I was an orphan during my teen years—but you’d never know it.I kept it a secret to everyone—my high school, my friends, strangers. I never told anyone we were poor, or that my parents weren’t really parents, and I’d act nonchalant when class photos were taken because we couldn’t afford them.
“Oh, I don’t need a photo to prove I was here.” I was a “rebel.”
Everyone told me I was strange and lovely and beautiful; my skin was white and pure and my hair was dark. I was known as the poet ever since I began to write. Because of this, people were mystified by me.I was shy and broken and so vulnerable people saw beauty even when none existed. I was living through some sort of cinematic version of my life, only it was very real and painful. I didn’t feel magical.
I was 15 and had no home. I had essentially lost everyone close to me—not to death, but to something else. My parents weren’t able to take care of me anymore, and though I understand them now, I didn’t then.I remember perpetually asking myself: how could even beautiful things fall? My mother had bright green eyes and a wide smile, but she found safety not in her home or her children or herself, but in that quiet, drip-drop of drug and bad men.
Once, she dated a younger man who slept with a pentagram beneath his bed. Other times she dated men who stole new clothes from me so he could return them for money; this man also snapped my long pre-2000s curly phone cord so I couldn’t talk.Later, the man who became my step-father would break in to our home from the attic and talk to himself, making beaded necklaces he’d try to sell on the street. Then, he robbed a bank and was sentenced to jail for years.
But before all of this, my Mother was beautiful.
In the 60s she wore flowers in her strawberry hair and danced a life in muted yellow and green. She wore desert colors and people called her “Legs.” Men loved her so much she drove them mad, I’ve heard. The truth is: my mother was born a Broken Woman.
And when my father saw her spirit, his energy crushed it. Then they both sort of disappeared.
Everyone around me just seemed to peel away and vanish. They left a light I kept almost clutching and chasing, and that light informed every year going forward. I became a ward of the state around 2001, right after September 11. It was a year of quiet tragedy and change.
I eventually moved into a stranger’s house because they were the only people that would take me. My family members–the ones near me, near my high school, just weren’t there—later in life, they apologized for this. When my social worker brought me to this new place, he stood on the doorstep, the light shining from behind him, and he said: “Is this OK?”
I stood there in a long white gown and said, “Yes, this will be fine.”I lied.The house was big and blue and the lawn was trimmed and kept. There was an absence of life and sincerity. I went up into my strange new bedroom and opened the empty drawers. There I saw scented yellow floral liner. A rotary phone sat on the table, and the white sun fell in as if to photograph the moment. I will never, ever forget that bright, dead bedroom and I will see it in my head on my death-bed.
My foster mother stood in the doorway and told me unpack, and then she opened the drawers to show me the space they’d made, as if it were some feat. She was as nervous as I was.
They taught me to eat well and do my school work. They told me my hair was too dark and that I should lighten it. They told me to be calm and quiet; and when they got tired of trying to make me into their Perfect Daughter, we’d connect for a rare moment and I concluded that we both just wanted to be loved, but we didn’t know how.
I learned young to make Life into Art.
I sat in my new room writing poems. I cried a lot at first and then stopped altogether, as if I’d never been left alone. I stole flowers from the garden and made wreaths. I sat with a tiny puppy and took photographs of his paws and face. I found a Chopin record and played the pieces on repeat.
No one was ever home.
They worked in theatre and left me for hours. So I walked around and looked at their art; Degas. Degas everywhere. So, in that instant, I decided I’d become a ballerina, of course. I stood in class in my white tights and, too curvy even at 16, failed.
I felt too much fire to be contained. This was a pivotal moment for me: I knew it then—I felt too alive to stand rigid and straight. I found my home in other things: I didn’t want to be good enough for ballet. I wanted my body to be soft and alluring. I wanted to break the rules.Wildness, I thought, was beauty. In this moment I learned something about myself: I am too fucked to follow any rule about my body—in dance or not.
I was living the cinematic cliche of youth. And so I surrounded myself with everything lovely, and at the end of the night I sat on my daybed with it’s ivory wrought iron twisted into something elegant and innocent, and I felt the coldness of being alone.I stood in mirrors and took down my hair. I applied dark lipstick and padded my little tits. I bought perfumes and poured them down my chest. I decided to fuck it, I’ll become an adult, because I can’t have my childhood anymore.
I wanted to cover up the gory truth of everything, and looking back, my insincerity was sincere.
While living in this new house, I was dating an older guy. He was an angel—even his name was an angel’s name—and he saved me by being the one I could call at night.But I was 16 and he wanted me to beat him up in the bedroom, so I tried, and I failed.What 16-year-old feels “too weak” for her man? What 16-year-old goes into NYC every weekend to beat someone up? I just wanted him to love me, so I thought, “I’ll hurt you if that’s what it takes.”He begged me to be mean to him, to choke him, to file him down to the little boy he wanted to be. But in my head I just needed someone who would hold me.
So I left him for a new, nomadic life. His devastation fed me; I wanted him to grieve as badly as I had for years; he wrote me choral arrangements that I’d play on repeat because they were beautiful, and I sucked down his heartache as though it were a transfusion of my own life.
Soon, I met a new boy and we sailed to Bermuda together. His parents were rich and we had our own room. I was 17 or 18 then, and we stood on the bow and looked out at the black, silent sea.Between us we found a comfort. He was always the ugly one, he said, but he had completely changed in adolescence. Now he was newly tall and handsome. And in me, after years of rejection, he saw a girl who would actually love him. I took my heartache out on his cock, and he worshiped me. I felt safe.
On deck, we shared a bottle of mandarin vodka, taking shot after shot, hoping to get rid of whatever our fears were. I felt I was blossoming. It was the first time I’d ever gotten black-out drunk, and I fucked him dirty that night and learned he was a virgin.In the morning as I sat nude in the mirror and braided my hair down my back, and felt a new, dark power surge through me.
Later in life, someone would call me an energy vampire.
As we made way to port, we slept in bed well past noon and drew stars on one another’s shoulders. We kissed for hours until we were around his parents. Before them, we sat wet in blooming—no, exploding—exultation and lust. We pulled our hair out of our heads with just our eyes.
And then, coming back to the Northeast, we made promises to love one another forever, and said:
“These coves of turquoise water are ours.” We kissed against the jetty, and I let him cum inside me. I was stupid and wild and I felt free.
“We will return to Bermuda when we are old and ugly,” I professed.
“You could never be ugly, ” he said. “You’re absolutely perfect.”
I ignored him.
Back at home, we wildly fucked six times a day. We got drunk and drove fast through the night; he was an alcoholic and almost killed us on Route 78 in the pouring rain. I’d beg him to stop, slap his chest, and force him to let me drive. I’d cry as I drove, wondering why I always ended up having to take care of someone. Why did they need saving? Why did they need to get beat up? When would someone come and take care of me? Pity party.
We screamed and cried and life went on this way; we felt sane-or alive-in our madness. Or, we’d just learned it.
Soon, I moved to college and left him for the next boy I met. I just needed the love. I just needed the false promise of affection. I could make it mean anything I needed: Mom will come home. Dad will remember me. I won’t feel so lonely. I won’t feel so thrown-away.I was addicted to new love because it strangled the memories.
I was the sea after the shore.
And, because the moon pulls and tugs and dictates, all I ever did was ebb and flow in and out, always watching the water line as I rolled away. All I ever did was roll in and out and take a new boy with me. I made him worship and love me, and when they left or when I left, I’d cry and curl up into myself and wear long gowns and seek new beauty.
Somewhere along the way I really did fall in love, and I stayed with him for maybe 4 years. My friends would say this was the Winter Of My Life. I agree.
This was the most dead I’d ever felt because I was dating a ghost. I don’t think I ever felt at home here; I adopted the idea that being with someone—anyone—was better than being alone. I was constantly crying. I had developed a fear of death and endings. I hated being alone. I got sick and developed an auto-immune disorder. And he had his own issues, so together it blossomed into something terrible. I don’t know who was at fault first; I just know I lost myself. I turned into a beast and became violent and broke Christmas trees and flower vases.
When it ended, I lost myself and ran away. I sat in a church and prayed. I made love to men thirty years older. I cried every night for two weeks and ran away to the Colorado mountains and met an old friend who was broken-hearted.
We rode with the top down and drank red wine and made love over and over. He grunted like an animal and I smiled on my back; we both had nothing and wanted the world and felt a silent agreement that this was temporary pleasure.
We went camping. I wore slutty clothes in the mountains and flipped my hair in the sun. He’d watch me and want me, and took me into the tent and I’d conquer him. We held each other when night fell and I felt safe.
That last night the temperature dropped and we had to hold one another to stay alive. I knew I needed to go home and undo what I’d learned about safety. I knew I needed to be alone.
I knew it then: I would have to sit on the end of my bed and there would be no phone calls. I would have to struggle. I still had books and a desk and some dried flowers. I had some empty wine bottles and a pile of poems. I had a little record player and strands of pearls. I still loved muted green. I still loved wrought-iron. I would wear white lace and rep lips.I would have to be alone.
I swam in the middle of my bed and remembered the blue sea and the many loves and the long drives and the immortality of youth.
I remembered my hunger and the anger and the grief, but this time, the memories morphed:I wasn’t actually trapped by my foster parents. They were flawed, but they just trying to love a poor, sad kid. I hadn’t been a vixen because I broke boys’ hearts. I was a wretched thing, flailing and reacting to the hurt I’d experienced.I hadn’t kissed boys on train tracks and fucked in cherry blossom fields because I was whole. I was just young and searching for an answer.I hadn’t been abused into being a monster. I made a choice to be a monster.I hadn’t run away to Colorado to heal. I was condemned and imprisoned by my learned responses.Men weren’t the answer. Bodies weren’t the answer. Sex wasn’t a savior.But it was a nice try when you’re young and hurt.
I never knew how to belong to something; I still don’t. I never knew how to re-appropriate sex. Sometimes I still don’t. I struggle to believe it when someone says, “Here, take this that I have to give you and let it make you happy.”I will never be perfectly at ease. I am too heartbroken. I have too many memories. I am fatalistic. I am not used to good things or love. I don’t celebrate happy Christmas dinners anymore. My mother is still broken, and my father never came home. I don’t have a normal life. I am an usual girl who tries to blend in. I always expect someone to leave. I always want to get in trouble in order to win the war inside my head. Distractions. Lights. Hands. Sounds.
Despite it all, and despite the flaws, I have decided to just try to let things be beautiful and let people love me. When I get scared, instead of hurting people or using a body, I surround myself with beauty and cliche—because it’s OK to find safety in soft yellow light and Montepulciano and double exposure.It is okay to let my hair out in the wind. It is OK to see my life as cinema. It is okay to wear flowers and mix perfume and read old books, because my entire life had been too real and too bloody and I deserve it.