Proxy

Somewhat of a theme with the post preceding this one…

Let’s talk about placeholder women for a minute, shall we?

Let’s talk about substitute women.

Let’s talk about stopgap women.

Let’s talk about the myriad ways men simply use and discard women once we become difficult, complex.

Let’s talk about how hard it is to trust men, how deftly men weave webs of false intimacy, how quickly all that disappears once someone they actually respect enough to make a real effort with comes along.

Let’s talk about how all these are varying degrees of gaslighting women.

Let’s talk about how men drive women crazy with all this, then laugh at us for getting emotional about any of it.

Let’s talk about how sneaky emotional fakery can be.

Deviousness is such a feminized word, but let’s talk about the natural skill men have for it.

Let’s talk about how socializing us to be “good” women means priming us for all of this, not for anything real.

Let’s talk about being the most convenient woman around, then about what becomes of you once you’ve been humanized, and are no longer so convenient.

Let’s talk about the humiliation in discovering what you’ve been treated as this late in life.

Let’s talk about that very particular, yet so common, degradation of a woman.

Let’s talk about how she forgives herself for allowing herself to be used in such a way.

I don’t know how. Do you?

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There is a house.

There is a house.

There is a house, and it is out in the woods, or up in the hills, or beside a lake, or alone in a sprawling valley. It is late morning, it is early afternoon, it’s late at night and the stars are out.

There is a house, and I know this is a dream because I know that it is somehow mine. Nothing when I am awake ever belongs to me, but this house is mine, and this is a dream. This should make it a good dream, but it is all a trick, it is an illusion.

I am running up the stairs, in the house, and they change direction, or orientation, or the light falls on them differently, when it is there, and when it is not, the dark swallows them up behind me. I run up the stairs as they disappear behind me, falling away like dominoes. I don’t see them, I don’t turn around, they make no sound, but I feel them pulling away, almost still beneath the backs of my heels. I run up the stairs; there are so many stairs. I am dreaming, and so I do not count the stairs, like I always do when I am awake, and so I know it is a dream.

He is there with me, or he was, until he wasn’t any longer. The house is mine, and it is in my dream, but still, nothing can stay; the stairs, the walls keep moving around. We are in bed together at first, every time, tangled in warm sheets, without a care in the world. He is smiling down at me, stroking my hair, he is happy to see me, and so I know this is a dream. The more I realize none of it is real, the more it unravels, the way that dreams do.

He says something he seems to find funny, but it is harsh or cruel; there is a tapping at the window; there is a knocking at the door. I know who it is, I don’t know their name, but I know who it is. It is the same person it always is, face changing like a shape-shifter; I know it is someone better, someone more beautiful, more compelling, more talented and vibrant, stronger and worthy than me; it is someone lovable. When you have never been good enough, there are an infinite number of better someones out there. That will never be me, because I am none of these things, so of course he is gone, if he was ever there with me at all. He is walking up the stairs, he is walking down the stairs, all those stairs, wherever they go, I can hear his voice, but where did he go? No, he is gone; he doesn’t speak to me, not anymore. The rooms keep moving, the walls fall away; I do not know where he went, I will never know, I only know I’ve been left behind.

There are no stairs, there are no walls, there is no bed. There was never a house. There was only ever me, the same in waking as I was as the nightmare always closes: only ever me, alone in the dark.

Like you do

I wrote about my mother first; this must, necessarily, be about my father.

Why is it the men who raise us must inevitably, inescapably shape the ones — friends or otherwise — we allow to ourselves to love later? How long have we been musing on this overly familiar pattern already? How can it still be such a clever trick?

mirror

Windows, or mirrors? (2 February 2016)

Distant, withholding, critical — sometimes thoughtlessly cruel — impossible to please men. Men talking up all their pride in you, while doing so little to demonstrate it, as if words alone are enough to swallow up such yawning absence of genuine action. I could only grow to constantly question any sort of love now, after being raised, shaped — groomed, even — to find myself wanting in my father’s eyes first. He left, went off far away, then wanted me to explain why he was alone. I don’t know, Dad; I can’t even tell you why I’m alone. You decided you belonged nowhere, and with no one, and so that became my lot in life, too.

Though I suppose I could. I could have written my younger self a letter. I might have said: Watch out, watch for all the ways he looks to control you. They are shaping you now, have already shaped you, will shape you always, no matter how much distance ends up between you. He does love you, but there are conditions, ever-moving goalposts, impossible standards. All of these will trip you up, again and again.

I might say…

You were the one who survived — though he never told you this, you had to lie to your mother to even learn that much; the other family who died, and you, the sole surviving child — but simply continuing to breathe, taking up some small space in the world, this is not all that will be required of you, of course. You will never ask to know more.

His pride is a performance, only expressed to strangers; to you, there is only more criticism, more questions to put you on the defensive, more requests that you justify yourself, again and again. Watch carefully, before you begin to feel you must justify yourself to your own mind, too.
You will miss school, your student years, sometimes: the only time and space in which, and audience for whom, you have ever managed to exceed any expectations. Elsewhere, you will only ever fall short. All that performative dismay over so much imagined potential.
You will grow up, and there will be other men, and you will not be told the reasons, you will only see their effects. Watch closely for all they hide and take from you, and how relentlessly they try to test your determination to grasp those unreachable rewards. Sometimes it will be merely distance and poor timing, or the fear of interrupting fantasy with reality. Other times, you simply aren’t attractive or interesting enough, when you are of notice at all, though they may pretend otherwise, for a while. (This is why you will wonder, always, whether they mean one single word of it. Do not expect them to understand; they won’t.) With a few, they will shower you with all manner of compliments and admiration, but only when they don’t know you well enough to know better; it’s no coincidence the most effusive are the ones who know the least about you.

And sometimes, you will be close, closer than you could’ve imagined… Until you aren’t. You’ll turn to find your place papered over so neatly it’s almost as if you were never there. There’s nothing quite like the feeling, like that of your insides being slowly scooped out, of watching the shine come off yourself in someone else’s eyes. (What happened? You’re still you. Where did all that brightness go?) You may never know why, but you’ll see for yourself just how dull you look to them now.

Your seemingly innate inability to accept compliments or praise, the withholding men you’re most drawn to, your hawkish loneliness, the secrets you keep…
Your want to be understood, to be seen, to not be so easily forgotten, to be accepted, to belong; all that wanting, take care to familiarize yourself with that ache…
Wanting, wanting, wanting: All you will know is wanting.

No angle of your face will ever be beautiful enough, no arrangement of your body desirable enough, no amount you give adequate enough; all that straining to be…
Enough, enough, enough: You will never be enough. Don’t forget.

 

I might say — or might have said — those things. But then again, I might not.