears.”
Alternatively: You: “Hey, would you be into meeting for a coffee, maybe next Thursday?” Her: “Sure… yeah, would 7pm work?” You: “Yeah, that works great! ” or “Actually could we move it to six? I have dancing with polar bears after, so.”

See? A plan. Contribute details to the plan in a mutually organized manner.

Anyway dudely people, I hope this helps you all! And in the process, helps us women too.

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At the centre

at the centre of it all is this:
those tender moments replay like videoreel slides out of sync, but they are still tender.
but then I tell myself, clearly that is what I imagined, this tenderness betweeen us was me, just me just me just me just me. this moment between us was just mine mine mine mine mine. I tell myself I will never know how you felt, maybe, some of those moments were precious to you too maybe not all of them, maybe other moments that I discarded carry some sacred quality in your heart, I can’t possibly know how you felt, I say to myself but this is a lie.

you felt like leaving. so you left.

and that’s ok that’s ok it’s ok ok ok ok ok fine fine fine fine without a fight or a fuss or anything actually changing between us you left so all that means is that I really could imagine a world of moments, shared, that were in fact never real. I could in fact imagine someone’s feelings for me, have them gently correct how they feel.

so we could share gazes and touches and kisses and moments that looked like that, felt like that, where  I could see myself reflected in you and imagine that you saw yourself in me too when in fact! in fact.

those moments were nothing special to you.

how cruel then, a year later, they are still there for me.

in leaving, you know, you turned me into a liar.

Because:
Here is an important memory, i said, holding up a shared moment.
That’s not mine, you said, surprised, not mine at all.

So now here is the moment. it is no longer sweet (how can it be) or tender (how can it be). it is as crass and as stupid and as meaningless and as inconsequential as every other moment.

the littleness of what you experienced – i want that. give it to me. the smallness of it. the tininess of it. a little kernel of truth.

there was no connection. a connection needs two people.

there was only me.

the next time i feel an emotional or romantic connection, how will i know if it is real for the other person too?

i don’t know why you did the things you did with me.

maybe you were then, like i am now:

 

bored.

sincere and bored.

sincerely bored.

thank you always for leaving

please stay gone forever in every iteration in every new person i never ever want to see you again anywhere in anyone ever again

it was not a connection. it was not a relationship.

it was a crush. my crush. and it crushed me. and that’s ok. honestly it’s fine.

now i know that when someone looks at me that way, there’s as much a chance of it meaning nothing as meaning something. now i know that when someone touches me that way, there’s as much a chance of it meaning nothing as meaning something. now i know that when i think a connection is shared and good and true and real, it’s actually nothing.

“Was it real?” I asked.

“What is ‘real’ ?” you asked.

A year later, I can tell you that ‘real’ is staying because you want to stay more than you want to leave.

Everything else is dirty, you know.  it’s just a dirty thing, a dirty lie. Call it lust, or convenience, or “eh why not” in the aftermath.

But don’t call it a connection. Don’t call it love. Don’t call it meaningful.

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When Writing Through Suffering Becomes Suffering Through Writing

 A lot of my writing happens when the stress of an experience or situation demands I think about what has happened. A lot of my analytic writing happens when I need to answer, for myself, the questions of “how” or “why” of a situation, which in turn helps me process the feelings. And a lot of my poetry happens when I just need to get the feelings out on a page. Either way, a lot of my writing is incredibly cathartic, but there are some articles that need to be written which, when I start to write, the feelings are so unbearable that I cannot even begin. I don’t know where to begin the analytic. Thinking about where I was feels like a wormhole to a different time where the analytic doesn’t exist – only the feeling exists, and I feel I am fighting those feelings to draw out a cogent analysis. And the feeling is exhausting to contend with. How do I write plainly, simply, about my understanding of what happened, when all that happens when I think about what happened is that I am trapped in the “when” of it. It feels like time travel but in a terrible way.

 

Every time I try to start an article about my unbearable heartbreak: ie: why it was unbearable, what I could have done differently, how I plan to do things differently, how gender and oppression and marginalization play into power and privilege in relationships – all of it feels like the dark part of a stage, and the only spotlit area is some stupid jagged memory of some stupid shard of a moment that I just can’t… think around, or think through. I’ve always written like this though – it’s just usually the writing eases the stress. But with this experience, I can’t even write a first sentence for an analytic piece without bursting into tears. Every article dies stillborn, I sweep away those sentences into the wings. Instead, the starring role is given to  some shitty new poem about pain a year old resurfacing and pretending like it’s a new fucking thing. It’s not new. The poems aren’t even cathartic in an overall way – they are just catharsis in the moment because I tried to write analytically and instead couldn’t but the truth is I have written so many shitty poems about a man, an unspeakably short “time” with him that I still feel so cuthroat vicious about that I actually hate every single fucking poem I’ve ever written about him/us/the “relationship”. I will never forget the fury I felt when he, in the aftermath, called a month long – fling? thing? nothing? – with me a “relationship”. Milk takes longer to spoil! I screamed. It wasn’t a fucking relationship. It was nothing you fucking moron. 

Months later I saw him on my blog reading my shitty poetry about himself. That’s what happens when you tell a bitch your vacation plans and she gets a bunch of hits from Morocco on her birthday, which, by the way, as a vague point of interest was almost exactly to the day 4 months when you dumped her in a fucking cafe, but hey it was 4 weeks long so why not actually just ghost, or send a text, or do it by phone, or whatever.

10 days after I saw him on my blog, I sent him a furious letter. It was titled: “It’s a Crazy Bitchy Ex kind of letter, don’t say I didn’t warn you – we’re done, man, khalaas and all that jazz” It’s a subject line that, I’m sure, in the right moment, makes him laugh because it makes me laugh.

Also it’s a subject line that is viscerally enraged for a letter that was also viscerally enraged.

And a few days after that I apologised. And then a few days later I told him it wasn’t a relationhip, among other things, because milk takes longer to spoil. And then I apologised again. If this sounds crazy to you, it was. I was. There was a lot of shit he did too in terms of agreeing to relationship norms and then changing his mind and yeah people are allowed to change their minds, so sure, go ahead, change your miserable fucking mind – look *deep breath*:

this is the problem. See what happened here? This. This exact fucking thing. When I try to think about how despite my feelings and acceptance of what happened, a part of me is SO, to this day, utterly enraged and disgusted and not even with him – no. With myself. No, not the self pitying “oh i was so BAD and NOT good” – no. My anger is not self-loathing. My disgust is not self-loathing. I am just so viscerally angry. I remember laughing when he wrote: “The whole trying to be friends after relationship thing is pretty challenging” – relationship? RELATIONSHIP? motherfucker, you better not be talking about me. You better not be talking about some bullshit NONSENSE that spanned a length of time SHORTER THAN MILK COULD LAST.

“I feel stupid,” I said, standing on the subway platform staring out at the train at the end of an evening. We had been trying to be friends – because he had wanted that and because I still wanted him in my life. We met a day after Valentine’s Day for an evening dinner, about 3 weeks after he had dumped me in a fucking cafe. Both of us wore red without planning, and we ended up in the same subway car on our way over. The whole dinner I remember thinking I don’t know who the fuck you are. When the waitress came by at the end, I said “we’re ready for the bills separate please” without any punctuation in the middle. Eventually we were on a subway platform heading back.

“Why?” he asked. I think it was a genuine question. I still have trouble answering it. I don’t feel stupid anymore, I just feel enraged. But at the time, I didn’t have words.

He reached in his pocket for something. “Keep it,” I said automatically. He looked at me surprised, his hand still in his pocket. “I got another one,” I said. I had left my contact lens case by accident at his place on our last night.

On our last night, the day he dumped me, (“Can’t we say it was mutual?” He winced. “No,” I said.) I handed him a letter from my journal. I had written it two days ago. And even though things felt good and ok, and I was a little nervous, some dark shadow caught me that day, and I had written a goodbye letter. A pre-emptive goodbye letter, filled with a sense of love and kindness for his life, thanks for what he had showed me about myself, explicitly, I had written something like “If this ends, it will be because you walked away from it, and I already know that now. I don’t know when it will be, but if it happens, it will be you who does it.” He dumped me, and then we did dinner. I think it was his attempt at offering me closure because I think he likes to think of himself as a good person and tbh, he is a good person and that makes all of this even more infuriating. And at dinner, I pulled out my journal and handed him the letter. He read it twice, jaw tightening. “This is powerful,” he said finally. Carefully, he folded it, a neat crease in the exact middle of the page.

At dinner, the day after Valentine’s day, our first and only meeting to “try to be friends”, he told me he kept it by his bed.

Months later, months of me feeling unsure if he actually cared, him making basically 0 effort to reach out, 0 effort to be in my life, 0 effort to make plans, 0 effort to set any pace for what our friendship would look like, ignoring me on my birthday but having the audacity to sit on this shitty blog reading shitty poetry about himself from Morocco, I snapped.

“Burn it,” I raged, in one of my emails to him, referencing the “powerful” letter I’d handwritten earlier the year.

We talk about objectification but not like this, like here’s a thought, like if I left a fresh apple out for 4 weeks would it still be ok like what lasts four weeks? and what doesn’t last longer? like what length of time matters? Eggs last like a month, right. Eggs. Hah, ok, a fetus of a relationship and then it was rotten!

Months later, I googled “how long does it take to fall in love?” and I saw a lot of bullshit articles for women and bullshit articles for men, but one random answer in a thread caught me completely off guard. “I’ve seen many answers, but the best answer is: a second.”

oh good. Instant tears.

“Maybe you’re a romantic,” he said, as we were heading into the subway station after our “friendly dinner”.

I was.

But I’m not anymore.

Romance requires a degree of imagination about the person that falls somewhere along the line of seeing the best of them but men are so many levels of trash that they leave women with no choice but to see them always exactly as they are, in order to emotionally protect ourselves. Men have the luxury of projecting their bullshit, seeing us as idealised figures, and women will put up with that shit forever. This, I have learned, is what most heterosexual relationships are: a man relating to his fantasy and expecting her to be ideal. A woman relating to a flawed person, because if she projects even a little, she’s fucked. it’s done. it’s over.

All women dating men are aromantic if romance is a subject position that asserts a romantic gaze.

“You’ve eroded my sense of trust and faith in romantic moments, in kindness, in reliability from partners, and in milestones […] You… have eroded my capacity to trust in moments, words, and promises. You have made promises completely unreliable.  Saying “let’s be exclusive’, like it or not, is a social contract. It doesn’t translate to ‘I’m going to dump you in a fucking week’,” I wrote in “It’s a Crazy Bitchy Ex kind of letter, don’t say I didn’t warn you – we’re done, man, khalaas and all that jazz”. Later, I read blogs by women who had been stood up at the altar, broken up with months after an engagement, dumped after “I love you”. I think about the men who have done this. How do they sleep at night?

“Did this matter to you?” I asked him. It was the morning after our last night. I asked for a last night when we “broke up” – lol. break up. how do you break up a thing that didn’t exist to begin with. Anyway, he said yes to a night with me. Actually,  he asked “Will it help?” and I said yes, and it did actually because it was like ok maybe he cares a little, maybe some of the intimacy we experienced was like not just in my own fucking miserable brain, and on some days (not today), I can actually believe that.

The morning after he answered without hesitation “Yes.”

But the truth is I don’t believe that. I will never believe that because anyone who breaks up within a week of deciding to be exclusive immediately tells me all their “yesses” were worthless. Were garbage, Were absolute trash. Were absolutely meaningless. So I will never believe that it mattered to him – not in the long term solid sense of what I thought about my “time” with him. Not in the way memories solidify and create a reality of “What was true” and “What happened” during my time with him. That’s what I describe it as, by the way: “My time with him” – yeah it’s longer than writing “relationship” but that word tastes dirty in my mouth applied to him. It tastes wrong, and false, and so UTTERLY – you know what it’s like? It’s like the feeling equivalent of counterfeit money. like, a really good replica of 100 dollars that you thought you were good for and then some shitty snot nosed cashier nasally goes “Ummmm actuallllyyy this is like…. fakkke?”Or, it’s like the exact same feeling I got when “friends” as a prank in high school, a time of intense bullying for me, sent me a secret valentine candygram and I thought someone liked me and was excited and they went “Surprise! It was us!” Because they were pieces of shit to be honest.

Or, it’s like Charlie Brown hesitantly attempting to kick a motherfucking football and that bitch Lucy just yanks it away last second like every second.

Except I’m not even self pitying about it because I’m not fucking Charlie Brown. I’m just ENRAGED. It’s the equivalent of Charlie brown kicking Lucy’s hands in the aftermath going “never fucking do that again you piece of shit”.

I’m still trying to figure out what my anger and disgust serve exactly – and maybe actually that is the article I should be writing instead of the article on the “how” and the “why”.  Retaliation. Consequence. Boundary. Room to be messy and to be flawed.

At least, I am never grounded enough  while writing the “how” and the “why”.

There are also moments where I remember how we looked at each other. Moments like that feel like a permanent wound because either it was meaningless and I misread his emotional reality or it was actually tender and he threw it away because…

“maybe you just weren’t compatible,” a voice says unhelpfully. Every time I hear this bullshit “chemistry isn’t compatibility” chorus I actually want to punch a wall because yes, I know what the fucking difference is, but if you agree to relationship norms at least do it sincerely? 

When I asked why, he said “how would it work long term? I – my parents wouldn’t accept you…you’re not Muslim…you’re so different, it’s really hard for me to stand up to them. ” Honestly, I wish I could say, a year later, that I give a shit but I don’t.

A year later, I want to scream choose your fucking parents, then. Marry them, then, I think viciously. Get them to choose a fucking girl for you, you fucking prick, marry her so you don’t do this again, how dare you implicate other people in your mess of a relationship with your parents – but of course that’s why he ended it. To not implicate me in his nonsense with his parents. But it was too late. It was too late because I have never been more confused in my life, never experienced a more staggering loss of sense of reality and trust. And I’ve been through some gut wrenching shit so.

I didn’t turn Hindu in the middle of four weeks. You didn’t turn Muslim in the middle of this week, you fucking asshole. How could you not know this would be an issue earlier?

He ended it early so that we could “preserve our friendship, because if it ends later… it’ll be too hard for us to stay friends.” That was his explanation at the cafe.Guess how many times he reached out after breakup for an actual friendship, even though he knew how hard it was on me to even barely trust that he was sincere at that point about friendship. As I cried in the cafe, he stammered “It’s already too late.”

“Too late for what?” I hiccupped. He didn’t answer. But I know now. It’s too late for friendship. He ended it too late. We should never have done anything.

“What does friendship look like for you,” I asked.

“You know… if you need me I want you to be able to call me. And if I need you I will call you too.” In that moment, I knew I couldn’t say no to that. Cool. That doesn’t sound like partnership material at all. nah. exact opposite of gf status. Coolcoolcool. Except a) friendship isn’t just about needs and deep crisis intervention – it’s also about just chatting and catching up, and b) he never needed me as much I probably needed him, and I voiced that concern. “Oh that’s ok,” he said. No, I realised belatedly, it isn’t.

The day after Valentine’s Day, I was colder, and he said: “I…feel like other guys after me will…have a harder time with you,” he said softly, seriously.

Oh good, I thought sarcastically. Yes, let’s think about how FUTURE FUCKING MEN in my life will be affected after your bullshit.

But he’s right. I am incapable of enjoying a genuinely tender, emotionally vulnerable moment if I think it will not last. And at this point in my life, there is never any reason to believe any of those moments will last.

“What did you even enjoy about your time with me?” I asked him, during the dinner the day after Valentine’s day.

“Your responses… the conversations were the best part,” he said.

“Talk is cheap,” I said instantly.

“Woah,” he said, eyes widening. He looked flustered.

Months later, when I try to talk about this, here is what I hear from people:
“Oh well…it was just a month”
or
“Oh well, you know, chemistry isn’t the same as compatibility!”
or
“You fell too quickly!”
or
“Guys like to chase!”

Anytime this happens, I just want to ask them: “Hi, do I look stupid to you? I mean, I must look stupid because those are entirely vapid responses so you must think I’m too stupid to have just not already thought intensely about these things.”

I hope I never meet someone like him again. I find dating exhausting. I lose interest so fast.  (Do I even have interest to begin with?) No one is compatible anymore because what is compatibility anyway. Or regardless of if they are compatible or not, I feel no chemistry. What is chemistry anyway? All the butterflies have died. I have broken over a dozen hearts since him. I watched butterflies die in men and viciously thought good. Good, because you deserve to feel this too.  And then after a dozen hearts, I lost interest rapidly in people, such that their dying feelings no longer interested me either.

“Why did you chase?” He asked me in the subway – not unkindly, just in confusion.

“Thanks,” I said, sarcastically. “Say it louder. I don’t think I chased – I just asked based on my level of interest – Why didn’t you say no? ”

Months later, I wrote: “If you didn’t like me enough to have me over for dinner, you should have canceled dinner like a grown ass fucking adult man. If you needed space, you should have said that like a grown ass fucking adult man. […]  Me reaching out to you to date you wasn’t me chasing youyou moron. Turns out when you like someone, you want to be around them. You‘ve never liked anyone, so how would you know what that feels like? You didn’t want to be around me haha!”

Because it’s true. He never has liked anyone, not really. He once said to me: “I’ve never fallen for anyone,” and he seemed frightened by it. I see now where that fear came from. Maybe it really is impossible for some people to love; if love is meaning, I certainly don’t know how to ascribe meaning to moments anymore especially when people leave.

I don’t know what to do with moments like us dancing in his apartment, me in sock feet, him twirling me around.

So maybe I’m one of those people now – the people who experience no chemistry, no attraction, no love, no nothing.

After him, I learned to be alone.

After him, everyone in my life could die and I would be fine.

After him, if I experience emotional devastation again, it will not be the same. I find it hard to imagine actually.

That girl is dead. And maybe that means the part of me that loved is also dead. Maybe that’s a good thing – there can be new better ways to love that I may find.

Maybe. And maybe not.

I don’t think I’m avoidant. It’s just that no one interests me, least of all men.

“Just die,” I say tiredly to myself in my room sometimes. I don’t mean myself, it’s not nearly so dramatic. It’s just the thoughts. The faulty memories.

I date people I don’t like these days because I don’t like anyone these days.

Maybe I feel frozen writing more analytically  because I already know I will not feel better by the time I finish such an exhausting piece. Maybe I feel frozen because I am not sure feeling so exhausted is worth the actual content of the piece. Maybe I feel frozen because I know after finishing it, I’ll never want to look at it again even if it’s really good, really solid, really critical. Every time I try to write more sharply, incisively, analytically considering my areas of growth, compassionately reviewing everything, all that happens are these thoughts, these moments just replay like a fucking videoreel where all the moments are mashed up and in random order.

Maybe it’s because I already worked out for myself what I need to do going forward, and, because the thinking through of the “why” and “how” has already happened, the personally driven “need” for this article no longer exists for me.

“Do you regret anything?” I asked, the morning after our last night.

He looked at me, sitting in his chair by the dining table, face serious and honest. “No,” he said. I nodded like I understood.

“Was it real?” I asked, after our dinner at another cafe, 3 weeks after we had broken up.

What is real? I thought.

“What is real?” he asked.

“I knew you’d say that,” I said, tiredly.

“There was, you know, a connection – just not, the highest?”

I nodded like I understood. “Right,” I said.

What? I thought.

I didn’t understand.

I still don’t.

Writing this did not help anything.

I do not feel better.

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An extended post mortem

some days from the past hang in the present,
a soft layer over the now
I guess all days do, technically, but I feel the
weight of some days more than others.

there are new songs i listen to sometimes
by accident that just again, like the first time,
like the last time,
tug your fingerprints from my fingers
strip your lips from my mouth
and i don’t know what to do in moments like that.

sometimes, the feeling passes , and i laugh. i say “haha but remember, silly girl you projected so much!” and “he was only human” and “you sort of just made him up and made it up” and “it wasn’t real anyway, not like deep down real” and “love shouldn’t feel like (just) like that” and “it was love but there is better love”

but sometimes, all i remember is the way you looked at me and –

everything breaks

it must a wrong memory, i think.
it must be a dream misrememberd, i think.
it must be some dead girl’s thought in my brain, i think.
it must have been my imagination, i think.

but in those moments, i just feel hung from the ceiling with a hook in my throat:

what if it was, even a little bit, real?

“Was it real?” I asked you.
What is ‘real’ anyway, I thought. What is ‘real’? What is ‘real’? 

“What is ‘real'”? you answered.

“You’re  killing something. between us,” I said.

“Yeah, I am,” you answered. Something in me is still there, in that moment. Not in a desperate way. Just in a dead way, its shadow cast across a year. “Because… because it can’t work and this way we can still be in each other’s lives. we can be friends.”

“Ok, yeah of course. Friendship,” I said, but I think you saw my heart blur in tears in my eyes.

“It’s already too late,” you said, helplessly.

“What’s too late?” I asked.

You didn’t answer. It’s ok. Everything is ok. Everything is good.  The other day i dreamt i saw your reflection in the mirror. “Goodbye” we both tried to say.

All that came out was “good”.

Somewhe(re/n) in spacetime, a girl sits on a counter. a boy stands between her legs. they are holding each other. a love song is playing. dinner is cooking. and they are looking at each other.

 

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Hate

Introduction:
This piece is one in a chronological series.
Feel free to find the others here, and to browse through any companion piece, set in the same universe.
 Witches
1. Three Frenemies 2. Fall Coven Meet 3. BeingLovedAgain 4. The Fourth Witch
6. The Three Questions 
7. Seed 8. Garden Graveyard Heart 9. The Cook
10. River Witch 11. Rage
12. Reincarnation 14. Hate
Goddesses

5.  Memory Elephant 12. Reincarnation  13. Memory and Mudbaths
Companion Pieces
May 22 – Part 1  Stone Lady  Paper Boots  Dredge    Half Yours, Half His    Flower Seller
When You Must End Love    Talk   Scorpio Rising    Pretty Men, Stone Lady
From The Olive Pit to Gratitude  Reliability dead girl Soft Witch

I follow the sound of arpeggios across a harp, until I find BeingLovedAgain. She is sitting by the riverbank, in long plum purple harem pants, and a cardigan to match. There’s no t shirt or bra, and I see faint scars criss crossing across her chest. “It’s rude to stare, you know” she says mildly, staring across the water and skipping stones across its surface. I notice every time the stone touches the water, a note arcs through the air.

“I’m glad you’re healing,” I say, finding a patch of grass beside her. Stones sing across the river, and she reaches to tuck her hair behind her ear. Another scar along her temple. I wonder if she is showing me on purpose. I see the scar is slowly, slowly fading, and she is slowly, slowly smiling. “So, would it work if I did that?” I ask, gesturing to the stones in her hand.

“Only one way to find out,” she says lazily. I search for a flat stone. Something suitable for skipping. The air is serene and I can hear crickets in the distance, chirping like little birds.

“Tell me something,” I say, trying to decide between a pink stone and a black stone. “Why haven’t I met Hate, yet?”

“You’ve met Hate,” she says flatly, immediately.

“When?” I ask. “Is she Rage, the witch with many names? I know I called her Anger and the Stone Lady, and the River Witch – is she also Hate?”

“No, Hate is a place. Like Hel. Like Hades.” She is talking about the graveyard side of my heart, and I remember the way my heart would be garden-like some days, cemetery-like on others. For many many days – years – it was a cemetery every day. “You were living in Hate for a long time when you met Love,” she explains, turning to look at me.

“So Love is a witch, but Hate is a place?” I ask. I don’t like it. There is a dissonance there. “Shouldn’t Love be a place too then?”

BeingLovedAgain tilts her head, her gaze still trained on me. “Have you seen Love around these days?” She asks.

“No,” I say, shocked. I haven’t. I haven’t talked to her in months.

Still looking at me, BeingLovedAgain flicks a stone across the water. A harp sings.

“Of course you have,” she insists. “Look around. What is this place?” A river as wide as the amazon, calm and still. Fish circling in the depths. Water gurgling in nearby brooks. Trees casting shade. A midnight sun hanging in the sky beside a moon. Silver trees with leaves made of glass paper. Squirrels and chipmunks and other animals burrowing for winter. Snow that isn’t frigid. Sand that doesn’t get everywhere. She chuckles. “You’re in Love.”

“Not what it felt like any other time I’ve been in love” I admit.

“No, not in love. In Love. A place.” She sweeps the air with her arm. “Congratulations. This is it. Paradise. Love. Serenity. Peace. Whatever you want to call it, this is it. Earlier… you were having trouble reaching this place. So Love came to you as a witch because she needed a voice because it would have been pretty weird to hear a disembodied voice speaking at you, right? Something tells me you wouldn’t have enjoyed that at all.”

“Is this why people pray?” I ask suddenly.

She laughs. “People pray for all kinds of stupid reasons. Never doubt people’s capacity to fuck up even the most basic concept on the planet. But yeah, if they do it right, Love answers.”

“And so… after I’m here, She…is everywhere?” I ask, amazed.

“More or less. The earth feels solid here, right? The garden doesn’t have another side anymore. The crust of the earth isn’t thin, isn’t some portal to the Otherside, Cemeteryside. The single grave that was here – well you took care of that. This place is…is life. Life. But,” she hesitates. “that doesn’t mean the work is done. First of all, the chances of a wormhole like that occurring again is very rare – I don’t think you will ever invert your heart again like that. You are building something sacred here, and that helps. But, I said rare, not impossible. So that is the first thing you must be vigilant of. The second thing -” she stops abruptly, and I think I know why. I feel a soft whisper that I don’t like in the trees and the temperature dips suddenly in a way I don’t like. In a way that feels… unkind. There is a sudden darkness, as though we are in an eclipse. This is not the magical darkness under moonlight or the playful darkness of shadows under sunlight.

BeingLovedAgain stays silent. She sits and closes her eyes, reaches for a stone and skips it across the water. It sinks. She does it again, knuckles tight, and it skips, but there is no music. A third time, and there, a few muffled tones. An out of tune piano. A muffled harpsichord. I see a thin line of blood bloom under her clavicle and my eyes widen. “N-no,” I say. Her eyes fly open. I grab a stone and send it skimming across the water, and notes fly out, strong and sure and a wall of sound, a harp the size of a redwood.

She stays looking at me with unblinking eyes, and brushes away the red brushstroke across her chest with her middle finger. She dips the scarlet stained tip between her lips. A snake tongue slithers out and I see her small vampire fangs lengthen and turn pink as they drink blood. Sunlight and moonlight, a comfortable twilight, returns like a warm summer evening. She smiles and blinks, and there is no scar, but her voice sounds tired, hoarse when she speaks. “As I was saying: the second thing is that Love came as a witch to you in a place called Hate. But now you are in a place called Love. You know what this means don’t you?”

I swallow hard and look across the river at islands I do not know, unknown landscapes of my garden heart.

“Will I meet Hate, as a witch, here if she wants to…to speak to me?”

BeingLovedAgain smiles sadly, and shrugs. “Who knows?” she says. “Maybe. Probably.”

“That was Fear, wasn’t it?” I ask. “A second ago.”

BeingLovedAgain nods.

“I thought she cannot exist where Love exists,” I say. “And this is Love, so how – ?”

BeingLovedAgain purses her lips. “It’s the way we’re talking about Hate,” she says, finally. “When you name a thing with…Fear, you give it strength and power over you. When you name a thing with Love, it’s…different.”

“I don’t know how to talk about Hate without Fear,” I say.

“They do tend to go hand in hand,” BeingLovedAgain says, wryly. “But… I think we’re already doing it, sort of. Right now.”

I am silent and staring across the calm water. I skip a stone and she sings. I skip a stone harder, and there is still music. My jaw is tight. Harder – and it sinks. I wait. The stone suddenly comes whizzing back, lands like a dart in treebark between me and BeingLovedAgain.

“You want to watch it with that,” I hear a sharp voice echoing under the water. The River Witch.

“How am I supposed to fight Hate?” I ask BeingLovedAgain, but she is asleep against the tree, stomach rising and falling gently. She’s exhausted, I think.

“Rage?” I call out tentatively.

I hear a laugh, a chuckle. “You know I can’t help you in that fight. But BeingLovedAgain is right. Hate can visit you, if you let her, call for her. Think of it like stones. Make music not war, silly girl,” her voice is like a lazy bend around the river. “And if a witch called Rage is telling you to avoid war, well you might want to take it at least a little seriously.”

“You can’t help me.” I say. “Is that a riddle? Are you saying you will help Hate, not me?”

But I already know the answer.

“Maybe!” Rage chuckles. “It all depends, you see.”

“On what?” I ask.

But I see the flash of a metal tail move like a machine snake under the water, and she is gone.

 

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Memory’s Mudbaths 

Introduction:
This piece is one in a chronological series.
Feel free to find the others here, and to browse through any companion piece, set in the same universe.
 Witches
1. Three Frenemies 2. Fall Coven Meet 3. BeingLovedAgain 4. The Fourth Witch
6. The Three Questions 
7. Seed 8. Garden Graveyard Heart 9. The Cook
10. River Witch 11. Rage
12. Reincarnation
Goddesses

5.  Memory Elephant 12. Reincarnation  13. Memory and Mudbaths
Companion Pieces
May 22 – Part 1  Stone Lady  Paper Boots  Dredge    Half Yours, Half His    Flower Seller
When You Must End Love    Talk   Scorpio Rising    Pretty Men, Stone Lady
From The Olive Pit to Gratitude  Reliability dead girl Soft Witch

Memory is lolling in a mudbath while her friends, the Snake and the Mouse watch on. Memory’s large grey body looks totally at peace as she wiggles happily in the mud. A smile passes my face, seeing how happy she, and all elephants are, while bathing. “Don’t you dare,” I say, my eyes widening, seeing her point her trunk at me. She trumpets a laugh and sprays herself instead, grinning her one tusked smile.

“Hey Memory?” I call out. “I think I was born in the wrong family,” I say.

She sits on all four and looks at me thoughtfully with her small elephant eyes. Her ears flap slowly. “You mean your parents?”

“I think I mean all of it. Parents. Extended family. All of it. I’m just – so different from them.”

“Yes, you are different from them. Every family needs that.” She is working on her right side now.

“The scapegoat?” I ask wryly.

She tilts her face to me and shakes her big head solemnly. “The Changemaker,” she counters.

“I don’t think I’m making change,” I say, laughing. The Changemaker. It sounds like a title I don’t deserve.

“Well, you aren’t making change yet,” Memory says. “You were dead for five years, remember?”

True. I sit in the strange light of the garden. The moon hangs in one half of the sky, the sun in the other. I have never seen the garden like this before. I ponder what Memory is telling me.

“Is it true that we choose our families, before we are born?” I ask, tears blurring my eyes.

“Do you think you did?” she asks. I do not know. “I think…” she says, “You have a spirit that has always gone where you are…needed. And not necessarily where you are wanted.”

“What about what I need, Memory?” I ask, as the Snake slithers towards me, and as the Mouse scurries over. The words stick in my throat. The animals sit near my ankles.

“What do you need?” Memory asks surprised, laughing. “Look around you, what do you see?”

“Well, right now, a portion of this garden that has been generously devoted to mudbath time,” I tease.

“Mudbaths are very important!” Memory nods, ears flapping vigorously.  On impulse she rolls over and flails a bit in sheer elephantine joy. Her potbelly wiggles like jelly and it’s so cute. “Sooo important. What else?”

I laugh, enjoying the fact that she is so pleased. “Well, uh, there’s that corner now in the garden that has that seed that BeingLovedAgain was storing for a while for safekeeping…I’m not really sure what it’s growing into. The river that changes shape and depth where the River Witch and the Stone Lady live, and the clearing where the Cook cooks… and I don’t know where the Time Witch went, but she gave me her watch. And Being Loved again gave me that flower from before and the coin… and there are lots of trees everywhere, and… these really nice red brick pathways that kind of remind me of the yellow brick road in the Wizard of Oz, and the walls around the garden that are made of the same…and beautiful green ivy everywhere that reminds me of Christmas because of how it is growing against the walls. And your friends, the Snake and the Mouse. I haven’t seen Love around enough to talk to her in a long time but I feel her almost all the time because I never feel Fear or Loneliness anymore.”

Memory smiles again. “So what do you need?”

“I mean… I guess, nothing. I have… things I want to do, places I want to see outside of this place, but this garden is…is just in me, so it’s not as though I will ever lose this place…but everything I need is…is here, I think. I think whatever I need, I will find here, somehow.”

Memory gently says: “But your parents aren’t here.”

When I cry, it’s because things make sense, and they haven’t for so long – but I am not crying from pain. “No,” I say softly. “They’re not. And. No they don’t need to be. It would…go all wrong if they were here in this place.”

Memory gets up and walks towards me. Gently, she wipes my face with her trunk. It tickles and I sneeze from the mud. “Most people do not have such a beautiful garden,” she says quietly. “I mean, every garden is beautiful in its own way, but many gardens are graveyards, many are uncultivated, and some… don’t even know they have this space all for themselves. You have everything you need. For your family, you are the Changemaker – and change, little one, is never easy, but always always necessary, but that does not mean you have an obligation. Everything else is… up to you. You have a choice always. Love told you  a long time ago that your will has been freed. What you bring to people is up to you. BeingLovedAgain told you to wait for her always, and if she is not there, to leave. I think you are trying to know how to stay and how to leave…at the same time. It is of course impossible to be in two places at once. But maybe there is another reason you are in this family. What have they shown you so far?”

“What I definitely don’t need,” I blurt out, instantly feeling immigrant child guilt. “And I guess in a weird way, because of that, exactly what I need.”

Memory nods wisely. Maybe when elephants nod it always comes off as wise. “There are people who only learn through adversity. Maybe you did choose them, not for what they could give you, but because you knew the kind of environment you needed to excel.”

“So I’m a masochist,” I say, bitterly.

“Or, you  have an idea of how you tend to learn with no. judgment. or. self. loathing. ” She punctuates each word with a gentle but firm tap on my head with her trunk, her little eyes frowning.

“Ow,” I say, rubbing my head gingerly, looking at her. “Maybe I can change how I learn,” I muse.

“Maybe! Or!” She says brightly. “I’m full of shit, and no one chooses these things; we’re born into the families we are born into and that’s that.”

“Easy for you to say,” I mutter. “You have the coolest fam -”

“Coolest?! COOLest?!” Memory laughs, trumpeting loudly. Birds in a nearby tree scatter, and then huff their way back into branches, annoyed that it’s just Memory being Memory. “Mom makes me out of clay, breathes life into me, goes off to take a shower, tells me to guard the door, dad comes home, doesn’t know I’m technically his kid by…adoption? That part was never clear to me, and I don’t know who the hell he is, I tell him my mother’s bathing and he can’t go in, he *chops my head off in a literal fit of rage* and mom makes him get the first head he could find to replace the human head, and dad went and got an elephant head.  Not a promising start, when you think about it, in the race for “coolest family”….and it’s not like they ever asked me how I felt about the whole thing. ‘Be grateful’ is all I ever heard from them. And I rather prefer going full-elephant most of the time these days anyhow…the whole half human half elephant thing was kind of getting to me…and I mean I’m the only elephant in my family.”

“Ok fineee you have it so much worse,” I say, rolling my eyes.

“Nah, the perks are pretty cool, and that one time I ate the moon really bothered everyone,” she says giggling. “Tasted kind of like rice cakes…Kind of looks like a rice cake too….mmm rice cakes.” She closes her eyes and smiles peacefully.

I lean back on my elbows and against Memory’ s comfortingly solid body. “If I’m the Changemaker, and the past few years were the Dead Years, I don’t know what change I have brought to their lives or what I need to bring to their lives.”

“Ah!” Says Memory. “Well that is the million dollar question, isn’t it. Your will has been freed. What you bring to people is up to you. So what, indeed to bring?”

“I don’t know…right now, that’s what I’m – ”

“No, do it fast, like a memory association thing. What do you bring them? Whattobringthem? Whatyougonnabring?” She is trumpeting in my face.

“Nothing,” I blurt out.

Memory smiles and sits back on her haunches and wiggled her butt in the ground. “Well. To consciously bring nothing to a family as the only daughter…I’d call that a change, wouldn’t you?”

“Seems kind of shitty” I say. “Besides that’s what they say about me too. That I do nothing for them. Idk it just feels dirty.”

“Seems kind of neutral,” she says. “Besides maybe the change isn’t about what you bring to them. Maybe it’s just you. Changing. Maybe that’s enough? Besides dirt is great! I love dirt. I love mudbaths – in fact I’m going to take another one.” I shift away from her body and smile as she lumbers happily towards her mud pit.

Above us, the sky is still split into night and day. My garden heart is whole. There are no mouldy thoughts or terrifying questions. And I know somehow the graveyard days are over. And if Fear and Loneliness were to visit again, they must meet me in this place on my terms in the garden of witches.

But there are still questions. Questions hang from the clouds in strings of water vapour. They hang from the trees in the shape of green leaves and ripe fruits, and they hang from bird wings in soft feathers. And in Memory’s broken tusk sitting a few feet away, there are questions swimming like koi fish, always present, glimmering in sunlight and moonlight, changing shape.

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