I brush the palms of my feet, blistered and bloodied peach, against the scratchy carpet from the ‘90s. My body curves like a top-heavy sunflower towards the creamsicle-coloured cement walls that remind me of chlorine-soaked YMCA summer locker rooms. I sigh; every breath I’ve ever held seems to extinguish into the vents blowing cool air.
Looking into the palm-stained mirror hooked to the back of my bedroom door, the lines on my hand seem to be changing every day. My skin is grease slicked from the hot oil spent burning french fries. Sweat and oil is still my poker-face. Sometimes the numbness was necessary.
It was the year of storytelling. Mostly to myself. I told myself stories of sleep and stories of survival. Sometimes I told lies, like how happy I was or how much I missed home.
I remember reading articles about how lonely college could be. The bloated sobs of my mother as I, truck-belly full of life packed into boxes, prepared for a world separate from her reach. It all felt so distant. I didn’t know how to miss my mother then. Or how to feel lonely as a woman who internally lived so much of her life in solitude. The idea felt ridiculous. ‘I’d miss nothing of this life,’ I promised myself, sitting in the stalls of my high school bathroom. I promised myself every moment after graduation would be part of an experience I had always wanted. Pain couldn’t reach here.
Dance in the Mirror Until Your Feet Go Numb
On nights where I felt as if no one would ever see me, I was quiet and still. I had practised the ways of forgetting to call my mother and sisters. I had been accustomed to the guilty joy of being missed by them and I felt them sitting on the ends of lost phone calls while I ran to discover men and women who would love me better than them. I went by a different name now. A shorter, more memorable name. One syllable made me feel more real than my own name ever had.
But on nights where I felt as if no one would ever see me, I hadn’t danced in what felt like years. Dancing in front of the mirror across my bedroom, I collapsed into space around me to savour the nostalgia kept safe for nights of reckoning. I wasn’t ready to look into the past and see what I had missed. I was growing, blooming, growing, blooming.
Dancing was an act of survival. Like storytelling, in high school, I danced to remind my body of its freedom. To migrate the world in the shape-shifting forms of rapture untucked in the folds of my stomach rolls and cellulite mapped along my skin.
Dancing wasn’t so much of an escape as it was a portal to the present. Sunken into the cheap fragility of the lacking identity I held in my teens, dancing was an echo of the instant, the now, begging me to reclaim.
I tried to forget how to curve my body into disjunction, how to harness ugliness in my waistline and belt strangeness from my chest. I forgot that I had never bloomed from the gardens harvested in light. I was birthed into darkness, the most terrifyingly beautiful and hideous expectation of what my womanhood would become.
I began college, believing that I could be someone different; that all my life was spent preparing me to become someone else. An over-developed manic-pixie dream girl who was brimming with constellations of continuously growing whole. And skinny. With a mind that a lover could shelter themselves within.
Instead, the jeans I had bought after my third (maybe fourth) diet of the year, didn’t fit the first time I tried them on in the single, squared fitting room with no mirror. I had told myself I should get them anyways because it made my butt look great and my waist small. Besides, I figured it would encourage me to work out and when the jeans finally seemed to fit for an instance, it was only a matter of time before my waist seemed more bulged than cinched. It seemed as though my whole body had expanded. I wished my stomach would appear how it did when I laid down. Shrunk and sinking into the foam beneath my backside, my ribs quaintly peaked through my skin, stretched and lightened in an expanse.
I wondered if a lover would like me better on my back or on my knees.
I had thoughts of such certainty that I would lose my virginity during my first year of university. I had hoped it would be with a man. Internalized homophobia seeped through my perceptions of virginity and sex while I envisioned my body as something to be entered, torn and returned in pieces, bloody and sore.
But on nights where I felt as if no one in the world could ever see me, nor want to, I danced. I allowed my body to fold itself into spiral rings of black liquorice. The taste rich and deep on my tongue as the sweat and Himalayan sea salt climbed onto my teeth, sinking into the enamel of rhythm pulsing through me.
I felt my chest open up like the wings of a butterfly once tightly wound and sealed into the flesh of a caterpillar in full-bloom. I had changed my name too. Yet, I had lost nothing of who I was before. My survival was my storytelling. Dancing and self-scripture, innate to my being, were both the cause and the effect of my existence. I revel in its constant incompletion and restructuring of my body and mind. Building continuously into the layers of my womanhood.
I never wanted to be simple. I do think though, in some discrete way, I wanted to be shallow enough to have others’ souls swim through me, rubber-duckies floating in my cool ripples. As a teenager, there were enough terrifying things about me. My skin, it’s hue, my spirit and it’s depth, my voice and it’s unwavering song, my touch and its calloused caress, my womanhood and it’s duplexity.
I hoped for adulthood to be different. I wanted to dance only for the sake of it and nothing else. I wanted meaningless tattoos and hair that wasn’t so loud. I wanted to be seen and consumed yet easily forgotten. In a way, I believe it was a replacement method of survival. But, I was toxically in love with a girl that couldn’t exist in this frame and in the process, I began to suffocate the women laying beneath her, their backs stacked up my throat as she spoke for me.
I had to let myself go to get back what I lost last year. Sometimes looking to the past leads you to your present. Dancing, screaming, writing, crying, laughing, and running back to who I was to reclaim the women I left behind.
I learned so much about myself last year, I wish I could write it all down knowing that I’ll soon forget. But loving yourself isn’t a degree taken in semesters, completed and then stuffed into containers in your attic. We have to teach ourselves to love and be kind to our bodies, our souls, and our minds, always. We are constantly in a state of blooming. And as long as we are growing and changing, we must relearn the beauty in our complexity.