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.
The living room was always dark and warm and safe; mom kept the lights in the living room turned off. Thirty minutes before I woke up, she’d turn on the heating unit to “get the chill out” for me. She let me eat my breakfast on the couch with a tv tray. She didn’t let my siblings do that as children. My love for my mother knew no bounds. I remember crying, begging, pleading to stay home with her. Each morning, tears filled my eyes as the lump in my throat grew larger and larger until my cries turned into hoarse hiccups. Sometimes she’d hug me and laugh at my “big crocodile tears”. Sometimes, with a fist clenched around a whisk or a ladle, she’d threaten me to keep crying. Sometimes she’d humor me, roll her eyes, and let me stay. I know she thought I was faking, but the pain was excruciatingly real. Like clockwork, my stomach would twist into a mass of tangled knots every morning. I was expressing my emotional pain the only way I knew how. Physically.
I was always troubled, wound up tight, and confused. I thought it was normal to have achey muscles from the constant tension of dealing with not only life, but also the barrage of self doubt. I thought it was normal to think about what this place would be like without me. Is that what would finally show them that what I’m feeling is real? I don’t want to die. I never have. “It’ll get better” is stuck deep in my ribs and I want to see what better is like. But there’s a point when you’ve been so overlooked and so beaten down that you wonder, “When will someone notice on their own?”
We ate a full roll of Mentos. Well, I did. You ate two when I asked out of obligation, but I didn’t ask again. Maybe the peppermint got to me, or maybe it was the fact that I always feel like I don’t belong, but I started to cry. You patted my back and said all the right things.
Once I had dried off and wrung myself out, things were back to normal. We watched two episodes of a 44 minute tv show, which was exactly long enough for me to calm down, forget, and remember again. “Maybe you should see a doctor…” The six words no one wants to hear. My face contorted, softened, and then began looking for an escape route. I chuckled and said, “Probably”. I’ve never gotten past probably.
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.
Farmers’ markets where sturdy hands and chapped smiles greet you like an old friend. Little tubes of grainy lip balm fitted in bee-covered labels that sit atop illuminated counters. Supermarkets with olive bars attended by cashiers with nose rings. All of these things, highly prized and favored in my eyes, have a few traits in common. Besides being utterly pretentious, they were immediately deemed organic in my mind.
Organic means safe, wholesome, worthy. I didn’t realize a perpetually disheveled boy would soon win the title of organic, and also favorite, for himself. Neither safe nor wholesome, entirely too pretentious, and completely worthy describe the victor. To say the least, the race has been wildly intriguing. To ask the runner’s perspective? “It happened organically.”
Dust motes float silently through the stuffy, hundred-year-old air. Pews creak with every movement, even underneath the weight of my waifish, adolescent body. The organ rumbles bleakly to life alerting the congregation to stand. My lips produce noise, but I do not comprehend the meaning. “I detest my sins, because I dread the loss of heaven” was the last sentence I ever repeated in church. To this day, I have no idea what stopped me from reciting the next line. The Act of Contrition was branded onto my tongue at an early age yet I never took the time to grasp what it meant to me. Being born into Catholicism makes you Catholic, right? Baptized and confirmed, I would live, die, and go to heaven as a Catholic, right? Questioning my mother, the priest, or Christ our Lord were all considered sins, right? Tunnel vision was closing in on my line of sight. Thoughts swam in my mind as I stood staring blankly ahead at the crucifix. Frightened and hesitant, the voice in my head uttered something ever so quietly that would change my views forever. “I don’t believe.”