Love-Bombed.

The restaurant was so dark I could barely see him, backlit by some dim lanterns that kept the place moody, warmly toned, but technically visible. There were dark corners where booths held people, in pairs, speaking to each other intimately over the soft piano music. Cutlery clinked against glass or porcelain, subtle. I appreciated that the music wasn’t too loud, since this was the sort of place where people talk about intimate things over their meals; it surprises me to no end how many eating or drinking establishments miss that point. I was taking in everything: the small sounds, the slight taste of wine in my mouth from my last sip. The tablecloth was silky smooth under my fingers as i traced the edge of it for something to hold on to and tried to look him directly in the eye as he spoke, holding his gaze. I wanted to look anywhere else. The walls had beautiful art on them I wanted to study. It was a strange geometrical modernist sort of imagery within which you can see virtually whatever you want. The texture of the carpets was suddenly something I wanted to inspect and find the pattern in. I imagined looking at the ceiling. I wondered if it was interesting, speckled or peaked, if it had an inset to it. My lap, shrouded in black as usual and containing my other hand, the one not tugging on the edge of the tablecloth, but I did not look down. I am sure my nails are fine and do not need my attention, but I want to check. Ignoring these impulses became my secondary focus while my primary was to listen to him. It was considered attentive to look someone in the eyes when they are speaking from the heart, wasn’t it? He seemed to mean what he was saying. I wanted to believe his intentions were good. I think he did. I took note of my own skittish brain. Why can’t you just listen, why are you so easily distracted? What are you doing, mind?

I had been going into any romantic or sexual connection for the last few months with a pretty clear caveat that I was not well-equipped to be relied upon for emotional care or labour until further notice. I was recovering from some relationship implosion trauma and the well I had of emotional energy with which to deal with the feelings of others was very slowly refilling. There was about an inch in the bottom. That is nothing when the image in my head of this well sizes it comparable to a wheat silo.

He was explaining to me, on our second date, that he was in love with me.

He said that he felt empowered by the fact that I was so open and accepting, that he felt safe expressing the feelings he had because he knew I wouldn’t judge him. He also said that he didn’t expect me to respond in kind, that he was just happy to be in my life in a meaningful way.

He said this to me the second time we spent time together in person.

I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I inhaled, and knew, logically, that oxygen should get to my brain, but felt a bit like it would not survive the journey for some reason. Something was constricting in my chest. The air passing through my lungs just wasn’t enough.

I ignored that feeling.

I smiled and thanked him for his sentiment and his kind words. I might have reached out and taken his hand as some gesture of affection, or something to indicate that it was okay. My brain flooded with emotions. I was flattered, but I immediately felt guilty for not telling him I loved him back. I felt some shame. It was happening again. I did not know that the guilt would eat at me until I said it to him a short time later, maybe a couple of weeks. I don’t think I meant it in the way he thought I did, I also do not think I was influenced by him alone. That influence did not just come from the fact that he had said it first, or anything.

It came from everywhere.

Everything I understood about wanting to make people happy by giving them what they want, about the supposed fragility of the male ego not being able to cope with rejection and therefore to reject even a little was an act that could lead to my abuse, or about there being value in loving with an open heart and that the meaning of the word didn’t have to be what is traditionally assigned to it. About gratitude, bravery, honesty, and that love conquers all, or that it is enough. About this being a warning sign.

About ignoring warning signs.

The list went on.

There is a flavour to the “I love you” that follows the one that was too soon to be real. It doesn’t quite taste the same in your mouth as you form the words with lips round over the o’s and teeth coming together with lips over the vee. there’s a sense of the words being pulled from your lips without you quite being okay with it. The feelings accompanying it are trepidation, uncertainty, nerves. As opposed to having freely given them, or that the momentum of them leaving your throat was coming from something deeper inside of you. Something probably like your own agency. Empowerment. Safety.

Sometimes people do things, say things, to garner some sort of response. We don’t even know we’re doing it. I have done this. I have acted particularly in order to get through to an understanding by the other person, based on what I thought they would understand. I am not happy or proud that I have acted in this way. In fact, I’m committed now to speaking as clearly and as from the heart as I can so that people can have the sort of reactions they want to have, and making space for them to do that. But prior to my better understanding of myself and how I communicate, I would do and say things based on a set of information I had that suggested “people” (generally) act a way in response to the act. If i was being critical, I would call my own behaviour manipulative. If I am being kind, I call it influential.

The words are practically synonymous, but I bet a different feeling manifested when you read them each. I had a different feeling typing them. I searched through thesaurus to find words that more accurately portrayed what I meant. I glided over calculation, persuasion, conviction… none of them seemed to quite be so close and yet quite so juxtaposed.

A set of dominos begin to fall with love-bombing. The person who is professing their love might feel a set of emotions based on the fact that they have just revealed themselves in a vulnerable way. Maybe they feel a sense of relief, something akin to an exhale after holding one’s breath for a little while because they are going through a tunnel: a superstitious thing people do. Maybe there is an increasing sort of tension as they wait for the other person to respond to their disclosure. It may have taken every ounce of courage within them to admit it. Perhaps this was the first time they had ever thrown caution to the wind and just, you know, spoke their truth.

Maybe this was their equivalent of standing on the edge of the giant precipice of the unknown, uncharted waters, terrified.

Maybe this is just how they fall in love. Quick, hard, abrupt.

Maybe this is what they do to get the other person to act similarly. Maybe this has “worked” for them a million times.

Maybe they have actually never felt like this before.

Maybe they want me to react.

The person on the receiving end has to wrangle through their own feelings about “love” as a concept: what it means, what the word represents for them, but also how this has happened. Maybe they start to replay through the short exchange of interactions with the other person to scan them for some sense of how this came to pass, and are juggling that along with trying to figure out how they feel, if they feel similarly, whether that’s reasonable, whether it is safe to say out loud in response, but mostly how to react.

Maybe they’ve never had anyone say that to them before.

Maybe they don’t know how they feel about the person, but they don’t want to outright reject them.

Maybe they are used to people falling in love with them as it happens every day, so this is normal.

Maybe they’re terrified of their own feelings, have now been asked to deal with those of someone else, and it’s too much.

My cued reaction, now, is to respond with “what do you mean?”

An Open Letter to My Next New Sex Partner.

Dearest Future Lover,

I do not know if we have met yet. You could be a total stranger. Maybe I walked by you in the street a couple of times before eventually smiling and stopping to chat briefly. Maybe I met you on the internet, using some sort of dating website, and have read your whole profile and combed through all the questions you answered to glean some sense of you who you are. Maybe you paid for my coffee because you were in line before me and wanted to do something little to get my attention. Maybe you were listening to something I recognized because your headphones were cranked up so loud I could hear it while sitting next to you on public transit, so I asked you what else you like to listen to. Maybe we both got stuck at an intersection with our bikes as traffic got redirected, and started talking. Maybe you are completely unknown to me currently.

You could be a friend. We perhaps have known each other for some time and there’s always been a bit of flirting or sexual tension between us, but we think our friendship is more important than attempting to be sexual, so we waited a while, joking around sometimes about how funny it would be if we hooked up, all the while each of us wondering what the other look like naked. Or maybe it is more deliberate than that, and when we became friends it was because we made out once and it was okay but we decided not to pursue it for some reason, until we did. You could be someone I have already been spending some time with in that sort of way that suggests that one day, we might kiss or something. You could be a person who is in my social network, and that I know will simply enjoys casual sex, as I do, so after a while of circling each other a bit socially, we decide to give it a shot. You could be a close friend to me, historically platonic, but then something shifts.

You could be working right now, in which case you should probably read this later, because it may distract you. You could be at the park with your dog. You could be playing video games, curled up on your couch in pyjamas. You could be at the airport eating a sandwich while waiting on your flight that has been delayed. You could be just getting to the good part in a book that has been dragging for a little while, but you must finish it because books are supposed to be read completely. You could be sitting at a coffee shop listening to a podcast over an espresso. You could be driving.

Please don’t read this while driving.

Your gender is not certain. Your physical appearance is a mystery. Your intent is not yet known. That being said, I would like to tell you a few things, and ask for some as well. I hope you are okay with hearing this, and that it is welcome information. The ease with which you read this may be indicative of whether we are well suited for each other. Or maybe it will be extremely hard to read, but that doesn’t bother you because you like challenges and doing the hard things, like I do. If it doesn’t make me a bit uncomfortable, or teach me a little lesson about myself or the world or you, or spark some reflection or some introspection, it won’t have my attention for long, if history is to tell us anything.

If you are reading this, we have decided to do some sort of sex thing with each other.

Sex is so subjective. I see it as any act that the individual considers sexual. Yes, I know: it’s a really broad definition. That is intentional. Sex can be a solo act, or an act with another person, or multiple other people, if it’s been consented to.

Consent is a big deal.

Trying to sex at another person without their consent is, categorically, rape.

Every single time.

Which brings me to my first request of you, new lover. I know this is probably implied, but I can’t help but put it to words anyway, for clarity and so later, if there is a misunderstanding, we can start with this as a basic Hard Rule.

Do not rape me.

If we can manage to get through this and the rest of our sexual interactions without a rape occurrence, I’m sure we will be able to sort out any other misunderstandings or miscommunications. I know it seems a bit excessively overt to put in such stark terms. Forgive me for starting at the very bottom and placing solid, blatant foundations of this metaphorical house I would like to build with you. This piece of the structure has been overlooked too many times for me to skip it, assuming we both know. If we are not so explicit, the chances of violations occurring grow.

It is not personal.

Which brings me to my next request.

Please, if you can try not to take this personally. Sexual interaction is very personal; that is not being overlooked here. By personally, I mean that if I’m being a way, remember that it’s not about you necessarily.

The curve is getting steeper, I know.

I have been having sex with people for years. There have been a lot of good moments and a lot of bad ones. Many moments of fear, and some joyful ones as well. I have felt embarrassed, appreciated, bored, inspired, depressed, ecstatic, disappointed, satisfied, anxious, relieved, grief, elation, underwhelmed, overwhelmed, empty, full, restrained, autonomous, and every other high or low. I have laughed until my abs hurt and there are tears in the corners of my eyes. I have cried a lot. I have laid there, dissociated, wishing it was over, and also wanted it to go on forever. All these things occurred before I met you, and before I started to think about sex with you. I assure you, the things that have happened to me and how I am now because of those experiences combined with who I am as a person and my character are why I am behaving the way that I do. The ways I respond to you and your desires or the thing you’re into have nothing to do with you as a person, or your character. I showed up with like, thirty-four years of baggage to this sexual exploration party, and I am asking you to rummage through the suitcases with me. I’ll show you mine; I hope you will show me yours?

Which brings me to my subsequent ask.

This is a big one.

It is big for me personally, and it is huge for most people who are socialized as women. We are sometimes, a lot of times, fed lines about how whatever we need emotionally and communicatively is too much, unreasonable, overbearing, or high maintenance practically as soon as we can understand language. We hesitate to “burden” people with our processes because oftentimes, we are met with an eye roll, a glazed look or a dismissive gesture. I have experienced this so many times, named it, and now recognize it starting so sharply that I recoil. If I am going to engage the person once I’ve seen it, there takes a very special combination of rest, a good mood, maybe a full stomach, hydration, and perhaps also the right time of the month for me to feel compelled to confront in the moment of occurrence. That is to say, the stars have to align and I have to be up for the task, because if every there was a thing I am activated by, it is this.

I usually don’t.

I retreat. I withdraw into myself and quietly ghost away from the person’s rejection, sometimes so smoothly that no one notices my exit. I retreat from conversations, from parties, from emotional space, from the lives of some, even, if it is extreme.

So, this big ask really has to do with my emotional wellbeing alongside my sanity; my continued presence is hinging upon your accordance.

Do not gaslight me.

We are probably going to miscommunicate. That is totally okay, and I encourage you to ask me questions about what I meant. That way, we can talk about it and figure out what we both want, and how those wants overlap and can be met. Ask me about what I’m thinking and feeling, please. I will try my best to also ask lots of questions to make sure that the things I perceive line up as close as possible with the things you intend. That being said, sometimes we’re going to read a thing completely differently. We may even not be able to agree on what happened.

That’s okay.

No, really.

I’m begging you, please, allow me to have my experience that is different from yours. Both of our experiences can coexist. No one has to be wrong. We can accept that one person saw the thing a way, and the other one saw the thing another way, and we can talk our way past that, and learn more about each other in the process.

It will build rapport and trust.

It will be amazing.

We will both open to each other and be able to see each other’s imperfect perfectness; the cracks in the pavement we have been padding along, barefoot, and stepping carefully around. The curled edges of our story book pages that are fingerprinted and torn a little from thumbing too quickly to get to the next chapter. The pieces of ourselves that we have haphazardly glued back together after smashing; a beautiful, uniquely shaped and coloured glass that slipped out of our hands as we were making an attempt at washing it; so slippery, but really we just didn’t have a good grip on it.

I have smashed so much of myself to pieces and glued me back together.

I want to be gentle with the parts of me that are still drying after some ongoing repairs. I hope to be kind if you have some pieces that are still waiting to set, too.

I hope we can reciprocate that.

Thank you for your consideration.

(Not So) Manic Pixie Dream Girl.

Once upon a time in a not-so-far away land, there was a woman. She was what most people would consider attractive, and dressed a bit eclectically and hipster-like, without a lot of effort. The pattern of her socks would clash and yet match the shoes she was wearing. She liked flowered tote bags and maybe a delicate-looking pin tucked gently into her full, messy, deeply-to-the-side parted hair and overgrown bangs. She had been meaning to get a haircut, but every so often would trim the ends with tiny scissors she used for cutting thread while sewing. Her eyebrows are full and she sometimes wears red lipstick, but not always. The polish is dark on her short nails, usually a bit chipped. This is not from a lack of attempting to keep it looking nice, but simply because she likes to do things with her hands, like woodwork, and so they chip quickly after she paints them.

None of this is very important to who she is on the inside, though. These are just physicality descriptors to help us along as we imagine this woman in front of us.

Before we look within. Where the good stuff is.

She does a job that pays moderately well for the purpose of having the finances to support her pursuit in doing other things that are of more interest her, but are not necessarily very good capitalistic endeavours. Her childhood was relatively normal, with a few mishaps that left her with a sense of emotional strength being valuable. She had a weird uncle that always hugged and kissed her too many times which lead her to be stand-offish with physical affection unless she is asked for consent explicitly, even before that became a social expectation in her circle. Her mum kept fashion magazines lying around the house that she liked to admire the images in which gave her a value and appreciation for femme presentation. She wrestles a lot with her own identity as queer because of her femme presentation, and that she is able to “blend” and not experience a lot of the marginalization some queer people cannot avoid. She has a smallish social group of people she loves, and spends time with them, but also enjoys being by herself. She goes to shows: tiny local bands or deejays in the bar down the street on week nights. She really likes animals, and sometimes fosters for the local cat shelter, but does not want to have a pet at home all the time. She gets a lot of gratification from being a safe place for kittens to start out their adjustment to stable existence. She reads books in parks on Saturday afternoons, and is easily distracted from them to just look at how beautiful the trees are. She has a sense of humour that is on the palatable-to-the-masses side of dark, but gets much darker once she is comfortable with her audience.

She considers herself to be a loyal friend because she makes time for people and in good at staying in touch with them.

She takes her coffee with a small amount of milk in it, and always cold. She pays attention to people when they are speaking to her, and smiles at strangers, especially the people she sees regularly who live on the streets in her area. This is important to her because she really values witnessing the humanity of others and having small interactions that might brighten the day of someone without precedent. She has a purple string tied around her ankle and has done since the last time she travelled. It reminds her that her next adventure will sneak up on her, and to pay attention. Sometimes she is paralyzed with sadness because of the news she sees and the horrible things that are happening all over the world as a result of prejudice and hate, but has no idea where to start in order to help solve problems so systemic and huge. She usually looks like she’s carrying one too many things with her, but wants to make sure she is prepared. She would rather have a pen if she wants to write something down, or a scarf if it gets chilly out, than not.

She considers herself to be a relatively good person, but has a bit of imposter syndrome around this because she knows she could be better.

She had thoughts, feelings, and aspirations independent of anyone else’s experience, but is also affected by the societal structures that place her in a hierarchy. She listens to philosophical and political podcasts while she commutes to work. She has interesting and thought-provoking ideas. She likes social media, and uses it as a tool to connect information she thinks is important to people she thinks would be interested. Freedom of information is important to her. Feminism is expected by her of everyone as the default; when she is met with patriarchal nuances, it is off-putting and disappointing to her, but she doesn’t expend a lot of emotional energy trying to shine light on it for others. Sometimes, she’s tired and doesn’t want to die on that proverbial mountain, no matter how tall it is in the moment.

She has been called “pretty” or “cute”, sometimes “striking” or “beautiful” her whole life, therefore places little value on the compliment but has a lot of self-worth wrapped up in people thinking she is cute or beautiful. She doesn’t really like this preoccupation.

She doesn’t really like her feet. She thinks they’re a bit too big for the rest of her frame. She also wishes her hair would grow faster because she thinks she looks better with it long, and cut it off out of frustration with the combination of it being thick and the weather being quite warm.

One day, a particularly overcast day, this woman meets a man. He is around her age range, and looks like he hasn’t shaved in a couple of days on purpose. His jeans are straight-legged. He wears T-shirts that has things on them like band logos or emblems that reference sci-fi films.

He has just been through some kind of struggle. Maybe he just found out his partner was cheating on him, or a family member has fallen ill, or a professional endeavour just didn’t work out the way he wanted it to. His general outlook was “I need something to inspire me”.

She’s sitting on a bench in outside an art studio, or some such thing, watching the people inside who are throwing clay on wheels. He walks by and she says something funny about how muddy they all are, pointing so he will look. He looks and smiles and sits down with her to make up stories about the muddy clay-throwers’ lives. They decide that the two on either end are secretly in love and haven’t been able to tell each other because they are both either in relationships or not of the sexual orientation the other is suited to. They laugh for a while and she gets up to leave, commenting that sometimes it’s nice to stop and watch what is happening around us. It’s a nice reminder that we’re not alone. He asks her for her number. She declines but takes his.

He thinks about her a lot in the next few days, and makes up all sorts of stories in his head about who she is. He surmises that she is not that good a cook, but would try anyway, and that she likes the same music that he does. She probably lives in a really cool part of town that he would like to spend more time in. He could probably talk to her a lot about his problems and she would be a good listener. He is very sad about his recent turn of events, and upon meeting the woman, he is uplifted. He thinks she is magic.

A week or two later she texts him to let him know that she is going to go eat ice cream on the side of a bridge that is particularly beautiful at sunset and he could join her, if he wanted. He has been wondering a bit frantically if she was ever going to contact him. He has made an idealized script up in his head about who she is, and how that benefits him. “She’s so pretty and unusual; delightfully quirky,” he thinks to himself. “I hope she likes me and will listen to my problems, and help me solve them in weird and unexpectedly inspirational ways.” He rushes to the bridge to meet up with her and they go get cones from a nearby shop. She has a funny interaction with the girl who is working there, and he is enthralled with how easily she speaks to people. He resolves to talk to strangers more, and mentally pats himself on the back for this revelation.

They walk down to the bridge just as the sky is starting to warm up in colour scheme. They sit on a rock off to the side of the bridge, taking in the view. They talk a bit about their week and exchange some jokes. She asks him about himself. He tells her about his job, his family, the turn of events that has left him out of sorts. Whenever she starts to talk about anything that does not directly relate to him or him experience, he steers the conversation back to things that engage and benefit him. She notices this in the beginning and squints a bit whenever he redirects. As the dialogue continues, and the redirection continues, she speaks less and less about things that have to do with her. Her thoughts and feelings remain in her mind, swirling. She changes the subject increasingly often when he is talking about something he is interested in, and he seems to somehow be able to make it about him anyway, commenting on her unique perspective helping him see things in a different way.

He does not ask her anything about herself at all.

When they have finished their ice creams and their hands are empty, he reaches for hers. She looks at him, pulling her hand away,.

“Oh. So, um, you don’t seem to get it,” she says. “I think we’re done here,” and she stands up, brushing off her shorts.

“What?”

“Yeah, so, that conversation we just had? It was all about you. The whole thing. Do you know anything about me?”

“I… yeah! I mean, you like art, and…”

She looks at him, deadpan. “We just spent an hour talking about you: your problems, your thoughts, things that matter to you. I was interested, but I was also looking forward to sharing a part of myself with you. I thought the conversation was going to be reciprocal, because you expressed an interest in me, but I don’t think you’re really interested in ME at all. I have thoughts, feelings, aspirations and lots of memories that are important to me. I think you’re interested in what I can do and be for YOU.”

“………”

“Yeah, I didn’t think you would have much of an argument for that.”

She walked off over the bridge, away from him, and they never saw each other again. She lived a full, happy life with people surrounding her that empowered her and gave her validation, which she happily reciprocated because she felt witnessed, and thinks it is as important to see as to be seen.

Fail? On Changing Relationships.

Relationships changing, or ending, is often perceived as a failure. Typically, an intrinsically higher value is placed on the romantic or sexual relationships we have with other people, and when those things change to be not sexual or romantic, it is usually considered a downgrade in significance. That “demotion” is often perceived as bad, or as something broken. I am skeptical of this because whenever I have felt inclined to extract myself from a connection, or change it, things have gotten better. Sometimes this happens immediately, and sometimes it takes a little while for the improvement to set in, but there is always something that makes the whole process a net-positive. So, what failed?

When the end of the agreed-upon terms of a relationship comes, I am quick to apply a light switch metaphor: we are on, right up until we are off. Or, we are off until we’re on. The more I have experienced this switch, the weaker that comparison is for me. It feels more like hitting empty on a gas tank: an emotional vat that fuels the ability to keep going in the reality around you as it is. My brain has traditionally recorded the moments things change, I suppose, I can call to mind these transitional points very clearly. They are seared in my mind’s eye, easily accessed. The impact of them is probably something to do with their clarity in my remembrance. Strong feelings, good or bad, seem to be what we hold on to. Moments of change also seem to stick. So, when a relationship is at a point of major shift, there are ripples in the mind and the memory.

It starts in my fingertips, kind of tingling. It works its way up my arms and forms a tightness around my chest, in my lungs, around my heart. In an attempt to relieve the constriction, I will probably take a deep intake of breath. As I exhale, there’s a sort of release that occurs. It feels like the blood coursing through me is cold, suddenly, and draining away. It is as if I have suddenly realized that the well from which I draw resilience is empty save for a drop of energy reserved for whatever exit strategy is deployed. If I close my eyes for a moment, the blackness is comfortable and familiar because there’s nothing inside me anyway. I can see the edges of my shell, bare, exposed and a bit scarred from the strain of trying to keep the connection from breaking. I feel hollow and devoid of care. This is usually past the point at which it would have been a comfortable thing to leave, because if I had done this sooner I would have the energy to deal with the fallout of the separation. I am usually kicking myself later as I struggle to put one foot in front of the other, or complete simple tasks such as making myself something to eat, or being punctual.

I’m always early except when I am surviving on fumes, if anything. The level of strain is indicative in how late I am.

I could have ended it when there was something left in me, and this would all be easier. Since I kept on until I was completely done, there’s nothing to help me cope with self-preservation after. I’ve probably lost weight, and I’ve probably been sleeping a lot more, or a lot less, for a while. My skin probably has less colour than usual, which is laughable. I am pretty pale already.

I know this feeling well enough that I can recognize the onset, now. I used to be surprised by it as words escape my lips and I hear my own voice echo out of me, foreign. I would hear myself speak and think, did I just say that?

Oh.

The words are in language that represents termination, and usually served very deadpan, or cold. When I reach this point, I haven’t got any time for warming them up anymore.

“I can’t keep doing this.”

“I need you to get your things out of my house.”

“I haven’t been happy in ages. I have to go.”

“Wow. You should probably go.”

“Um, I’m leaving.”

“Get off me.”

“I’m not happy and this relationship needs to end.”

“Get out.”

“I don’t want to be with you anymore in this capacity.”

“I am not going to marry you.”

“I need you to stop.”

“I need to stop.”

“This isn’t working.”

“Really? Okay. I don’t want to keep doing this.”

“We’re done.”

Sometimes I say nothing. I just turn on my heel and walk away, or I hang up the phone. In particularly avoidant moments, I’m walking down the street on a (preferably) overcast day with a coffee in my hand, and I just stop walking in the middle of the sidewalk, and think. Hm. I then will pull out my phone and delete some contact information from it, check social media, and continue on my way.

Sometimes I just cry. There aren’t any words, just sobbing and tears streaming and mascara running lines downward over my face to the corners of my mouth, until I try to wipe away the stains and leave streaks across my cheeks. I’ll find them later when I next meet a mirror. The sudden crying is typically alarming if I’m in the presence of the other party, which is indicative that they have not noticed as the relationship they have with me has become untenable for me to continue as it is. They don’t see me. I’m invisible. Salty tears and smeared makeup under my red eyes, and suddenly I appear to them and we sometimes don’t know how we got here, and where all this salt water is coming from.

I thought we were happy together. Did they think we were happy together? Do we remember?

I thought this eyeliner was waterproof. It says it is on the packaging.

Sometimes that feeling isn’t represented outward by anything at all. Things are just different between me and the other person now. That is strange, when there’s nothing to say or do but just keep on in this alternate way, unexplained differences in speech, contact, familiarity. A slow, silent withdrawal that is barely noticeable until i’m just not around anymore and the other person is wondering when that began. I have been on the other end of that, too. The text message sits unanswered, and they’re just not there anymore.

Maybe they don’t even notice we’re gone; I for them, or them for me.

There is sometimes something left. Pieces of why we were connected don’t get sloughed off with the tears and I have to figure out what can be salvaged. I usually want to remember why I love someone and hold onto that, somehow nurse it back to something positive and functional, even if the connection doesn’t look the same. Usually. I don’t believe that people are inherently good or bad, it is just that sometimes the things they want and do and the things I want or am doing myself no longer align. That’s okay. I want them to be happy.

But, sometimes the withdrawal and need to remove the self is so absolute that everything goes.

He was yelling through the phone at me.

I pace my living room, the carpet soft under my bare feet. I hadn’t put on the stockings he liked yet, and I was supposed to be leaving to catch the train in about 5 minutes if I was going to be punctual. I can feel the garter clips brush against my legs as I move, hanging unattached. My hair is up off my neck temporarily in pins so when I take it down, the curls will be softer. He prefers it down. My makeup is half done: I had been lining my eyes with charcoal in the mirror of my bathroom when my phone lit up. I had seen it out of the corner of my eye on the kitchen counter, only because the rest of the lights in the house were out. I keep my phone on silent, most of the time, and he hates that. He doesn’t understand why I don’t want to be able to answer whenever he calls.

I am late.

I was nervous about this as I answered the phone because he will know I have not left for the train yet. He always wants me to be where we meet first, because I should wait for him for a little while, to show I am committed, and because he should never have to wait for me. Unacceptable. It was really warm out, even in the evening, which he liked because there wasn’t any reason for me to cover up. He would probably prefer I walk around naked, actually, with nothing between me and the world, or him. Exposed and vulnerable.

He had called to give me shit about the date I had been on the night before. He wants to know why I hadn’t answered when he had called before, because didn’t I want to make sure he was doing alright, and why wasn’t I checking in during the date more? Did I have fun with this new guy (what was his fucking name again? right. fuck, what a dumb name)? Was I going to see him again? He didn’t say that was okay. He should make me ask permission to go on dates, and then maybe I would behave better. I was lucky he even let me go. Why did I even want to go on dates with other men when all I needed was available to me from him? Wasn’t I happy with him, wasn’t I grateful? He thought I was going to get over this whole non-monogamy idea once I had a taste of submitting to him, he said. I listened to him go on for a few minutes, and then listened to him talk himself into the reasons why what he wants from me, and for me, was more important than what I want for myself, and how he knew better what I needed.

He thought he knew best what it was that I needed.

That was the moment.

I heard the alarms in my brain. I heard them, finally. They had been going off for months, and I finally heard the frequency that had before been untraceable. It was like tuning a radio. I had been mentally turning dials and then the sirens were sounding and they were just at a wavelength I could not hear before, until suddenly there they were. I wondered how long I had been ignoring them. I stopped pacing and went out onto my balcony, shutting the door. There was a pack of cigarettes out there, and I took one out of its cardboard enclosure, lighting it with a book of matches that was sitting with it. I had left them out here earlier, and would have forgotten them when I left the house. I wasn’t going out, now, so that was fine. I could sit out here and smoke all night, now, if I wanted. I took a drag and allowed the smoke to fall out of my mouth as I spoke, my eyes trailing the horizon and the outline of trees. I heard trains in the distance.

“I’m not coming.”

“What?!”

“I said I’m not coming. I don’t want to see you tonight.”

“Yes you are. We’re meeting in an hour. Why haven’t you left yet?”

“I said, I’m not coming. I don’t want to see you anymore.”

“Wait, what? Hold on, honey, this has gotten out of hand.”

“That is correct. It has. I have to go.”

“But, wait a minute, I didn’t say..”

After I hung up the phone, he called me twenty-six times and left six voicemails. He also texted incessantly almost all night. He begged and pleaded with me to respond, giving reasons related to the dynamic we were in as well as how I owed him that response. He deserved my engagement and attention. It was ridiculously unfair that I was not calling him. What the fuck did I think this was, anyway? I am lucky he cares so much because this is not how these things work.

I responded to nothing.

We talked a few days later after he texted asking if I had gotten my period, and I informed him I was terminating the pregnancy. I found out the day after I hung up the phone on him.

I saw him one other time after that. I ran into him at a bar and he told me he had orchestrated our entire relationship with the intent to push me into telling him no. I felt like a toy that had been batted around by a very malicious animal.

It took me several years to figure out that a lot of what he had told me simply wasn’t true.

I had a friend over for dinner a little while ago, well after this all had occurred. They said they had run into him and asked about me, and he had said I was doing very well and taking good care of myself. They told me this, and I stared at them blankly for a minute before smiling and replying, “yeah, that’s true, but he doesn’t know that. We haven’t spoken in years.” My friend was quite puzzled.

I was not.

The further away from him I am, the better I am doing, and I think that is what constitutes progress and growth.

Success, even.

On Bi Clarity.

“Cradling the softest, warmest part of you in my hands.”

Invoked in me are teenage feelings, almost a manic kind of emotional state where everything is just raw, unabashed, and new. Ani Difranco, particularly the older albums, has that effect on me. I listened exclusively to her for years in high school before i moved on to darker, harder things. She spoke to me with her poetry, her gender identity, her sexuality. I didn’t know what to do with my feelings at that time, they were so all-encompassing. I knew I liked women. I knew it in my heart of hearts and I didn’t know if it was okay. It was much easier to like boys. It was expected to like boys. But when I stopped trying to ignore that I also liked girls, I was stunned and pacified. And then I would turn around and notice that yes, I still liked boys. It made sitting in a room full of people I could be attracted to very overwhelming; once that perception settles in, it’s hard to turn away. That was before the binary of gender dissolved in my brain.

The opening to “hat shaped hat” is drums starting faint, and gradually increasing until your mind is swimming in them and they are all that can be heard: deafening drums. This represents for me the feeling of discovering attraction. It is faint, and builds until it is all that can be felt.

I am a walking, talking, gesturing nerve-ending.

“The problem of heaven is solved.”

I told my mother once.

When I said I was bisexual out loud and it mattered, I was almost done with teenaged years. I am sure I had said it before then. I had thought about it enough to have surely spoken the words, had I not? Could I have made it that far, in the circles I spent time in, without the words passing my lips out into the world? I suppose it is possible.

When I was eighteen, I was working for a massage place: the kind that gives happy endings that no one really talks about but everyone jokes about. It had seemed like a good idea at the time, and an easy way to make money. My politics around sex work were as they are now: reduce the harm.

I was laying, sprawled out and staring at the ceiling, on the floor in the living room of the apartment we were working out of. The carpets were soft and beige, like the walls. My boss hadn’t bothered with wall hangings, or much furniture, hence why I was lounging on the carpet; there were a lot of plants around, vines and ferns in larger pots, and a few orchids on counters where the kitchen met the living room. I said to her, over the phone, “I don’t think I’m straight, Mom. I don’t think I’m gay, either,” and she spit words back at me like bullets. “That is ridiculous; I didn’t raise you that way.” I told her I had to go, and hung up. I laid there on the floor a few feet from the glass door to the balcony, looking out into the sky. I was numb. The balcony was small but I had a clear view through the bars of the railing, like a cage I had not escaped from with that phone call. I felt beige like the soft carpet under my shoulder blades and the walls around me. There were the green leaves and blue skies to break the monotony of that moment and that room. My thoughts dwelled on whether I had done the right thing in saying something to her for a moment, and passed quickly. She had never been a source of solace for me, or a protector, and to think I was going to get any positive response from her about anything that I felt was important had been a grave oversight. Silly, I thought to myself, to hope.

I didn’t speak to my mother again for months, but I did go back underground. I hadn’t even kissed a girl at that point.

I stayed in the proverbial closet, buried, for over a decade.

“There’s no escape, there’s no excuse. Just suck up and be nice.”

When I was going to hairdressing school, and maybe nineteen, one of the girls I went to school with took me home to her husband, and fed me wine until I willingly put my mouth on her clit while he took it upon himself to fuck me. I don’t consider that to be my first time. I think of it as something someone else did, some other person who was so drunk she didn’t even know what it meant.

“but for the purposes of this song, let’s just say I’m doing fine.”

The first time was when I was twenty nine and yet another woman brought me home to a man, but this time I was falling in love with her.

“You are zesty! Faboo,” she said to me in that first message through an online dating platform. She wrote me long letters over email before we even met; our dialogue just got longer and more elaborate. We met for breakfast at a small cafe that is notoriously without queues on the weekends, and I still think of her every time I go there. I didn’t know what to expect from him at all. I had asked nothing. I just assumed he was attractive because I thought she was breathtaking. Sevens go with sevens, nines go with nines, don’t they say? I walked in and she lit up with a smile, leaping out of her seat and pulling out a chair for me. They had brought me flowers. He sat with one ankle over the opposite knee, leaning back casually. His glasses made him look so intelligent. He was a stockier build with dark hair and eyes, just the right kind of goatee. She beamed at me as I looked at him and smiled. She thought I was so brave to just trust that he was safe, because I trusted she was safe, and to not even ask to see a photo of him. I trusted her with everything after that first message, if I’m being honest.

Sometimes you just know.

“I’ve got the memory, your warm skin in my hands.”

We had a really lovely meal, and talked about everything from books to politics to non-monogamy, to what it was they wanted and what I wanted. He had an event to go to, so she and I went for a walk and settled into big comfortable seats at a coffee shop. We talked incessantly for another two hours. I couldn’t get enough of watching her mouth form words, her lips shaping vowels and the corners turning up and a slight dimple when she cringed, smiled or laughed. She had tucked herself cozily into the larger-than-necessary cafe chair with her feet underneath her, thumbs were skirting the edge of her cup. I memorized it all.

When we parted ways, she drove me to the train station, and we agreed I would go to their home at the outskirts of the city for an overnight in a couple of weeks. I was dying. Fourteen days were not ever going to pass.

“This is only a possibility in a world of possibilities.”

I borrowed my dad’s car and drove the couple of hours journey. The space they occupied was beautifully decorated with art he had done himself: paintings and sculptures peppered the living quarters and gave it a very grown up feeling. I felt like a teenager who had yet to get her shit together enough for this; I was in completely over my head, but I was giving it a shot anyway.

We ate snack things for dinner, which was to become a bit of a tradition. Those big green olives I love, fancy and strong cheeses, hummus, rice crackers, paté, red pepper marmalade, that sort of thing, all arranged beautifully on a platter. We drank gin and tonics (she had asked me what my favourite drink was and purchased the ingredients specially) and talked about relationships and love, their past exploits and mine. I did not share a bed with them that first night. I stayed in their guest room, a kiss stolen from me lightly (i had wanted her to, to be clear) before we went to our separate sleeping quarters. Her hand lightly traced my jaw and eyebrows as she softly put her lips to mine. My fingers instinctually went to the edges of her hairline at the back of her neck. I barely slept that night for the charge of excitement I felt.

“are you ready now. are you gonna glow in the dark.”

Communication continued as a few more weeks passed before we met again. They came into the city having rented a hotel room for the occasion; we went to a beautiful restaurant with middle eastern tapas, our eyes lit up with the excitement of what would come. She sat close to me and would touch me in subtle ways while I chatted away with him about growing up in this city and punk culture in the late 90’s. I felt her watch me as I spoke, quaking slightly under her gaze. It wasn’t unwelcome, of course: I was completely craving her attention. I could feel her eyes and it made me want to reach over and put an arm around her, or let my fingers rest on her knee, or some other slight gesture of “I know you’re right there”.

We retired to the room early. I was so nervous. I remember not knowing what to do or say, what to do with my hands besides fidget, whether to take off my clothes, when. I diverted for a few minutes by taking a shower when we got back to the room. I spent that time in the steamy heat trying to gather some gumption. All the initiative I needed to take was walking out of the bathroom in a towel.

It was enough.

I have hazy recollection now of how the sheets felt. How skin and touching, feeling weight on me, inside of me, felt. I remember dizzying orgasms and heart-stopping moments of intimacy. I remember the colours flecked in her irises.

“there was always the possibility of something becoming what it is.”

I remember the day after as a strange exercise in trying not to run into furniture, snapping out of preoccupation and pinching myself to check if I was awake. She said to me, in a slightly maternal way, that threesomes were particularly draining, and to be sure to be nice to myself for a couple of days. I was fuzzy-headed and blissed out for a week at least. My retention of conversation slowed to a crawl. I daydreamed more. I got very little in the way of work done.

He and I had an easy friendship. We seemed to emote the same, which meant we were able to talk with little inhibition. Quickly, he seemed to misunderstand how exactly to fit into my life. I thought that was strange. We were intimate friends, no? Wasn’t that enough? Wasn’t that actually really perfect, considering the potential for complication in the dynamic? Two is hard. Three is nearly never going to be equitable. I thought this was the best anyone could do.

“so wipe that smile off your face, baby, and try to be cool.”

I had other lovers at the time, one with which there was psychological damage to be repaired when I came out the other side, or escaped, even. She steadily watched me persevere through that, and the fallout. When I think of her custodial watching over the train wreck I found myself in, I think of her sitting next to me on her couch, legs crossed, back against the soft microfibre and very straight, shoulders back. One hand is below and the other is above mine, enclosing it. I think of her calm, steady eyes on me, and the love that they are filled with as she watches me in a state of anguish, tearfully not understanding what I was doing or being at the time. She didn’t speak much in those moments, she just sat with me and held my hand, sometimes my heart, as I wept or questioned, raged at the injustice or laid still with my head on her knee and her fingers on the slope of my neck. Periodically she would reach up with light fingers and brush my hair away from my eyes, or wipe a tear away with a tissue. She sat with me as I clutched my abdomen where the baby used to be that was put inside me, that I had surgically removed as if it were some kind of parasite.

“i’m cradling the hardest, heaviest part of me in my hand.”

Things between the three of us continued in a few different contexts for a few months before they started to become unsteady.

She and I were in a constant dialogue. The beauty of technology these days is that one can be in one ongoing conversation with someone that continues on for days unless their phone dies or some other impossible thing. The strings of text messages went on for ages. We talked about everything, and a lot of that time it settled on her relationship struggles.

The web was spinning.

“i guess that push has come to this, so i guess this must be shove.”

Before too long, she sent me a flurry of texts expressing sadness and frustration, and asking for my patience while they closed down their relationship to outside parties, so they could get their house in order. I, of course, supported their decision; they could not pursue outside relationships while their foundation was crumbling. Do what you need, love.

After a couple of months, she and I resumed spending time together as friends. We went out for New Year’s together, stayed in a hotel, had a lovely night. That time it was short lived.

Off again we went as her primary relationship imploded, leaving the wreckage of dishonesty, distrust and mismatched ideals.

“life is just a boring chore, and I’m living proof.”

I have space in my heart for a lot of people. She took up residence in there, and remains to this day. She will always be the first woman I really fell in love with, and I will always love her because of that, as well as because of who she is. There have been a few iterations of our relationship over the years: friends, lovers, barely speaking, back to friends. I can’t think of anyone I would rather have as my first.

There was a cementing for me that occurred around my sexuality with that relationship. I proved a lot of things to myself with her. It all became real. In the face of bi-erasure within my family, myself, as well as on the greater scale of society, I self-actualized as queer and as bisexual, or pansexual. I didn’t use the term “queer” for a long time because I thought that since I could hide, I didn’t get to use the word. I present as quite femme, which means that I’m not seen for that most of the time. I have privilege in that I can blend in, if I like. I don’t want to blend in, usually, and think it is actually pretty important that I try to not, because blending in is an easy out. I am grateful for the people I have particularly close to me who do see me and know that part of me.

“outside the glass the whole world is magnified, and it’s half an inch from here to the other side.”

My mother didn’t live past my 20th year, so she never knew, really.

Ani Difranco songs mentioned: Swan Dive, Hat-Shaped Hat, Pixie, Deep Dish, Angel Food, Glass House.