I remember every face I meet and the name it owns. This seems like an interesting addition to a résumé and a useful parlor trick to use once the party is over. It should be but not when growing up and making mistakes in a city that fits in between a couple of hills we collectively decided to call mountains. The bodies of the faces saunter and snicker and carry on, passing by like it means something to me. It does. I remember every moment. The emotions they left with me. The secrets they told me. Annoyance makes my pulse radiate heat, just like how pavement feels on a southern day in July. Even though I regularly cut ties without much motive, I still reserve the right to selfishly froth in my own ill wishes. It’s only when they pass and I remain unnoticed am I shaken back into my senses. I realize it’s likely they’ve gone another day without thinking of me. It’s vexing to be overlooked. It festers and grows, turning real individuals into memories and ideas as flat as newspaper. No one has ever ignored me. They’ve just been walking past me, engrossed in their own valid thoughts.
Have I locked the door? The door is locked. Pull the handle, once, twice. Doesn’t budge. Now push it in so the latch clicks. Click. Thank god, I’m home. There’s a roast chicken sitting on the counter. Who doesn’t refrigerate a chicken? Has that just been taken out or has it been sitting there for hours like the dishes sitting in the sink? The floor is sticky. The stovetop is crusty. I cleaned last week. No one thanked me. Did I lock the door? Look back. It’s locked. I’m exhausted. I need to rest, but that will take up an hour of my evening. My nightly ritual takes an hour and a half. Studying takes up three. If I do all of it, I’ll be getting in the shower at 10 and sliding into bed at 11:30. I can’t rest, but I’ll lay in bed while I study. When did I last wash these sheets? I wash them weekly, but they feel dirty. I feel dirty. I feel guilty. I feel like I’m not doing enough. I’m not smart enough. I’m not strong enough. I’m not enough.
1, 2, 3.
Everything I have ever loved has had a previous owner. I carry the treasures of others securely in the crook of my arm and pretend they’re mine. A jacket my father stained with sweat around the collar and cuffs. A pendant given to my sister made of onyx and gold. Field guides from thrift stores with inscriptions and bookmarks and cramped annotations. These are my pickings. Stolen nostalgia is piling up around me. It’s warming me through the winter, but I want to find my own way out. When will I begin creating my own trail of artifacts? Who will want to exhume my spirit?
The sky kissed me twice yesterday, good morning and good day. Once, upon waking, with a ray of light or love streaming in through dusty glass. And again, while walking, with a single raindrop like a pinprick on my lower lip. It was a warning, as if to say, “Hurry inside. My tears are for your world. Not for you.”
Tomorrow means waking up early if I haven’t taken a shower tonight. Class begins at 9:25 a.m. even though I always walk in around 9:31, because I know that specific professor doesn’t start until everyone is there. Tomorrow means class for six hours and feeling so completely drained afterward, because I spent the night before with my boyfriend, trying to give him the girl he used to know. Tomorrow means I have calculus and a general feeling of incompetence to look forward to. Tomorrow is Thursday. After tomorrow is the weekend. I work all weekend. Friday, Saturday, and Sunday remind me that I can still smile while refilling your diet coke for the third time in the past forty-five minutes. The weekend is for forgetting. On Monday, I go to the bank to deposit the tips that equate to my worth. I can’t remember if Tuesday is good or not. Usually, if you can’t remember something, it isn’t that bad. Wednesday is a toss up. Today is Wednesday, and today was hard. Today, he asked me what I was thinking about a lot. I couldn’t tell him, because it would hurt his feelings. When I finally told him, it hurt his feelings. The problem is that he’s the only one that knows how hard things have gotten for me, and the truth even frightened him.
The hum of the ventilation fan kicks my muscle memory into overdrive. Turning the knob until my wrist faces directly up, I watch the water spill out and contemplate all the lackluster showers I’ve taken in the last year and a half. I step in and immediately jump out, dodging water that seems hotter than Hades. Scalded and confused, I bathe and exit with flushed skin that I no longer seem to enjoy.
Usually, I find solace in bed after a long day. Cotton sheets, which I no longer use, now seem more like a restraint. My back sinks into the pillow top and aches for a firmer surface. As I lay awake in the only home I’ve ever known, my mind wanders to a sad thought. When does home stop being home?
I grew up in this single story, middle class masterpiece. Before this, I was in the womb. I had never been on my own or even dreamt that I might flourish somewhere else. The funny thing is, I didn’t realize how well I was doing until I came back. I didn’t realize how much I had changed. I like cold showers, firm beds, and honest friends now. People don’t walk all over me anymore, and I’m beginning to learn to walk on my own. If I feel strong, loved, and there’s a Whole Foods down the street, I’m at home.
Ever since I can remember, I’ve been acutely aware of the opposite sex. Exciting and forbidden, boys were always on my mind. At just twelve years old, I snagged my first boyfriend. We held hands under the Bible while the preacher taught us about purity and kissed in darkened Sunday school rooms. It was everything I ever dreamed it would be. As quickly as it began, our charmingly sinful love ended. I was surprised to discover I wasn’t heartbroken. I just moved on to the next one. The Skater, the Band Geek, the Cool Guy, the Black Sheep. Names began to blur. Breakups became more frequent. I began to care less and less about having a boy to tote along behind me. After a while, I stopped noticing completely. I had seen all there was to see of the male image around me. There was one figure, however, I had failed to notice before.
She sat in front of me in Biology II. Her long, dark hair sat unassumingly atop my desk. I sat in awe, of her and of the horizon broadening ever so swiftly in front of me. Everything about her was richly dark, especially the thoughts she ignited in my mind. Appalled and frustrated with myself, I began to act differently around her. I was fifteen and confused. I knew no one would understand. I would be mocked, labeled, and mislabeled. Lesbians were fetishized in the minds of boys. The word “bisexual” elicited a cringe followed by a grimace from girls. I felt dirty. I felt like less of a person. I did what any self loathing teen would do; I hid my true feelings away from others and myself. I kept this secret for over three years.
Finally, on one drunken night, I word vomited onto my best friend. She said, “Really? Well alright, cool!” A guy gave me a high five and their conversation trudged on without missing a beat. People knew. I was out. My life didn’t change and no one treated me any differently. The only one that ever hated me for being me was myself.