I didn’t know how to write about this last semester of school, so I wrote a story. It’s mostly fake.
yours, weekly, Alice
I hate being a character. I think that if I gathered up every text message I’ve ever sent out and put them through the same machine Childish Gambino used to find his own name, I could finally be a writer. I read somewhere a long time ago that all good female writers are ugly, so then not only would I be a writer, I’d try to be cute, too. That’s all I want. To be famous. To have skinny legs. To scheme into existence a functional relationship with the only ***** (boy/human/lover/hologram) I’m going to be obsessed about for the rest of my life. Is that Too Much To Ask.
Guess how many of those sentences actually started off as text messages. Guess. Guess. Guess.
Actually, I started off by taking out the parts of my body that didn’t like me. They tended to dissociate without problem, anyway, and knowing that hurt me the most. It’s still lucky because this was the beginning, and any pain I’d felt I always ended up forgetting. I just had to remind myself this was what I wanted. What I wanted. Practically, my tonsils had to go first. I just plucked them like two fat, stubborn grapes, and they sat by my desk lamp for a few weeks before my roommate started asking about the smell. By then they looked more like walnuts and the pus had calcified them into grecian busts. I swore they were charmed with magic voodoo stuff, because in those weeks, we both woke up with glowy skin, and I kissed lots of boys on Fridays, and we called them the Friday boys. After this first go, picking got easier. My left nipple, the one that shriveled weirdly, was a twist-off. I liked myself better this way, which is why I did it. It gave me courage, and I indulged myself even more and stopped wearing bras after I saw the models doing it on Instagram. Then, my too-small pinky toe nail, and the flare in my nostrils, and my knees that looked like baby heads, and the extra lump of fat near my hips, and the hair between my crotch and my belly button. It was like harvest time in my mom’s garden. I saved everything and put them in small jars in the same dresser drawer I put my mismatched underwear in, next to my sock holes and nude colored things, so the glasses wouldn’t clank against each other. I always liked the fact that I stayed a whole person, but if you looked carefully I didn’t have kneecaps and I was proud. I owned my vanity like a pop song and redeemed myself to the outside when I told my roommate that I was practicing to be a better person and was very careful to cover the smells with lavender soap. Like therapy. I guess everything worked out fine, since our skin was still radiant, and my lack of tonsils made it easier to do certain things. The world felt lighter.
Sometime in the middle of this, I ran out of a very specific brand of Trader Joe’s shampoo and in an act of desperation converted my body wash into a two-for-one. Someone (who was in love with me, but I didn’t know it, fully) complimented my hair-smell for the first time in years. That was around when I noticed the things I was doing to myself were getting noticed by other people. I could see everything play out like an elaborate simulation and it was nice to watch. I decided that real empowerment was knowing you could entertain yourself.
After I fixed my body, I felt OK enough to start dancing. In some ways, it seemed like my only option after I had told JD that I was sexually unawakened and went into a long thing explaining myself. He looked me in the eye and told me to never verbalize this specific frustration to any potential boy friend, space, and I told him it was too late, by at least three boys. He also told me about his experiences, plural, and said I needed someone (a boy) to help me if I wanted a full awakening. This was one of the days out of a handful of days that followed when I realized I liked talking much more than I liked doing anything else. I could actually see my discomfort because I’d gotten myself hooked on mirrors for the past year and had to go to the bathroom in the middle of class to look at myself and make sure I was still the Whole Person I liked to advertise as. I wanted the mirrors because I wanted to catch myself living, to fall in love with myself in the order I’d imagined someone else might, and that required being able to see. It was hard, though, since my skin had only just started clearing up and I never really liked how my eyes curved and the Cupid’s bow on my lips was too pointy. These were distractions, but I needed the mirrors to know about anything that changed. I might look one day, past it all, into my brain, my heart, the inside-things I couldn’t take out that made me living rather than dead, and bam— everything would be comfortable. My tail would be in my mouth and finally, a hairy, methodical victory. The mirrors. That’s probably the second best reason for why I started dancing. I had an entire hour and thirty minutes twice a week to stare at myself in all sorts of positions to get a better idea of what it was like to be me. I was careful. It was data collection.
Naturally, the third best reason was because I thought I was getting fat and the fourth was because I got tired of talking. And the girls who danced looked so pretty, and I was hoping that maybe after a few months someone might stop my walk to class to ask if I danced. They would know just by the way I was comfortable with the sidewalk.
As I was making this list in my head, it was April and I got flexible enough to do the splits on one side. I thought my teacher was complimenting someone else but she was staring right at me, and it was hard for me to stare back. It felt good even though I never did anything right in class again. I was afraid of twisting my ankles while leaping across the floor, and I didn’t have the leg tone to lift myself up. I realized that I had a thick back and bad memory, but I liked dancing because as I was caught up in my body, I couldn’t think about anything else. It was fine that I was the worst in the class, or that everyone saw me messing up, because I could feel my stomach getting flatter by the way boys started scanning me at parties. This was a character building exercise. This was the only time I sort of liked how my brain was getting numb, and I stopped looking at myself so much. It felt like floating, and I wanted to scream.
I didn’t think any of this would actually work. That’s the confession. By the end of the year, I was sick in bed with my third case of tonsillitis in six months. I wasn’t expecting my tonsils to grow back, and when I was choosing between buying more jars or giving up, I decided that being sick would make me skinnier and that it was fine to have knees again. There wasn’t much for me to think about anyway, since the best I could manage was peeling refrigerated oranges and sucking on the juice to make my throat feel better. It was in bed, with all of my regenerated body parts, where I accepted that I was back to where I started. I suspected that my irregular smoking had done some real damage because I was born weak, and the cold sweats came in waves to remind me that I still existed. I could hardly move, so I let myself go for a few minutes and thought about the Friday boys. Right then it was too easy to not care about them in some deep way, and I only focused on the parts I liked— lips, eyelashes, SZA, blowing smoke through a silk screen, burning my fingers on a lighter. I was awake, and I didn’t feel guilty about not caring since I learned so much about myself in those few months that my mom thought I grew a few inches. It was good while it lasted. Good while it lasted. Good while it lasted.
Good good good.
I’m convinced that I look exactly the same as I did, but everything feels different now, on the inside. I don’t have all of the things I wanted, but I’ve found bits of my name floating in dairy-free cereal. I’ve imagined a whole story of other lives and other characters in the time between these pages. But I’m a writer, a smoking poet, depraved, in love, but I look at myself in stained glass and see that this body is the the one I have and the one I want. Have. Want. Have. Want. The forever things that bothered me about spending my life walking inside this body are the most beautiful. I can’t look away. I’m a masochist, I’m here for the Rest Of Time, I’m suspended. The permanence of this trap makes me feel less lonely. I have these bones. This body. This body.