Guest Posts, LBGQ

Fragment.

January 25, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Sally J. Johnson.

I am about to bleed over everything.

*

Late one night, after a series of miscommunications strand us, my friend and I ask a cab driver to drop us off at my boyfriend’s place. Leave, we said, we’ll sleep here. When I knock on my boyfriend’s window to see if I can wake him from being drunker than I am, the glass in the pane undoes itself and a blade of it is buried deep in my left leg. I begin pouring more than the sky can be envious of. I pull the piece from my thigh and bleed in latitudes. I howl for my friend to call an ambulance, for something safe to come humming through the night toward me. She tells me later how my heartbeat felt in her hands: hot and unstoppable. But right then she thought she’d lose me.

*

Once, I dated a man who broke me into tiny pieces of myself but first pretended to fix me. He would make benches and useful, holding things out of wood. He made me a shelved mirror, which I treasured, then painted over, then threw away. He once wanted to save me money and so knelt on the cement of his garage to change my worn-to-the-metal brake pads. Instead of fixing anything, he shouldered a dent into the silver of my car. I had to take a car to a professional for the brakes, but left the crater. Later and again and again he would show me how to be useful by doing things useful for him. He built me a box, not out of wood, but from his own insistence that I was just a tiny thing meant to ask for permission to be anything more. I don’t know much about fixing anything except that a wrench is nothing without force or oil. So much of me bent out of place.

*

Somehow, when that window etched itself inside me, my cyclic scream did not wake my boyfriend but I was loud enough to pull the neighbors from sleep. I do not remember this, but they tell me they placed me on the ground before I would have fallen there myself. There, I make a large black stain they will hide under their welcome mat. I fall in and out of falling. I am wet with blood and rain and the water they pour on me to wake me. I am carried into an ambulance and my earrings—tiny pieces of painted glass on wire—are taken from me. Kept safe.

*

When I was very small, I accidentally stepped on a baby bird who had fallen out of her nest. I was barefoot. I wasn’t looking where I was going because I was cradling my cousin’s shoulders. Carrying him with my sister, pretending to aid his pretend wounds (even children know tenderness comes after a fall). I felt the little life of feathers crush beneath me. Of course, stepping on the beak and bones hurt me, but I never tell anyone that is a pain I remember.

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being.

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being.

*

In the hospital someone stitches me whole again. I am the smallest sewing project. A little doll with moving limbs, but that is not exactly it. Maybe more like one of those little green lizards that one must catch by their bodies, because from their tails they can escape, bloody but alive. After hours with no pain medication, I come home to my boyfriend who is hung over and in shock. He is too sorry for words, and I too weak to think of what needs forgiving. He peels my blood-wet socks from my feet, makes a garbage bag of the dress I’d worn for the first day of our last year of graduate school. Weeks we sit in this stupor: him washing and feeding me, helping the wound as it heals, helping me do everything I can’t do by myself: shower, walk, go to the bathroom. He yells down the stairs when he leaves me alone for too long, “Are you safe?”

*

There is a time I break myself and another woman all at once. She is the first woman I love; who loves me. The first time I am showing the second reflection of myself to everyone else. I am bisexual, something some people think of as a perfect split. After the break up, she and I are separate people again. I tell her I can’t love her anymore, which is half true and half hell. I wish it were easy enough to say we loved each other wholly while being broken. Weaved a basket not built to carry. I tell her this because I lose the love for myself. I halve us and have not found peace in that idea of breaking something in order to fix it. Instead, I know I was just a hammer to her heart as far as she knows. And maybe as far as I’ll ever let myself remember about us. Of course, this is a fragment of that story.

*

Sunk under drugs and the numbness that will stay in my leg for perhaps the rest of my life, I start dreaming wildly: piecing together my medical bills, buying more sleep in my dreams. Sometimes, I am fractions of myself. Nights are a stretch of cicada song and sprinkler nozzle. I sleep all day. As I sleep, the men painting my boyfriend’s apartment hum along to the radio and I dream they’re serenading me: singing me lullabies from their ladders against the sill. I wake in pain, asking for more pills.

*

My mother says she can’t remember a time when I wasn’t covered in the red rash of me. Atopic dermatitis is a curse, worse than all the small pains of my life. Eczema is a horrible barometer on my body, showing my stress and sickness all the time. A child at a theme park once asked me about the house fire he assumed I’d lived through. The hives can look like burns, sometimes weeping and breaking open to bleed, sometimes just angry and enflamed. My boyfriend will look at me and see that I’m in pain, pretending to be normal, hoping no one will notice. He’ll say, “Give me a number, one through ten,” to gauge my hurt. I tell him. He always knows to add two numbers. In those moments, I can’t ever tell him the truth. It is hardest, hurts most, to ask for help over and over again. To know you cannot fix yourself.

*

The blood of me stained everything. The buckets of my shoes soaked in dried blood, a blue dress browned. When I give up the pain meds, I am not ready. I collapse in the bathroom and my boyfriend runs to find me after hearing the fall. It is hard to admit, but I’m happy for this second accident. How that time he was there to take me up in his arms as I called his name. How he wasn’t asleep while I screamed. It is so difficult to be cared for when it is a length of time, but an emergency is easy to be loved in.

*

I was a tiny little thing once and would listen always to my older sister. She wanted to make me beautiful but we were too young to know what that meant.  She told me she’d make me Cinderella with a pair of scissors and sloppily chopped off my top-of-the-head ponytail. To fix this, my mother brought me to a hairdresser who said the only thing to do was shave my whole head and let every piece grow back together.

*

I told my family about the way I love men and women in bits and pieces. I tell three of my siblings separately. My parents separately. Telling my mother and father in isolated phone calls that I found a new part of myself in a woman instead of a man splintered my atmosphere: kaleidoscope not catastrophe. How both of them were miles from me. My father full of humor and more compassion one person could hold. My mother in her car hurtling her whole smile through the receiver asking: well then what are you crying for?  My parents tell my younger two siblings in a family meeting they call to meet without me, like maybe they are too small to hear it from my mouth and understand it. Or maybe they just want to tell them that it’s okay.

*

For so many years I am haunted on Halloween by being terribly sick or injured. One year I go out with chicken pox and pretend they are painted-on freckles. In fifth grade, I climb a group of two-by-fours up a tree in my backyard. When the wood gives out on the second step my left foot falls on a rusted nail. I am punctured in the same way I am with the window at my boyfriend’s apartment a dozen years later: “laceration” is the language the paperwork-doctors use for these types of injuries. The word means torn to pieces.

*

My boyfriend tells me he is not a stepping-stone for my love, or me, which are words almost too lovely to count on concretely, not completely­—how everything breaks at the parts that clasp—but they are words said calmly like they are meant to heal or aide when I’m hurting and I say them back because they are words that I can try to believe in. Like all the times anyone looked over my aching or splitting skin, the blood of me boiling over or pooling outside of me while they told me, “It’s all going to be okay.”

*

When I was that broken eggshell on my neighbor’s cement patio, their dog cried in the doorway. I was told she tried bringing me her toy. I wonder if she wanted to help or could just feel the fear like humidity, if really she wanted to run. Did my blood smell good to their cats that were caught behind her wall of whimpering? Did my boyfriend weave my screams into his dreams? I don’t know, I don’t know. I wasn’t even there myself.

*

I’m whole again but for how long? I have small scars to prove I’ve been bitten but where on my body will the next one land? I feel the hum of a hundred waiting wounds on me and all the warm kisses that will follow should I wake from them. I am left aching; wondering which part of trusting this truth is surrender and which is survival.

 

Sally J. Johnson received her MFA from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington where she served as Managing Editor for the award-winning literary journal Ecotone. Her poetry and nonfiction have appeared or are forthcoming in the Collagist, Bodega, the Pinch, Weave, So to Speak, Everyday Genius and elsewhere. She is a poetry editor for Green Briar Review and works as a publicist in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Find her online: @sallyjayjohnson.

Join Jen Pastiloff in Atlanta March 8th. Click the photo above.

Join Jen Pastiloff in Atlanta March 8th. Click the photo above.

Join Jen Pastiloff, the founder of The Manifest-Station, in The Berkshires of Western Massachusetts in Feb of 2015 for a weekend on being human. It involves writing and some yoga. In a word: it's magical.

Join Jen Pastiloff, the founder of The Manifest-Station, in The Berkshires of Western Massachusetts in Feb of 2015 for a weekend on being human. It involves writing and some yoga. In a word: it’s magical.

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4 Comments

  • Reply Powell Berger January 25, 2015 at 5:17 pm

    First, Jen, you leave me wide open with The Hole…then this. Holy Jesus is this good. Good writing, good fragments, good and yet wrenching and yet inspiring. Thank you, Sally, for something that will stick with me for a long, long time. All of us are fragments, yes? Thank you for helping me see mine, know they’ll be more, and know it’s okay. Just, thank you.

    • Reply Sally J. Johnson January 26, 2015 at 6:42 am

      Powell,
      Thank you so, so much for your incredibly kind words and for taking the time to read and respond to my work! I am so honored. I am sending you love and light. <3

  • Reply Natalie January 26, 2015 at 8:58 am

    wowowowowwwwwwww. Sally. Breathless breathless. Punched in the gut writing. Thank you for your courage and honesty. Thank you for revealing your tender underbelly in writing. Thank you for sharing. I am grateful to have the honor of reading. Gorgeous, lusciousness <3 Love, Natalie in Philly <3

    • Reply Sally J. Johnson January 27, 2015 at 9:05 am

      Natalie,
      Yikes, your comment gave me an electric bolt of gratitude. Thank you for reading; I am really, really honored. Please stay safe and warm up there in Philly! xoxo

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