speaking in cliché
fiction i wrote about being 19 and loving Naomi and feeling like a broken machine
i wrote this piece to be read aloud at a show i did in brooklyn last week. it’s meant to be read sort of like a monologue. it’s fiction, but it’s mostly true, and the parts that are technically fake are actually even truer in the emotional sense. it’s nice to see you guys again. xoxo
Here’s a list of the things I did that summer. I cut my hair. I lived in a big wooden house next to a bog and listened to David Berman every day and cried in the kitchen. The light was yellow in the morning and it made the dust in the air look like fireworks, or like the fluorescent flecks of shrapnel that spray out when you grind metal against stone. During the heatwave I filled the tub with cold water and stepped in and out, in and out, in and out. I tried being anorexic again. I played piano in the nighttime. I turned 19 and I don’t remember anything about it. I let my boyfriend have sex with me. Before I only gave him handjobs because I had a medically too-tight vagina and also because I was scared of being filled with something other than myself. Sometimes I think maybe that’s also why I was anorexic — but then I think maybe that’s one of those things that’s more clever than it is true.
After the sex (slow; classic; more pleasurable symbolically than it was literally) I took a Plan B in the bathroom of a Mexican restaurant and it made my stomach hurt. He said, I can pay for it if you want, and I said, it’s okay, they gave me the cheaper version because they said I looked like it would better suit my needs. I was always being insulted by strangers in ways I didn’t understand. Sometimes they even insulted me out loud.
I missed Naomi. It was a full-time job. It was my only full-time job. I only realized how much I missed her when she came back from Rhode Island and things started to make sense again. That was the summer I started speaking in cliche.
I can’t live without you. I don’t know who I am without you. You’re like a piece of me. The problem with cliches isn’t that they aren’t true, it’s that when you hear something enough times you stop being able to actually hear it. I can’t eat, I can’t sleep. You’re the first thing I think about in the morning and the last thing I think about at night. It’s like that game we’d play in elementary school where you’d say a normal word again and again until no one could remember what it meant. Your brain can’t handle actually, really internalizing what it means to “need someone to breathe” every time you read it in a novel so you stop really reading it at all — it becomes decoration, a vernacular shorthand that indicates a nebulous ‘love’ to the reader instead of a sentence that someone said once for the first time because they didn’t know how they could have possibly said anything else. I keep thinking that someone must have been, at one time, the first person ever to tell another person that they needed them in order to breathe. Someone invented that, once; no one had ever told them that’s what love was supposed to be like. And then enough people invented it, loved somebody enough to invent it, that it became cliche, and now we’ve heard it a million times before we’ve ever felt it at all.