what do you believe you deserve?

what do you believe you deserve?

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at dinner on tuesday night, my thirteen year-old cousin talks about an injury he suffered a few weeks ago. his basketball teammate, horsing around, had lifted him, cradled him, and accidentally dropped him on concrete.

noah’s teammate is 6'1". noah is 4'11".

the trauma to his back caused his legs to lose all sensation for multiple days.

“what went through your head when you realized you couldn’t feel your legs?” my mother asks him. “did you think you might be paralyzed?”

“i didn’t think,” he tells her. “i was just afraid.”

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what is the term for someone who tries to describe water while drowning?

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after dinner, i’m on a couch listening to noah’s sister play the piano. noah scrambles over and curls his entire body into me. his arms wrap around my waist and his legs interlace with mine. his eyelashes graze my neck with each blink. 

i put my arm around him and breathe.

when does a body stop trusting other bodies?

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earlier this year, i lay in bed with a man. we were clothed. at one point, he rested a hand on my pelvis. i can’t describe the sensation i felt then.

in trying to now, i think about my body as a house, its ghosts and winding passages.

i think about its 28 years of motion.

i think about the scores of people who have touched it.

i think about the work i’ve done so touch from a man no longer sends it flying.

i think about the unique touch of this person in this place.

in the moment of happening, though, i didn’t think. i just felt the hand: its bright current. its soft message. i was just not afraid.

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what is the term for someone who curses themself while drowning?

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i remembered recently that becca was the first woman i slept with. this was a stunning realization. it felt like an important thing i had somehow never marked as important. maybe it flew under the radar because the sex we had never felt like sex, really, but more like an extension of kinship.

the realization occurred when someone asked me, flat out, if she was my first female lover. the question revealed its answer like a heat source on invisible ink. i remembered it all. the fast-moving moments of confusion, the desire to please, the familiar and strange anatomy, her sounds, my sounds, everything else.

what do we do with the memory of the body of a lover who’s gone?

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for over a year now, i’ve attended a weekly grief group. the group members know that my relationship with becca extended beyond friendship, but for a long time i hardly spoke about our physical intimacy. i believed that if i experienced queerphobia in that vulnerable space, it could puncture me. a few weeks ago, i got up the nerve to voice this fear and was met with reassurance. “don’t worry, i’m not a homophobe,” one group member said. “me neither,” said another. i felt relief. then i noticed the part of me that didn’t believe them. 

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another becca memory: we’re wrestling in my bed for hours.

just wrestling in the dark, eyes glowing, locked at the mouth.

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i don’t know why certain moments of physical contact imprint so deeply. each recollection makes my shoulders and throat shine a sanguine red.

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i’ve been thinking about sudden disappearances vs. conscious goodbyes. goodbyes can always feel, to some extent, sudden, but the difference lies in the attention afforded to parting. a conscious goodbye: mutual acknowledgement of love and pain and whatever else existed in the space between people, i.e., we look one other in the eye and make a choice. a sudden disappearance: masquerades as clean, is actually a goddamn mess.

having experienced both, i know which i’d order off a menu. 

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what is the term for someone who believes they don’t have legs to kick?

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sometimes, as a practice, i touch my body and imagine it turning to ash. doing makes me feel the opposite of nihilistic. i want to try harder with this warm shape of not-yet-ash.

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the psychological center where the grief group is held conducts a quarterly survey to “asses its effectiveness.” the questionnaire is pretty horrific in its requests to quantify emotional pain and tick boxes about significant life traumas.

how on a scale of 1-6, how frequently do you have thoughts of death or dying? 1 (never) 2 (almost never) 3 (sometimes) 4 (often) 5 (very often) 6 (constantly)

do you feel that you have someone you can call with whom to discuss life’s challenges? yes / no

are you capable of managing your negative emotions effectively? yes / no

do you fear emotional closeness with others? yes / no

do you ever feel that people hate you because of something you cannot change about yourself? yes / no

have you ever been violently attacked? yes / no

have you ever been threatened with a gun? yes / no

this last one hits me with a thud. another question revealing an answer i didn’t know was inside of me, waiting.

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yes. i know what it is like to be hated for something about me i cannot change. yes. i know what it is to be attacked violently. yes. i know what it is to be threatened with a gun. no. i do not know what it is to be hunted. whiteness and class privilege have always surrounded my body like a fortress 100 feet thick and as tall as the sea.

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white fragility is so powerful as to keep so many from acknowledging that all white people are racist, that all of us benefit from white supremacy and white power. one of the many privileges we have is not being forced to think about / talk about / learn about / take action about certain abuses because they don’t apply to us, because we are shielded from them. fortresses are comfortable in the protection they offer. why should we want to make ourselves uncomfortable? because the fortress of whiteness is built on a foundation of horrifying violence. it’s rotted through to its very core.

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EHP asks me one night what i believe i deserve. i don’t understand this word or what it purports to mean. i tell her i’m not sure. in some cases, we get what we get by a process that is unfair or unjust and we make choices from there. this includes the ongoing choice to uphold or resist the very systems that gave us our privileges and our traumas.

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what is the term for someone who regains feeling in their legs?

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it’s not easy to tear down a fortress, but when we see that its foundation is sick beyond repair, there is no other option. when its architecture is toxic and fragile, the process must involve sustained attention and commitment. deconstruction of a rotting structure — most of whose inhabitants would prefer to discuss the rot as mythic because they fear losing protection — requires forethought, consciousness, and organization. luckily, we are not the first to begin the process of dismantling. there are many existing efforts and it’s always been the time to join them.

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in a recent dream, i wrote a play. the play had a rule: it was pouring rain but no one was allowed to acknowledge this fact in any way. by the play’s end, everyone was soaked and falling on the stage but the actors had to continue seamlessly without mentioning the rain or its effects on their actions. half the audience walked out. one audience member, an hour in, screamed, “put on a raincoat! you’re gonna get sick!” “it’s a bit fucking late for that!” another yelled. the play continued.

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the idea of the clean slate is a myth, and myths are powerful creatures. they can lend themselves to total erasure or they can lend themselves to deeper examination — one that enables constructive action.

the only myths i care about are the ones that help us to find our goddamn legs and kick. 

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say it with me while we look this year in the eye:

goodbye, 2016. see you never, ever again.

s.

Siena O.