Cathy

I don’t like to be touched. I hate it. I don’t like to be hugged. I despise it. I can’t fathom being kissed. I detest it.

What does it feel like to me? Pins and needles, ice and fire… tiny bugs crawling up and down my skin… an urge to escape myself and all that is touch and sensation.

For as long as I can remember, I have been this way. I don’t know why. I can’t tell you about some terrible trauma because I simply don’t remember what happened to me.

I have had sex. I have even been able to love. It has probably made my condition worse. There is no devastation like the words, “I don’t love you anymore. I don’t know if I ever really did.” The bugs begin to crawl again and overcome me. I scream deep inside. No one hears me.

I cringe when someone comes near. I have nightmares of crowded subways. I walk miles before taking public transportation. But what do I fear most? A seemingly harmless embrace from a friend. I get the sense of urgency that probably accompanies a suicide from a 30 story rooftop. I get irritated. I lash out. I make the person feel like they have cut me and I’m so fucking tired of the confused expression in their eyes. I want to scream, “don’t fucking touch me!”

I have never told anyone. I seem normal most days because I can keep it to myself. I have mastered how to avoid contact. I don’t really understand why most people crave it. I sustain myself on malnourishment while others claim it fulfills them in ways that food comforts a hungry belly. I like the roar of my belly. The rumbling comforts me. I like the emptiness. It’s how I’ve always known myself. Anything else would seem strange. Everything else is impossible for me. I’ll continue to be that person that calls out on Valentine’s day, who escapes group hugs by tying her shoe, and who will only smile when there is an attempt to pass a baby my way. I like the emptiness. It comforts me.

Adele

I was born with a broken heart. Literally. They call it a communication. When babies are swimming in the warmth and protection of their mother’s uteri, there is no need for there to be walls between the heart’s chambers because they do not have to process the toxins of the world’s air just yet. When babies take that first breath of independent life, the walls begin to seal into four distinct processing areas. Mine did not. Thus, I was born with a heart that would never be whole. You think that this would mean that I was prepared for suffering and pain since birth. I have found that I only receive it with more physical and emotional anguish, albeit internalized, than most.

I did not know this about myself until I was 27 years old and I had to undergo comprehensive testing to begin the miraculous preparation for childbirth. I have always wanted children. I dreamed of five, two a set of twins, three boys and two girls in total. I saw my first two before they were even conceived. They came to me in dreams. I should have known then that their carrier, my partner at the time, the woman who would become my wife, would only try to hurt me for the rest of my life. She was furious when I told her that I had seen them, and many times. The smaller one came to me later. She was always present, but behind the more active and boisterous one. They were both dancers and the smaller one played a drum for her twin to dance its heart out. I did not know their sexes, but I longed for a boy and a girl. I could see their auras, one blue with tinges of gold and orange and the other fiery red with bursts of orange and yellow. They were beautiful and I sang to them each time, comforted them, for they feared returning to this world, and promised them all the love and care I could offer. I broke that promise unwillingly and my heart bleeds bits begging for forgiveness. I will have it never.

For two years, I loved their mother without pause. I conceded to isolation from family and friends because of reports of supposed homophobia and discomfort on her end. After all, didn’t I love her enough to protect her? She had fits and rages and I told myself that only meant she loved me all the more. It was not a sexual relationship and I convinced myself I could accept that, too. Before I knew it, I had gained 25 pounds and I was depressed unlike any other time in my life. I longed for freedom, but needed to hold steadfast to my promises. I had committed to a life together, of raising children for her because she was always ill and faint, and in the end, to do it speedily because her alcoholic father could die any day now. He lives still, to this day.

I never fathomed myself a victim. I save people. I help them. My passion is service to my community and others. I never lie. I don’t threaten because one should never commit to something they are unprepared to deliver upon. To my devastation, not everyone shares these values and SHE certainly did not.

When we were both fitted with thousands of milligrams of conception hormones and it was too late to turn back, I realized who she was. I realized what she was and who I was becoming. It wasn’t enough when she made me come out to my family, when she forced me to say I was a lesbian because telling the world I was bi-sexual meant I would leave her for a man. I was still blind when she prohibited me to travel with friends. She was afraid of international travel, you see, and what would it mean if I were to leave her alone. I allowed myself to be manipulated. I shared a wedding party with her evil twin sister, who demanded everything be done for her and helped with nothing, neither personally nor financially. I should have known better when she had raging fits and the entire family bent to her every whim, when I put her in her place and reminded her of the lies she had raveled herself in and was berated by my partner for doing so. She assured me that this behavior was her sister’s alone, especially when the girl called us asking “how much we had made.” But, I had witnessed symptoms and only convinced myself that she was without infermity.

I convinced myself that she wasn’t an alcoholic when her sister made comments about the party not starting until she had thrown up from enough tequila imbibement. When I ran to the store in search of advil at 4am to combat chronic migraines that mysteriously disappeared when enough time had passed from sobering up, I did not think twice. I was helping her. She needed me.

I had asked her to carry my embryos, it’s true, because I thought it would make us a family, each attached to the children that would be born. I wanted to share that with her, the gift of life, even when she demanded that she carry first and carry her own because the first mattered to her and the latter to her family. I should have seen that she was manipulative and venomous when she only agreed, and with the fervor of it being her idea, after hearing the doctor say that the previous couple he’d worked with had success only with the younger woman’s eggs in the older woman’s uterus. I continued walking on this path because I had committed to it, because I had given my word, and because I thought it was all in the basis of love.

When I returned from a service trip and she caught me in my office to scold me and threaten me as usual, I stopped and thought almost as for the first time in all of the time I had known her. She had accused me of sleeping with men in the past — it was her incessant fear after having an ex leave her for a man. But, to threaten to abort my children that were only in her womb for three weeks was a new low. Would this be my life? Could I bear it? I told her that I was not going anywhere, that I had given her my word.

Time passed and I feel down the rabbit’s hole. I was alone doing home repair every night in the other greatest mistake of my life – the over-priced, high-taxed, mosquito infested property that we bought in New Jersey. I wanted to get a fixer upper in Brooklyn, but childcare would be so much easier closer to her mother.

I found myself consoling my tears and pain in every crack and nook and cranny of that 1930s money trap. My knees were scraped, my hair had paint and wood chips, my belly was scarred from a rusty nails accident, and I had nothing to show for it. I continued to pay the household expenses jointly, to support her spending money foolishly on whatever she desired, and wasting away. I found solace in two or three friends, but for the most part, I was alone even when I was with company. When I returned from a study trip for my masters thesis – I was also in school at the time – I could bare it no longer. But, how do you tell someone who is three months pregnant that you can’t tolerate her presence anymore, that she has made you completely mad and desperate, that you will never be happy so long as you live in her company and under her control? I lied. I told her it was not about her. I told her I couldn’t bare to have children without a father, questioning our reasons, and hating us for them. My own father had been taken from me with a lie and how could I possibly do this to my children? These were all true and valid issues, but I admit they were subsidiary, hence why I’ll admit to lying about the real truth. I could not stand to look at her. I could not stand to look at myself. I vomited my saliva and I balled up on the rug and I cried and pleaded. I begged her to consider her previous threat. She admitted to me that it was just that – a threat. That she had no intentions of aborting the children, that she just wanted to hold something over me and while it was wrong, she needed to in that moment in order to confirm my ongoing support. I cannot tell you what happened then inside of me. I did not hate her. I did not want to harm her. It was as if she simply ceased to exist for me. She told me she would leave the next day to her mother’s and return in two days to discuss it more. I asked her if she could bring two children into the world that would look just like me if she hated me. If they would know happiness if we could not bring them into the world with love, as we had promised? She told me she could. I did not believe her.

The next day, while studying for my mid-term, she returned to tell me that she had wanted these children, that her mother would support her with everything she might need, and that she would not terminate the pregnancy. She blamed me for putting her in the position to even have to decide and I reminded her of her initial threat. “Oh, I didn’t mean it! Enough with that already!” About a week later, I told her I could never love her again, that I could never trust her for threatening to take away from me something that I had loved even before seeing, feeling, or hearing it and worse, that it could be done in some kind of joke merely to test and torment me. I had never been a victim my entire life. But, I was beginning to see that I had allowed myself to go down this very dark road and I wasn’t sure how I would ever resurface again. Would I ever be okay? Would I ever be whole? Could a heart break if it was already broken?

We lived together until her mandatory bed rest a month and a half later. She insisted on going to all of the Pride events in New York City regardless of my warnings. She even went to Provincetown with friends, a weekend full of walking about. She was so angry when the doctor told her she had dilated. And, she blamed me. I returned to my inferno and attempted more home improvement projects as the time passed before the girls came. The sonogram proved two little gems. I nearly lost my head. I didn’t realize it then, but the stress of having to protect and take care of three girls was more than I could bare. I had very unfairly longed for a boy to help with my responsibilities. See, even though I was the “feminine” one, my role included in addition to home improvement and rolling the garbage cans in and out, paying all of the bills and managing finances, shopping, cooking, cleaning, laundry, appointments, car maintenance, gardening, and tending to whatever other needs the Mrs. might have. When we parted ways, I even sent her an excel spreadsheet with her income and expenditures. She was not aware of how much money she made. I thought I did it all because I loved her and wanted to make our family work. I realized later that I did it because I didn’t feel that I had a choice. Maybe this is the best life had to offer. Maybe this is the best I could hope for in having someone love me. How awful of me to wish to share that responsibility with a little boy. God had finally done me something right.

She allowed me to pick the names for the girls. The long and boisterous one was named after my mother and the smaller one was named after an Amazonian jungle spirit. I read to them in her belly and cried myself to sleep when she wasn’t looking. I had started sleeping on the sofa after she threatened to abort them and never shared a bed with her again. I was scared that I would start cutting myself again to tolerate the pain. I scratched my skin, pinched myself, and pricked little holes and lines to remind myself that I was alive. I wrote to the friends I had made on my trips and confided in them, but otherwise, I was completely alone. I continued to buy the girls little things, to create the baby registry for any showers we might have, and to organize the house as best I could. There was no denying that I was overcome with depression and longed to just stop my little heart from beating. As I sanded the floor in their nursery, I scolded myself repeatedly for staining the fresh pine with my tears over and over again. Once a crying fit started, I could not control myself. I nearly sanded that floor down to the spikes.

The day that the girls were born, I ran to the hospital to greet them for their first breaths. For more than six hours, she and her mother reminded me that only one person could be in the delivery room because the girls would be born in an operating room to be prepared for any complications associated with a multiple pregnancy. When I could take it no more, I asked what they wanted and she told me that she preferred her mother be in the delivery room. Who is going to fight with a pregnant woman in the middle of delivery? I conceded. Her mother was to video tape their births for me. When it was all done, she exited and handed me a video where I could not see either of my children but heard the first words out of their mother’s mouth: what color is she? The nurse was thrown by the question, stumbled, and returned a response that alluded to all babies being red when they first come out. I was appalled, but scolded by her mother when I asked if she had actually said that because there had been complications and she required a blood transfusion. She should be the priority at the moment. Not my feelings. She had commented to me that she would be unable to raise white babies. I certainly was not black – creamy, at best. Their donor was Hawaiian, Puerto Rican, and Filipino. Had she hoped that they would develop her skin tone in utero? Would she be able to raise my children after all?

They could not take my parent bracelet away from me, so I was able to stay a few hours with my precious girls in the pediatric intensive care unit. The younger one had difficulty warming up and I sang to her, brushed her hair, and reminded her that she would never be alone. The one named for my mother was comfortable and I dressed her with the nurse and fed her when the time came. They would never be mine. My life was always going to be wondering about them, praying for them, and begging them to forgive me. I loved my girls even before they came into this world and they would be stolen from me forever. I knew it then and I’m living it now. I was born with a broken heart and it will stay that way until I leave this place.

Estella

“It’ll be your turn soon.” Mother was a cruel bitch and she liked to taunt me every chance she could get. You cruel fucking bitch. I wish I could slap her face. I wish I could take the coffee cup from her hand and splash the wine across the cream colored walls. I wish I could grab those shards and cut open her thick skin, make her human again, show her that she could still bleed.

“You look at me with those eyes and you think I don’t have a clue that you hate me. I hate your fucking ass, too.” Mother has it in her mind that she would have been a dashing model. She talks of her long legs – none finer on a giraffe. She bends slightly to show the curve in her hips – none rounder on any childbearing woman. She puckers out her breasts like a child her lips – non suppler on a cow.

“I’ve got to get to school.”

“Why bother? You’re free from that shit when you hit 16.”

“I like school.”

“You’re a fucking fool.” She smirks at me. I don’t just hate her. I look at her ugly soul every day of my life and try in vain to trade it in to the devil. It’s already his.

I don’t have a boyfriend. Mother says no one will buy the cow if you give the milk away for free. She’s saving me so I can have my memoir of a Geisha. I hope it’s more Venecian than Roman. I’d hate to have a disgusting boar lay claim to my virginity.

The clock is ticking. I’ll be 16 in less than ninety days. It means that my mother can’t get into the same kind of trouble for pimping a minor. You’re probably wondering why I don’t run away or kill her in her sleep. And then what? I’d end up on the streets, selling my little ass anyway, and probably getting raped and beat by a pimp. At least this way, I might be able to convince her to let me keep going to school and I can get a scholarship to college. She tells me dreams are for little girls who can actually see butterflies. I’ve convinced myself we live in a toxic city and the cell phone signals have caused a mass winged creature suicide. Unfortunately, I heard that’s only a hypothesis relevant to bees.

She makes me do pelvic exercises every morning. I have to squeeze my clitoris like I’m holding in my pee. She says she knows if I ain’t doing them right. That I really don’t get, but I ain’t trying to have her checking. She still leaves me some privacy.

She tells me I have to be squeamish the first time around or the guy’ll doubt that I’m a virgin. I figure it shouldn’t be a problem. I don’t even like being hugged. Not that ma ever tries. She told me I had to stop riding my friend Jimmy’s bike when I was ten. I had fallen onto the pole hard as hell and she nearly broke my head. I thought she was going to lift me up and make me feel better. Instead, she gave me a swift whack and told me that I didn’t understand what I was worth, untouched! I think that’s when she first got it in her head that she was going to do this. She had seen the Lifetime depiction of Sybil. Who is inspired by a schizophrenic? I’m just glad she ain’t gotten the itch to fill me with water and cooking utensils.

“What is this?”

“I need you to try on these outfits. We have to take some pics.”

“Uh, this is a stripper outfit and this is my fifth grade uniform. Don’t you think it’s a little extreme?”

“I didn’t make the men or their fantasies. I just know them all too well.”

“Just don’t put me on craigslist. I want to come out of this alive.” She chuckles. It’s all a joke. We live off of welfare. Ma convinced the state that she’s not all there. She was waitressing and they mugged her in the back lot. I think it was more than a mugging, but Ma won’t ever say. Anyway, she convinced them that she would never recover. She even found a doctor to say that her back injuries would constantly hamper her possibilities of holding down a job. I can’t really tell. She was popping pills way before that incident and she still moves around enough to keep up with her OCD.

We take the pictures. She says she’s going to start the bidding. I have no grand illusion of Richard Gere climbing up my fire escape after he samples my goods. I sleep on the couch in the combination living room kitchen. Ma would probably trap him in her bedroom and hold him hostage until he agreed to maintain her habit. Just two more years. I could survive two more years. I had nearly sixteen under my nickers.

She should have just put up a Christmas calendar – the daily countdown was that momentous. I couldn’t sleep. I stopped eating. She said I was becoming skin and bones, but I didn’t care. I threw myself into my books and created a parallel universe. I was a huntress. I ran with coyotes. I had a coffee colored horse named Bandit. I was free.

“What would you like for your birthday?” I didn’t understand if this was a real question.

“Don’t look at me like that. Is there something special you would like? Not like an Xbox, but something manageable?” I said nothing. I wanted nothing from her. I wanted to rescind my birth and choose another canal to travel through.

“Don’t say I ain’t never offered you nothing.” I continued to bite down my nails. This would be the last night that my body would be completely mine. When she went to bed, I laid down and took off my pants. I explored each little hair. I touched my clitoris, followed the soft grooves. I tried different fingers, savoring the sensation I could give myself. When I was happy that I knew myself well, I followed the contour down to my juicy hole. I put one finger in and then two. I tried different combinations. I moved slow and then fast. I went deep and pulled my fingertips up towards my navel. This would be the last time that my body was mine.

That morning, I went to the bathroom before she woke. I took some of her painkillers and hid them in my panties. She had left me a new set, bra and all. We went to a hotel by the railway. She checked in as mother and daughter. She said she’d be back for me in the morning. I swallowed all of the pills. I didn’t want to feel anything. I think I fell asleep because his hands were upon me before I could say a word. I looked up. Mr. Rooney. He moved my eyes away from him and told me not to try to look at him again. He moved me onto my side. Mr. Rooney, Charlotte’s father, the bank manager. I had known him since the first grade, before Charlotte was moved to private school. Mr. Rooney. I didn’t feel him enter me. I didn’t hear his grunts. I imagined his hands were the wind and his wetness was a summer rain. I concentrated on riding Bandit, on brushing her long mane, on cooking a summer trout that I would catch in the river.

Morning came and he was gone just as quickly as he’d appeared. The hours passed. Finally, there was a knock at the door. “Young lady, check-out is at 11am. You have fifteen minutes.”

I dressed myself already knowing what my destiny would be. Maybe I had always known. She didn’t come for me. I never saw ma again.

Elsie

There’s one more pull left, but she ashes it out.

In some things, I ain’t got to be so fucking desperate.

The lining of her robe is tattered and she tugs at the strings. She rubs them between her thumb and her middle finger. They used to yell at her for these nervous ticks. Now, it’s the only thing she’s got all to herself. She looks at the scars on her thigh. Each one’s a story, some she remembers and some she won’t. The longest runs down the center of the right. It’s ragged on the edges because it got infected. It oozed and changed colors and smelled all kinds of awful. She hid it for days. She tried to take care of it on her own. She never wanted to cause more problems for anybody. They finally found it and she got beat good. She learned then that whether she said something or not, the result would be the same. She’d be hurt in the end.

She thought about him then. Could she have changed his mind? She had gotten down on all fours and begged him to give it to her in the ass and even that hadn’t been enough. He’d made up his mind, he said. He was leaving. He was in love with someone else. Are there words that hurt more? Sure, she thought. “I don’t love you” will make you want to die. He hadn’t said those words. There was still hope, wasn’t there?

She thought about cutting herself. It would help assuage the pain. It would ebb and dull. The situation would become a distant memory and the scar would last forever. She was tired of feeling endless pain. She was finding herself wanting to die more than she had days when she wanted to live.

She lit another cigarette. Her fingers smelled of ash. She liked it. Sometimes, she touched herself and let the smells mesh into her own perfume. It was her scent.
She inhaled slowly. The plan manifested with each deep exhalation. Each detail materialized into a perfect scene. She wouldn’t be a victim forever. Someone else would pay this time. They wanted to be together. They would die together, too.

She sat down at her computer and wrote him a long email. She told him she understood that they couldn’t be together anymore. That she appreciated his honesty and wanted to remain friends. They had been together for five years, two abortions, three lost jobs, one eviction, and two temporary assistance applications. They loved each other and that love should make it okay to be friends.

He replied and said he was glad that she hadn’t taken the break-up badly. She was, after all, his best friend in the world and he missed her. After several email exchanges, it was as though they were friends again. He even insinuated that he’d like to stop by every now and then. She feigned coolness and made up interested beaus to throw him off. He began confiding in her about his new relationship. They were, after all, friends. She was becoming an expert at having no feelings and wearing the facade of perfect composure. Inside, she burned with rage. She fumed at the thought of another woman on top of him, of the secrets they shared when they were exhausted with passion, of the tender embraces – kisses and hugs that were hers. It’s just a matter of time. It will be over soon.

It was bizarre – the waiting. It required patience that she did not know she possessed. Months passed and the winter returned with a thunderous homecoming. It reminded her of his words just one year ago. The pain was as fresh as the first snowfall. She began to drink from her misery, to imbibe herself into oblivion, to sustain herself emotionally and physically from the contentment of knowing that she would be redeemed.

Her phone beeped with a text message.

Up for some company? Still like mushrooms on your pizza?

She had kicked him out and he was returning to the only thing he knew. How many times did he do this before? How many times had she phoned him when they had a big fight to find that he had returned to his ex? Are we just animals?

He came over with a few beers and a box of wine. Thoughtful and kind. Beer bubbles made her a little sick. They ate and drank and laughed about memories that seemed to be invented just then. All she could remember was pain and heartache and loneliness. We are together, but I am alone. She continued with all of the motions until he began to get playful. He was nearly there. He removed the pillows that stood between them. She moved slightly more to the corner of the couch. He liked a challenge. He put his hand on her knee. She smiled slightly. “Can you remember me,” he asked. His fingers danced on her thighs. They caressed the seems of her girly cotton panties. She had waxed so that he would feel her moistness right away. “Oh, kitten,” he whispered. Maybe he slurred. She could not hear what he was actually saying. She only heard the story that played out in her mind.

“Baby, I have my period.”

“That never stopped us before.” It would be perfect.

He grabbed her thighs and slid her closer to him. He lowered her panties and she began to pant. He kissed her navel and stood up on his knees to unzip his pants and undo his button. He’s not even going to take off his pants. Perfect. He slid into her and started to thrust. The couch is going to get dirty. Oh, well. He grabbed at her breasts and pinched her nipples. She never understood why guys thought that felt good. Maybe it felt good to them. She didn’t let him know that she was somewhere else. She grasped onto him, whispering nasty little things that would goad him on. “Just like that, baby. Give it to me hard. Yes… Yes… Make me cum… Yes… More… Harder… I’m cumming… I’m cumming!”

He moved faster and faster, but she felt nothing. She was completely numb. She kissed his neck and screamed his name as she pressed her thighs into his waist. He began to convulse with sensation and collapsed onto her after a final release. She hummed and he accepted her satisfaction. He had done good. He got up and went to pee. She dried herself with the pizza napkins and put on her panties. His awkwardness was worse than the silence. He floundered looking for his jacket. “Thanks for letting me come over. I hope we can get together again real soon.” He was going back now as he had done with her all of those years. “It’s always nice,” she whispered as he let himself out.

She locked the door, turning each of the three bolts decidedly. She wanted Nina Simone to keep her company. Here comes the sun, little darling. Here comes the sun… it’s alright… She filled the tub and placed the box of wine by the boombox. She used her panties to plug the drain. She opened the medicine cabinet and removed all of the small orange containers that she had been hoarding over the last nine months – Demerol, Prozac, Xanax, Zoloft, Parnate, Marplan, Percocet, Remeron, Cymbalta, Ludiomil, Vicodin, Strattera, Oxycontin, and Isentress. She caressed the little marks in the nook of her arm. Each one had felt so good. She said goodbye. She would feel the best high of her life soon.

She started her journey by downing a bottle of Tylenol Cold and Flu. Then, handful by handful, she swallowed the contents of every single bottle. She did it quickly so that she would be able to get through them all. When she thought she would gag, she gulped down the wine.

Instead of moving towards the light at the end of the tunnel, everything seemed to move further and further away. She sank down into the tub and the water submerged her. The panty wouldn’t allow the tub to overflow. They wouldn’t find her for some time. She had quit her job a few weeks ago. She had enough money in her account to continue automatic payments on her rent for two months. She had no friends or family. She didn’t even have a pet. There was no need to come looking for her. He’d think that she was having regret sex and disappear for a while. In the end, she had written only a few sentences. Who knew if they’d ever reach him. 

January 17th, 2009

Dear Nico:

I don’t know if I loved you. All I know is that I am tired of being used. I have made poor decisions in life and this one is no different, but at least I’m in charge. I hope you appreciate the gift I have given you. Consider it my parting wish for your eternal happiness. Did you think I wouldn’t find out that you’re marrying her? If there is an afterlife, please don’t come looking for me. I would only figure out how to hurt you worse. I truly desire you the best. Oh, and if you happen to share the gift with Michelle, maybe even tonight, just let her know that she deserves everything she gets.

Hugs and kisses,

Elsie

The two notes slipped from her hand onto the floor. She embraced the peace that held her warmly. She closed her eyes and she giggled a bit. The words floated in the darkness of her eyelids. She saw the results page again. HIV+. I may not go to heaven, but at least I’ve got this little moment of peace.