I don’t think I really exist in other people’s lives. A boy accused me once of “being one of THEM,” one of the pedestrian everybodies, those terrible people who I thought we were mocking and judging together. “How can I be?” I told him. “They don’t really accept me either.” He used to tell me he was red, the only True color. And the Others, they were blue.
If anything, I was like their pet. Something they kept around for amusement, for comfort. Something they talked to without every expecting or desiring a response.
I fill a particular void in people’s lives. I am a distinct flavor they only indulge in when they’re craving something salty and a little bad for them. I am the junk food of people, always there on a rainy day, excellent after a break up or family crisis, a generous caregiver during a hangover. I am nostalgia of the time before you counted calories, I am the guilty pleasure, the once-in-awhile luxury. Not because it’s too expensive or hard to find, but because you’d get sick if you had it everyday.
I am the snarky comment you wish you could’ve thought of but would’ve been too afraid to say out loud. I am the one who asks the questions, not the one who has the pleasure of answering them. I am the friend who shows up two hours before the party to help set it up, but leaves when all the guests arrives; or shows up six hours late when they have all gone, and stays to help you clean it up.
On occasion, you might find yourself bragging that you know me, or find yourself telling one of my stories to a group of friends and pretend that it’s your own.
I am the weird thing you bought at a flea market one time on a whim, imagining for a fleeting moment that you could be the type of person who wore hats like that or could find a use for an antique branding iron. But I only looked good in the store, and once you brought me home you realized I didn’t really fit in with the rest of your stuff. The eccentricities always end up gathering dust in a corner under the pile of books you’ve been meaning to read, or forgotten in a box with your ex-lover’s sweaters. I’m the ukulele you bought because it was going to be so easy to learn, and you already knew how to play a few songs on it… but tuning it was such a pain in the ass, and you got bored with the songs you knew anyway.
I’m a high maintenance plant, the kind of orchid you purchase to prove to yourself that you can handle the responsibility. You invest diligently for a month or two, proud of your accomplishment in keeping me alive. It’s not that hard! You tell the orchid. I can’t believe all those other people gave up on you! But not me. This is easy.
But then the edges of my leaves begin to curl, the petals recoil. Was it always this difficult? Just a light mist of nourishment, a minute or two out of your week, and that was enough. Now it needs more?
You watch the orchid whither away on your window sill, but you keep it there - a vestige of its failure, not yours. Your friends come over and laugh with you. “I had an orchid once,” they say. “But mine died too. It was too much work.”
Why couldn’t it have been like the cactus, or the succulent? They’ve been with you since college, and you never remember to water them. We should be rewarded for our resilience.
One day the orchid is gone. Did you throw it out? Did your mother? Your drunk roommate? Did she slink off on her own? You can’t remember, but every time you hear the name, your lip curls into a sneer. The only kind of person who could keep that thing alive must be crazy.
I am a time machine, a vestige of a different era; too weird for everyday use, but too cool to throw away.
I told him I was Purple.
I can’t wait for the day that I look down at my own body and feel at home.
I cannot actually remember the last time I felt “at home” in it. Or if I ever did. There were flashes, moments maybe, as a child, but what sticks out the most are the memories of feeling “stuck” in it. Running at a birthday party, and realizing all the other kids were so much faster than me. Playing soccer on a field, and stumbling over my own feet. Squeezing into clothes that didn’t fit in a sweaty dressing room, panicking, hearing voices comment on “how big I was for my age.”
Curling in agony on a public bathroom floor, pressing my hot face against the tile and wishing for death. A prisoner to a chronic pain that I was told for years was "normal."
I suffered from disassociation for a long time. I think part of that just has to do with growing up in religion: “You are not of this world.” You never know when the end of the world could come. No point in settling in with that kind of thinking. Why paint the walls if we might be moving?
I did everything I could to deceive myself from the world I was in, and the world closest to me was my body. I was a fast runner, but not as fast as my thoughts. I was a diligent starver, but the hunger only created more monsters. I was a creative self-harmer, but the scars that once promised escape turned out to be anchors, landmarks on a map that always got me lost.
When I revisited them, I covered their tracks in ink. But there are some days I look at those too and feel estranged. When did those get here? Who put them there? They are flagpoles in the dirt of a war torn country. Things happen to my body. I am a body that things happen to.
Perhaps it’s not the ugly way the flesh has grown over, or the unfamiliar sensation of skin and fat that didn’t used to move that way. Perhaps I wouldn’t feel a sense of belonging even if my arms were clean. It wouldn't look like me anyway.
I used to black out every night, and wake up in strange places...
A basement with wood paneling and a green velvet couch.
The overgrown grass of a friend's backyard, a muddy dog licking my face.
Pavement, a hardwood bench, and a stranger's boot.
Getting older feels the same: I fall asleep in my bed, and wake up in a strange house every morning; the walls are my body, and I never know who’s home.