He Said/She Said: autumn 2018 - Part 2

I take up knitting in my studio room while listening to mystery novels. Audiobooks are a good distraction from my own life. I listen to one about a woman who can’t leave her house during a flair up of my own agoraphobia, intrigued by how she survives without going out into the world. The world feels dangerous but it also feels as though the walls of our rented house are shrinking in on me, suffocating & stifling. I feel suffocated & stifled. I listen to many other books. The narrators become replacements fo the interactions I do not have with other human beings most days, an attempt to keep me sane during my period of quarantine, a chance to be someone else - someone in a life other than my own - for a patch of time. The characters I relate to become friends for thirteen or so hours. I miss them when the books end. I feel feral, like I don’t know how to be in the modern world, like I wasn’t meant to be a human - maybe a fox or a bird, though I am terrified of heights. I am bad at marriage.

I used to spend full days hiding out in the aisles of books in the Carnegie Library in Pittsburgh when I was a child & teenager, until I moved to Saint Louis for college, to escape from my home & all of it’s conflict. I’d bring home stacks of borrowed books on the 67F bus, as many as I could carry. Books have always been a place I have found escape & camaraderie. I feel as though Louise Gluck, Mary Oliver, Anne Lamott, Cheryl Strayed, Sharon Olds, Miranda July & Dana Levin have mothered me through their work more than my own mother has.

I still do not feel like a woman. I wish for a body like Maddie Ziegler’s, the 12-or-so-year-old dancer in Sia’s music videos - thin & flat & flexible, almost androgynous. I do not feel as though I belong in an adult body. I feel ashamed of my large breasts. I feel like a fraud, like something went wrong somewhere & I shouldn’t be here. Sometimes when I am driving I think to myself, “Why the fuck am I allowed to operate a motor vehicle?” I feel like a child despite the fact that I am 27 years old. “Grow up,” I hear from the voices. “But how?” I ask, and they never provide an answer. It feels that everyone wants to tell me to grow up (by which I think they mostly mean “get a job”) but no one wants to explain how or what that means.

I begin to knit a scarf, but it turns out to be too wide to be a scarf, so I turn it into a little blanket for Lena. On my second attempt, I manage to make Edward a scarf. He proudly wears it on our little date to the Montgomery Zoo the day I give it to him.

I win a grant from a pro-choice organization to photograph a woman in my area who has had an abortion. It’s for the “1 in 3 Project” by the Advocates For Youth organization. It makes me feel like a real artist to be paid for my work. It’s the first grant I’ve ever applied for & Edward helps me edit my application. I’ve rarely had that experience, being paid as an artist, since we left Saint Louis over two years ago so Edward could begin medical school in Alabama & I left all of my contacts there. It is hard to build a photography business without a network of friends & acquaintances, without word of mouth recommendations.

Mackenzie visits me from Birmingham & we go to a safari park. We go into a large netted aviary and being surrounded by parakeets, swarmed by them, is one of the purest moments of happiness I have ever experienced. I am giddy. 

I hang a vining plant in our shower & it is official: our home has been taken over by houseplants. I share the photos on my website with a caption that reads, "I hung a stupid plant’s stupid vines in the shower & for a moment life didn’t feel like endless toil & suffering.” Edward has the week leading up to my birthday off from school & we spend a lot of the break fighting about the upcoming family wedding & other things. I am floundering.

On Sunday we have little party. Edward & I decorate the house. I am excited. I invite the new friend I met at a jewelry making shop, the Portuguese woman I met on an app & her husband, my old photographer friend, Jessica, from Birmingham & Mackenzie. Before the party Jessica, Mackenzie, Edward & I all go on a little adventure looking for this field of yellow flowers I swear I remember seeing “somewhere near here.” We actually manage to find it & Jessica takes some beautiful pictures of Edward & I. Mackenzie spends the night as Edward has to start his OBGYN rotation for school on my actual birthday. I’ve asked him not to tell me about this rotation - about the patients or the procedures like he has with the others - I don’t want to know all the gory details of how children come into the world. We aren’t going to have children, it’s something we’re both firm on - we don’t want them, feel no need for them. I do not want to be a mother but it still feels strange to me that he’s experiencing this thing through school that we will never experience together. I don’t mind him seeing other women’s parts - it just feels strange to me for some reason. And he hates this rotation, which makes him grouchy & short-tempered. 

My actual birthday is a rough day. I am depressed & angry. Mackenzie goes back to Birmingham so Edward & I can argue. A few days after the party, he gets angry & tears down all the decorations. There’s a physical altercation. It’s a total “he said” “she said,” situation - we do not agree on what happened or in what order. But theres a large bruise on the back of my arm for a week or so afterwards. 

I contract an infection & go to the ER twice then to a specialist. Two rounds of antibiotics later, no more biting is allowed.

My herbs in the backyard are thriving. I finally get my hands on a Fiddle Leaf Fig - a plant I’ve been wanting for a long time. Edward & I go to a sliding-scale fee couples counselor a few times & he tells us to learn our own & each others “love language” but it does not help. We stop going. It’s hard to make the business-hours appointments with Edward at the hospital all day. Talking about the issues brings them to the forefront & that’s upsetting & easier to keep them in the background of our lives.

Somewhere amidst the cluster-fuck that feels like my life, I find poetry again. I write “Not This Way, Not Like It Has Been,” and show it to our counselor. I also rediscover my purpose - creator, artist - vague as that is. I feel most myself when I am making. I want to become an artist again, I’ve fallen too far into the role of housewife - nesting this room & that room, trying to make everything pretty & welcoming. I want to tell my stories, leave my mark (if I make one). I write this poem after waking up at 3am and spending hours on a drawing I end up throwing away:

Tentative Vow

I am beginning to remember

the purpose I claimed

as my own long ago. 

Yesterday: a reminder of how alive

I feel when I am creating things

& what that entails - aiming

for eyes wide open, being

witnessed, an outstretched hand.

Mary Oliver tells me what I need to do:

“Pay attention.

Be astonished.

Tell about it.”