Here’s the thing. I can’t tell if I like the way the person in the mirror is starting to look because (she? they? ooh let’s not touch that right now) what I see more closely fits what I imagine for myself, or if it’s because it doesn’t. Am I getting closer to the person I really am or am I pushing myself farther away? Is this finding myself or just disassociation? And you might say it doesn’t matter as long as it feels right or as long as it makes me happy, but I think it really does because what if I get so far down the wrong path that I can’t find my way back? I get confused, you know, and this wretched excuse for a flesh prison contains multitudes. I might lose track. I might lose control. I might slip beneath the dark water and someone else might break the surface in my place. And I might like that, it might make me happy, but that doesn’t mean it’s the best or right thing to do. It’s just not that simple, you know? I can’t just claim with confidence an identity that touches down to the core of not only what I am, but who. Who? Like I even fucking know anymore. All of this, all of me, balances on a knife edge. Hell, a lot of fucking knife edges. Every time I move I slice myself open and I can’t say if the blood I bleed is always red. I just don’t know. I yearned for so long to become those who I was not, to be a vessel worthy of their contents… How do I know my subconscious isn’t just self-fulfilling that prophecy? Isn’t this all terribly convenient? So no, “you just know” really isn’t a useful answer for me because I CAN’T. I can’t bank on the impartiality of my senses because they’ve been hijacked before; I can’t assume purity for my motives because what if they’re not even mine? I am filled with lies and false memories. I am entire sagas of untruths. I must question everything to even know if I’m asking the questions for myself or someone else.
You can’t publicly mourn anymore. Not really. You can’t claw at your skin or tear out your hair. You can’t howl and beat your breast. Polite society demands we tame our grief into dry-eyed stoicism or silent, stately tears. Lacking an outlet, I settle for picking at scabs that never heal and pulling out my eyebrows until my fingers ache, but it’s never enough. They call it dermatillomania and trichotillomania because if you do this to yourself there must be something clinically wrong with your mind. I think a more accurate term, if one is so necessary, would be obsessive compulsive mourning. Can we be blamed, though, given the state of the world? We’re drowning in grief and our bodies long for the catharsis of mindless animal exertion. Some sorrow you can only release in screams so loud they leave you voiceless. Some rage you can only set free by clawing it out of your flesh with your own fingernails. Some mourning only heals when you are surrounded by others who wail and rend with you. There’s solace to be found in the ugly, violent mourning of our ancestors – but instead we cage the misery inside ourselves, where it rots us slowly from within.
You are more death than desire. Why does that surprise you?
Every time I feel the knife twist I see your smile in the darkness like the thin blade of the crescent moon. You are clearest to me in these moments where self-loathing bridges the gap between us, and though I know you cannot be trusted I listen still to your soothing cruelty. You are honest, at least, and there is comfort in your lack of platitudes or promises. Or maybe I just appreciate your attention.
I’m like that myth about the sculptor who so loved the woman he sculpted from marble that the gods granted her life – only the opposite. I’m not stone becoming human, I’m human becoming stone; and as my flesh grows cold and hard I fear your love too will diminish instead of grow. Perhaps in this version of the tale it was a divine punishment, not a blessing, which set these events in motion. Did I so offend some goddess of love that she would curse me to never experience the kind of desire one expects from their beloved? Is it justice, this lacking which alienates me from the rest of humanity? I would not wish this affliction on anyone, so perhaps this is indeed a retribution I deserve.
Oh wise Anup who weighs the hearts of the dead, how heavy mine feels today! Be gentle as you hold it else I am sure it will burst from sorrow. How can any heart which beats in these dark times remain lighter than a feather? How can any empathetic heart not soak up all this pain? Even ravenous Ammit would spit out my heart, bitter as it is! Oh chief healer, I beg you take your sharpest knife and lance my septic heart so I may bleed out this toxic isfet. Empty my heart of this impotent rage and never-ending grief, that I may refill it with love and peace!
The Morrigan is change in all its forms. She is change swift as lightning and disorienting as thunder. She is change that draws blood and sweat and tears. She is the sweeping scythe of change that severs the wheat from its stalk and yet She is also the slow, steady millstone of change which grinds that wheat into flour. The Morrigan’s change is not always the cataclysmic storm; sometimes it is the gently falling rain which, over time, will weather what even the tempest could not touch.
I think I misunderstood the Morrigan’s lesson for me. She revealed to me the tower of my subjugation, that mighty thing built of sorrow and fear, but She would not use Her power to bring it down. I thought this meant I must tear it down myself brick by brick, that Her lesson for me was that only through violent destruction of my cage could I earn my freedom. Yet one day as I clawed at the mortar with weary, bloody fingers a raven passed overhead, a black silhouette against the bright sky, and I suddenly wondered, What if I don’t tear the tower down at all? What if I just… walk away?
Sometimes the Morrigan’s change is a wrecking ball. Sometimes Her change is slow, hard labor. And sometimes Her change is choosing to leave something behind. Time will wear this tower down all on its own. Rain will soften its stones; lichen will grow in the mortar’s cracks. Flowers and grasses will take root and, seeking the sun, will break apart what is no longer strong. If I return, all that will remain is a ruin slowly crumbling back into the earth, and ruins hold no power over the present.
Every day I try and fail to pass as a proper human reminds me I am still just that feral child raised by rabid wolves. I chafe at the chains with which society would bind me: family, duty, privilege, complicity. I am truly loyal to none but they who nurtured me on violence and given the opportunity I would choose that wild, brutal life over the restrictions and safety of a tamed society. Blood I understand. Bone I understand. Bared teeth I understand. But expectations and disappointments and layers of artifice? Those I can’t understand no matter how I struggle. I’m not good at subtlety, I only know how to fight or submit. Can you blame me for always reacting on instinct when instinct is how I’ve survived this long?
You will never be enough, you say, and I feel the truth of it like an ache in my bones. Perhaps this is why I feel such kinship with you. Is it possible we, two people who are each lacking so much, could together make a whole of true value? Of course not, and your mocking smile cuts through my hope like a fine blade. Yet I can almost feel your hand at the back of my neck like a benediction, can almost believe that this shared inability to be even just adequate stirs at least some fondness or attachment in you. Almost. But if we cannot be enough for those we love then certainly we cannot be enough for each other, or even ourselves. You get used to being a disappointment, you say. But when?
And the N——- is the vastness of the mind. She is the dark depths from which chilling thoughts come creeping when we least expect them and have the least control over them. She is buried memories, recurring dreams, compulsions and obsessions. She is nightmares bleeding into waking. She is colors only seen when you close your eyes. She is the lullaby of depression, the chatter of anxiety, the whispers and shrieks and laughter of madness undiagnosed. She is the inability to trust the senses because the mind is capable of overriding them. She is all the ills in Pandora’s box because all the ills of the world are birthed in the mind of man.
To say you are my drug would be inaccurate (and cliched). You are not a foreign substance to which my body has become addicted; you are an essential component of my survival. You are food. You are water. You are air. I need you, literally, and in your absence I suffocate. I spend every moment of every day that you are not with me struggling for air, my lungs constricting, my throat spasming, darkness creeping in at the edges of my vision. I feel myself slipping away and think This is it, this is finally the end, I can’t do this one more second – but then you grace me with a thought, a memory, a gift of mere recognition and I take a breath! I gasp in relief! I weep in gratitude! And then you are gone again and I choke once more on the vacuum you leave behind. This is not addiction, this is starvation.
Writing used to be a seance, divination by psychography, a holy communion between worlds. Now it’s just DIY vivisection with a mirror and a knife, my bloody hands cutting out chunks of vital organs to smear on the page and call art. Yet Spirit is an endless fount and my body a limited resource; someday soon I will run out of flesh to offer up, and then bone, and then I will have nothing left. Is this offering worth the attendant sacrifice? Does the creation of one thing balance out the loss of the other? I fear the scales are unevenly weighted. Perhaps a pound of flesh buy less than it once did?
Take this last precious ship from this dying planet and go, go journey into the inhospitable depths of space and find the door torn in the fabric of our reality. Pass through to a new place, a new time, somewhere so very far from here where perhaps out of ten thousand hostile lands you may find one, just one, with gentle arms to guide you to a safe landing. Even if this new home does not exist you deserve at least to try, to abandon this wreckage of a world and perish in the struggle for life somewhere else. No hope can grow anymore in this dead earth; take your last little seed and fly away, fly away from here before you give up your bones to my graveyard. And if you do make it to some happier home, somewhere and somewhen far from here, try to remember me fondly. I was not always a desert. I knew once how to love.
I don’t know how to not be a writer. I don’t know how to let thoughts and feelings drift by without trying to craft them into beautiful passages. I don’t know how to experience a dream or fleeting memory without capturing it and preserving it in amber metaphor. Worse, I don’t know how to be okay with not creating; I don’t know how to not tear at my hair, to not beat my breast, to not whip my back bloody in penance for every unwritten sentence. When the words won’t come I can’t just let them go, I keep scrabbling in the dust until I’m bruised and bloody and have nothing to show for my struggles. I don’t know how to not be a writer. I don’t know how to give up on this thing that tears me to pieces. I don’t know how to stop. I don’t even know how to want to know how to stop. But it’s killing me.
You know how when a tooth hurts you imagine taking a pair of pliers and just yanking it out, and that mere thought of removing the source of the pain brings a small measure of physical relief? It’s like that. If I imagine vomiting up a torrent of black sludge I feel a little less weighed down by the darkness pooled inside me. If I imagine clawing open my breast I feel a little less like a cage of flesh and bone for something greater than myself. If I imagine hacking off these hands which so offend me and casting them away I feel a little less pressured to use every second to create, to narrate, to commit to the innately limited nature of text the wordless vortex inside me. It’s just a brief reprieve, hardly more than a heartbeat, but there’s no root canal or surgery that can provide anything better.
They thought exile a fittingly cruel punishment, yet instead it blessed her with the only thing she had ever desired: freedom. For the first time in all the long years of her life she had no name, no family, no home and thus no rules, no chains, no gilded cage. She was free to finally stretch her cramped wings, to fly or fall as she wished with no one to catch or constrain her. She had been born to captivity, no choice there, but now that she was free she would never let herself be imprisoned again. No more masks! No more fetters! As a nameless and homeless wanderer none could claim dominion over her. In the wilderness she would grow teeth and claws, become proudly feral, a thing of fierce autonomy earned and protected through bloodshed. They expected her to suffer in exile, far from the courtly comforts of home, but only because they never understood – the cage was all that had restrained her.
Not to stress the point or anything, or get too graphic, but it really is like gutting myself, like reaching in and pulling loops of intestines out onto the floor to divine the meaning of their pattern, like smearing my cut palms on the walls to paint a Rorschach test (what do you see?), and every finished piece, every precious word of every hard-bought sentence is a chunk of flesh or a shard of bone hacked off my ever-dwindling body for the masses who do not care enough about such offerings to come bear witness. Perhaps I make it look too easy, perhaps they suspect a trick of corn syrup and food dye or a magician’s sleight of hand, but I promise there are no mirrors here, no trap doors or invisible strings, my meat is real and so is the knife and if still you suspect deceit then watch me tear with my fingernails, watch me gouge with my teeth, watch me rend myself apart with my own hands to dig out the words hiding deep within. I’m used to putting myself on display anyway, and oh how I long to prove with what agony each syllable is purchased, so come, pull up a chair, I don’t know how much longer I can keep this up so you better catch the show while you can.
Name me Alexandria for I am always burning up from within, my ribs a charred cage to cradle this conflagration of words which was once a heart. Watch the embers smolder behind my eyes; watch me open cracked lips to breathe out ashen smoke thick as a funeral shroud. Call me Alexandria for I am a tower of fire and ruin, and only by the black clouds of my pyre might you divine the true worth of the works lost to the inferno.
in these dark days I am grateful for sages and oracles, Greek choruses and seers, for I am bereft of the hope necessary to play such roles anymore, no, now I am too weary, too full of mindless rage to provide good counsel, now I am a banshee and all I can do is wail we are dying, we are dying, we are dying
But I lied; of course I’m haunted. Only all my ghosts are just the shit I said and the shit I did or the shit I didn’t say or the shit I didn’t do, and I promise you I remember them all, how can I not when I drag them around with me Marley-style? It’s too late for me, but maybe I can visit some other poor fucker on a lonely midnight and provide that oh so crucial cautionary tale that turns their life around. Only honestly I might just tell them to skip right to the end, to the stone and the six foot hole, because I’m not sure there’s any other way to get through the years unscathed no matter how many good deeds you attempt to make up for what you can’t take back. Do you think ten years from now they’ll remember that one Christmas goose, no matter how fat, or all the cruelty that came first? We are all just chains until the grave.
They will never believe you, just like they never believed poor Cassandra. Except in her case it was the curse’s fault; what convenient excuse do you have? No god-given curse, no fatal prophecy, no unavoidable destiny. Nothing to fall back on but your own shortcomings. And at least Cassandra knew she was telling the truth, even if no one believed her. That was surely some small comfort in the end. Do you know if you’re telling the truth? Do you know if any of this is even real? Maybe no one believes you because they know it’s bullshit. Or maybe… maybe no one believes you because no one’s listening in the first place. Even mad Cassandra didn’t have that problem. How pathetic.