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.
I would love to call you dear. I know your name and what your backyard looks like, because you told me during polite, if not somewhat forced, conversation. I know you double knot your shoelaces and that your hair turns into curls at the nape of your neck, because I’ve snuck glances at your silhouette for weeks.
I would love to call you dear, but I don’t know you. I don’t know your favorite color or what song fills your eyes with light or how you take your coffee. I don’t know any of the things that matter. I only know the most mundane details you’ve thrown around since you were able to speak. You shook my hand and shared these with me, unaware that I’d tuck them away and say them quietly to myself to revel in the feeling of knowing.
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?”
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.
For the past month, I’ve been alone. The vice grip of loneliness strikes suddenly and without remorse. Sometimes it’s when I have a funny thought and no one to entertain. Sometimes it’s when I’m watching a movie and there isn’t a chest to fall into. And sometimes it’s when I’m completely surrounded by people and I realize not a single soul knows my name. What’s funny is that I’ve gone almost two decades without ever feeling this kind of torture before. I remember damning the possibility of becoming lonely. The idea of being alone was so foreign and bizarre. Sometimes I saw it at bus stops in the rain or in restaurant booths occupied by a single, hunched frame. What’s funny is that my idea of loneliness is still cliched. I didn’t realize you could be lonely while wearing a pretty dress on a sunny day.
My comfort zone is rarely unoccupied and never left for long. Spontaneity, which causes excitement to bubble in the veins of most, makes me nauseous. In a world full of Ferris Buellers, I’m the Cameron Frye. A well meaning push is needed to get me to enjoy any sort of impromptu event. Occasionally, I’ll stumble onto the radar of someone with a love for experience and late nights. Almost compulsively, they’ll scoop me up and show me the world as they see it. “You’ve never been here before?” Somehow they’re always skeptical when my answer is no. The few weeks after we meet fade into a montage of backroads, constellations, and rooftops. It warms my heart to keep them as steadfast friends, but they’re usually gone before the sun comes up.