Like a Body from the Balcony
Title from the Mitski song “Townie.”
Content warning: references to self-harm, sexual violence
He keeps his self-self in his bedroom, like a pet snake, a tamed, glass-encased sort of wild. Only caught in glimpses, reluctant blushes of light, shaky, ungraspable. He stays mostly inscrutable. Dangling himself above all the rot you store up and tidy away, clean and folded. He is above it. Above the fraught landscape of a body. That scarred terrain of pimples, flakiness, scabs, hair, debris of self-mutilation, and unseemliness. He is above the hurt that resides in the body and haunts its awkward frames. He never crawls so far into himself that he cannot see his way back out.
You taste his lips, but you are thinking of someone else’s. You skim your fingers above his navel, dip them underneath his boxers, but you are touching someone else. You let him wrestle with your hair, wield your head like a steering wheel, let him think you like how he feels in your mouth, but you are swallowing someone else completely. He thinks you are giving, but you are imbibing. You reset your own empty through him, lush, regenerated empty.
In other words, his taste keeps your own out of your mouth.
You make everything into a thing. You bludgeon life so that it fails to bludgeon you. You make things difficult. Your eyes puddle up when you get angry, and no one will take you seriously. You talk at the worst times about heavy shit. You drop a boulder into a conversation and try to nudge people towards it. You can’t cry when people die or when you hear the National Anthem, but every time someone makes a rape joke your throat clamps like a curling iron on skin, and you disappear into the bathroom. You overshare online. You give everyone everything all the time. You are a communal pillow for everyone to bury their snotty faces into and scream and sag against. You still don’t give enough. You care about the wrong people, and you care way too much. You like eating alone and going to horror movies alone and walking alone. You live in a city. You do everything you can to unstitch yourself from its gums, to shovel yourself out and stop dancing this gnat-footed dance. You drag your heart around like a lisp, spit it into people’s faces when you talk. You still can’t get your hurt to shapeshift into beauty, so no one wants to hear it. You pretend you can unknow shame. You pretend you can water it into growth. You make shit up just to tidy your pain into a respectable little portrait. You wish you were only into girls, into anyone but men. You resent your own desire, how it eschews gender but craves men anyway, craves the worst of them. You know that cruelty might be different if you ask for it, but you wonder why these guys like to make black-blue portraits of their fingers around your throat, why their longing for violence looks okay while yours looks pathological. You feel boyish and swoony. You are a girl but you are more girl-ish, and your queer-love-story writhes around in you like a seizing fish, no water to swim in anymore. You secrete crushes like dandruff, and you write gushing-heart bullshit to the women you ache for. You don’t yet know how to let yourself name them.
In the summer, L.A. reveals what it’s always been: a desert. The sun hurts. The sky hot-white and belligerent. Traffic chokes up the freeways, everyone frantic for the beachside, everyone pointed towards Venice. The beach more of a mirage than a beach, brackish water, stewing with plastic and used condoms and beer bottles, more grey than blue. Sand in your hair, shoes, ass, everywhere you think it can’t reach it will. Days surface and drown, idling, sun-sluggish. You avoid the beach, all of the shininess it flings.
Once, at sixteen or so, this sermon of a girl billowed through your summer, all blue glasses and bad posture and disjointing, tiger-mouthed closeness. You went to the movies with her. She liked the ketchupy guts and the scrambled brains of your horror movies, the plotlines that you both sneered and snorted at, your shared words threading and overtaking the film itself. You would litter each film with your crude jokes, your hiccuping banter, and one day she took your hand and held it for the whole movie. One day she asked to taste some of your Raisinets, and her mouth skimmed your jaw before you kissed, and you came into the daylight sweet-sore and frightened.
You watched movies together. That’s what you’d say if anyone asked. We were film geeks, or something. But that meant something, maybe, kinda. You, stubborn, unmoved by anything unseeable, and yet somehow, these movies became your communion: blue raspberry Icees and greasy popcorn with Raisinets. You and her slivered out a shivering, sacred thing, or so your heart-of-hearts suggested at night, the back of your mind turning and braiding together some tentative language called want, a prayerbook for her only. The latticework of girlhood: you scraped your palms on it, climbed up its edges, and in through her bedroom window. You broke and entered. She loved that, how you’d tumble into her room, huffing, thorns stuck to fingers. How she’d laugh. How that laugh would crack open a soda in your gut, bubbling, raucous. This girl, she knew how to open all the windows, how to let the summer air into your brain. And you let her.
You are bad at plot. This is what you remember: bodies in a petaled duvet, bloodrush. Swelling, blooming, laughter. Trying to be quiet. None of the shame you felt in the daytime. What happened in her bed pricked you raw. It delivered you to yourself. You undressed each other, touched until your fingers pruned. Her eyes shuttered close like she didn’t want to look. But when she came, she opened them. You pretended you swam in the same guilt she did. You were learning to breathe holding your breath. You were learning to let her turn over and go to sleep while you stared at the ceiling and felt some flashlight in your chest flicker on and off all night long.
In your high school physics class, you once learned about “Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle.” It asserts that when measuring the physical state of a quantum system there’s a fundamental limit to the amount of precision that can be achieved. The more precisely you measure the momentum of a particle the less precise your measurement of its position.
The closer you get, the farther it moves. The more you examine your own wants, their origins, how they’ve linked their arms with those pesky big-T traumas of yours, the more you hold all of that murk up to the light, the more it stretches, multiplies itself, refracts moments upon moments, fragments your memory into shards of green glass. Clear, but hued green, the color of Daisy’s light across the bay teasing and melancholy, something to reach for, something to lust after - but you must cross such dark water to touch it. And Gatsby’s going to die in water anyway.
There are so many ways to punish yourself. You think of your skin as a confession or a topography: your sins committed and spoken for. Here is your self-flagellation etched around your cheekbones and chin. You pick at your acne and your cuticles. You bite your lip till it glistens like a gashed pomegranate. The pried, scratched, mourned skin. How red and ashamed can it get?
A boy’s bedroom is just another way. He knows nothing; he knows so very little, at least - but he waives his right to self-examination. His words bullet the sky, wounding the sleepy blue with his too-loud remarks, claiming territory in spaces that shouldn’t belong to anyone at all. You listen, because sometimes he says something, and it will remind you of the times you’ve walked into glass doors expecting nothing to be there but suddenly see all at once, suddenly understand to be a place you should’ve learned how to open in yourself. Somehow he does that, somehow he gives you hot flashes of tenderness and you never know how to look straight at them. Still: he talks about books he’s never read, he talks about the man-made ones he has, he saws out all of his own wounds and dumps them on the bed, he has no one else to make them coherent for him. You admire this, his entitlement to his own importance. How he knows his articulations matter, how he knows he has a right to exist at all and crowd rooms full of his pain while he’s at it. You listen. You want that knowing too.
The slits of time like this:
you have crumbs in your sheets, and your stomach wrestles with itself. You’re bleeding through your pajamas. The body, on these days, releases a you you want to pretend you don’t like. The venomous you. The bloated wailing body, the non-poetry of a period, how to even write about it makes you feel stupid, to afford any pages to such a common ache. You could name your autobiography On Bleeding. With your attention-seeking insides, growing cysts every month, the pain the kind you cannot quite believe yourself because you are never told to believe in girl-pain. You wish it wouldn’t wreak its vulgarity upon you, you wish it weren’t such a slash in your life, that you could not think about bleeding so much, but this tantrum of a body doesn’t give a shit. You want to say, I know this isn’t new, I know you are tired of listening to period poems, I am tired of writing them, I am tired of being them. You know the only type of bloodstain anyone takes seriously looks like the ones from the other violence, the outside cruelty. The species that white guys like to novelize, with their pens drawn up to their own bloodstreams: such neat and accessible veins, such unquestioned, tepid-voiced pain.
Lip-glossed, painted, and veiled in sordid pink-pulsing shades, you always walk so very surely towards yourself. What you really want to do is sprint, trip over your own feet running so hard, a one-girl stampede. Yes, you want to stampede yourself, you want to crush her, to maim her complicity and the waltzy self she puts on. You want to slight all of that. You know her, you say. You know her, you think you do, you might. You could.