There is a shipwreck between your ribs and it took eighteen years
for me to understand how to understand your kind of drowning.
There are people who cannot be held quietly. There are screams
that are never externalized. If I looked at the photo albums of your
past twenty years, all I would find are decibel meter graphs of
phone calls and the intensity of your silence as you sat
smoking cigarettes in the garage.
There is a shipwreck between your ribs. You are a box with
fragile written on it, and so many people have not handled you
And for the first time, I understand that I will never know
how to apologize for being
one of them.
You don’t know freedom like the back of a horse. Moving in synch with an animal, wind in your face, sharp and crisp as you breath it into your lungs. Having your hair whip with the breeze and your eyes squint in the sun. Feeling lighter than air as you run together, leap together, move together. You don’t know love like the touch of a horse. Having their lips mouth your fingers, their head butting your shoulder. Feeling their hair run through your fingers as you rub them down at the end of the ride, telling them they did a good job. Pressing your face into their neck as you cry out your frustrations to their ears that will always listen. You don’t know trust like the gaze of a horse. The moment you fall off and your body sings out in one unanimous song of pain. Lying winded in the dirt as you pull the breath back into your lungs. Sitting up and seeing them slowly walk towards you, head down, loopy reins dragging in the dirt. Apologizing even if they’ve done nothing wrong, their soft eyes like teddy bear eyes, making sure you’re okay. Asking you to get up and try again. Asking you to forgive them, to still love them, like you could ever stop.
I was not raised in a religious household. But I wasn’t raised in an atheistic one either. We were somewhere in between. It made navigating my childhood rather difficult.
We didn’t go to church on Sundays, even though all my cousins did. I had a children’s bible that my father read to me, but I took the words to mean the same as my picture books. Adults talked about God the way they talked about rain, so I assumed He was as real as the rain. I believed in God because the people around me did. But we didn’t go to church, so did that mean I wasn’t supposed to believe in God?
When I was five I stayed with Karen the babysitter during the day. And Karen had a son my age, Anthony. Anthony had chocolatey skin and played with transformer toys and loved to get me in trouble. I could write a whole poem on him getting me in trouble. We were doing some sort of arts and crafts one time, and he told me God was everywhere. In response I said “if He is everywhere, does it hurt Him when I do this” and waved my plastic scissors in the air, snapping at the air. I was five, the best I could do was associate God with air, since both were something I couldn’t see. Anthony cried and told his mother I had disrespected God. Karen put me on a time-out. I didn’t understand why.
When I was six I spent a week at my aunt and uncle’s house. One of those days was a Sunday, so I went with them to church. I sat in the pew next to my cousin, bored out of my mind as the man at the front of the room said big words I couldn’t begin to understand. I stared at the pretty coloured windows and scary statues of a man with nails in his hands. At the end of it all, I followed my ten year old cousin to the line at the front of the room, my hand held in hers. She spoke with the old man, and took the wafer from him and ate it. When he turned to me she quickly pulled me behind her, saying something to him I didn’t understand. On the way back she explained that my parents and I weren’t “church people” so she didn’t think I should eat the wafer that was supposed to represent the flesh of Christ. I thought she meant my parents and I had done something wrong, were bad people, for not going to church.
When I was eight I slept over at my friend’s house one time, and went with her to Sunday school the next day. She was very proud that she went to church, and thought I would like it. I didn’t. When the teacher told us to open our bibles - I was using a spare one of my friend’s - she told us to turn to a certain page. But she said a name and a number. I didn’t know how to read the bible. I figured, the names must be alphabetical, right? Nope. I flipped back and forth through the pages, trying to find some old man’s name. The teacher noticed, and I was scolded for not being able to find what she wanted in the pages. When she let the other kids take a break she pulled me aside, towering over me, and asked me if I had taken God into my life. I didn’t understand the depth of what she meant. I believed in God, didn’t everyone believe in God? Didn’t that mean I’d taken God into my life?
When I was nine that same friend asked me back to go to her church again, this time for movie night. I willingly agreed, thinking a movie night would be fun. Totally didn’t realize it was going to be a religious movie. It was called Left Behind, and was about the Rapture. I was nine years old, coming from a non-religious family. I had no idea what the Rapture was. That movie messed me up a little bit. It told me some terrible, apocalyptic thing would happen, and that only true believers in God would be taken to Heaven while everyone else would be left to suffer on Earth. I was nine. That is some terrifying shit for a nine year old who has come to think that she is not allowed to believe in God because her family doesn’t go to church, who has come to think she is a bad person because she hasn’t “opened her heart to God” like her friend has. I left that movie terrified, and very, very messed up. I cried every night for a week, wondering if God would understand that I may not believe in him, but I didn’t not believe either; wondering if he would save me if this terrible thing happened.
It has taken me a long time to get to where I am. My grandmother gifted me one of her rosaries and I have it saved away, it’s something I treasure not because of its religious meaning, but because it was something important to her. I am not a religious person; I have not read the bible, and I still don’t know if it’s my mother’s side that’s Presbyterian and my father’s side that’s Catholic, or the other way around. I don’t understand why Muslims and Jews have, throughout history, been given so much grief, when, to me, the difference between them and Christians is the same as the difference between Protestant and Anglican. The all believe in something, just in different ways. I do not hate religion, nor I do not believe in an absence of God. I respect the religious , I just know it isn’t for me.
But sometimes I wish my household had been more clear; church-goers or clear atheists. I wish religion would have been easier for me to navigate. Because when all of your friends growing up go to church, and your family doesn’t, but you don’t have a concrete answer as to why they don’t, it makes life that much harder. It means I still don’t understand why I was put on a time-out for snapping my scissors in the air.
My body is infused with rhythm. My body sings, all the time. When I walk, I walk to the beat of the song playing inside my head. Play music near me? Chances are I’ll sway or tap my foot. My body responds to song, all on it’s own. When I walk next to someone, my steps make a syncopated rhythm with theirs; step step, step step, step step. No one has ever called me out on it, but I know it’s there, my whole body feels it. Thrives in it. I have more music on my laptop than I know what to do with, I have more playlists in my iTunes then I could ever need. I mean, do most people have five different driving playlists? And when I drive. When I drive I need music. And not just music I like, I need music I know the words to. I can’t just listen to any old song, I need something I can sing along with, word for word. When I drive I need to belt out the words because they are coursing inside my veins like blood, my veins are on fire with lyrics. If you were to cut into my heart, it would bleed rhythm. If you were to open up my lungs, you would see that they breath music. If you were to slice open my brain you would see it thinks with beats and pulses not unlike an old Dr. Dre song. The last few exams I’ve had to write, in the back of my head you could hear The Bangles and Hall and Oats playing. Imagine for a second trying to write a third year inorganic chemistry exam when all you can think are the words to Walk Like An Egyptian. When I get nervous and my heart starts to race and my muscles clench and the sirens inside my head shout the words “panic”, I calm down with beat, rhythm, song, verse. I have the lullabies I will sing to my children memorized because they live inside my breast waiting to be used. My heart doesn’t just beat in iambic pentameter my whole body rushes and ebbs and flows in it. I study to the scores of Buffy The Vampire Slayer and The Lion King. I have music flowing through my veins and I thrive in it. I don’t just listen to music, I make music. No, I don’t just make music, I am music.
I measure my days in minutes, in patterns, in sameness.
I measure my anxiety with every minute I’m off from my patterns.
It’s 5:50 and the alarm on my phone goes off. I untangle from the sheets to turn it off. I know have ten minutes to doze, even though my clock says I have only 7.
It’s 6:00 and the second alarm on my phone goes off. I sit up, the dog wakes. I run a brush through my hair and chapstick over my lips.
It’s 6:02 and I’m downstairs to let the dog outside, use the washroom, let the dog back in.
It’s 6:06 and I put the dog’s food down.
It’s 6:07 and I open the cupboard. I’m moving slower today, so I skip cereal and jump right to toast. Bread into the toaster, open all the cupboards, open the dishwasher.
It’s 6:10 in the morning and I unload the dishwasher quietly, to the sounds of the toaster clicking.
It’s 6:14 and I’m getting anxious, only four minutes left. The toaster goes, I slap on the jam. I eat breakfast as I cut up the apple that will be part of my lunch. Drop the apple in a plastic bag, put it in the fridge with the sandwich made last night.
It’s 6:18 right on time put the dirty dishes in the dishwasher close the cupboards go back upstairs.
It’s 6:20 and I turn on my laptop, check my mail, print the days lecture slides, make sure nothing new has been posted, that no classes have been cancelled.
It’s 6:30 and I’m in the bathroom. Striping off my pj’s, moving the towels in place and turning on the water.
It’s 6:31 and the pattern goes shampoo, rinse, conditioner, wash face, maybe shave underarms, its winter so I don’t shave my legs, rinse, turn off the water, wrap hair in towel, dry off, pj’s back on, lotion.
It’s 6:44 and I call to my mother that I’m done with the water.
It’s 6:45 and I look at the clock shit I’m late move faster.
It’s 6:46 and I brush my hair, add mousse, turn on the hair dryer, dry my hair out.
It’s 6:55 and I turn off the hair dryer, hair spray, hang my towels up, brush my teeth.
It’s 7:00 and I do my makeup: foundation, eyeliner, maybe some eyeshadow if I’m fast, blush, chapstick, brush hair again.
It’s 7:07 and I get dressed in the clothes I left out the night before, deodorant, perfume. Make the bed.
It’s 7:12 and I pack up my backpack: laptop, cord, notebook and print-outs for the day.
It’s 7:13 and I get my armour: phone and bus pass in front right jean pocket, iPod in front left jean pocket, plain ring on left middle finger, braided ring on right middle finger, rainbow and black bracelets on right hand, hair elastic, brown, black, and red bracelets on left hand, rainbow necklace around my neck, all set.
It’s 7:16 and I’m downstairs packing my lunch: sandwich apple trail mix cereal bar maybe some raisins don’t forget to fill the water bottle.
It’s 7:22 and I put my boots and coat on, say goodbye to dad.
It’s 7:26 by the time my mother and I pull out of the driveway.
It’s 7:30 and we reach the bus terminal and I get out of the car with a goodbye to my mother.
It’s 7:31 and I walk to my bus stop, stand in the shelter in the back right corner, and begin to people watch, Blue Coat is here already, so are the two girls who take the 10 but stand in our shelter, the one on the right has her music playing super loud like usual.
It’s 7:32 and Leopard Coat and Short Red Coat wonder in, Smirking Smoker saunters over and lights up behind the shelter.
It’s 7:33 and the 44 pulls into the terminal, it sits in the middle taunting me because it’s cold why can’t the driver come over to the stop to let us on and then go take his break?
It’s 7:35 and the 109 pulls in and Newspaper gets off and walks over to our stop.
It’s 7:36 and the 45 pulls in and Angry Smoker and Briefcase get off and walk over to our stop.
It’s 7:38 and the 87 leaves.
It’s 7:39 and the 10 is leaving early why hasn’t my bus come over we should leave before the 10.
It’s 7:40 and finally the bus moved over to our stop, I get out my bus pass, get on, move to my seat in the middle back on the left.
It’s 7:41 and the bus pulls away and I get out my iPod, get lost in whatever book I’m reading on my e-reader app.
Time passes and I’m somewhat aware as I read: we stop at the train station, Black Coat gets on, we leave the train station and first Newspaper gets off at his stop, then Blue Coat, Black Coat, soon the Smokers gets off, finally Briefcase gets off, we hit F—- and the middle school kids get on, we hit the B—- and middle school kids get off and the first wave of university kids get on, Elevator girl gets on, I don’t like Elevator Girl. We hit E—- and there are more uni kids, we hit B—- and we get the last of the uni kids, I keep reading, maybe someone sits next to me I hardly notice.
It’s 8:24 and we pull into the university, good we’re right on time, I put my iPod away, get off the bus, students swarm all around.
It’s 8:25 and I walk to the CCT building, Elevator girl walks in front of me she walks so fucking fast I try to keep up with her.
It’s 8:27 and we walk into CCT and break from the pack of students, to go to the elevators; I walk fast to keep up with her because there’s no point in taking separate elevators seconds apart.
Its 8:28 and the elevator arrives, she presses 2, I press 3, she stabs the Close Door button, that’s why I have to keep up with her, she is so lost in her earphones if I’m ten steps late and she presses the Close Door button then the elevator closes in my face and I have to wait for the next one, stupid unobservant girl.
It’s 8:29 and she gets off, then I get off, walk around the corner.
It’s 8:30 and I stop in the washroom, good it’s empty, always take the first stall on the left, then go to the sink on the right, wash my hands, brush my hair again because I’m vain.
It’s 8:35 and I get to class, only Sleepy Guy is here yet good I’m not the first one in the room I get anxious when I’m the first one in the room.
It’s 8:35 AM. You would say it’s early. For me, it’s right on time. I can sit and work for a little while until class starts at 9.
And that’s just part of my morning.
Imagine living a whole day like that.
Imagine living every day like that.
When I’m a minute or two off my heart starts to beat a little louder and my mind starts to race a little faster. I know I have anxiety but I live with it. I like things to be the same, I like my routines.
I don’t like when you change my routine.
I don’t like when you make fun of my routine.
I don’t like when you make fun of me for having a routine.
I don’t like when you make fun of me for having something I can’t control.
Because I can’t control it. It sits like a hard, dark ball of tar inside my chest, constricting my lungs and squeezing my heart every time my pattern tilts even a little to one side. My patterns are a compulsion. Do you understand? A compulsion. I don’t control them, I live in them. When my patterns break my mind panics, jerks to one side and then screams inside my head until everything goes white. I don’t control it, I can only try to calm it down. Breath deep. Breath slow. Recite a poem. Stay calm.
I don’t like when you call me names and make fun of me for something I can’t stop. I don’t like when you disrupt my patterns on purpose, because I know you do it on purpose, just to watch me squirm. I envision stabbing you in the neck with a pen every time one of you forces me to squirm for your own enjoyment.
This is my disease. You try living with it.
The first time I thought “my god, she’s beautiful” I had to stop and re-evaluate everything I knew about myself. It was near Halloween, and I noticed more and more how stunning You were. The way the light clung to you, the way the music swirled around you. I grew scared and confused, getting lost in your eyes, but I never let go. It’s good I didn’t, because where would I be now, without you? The one who’s laugh I adore and who’s presence makes me feel safe and at home.
Years of confusion and hiding blurred together. The girl who was so easy to be around, who when knew to listen and when to talk, You were strong but delicate, a dancer. The girl with the loud eyes and the knowing smirk and the strong hands, I felt intimidated by You but I shouldn’t have, because you were kind and had a heart of gold. The girl who wanted everyone to see how hard she was, but all I saw was Your softness, you were a mystery to me. These hooks weren’t deep, weren’t secure, but they all helped me grow, helped me learn who I was.
A whirlwind of bright hair and casual confidence is what You were, coming from a world I didn’t know. I struggled to keep your attention, grew annoyed with your other new friends, who were allowed to know you better than I was. You bit sharp, but not deep, and it’s probably a good thing, because I grew tired of your games.
I tried to slip away from the rope that you tied around me, because You were confusion at it’s core. There was light in your eyes and you tried to do good for everyone around you. But you had eyes for another, and only had eyes for me when she wasn’t looking. The more I tried to pull away, the harder you fought back. Until I was forced to cut that cord, because I wouldn’t let you drag me in between you and another.
It was so unexpected when You were dropped into my life. For all our struggles I grew mesmerized by the ink on your skin and the fall of the hair on your back. You were late nights and sleepy mornings, you were lazy evenings and bright afternoons. You were a storm surge, bound to me, and bound to pass.
Eyes like dark pools that I could drown in. I saw so much beauty in You, for all your shy smiles and quiet words. I admired your mind, your passion, your stillness. I got lost in the depth of your eyes and the curve of your skin more times than I can count. I longed to learn you, for you to learn me, but I understood when it was time to unhook you from me.
You had anchors set in me. You’ll always have anchors set in me.
The first time I stuck a hook into my skin I was ten years old. We were at a fourth grade sleepover and a girl asked me who I had a crush on. The hook I picked belonged to a boy in my class, one I knew would be considered cute, appropriate for me to like. He had fair hair and fair eyebrows and lashes and blue eyes like ice. I stuck his hook into my skin because I knew he was safe. Because I knew the other girls would accept the answer. Because I didn’t understand how hooks were supposed to work.
The second time I stuck a hook into my skin was sixth grade, when we were in a hot tub playing truth or dare, when I knew they would ask me who I liked. As we went around the group, getting closer and closer to me, I picked a new hook. When they asked me, I knew what to say. A boy they didn’t know, who had his music lesson right before mine. I told them how he played the saxophone and had dark eyes, how he always smiled at me, how I’d hear him play if I arrived for my lesson a few minutes early. I do not even remember his name, the boy whose hook I sunk into my skin.
The last hook I picked was when I was in eighth grade, when all my friends had crushes and I still didn’t understand the hooks. This time I picked without even being asked. He had dark eyes and a loud laugh and had wiry dark hair. I took his hook and shoved it into my skin. I pushed and pushed, forcing it deeper then I’d ever done before. I forced myself to have that crush on him because I needed it, because I didn’t understand how the other girls did it, because I didn’t know what to do, because I was desperate to fit in. But it grew tricky, having that hook in me. A friend of mine liked that boy, and I had to pretend that everything was fine, when inside I was a sea of confusion because I had a fake crush, a forced crush, on a boy my friend genuinely liked. That hook hurt the most.
But his was the last hook I forced to bite my skin. His was the last hook I chose to purposely dig into my body, into my heart, into my mind. I didn’t understand how the hooks were supposed to work; I thought I was wrong for not knowing the answers when the other girls asked. I didn’t understand that the hooks picked you, not the other way around. I didn’t get that sometimes the hooks sink in hard and fast, and sometimes they catch so quietly you don’t notice their grip until it’s too late, until you’re already drowning. I didn’t understand that you have no choice at all when it comes to hooks catching you.
I didn’t understand that not every girl’s hook had to be attached to a boy.