How to Read “Lolita” as a Trauma Survivor

  1. Don’t.
  2. Seriously, if you can avoid it, don’t. There is no literary work of any staggering merit worth your well being.
  3. If you must, try to recognize that the book is, for better or worse, part of canonical literature. If you must read Lolita, disregard Humbert Humbert’s claim that it’s a love story. You know better. It’s a horror story written from the monster’s point of view. The scariest thing is that the villain bears no marking scars and claims no tragic backstory. He offers no pathology for the evil he visits upon his victim. The scariest thing is the truth of fiction.
  4. Since this is an academic requirement (why else except for simple masochism would you be doing this to yourself?), separate the work from the author, the assignment from the professor.
  5. Read it in the middle of the night with comfort food and coffee. You clearly won’t be sleeping anyway. Might as well do something more productive than slow blinking at the ceiling all night.
  6. Speaking of assignments, take a lesson: The world will always make more room for shitty dudes than the people they hurt.
  7. Surviving is what you’ve been assigned by your life and your abuser. All you must do to pass is keep living.
  8. To the end of surviving: Do what you must. Self care and endurance look different for everyone and anyone who wants to judge yours can fuck right off.
  9. Take the best care of yourself (through the reading of Lolita and beyond, obviously) that you can. If that seems pointless or hard, consider doing it in order to be a better resource for the people that you love, especially when your own mental health looks more like Pollock than Vermeer.
  10. Let this trash book do what it will for you. If you’re pissed off, let it kindle the fires of your rage. If you’re reaching for compassion or forgiveness, you’re a better person than me. But … y’know. Best of luck.
  11. Consider taking a lot of breaks from reading. Read outdoors or in the company of a fluffy dog or protective spouse.
  12. Take a lot of day naps. Do you know how much less scary it is to wake up when you can see the room around you?
  13. Know that you aren’t the first of us to read Lolita. Know that the book ends and life goes on. That there are other books to bury yourself in like a security blanket.
  14. Watch a lot of really dumb TV. I suggest bookending your reading with cartoons and breakfast cereal.
  15. Predatory behavior isn’t okay and abusive men aren’t romantic. You’ve known this. Correct people who misread the text and don’t get that the whole point of having been written in first person was to create an unreliable narrator, not to craft an unlikely love story.
  16. Know when to put the book down. It’s a book, an assignment, a grade. Your life, your sanity, and your well being are worth more. There are no exceptions to this.

Sawyer Lovett is a writer who lives in Philadelphia with his wife, a dog and a hedgehog. He’s a part-time bookseller and a full time MFA student who occasionally reviews books for Kirkus and Lambda Lit. He is the author of two books and his work has appeared in Apiary, Hoax, and Cleaver.

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It’s Raining Inside the Bus

We are commanded to stand. Out of respect, recognition, loyalty, and patriotism. I know the command. I know the pledge. Each line is etched into my grade school memory.

It’s raining inside the bus. I sit at the back in an empty row, holding desperately to my coffee tumbler to keep my fingers warm. Drip. Drip. Drip. One of the few dry areas on my pants, that wasn’t soaked from the walk to the bus stop, is now a matching shade of dark blue. I shrug; sometimes it rains inside the bus.

At the next stop a woman in the row next to me moves into the last dry vacant seat to avoid the splashing water. Drip. Drip. Drip. There is now an empty seat below the drip. New passengers now stand because there are no more desirable seats.

Stand up or lose your job, career, family, friends, community, life.

I peer up from my book as a massive raindrop thuds onto the page and splashes my glasses. The emergency hatch is open. No one seems to know who opened it or why, but we collectively ignore the dripping, move away from it, stare at it, sip our coffee, accept the nuisance. Drip. Drip. Drip. We’re at the last stop before interstate.

I read today that Nike is now sponsoring (exploiting?) Colin Kaepernick. Radical or trendy? Where was this corporate support last year, I wonder.

I put my book away and gently fold my rain-splattered glasses back into their case, zipping my bag, holding it close to my chest to avoid the incoming rain. “Why would anyone open that fucking hatch?” I think to myself.

We’ll stand until our legs give out. We’ll do just about anything to avoid getting a little wet.

I hesitantly stand, tucking my bag and umbrella behind me on the now vacant seat. I look around at my fellow commuters, and then up at the hatch. I reach up and grab the red latch and shift it to the “To Exit” position before I pull sharply down on the surprisingly light emergency hatch. The texture of the hatch reminds me of the square plastic scooters we sat on, and inevitably ran over our fingers with, from elementary school P.E. It never occurred to us to change our grips on the handles to avoid smashing our fingers.

It still doesn’t occur to us to close the damn emergency hatch.

I’m too late. Everyone one the bus who was seated near the hatch is already standing.


K.M. Shultz is a transfabulous activist and future clinical mental health counselor. Currently, he works with college students with disabilities to make campuses more accessible. His true medium is mixed-media art, but he’s starting to dabble in writing.

 

 

 

“You have to give up your hatred”

“You have to give up your hatred.”

The words exploded into my brain—all those months of meditation practice to try and figure out why I couldn’t directly relate to my patients, followed by the loss of my own denial, the explosion of my life, and the chaos of high-speed medical and social transition as we knew it in the 90’s. Now, here I was, lying in bed, reading a fantasy-fiction novel by (I suspect) another trans woman, where the main character, whose life had been magically transformed by elves, had screamed aloud to her martial-arts mentor, imploring him to tell her why she was unable to progress to the level where she could take on the man who had raped her—and this was his answer: “You have to give up your hatred.”

I screamed in my own anger, frustration, and helplessness; threw the book across the room; and burst into tears. I finally knew the truth. I couldn’t bring myself into the presence of my patients for one simple reason: I hated them.

I hated that I felt destined to serve a human race that I felt no part of. Hated that they didn’t grow up getting bullied every day. Hated that even the meanest among them could feel themselves superior to people like me, deny us housing or employment, assault or seemingly even kill us without any penalty.

Many of us carried a letter-of-passage for the cops from a therapist or some other authority figure, explaining that we wore women’s (or men’s) clothing due to our “mental illness,” not as disguise for illegal activities. We knew full well that the protection of that piece of paper was more due to our confidence in it than any real legal value.

But it was summer, the school where I worked was out of session, and I was lying in bed reading because I was sore from sitting in counseling class all day. Why I thought taking a summer-school class a few weeks after bottom surgery was such a hot idea, I’m not sure, except that years of contact with those “helping professionals” had given me the desire to understand more of the theory behind their actions, along with some thought about possibly changing my career path. . . not to mention gaining some tools to help dismantle the Standards of Care that still held such a grip on our population all those years ago. At any rate, here I was, spending hours in the classroom, sitting on an inflatable rubber donut, listening to the instructors expound on empathy, and totally peeing myself every time I walked into the bathroom down the hall.

See, using the boy’s rooms back in high school was a chancy affair, and I used to get beat up pretty often. Peeing quickly and getting out before getting cornered was the best strategy, so learning to relax those bladder muscles walking in the door was the key. That served well for decades of men’s rooms—but after surgery (and the catheter), it was a bit of a disaster before I figured out what was happening. Of course, I’d been using the ladies’ for years by this time, but, old survival habits—especially the ones we’re no longer conscious of- can persist long after they’re no longer helpful.

Empathy. The instructors held fast to their profession’s accepted definition: to stand in the stream if another’s consciousness as if it were your own, and that this was always for good. I held that this ability—like fire, like any super power—had equal, or even greater, potential to harm than help. Even though the stifling heat of a July afternoon was more conducive to napping than lively discussion—no one had thought about summer school when designing classroom buildings for a college in northern New England—some of the interactions meandered far past the civil discourse of a group of colleagues. After class was over for the day, online discussion could continue far into the night, and since it was a pretty new medium back then, we often got taken by surprise when subtleties were misunderstood. Around midnight one night, when someone made a clueless but still rather innocent comment about the LGBT community I came out to the group rather… er, explosively….

That ended the discussion pretty effectively, we all went to bed, and continued the conversation somewhat differently the next day. That evening, I lay in bed happily with a lurid paperback gleaned from the used racks down at The Toadstool… and… cue scream….

Now there was no escape. I felt like I’d come out to myself a second time, horribly, and I had no idea how to deal with this one. I had an interview with my instructors a few days later, and as I explained it to them, they became more and more horrified.What was I going to do with this? They asked.

I wasn’t sure.

And, you know, I never really did deal with it. It just sort of faded. The course ended; I did well, except that I never gave in to their definition of empathy, and I had some ‘splainin’ to do about using gender-neutral pronouns (zie and hir) in the papers I wrote for them. The school year started again, and I wound up leaving mid-year for a case management position, where I perfected my denim-skirts-and-bulky-sweaters non-profit look. I got to change the gender marker on my driver’s license, which at the time, was reserved for those privileged few who’d had bottom surgery.

Oh, I was out, for sure, but comfortable. I passed, I was even considered pretty for a time (which did lead to a lot of other unexpected learning experiences, I must admit). Things were getting better. There was more awareness, better acceptance. Public forums, panels at the med school, summer camps for trans kids. We saw the average age of transition drop precipitously. The old Harry Benjamin crowd were pushed out and WPATH came in. Families were fighting for their kids’ rights in schools and winning. Insurance. Passports. Better and better and better.

Until yesterday. The ink on Judge K’s lifetime contract is barely dry, and they’re already coming for us. By US, I mean everybody that’s different. Transfolk are just the softest available target (plus, there’s the additional benefit that we can provide some smokescreen for the administration giving Russia a free hand to re-develop their nuclear arsenal, which is what pulling out of the nuclear treaty really means).

And where I am in all of this? I still haven’t given up my hatred. It shows up at the worst times, like when my best friend playfully asks what it was like to have a beard, and I say something vicious. With my patients, the wall is still there, but retirement is looming. Really, if it all blows up, my backup plan would still be to run for the northern border and figure it out after that. There’s plenty of places in the world where even a modest Social Security check would go a long way. Time to go back to carrying my passport, and not just my passport card. For now, I’ll go back to school and finish up my massage therapy certification. I’m planning on specializing in freaks, queers, and weirdos that aren’t comfortable taking their clothes off for mainstream providers. Tired of being judged? Parts don’t match your presentation? Look me up.


HammerWoman. One day long ago, our heroine began her day putting in fence posts, then worked on a motorcycle, fixed the chicken coop, hung up a picture, and finished up a pair of silver earrings. . . and she realized that she had used five different hammers in the course of the day. Stuck for a screen name on a website, she christened herself HammerWoman, and the name has served her well since. 

It’s Been a Rough Week

To all the cisgender gays, lesbians, and bi folks who lobbied for adding sexual orientation to state or workplace non-discrimination policies but didn’t fight for gender identity/expression because you were worried it wouldn’t pass…

To all the cisgender gays, lesbians, and bi folks who lobbied for marriage equality while trans women were being murdered and said you’d come back for us once you got your rights…

I have two things to say to you:

1) We told you this would happen, and

2) Fuck you.


E.L. Axford is an angry, Roller Derby Dyke who would prefer to keep her identity a mystery before her online persona gets her real-world persona into more trouble than she can handle. When she’s not angry (which is rarely) she enjoys drinking loose-leaf tea.

The Lobbyist

“You disgust me.”
His three piece suit was a little too tan,
His paunch just a little too round.
He was a mercenary sociopath,
Paid to stop moms from Plainfield from speaking their truths.

Moms from Plainfield don’t have the budget
To pay sociopaths
To stop paid Expert Witnesses from speaking their lies,
To stop state senators from voting as they have been instructed by the highest
bidder.

“You disgust me.”
And he pointed his polished brown shoes in a practiced stance,
Forty-five degrees from one another,
And his nose into the air
So I could see the hairs of his nostrils,
Demonstrating that the stench of me should be obvious to all.

“You disgust me.”
And all the fear in the pit of my stomach,
All the self-loathing,
Rise as bile and it is all I can do not to collapse right there.

The mercenary sociopath stood on the shoulders of every schoolyard taunter
Who called names that I hadn’t understood, though the tone was clear.
I knew I was belittled, lesser, disgusting to them.
He stood on the shoulders of every boy in high school
Who touched me with eyes,
Smirks,
Hands,
Crotches,
Long before anyone mentioned that “consent” was a thing.
It didn’t used to be a thing.
Not to nice girls half a century ago who would one day
Grow up to be moms from Plainfield.

“You disgust me.”
It wasn’t personal.
He was paid to terrify me,
He was paid to make sure that one more citizen did not speak her mind.
And if the effect could wash over a few people standing beside me,
Then a mom from Cornish
And a retired trucker from Plymouth
Would also be terrified into silence.
If he did his job well, we wouldn’t even be there the next time
With our signs and our truth.

I wasn’t there the next time.
I stayed home, quivering and shaking,
Crumpled on the floor,
Disgusted with myself
And with my tears
And with the fear that I could smell on my own sweat.

And then the fucking rage came
Like Mama Wolf
Like Volcano
Like all the hatred I had tamped down focused into a white-hot broadsword
And the momentum of raising it up in my heart lifted me to my feet
And for damned sure I made phone calls and sent letters
And invited state senators for coffee in Keene, Plymouth, Lebanon.

If I disgust you, then I am going to earn that disgust,
I am going to speak my truth,
And hold my sign,
And protect my family,
And vote. How dare I?

Do my tears disgust you?
Do they look like weakness?
I am not ashamed of them.
I stand with tears like a badge of honor.
I stand with trembling like a badge of honor.
Because I’m standing up,
You son of a bitch.


LFS Alden is co-owner/builder of a straw bale home in the woods and dearly hopes that her children will make it into space. Her concordance of The Hobbit and supporting digital humanities research tools can be found at WordsThatYouWereSaying.blog. She has completed the National Novel Writing Month Challenge three times and fallen short enough times more than that to keep her humble. Her angry transwife Twitter identity is @LionessAnnam.

On a Tuesday

Editor’s note: Content warning for discussion of domestic violence and death.


In my fervor to protect you
I never paused to consider
all that I lost
I did not have time to grieve,
to mourn, to cry
—nor did I know how.
Except in private hours
when I wept bitter tears
of frustration.

You ignored your phone the first time. After all, it was three in the morning, and our friends back home were notoriously guilty of ignoring the time difference (especially when they were drunk). When it rang again moments later, I bristled, annoyed that you rolled over to answer. Whatever it is can wait ’til morning.

But whatever it was had already waited nearly a full day before the police had shown up at your mother’s door, before your eldest sister had called you with an eerie calmness, before your mangled sobs suffocated you as though where were not enough air left in the atmosphere.

I could not hear the other line, but a pounding heart replaced my drowsiness. I knew the answers to my questions before you told me.

There are emotions
too big to name.
Instead, the weight of your grief
crushed your soul
into sparkling diamonds that slid down your cheeks.

Expressing empathy is not my strong suit. My emotion manifests as productivity; I am a planner. I was reading your work policy on bereavement before you put on socks. I was booking flights, making arrangements for a friend to water the plants. When I called my sister to ask if she would be able to pick us up from the airport, she cried at my even tone. She cried harder than I could imagine. I was jealous how effectively she grieved.

I am so sorry, my love
for the lives taken too soon,
for the emptiness you will never
be able to fill.

It was technically manslaughter. Murder implies intent, and on this particular day, I do not believe he had meant to kill them. Whether he had intended to kill her the many other times he had hospitalized her and broken restraining orders was anyone’s guess.

And he did not, I believe, mean to kill her son. Our nephew. But after all, he was someone else’s child, so his life wasn’t worth much. He was, to a sociopath, a justifiable causality.

I have ignored this weight
for seven years,
continuously planning
a new life
new ways to see you smile.
Attempting to ensure
the emptiness never beckons
never calls to you
or—at least—
that you never flirt
with joining it.

Today the weight was too much. Maybe it was the startling silence, bereft of chatter to fill the void. Maybe it was the first cool day, smelling like fall, like the new school year, and the realization that our little nephew would have been starting high school this week. Maybe I had nothing left to plan, and the weight of nearly a decade barreled down upon me, rebuking my callousness all these years.

My focus on you,
I never paused to consider
all that I lost.


Malo is a queer artist who oscillates between the fear of being discovered and being forgotten.

Creosote and Mezcal

Editor’s Note: Content warning for suicidal ideation.


A week before my doctoral defense, my best friend, Sam, and I decided to down the bottle of pinot noir we had been saving for graduation. As I lounged across the orange sectional in my apartment, the smoke of my cigarette equilibrated against the eighty-degree summer evening air wafting through the windows. The voice of Julia Cumming echoed a refrain through the turntable’s speakers,

You’re exactly where you’re supposed to be

As the lyrics reverberated through the thick air, I began to zone out; the stucco ceiling transmuted into constellations, then nebula. I’d nearly forgotten I wasn’t alone when Sam’s voice broke through the haze, “Did you ever grow a denial beard?” Sam had contorted her body into a U shape between a section of the couch and the ottoman, her legs draped across mine.

“Huh?” I turned my head to face her. She was swirling the last dregs of wine in her glass.

“A denial beard. Remember that subreddit you showed me?” I nodded. About a month ago I had sent Sam a post I uploaded to a transgender before-and-after subreddit. The posts there were celebrations of how far people had come in their transitions. By sharing my own timeline, I had hoped to capture a little of that feeling, but seeing the juxtaposition of my current self with the shaggy-haired high school boy, all I could think about was how Whipping Girl the whole thing felt—as though his presence undermined my gender somehow. “Well, I was looking through a lot of the posts, and fuck, everyone looks like a totally different person, before and after. But the ones that are most striking all had a denial beard.”

“This is gross, Sam,” I waved my hand in her general direction—a playing attempt to slap her without actually hitting her. I smiled. This was jokes.

“You’re so fucking voyeuristic,” I imagined Sam scrolling her finger down page after page of juxtaposed before and after, ogling the unbelievability of the transformations, trying to find the “before” face peaking through the “after.” Her upvoting those pictures that captured a flawless cis beauty. She was being supportive. Harmless in the way well-meaning cis friends are—a good ally. This was fine.

“I didn’t mean it like that, just that you were saying you didn’t really feel like you had made all that much progress? Maybe because you never had the denial beard?” I rolled my eyes before taking a drag on my cigarette. Sometimes I forget how lucky I am that Sam doesn’t take my faux-offense too seriously. Sometimes I wonder if her aloofness belies an actual inability—or unwillingness—to take it seriously, “Anyway, I was mostly thinking about how the ‘before’ photos, they don’t even really look alive. You see it in the eyes. The ‘after’ eyes always look so full of life, like really happy. The smile never reaches the ‘before’ eyes.”

This was a trite observation—the past portrayed as a ghost, the shell of ersatz masculinity, the striking transformation, “living their truth”—each beat a reiterated trope pulled from a “very special” episode of Oprah. But who was I to shit on Sam’s semi-drunk philosophizing? I have had the same thoughts before. They are tantalizing, to be sure, but I was increasingly questioning the narrative they weave, “I don’t even know what my relationship to that guy is anymore, you know? Like, what’s my responsibility to him?”

Not long ago, I looked up my childhood home on Google maps. It’s been nearly ten years since my parents moved away; everything that stayed has changed. I see the cars of strangers in the driveway. On street-view, I could see the Mexican elder in our—in their—front yard. As a child, that tree was massive, a veritable fortress. My past self… he used to push the limits of how high he could climb until he discovered what became his favorite spot in the canopy. There was a thick floor of branches just strong enough to support his weight, and a tall skinny branch stretched skyward that he could lean on for support as he looked out from the top of the tree, surveying the world far outside his neighborhood. Now, the pixelated image of that tree looks tiny, its canopy grayed and withered with age. I scrolled out farther to see the whole of his neighborhood. Barely visible were the meandering remnants of walking paths lined with cacti and creosote. As a child, they seemed a desert labyrinth. He used to ride his bike at top speed through the trails, tempting fate and narrowly avoiding collision with the razor spines of prickly pears, ocotillos, and barrel cacti. Now, viewed from the omniscient eye of Google, they were little more than a small, ashen crossword bisecting the block. I wonder where the awesome majesty of these features from his childhood went. Their skeletons are still visible today, but my memory of them is smoke on the surface of those images. I think back to the child I was; is he somewhere in that map, too? What of the girl I could have been—where is she in that landscape?

“I wonder where the awesome majesty of these features from his childhood went. Their skeletons are still visible today, but my memory of them is smoke on the surface of those images. I think back to the child I was; is he somewhere in that map, too? What of the girl I could have been—where is she in that landscape?”

I trace Stern Drive to University, and up to El Paseo, following the streets to my old high school. The building had metastasized across the road via a skybridge. The sleek glass facades of the expansion provided a jarring contrast to the dirt-encrusted, faded appearance of the brickwork on the original building. Somewhere in those old halls, pictures of my past self are hanging in dusty frames, his smudged finger prints are lightly visible through the dirt and sun-bleached paint of the mural behind the art wing, and his name—my dead-name—is etched in gold on award plaques in the science and math wings. Few of my old teachers still work there—although the ghost of my former self haunts every corner of the old building, scarcely any remain who would recognize him. None would know the woman I’ve become—or the girl I would have been.

***

There was a half hour before my parents would be home. The donations for the church yard sale were in a black trash bag by the garage door. I downed a shot of mezcal for courage. Untying the bag, I swiftly rummaged through the pile of discarded clothes—pale blue jeans, my father’s old flannel, NPR t-shirts, dresses encrusted in a vomit of cheap plastic beads—until I found the black A-line dress. How many times had I snuck through my sister’s closet to “borrow” this very dress, only to return it hours later, ashamed? As I pulled the smooth cotton of the dress out of the bag, I remembered my mother’s mischievous smile as she asked me—in front of the entire family—why she had found the dress in my closet. I had blushed. Mumbled. Then the world had shattered. Now, one final time, I took the dress. My dress.

I quickly stripped, tearing off my over-sized AC/DC shirt and tripping as I kicked-pulled my baggy jeans over my converse. I shook out my mane of red and pink hair as the dress slipped comfortably over my shoulders. Lucky fit. It would not last. Grabbing my bag, I slipped out through the garage, the summer evening embracing me. The Organ Mountains ignited fuchsia and vermillion on the horizon. I could feel the world quake with the beat of my heart, blood burning my ears and cheeks.

But the world did not end. I wound up in the back room of Milagro Coffee, downing cup after cup of Ethiopian drip. Neither the barista nor the customers gave me a second glance. Everything changed. Nothing changed. From my seat I could see—through the café and across the street—three of the traffic lights at the nearby intersection: red in all directions, reflected and refracted in the windows, the glass pastry display, the picture frames along the walls. At some point I must have wandered back home. My parents would see me, and an endless series of uncomfortable conversations would begin. I don’t recall how long I stayed in the café, drinking dollar refills of drip coffee. How long I held onto that moment of normalcy, watching the red lights in the windows. In my memory, the lights never changed.

And when the night’s coming up
You start to wonder
What he’s going through now
But it doesn’t matter

I have long struggled with how to best give an account of myself. Should I try to incorporate that gangly high school boy into my narrative? He was so integral to my childhood and adolescence; however, at that time, the frame that was him was so foreign and incongruous to how I understood myself, and this feeling of discontinuity has only become more pronounced as I left him behind. I began imagining alternate histories, and somehow these fictitious stories feel more real and lived-in than anything captured in the dusty yearbooks and home videos archived in my parents’ home. These stories have become vital to me; they crystalized my past into something more intelligible—at least to me. But the question remained: Which narrative was more a lie? Unmoored and hollow, any account of myself I craft feels absent of anything concrete.

You’re exactly where you’re supposed to be

I silently sang along with the last lines of the song, allowing the lyrics to echo through my mind as the record slid into the gentle hiss of static between tracks. I could tell that, to Sam, the music was white noise; however, to me the song’s refrain had become something like a mantra, subtly pulling me into the moment. Between the warmth of our bodies and the cooling night pressing from outside, my apartment was simultaneously hot and cold—goosepimples formed down my arms as sweat slipped between my shoulder blades and down my lower back. Petrichor from an approaching storm mingled with the fading ghosts of our cigarettes—creosote and mezcal.

“Hey, are you okay?” Sam reached out her hand and lightly, almost imperceptibly, touched my arm. She knew about my anxiety and the depression, but there were things I had never told Sam: throughout most of my twenties I assumed I would not live to see thirty. Somewhere online, flittering from one social media site to another, there is a statistic suggesting trans women have a life expectancy of about thirty. It seems a coincidence that I, unaware of any such sword of Damocles, would subconsciously settle on that age to kill myself. I even had a cocktail of drugs, lethal doses calculated and strategically exceeded. But my thirtieth birthday passed. The drugs found themselves discarded—some thrown away, others hidden away for future attempts. Then thirty-one came, and the suicide date just kept getting pushed back—to my passing my preliminary exams, so I could graduate posthumously—to my defense and the achievement of the last goal I still had. D-day is next week. I no longer wanted to actively kill myself, but I did not particularly want to be alive, either. Like the girl I would have been, the suicide slipped through my fingers like smoke.

“Sure, of course,” my mind was a constricting spiral, “It’s just…” I paused, unsure of how to best continue, grasping for words that could explain everything, but reveal nothing. “I’ve had all these goals on a checklist, and I’m about to check the last box. And nothing is like I imagined—this isn’t who or where I thought I’d be. Fuck, I half didn’t think I’d make it to this point, you know? And now? I can’t really imagine anything after next week—it’s a blank.”

Sam squinted her eyes at me, but whether she was trying to discern how full of shit I was or simply see through the haze of smoke, I could not tell, “But, you’re basically done? You can do pretty much whatever. Move on to bigger, better things – Oh the Places You’ll Go, Dr. Seuss, and all that cliché graduation junk. You can be whoever you want.” She paused to down her glass of wine, and through the strain of her last gulp she asked, “What do you want to be?”

“Fuck, I dunno. When I pictured who I wanted to become, I only ever had these static images—like, I objectified my would-be/could-be self into a series of composites.”

“The witty punk-rock Riot Grrrl?” One side of Sam’s mouth curled up into a knowing smile.

“Right,” a genuine laugh escaped me, “Like a Joan Jett-Didion.”

“I always saw you as more of a Hayley Williams–Dorothy Parker combo. But what makes you think you aren’t already that person?”

The mantra came echoing back, “You’re exactly where you’re supposed to be.” Objectively, nothing had been resolved, but something almost imperceptible had shifted. There was space, now, in this moment—a breath.

The storm broke overhead and rain misted through the window screens. The chill of the evening air began to win out over the smoky fug of my apartment. I stared back at the stucco ceiling, trying to reconnect the ridges and bumps back into constellations. My eyes simultaneously saw conflicting patterns—a series of redundancies repurposed for separate images, one layered over another, no two mutually exclusive. The record on the turntable had stopped, and the only sounds were the rattling of the rain and the distant rumble of lightning, tearing the sky. The moment stretched and folded into itself. It was enough.


Tegan Horan is a postdoctoral scholar studying reproductive biology. She lives in Washington with her two cats.