Giving Thanks: An Open Letter

Dear You:

How do you give thanks to someone just for being their amazing self? By giving thanks to someone for not being what hurt you. You’ve never been anything but good to me, supportive, kind-hearted and protective. You’ve never been anything but encouraging. You remember things I say. You know what is important to me. You are committed to doing right by me. You’d never dump me with a high five or call up my best friend or ignore me for weeks at a time or stab me in the heart for your own selfish juvenile tendencies. Because you’re not a ‘boy’. You’re not some child who is afraid of emotional expression, you’re not someone who is paranoid about entering into something that might be construed as real. You’re not going to be my friend and stick your foot repeatedly into my world until eventually you’ve used it to kick me down so many times I assume, “this is what being in love is like; waiting on the sidelines.” I was so proud, pleased, happy and excited to introduce you to my family and friends and my world. You bought me my first gift that a man I’ve dated has ever given me. You came over and took care of me when I was sick. You are absolutely everything to me in this moment, and I am enamoured with how safe I feel, how well I’m treated, and how I just look at you and smile without even being able to explain why. I know my own worth but I sometimes don’t feel it, but you’re always there to remind me just with one brush with your fingertips, and one gaze, or a few words — “I knew you could”, “you look lovely”, “you’re so much cooler than me”. Sometimes I have so many good feelings I cannot carry them inside my heart and I have to gently press them deeper inside to make more room, like the folding of fine silks. You are the most wonderful and amazing person to come into my life and there is nothing more apt than giving thanks for you on this day. I am full, and it is because of you.

With love,

What Has Elliott Smith Done for Me?

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I often think if I had a time machine and I could use it for me (although my first instinct is to use it for somebody else specifically – but that’s another story), I would go back in time to the later 90s-early 2000s as I am now, and see Elliott Smith in concert.

When I was in my second year of Creative Writing in undergrad, I wrote a story called “Elliott Smith” which was an entirely symbolic breakup story devoted to the deep fandom and appreciation I had developed then for the late Smith, who had changed my life when I was in my early twenties.

I used to discover music in what Ryan Adams would call “the twilight of my youth”, by googling things like “a list of the saddest songs” and in all honesty, that was how I came upon Elliott Smith. I was transfixed. Here was this figure, this person who was no longer alive but who felt as real and current and relatable to me as any of the other artists I knew. Here was someone who was able to function in life on a good day, but could express the most shattered things, the deepest confessions, with clear-eyed empathy, with poetry, with references to things like Shiva and Punch & Judy shows and the Son of Sam and Icarus that I knew, could understand, and could merge with as if these words were about me, or just for me. A good artist makes music for others; a great artist makes music for themselves and manages to reach into the hearts and souls of others and dredge up their fears, desires, thoughts, lives, and hopes for the future. I remember one time, I was walking home in the dark in the very early springtime and I heard Elliott Smith’s “Twilight” for the first time, and it felt like the world stopped spinning for just those four minutes and 30 seconds. Everything vanished into scraps and pieces except for this song, that conjured up an image for me of a young girl laying down in a park fountain covered in a layer of pollen. And that was where the story came from, a story for which I was awarded $2500 which is maybe what I’m most proud of to date, amidst so many other accomplishments.

What it’s like for me is to be trapped all the time and never feel like I can fully be myself with almost anyone for so many reasons – which is again, another story. What Elliott Smith has done to help me with that is to make me feel less alone, and validate my feelings of self-hatred, vulnerability and contempt for other people who have wronged or hurt me in the past. A song like “Memory Lane” reminded me then of my experiences with bullying and now, makes me think and feel about the damage of vicious gossip and lies. What Elliott Smith has done for me is insurmountable; he has taught me about writing, life, depression, self-destruction and the heartbreak that is wasted potential, bygone times, beauty that is so unrealized by the masses that it’s almost shameful that a song like the aforementioned “Twilight”, “Happiness”, “Somebody That I Used To Know” or “I Didn’t Understand” aren’t staples in the lives of every generation Xer in the same way that Nirvana’s tunes have leaked their way into the subconscious of the young, music-savvy (or sometims not-so-savvy) masses. While this is a crying shame however, seeing Nirvana t-shirts for sale for $12.99 at Wal Mart is not necessarily a corporate nightmare I would want for the man who broke everyone’s heart in a mesmerizing, nerve-wracking, awkward and out-of-place performance like this one, which showed a counter-culture underground hero being forced out into the cruel judgment of the spotlight, and losing (as if anyone thought there would be another outcome when Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” was also on the Oscar bill that year).

There are all too many saviors in music – anyone from the Backstreet Boys to some busker on the street that no one has ever heard of (yet?) can be a savior for someone in need. Aren’t musicians really just guardian angels that come along during times we need them the most? And isn’t their music merely their sermons, words of wisdom, guidance along the way to get someone in need to where they need to go? Music has saved my life far too many times to count, and I don’t even care how cliche that sounds because it’s the truth and always has been, ever since my mom played music in the car before I was old enough to even comprehend what song lyrics meant. Elliott Smith might be one of the artists who has most been that savior for me. When there was nobody else there, Elliott was my best friend and the person who led me into the light, whatever that light looked like.

I’m okay. Sometimes I fall over and sometimes I roll down hills and sometimes someone needs to hold my hair back when I feel sick. Sometimes no one’s there and I curl up in the fetal position wishing I was surrounded by a comforting blanket of amniotic fluids, but there is nothing except for a cold room surrounded by buzzing sallow light. I’m okay even when I think about memories shrouded in mean black clouds shedding rain from their bellies like fat. I’m okay when I think about the many ways a loved one can hurt the one who loves, and think about how painful love is when danger and vulnerability lurk like a forked tongue of a reptilian beast. I’m okay when I think about the disempowering, the cowering in the corner, when I think about any opportunity to feel better, no matter how small, and the way I would slink and lurk and be slain again and again, only to come back for more. I burn. The hatred burns deeply, there is still burnt scar tissue sitting inside, festering sores, charred flesh that makes me feel hideous. I look in the mirror and that’s what I see: scars. Big, ugly, maiming scars. I look down at my hands and see them, and I left a trail of blood as I walked away from a city I loved once. I’m okay when I think about the most vindictive things anyone has ever done to me, things that curdle anything inside me that makes me strong, things I’ve never deserved, never will deserve, never asked for, and was shocked to receive. I’m okay when walk around in the rain and the rain is so heavy it soaks through my jacket and my shirt and my skin and it weighs heavy on me and reminds me of what it feels like to be burdened like I was for two long years over someone I once cared about. I’m okay. I don’t know why or how I’m okay, but I am okay.

Saying I Love You

“I’m going to tell you something that’s going to sound really weird,” I said over football commentary, between sips of gin and soda. I was about to tell someone I loved them – really loved them – for the first time.

“Okay,” he said and he sat back in his chair and folded his arms. Does he see this coming? Does he know what I’m about to say? He must.

I had rehearsed it in my mind hundreds of times, and I figured it was going to be easy. I didn’t care really, whether he said ‘I love you’ back. This wasn’t romance. We weren’t in a relationship. In fact, we had just ended a potential one, and managed to weather the storm of that with a close, meaningful friendship, despite both having moved on and met other people.

“I…I….” He just sat, looking at me, though his twinging mouth led me to believe that he had possibly felt inclined to interrupt before thinking better of it.

“I love you, okay? I’m just not ‘in love’ with you, but I love you so much.”

“Um, you’re right, that was really weird,” he said. Sarcastic. Always, always so sarcastic. “I care about you too though, a lot.” And that was that. We kept drinking and hanging out like the friends who loved each other that we were, and are. I could see the words almost, their letters scattered on the table on front of me. I scooped them up gingerly and put them back in my pocket before we left the bar.

This was the only time I had professed love to someone who wasn’t a girlfriend, or a member of my family, or that I wasn’t saying while I was drunk or being blase, as many of us do, about the words ‘I love you’ and the gravity of them and what they mean. What it took to utter those words was a great amount of strength and confidence that I did not believe myself to have possessed until that moment. But what I said was true; I did love him. I do love him. Just not… that way.

So when you feel, you know, ‘that way’, about someone, when’s the right time to tell them so, without freaking them out, or without leaving it so long, that they start to question your feelings about them? Or will they? Perhaps they will surprise you and say it first, catching you off-guard, like you’re the recipient of a surprise party. And then, how do you react? You must decide whether to say something because you mean it, to say something to make someone feel good, or to say nothing at all and devastate someone and maim them for daring to express the innermost vulnerable piece of their mind and heart and body.

The word ‘love’ is a cage to some and a bird to others. It is something that manifests itself in ways that are ugly, beastly, powerful, or ways that are flowering and blossoming and breezy. In this regard, you cannot predict love – what it will do to you, what it will make you feel, how it will make you smile, or cry, or pray, or hug, or fuck, or say hello, or goodbye. Love is one of the most confusing and scary emotions there are. How do you know you’re in love? You feel it. How do you know when to tell someone you’re in love? It depends on how ugly, or how beautiful, your world is because of it.

I’ve been in love once before now – maybe twice.

The first time it something I’ve oft-written about, it is a story that has become quite legendary among my friends, family, acquaintances. I have written about it and shared it in public, aloud and in my blog. It is the story of a vulnerable silly little writing student who fell in love with an egotistical, boorish poindexter writing student, to the point where she couldn’t eat, or sleep, or concentrate on anything else except catching his eye, buying new outfits and new makeup to get his attention, write something that would subliminally spell out words she never had the guts or gusto to say. It is the story of lost innocence which was lost and gone forever, to the wrong person. It is the story of the final time a young girl was ever able to have beautiful, fantastical crushes that were idyllic and sweet and innocent and puppy dogged because she was so incredibly shattered. Love made her ugly.

I am in love now.

My love story now is the story of support – about how a young man who didn’t even know it, lifted the spirits and confidence and professional and emotional vigor of a devastated, stressed, anxious, nervous girl who felt broken and un-fixable, and then was fixed, before she even knew she was in love and she still hasn’t forgotten it. It is the story of boy-meets-girl and miraculous coincidences and butterflies and turtle doves emerged. It is the story of a relationship – the first one for a girl who has always wondered what it would be like to safely and comfortably reach out and touch someone without fear of rejection or fear of being ‘too fast’, ‘too clingy’, ‘too foreceful’. It is the story of a man who brought a girl soup when she was sick and looked after her beloved black cat while she was away from home, and who shared with her inner-most thoughts, ugly incidents of the past, and who held doors open and paid for meals and made her feel like she was worth more than the boy who she loved once before who shattered her. Love made her beautiful.

I’ve read that men should never say “I love you” first because it is taboo, and because women should be the ones who say it; according to the internet, the wealth of accurate and sound information and advice that it is, women should be the ones to become vulnerable first. I cannot be vulnerable first. I cannot shove those words with frivolity and meaninglessness down an unsuspecting person’s throat. All I can do is gaze at them with caring brown eyes and give them rides in the morning and buy them scotch to help them through the stressful parts of teaching. Does this translate to “I love you”? Not in so many words but yes, it does to me.

I love you.

The Past.

What does the past do for us? What does it remind us of? Is it healthy at all to think about the past? Wish it were different? Speak to it as if it happened just a few hours ago? Think about possible other outcomes? Remember the day in detail, because you’ve written about it back then, so you can read the powerful words that were once as fresh as a wound?

The past… it’s one of the most powerful teachers, tormentors, reminders, heart breakers, that we have. All we know is our past. It’s the easiest thing we can connect our present to. It’s the easiest thing to connect our possible futures with. It’s what we fall back on. It’s the crutch that helps heal our broken legs, until we trip over it. It’s the bulk of our lives, and where we come from, and in our own minds, predicts where we’re going to go from here.

Where do we go from here?

Do we continue thinking about what it is that made us angry years ago, a year and a half ago, nineteen years ago, and hang on for dear life as the present melts away, falling in streaming droplets down the windowpanes of our lives? Do we wipe it all away and pretend it never happened? If the latter is ‘better’, how? How can we do that? How can we ignore the past, or else keep it away wrapped up in a sealed box, only to be looked at very occasionally, and only when we really really really need it? How come in the technology age, the past keeps coming back to hurt, haunt and maim us with subtle reminders, or subtle ways we can glimpse at it and remember what it was like when the past was ours and the past was our present?

The past is perplexing to me. I can scarcely move past it, though I am trying constantly to do so. I can scarcely say goodbye to it when I know I should, and I want to, but at the same time I know I would miss little fragments of it if they were to suddenly blow away in the wind like dandelion seeds. I can’t forgive it, though I can look at it with eyes that are blase and meandering and nonplussed. And yet, sometimes my thoughts are needle-pointed with anger and hatred and regret, just by glancing back at something that was once a part of my life and now, is not.

In those moments, I write. I write to make pilgrimages to people and places and events that happened and that cease to happen as I am safely away from it all and gratefully airlifted out. I write because it makes me feel better to write something that someone might read and understand, and it might make them feel like shit about themselves, as it should. I can’t exact revenge. I can’t tell someone to their face how I feel when those things have occurred in the past. So writing is all I have. It’s the only way I can express to the world, to myself, the ways in which I’ve been hurt and organize them like neat little file folders in a drawer.

The past should be legible. The past should make sense. And only in hindsight can it be that way.

Shame On You.

When you confront me, I never know what to say. I never have. Ever since that devastating, ghastly high five, my world with you – rather, ‘our’ world, if there ever was an ‘our’ – was full of awkward silences, covered up with un-awkward loveliness. I loved our loveliness. I loved you. I believed so much in what was ‘ours’. So, so, much. When I was 19 and stupid and I had no idea that was was ours meant nothing. It meant nothing to you, and in retrospect, it meant nothing – nothing – to me either.

Shame on you.

Shame on you for making the disgusting, idiotic assumption from somewhere (three guesses where) that I would sit here pining after you, you, who I have not even been in the same ROOM with, since 2010. Shame on you for even saying something so ludicrously mean and nasty not for any other reason except to hurt me and make me feel like an idiot for being nice.

I have news for you: there, is, no, shame, in, being, nice. I am not, nor have I ever been ashamed of being nice. I have absolutely no regrets about doing everything in my power to make you happy even though there was no ‘ours’ and I was trying to keep something alive that had never even really blossomed.

Shame on you.

Shame on you for apologizing for hurting me when you didn’t mean it, because you only continued your apology by throwing something else mean like mud in my ugly face. Shame on you for knowing that I was harmless, but making me feel like I was doing something harmful regardless of the circumstances. Shame on you for being stuck in the past even more than I was, am, or ever will be just because the past feeds your vapid ego. Shame on you for thinking you’re better, hotter, sexier, smarter, and for certain – more talented than you actually are. Shame on you for every nice thing you ever did for me, for that time you groped me in front of my apartment building well after you dumped me with that fucking high five, shame on you for using me to make yourself feel attractive and wanted when in reality, you’re neither of those things regardless of what’s happened to you in your life. You never will be. Never.

Shame on you for knowing – not thinking, knowing – that from the very moment you raised your palm to me on that fateful snowy sunny day in March, all the horrible things and feelings that were crawling in and around my heart like slimy, ugly worms and never talking with me about them, and just letting me suffer when you knew I was 19 and suffering so much, I was eating myself out of house and home and I was lying in bed all day, not wanting to go out or spend time with my friends. Shame on you for knowing this but being extra, extra nice to my best friends, to the point where you decided to keep them and not me – for deciding to keep my sister, and not me. Shame on you for doing this just to try and hurt me even more, because you pretend to be some nice, average joe nerdy nice guy with a talent for cinema but really you’re the most astonishingly icky, awful, evil person who took advantage of a nice girl you knew was in love with you, and you decided to jut keep going with it.

Shame on you.

Shame on you for knowing that since the last time I saw you and well before that, I have attempted to do everything I possibly ever could just to move past what you did to me, and I have done those things, and you refuse to be proud of me or acknowledge that my heart isn’t empty anymore – I found love before, I have love now, and I believe in the ability to find and embrace love in my future no matter what that looks like or who it’s with. Shame on you for ignoring that, looking past all that I’ve done with my life, and instead focusing on the shy pathetic loser who was an empty shell of a human being – because that is the weak, sad, fat, self-conscious feeble person that fell in love with you, and that was the me you liked, because that was the version of me who thought you were better than her.

And you know what? Shame on you for trying so hard to put me in my place and make me feel small again when you can’t. Because now, I have realized that I’m bigger and bolder and better than you. And I always will be.