Essay, Adeline Foster
When I was still in it, I remember us feeling more real than Amsterdam’s canals or the man that held me in a nightclub in Berlin or the lecturer in front of me. The ways he showed his desire for me – all transgressive in nature, secretive and noncommittal and deceitful – always made me uncomfortable. They didn’t make me feel desired so much as they let me know I was. Such a crucial difference, and still I preferred the discomfort to knowing no one would do transgressive things to have me.
And then I gave that up and that took quite some time and I’m not quite done just yet. I have not listened to a song without looking for some small lyric that might make it fit into my catalogue of songs that are us. I like to pretend he sent them to me like he used to. I like to pretend so much that I begin to know. I know it’s his voice singing. I know I’m crazy and yet I know.
I know he never knew me, I know I never knew him. I have never missed anyone as much as him. I have never missed anyone as much as the person he saw in me. I do not know either of these people, so it seems I know myself the least.
I keep asking, who am I if I let him go, and I know the answer. The answer is I am unmoored, and I do not know what to center my life around and where to put my love and my guilt and I do not know why I’d write.
It has been more than six months and I have not written much and what I have written falls into two categories: 1) Lamentations about being left, elegies for a love never lived. This falls into that category, and it no longer has any value. I have said it as best I can, which is poorly. 2) Explorations on who I am without his lens of womanhood through which I have come to see myself. This is shaping up to turn into the second one.
Here is where the danger lies. For I know I am not ready to fully know but I can sense the not-knowing becoming less comfortable.
You don’t stop writing until you feel you have left something at the table so I cannot leave now. You do not leave before you have said something dangerous. Before you have given the gift of your truth or a version of it.
Yet I have not felt like I have something to give, least of all a narrative. If I manage to be brave enough, I can bring myself to say it, give some truth, and I have decided to be brave. Down to my core, I do not know myself. My name has been dissonant in my ears. No one else seems to sense it addresses no person that’s present. The clothes on my hangers look good but feel like a straitjacket hanging from my shoulders. I remember loving things that don’t make sense now, him included. Maybe what I loved most was the promise of his love. If only I could make that skirt fit.
I wish I could go back to being only what he saw. I know it was a brutal business, but I wish I could go back.
This is the before. I am a before person. They don’t tell you how scary after can look from where I am standing. Even, or maybe mostly, in its beauty it is frightening.
No one told me that I have to give up believing in the promises when the box doesn’t fit.
I now feel I have given something. Like I have brought something into the world through the shape of me. Can you trace it out for me?