Like, Gag Me with a Spoon – Isabelle Davis
i go downstairs with my hair up. i go downstairs with my best friend on my neck. my mom raises her eyebrows because my mom saw how they looked at my waistline just yesterday with Netflix on. & i say mom, i wish these were hickeys. & she says, sure, isabelle.
how do i explain that they’ve been tracing my body on the sidewalk with soft lips for a week? & before that it was just a matter of time? my sister is in my room telling me that mom’s in the garden sobbing on the phone saying to ask me why. & i think i know why. & i think she doesn’t want explaining she just wants her little girl to shrink back into her straight self even if it never existed anyway.
i walk into the garden with my shorts buttoned over the places they haven’t been yet & i’m trying to come up with ways to convey this information without freaking my mom out more. for a second i consider stuffing roses from the bushes in my pockets but their thorns could cut my hands & my hands could bleed all over & that might take the symbolism in a different direction.
my mom is crying or yelling or something where her mouth moves & words sort of come out. i am trying not to choke on i thought you would understand. a lot of things are being said & not processed. it’s like our words are being evaporated into dark clouds that will hover over each other’s heads until we are ready to get rained on. but right now i am standing like an idiot next to a swing set i never sat on that someone i never knew built & i am failing to come up with a loss of innocence metaphor that works here.
this is the first distraught voicemail i will leave them. it will begin a tradition but this is the only time i’ll leave it from the roof because i crawled out here using my yellow sofa as leverage & the day is beautiful & the cloud is beginning to drizzle & fuck this analogy, i am gently pressing the word why into my knee with my fingernails.
they wrote me a letter that made my mind shrink down into that letter, into those two sentences in that letter. there were no other sentences & that’s the only thing that’s their fault. they wrote them, the wrote the word love, but i already knew them & the word—they were already a part of me, the sentences & them & the way my hips rise to their hips, & had been since whatever did or did not create us decided to whisk me up into dividing parts.
i do not say it like that because now is not the time for pretty convoluted words. not when their stomach is twisting into knots & my mom is knocking on my bedroom door. we hang up on not quite i love yous because that would be too early & it all feels so there but not there all lacking but loud & bright & good & horrible.
it will be months of i am not who you wanted me to bes & but you have to fucking deal with thats. our house is full of mirrors that i stare at when talking to her because it grounds me it reminds me that i am all freckles all skinny wrists all being attracted to who i want to be attracted to all chipped nail polish. she feels like i was lying or like i am something foreign or maybe i’m a couple plates dropped on the floor that someone else she never got along with glued back together. she feels mostly like she wants to understand & does not & i feel like she needs to pull her shit together.
when i was little my mom used to say that she loved me to the moon & back & i would ask her how far that was & she would put out her arms as far as they could go & say, way farther than this. i would tell her that i loved her to the moon & back twice & she would say that love is so stretchy in that way. i do not get to tell her about my first real i love you, about whispering it on a softball field until we became the type of cloud a kid could live in. i want to tell her about how there are rooms inside of cloud-us that are built specifically for arcade games but i don’t know if that would make any sense to her.
or if it matters to her.
during one of the mirror talks i am staring at myself & my mom is staring at her hands. her hair is beginning to fall out & i say, do you really have time to care about this anymore? which is a bluff because i don’t want her to stop caring about us i want her to love us. she sighs though, like i simultaneously lifted her up off the ground where she laid panting & then pointed out that she was running the wrong fucking marathon. she sighed like she knew i cared about my race still. & she said it’s not going to stop.
i started boxing up my first & second place ribbons.
& she said i thought it would stop, you know, at some point i thought you’d get over it. she kicked me with her running shoes at the thirteen-mile mark.
& then we are at cancer breakfasts on chemo days. she gets southwestern omelets that a few months from now will make her sick to her stomach. the manager comes over to our table all hovering in the way a concerned adult hovers over a teenage girl wearing black lipstick & a plaid skirt except my mom is not even trying to wear a wig & she only has one breast. he says, you’re a survivor. i can really feel it.
my mom’s fists clench because he is not done talking about how he knows she has cancer. how he knows she’s a survivor— as if my grandmother did not fight enough or as if my mom has any chance of losing. as if he has any idea of who she ever was or ever will be.
my mom is pretty punk
until she says that i’m only home to see the them that isn’t her, which isn’t true because i’m here for cancer breakfast as well as what comes after cancer breakfast which is going on the train to pick them up from school. i roll my eyes as if to say i did not ride the greyhound for five hours so that i could hold their hand on public transportation.
i would though & i think that’s what really scares her. i’ve got the black lipstick on now. or i would but it looks shitty with my skin tone. whatever.
on the day i try to explain the concept of gender or how gender is a concept to my mom it is snowing outside, or it is so hot that it wants to be. the sun covers the back of my head like a blanket & whispers to me that it is tired of being so close to earth. we exhaust it. i am sitting on the loveseat thinking about how i call the person i have been seeing for a year my loveperson & maybe we should insist on sitting exclusively in loveseats.
my mom did not know about the binary system until a month ago. it scares her. the way our world is built on a bunch of arbitrary ones & zeroes. i try to tell her that it is scary to me the way that we have decided everyone is a one or a zero or a girl or a boy without really checking to make sure if that makes any sense. the sun spreads out over me because it is tired of this whole gender thing too.
she rolls her eyes because girl & boy are categories she has built her life around. they & them are plural to her & i don’t tell her that they are not to my loveperson. i don’t tell her about the term loveperson. my mom likes the ones & zeroes when she can assign them to people universally. most people do.
the sun stops talking to me because it is an inanimate glowing ball of gas that runs our corner of the milky way & not a confidant.
when i turned fourteen my family drove all the way to yellowstone & there & in-between my mom took a lot of walks with me. that was the year our legs reached close to the same length & when we walked next to each other our feet landed in exactly the same places. it was the summer i had my first kiss & i told her about it on the night after she climbed a mountain. she hugged me & said that the boy i had kissed on the sand dunes sounded very cute & nice. & she said, can you grab me ice for my back & that bottle of wine on the table?
now i am nineteen & i’ve moved onto a mountain that my mom never wanted to climb but she has to if she ever wants to visit me. & so she is trying. & i am trying not to be offended when she asks for ice packs or wine. my cabin has a view that scares her a little because it is so permanent & different from her view in the suburbs. sometimes she’d rather curl up by the fire & watch project runway with me & nod seriously when tim gunn tells the designers to make it work. we are making it work.