The corpse flower of American hatred
Blooms once in a generation
Making people of sound mind
Pinch their noses
And curl their lips in primitive disgust
It began with ourselves
Borne across the Atlantic on the Mayflower
Claiming a desire for religious freedom
Succeeding where Jamestown failed
They slaughtered the ones who lived here
With muskets and diseased blankets
Making children their brides
And driving the unwilling onto reservations
Where they still live impoverished today
We let them have casinos
Tell them they're sovereign nations
But we'll pollute what we've given them for oil
We began abducting Africans
By the shipload
Exploiting tribal warfare
For our national gain
Slaves built the White House
Now the home of a veritable Klansman
Thinking ourselves on the right side of history
We sent thousands of young men
To die in Asia
Claiming a fight against Communism
When really it was just an excuse
To kill more poor brown people
But it was just a conflict
War never officially declared
We built The Wall for our dead
Grieved another lost generation
And moved on
The Quran was the next evil
A branch of the same tree
From which Judaism and Christianity grow
Seen as diseased
It had to be cut off
When it was we who'd armed them
Fed their radicalization
Crying foul when they defended themselves
Against the mightiest nation's renewed assault
We sit now smelling what we planted
Four hundred years ago
Watering the soil with the blood of the other
Blood is thicker than water
It rots, too
I don't know what we expected
From roots dug so deeply in hatred
I am sitting here right now thinking about how far I've come and how hard I've worked in such a contracted period of time. I had no deadline, no concrete goals to achieve or exceed, but it's a lot, and it's been fast. In under two years, I lost an entire adult's worth of weight, I got divorced, I crawled out of debt and into enough savings to last me months should I become unemployed. I was promoted twice, started living alone, bought a car, began and ended relationships that I thought were fine but weren't. I learned to set boundaries and declare their violations. I spat in the eye of decades of abuse, and told them they weren't allowed to control me anymore. Looking back at it all from this chair in front of this window, I don't know how I managed. It was all encompassing chaos, and I was in the middle of it without a way to sidestep.
I've done all these things, but I still have so far to go, and it's daunting. I should be celebrating my achievements, but I'm still beating myself up for the ones I haven't made yet. I have an impossible time asking for what I want. It's even harder to ask for what I need. I release the words with a cringe because I expect "no" to come in the form of a lengthy and painful argument when all I wanted to do was talk. I am acutely, paralytically afraid of losing people important to me by exposing that I can't always do everything myself, and that vulnerability gnaws in the middle of the night. I do not want to need or crave basic comfort, to admit I ache with it because I'm supposed to be able to do and handle anything. In so many ways, I'm still six years old figuring out that the world doesn't want me but still wanting it back.
I go through these exhaustive self examinations because I know I can be better. I refuse to accept that I am irreparably broken, but deeply know that I am. I may never trust anyone fully again. I might always look for the lies buried in a perceived half truth, sniffing out the rot in every omission. I will get searingly, shockingly angry at my insecurities and cry myself to sleep because you made me feel them. By my own measure, I simply can't compete, and I can't settle for good as I am. I can never be proud of myself or accept an earnest compliment. My imperfections hurt as they echo in my chest.
So much is easy for me. I need only be shown a task before I can master it. But getting out of bed, planting my feet on the floor, those are hard every single day because I know I need to keep looking inside and trying to fix me.
Pain slips in
Through the edges
Of the windows
In the house that love built
Settling cold and heavy
In my bones
I ache with the burden
Wishing I could burn and banish it
But I know
To have one without the other
To seal the cracks is to suffocate
And I still want to breathe
Affection and ache
ebb and flow
Unceasing as the tides
Covering and exposing me
Without a moon to govern
Or an almanac to consult
You cannot sell
The house that love built
It's held in perpetual trust
And only a fool would buy it
O Captain, My Captain!
If I'd been thinking straight, I'd have stood up on the conference room table and shouted it. But I wasn't thinking straight. Instead, I was tapping Robert lightly on the shoulder to ask for tissues. In a way, I haven't stopped since, and it's been almost three days. Another coworker, sitting two chairs away, and whom I've always thought odd, rolled her chair over to me to put an arm around me. I wasn't the only one crying, but I was the only one doing it silently, letting the blow land, absorbing every pound of force behind the impact, anticipating the bruise. I don't cry in front of people. It's not my way. And I tried so hard not to, but this was too much to hear even though I'd known it was coming for hours ahead of time.
On Tuesday morning, they fired my boss. The words don't seem like much. So what? People leave or get fired all the time. This is different. This is the result of petty, vindictive people acting in their own self interest and saying to hell with the rest of them, and I know who did it. I figured it out a long time ago. Before it even happened. Because I know people. I see the quality of their souls even when they try to hide them. It's my superpower, and while I use it all the time, I rarely unleash its full power. When you know what makes someone tick, you also know what will stop their clock. I want to stop this clock. I want to take my knowledge of this person and spill it blackly over them, sticky and suffocating. People don't like the truth - especially when it's their own - when they've worked so hard to maintain a veneer so shiny it blinds even them in the mirror. I've been gracious, polite, helpful, and kind to this person. Fuck grace. When they return, they will find me cold and unyielding. They may find us all so.
So, what's the big deal? Can't I separate the personal from the professional? Ordinarily, yes. There are exceptions to every rule, and this one's been broken. Professionally, my boss raised me up, gave me my voice back, supported me, advocated for me, and listened. She was mentor, ally, confidante, and cheerleader. She found problems, and ways to solve them, by never ceasing to ask why until it was over. She did that for all of us. We'd been told previously not to ask questions, to trust the system, to accept what was as it was even while everything was wrong. It sat badly with me, and I was disciplined twice for being vocal, so I stopped talking. Personally, she texted me photos of her cats, of her beer, of her adult daughter napping on the couch. She invited me to Thanksgiving with her family when I was an orphan. She knew almost everything, and she was my friend.
My heart is broken, and my job will soon become intolerable. She was the only thing keeping me here, and the wolf in sheep's clothing has taken her from me. I will wait a while for personal reasons, but I will leave, and I will take my inconceivable talent with me because she was the only one able to conceive it. She wants me to go. She wants me to stop being Robin Hood, taking money from an industry I oppose, and do something I love because she believes I can succeed in anything. She's a soul-seer like me, but she overlooks the worst of someone, and this undid us all. I don't blame her. I admire her hope. She's been so apologetic, and I won't allow her to bear this. Nobody will.
O Captain, my Captain! I love you.
We are taught to use our words
The lie of sticks and stones
While bone heals
More readily than soul
I can craft a compliment
From consonants and vowels
Punctuated with love
Just as much as I am able
To forge a sword in hatred
Sharpened on the stone of my rage
I can cure or cut with the assembly of syllables
I have done both in a breath
But it is in my silence where the volumes speak
Verbs in a vacuum
Sucked up and away
That you know I am lost to you
We arrive here as beings
Bound by stardust
The breaths follow
Loudly expressing our disconsolacy
Torn from the sky
Thrust into a loud, bright world
When all we knew
Was a subtly thrumming darkness
We want to go back
Some part of us
Always wishing for what was lost
To be made particulate and floating again
Or perhaps it's just me
Desperate for the simplicity of aimlessness
The pressure of goals
The complexity of wholeness
Held here by gravity
My cells remember
When I was widespread and weightless
I must remind them I am temporary
This time of jostling and bustle
Will end more quickly than it began
They will be free to roam again
Many years from now
When I am gone
Having been here sufficiently long
To begin asking for release
From the bonds that held so fast
My memories and those of me will fade
Dispersed to wind and waves
Absorbed eventually elsewhere
In someones and somethings else
Is an angry red
A sting and a tang
When touched to my tongue
And I can't stop
Poking at it
Wanting to hasten healing
Impotent in the face of the second hand
Laughing at me
With each staccato tick
I'm not better
Something fresh always replaces it
Somewhere and something else
There is no salve for this
No unguent to soothe
Only acclimation to new pain
As it fades to background noise
Becoming a new instrument
In the symphony of scars
Can you hear it
As you approach?
I tried to warn you
Two years ago, I was very fat. Two years ago, I was in a marriage that didn't deserve me with a person who didn't deserve me. I was abused as a child - emotionally, verbally, and physically. It was the abuse that made me fat to start. I was long and lithe as a small child. At six, the abuse began, and so I ate. I ate for the dopamine comfort because it was the only kind available. At nine, they sent me to fat camp. At twelve, they sent me to Weight Watchers. At thirteen, I was diagnosed with a rare autoimmune disorder that causes the equivalent of a spinal cord injury. I was briefly paralyzed from the waist down, and my mobility, balance, and sensation were never the same again. The entire time, they called me fat either explicitly or subtly, hiding it under mock concern for my health.
At nineteen, I lost a lot of weight. I lost it fast, often 4 pounds or more a week. I lost it by overexercising in secret and fearing most food. I let people think I was just a vegetarian, but I was actively shunning anything I thought might contain fat. In those months, I was the sickest I've almost ever been. I had severe abdominal pain, I was paranoid about everything that went into my mouth, and my immune system weakened to a point where I became so ill with strep they had to give me IV fluids, Vicodin, and baby penicillin. It leveled me for weeks.
And then I was basically married. I was 1200 miles away from all of my friends and family. I felt isolated and lonely. I stopped exercising, and I started eating. We were so poor that dinner was cobbled together from whatever was laying around and cheap. Minute rice, pasta, cheese. It wasn't just the poverty, though. My partner's friends and family hated me at first because I was the bitch who took him away. He wasn't kind, either. He made me feel stupid. He made me feel insufficient. He made me feel small. So I got big -again - without meaning to.
At some point in my mid-twenties, I cried myself to sleep over my size. I told him I was thinking about surgery, but it's one of my greatest fears, and we were so poor (not to mention often uninsured) that it would ever happen. He said he loved me as I was. I believed him and I did nothing. And I got bigger.
Between 19 and 34, I gained 135 pounds. In that time, I learned to love my body for what it did for me. I wasn't impeded by it, and it allowed me all I wanted to do. I'm sure I was excluded from job opportunities because of it. I know people talked about me because they'd say it to my face and I'd tell them a variant of "fuck you" depending on my association to them. I was still proud of my fat and I hailed the body positivity movement. I argued with people about how thinness is not part of the social contract, and I never signed one to start, so they can shove that contract. I still feel this way, and I still haven't signed. Your body is your province to do with as you please. It is yours to move or be still. Yours to show or hide. Yours to share with someone else or to hoard. Your body is exclusively your business.
Two years ago, I was very fat. Two years ago I decided to become less fat. I still knew surgery wasn't an option, and I'd added a new autoimmune disorder that has a severe impact on metabolism. I knew it might be hard. My opinion on weight loss surgery had changed. It went from a possible solution to something with terrifying complications. It's not just one surgery, but several. You lose weight so quickly that your skin doesn't shrink with you, and it needs to be removed. They remove flaps from your middle, create seams in your arms and legs, tailors of flesh. Weight loss surgery also causes digestive problems. Vomiting and sudden diarrhea, vitamin deficiencies, bowel obstruction, hernia, hypoglycemia, and ulcers are all common. A patient's gallbladder will also usually call it quits shortly thereafter, adding yet another surgery. My only option was to change. I settled on a goal of a size 18 knowing I could still be fat and shop in normal stores. I refused to use weight as a goal because those numbers drive me insane.
And oh, a change was born. I realized my marriage wasn't worth me and I'd gotten so low, I mightn't get up again. I created boundaries. I started eating less and better - not least because my newfound boundaries made me nauseated for their boldness and unknown consequences. I found movement I didn't hate. I started taking the dog for long walks on my own to get away from my husband. To mix it up, I ordered kettlebells, 10 and 15 pounds to start. The next day, walking the dog, I broke my ankle. I was angry.
I used anger as a tool. Three days after the fracture, I started swinging. It was cathartic to hold a cannonball in my hands. I began low impact aerobics in a chair - my Old Lady Chair Workouts - to build endurance and increase endorphins. Within three months, I met my goal. A size 18 was a glory, and I reveled in it as it slipped over me, comfortably fastening around me. The thing was, I didn't stop there, and I couldn't. I introduced High Intensity Interval Training, I introduced more weight, I experimented with running. My life was still changing too fast for me to process, and the routine of exercise had become a comfort. I continued to drop a size every month or two for a year, shedding too big clothes like snakeskin. There were times when a pair of jeans would fit only long enough for me to wear them three times before they'd slide off me.
Things have mostly leveled now. I'm less than half my goal size today, and it bothers me. I resent XS clothing that fits me more than I ever resented an XXL, but I like wearing things that meet my quirky aesthetic and that they fit. Comfort in my fat has been replaced by a gnawing anxiety with me every time I feel like I've eaten too much because I'm afraid I'll wake up the next morning fat again. Street harassment has changed from the occasional jeer to encounters that are explicitly threatening because they think I can be had. I have become visible in ways I never expected or wanted. People are nicer to me. Strangers compliment me in public.
My options for partners expanded as my body contracted. I am no longer a fetish or a niche desire. I am a thing of mass appeal, but that's a problem. I'm not a thing and it's harder for people to dig for the person I am, preferring to simply leave the box unopened so they can look at the shiny packaging. I hate these things and I often hate my body. I hate the things I'm trying to change that won't - the crepey skin gathered at my belly, the stubborn arm flab. I hate that (at last weigh in 9 months ago) even 125 pounds down, it doesn't feel like enough, and there will always be a whisper that says, "smaller."
I take comfort in certain dynamics that are new like having a partner who loves and appreciates me entirely, knowing they felt the same when I was fat as they do now because while the packaging may be nice, and was always nice, the gift inside was always what really mattered, so I let them truly know me in ways I never could with someone else, and I look forward to the future instead of trying to brace for it. I appreciate being more approachable even if I don't want to be approached. I like finding clothes cheap and cute that fit like they were made for only me, no longer limited to my fat uniform of tank top, cardigan, and jeans.
I've become harder in many ways, and less sympathetic. My body has harsh angles that dig into soft places and hurt. So does my personality. I'm more judgmental these days. I think bariatric surgery is an expensive cheat destined to fail because they didn't have to do the work or change the habits needed for long term success. I think people who stay fat but complain about it are lazy. It's not fair to anyone and I'm not superior no matter what my ego says. I still love seeing fat bodies proudly displayed in crop tops, sheer bodycons, thighs rubbing in short shorts, and tiny bikinis. I love their stretch marks and rolls because I still have them (and hate mine) and lack these women's flamboyance. I love bigger men, too, with their dissonant firmness and softness, the ease of their strength, the depth of their laughter resonating in their chests.
I was fat, and I'm not anymore. It's not remarkable despite what so many people say when they see old photos. I accomplished nothing that ultimately matters in the end. I'm just smaller and harder now. I didn't work that hard to get here and I'm ashamed of how little I struggled in comparison to how much petty praise I've received. It's taught me that people are worse than I thought. It's taught me that I will always struggle and the nature of the struggle simply shifts or becomes slipperier. It's taught me I'm still me and I'm still not good enough.
Is an oath
Is a vow
Is a solemn swearing
That you will do what it takes
To the end of it all
Is something I take seriously
That I make rarely
That I fulfill always
A promise is a gift
Without wrapping or bows
It is an opening of yourself
To the cost and debt of failure
Exposing your potential for weakness
To someone who shouldn't have to bear it
And you will not make them
A promise is a weight
Taken from me
And I can't let it go
It's been dropped on soft tissue too many times
I will show you the scars if you ask
A promise should be kept
Locked inside your lungs
Dammed from slipping over your tongue
Through your teeth
I don't need another Trojan horse
When each tear is a word I can't speak
If I let them drop on a blank sheet
Could they be read?
Or would they smudge together
Like ink on the heel of my left hand?
Still getting in my own way
No tool made for my use
That I can't break
Or make garbled
Instead, I let them run down my cheeks
Some finding their way
Salty to my lips
Silence tasting like sadness
The rest drip onto my pillow
I turn it over
So I don't feel the cold and damp
Left in its wake
When I change my sheets
Wash them clean
I erase entries in a journal
I could never write
For fear of being found