a letter to the man

big boy,

so here’s the thing.  i’ve been composing this letter in my head for months & physically trying to write it out for a week.  i’ve had no luck because each word i write is undercut by the cassette tapes of terrible self-talk playing on a continuous loop in my tiny pea brain, but right now i am going to honor myself & allow myself this space to be candid & frank, to mix metaphors & ooze melodrama, to lay it all out.

first, fuck you.

a lot of things about you never made sense when i was a kid, particularly when i was a teenager suffering with an insurmountable sadness that i, & endless amounts of counseling, couldn’t fix.  all my life i have wanted you to come to bat for me–to be jerry orbach in dirty dancing, gregory peck in to kill a mockingbird, ryan o’neil in paper moon.  i have been waiting a long time for you to transform into the man i have always needed you to be, & each time you don’t rise into that man, i feel like the defective daughter who failed to bring out the stand-up-with-fisticuffs dude in you.  but the truth is, you failed to bring that out in yourself.  when i was a child, you decided to do some some really shitty, terrible things that, in the aftermath, have followed me like pig pen’s stink cloud my whole life.  when i was a teenager, you didn’t decide anything–you just quit the race.  was it too close for you?  did it terrify you that one day, after a counseling appointment, i might come home pointing my finger at you?

all these years, i have blamed myself for everything–my sadness, my anxiety at being alone with you, mom having & continuing her affair, the distance between us i was unable to close.  i have hated myself & my body, & i’ve tried to rid myself of the burden of being a survivor of incest many times in countless ways.  but no matter how many times i dig a pair of scissors into my skin, no matter how few calories i eat, no matter how many times i force myself to have an orgasm alone or with someone else, no matter how many drinks i pound down or which liquor i consume, no matter how many times i accidentally burn myself on the stove or tear up my cuticles or cut my hair or drive recklessly, & no matter which death i choose for myself in the fantasies i scheme up, that hate & shame & self-blame stays.  & dramatic as it may be to say, i’m going to say it anyway: my heart may be soft & goopy & pink for anything that moves & breathes, but if you dig deep enough through the bubblegum gunk, you will find a small black fruit shriveled & calicified into a stone.  & i’m going to say this anyway, too, even though it is trite & cliche: i don’t expect kindness or goodness from anyone.  i know they will hurt me, betray me, & abandon me.  & even though it hurts when that happens–& doesn’t it always?–i’m not surprised.  what else could i expect, especially after you?

but i’m tired.  it’s exhausting trying to embody this posterboard cutout of a girl who has it all together when, in fact, i don’t.  i don’t know how i got so good at not fucking up my life when i am a terrible wreck inside, but i did, & it’s like living in quadruplicate: the white witch uses her strength & gooky pink heart & the pliable grey shit between her ears to do good for others as the grayling remains hypervigilant & the i, this narrator, just disappears, the small seed of our inner child swallowed in the crevice of her palm.  the white witch is responsible, thoughtful, smart, & funny, a loyal daughter, sister, & friend, & she has her act together.  she can dream up goals & be indecisive about the path she wants her life to take (which to choose when there are so many?), & she can & does succeed.  she even, sometimes, thinks she looks cute in a bathing suit.  the grayling, the loose cannonball, the stray cat who’s been kicked one too many times, the ticking time bomb who can’t get close to anyone, stays in constant fear, panic, & dread.  the grayling fluctuates between a wildcat will to survive & the desire to find a dark, small space & crawl in it to die.  while the white witch is fucking around in princessland with the songbirds & rainbow-sprinkled cupcakes, the grayling never leaves the heat, like hephaestus deep in the guts of a volcano with the anvil & twenty bellows.  & when dealing with the real shit gets to be too much, the grayling uncorks the wine & uncaps the beer, digs through the medicine cabinet for the sharps, & disconnects brain from terrible body.  the white witch & the grayling are barely aware of the child cowering deep in the belly of the wreckage’s darkest corner struggling to understand the world as she thought it should be & the reality of how it actually has been as she grasps tiny plush rabbit toys by their necks as tight as she can & whispers prayers to a god who turned his back on her long, long ago.

among the buttercream frosting & pink ribbons & rabbit fur & the endless fire, there’s a thin verdigris bridge where i–the real me–tiptoe a railing, my head fuzzy with bees, my ears stuffed with cotton & static.  i walk a tightrope miles above my physical body; i think thoughts & see myself speaking them, i have physical urges & wants & see my body meeting them.  i watch, tired & sad & confused &, above all else, unreal.  do you know what it’s like to spend days at a time feeling like your body, the physical shell encasing you, isn’t yours to inhabit, like you are living in a dream that won’t allow you to wake up, like you have no will or control?  the days shift by you, & you remain voiceless, powerless, no longer (if you ever even were) the agent of your own life story.

again, let me say this: fuck you.

because here’s the thing: all this shit is not my fault.  i did not choose this, i did not ask for this, i did not have a choice in this.  i was the child.  you were the adult.  you were responsible for making good, healthy, safe decisions for me & the woman i would grow into, & you fucked up.  what i got from you is a disease that can’t be cut out or forced into silence by radiation or cured with antibiotics.  allow me my melodrama: it’s chronic, baby, & sometimes i wish it would fucking kill me.  you were the adult, i was a child.  you were supposed to have been the dude who protected me from predators like you, & instead you fucked around with me & loaded me up with this grab bag of bullshit that, frankly, i just get sick & fucking tired of hauling around.  it’s heavy & it hurts, & you tied it to me for life.  you, my protector, my friend, my testosterone wall, my father.

so i’ve been struggling to come to terms with this: that i’m an adult now, even though i don’t feel like it some of the time–the white witch babysits the grayling, who’s always on the brink of spinning out of control, but who’s real & who’s not & who the fuck am i & why is that little girl always crying?–& i’ve got the power.  i dreamt the other night about aadvarks & anteaters, long-snouted animals & their tiny babies.  when nighttime came in that dream, i found you asleep in a room, or pretending to be asleep in a room, & panic & fear & dread swept over me.  in the dream time passed quickly, but i had the feeling that i’d been waiting a very long time for you to be not-awake so that i could creep past.  i was exhausted & wiry &, because i’d had enough of the bullshit, i chose to no longer keep this stupid fucking secret, no longer keep so silent & still.  you knew that somehow, & that knowledge roused you from your sleep.  when you woke, it was like the scene in action movies in which the hero creeps past the sleeping dragon & that one golden eye opens; the violin music blinks & leaps up & swells, sweeps, staccato; the whole inside of the cave begins to crumble as the dragon chases the hero with fire, & you, the viewer, sit with your stomach shrunk to the size of a cherry lodged in your throat, your fingers gripping your armrest, your jaw clenched tight, your eyes wide.  in my dream, when i opened my mouth to tell (someone, everyone), you attempted to end your life.  when you failed, everyone turned their attention to you, expressed their concern.  i shut my mouth, once again forced into silence.

so here’s the deal.  i’ve spent a lot of time & energy trying to convince myself of your innocence & to defend you, but i’m tired & i can’t do this anymore.  i am not a liar.  i am not lying.  i didn’t dream this up.  i didn’t spend all that time hiding in my closet as a teenager for fun, & my repulsion toward the sounds of men’s mouths & their faces near my cunt & thighs are not quirks.  so i am not going to battle myself about this anymore.  you did it, you are guilty, & i am allowed to hate & resent you for that.  i know that when you felt like trying, you tried to do the best you could do, & that you love me greatly, deeply.  but sexual assault is not love, & you fucked up; i can’t pardon you from that.  you made your choices.  in my dream, you were the dragon just waking, but in this real & waking life, where i am an agent of change & can exert control over my life, i can be the dragon instead of you, my breath lit with fire, my bed a pillow of gold coins.  now, as an adult, i can guard the ruby & sapphire pendants, the opal-crusted tiaras, & each precious stone buried deep in me.  i no longer commit to defending you, pushing the what-ifs & hypotheticals in your favor.

the scales tip, topple.  the violins sweep, swell, as the emeralds glint in the light.