The Other Me

I guess it’s that time again, that time I start to feel like something isn’t quite right, like something inside my head is being carried away in a swag over someone’s shoulder, someone shadowy and fast and mischievous, someone who I’ve known for far too long. It’s a “he”, always a “he”, nothing feminine or cute about this guy, he’s there with a baseball bat to beat me into submission when I least expect it.

Sometimes it’s okay, everything seems okay, and then suddenly it’s happening and I feel as if I got grabbed from behind and knocked off my feet in some dark alleyway and all the breath is gone from my lungs. Other times it’s like he flies in and out of my consciousness, flitting about like some kind of Tinkerbell, a Tinkerbell in rags and with sharp teeth, and all I can do is try to push him away, run faster, take a left turn and then a right, trying to get away.

Eventually he always catches up, and then the damage begins. It’s always just a matter of how much damage, not if, but how much. I don’t know how to explain how I feel, it’s like my brain is trying to breathe and it can’t, like someone took two of those paddles they use to jump-start a heart, and they put them on my brain and then suddenly I’m falling like Alice down the rabbit hole, gasping and motionless at the same time.

“RUN”, she says, the me, the old me, the real me, “If you stay healthy it’ll be okay. Do social stuff. Eat well. Read books. Run as fast as you can. Get some sunshine, hug someone.” And then before I know it it’s been 3 beautiful days of sunshine outside while I sit inside and lie in bed and eat and eat and eat. I don’t get dressed, I don’t brush my teeth, I start panicking. I check my phone for messages, turn it off, turn it on, turn it off, throw it at the ground, turn it on, cry and then force myself into something like a bike ride or reading a book or doing something, anything productive that might just have a chance of saving me. It feels so naive having this hope, this hope that maybe if I just do something, if I just keep moving, if I just keep doing, that maybe this time it’ll be okay.

But when it’s not enough, it’s not enough.

He’s there, he’s there and he’s pushing all those tiny black seeds into my brain, seeds that sprout into nails and push out all the good things, I can’t have good things apparently unless I can crush his horrible garden one plant at a time, a garden of wounds that needs my strength to take the nails underfoot and let it pierce right through me. One nail at a time I can pull them all out, whispering to myself “It will be okay, keep going, keep going, keep going” as I bleed and bleed and try not to let anyone else around me see that I walk this nailbed and that I’m hurting and hurting so much, I could bleed out through the floor and still some people would ask “Why?”.

But no matter how much that small-me, that little real-me that feels so suffocated, no matter how much she fights, the other one is always there, the boy-one, though boy makes him sound as if he has some aspect of sweetness, of innocence, but he is not that. He is a man, a rapist, a murderer, a thief, he takes everything from me and I always get up, so bruised, sometimes bleeding, sometimes tying the knots around my own throat and just waiting for someone to shout “no” before he flies away and I crawl out of that pit again, dragging the ropes behind me like chains, ropes that disappear and fade but the marks are always there, the places where he knows to tie them again when I make a mistake.

Right now it feels as if I climbed up so high, I felt invincible, like maybe now it would be okay, maybe that time was over, maybe I would be able to be me for once and that it would stay me and that I could just live my fucking life. And then I see him out of the corner of my eye, and I realise that somehow I walked into some street that I didn’t know was a dead-end and he’s there and he’s there and he’s everywhere I turn.

The worst part is that it feels like he’s laughing, I’m his hostage and he knows it, we both know it, we both know that he is me and I am him and that the girl-me, the woman-me, the person inside my head that desperately wants to live, she knows he is her and that she cannot escape no matter what she does, and all it really is and will ever be is a matter of survival. He knows exactly what will bring me down, exactly what will make things worse: alcohol, not enough sleep, isolation, and makes me crave those things with an intensity so strong I feel as if I cannot control it. The insomnia is the worst, and I cry so hard and deep into my soul, just knowing that every single second I lie awake is him tightening the ropes around the small me, the small but strong me who is so, so scared.

He holds up a baseball bat, and I crouch down on the ground.  I wait for the beating to begin, one eye always looking to the side for a way out. Other eye to the ground, knowing that maybe, maybe, if I just stay very still, I’ll still be alive at the end of it.

The Words We Cannot Speak

“[T]o love is to enter into the inevitability of one day not being able to protect what is most valuable to you.”

– Exit West, Mohsin Hamid

So much of life is about loss, and how we deal with it, process it, keep moving afterwards. I told my best friend M that I love her, and that this feeling scares me because love is like my lungs have been scooped out and replaced with pop-rocks. She told me she sometimes feels as if she loves in a surface way, shallow and never quite getting so deep. When she loses someone, when someone dies, she cries and then keeps on with life.

I feel right now as if someone tied me up with red threads, as if the world is so much tinier than I imagined and all these connections are pulling me in different ways. What do I do with all the loves I have? How do I explain to people: I adore you, I miss you, I love you so much that the base of my spine turns to butterflies when I think of you. I can’t help but feel so alone sometimes with these feelings, like nobody else feels so strong and keeps it all so pushed inside. I store it in my bones, in my blood, and yet when the time comes to actually say the words I can’t, I can’t, and instead all that comes out is tepid.

The flipside of that coin is that I’m fickle, easily extinguished if I don’t get enough to keep the flame alive. I cannot say that either: if you don’t love me enough, if you don’t show me enough, the fear fills me again and I will leave. But where do I go? I can’t say what I need to say, and the sadness of losing someone makes me feel so scared that I just push it away and move backwards, move away, put something in between us so that the loss will not be so much. But all the feelings are still there, everything still simmers underneath, I just need the right thing to wake it up.

I think when it comes to my flight or fight response, I’m all flight.

I met a girl on Thursday who had a tattoo of a cormorant on her back. She told me that the cormorant stretches its wings out after diving, to dry them. It’s one of the only aquatic birds in the world that does not have fully water-repellent wings.

Platonic

Recently I’ve been feeling something pretty strong towards my best friend here. She’s wonderful and I can’t help but adore her and I feel nothing but joy when we’re together. At first when I started feeling so emotional I would leave her house and think “Oh shit, am I falling in love with her?” (not again!?) and I felt scared that it would tear us apart and ruin everything. But I sat with that feeling and decided to just let it be, to just let it happen. And it kept happening, I saw that I loved her and that I felt this way and that it was okay: how can there be anything wrong with loving a friend?

I usually feel a lot for my friends, but sometimes it goes beyond what I think most people seem to experience, something in that slightly-more-than-just-friends zone. Sometimes there’s attraction too, and when it’s mutual that’s when things can get complicated. But I’ve navigated these strange and tiny ships through big storms, and even though I have a few friend-shipwrecks along the way, most of them survive and make it through to calm waters on the other side.


Another friend of mine moved away recently. When she left I realised that our relationship had been deep in some ways but very shallow in others. We had shared a lot of stories with each other, we had eaten many meals together, our kids played a lot. But I didn’t feel anything for her. If she didn’t message me, I didn’t mind. I liked her, but the emotional depth just never happened for me. With my best friend, when I’m not taking to her I miss her, I wonder how she’s doing. I think about her and her little family with those intense feelings that come with actually loving someone. I want her life to be wonderful. It’s a selfish feeling too, that I want her to be in my life. I want to have her and to keep her, but if she wanted to leave for something that would make her happy, I would want her to go.

When I got here I felt so isolated and scared of being lonely; it was a fear that I didn’t even realise I could experience until I got here. I had been afraid of the language barrier and of the logistics: visas, permits, apartment, kindergarten for my kids… I never thought about how I might not make friends. Everyone who knows me well is back in New Zealand, they know all my quirks and weirdness and flaws, but still choose to be in my life. Here I had to start again and just hope like hell that someone would like me.

After meeting her I felt like everything would be alright. At first all we did was go to playgrounds and eat ice cream with our kids. I don’t know how or when but it gradually became a lot more. It was as if she had grabbed my hand and gave us this shelter from the insanity of moving to the other side of the world. She told us about how when she arrived in Berlin she was so depressed and so lonely, and I felt like she protected me from that pain. I will be forever grateful for that.


With M. and the kids I have my own home that I created, one that travels with us no matter where we actually live. But with her, she gave me a home here, she became my home here. Enjoying Berlin and loving Berlin begins and ends with having that security and love she gives. She gives the best hugs, and she is free with her affection. That’s exactly the kind of person I need in my life, and up until now I’ve only had a few of them. For all I know things are not the same for her, and maybe things are a lot more shallow in how she feels towards me. But I know she cares about me and opens up to me, at least enough for me to see there’s something special between us. It’s so very special to me, and in my life it’s something rare.

I read this poem last week and remembered how awesome it is. It’s pretty well-known but I think it’s beautiful and at the moment it really resonates with me.

This is [i carry your heart with me(i carry it in] by E. E. Cummings.

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
                                                      i fear
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you
here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart
i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)

What I Need

For the first time in ages I have told someone what I need. Not what I want, what I need. A girl that I’ve been sleeping with keeps wanting to meet up, but I lost all my energy to socialise and have sex and it all just fell away before I even noticed it was gone. I told her that it’s nothing to do with her, but that I can’t meet up with her and I just need to focus on myself for a little while.

Even though my mood feels okay, I’ve been spending the last month in bed, at home, not venturing out much other than places that I have to go to. I take the kids out, I go to the supermarket, but I actively avoid everything else unless it’s with a close friend. These are the little blinking orange lights that show me “Hey, look out, things could get a lot worse from here if you’re not careful.”

5 years ago I didn’t notice this was happening until it was too late. I sat in my bedroom every evening, ignoring M. and refusing to interact with anyone unless I was drunk; I would wait for that blurry feeling to wash over me until I could show affection and say what I thought and crack jokes and then as soon as it was over I was back into my bed and thinking some of the darkest thoughts I’ve ever thought in my life.

We did go on holiday to Edinburgh; it felt safe and familiar — the city is laid out like Dunedin; the street names are all the same and even some of the buildings felt so much like home. Everyone was speaking English instead of German and I could just breathe for a moment. It also felt like as soon as I caught my breath, I was suffocating all over again in everything that came with those home-feelings: memories, people, damage, the small-city-ness of it all. I missed Berlin and the trains, I missed the queerness, I didn’t feel as secure walking around just being me, even though visibly I look like some boring 30-year-old Mum. I don’t look like anything strange or weird or like I push any boundaries in my life ever, but I do feel inside myself like I just don’t fit in some places. A woman I met at a rooftop bar the other week told me that in Berlin she feels like she can really be herself and relax and everyone just accepts her. She said:

In Berlin, everybody cares about who you are. But nobody minds.

And she was so right, this is true for me at least. That feeling of freedom is incomparable, I didn’t even feel it in New York. For ethnic minorities it’s another story, and to pretend that Berlin is not racist is to be completely ignorant of the issues. But in my privileged middle-class white-girl bubble, Berlin is the place to be free.

My fuck-buddy replied quickly, she was kind and told me that she understands. If I want to message her again one day, I can, she said. I told her what I need and everything was fine. I’m not used to this.

I need to focus on myself for a little while, I need to gain back some idea of what I’m doing and where I’m going. The emotional responses I’m having to M. and my friends and my kids is something that I didn’t expect – I’m not feeling so grumpy or angry or short-tempered as usual, instead it’s openness and love and this good feeling for them, mixed in with this bad self-feeling, this lack of motivation and quiet fear of venturing out into my neighbourhood. But why do I feel this confused bundle of emotions, why do I feel so simultaneously buoyed and flat? That’s what I need to figure out.

Your Body is Not My Body

Your body is not my body
You don’t need to take those rocks from your chest and hurl them through my windows
I’m already broken enough, don’t you see?

but the one thing that isn’t
is that I refuse to be afraid of heights

and every morning I get into a hot air balloon and float up into the sky.
that’s joy, flame underneath and bright colours up top
because down below is just a pit of all we could carry

My body goes through metamorphosis, heaviness into light to save itself

without doing that

I

just

sink

suffocating in a mine shaft filled with stormwater

so I go up, whether you’re with me or not but you can follow me out, if you want to

And even if
even if
even if we are on fire, so what?
you can grow many things out of ashes.

You say you’ve been burned before but babe, I already lost my wings, time and time again this body has been alight
that horrible scent of charred flesh
then plucked like a dead canary, feathers ripped off
bloody back, kneeling down prostrate and praying to nobody in a tunnel with no end.
but now my god is eros
see I’m not afraid of flying, and no matter how many rocks you hold
this balloon can still carry you.

Beast

I tell her she has brown eyes like me.
Her brother has blue eyes like Dad.
Parts handed down like quilts, eyes from so far back and so far across the sea I don’t even know where my own body was made.
And I see in my hands, heart, lungs everything you gave me, that scarlet bloom of sickness in my chest, bursting up into the air.

I remember hiding under the table, my whole body shut tight, hoping you wouldn’t see me

searching for just a stupid rubber ball.

That ball was the end of me and my clouded eyes that didn’t really see anything at all.
I was blind and yet when I saw you I was blinded more than I ever thought possible, a crouching baby beast feels such electricity in the air and just knows that it’s wrong.

And did you put this wrongness into me too?
What on god’s earth did I inherit:

brown eyes like my mother, brown eyes like my father

and the passion of both enough to split a thousand knuckles wide open.

O Brother, Where Art Thou?

Tomorrow is the 9 year anniversary of my brother’s death. Discussing it is still so hard for me, and yet I’m increasingly realising that I must find better ways of dealing with it and talking about it. When I recount how he died, when I explain everything, I somehow feel like I have to give people a disclaimer.

It’s a pretty morbid story. I don’t know if you want to hear it.

I tend to avoid talking about it. But when someone starts asking about the scars on my arms, or about my depression, or about being a teenager, inevitably the topic of my stepdad comes up. And then through talking about my stepdad, I talk about my brother, and the whole dark and twisted story comes out. There’s no good way to talk about it all, there’s no simple way to say it. When I push the words out of my mouth it’s like I’m shoving them through a barrier of cotton wool, as if by uttering them, the person I’m speaking to will be so horrified that they will disappear in a puff of smoke.

He drowned, okay? He had a seizure and drowned in the bathtub.

If he was alive he would be 18 years old now. I can’t even imagine what he would be like, what his life would be like, what any of our lives would be like. When I think about him my chest feels tight and heavy, and I feel as if my mother must be consumed by this sorrow so large that she cannot even begin to climb it.

I remember stroking his hair in the hospital when he was in the paediatric ICU. His hair was flattened into a Johnny-Bravo-style peak, from everyone stroking his hair in the same way. It was so soft.

The doctors had to test if he had any brain activity remaining, so my parents could decide if they wanted to switch off the life support or not. The doctor shone a torch into his eyes, and I stared so hard at his pupils just hoping and screaming inside my head: “React! MOVE! JUST DO SOMETHING”. But nothing happened, they turned off the life support, and that was it.

I hated his hugs, because he was always sticky and slimy and he was so skinny that his hugs were bony and painful. He would hug me and say “I love you, Leah”; he’d wake me up at 3am, standing by my bed, wanting me to play with him; my boyfriend and I would babysit him and take him places and look after him as if we were our own little family. But then he was dead and the hugs were gone and I wished with every piece of my body that I could go back in time and love him better, pay him more attention, spend more time with him, make sure he knew in his bones that I adored him even though he drove me crazy.

Four brothers seems like a lot to most people. But to me it seems like such a tiny number, just four. Four doesn’t seem like enough, when it should have been five.