Been on hold with social services for the last two hours. Typed that and laughed. I have honey and cayenne breath– hot toddy — and what is either an ear infection, withdrawal from my happy pills, or both. I’m in that place of intense stress, horniness, anxiety, and extended sleeplessness wherein the best possible self-care plan is to fist fuck myself and then sleep for three hours.
But– on hold. Two hours in I no longer like piano instrumentals. Piano instrumentals, in fact, make me want to heave up spurts of hot bile. So does withdrawal from my happy pills.
We may still be moving. We may still have food stamps and healthcare. Isn’t that a blast? So much uncertainty I could just shit.
It was the kind of moment where you wonder what, specifically, happened in your life to bring you to such lows.
Imagine: the lingering flavor of vomit. Your spine cushioned from the chilly rubberized floor of an airplane galley by a thin complimentary blanket. A plastic oxygen mask pinched to your nose; a long metal oxygen tank tucked to your flank like a dear friend. Already you have filled two complimentary barf bags and divested yourself of three layers of clothing. You are aisles away from your wool sweater. You have shared vast swatches of your backside, boxers, sports bra, and armpit with an onboard doctor, the unfortunates sitting alongside you, and anyone else who cared to crane to look. The fevers and sweats have long passed- now you are merely wretchedly cold. Your stomach aches with the exertions of its propulsory forces. Curious bathroom goers pause to gawk. You discover that stewardesses wear pantyhose with rubber crocs shaped like flats. Periodically said on-board doctor squats beside you to ensure your continued recovery.
Unfathomable distances separate you from the ground, plus a couple tons of metal and a few layers of suitcases for those with the funds to check baggage. You lacked the funds. Your baggage was carried on. Your baggage caught you fifteen minutes into a 3 hour and 45 minute flight from Chicago to Seattle, and there wasn’t shit you could do but grab another bag. The first bag you puked into you discreetly folded and sealed, slipped neatly beneath the seat in front of you, tucked in the folds of the wool sweater you yanked off before vomiting, slick with sweat. You hoped no one would notice; demurely you took the racing of your heart, the numbness of your lips as long as you could, gasping with your head between your knees and your ass crack generously bared to your seatmates. Then you were seized with the growing suspicion that you were very likely to beshit yourself; knowing yourself too dizzy to stand, you did it- you pressed the attendant needed light. Swiftly then your baggage was displayed to half the plane; oxygen mask affixed, a doctor called from his first class seat to attend to your coach emergency, your pulse and blood pressure enumerated, the racing of your heart attentively listened to and assessed- thus you became That Person, the asshole who had a panic attack on a plane, the thousand mile high club that no one wants to admit admission to.
You began to regret having graduated yourself from the service dog who used to accompany you. You discovered a certain sensibility to your previous habit of never stepping foot outside your bedroom. Stinking, cold, and hideously embarrassed, it occurred to you that the cost of personal growth was attendant public humiliation. So you rolled to your side, embraced your new friend the oxygen tank, and counted the minutes to landing, fervent with a renewed respect for grounding.
It will not always be this hard, you reminded yourself, as you were led by your elbow back to your seat for landing. People turned to stare, with fear and curiosity and a certain kind of awe. You are grateful for the kindness of the doctor and stewardesses. You are grateful for the return of breath and stable heart beat, for the teapot and the chipped seal mug in your cabinet, for the kitten and the kid in the home you are heading toward. Later, you brush your teeth and re-apply deodorant; later, you call your mother and your ex and recount your great adventure of miles-high humiliation. You survived it, like everything else, and this is what survival is- sealing the puke bag, brushing your teeth, and moving on slowly, trying not to shit yourself.
In Chicago. Apparently my favored activity while suspended thousands of miles in the air with someone’s elbow in my armpit is, now, to cry- silently, with dignity- while curled under a long black woolen coat.
I miss him.
I broke my record player.
I lost my phone.
If you are trying to contact me and I seem to be ignoring you this weekend, that’s why.
See a few of y’all with my sodden coat tomorrow night.
I’m in love! I’m heartbroken. I’m institutionalized. I’m released! I’m thirty! I’m alone. I’m dropped from section 8. I’m randomly re-instated! The elementary school is condemned. My kid is transferred to the best school in the county! We’re working through it! We’re never talking again. We’re fucking like rabbits! We’re fighting like rescue dogs. I’m partnered. I’m single! I’m partnered. I’m single! I’m multiple. I’m certified trauma-free! The government is shut down. We can leave the shelter early! I’m back in college! There’s a bear on campus. My mother moved to town!
She’s very, very ill.
Can we go back to the institutionalized, please? May I be buried in warm rotting leaves and left for the winter? I need to hibernate and root. I need to slip skin.
Tomorrow- Chicago instead. Smile pretty and shit Luna bars: the best way to travel.
“She’s such a fucking bitch,” he said to my mother, their backs to me as they leaned to each other, hard absorbed in the angles of sudden intimacy. They spoke round and clear, uncaring or unaware that outside night had fallen, that I could hear them, still, my body curled tightly in a thinly-sheeted cot encased in walls of glass. I listened carefully to rain.
Within the condo electric lights beamed broad and harsh, illuminating clear to the corners of things. The walls mirrored the bright spectacle of our interiors, beachviews obliterated by incandescence.
“She’s such a fucking bitch,” he re-iterated, hands parenthesizing the proclamation, his face a scene of shock despite five years of love shared between us, five years of my vagaries freely opened to his nuanced dissection.
I was a woman. My mother was my mother and my ex was my ex, a precise ex among many; another entered. My child was my child and this was his father. Baby’s daddy. Our child slept tucked tight in a cot against the wall, bared light illuminating his hair, the precise flash of October orange born by my ex-mother-in-law.
They colluded in a circle of couches- beach vacation! We came together, the room strewn already with grayed socks and damp towels; nights had already passed between us, days of our seaside smiles frozen in emulsion, trapped light-tight. The exes and my mother colluded together on couches draped with crumpled shirts, gritted with this morning’s sand; my mother patted tense knuckles and massaged stiff shoulders as they determined which ex would fuck me when, a recorded schedule precisely equilibrated to suit their competing pleasures.
I turned from them, still, hot cheek-flesh pressed hard against black glass. I could see, outside, a boardwalk, a mother and child facing the sea. They both wore white; the wind picked up; the flesh of their bodies and the folds of their clothing glowed blue, eerie luminescent whipping in the wind, but still and steady burning. I could see no moon. The mother watched the blackening horizon intently, holding tight her bare-headed infant to the bones of her breast.
“So, y’all think this would work? Liam, you get all day Wednesday, and Jon, you get Thursday afternoon and Friday morning?”
They turned to me, the mother and child, haloed in wild hair, cold light. The child stared to me as children do, yet with intent; the mother turned again to the horizon, again to me. Steadily she held me, my gaze, steadily she held her child; she held her child tight. Water broke from the sky in torrents.
Water encased the walls in wails. I leapt from the cot and gathered my child to me; I wrapped his body in mine; his sternum, his pulse, the sharp and slender of his wrists and knees; I breathed the copper of his hair, his skin hot-damp, still, with sleep; I gathered him to me; I held him; I held him tight. Glass and darkness broke around us, the wind whipped in.
I am going to say this briefly and carefully. I had this dream some nights ago. I know the mother from the dream- I saw her first when I was 20; I saw her first when I conceived. I saw her again when I transitioned, and again after the rape in a nightmare, a crone wrapped in white. I call her Llyncilla. The last syllable of my last name is the first syllable of hers.
My mother has a terminal illness. For nine years there has been no change. This week she saw the cardiologist.
Now there is change.
Now there is change.
I’m thirty. I’m single- dating, in family, heartbroken, but single and excited to be so. Lately I’m one of those assholes that smugly explains that I am my own partner, then cries alone to Adele in the parking lot of the local registration and records office.
I live with my child, a rescue fish alternately named Shred or Wally (depending on whom you ask; I say Shred), a plant named Bob that I nurtured back to green and flourish after it was brought half-dead to me in the nuthouse, and a contumacious calico kitten, whom sometimes I wish to defenestrate. (I won’t.) Soon we will no longer live in a shelter.
Sometimes I sleep. I dream often of bears- bears hunting, bears attacking, their breath and teeth and tongue. I am a newly returned student- undergrad, again- and simultaneous to my beginnings on this campus, a bear has come also. An I shit-you-not black bear, the very same species as hunted us October of two years ago, when we lived in a shed on the side of a mountain in Burnsville, NC. This October’s black bear peruses trash cans and parking lots, rather than the sides of our shed with its claws. This October I do not sleep with knives and bats, with bags full of rocks tied tight for propulsion. I sleep instead in a shelter, in a double bed buried in throw pillows, precisely the width and length of the partner who no longer sleeps beside me.
And soon I will sleep in an apartment that is, as much as section 8 allows, my own.
My gender is shifting, my body is changing; I can feel both orgasm and the draw and release of air through the passage of my breath. I no longer live exclusively in a dissociative haze. I am not reprieved of panic, but I balance it better. I am no longer afraid to leave the bed, the room, the shelter; I do not shy from people as if they themselves had jaws and hunger.
I carry around a 32 oz, gray and blue, barrel-shaped Bubba-brand thermos, purported to hold in heat for 8 hours. It mostly does; I drink from it all day, hot or not-I’m told my face disappears behind it when I do so; I can grip the gray contoured handle with both hands, unhindered by the bottle opener carefully affixed to the lower edge. I fill Bubba with boiling water each morning, and steep six packets of Kava tea for the day. This keeps me friendly. I also piss a lot, and thank fuck for bear-free single stall bathrooms when I can find them.
My femme part is hotly simmering to emerge into her stride. I’m slowly introducing the fact that I also wear women’s clothing to friends and peers. My life is a complex line-walk of identity management- “constantly risking absurdity”. For Halloween I’m wearing a full length, fully orange, fully be-spangled thrift store gown with a train, no back, and an indecently thigh-exposing slit up the front, along with platform boots painted with bones, and elaborate, LED-lit ray-shaped head-gear. I’m claiming to be A Fucking Ray of Sunshine, although I’ll admit that the gown preceded the justification. My kid is horrified; he doesn’t want his friends asking him a bunch of questions.
I told him to tell them that it’s complicated.
I’m finding lately that I tolerate the distress of complication very well. In heartbreak I’ve found a way to make home in uncertainty.
The kava helps.
My joy is too crude and raw to frame this news lyrically; to the point:
WE CAN LEAVE THE FUCKING SHELTER! WE CAN LEAVE THE FUCKING SHELTER! WE CAN LEAVE THE FUCKING SHELTER!
November, y’all. If we move before December, we move before the impact of the sequester and the shutdown finalizes, and before the HUD office runs out of money. This is our window; otherwise we are stuck there indefinitely.
We have permission to leave, and next month WE ARE LEAVING THE FUCKING SHELTER!!!
Jesus fucking christ that’s wonderful news.
More lyrical what-what and hurricane dreams later.
WE’RE LEAVING THE FUCKING SHELTER NEXT MONTH!!!