Confessions / Lit

The Roles We Play: On Domination & Learning To Be Small

-When I was a child I met another child. She was not then nor will she ever be a child in my mind.

I don’t want this article to be about what she did, but about the phenomena of repetition and the kind of obsession I think most people don’t understand. One that only I should be scared of. It sounds like a thing we only find in fiction, but I have literally been having the same relationship over and over again throughout my entire life. Almost all are with her. I keep thinking it must be an exaggeration.

She is the purest thing I have to symbol, the “original”, the “first” from which in part the trajectory of my life issued. In relationships, sexual or otherwise, I am always one or the other of us, but I am always not her in the end.

The people I seek out. The life I’ve always been envious of, and tried to emulate, and do actually have but don’t know it. Boyfriends and best friends. My art. The way I decorate my apartments. It’s a secret I protect because of the fear it shows me as some sort of fraud. But it’s the manifestation of the way I felt then, not a replica of her after all, and anyway we don’t come from nowhere. Everything is a fight to win her favor.

I used to go over to her house. It was wooden and nestled down a steep driveway where it always seemed to be overcast, and the foyer opened into the living room and a hallway to the left with cold, white tile. One entire wall of her room was sliding, glass doors that opened onto a large deck. The rain in winter would glass over, and in our socks we would ice skate across it.

I would watch her drawing on a large notepad, telling me I wasn’t a real artist if I didn’t draw nudes, or sitting, fiddling with something, being envious of how clothes looked better on her than they did on me, and wishing for that. I was six. She was eight.

Sometimes she liked to act as if she thought us equals: We’d decorate mugs with special pens, watch movies about mermaids in the guest bed, make bubble baths out of shaving cream, go to the beach in matching bathing suits, eat guacamole, walk through her hallway in dresses made of wrapped bedsheets. For a very long time I was the girl fixated on keeping her loves at her best angle, of pleasing and ever worrying if I’d done well enough. The other half of the time I was making others prove themselves to me.

Only twice before have I ever tried to find her. I don’t know why I did the other day. On her website she seems like someone you’d want to know. Well-spoken, an artist, like someone you wouldn’t think used to stick her finger down her dog’s ear to hear him screech, or have me tie her to the bed with grey, plastic handcuffs and threaten her.

There’s even a video of her (she makes films now) getting into the bathtub. You don’t really see anything. The water’s soapy, and it’s more about movement than about skin. When she pulls a bobby pin apart in her mouth I might as well be back there. I remember the motion, identical, even as a child, every muscle of it, the direction of her eyes, almost the way her skin was and that her face had lots of light hairs on it and I wondered if she knew or if that was acceptable. She didn’t have to try at anything, she just was – short, with thin dark hair and pretty but awkward features. I did what she said, and she let me stay and keep trying.

I have tried to tell this story in a million ways. I think I keep failing because, though the facts stay the same, I never do.


Alyssa Morhardt-Goldstein is the founding editor of SOUND: a weekly literary magazine on contemporary musico-poetics, and an associate editor for Rattapallax. She received her MFA in poetry from The New School, and her BS in classical vocal performance and literature from Mannes. Her chapbook, Quiet, was selected by Matthea Harvey as The New School’s 2012 Chapbook Contest winner for poetry. She is currently writing the libretto for Jonathan Dawe’s modern operatic re-telling of Tamburlaine. @Elkawildling


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