Sunday, December 26, 2010
The house was shining with the bright light of a brand new day. The cream colored curtains floated like sails beneath the golden light of the incoming sun and yet the room was ringing with crisp cold air. The thick Persian rugs did little to deflect the chill of polished wooden floors and pale-green walls. A TV was on. A young girl sat on an overstuffed couch, absorbing the sounds of barnyard cartoon characters while she slowly ate her breakfast of fried rice and a single peeled banana.
I looked at the girl on the couch. I saw her little white hands with palms facing upwards, the same way my grandmother held her hands when she just couldn’t believe what she was hearing. Her young body was already formed and aged, all in secret. It had acquired the same basic shape it would have years from now, when this would all be a memory to be replicated and reorganized.
The world of her parents, the clear delineation between right and wrong, black and white, it all lived in her young face. She already thought she knew it all. The world had already been clearly defined and she already knew her place within it.
“How can they say that??!!”
She suddenly looked at me with a smile of disbelief on her face, with a shade of mockery. She shouldn't have looked at me. She wasn't supposed to. I was the one doing the looking.
I used to know it all. I used to know it all before I lost my certainty.
I want to use the word hollow.
I see a female standing at the edge of cliff while fluttering bats shake the night through her hair. I feel the coldness of the house, the artificial sounds of the TV…something is strange.
It is my perception. It is me standing at the side of the slate rock cliff. It is me looking down at the collection of me that is the bottom.
I am the little girl. I am the woman at the edge of the cliff.
The thing that I fear, the thing that keeps me staring in wide-mouthed awe is the subconscious motivations I have just glimpsed. It is that, pulling back the blankets, opening the eyelids and discovering a naked creature that moves without thought, that moves as though pulled by levers and strings.
This moment of discovery is truly shocking, like a zap to the core that laughs in my face as I discover the true intentions behind my own behavior. The behavior I have spent a lifetime justifying, spinning webs and circles around it with my mouth.
It’s not that I lied. A lie requires some sort of consciousness. This is beyond a lie. These are the lies that I believe as truth. The things I call ideas, philosophies, thoughts, life choices. These are the things I call “me.” And I both want to laugh and cry as I look into the abyss of my machine and glimpse the habit behind the impulse.
A girl so young and already she knows everything. She lies that she knows. I know now that she lies.
We all sat in an artificially warmed room. From the shifting light of a glowing electronic box, we watched others like us self-destruct. Through this new form of entertainment, through the captured pain of another girl who walked and talked like Jennifer Lopez in a movie wrought with conflicting personalities and alcohol… through this, I saw myself.
“I started cutting myself when I was thirteen,” the girl admitted to the video camera. “That’s why I like tattoos, it’s a way of doing it without anyone knowing.”
A couple seconds of silence. The sort of time that stops and quiets down even a large TV and two speakers. There was something, something moving, shifting on the currents of artificial warm air, moving through the layers of my body and the soft fabric of the chamber. I felt my body, laying curled up between two pillows. I felt myself still, hardly breathing. A couple minutes before, I had just admitted that I had thought about cutting myself.
I remembered laying in bed, in a heap of hysteria. I had imagined myself walking to the bathroom. Parallel to that vision, I had the thought that perhaps cutting myself would feel good.
That night I didn’t get up, I didn’t walk into the bathroom, I drifted to sleep under a cloud of sadness and awoke nine hours later with anxiety ridden dreams grasping at my heels.
As we watched this girl on TV, I remembered that I had thought about it too. I had never done it, but I had thought about it. Now, as she admitted that her tattoos were part of the same habit, another manifestation of the same impulse, I realized that I too had a body covered in blue and green ink.
The show was paused.
“Did she just say something about you?” I heard my friend ask.
Another second held still in the well of time.
I could think of at least three tattoos that were spawned from a feeling of anxiety that rattled inside me like a soot covered wind I could not shake.
The time my old boyfriend was in jail and I was lonely and scared and felt like the entire world was just too strong and corrupt. That brought the lute-playing mermaid tattooed to my belly.
There was the unfinished doodle on my inner left ankle. It was me, that night alone in my apartment, while my boyfriend went out to score some heroin, me that had picked up the tattoo gun on the coffee table and plunged the needle into my own white flesh. I picked it up out of terror, terror he would not come back, terror that he would. That dark night, I was overwhelmed with his burden and disease, his recurrent need for money that weighed on my young shoulders.
The word “warrior” on my left thigh, the permanent black letters that appeared only a few hours after discovering that another girl was visiting my boyfriend in jail, another layer of his lies revealed. I drove straight to a tattoo shop singing and crying.
The tattoo artist looked up from his hunched position over my leg and asked me “what’s up with this word?” The explanation was crooked and an attempt at ego preservation, a self conscious attempt to hide my own addictive fixation on one diseased person. The man nodded while looking straight through my eyes, sensing the pain that my facial lines and puffy eyes had already outed. Maybe he was already used to this, maybe he had seen it a thousand times, maybe he could have told me so much, maybe I could have heard him. But he didn't say anything. Instead, he nodded and kept working.
That night, as I walked through Bookshop Santa Cruz with a bandaged leg that stung with every step, I held my head higher and noticed that people seemed to be looking at me differently, as though they could see that the orgasmic pain had lifted a dark cloud.
I had painted large artistic circles around the reasons for a body covered in mermaids and foliage, explanations to justify the act, lies to hide the utter lack of certainty.
Now I had glimpsed the energetic contortion, the habit and reaction I could no longer hide. And now here it was, explained in raw simplicity by a brown-skinned girl that still had a mark on her arm and streaks of tears across her cheeks.
The house seemed strange around me, but it was me, not the dwelling that reeked of strangeness. This raw truth, this evidence had opened before me like a gutted pig. How strange to be fooled by myself. How strange to talk and ruminate and make complicated explanations for a behavior that went deeper than skin, deeper than bone, deeper than the existence of this machine.
I am ruled by these habits, these things that I cannot even see. The nature of lies goes so deep that I can't touch it, I can't wrap my fingers around its shape. The nature of self delusion goes even deeper. We have pulled a small layer back and looked inside, a small bit of the subconscious is revealed, naked in the light of day. It is shocking to get a glimpse. So shocking to realize the extent of circular lies and grand explanations.
I see a girl dancing. There are two walls made of bricks. They are miles apart, but they are so tall that their sheer height makes them always known. The pretty girl is in the field, among the gently sloping grass of yellow and green. Her skirt of layered gray chiffon moves like clouds tethered to her waist. She moves around trees and skips over sleeping foxes. She can't know anything. There is nothing to be known.
“How can they say that??!!”
I just shrugged my shoulders and she looked away. She knew too much for me to say anything. She knew too much to wonder who I was or why I was there.