When I close my eyes, I try to imagine what a person walking down Front Street saw that night. It was late; I was whiskey drunk and yelling. I was in various states of sitting and standing; blood dripping down my nose, over my lip, into my mouth, bubbling over onto my yellow vintage sweater. But earlier, we were standing on uneven cobblestone, Tara and I, engaging in what we had been referring to as boxing but really it was an intoxicated street fight among friends. We weren’t very good but it wasn’t about that. It usually ended with a joke, wolfing down a bag of chips, hers jalapeno and mine salt and vinegar, sitting posted up against a metal fence. There was a certain kind of ritual to it. My latest romantic interest was smoking on a bench during her break and laughing as we stumbled, fists hitting skin. She was an ex-heroin addict turned alcoholic. My leather booted foot hooked onto the fragmented edge of stone and as I fell, full weight on my nose, I don’t remember being afraid but I do remember freaking out that I didn’t have health insurance. After I was lifted up from my fall, I quickly realized that there was no way it wasn’t broken. I could lift and shift the bridge from its natural resting position. It made a popping sound as I pushed it around. I might have been crying but maybe I was even laughing a little. I couldn't remember if I was supposed to sit with my head between my knees or roll my head back. This entire ordeal had happened outside of Tara's restaurant and one of the employees was insisting on calling an ambulance. Ambulances were way too expensive and there was no way I was getting in some vehicle unless it was yellow and a taxi to take me home. I got abrasive and demanded she not call, I wanted her to listen to my inebriated logic. Advil would do the job. And some ice. Besides, it was only a broken nose. I thought of my grandmother who has broken her nose twice. Now I would look even more like her. A moment of shallowness popped in as I realized my face would probably forever look fucked up, imperfect. My friend and I went home with my mangled, bloody mug and we passed out. During that half awake sleep that alcohol provides, I pulled myself out of various dried pillow bloodstains, too worn out to clean myself up.
This happened two months after I got a DUI, three times over the legal limit. This happened four hours after I returned from Pennsylvania on a bus while drinking mini vodka bottles. I had these state approved safe driving classes I had to take for eight hours every Saturday, four Saturdays in a row and drinking mini bottles of booze was the only way I wanted to make it back to Brooklyn. This happened after at least nine whiskeys on the rocks, of which I drank almost for free so why would I stop? We had found an easy way to feed our taste for caramel liquid; we stayed at her work and gulped all night. We drank until we couldn’t stand. A dynamic duo.
I called my nurse mother the following day and asked for advice for a “friend” who broke their nose but couldn’t go to the hospital. My hangover was wearing off and I was starting to get worried. I didn’t tell her it was me for a solid year. Afterwards, I took some Advil and went to the all-day, rape crisis counselor training I had been going to for the past month. Over the course of eight hours, my face blew up like an over ripe watermelon. My eyes teared the entire time. I couldn’t blow my running nose. I had one black eye turning two. There was a deep cut on my bridge that has since scarred. The instructors pulled me aside to see if I was ok; indirectly asked me if someone was abusing me. “ Not today they aren’t” I thought to myself, the string of violence in my past riding in my gut. I explained the fighting in the best way I could, assured them it was all in good fun but how do you make someone believe you are fine when you are abusing yourself? Of course, I didn’t have that insight then. I was too close, too off the rails and loving it. I know I believed I was fine. I was not a self- abuser. And who even cares if I was? Maybe I still am but what if that whole idea is drawn from the perception of how others see me? In the wildness, the unpredictable, I found freedom. I was in control.
Looking back, the most difficult thing to understand for others (and sometimes myself) was my affection for black eyes. I became so enamored of myself with them, for weeks bordering on months, I would punch myself in order to keep them dark. I would drink all night until I could comfortably punch my brains out; punch till it was charcoaled in all the right places, tentatively at first but building up to the perfect connection of fist and face. During the days, I would lash out at the vocal, leering men on the subway who assumed I was straight, couldn't read my queerness. They would ask me if my “boyfriend did it to me”. Often my answer was "You mean girlfriend. And no." for fun. It felt like a game, I might have even enjoyed shocking people too. I was unabashed in the way I wore my bruising as I shopped freely in Trader Joe's, preparing for my upcoming birthday party. I bought bottles and bottles of wine and whiskey, loaded up my cart. I was having a prohibition themed party and in light of my new look, was dressing as an Irish prize fighter. I even concocted this elaborate idea for an art project that involved me, my self- induced black eyes, and a daily photograph of their progression. I propositioned my neighbor/ ex-girlfriend’s current girlfriend for help with this. She seemed hesitant but said she would. In my mind, this photo story would be some grand statement on women, beauty standards, violence and who knows what else.
I think I was trying to kill someone off. Who was I trying to kill? Who deserved to be hurt?
I kept dating that addict but I often felt like I hated her. I hated how she would sleep all day, drink the bought booze before I came over and then, we would soak ourselves in what was left. I hated how when we were together we would drink and then get into her car. I hated how she told me I wasn’t femme enough, that when she first met me, I was wearing a dress so she had imagined me to be different. She clearly didn't know I was not anyone's femme. I'm still not. I hated the way she didn't ask, just pushed and pressed. But to be fair, I had pursued her with my own deluded expectations.
In reality, I hated all of the reflections of myself in her more than I hated her. She mirrored what had suddenly started spilling faster out of me. As a last ditch effort, towards the end of our brief two-some, she picked up all of my favorite cooking supplies. It was a bag of luxury: white truffle oil, truffle cheese, raviolis, my favorite wine. A step up from the 25 cent bags of Doritos I was regularly eating so I had enough money for the bar. She was a grad student and never had very much money either so with a feeling of heavy guilt, I told her I couldn’t be where she wanted me to be. I wasn’t who she thought I was. And that she had to leave, I had somewhere to be.
Two months earlier at a party, I watched a woman with gold teeth and chicken scratch tattooed numbers on her shoulder command space. Her shiny had caught my eye and I wanted to gather her up in open hands. I had arrived with a date and I think both of us quickly forgot as we split upon arrival. I still had a hint of two black eyes and maybe it never really went away. She and I talked, my words slurring. When I learned that she was finally a few years sober after almost twenty years of drug and alcohol use, part of me was hooked. I have long loved a person with a complicated history; I love discovering the beauty in what many consider ruin. Maybe this love, in a way, honors my own complicated history; it creates room for me to get that same love back.
Our first date was her tattooing me on her living room couch. I watched her drag the needle through my skin, watched the permanency take shape. Tattoos have always had a way of calming me. By bringing me through a pointed, consistent pain and allowing me to sit within it, I find a release. Someone recently told me that my tattoos were like documenting and then wearing trauma on my body, the colored scars an inescapable reminder of a past that anyone in their right mind would try to distance themselves from. And that they were desperate attempts in making the invisible visible as much as they were a disrespect of the self. Though this was one of the more offensive attempts, it wasn't the first time people have tried to understand why I mark my body in the way I do. I'm proud of my tattoos, like I am my queerness. My tattoos are just another way I exist in the color outside the lines. And I certainly don't need inked skin drawings to remind me of what came before. Instead, tattoos, for me, are a celebration of a body, my body. By immortalizing moments in time in a way that is of my choice, I am reclaiming myself and the skin others have left marked.
She lit my arm on fire on our first New Years Eve together. I had asked for it, sat patiently as she sprayed me with an aerosol deodorant. I was whiskey and champagne drunk, I giggled as the flame rose up. I waited just a second too long to push my arm under the sink faucet and arm hair singed ever so slightly. It made sense. It was a real I could understand. It was a piece of my always needing to feel more, feel it faster and ever harder. We had a six month chunk full of it: trapeze lessons, sky diving, bungee jumping, sand dune buggy rides (she flipped it, leaving us trapped upside down), tattoos on the living room couch. An unsustainable hunger and then a feeding. Hunger and feeding. I needed that kick (still need it), that spark of the new mixing with the wounded excitement. I need to be snatched out of that air and space, thrown into an escape from the rigidity of daily to-do lists and responsibilities. I am always teetering between the safe and unsafe, good and bad, half-dead and rabidly alive. In those moments I felt it; what alive and awake and hopeful felt like. I read recently that you can't have unpredictable and stability at the same time. It never occurred to me because I am constantly seeking out both. I don't actually agree; there is a happy medium between alive and dulled. And in that, emotional stability can be reached even if you are still setting things on fire. But she and I, that wasn't the case.
Sometimes I just need to feel that low, vibrating pain. Sometimes I just want to remember that I'm here, still feeling. Maybe it isn't all that deep. It is so very easy to leave the body behind, existing in thoughts circling somewhere outside my mass. I run towards that which brings me back into it.