I Wish I Were A Tree

#49: Be

I wish I were a tree.

I’d like to be an oak tree, tucked away in a quiet forest untouched by the world.  I’d grow a little more each year to add another ring to the hundreds already lining my body, all the way to my heart.  Thick, gnarled bark would protect me as I reach thousands of tiny hands toward the sky, stretching out with a soft “aaaah”.

Each of my branches could tell millions of stories of the animals and insects they’ve housed.  Roots that were once so feeble would spread so far and wide beneath the soil that nothing could topple me, no matter how hard the elements would try.  Life would bloom at my every exhale.

Stable, secure, I would be untouchable, dependable.  As years changed, there I would be: off in the forest.  A life-giver. A soul-cleanser. At one with all those around me.

Instead, I am the water.

Amorphous and unsettled, I am a constant cycle of death and rebirth and nothingness and everything.  I am unfathomably deep. The farther you descend, the more dangerous I become, until I suffocate you and feed you to the demons lurking beneath.  I am constantly contained, reworked, displaced.

Existing in the world is a process of drain.  I am sucked up by greedy mouths and greedy roots.  Any time I begin to recognize my shape, it changes.  The very nature of my existence does not allow me to exist.  I am nothing, I am everything. I am there for the taking and there for the giving, but it is never my destiny to receive.

I am the water that feeds the trees.  They drink and drink until the soils run dry and I recognize myself no longer.

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100 Words: #48

48. Mine

 

I straddle rock on the peak of a cliff, shielding eyes from the glare of a momentarily absent sun.  Salt burns my tongue, coated in a sticky sunscreen film. There’s dirt under my nails, dust caked into the delicate lines on the palm of my hand.  My ankles feel like wooden wheels subjected to a poorly cobbled road, and my heart pounds an unsteady rhythm against a ribcage aching from exertion and altitude.

Five thousand six hundred feet in the air, I can see through a blue skylight haze for miles and miles.  If I stretch the fingers of one hand wide and lean ever so precariously over the peak, I think I can cross borders and touch the foreign lands of Mexico.  The other fingers, sprawled open, could twist into the sand and rock of New Mexico. Under my feet lies the great sprawl of Texas, the soil in which I intended to bury myself, the rock on which I now preside like a mythic goddess over her kingdom.

It was impossible: Texas, the mountain, the voice next to me pleading I be careful, pleading I not fall.  An unreality somehow painted into fruition on the stark El Paso landscape with four years of blood, sweat, bile, and tears.  I doused myself in gasoline, burned and burned and burned and smoldered and cooled so that I could rise from the ashes, a phoenix, in brilliant reds and golds, here, atop the stone of the state in which I was reborn.

Memories that had tucked themselves away in the tiniest recesses of my mind have slowly been leaking out like poison in the days that precede this moment.  Times when I was not my own. Times when I did not want to be my own. Times when I rejected myself because that is what I had been taught to do, because I had no idea how to build anything but broken monuments out of the broken pieces of myself.  

I had been robbed.  A dark hand reached into my tiny stomach before I knew what was happening and tore my organs from me, one by one, leaving them splayed out for all to see and criticize.  That dark hand filled the void until it feared it could no longer. Without its bile-burn bubbling deep inside me, I had no idea how to fill my void. I tried to outgrow it, but it grew with me.  I tried to shrink, but my body shrank around it. I filled the void with everything I knew I could hurt me and had enjoyed the idea that I might one day fall into the abyss of myself to be swallowed up by the loss of things I hadn’t even known were gone.

Somehow, I didn’t.

Somehow, instead, I chose to climb back up, at first with weak arms and a heavy heart and an attachment to the slow burn ache I always knew.  I groped in the dark for footholds, I fell and stumbled, but I tried to follow the voices that called to me to be careful, pleading I not fall.  I climbed until there was light in the darkess and continued to drag myself forward as the finally-visible strands of my memories began to weave themselves together into an intricate quilt.  Suddenly, I began to understand. Suddenly, I grew, I was stronger, I could climb faster and harder.

And I climbed all the way to the top of this exact mountain. The world is spread out before me like a buffet, and I am finally able to reach out with greedy hands to snatch up the things that make my mouth water: sickly sweet ice cream that sits heavily on my tongue after a day at the beach; a hand to hold, precious and tight in my own, whenever I stand peering over the edge; joy, pure and complete and once-thought unattainable, from the simplest of life’s pleasures; the beginnings of pride and I-am-better-than-that when I look in the mirror.

I wonder what it would be like to take off my shoes and feel the dirt between my toes, the cool rock pressing against my heels, pressing me up into the sky.  The wind whips my hair back. I close my eyes and let it bring with it a sense of renewal and life. I feel whole again. I feel complete. I’ll never regain what I was missing, but now that I know it’s gone, I can flood that hole with love unrepentant until my belly swells along with my heart.  I can take the reins again and lead myself back onto a path, because now I can finally see where I’m going. I can and I can and I can.

When I open my eyes, the barren beauty of the southwest lies sprawled out before me.

This body is mine.  This body can climb mountains.

 

100 Words: #44-47

44.  Meditate 

Imagine an orb of light.

It radiates a warm, violet shade.  Suspended a few inches from the top of your head, it bathes your body in its protective blanket of purple.  Slowly – very slowly – it rotates clockwise.

This orb is like a magnet.  As it rotates, all the thoughts in your head come dancing out.  All the racing thoughts, the negativity.  The orb latches onto each tendril and teases it out as it spins.  Your head, you notice, feels lighter.  Your body.  Your mind.  Let it spin.  You are seeking a state of mental clarity, of nothingness – you are not to stop until you no longer even think of the orb.

As your thoughts slip from your mind and fill the purple sphere, you begin to notice that the light bathing your body is changing.  It’s subtle at first, so subtle that it takes you several moments to realize that it’s growing darker, that delicate lavender is now something rich and royal, now more akin to menacing shadow than to protective glow.

You try to stop the orb from spinning, but all of your cognitions are so tangled and embedded in both the angry depths of your mind and the ever-darkening orb that there’s nothing you can do.  Your panic only makes it worse; suddenly, thousands more thoughts fill your brain, and the orb begins to spin faster and faster and faster and you can’t move to stop it can’t do anything can’t stop thinking and it keeps spinning spinning spin-

The light goes out.  The orb stops moving.  It falls heavily into your lap with your thoughts still tangled in its blackened, clogged, swollen, corrupted mass.

 

45.  Brink

I close my eyes and see us standing on the edge of a cliff.

The moment hovers in the eternal evening of a sky choked with ashen cloud.  Our cliff is barren rock of inky black, as if someone spilled harsh paint on a blank canvas.  Fog swirls, thick, so that we can no longer trace our path back to stable ground, so that we can only peer over the edge.

We stand side by side, hand in hand, toes of our shoes rounding over the edge of a cliff that curves inside itself as it dips into the swell.  There is an ocean below, frothing and foaming and furious in its assault against the side of the mountain.  Foam spitting white from stormy depths.  The roar is deafening, still audible over the wind pulling clothes at their seams.

I have filled my pockets with the heaviest stones on our ascent in the vain hope that it might slow me.  I have pressed a note into your palm.  I have realized that this voyage out to the edge of the world is not one of self-discovery, perhaps too late; or, perhaps, I have known it all along.  I have asked you to take me here to confront my darkest fears; or I have asked you to lead me here so that I might convince you to push me over the edge.

Your silence is telling.  The way you slip your hand from mine: telling.  You can’t suggest the obvious, but I can infer.

The last step is going to be the hardest.  Falling, I think – falling will be easy.

 

46.   Written

I revise my suicide note each day until it’s thick with metaphor.  The pieces of the puzzle are hidden even as I present them to you, one after another, for your entertainment.  I trust that you’ll begin to understand only when understanding is unavoidably late.

 

47.  Exaggerate

I don’t miss you, but I miss the you that you became in between hundreds of visions and revisions and play-by-play replays of our interactions.  Reality was undesirable, so I rewrote it into fantasy, into the way I’d imagined it over and over before I met you.  I convince myself of the validity of my own embellishments and flourishes.  I’ve talked myself into loving a you that’s never existed and break my own heart every day this brand new you doesn’t sweep me off my feet.

We’ll Be Okay Without Grid Girls. I Promise.

The theory of the double bind was introduced by Gregory Bateson in the 1950s.  The concept is pretty straightforward: in it, a person or group is subjected to two conflicting messages.  Both messages negate one another, but both result in an unpleasant outcome.  In 1983, Marilyn Frye applied the concept of the double bind to the experience of being a woman.  To put it into an effective example, a woman can neither have sex or abstain from sex.  If she has sex, she’s called a slut; she’s easy and loose.  If she abstains, then she’s frigid, she might even be a man-hater or a lesbian.  In both cases, she endures an uncomfortable, negative outcome.

Women who agree with F1’s removal of grid girls are facing a similar situation.  We’ve been accused of putting women out of work, of thinking “we know best”.  We’ve heard that we’re ruining tradition, that we’re blowing things out of proportion, that we don’t see women as people, and that somehow we’re the ones objectifying them.  We’ve heard that we’re ugly, that we just don’t like looking at women more attractive than us.  We’ve heard that we’re jealous, bitter killjoys.  We stand in the face of criticism and objection and disapproval.

But all of that is a welcome change from what would happen if we advocated for the continued use of grid girls.

Before we start, it’s important to note that this is not about hating the specific women who hold the grid girl position.  No one is posting photos of girls holding signs on the grid captioned “fuck these women in particular”.  Instead, this is about the concept that grid girls represent.  I’ve discussed before the importance of positive representation of women in motorsport with the specific intention of drawing more female drivers in the recent past.  

Representation is crucial.  In “Television and the Self”, Michael Johnson Jr. asserts that, in popular culture, the majority is celebrated while the minority is merely tolerated, that ‘tolerance’ “simply acknowledges that the minority exists and that claims acknowledgement as an act of generosity”.  Think of the “token black/gay/Latino” characters you see in movies, who have one line and that’s it.  Think of J.K. Rowling claiming that Dumbledore is gay without ever including it in canonical texts.  In essence, people who aren’t straight, white men are not the focal point of popular culture, but everyone is supposed to be happy with whatever roles they do get without asking for more.

How does this tie in with grid girls?  Geena Davis uses the phrase “if she can see it, she can be it” to refer to her quest to bring more prominent female characters to cinema.  From a young age, children are taught what their projected path in life should be.  Boys play with trucks and have adventures and  wear blue, girls play with dolls and stay at home and wear pink.  When they see TV shows where the husband works and the wife stays at home, where men are CEOs and women are secretaries, where men have fun and women play the tangential love interest role, they pick up on that and they imitate it.

A similar concept applies to grid girls.  In a sport where morphological differences between men and women are unimportant, only a handful of women have ever even attempted to take part in a Formula One race, and a handful of others have been test drivers, sim drivers, or I-suppose-we’ll-send-you-out-on-a-Friday-practice drivers.  It is genuinely very rare to see a woman in a firesuit pulling on her helmet on race day.  Instead, you’re far more likely to see a silent, smiling woman holding a sign in front of a driver’s spot on the grid as cameras pan over the pre-race chaos and as journalists weave through the crowd conducting interviews.  That’s what the women, the young girls, the teenagers watching at home are going to see.  And if they don’t see a single woman performing a task beyond Eye Candy, it’s hard to imagine herself in that role.  But women are still supposed to be happy, because, hey – women are being gainfully employed, right?  They’re still kind of sort of a part of F1, right?  That’s all that matters, right?

I ask the men reading to think about it.  Just put yourself in someone else’s shoes for a moment.  Men, you see yourselves everywhere in motorsport.  You’re engineers, mechanics, drivers, designers – you name it.  Imagine that the roles are flipped.  Imagine how you’d feel watching, say, a fashion show, or if you chose to be a nurse instead of a doctor.  Imagine how you felt when there were grid boys in Monaco, where there were still clear differences in the ways the grid boys were dressed compared to grid girls.  If you wrinkle your nose and feel uncomfortable – that’s the point.

Grid girls reinforce the beauty standards that have been in place for decades.  Women are valued when they’re conventionally beautiful, when they smile for cameras, when they take pictures with men, when they’re objects to be consumed instead of people to interact with.  This is the only role women have held in a mixed-gender series because of the sheer level of opposition and resistance that one runs into on the ladder up.

Grid girls reinforce that “ugly” girls don’t have value.  They reinforce that women are not seen as equals.  They reinforce that young women on the ladder to F1 need to be objectified to be sponsored.  They reinforce the system that means women are photoshopped smaller on magazine covers, that women need makeup to leave the house, that women have to be skinny.  They reinforce the same marketable insecurities that encourage young women to develop eating disorders, that have 40% of 7- to-10 year olds feeling shame about their bodies, that make 97% of women have moments in their life where they think nothing but “I hate my body”.

This is not about the jealousy of ugly women.  This is not about shaming scantily-clad models or sex workers.  This is about requesting that women be valued according to the same skillsets as their male contemporaries in mixed-gender sports.  This is about assigning value to women that does not have to do with their looks.  This is about questioning if it’s really actually appropriate to only use women as props.  This is about sending a message to half of the world’s population that you are unwelcome if you don’t look like a grid girl, if you don’t agree with the utilization of grid girls, or if your ambitions are not to become a grid girl.

This is about creating a hostile atmosphere for female fans, another topic I’ve written about before.  I have had my picture taken and distributed without my consent.  I’ve been touched and kissed in the grandstands without my consent.  I’ve been harassed by men who work in certain racing series to the point where I don’t feel comfortable walking through that paddock alone anymore.  I shouldn’t have to consider swapping a pair of shorts for a pair of jeans so that I feel a little bit safer when I go to a race in Dallas in the middle of summer.  I shouldn’t forego attending a MotoGP race because I just don’t feel safe going by myself.  I shouldn’t be standing on a grid before the race, working, and have to watch cameramen pan over womens’ breasts.  I shouldn’t have to worry about my own picture ending up in compiled galleries of sexy women.  And while not every woman will have these same experiences, the fact that it can happen to me and that it can happen to other women I know and love is a sign that it’s time to change.  Many women aren’t aware that what they face is a form of harassment (re: the women, including myself, who never knew that their experiences were sexual harassment until the #MeToo movement came to light).  The fact that similar issues have happened to women like Kayla or Katie or Kelly Brouillet and countless others should be enough evidence.

Not every woman has the support system that Leena Gade mentions.  Around age 11, girls’ interest in STEM fields begins to fade and rapidly declines by age 15.  This is due to a perception of gender roles and feeling as though something traditionally ‘male-dominated’ is an undesirable field to aspire toward.  This is because there are not enough visible women in these roles for a young woman to say “I can make it”.  And while it’s important that there are women like Leena Gade or Janet Guthrie who smash through those boundaries to pave the way for other women, the fact of the matter is that it is necessary to have them in those roles for even more women to follow their path, and that we start removing the obstacles that might trip them up.

Which means it’s also necessary to remove grid girls.

Grid girls will be okay.  We’ll be okay.  The grid girls’ agencies will rebook their weekend, and they’ll bring home the paycheck that funds their careers and passions.  We simply won’t see a beautiful woman holding a pole on a spot of asphalt.  Formula One will still be glamorous and luxurious.  No angry radical feminist made that decision – it was a group of conservative men who thought that hiring grid girls may just not be in their best interests anymore.  And, really – are pretty ladies what anyone is watching Formula One for, anyway?

A lack of grid girls is not going to solve every gender inequality in Formula One – not even close. But it is a perceptible, tangible step in the right direction.  It’s an opportunity to highlight the women in the paddock who work as equals with their male counterparts instead of enabling the perception that only beautiful women are welcome.  It’s one less obstacle for a young girl to see and become disheartened by.

And that is a crucial first step to make.

black ice

In the moment before the car hits the barrier, time stops its slow stumble forward to dawn.  Stops, lingers: an unnatural body of black asphalt slithering through barren trees, slick and wet like a tongue; snow drifting from thick clouds, illuminated by heady yellow headlight beams; radio spilling songs of broken hearts to fill the interior, two bodies settled comfortably in dark cloth seats, bodies turned away from one another.  Silent.  Peaceful.

In that moment, they aren’t talking.  Mid-January blues hit hard; weeks of winter with no end in sight, the snowfall is no longer magical.  Lack of sunlight always goes to her already-addled head, but her plans had fallen through.  He wasn’t happy – said he was happy, but also said everything that connoted frustration with her, said nothing at all.  They buckled their seatbelts, set off home.  She wipes tears from her eyes.  He looks out the passenger window and counts the seconds between road signs, pretending he doesn’t notice.

They haven’t yet hit the ice.  A patch has formed where the trees thin out, where the wind chills the apex of a curve.  It waits just ahead of their tires, deceptive, untouched, imperceptible.  Camouflaged by a dusting of snow.

She’ll notice right away, when they do.  She’ll curse (shit shit shit!) and try to correct the way the back end of the car kicks out of her control, and he’ll reach over to grab the wheel, to try to help.  She’ll know it’s too late.  The road signs he’s been counting have instructed them to slow to 35 in good weather, but she’s so desperate to park the car and migrate to separate areas of the apartment that she’d barely let up from 62.  It’s a violent spin that will lock her seatbelt and send him crashing into her.  He had not put his on.

In the split second where they’ll realize they’re about to die, her hands will leave the steering wheel, and he’ll follow suit.  She’ll reach out for him in a display of pure animal instinct.  She’ll try to find his hand and tangle it with her own, and he’ll try to tell her he loves her, and she’ll try to apologize for being so easily hurt about things that don’t matter, that have never mattered.  Their mistake will be highlighted in a slow-motion play-by-play.  The ways they could have said they loved each other.  The fights they never had to have.  The nights he spent on the couch and she spent crying, the long days before they learned how to make up.  It won’t matter, they’ll realize, and it never had mattered, and it will never matter.  All that matters is that they’ll want to stop the cassette of time and rewind to just a few moments before; that they’ll plead with God to let them live because she won’t have enough time to hold his hand and he won’t have enough time to tell her he loves her.

The barrier will find them sooner than words or fingers, when the car spirals into a sense of normalcy and points nearly-straight down the road.  No one will be around to hear the impact, the crunch of metal pushing the engine into the floor of the driver’s side.  Glass will twinkle as one might imagine the stars would if only we could hear them, as his body hits the windshield.  

He will die on impact.  She’ll have enough temerity to try to open her eyes, to try to seek him out until she realizes that she can’t lift her hand, that she’s in pain, that the malformed shape before her eyes is his dark jeans twisted at unnatural angles, and she will close them.

After all is done, after a few long seconds tick past, the dark road will fall silent.  Two pairs of lungs will have drawn their last breath.  Two hearts will give one, last, labored effort at one more beat.  Two lives will end and two loves will be made meaningless.  Insignificant against a backdrop of events outside of their control.

But, yet, in that moment just before dulled rubber meets slick eyes, they are alive.  Living, breathing, silent, loving, falling-out-and-back-in-loving.  She is crying, and he is not.  This is the last moment they’ll spend together, the kind of moment people spend when they don’t realize it’s their last.

__

inspiration

New Year’s Revolution (or, Why January Fucking Sucks)

This is the worst time of year to be recovering from an eating disorder.

Starting in late November, the pressure is on.  This is the holiday season, and that means we eat!  We eat in excess!  With tables full of food and counters laden with sweet desserts, we’re forced to test our boundaries – not by dipping our toes in the pool, but by being unceremoniously shoved in fully-clothed during the party.  For me, a month into recovery, it meant it was the first time I wasn’t in control of the food I spooned onto my plate in portions that seemed too big, the first time I let myself eat dessert, the first time I was consistently full for weeks at a time, and it was overwhelming.  For nearly two months during the holidays, I could no longer restrict my meals or manipulate food, but I also wasn’t able to determine for myself what I was eating via meal plan.  I wanted all these delicious meals I had banned myself from for three years, which meant I ate a lot of them, which also meant I counted down the days, waiting and pining for the end of the holiday season to come around because nobody ever tells you how exhausting, how triggering, how pleasantly unpleasant, eating can be.

And then, when you think you’re free, January hits.  And now, instead of everyone telling you to Eat Eat Eat! everyone is telling you that you should feel Bad and Guilty, that eating was not eating but Overindulging, that now you require lose-weight-quick diets and detoxes and fasting, that you need to hit the gym five times a week for thirty to sixty minutes, that it’s time to set resolutions that involve less less less food and more more more burning off all those calories.

January hits, and it’s somehow worse than the holidays ever could have been, and now your goals to eat more and work out less are suddenly targets for scrutiny and criticism, and now you’ve got another beast to tackle on the already-fraught road to recovery.

My eating disorder started, in part, as a New Year’s resolution.  Having swapped glasses for LASEK, it seemed an opportune time to cut off all my hair and, while I was at it, lose some weight.  It started with eating 1200 calories and 30 minutes at the gym a few days a week.  It progressed a little more during each successive year, where my resolution was to hit an impossible 100lbs by consuming under 600 calories a day and spending no fewer than 4 hours working out.

I bought into the fads.  I went vegan, bought whole foods when I did eat, added spirulina powder to my smoothies, made sure my ED looked Instagram-good.  I was afraid of fats and carbs, worried about toxins, doused everything with dried red pepper flakes in the hope that the spice would speed up my metabolism, stopped going out to eat, spent every free moment at the gym, tried to maintain my image as Healthy and Fit.

It was exhausting.  I could feel my body wasting away as my fingernails snapped in half, my toenails popped off, my hair fell out, my teeth ached.  When I wasn’t at the gym, I was in bed berating myself for not being at the gym.  When I was doing homework, I was mostly just thinking about eating (or, really, not eating).  I was living in a perpetual state of anxiety about my weight and appearance and food intake, which meant I really didn’t have time for things like friends because that usually meant food, or going home to see family on the weekends because that meant I wouldn’t be able to spend the entire day at the gym, or going to class because there just weren’t enough hours in the day.

There’s nothing wrong with changing up your lifestyle in pursuit of a healthier self and nothing condemnable about using the first of the year to get a fresh start at eating better and discovering how awesome it can feel to work out.  But the health industry has turned our insecurities into marketing strategies.  It’s an exercise in exploitation, where the only aim is to make a profit on a lifetime of self-doubts by fostering new problems, by making you constantly think you’re not doing anywhere near Enough, that you aren’t Enough.  You can always be skinnier, stronger, prettier – and here’s how eating only these foods or signing up for this fitness center or adopting this diet can give you the body of your dreams.  You should constantly be scrutinizing your body, trying to incorporate as many health trends as you can.  But, because it’s subtly peddled by beautiful down-to-earth Youtubers and Instagrammers, because it’s reinforced in every single store and restaurant, because your friends and family all pick up the lingo – it seems normal.

No one actually teaches you how to be healthier.  They don’t teach you how many calories you really need, how to have a healthy relationship with the food you eat, how to work out because you love what it does for your body, how to even find the kind of workouts you enjoy because not everything works for everyone.  They don’t teach you that, for as much as you can enjoy food, it doesn’t need to be the sole consuming feature of your life.  They don’t teach you to love and honor yourself, because that’s not profitable.  And that’s a goddamn shame.

It feels like no one takes the time to think about how harmful our “normalized” relationship with food is – year-round, but especially during the holidays.  We eat delicious foods and talk about how rich and indulgent they are, how we aren’t going to eat for the rest of the week, how we need to find ways to burn all those calories, how “bad” we are, even as we eat more of them.  And then, suddenly, we do a full 180.  Now, we weren’t “bad” cheekily, like we were when you have that second cookie at the Christmas party.  Now, we were just bad, and we have to do penance for our sins.  We need to restrict, diet, get back in the gym, be “good” again.

We don’t think about how much better it would be if we let ourselves enjoy those holiday foods without guilt or shame, if we didn’t separate our year into times of indulgence and restraint, of excess and abstinence.  How, maybe, we wouldn’t feel like we need to overeat if we let ourselves enjoy food every day and how, then, we wouldn’t need to diet.  We don’t think about how our body fluctuates like this naturally, how it’s normal to have days where we eat more than usual and how, if we listen to our body, it will tell us we need to eat a little less the next day.  And for someone going through recovery and trying to understand that a few extravagant meals aren’t the end of the world, it’s so, so frustrating.  I have to manually remind myself at every meal that eating is okay because, societally, we preach food as Bad when we enjoy ourselves and Good when we eat less of it.

November and December are hard, but January royally fucking blows.  Everywhere I look there’s another reminder that I am not skinny enough, not fit enough.  Everyone has opinions on how I should treat my body to make it acceptable for someone else’s standards.  I don’t even have to leave the house to run into another trigger, but now I know better.  Every day feels like a balancing act as I walk the thin rope of recovery overtop the abyss of relapse, but I know.

I know what it’s like to have energy.  I know what it’s like to lift heavier than I thought possible, to feel satisfied, to not be so hungry and so paranoid about losing weight that I have to think about restricting food or how to earn my next meal every waking second of every single day.  I know how to take a rest day, how to have cake for dessert, how to go for a run because the sunshine and the fresh air and the capability of my body feels good and not because I need to end the day in a calorie deficit.  I know what strength and health feel like.  I know I want that again tomorrow, that I want to feel even better next month, that I want to sustain that for a year.

And I know that my resolutions – that eating more, working out less, learning how to love myself and really mean it – aren’t the ones I’m Supposed To Have.  But they’re the ones I need to hold onto right now, and I’ll be damned if January gets me down.

100 Words: #43 (Age of) Consent

43.  Consent

Consent should be easy.

I was fourteen, a fledgeling feminist dipping her toes into female-fronted punk rock, when I learned about the politics and definitions of consent.  It’s an enthusiastic yes.  A vocal yes.  A yes at every stage, not a ‘yes’, then a ‘no’ or an ‘I don’t know’ or nothing at all.  Consent is not “I owe you for dinner”, is not “I changed my mind but now it’s too late”, is not “I feel obligated”.

It sounds easy.  It should be easy.  In theory: easy.

The reality is that I’ve given consent to one person – maybe two.

In practice, it’s hard.  In practice, a boy will take you out for your birthday, for wine and pizza and Shakespeare and forget (‘forget’?) the corkscrew.  In practice, he’ll hint that it’d be a waste to take the whole bottle home himself, that it would be lonely to drink it without you, that he has roommates – so you offer to bring him home with you, to watch a movie.  You won’t know any better, won’t know what that means, won’t know until his hand is up your skirt and you don’t want it there but now it’s too late, you think, to tell him no, to tell him to go home because you’ve both shared a whole bottle of wine and he can’t drive home.  He’ll spend the night in your bed while you chide yourself – you should have known better, should have known that no engineer is going to take an English major out for Shakespeare expecting nothing in return and you should make his time worthwhile because he’ll for wine and he’ll pay for pizza and he’ll pay attention to you, but not quite enough attention to realize you’ll cry when he comes on you and tells you that you better not tell anyone else, your mutual friends – it’ll ruin his reputation.

In practice, another boy will take you out to see Christmas lights and he’ll seem so nice and it’ll seem so innocent that you agree.  It’ll seem polite to take the beers he offers you before you leave, and your hopeless romantic heart will sing when he holds your hand and kisses you under the Christmas tree.  And you’ll have such a nice time that you don’t mind going home with him (“to sober up before you drive home,” he’ll say) and that you won’t mind listening to records and having a few more beers, because you’ll like him for weeks that turn into months and you won’t be able to believe it’s happening.  But you’ll think you’ve learned, you’ll know the warning signs when he asks you not to post anything on social media, you’ll have friends who warn you about him, warn you to stay away from him.  You’ll kiss him, but you’ll tell him “no” when his hands slide up your shirt, tell him “I need to leave” when his hands stroke up your thigh, tell him “I don’t want to” when you try to stand up and he pulls you back down next to him.  He’ll tell you “you can’t drive like this” and “don’t be nervous” and “we don’t have to fuck” and “we can do something else”.  And you won’t know how to protest any further, you’ll choke on your words, you’ll say nothing, you’ll stay up all night and leave at six in the morning, you’ll think it means something and he’ll take another girl to Hawaii two weeks later.

In practice, a boy will text you for weeks.  You’ll like him, but you’ll know he likes your convenience, so when he asks you to drive out to see him, you’ll say no.  No, thank you. No, but I hope you have a nice birthday.  No, I’m busy.  No, sorry.  You’ll feel bad, because he’ll have talked you into sucking him off in the back of a rental car months before and you couldn’t think of a reason to say no so you said yes – you’ll feel bad because he’ll have expectations, because he’ll spend his birthday alone.  You’ll finally agree.  You’ll drive three hours to see him, a sick feeling in your stomach that you won’t quite be able to define as ‘regret’ or ‘excitement’ or ‘anxiety’.  He’ll kiss you when you’re mid-sentence and fuck you with enough time to watch the football game.  He’ll take you out to dinner, ignore you, let you sleep in his bed with enough space between you to fit a small family, offer you a granola bar in the morning before he drops you in the lobby.  You’ll feel dirty, used up.  You’ll take a shower when you get home, scrubbing your skin raw.  You’ll tell yourself you asked for it, you technically agreed.  You’ll make it a joke, a story; you’ll make fun of yourself, you’ll try to make it okay because you asked for it, you drove out there, you didn’t want it but you did it.

In practice, boys will buy you drinks and try to fuck you outside a concert venue because they’ll be taller and bigger and you’ll be too drunk to stand up on your own and you’ll almost let them because you feel guilty they spent money on you.  In practice, boys will press you against the stage at a show, will press their erections against your ass and kiss you before you find the words to say no.  In practice, boys will have their friend pick you up from the airport, will take your bags up to your room, will invite himself in and press you against the counter and ignore you when you tell him to leave.  In practice, boys will be older men who tell you they have connections to the band you just saw, who tell you they’ll drive you home, who tell you he’ll introduce you to the band at the next show but only if you show him how good you are on your knees, who tell you he’ll pick you up and drive you away with him to Dallas, who text you over and over despite how many times you say you’re not interested.  In practice, boys will do that a lot – will text you with propositions that you have to ignore or decline, will text you and text you no matter how many you ignore or decline, until you actively avoid being near those specific boys.  In practice, boys will surround you with their friends in corners of grandstands so that you can’t leave, will ask you for your number, will find you again in the paddock to ask again, will hold your wrist until you kiss him.

It should not be this difficult.