trigger warning: we are human

Trigger warning: a statement at the start of a piece of writing, alerting the reader or viewer to the fact that it contains potentially distressing material.

This is a trigger warning, for being human

trigger warning: i have done the unthinkable to survive. because i loved myself.
it was all love, even though it would be hard to understand if you saw only the carnage.
trigger warning: sometimes, the fact that you can survive so much is, itself, the most horrible hurt. that you are here these years later, watering a garden plot and installing the air conditioner into the window and then you are there one morning looking in the mirror at your wet hair and your tender veins and you do not know how to reconcile where you came from and where you stand, and the love feels like it will undo you.

trigger warning: when you meet her, you will question things that make you uncomfortable, make you feel like you could devour something or wrestle it to the ground, make you want something you cannot name, make you feel like crawling out of your skin except it also feels so fucking good to be fully inside of it, and it will be hard after that to forget. no, it will be impossible.

trigger warning: white police officers kill black humans an average of twice a week in the united states.
between the years 2006- 2012, eighteen percent of those killed were under the age of 21.
as these killings are self-reported by law enforcement, and not all police departments choose to participate in the recording of these deaths, it is fair to say that the numbers are likely much higher than the horror of what has been written down.
so, so many things are murky and many sided and not something that can be understood in the tidy categories we cling too. but trigger warning, this much is clear in all the discomfort it causes: white supremacy is at the rotten root of the poison that is killing human lives, destroying human dignity, and then blaming the victims of this violence for their own injuries.
when african americans rise up and speak out, march and protest in the streets against the violence done at the hands of those with power and guns sworn to protect, they are more likely than white protesters to receive police force in attempts at dispersing them. they will be arrested at higher rates and more severe physical force will be used in these arrests.
trigger warning: there is a war on the lives and bodies and souls of persons of color in my own country and city and neighborhood, resulting in acts of murderous terrorism.
trigger warning: it is those we claim to keep us safe that are continuing the hate and causing harm.
trigger warning: black lives matter. and if your response is, “all lives matter,” than you are part of the problem.
trigger warning: if you are offended reading this, it is worth asking yourself why (and if you want to learn more about white fragility, here is a good place to start)

Why are you so angry?
Why are you still here?
Why can’t you be quiet, play nice, know your place, wear more make-up, smile?
Why don’t you forgive?
Why are you still talking about it?
Why did you have sex with so many people?
Why did you leave?
Why did you not stop him?
Why did you not report it?
Why can’t you get over it?
Trigger warning: I do not owe you my life, and my existence is not here to offer comfort to the oppressor, to confirm your own stories of right and wrong, to smooth away wrinkles in my face or your ideals, and pretend like this should make me satisfied.
My life belongs to me. And my existence is as magnificent and wrecked as Pollock painting, but this much I know. I am here to be fully human, to be true to my own self, to love harder.

trigger warning: humans do the most horrible things to other humans, while a great gathering of people stand by and watch.
trigger warning: we are so afraid.
trigger warning: your silence will not protect you.

trigger warning: everything ends.
and still, the ending is not yet known.
what are we to do with so much uncertainty and so much smashed and smeared love and so much need to connect, only connect?

trigger warning: i crave the kind of intimacy that makes the heart bang in its rib cage drum and that makes it safe enough to say everything, that insists on days together in bed and carves out some kind of space where i would not have to walk forever with the brute force of making it through alone.
trigger warning: the trigger is already pulled.
her mouth already tastes like the ocean.
her love already liberates.
“do you want to do this?” my therapist said to me. “do you want to be feeling this? do you want to be in this work that her presence ignites? you are not required to open the vault if it is too painful, if it is not what you want.”
“it’s too late,” I said. “no matter what happens, it’s already been opened.”
“then let’s dive in,” she said.

trigger warning: memory is not static and set in stone.
it changes.
we change.
the events, all those things that happened and did not happen, remain the same.
and yet, it is also entirely possible that you can tell yourself a story your whole life, and then some day when you are sitting there in the outside seating by the river sipping gin drinks in your leather skin tight pants, you will open your mouth and realize the story has changed, the memory is morphing, and you hurt so much it’s like weight wearing heavy on the bones, but you are no longer afraid.

trigger warning: life is messy. i am messy. my cooking is messy. my bed is messy as i sit here writing. so is my psyche, with its round table and everyone here has a seat and sometimes they talk all night. so is my loving. so is the part of me that still misses smoking. so is the visceral longing i still have to be seven years old at my grandmother’s house, laying on the floor with my face close to the fan, mouth opened to release the sound that would echo through whirring blades, ricocheting into the empty room.

trigger warning: cancer comes and it steals things and destroys cells and stories you thought you would be telling about your life as you walk towards turning thirty nine in the blaze of the summer sun sign.
illness makes strange shapes of all the thing you thought you knew.
and then there is this- i don’t want to go back to the other way.

trigger warning: the most dangerous place for a woman to be is at home with the man who says he loves her.
all the threats spoken of, the terrible things lurking in bushes and from intruders and those horrible people “over there.” but this is what is true. domestic violence is the number one cause of injury to women. one out of every four women in the united states will be assaulted, physically harmed and injured by a lover or partner in her lifetime, and if you do the math that means a woman is being assaulted every nine seconds. domestic violence is the number one cause of emergency room visits by women, and the health-related costs of rape, physical assault, stalking and murder by intimate partners exceeds 5.8 billion each year.
trigger warning. there are over 1,000 homicides every year of women murdered by husbands and lovers, and former husbands and lovers, meaning on average, three women are killed every day, by someone who says “I love you and that means I own you.” pregnant and newly postpartum women are more likely to die of murder than any other cause.
in addition to this, women who kill their husbands or partners (so very often because they themselves were being assaulted by the man) will serve on average twice as long in prison than men who kill their wives.
trigger warning. a rape is reported every 6.2 minutes, and a great many rapes go unreported. three out of every four women who reported they had been raped or assaulted said that a present or former spouse, lover or date committed the crime.
and none of this is treated as a raging epidemic, a form of true terror, a pattern of gendered abuse that permeates homes and makes being a woman an experience fraught with possible peril. no one is declaring this is a crisis, calling for a war against the terror of being a woman and being harmed by men.
so trigger warning: being a woman can be dangerous and i do not know what it will take for us to wake up and see.

trigger warning: i have been sexually assaulted and abused, beaten and bruised, harmed more times than I have digits on my hands and feet, and all but one of the perpetrators was someone i knew.
trigger warning: my body is the site of the crime and the place of the injury, the vulnerability of letting myself want and the terror of memory that masks itself as dreams that still wakes me in the night. my body is the placement of my love and the house of my own holy hunger.
trigger warning: this body of mine is temple and skin of terrible stories and both are true and i get to inhabit it on my own terms.

trigger warning: sometimes it is the ache, the beauty of the intimacy, the way she looks at you first thing in the morning, the feel of her body underneath you and your hands in her hair, that feel like they could destroy you because it’s so beautiful it splinters every idea you had about what you could and could not know.  
trigger warning: if you cut me, i bleed.
trigger warning: even in the presence of so much violence, so much possible harm, so much wreckage, still what is alive is this:  the color of pink in the peonies, and the way the light came and shattered the wall on that worst day, and the taste of cold plums, and that your skin is still here asking to be touched.
trigger warning.  i am human. i am human. i am human.

trigger warning: this is it. this is your life. may you love it with all of you.

trigger warning: sometimes my heart is the loneliest hunter, and the bull finding querencia when it matters most, and the home of true refuge.
trigger warning. i would drive out and find you, even if you never pushed the button.
trigger warning: i love you.
no, i’m serious, i said.
i love you.
with everything unknown. with all the uncertainty. in the mess of the broken and beautiful things.
i love you. i love you. i love you.


i will keep it safe: a love letter to place

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To the Midwest. To Chicago. To her.
A love letter to place

I thought maybe it was the Midwest, that I was having some sort of rekindled romance with the Great Plains and cold lake water in hot summer sun.
Or about Chicago being the longest affair I’ve ever had, branding me as belonging that July when I showed up with a u-haul and cigarettes and devastating hope.
Or about turning thirty-nine this year and no longer feeling like all things are possible, wanting instead to choose to love intimately that which is impermanent and here now.
And maybe in its own way, it was.

It kept coming over me with all the scarlet pulsed ache of nostalgia, or once forgotten memory, or recognition of something you can’t quite decipher but if you just stay there for a few seconds longer than maybe you’d be able to reach out your hand and grasp its arrival in your broken open fist.

I was helping my friend move into her new apartment and life. I was carrying boxes into the front sunroom that would become the writing room. I was standing there, staring out the large windows, looking out at a street that intersected in a T right where the apartment resided and so I could see a long way down the wide street with its fat trees and old flats, and the el made its rumble close by while summer made patterns of shadows and umbrellas of branches on the sides of buildings. And I almost couldn’t breathe for the love of it. This moment. This new apartment of hers that was so instantly familiar in its Midwest Chicago bones. This moment of crossing over when the heat returns and so much seems open, the way the leaves create that dappled pattern on the concrete when light breaks through and so it feels like the ground itself is moving or trying to speak. This street that could have been the first street I lived on when I moved here all those years ago. How comforting its familiarity felt, as if it had always been here, waiting for the arrival.

This experience, this visceral knowing and unexpected flood of feeling, has ushered me into the way forward, which is also the return.

I have lived on both the East Coast and the Pacific Northwest, and yet it is here in the Midwest that the anchors of place and a land’s language have a hold of me, live inside me as my port of call.
If it is true that we simply keep circling the same story again and again, than I have to wonder if I am, in all my stories of leaving, simply making my way home.  To here, to center, which terrifies me with its landlocked claustrophobia and soothes me with its reckless rain. To here, of the wide open space and the tower of trees and the way the sun hits the city skyline and burns it gold right before the pink takes over and the locusts begin their thick song. To here, land of the terrible bruises and permanent scars of my childhood, home of the thrashed flailing in the safe house where I came alive, the humidity and crashing rain my mother birthed me from and into.
I am hungry for location.

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If you asked me why I love this place, I would tell you of Kansas tornado watches, and how the sky turns green before it goes gray, about sitting on a roof waiting for the storm to come in and the restlessness of a land feels like a thing you could taste in your mouth. I would tell you of a vacant church in the middle of nowhere, nothing but cornfields and open road for miles, and how I knew then it was possible to be baptized in and by a woman’s mouth and love. I would tell you of the Get Me High dive bar late at night and an apartment full of plants that kept me alive and the Golden Nugget where I wrote my first published essay and spent countless hours talking about everything that ever mattered to me and once took a pregnancy test in the bathroom between cups of coffee. I would tell you of driving and driving and driving and seeing nothing but open road and the longest stretch of flat land that disappeared into sky. I would tell you of summers where I cut out all the necks in my shirts; and found sanctuary in the public pool; and how I hid my fears and treasures in the white and purple woven plastic basket on the front of my bicycle, riding through the streets and alleys of the Midwest college town where we lived that year; the train tracks where we set down pennies and stood there while the speed rushed by blowing dried leaves over bare legs, leaving flattened charms of copper. 

I would tell you these things, which are about the Midwest and its love for me forever wrestling with my love for it.  And yet in all of this, what I am really speaking of and pointing to is the need and love for place itself. For orientation, to know where a thing and piece of land and human heart belong in the geography of a body and story.  
I am hungry for location. For the divergent and the wayward and the rooted.
(Is this why we sometimes say in all our fumbling attempts at love, “Please, please. Come find me. Come here to me.”)
Locate me. Give me something real.
This is where my love lives.

And so here I am, living in a city that could map my memories of all the losses, an atlas of injuries and how you can heal but you never recover. Here I am, fallen in love with the thunder and the terrible and beautiful things that grow from this land, and the moment of standing on a friend’s new front porch as if every age I have ever been was all right there, speaking in the tongues of salt and skin.
Here I am, where my desire to know and be known keeps raising the godforsaken and the dead, and I want them to leave, except I want them to stay, because they are my origins born of this land and place, and so I love them. I can’t help myself. I love them, as I do the place that nearly killed me and the place that set me free.

What is our attachment to land, to place, to location and habitation?
How do we occupy it? As visitor or guest, as owner or pilgrim passing through, as belonging or beloved?
How do we inhabit the space of our body and memory, the ocean we crawled out from and the land to which we will return?
Why is it that all I crave right now is something tangible and true, how limbs feel wrapped around the trunk of a tree and the outline of space my body makes in bed and the hands in dirt and the way every place I have ever lived and every person I’ve ever loved etched itself into the bone of my right shoulder blade and so I feel it all sometimes when lifting the bag of groceries and carrying it up the stairs.

I keep asking all these questions about place. I keep writing pages that are part inquiry, part possible outline, part vault to hold the impossible love and the unthinkable things that have no other place to go.

And then I leave behind the questions and the words on a page, and choose the country of her.
Location. Orientation. How the vantage point is different from the placement of my head in the crook of her shoulder, her other arm wrapped around my waist. How from this place, which is her body next to my body, and the way breath begins to move in parenthesis of heart against lungs, all the other landscapes make sense in some way, as if finally understanding they were once connected and only later began their continental drift. The place of skin to skin, sprawl of linked hands and tangled hair while sleeping. The place of knowing this is the land I would fight to the end to not lose and yet would never demand it stay, because bonded and belonging is not the same thing as price tags and possession. The place where it occurs to me that it might just be possible to know the refuge of such belonging, the location of love as it is lived in real life, and here even the shadowlands would know themselves as no longer exiled.

What I am saying is this. Give me something rough and unfinished, where your good intentions were smashed to unnecessary by your mouth speaking something true. Give me something with the roots still on, clung with dirt and tasting like forgiveness.  Give me something I can hold in my sunburned hands. Give me something real. Give me something that has a pulse, which is a place.
I am not just a soul. I am a body. One that comes from earth and belongs to earth.
One that wants to feel the warm of her skin next to me, and one that bled a rush of red when I used to slice into my own skin. One that was born into a Kansas heat wave and is left forever hunting the sun. One that does not believe in salvation but honors absolution. One that carries the Midwest alongside the forever foreigner into every room she enters. One that had to leave so many places, in order to come home. One that reaches outstretched hands to orientation, hungry for location.
I am here.
I will love you.
I already do.

for love of liberation

i once did a language experiment that changed me in ways from which i never recovered.
i hope i never do, because the freedom on the other side is too good to discard. i gave up trying to control what others thought of me and my life, the story they told about me to confirm what they needed to believe about themselves, the barometer of approval and disapproval. what i found was a quiet revolution inside me, strong enough to become the foundation from which to build a life i get to call my own.

it was shortly after i left an emotionally and verbally abusive relationship. the kind that twists and distorts, where doubt and fear, accusations and invasions are routine and become so familiar you almost forgot what it was like to live a day without worrying about how something would be perceived and later misrepresented, and so you have shrunk so far inside yourself that you don’t know how to recognize the sound of your own voice. and so you finally leave. i finally left.

then came the aftermath, like purging poison from memory and veins. the work of reclaiming myself and going deep into the dark to grieve the parts of myself lost and the tremors of still remembering what it was like to live so censored and small. and so, the choice to change my language.

the experiment was this. . . for two months i stopped defending myself, as if my life required an explanation or apology. i would watch the compulsion surface in me, to explain because i was afraid of being misunderstood, or to offer further details as to the reasoning and why, or to give a whole big story on what i was feeling as if it wasn’t enough just to be in the presence of its passing through. i would watch the impulse arise, which i learned was far more often than i had even imagined, and i would choose to not justify myself. which usually meant i just stopped talking. in the quiet, i watched as the truth of my experiences and point of view, my feelings and my choices, came to take up all the space, standing still and strong in the center of a room, no longer requiring a defense and detailed reasoning. the freedom was exhilarating, bone deep safe and provocative in its subtly, like the small slip of skin exposed when a woman crosses her legs without saying a word. letting go of the need to be perceived in any certain way, to achieve or maintain permission from anything outside myself, my life now belonged to me. it turns out, i was good with who i was, and loved the woman i had been and was becoming.

after two months, there was no reason to stop because the learning was so good. so two months became two years which simply became part of my ways of doing and being. it is not exactly the same as it was those days and weeks when my ear was trained to hear the moment the fearful justification slipped from my mind and into my mouth. now it is simply integrated into my experience of being here human, free to live.

for you, for me, for all of us, a list of liberation

"for the love of freedom: a list of things for which you need not explain, justify or defend"

  1. feelings. the good ones and the ugly ones. the knotted nest ones and the simple smooth water ones. the fear like a fist in your throat and the terror that lives on the underside of the rib cage from horrors that happened a long time ago and yet never go all the way away. the ecstatic eruption and the distancing of disappointment. the impulsive smile waking up next to her and the restlessness of not knowing what comes next. sublime joy. irrepressible longing. sick skin of shame and weight of regret. sad that comes for no reason and finds comfort only in open roads and wide expanse of space. stair tumble and released wings of falling in love.

    feelings are a kind of language and can allow for the most aching intimacy when shared with another. but they exist as weather, coming and going, loving and leaving. and they are yours, belonging to you, not requiring a defense for the way they decided to show up on your doorstep and invite themselves inside. fully feeling them, without demanding you explain them, is like walking out into the rain and letting it wash all over you, sinking into your cells nameless knowing.
  2. who you love and how you love.
  3. what you eat. why you don’t eat carbs or why you chose to start eating meat again. your love of sugar or your juice fasts, your shopping carts and your refrigerators.
    the obsession with food and the fear of food has created an entire culture that feels compelled to explain to everyone around them why they are eating what they are eating or not eating, and the way their food or lack of food changed their life. but really, it’s your body and you get to decide what to put in it, for your own reasons, because it belongs to you.
  4. your no. it is a complete and full sentence, all on its own.
  5. your needs. and we all have them. and sometimes it is a frightening thing, to have needs, to name needs, for fear we won’t be met and will fall into a void of intolerable absence. and yet they are the one thing that also connects us. because though the needs may be distinct for each individual, we cannot escape their existence. so maybe we could stop apologizing for having them, and let each other meet them.
  6. the relationship you have with your child. parenting is hard, and sometimes it is so meaningful in its messy reality that i want everything to stop and freeze so i can sit and memorize every moment and how his hair kept falling in his face and instead of brushing it back he just kept shaking his head to the right until it tumbled off his eyes. and there are a great many ways to be with your child and to love and to make and create and sustain family. we get to send our kids to public school or unschool them, co-sleep or tuck them into their own bed at night, breast feed or bottle feed or both, have rules or no rules about screen time and cursing and barbie dolls. we get to try things, and learn, and make mistakes and say we are sorry. we get to not know all the answers and burn all the systems and wander around feeling half way lost. we get to love them, these people we are choosing to walk through this life with connected in shared narratives and meaning made and left behind. we don't need to explain why we do any of things or none of things. we can just love our kids instead.
  7. your weight, your weight loss, your weight gain. your number size, your curves, your muscle tight beneath skin, your thin shoulders and cup size, your wrinkles or sudden lack thereof, your jeans that no longer fit.
  8. your feminism.
  9. your body hair. waxing, shaving, leaving it alone to grow as it grows. the choices as well as your body, belong to you and being asked to prove your femininity or sexuality or empowerment against the porn industry is all controlling and it’s bullshit. because there is nothing to prove. there is just you, being you, doing what you want and what feels good.
  10. your marriage. your divorce. your staying; your leaving. your hurt heart and your waves of relief. your questions and your coarse fear. your choice, your choice, your choice.
  11. what you wear. your lipstick or the length of your heel or the burning of your bra. your men’s jeans or your inked skin or your fishnet stockings. whatever meanings others want to project upon your presentation and performance of gender, it is not something you are required to dissect for them or defend.
  12. changing your mind.
  13. your writing. your words. your art. your expression. your creation. your evolution.
  14. your choice to have children, or not have children. to terminate a pregnancy or carry a pregnancy to term. how you birth. where you birth. who you want present at your birth. telling a woman what she needs to do or has to do or should do with her own body, is oppression. and choosing to do as we do, make our own choices within our own values and needs, without defending or justifying those choices, is to refuse to participate in our own oppression.
  15. your personhood. do you feel this? how sometimes it seems we are asked to explain our very personhood, our right to be here, embodied, occupying our own space and lives. how the living can come to feel like an apology just for breathing and being. your personhood is irreplaceable. you matter. you matter. you matter.
  16. your expression of your own sexuality. and who you have sex with and how you like to have sex and how often and where and in what way.
  17. why you left for two months to walk with other pilgrims. the name you gave yourself. what you saw on the other side of the woods that night.
  18. your want, the taste of it and how it comes scratching at the door, slipping inside the open window like a cat coming home after prowling through the alley at night. the unexpected rush of it, when you were just going about your day, standing there sipping your coffee in the elevator and then the door opened. the swell of it when standing by the lake, watching water blur with sky. the shape it takes, the feel of it in our hands, palms exposed and clutched tight. the impossibility of it and the awakening. the terrible vulnerability it reveals in its shadow, how no matter what we tell ourselves we think, in the end, we want what we want. and we can choose what and where we go with it, but we don’t choose it’s presence or its substance. is anything more voluptuous or terrifying? and yet it’s here, and it’s yours, and it does not need a defense . it just wants a witness.
  19. the relationships you want to give your very limited time in this world too, and the work you’re willing to show up for no matter what, and the joy.
  20. your boundaries. taking time to explain yourself from love can be so very lovely. but if someone is continually asking you to explain in detail the reasons and whys of your boundaries, it’s usually an indication that they are not honoring them.
  21. the second (or third, or fourth) cup of coffee. stay. linger. come back to bed with me.
  22. your past. the choices you’ve made that brought you to here. the regrets and the extraordinary perfection of the days you spent painting your bedroom in the summer heat, eating sweet strawberries by the carton full. that you said yes. that you knew what you needed. that you knew when it was complete and time to be released. the year you spent reciting promises to yourself while practicing your back bend and every time you opened the door after you had done the deed and come away more broken but still better. the catwoman you claimed as your protector and the wolf woman whose instincts saved you and then released you to your life. the two nos and the one yes. the storm chasing and the driving after him in a truck, screaming and cursing and the unending laughter of true loving even when you knew you were going to leave and not come back. the choices made and how your skin still has the scars that speak of your undoing. the complete and utter conviction that you would do all of it, every last moment, again, to come to right here in this moment where the first thunderstorm of the season came and shook sky and bodies, surrendered to what feels good.
  23. the present. this day. this moment. your life. the hard cider and the hot bath. the big X marked on the wall and the questions that just won’t leave. the fog and the steam and the way the water rocked. the white shirt and the words that wouldn’t come. the comfort with discomfort in not having assurances, but lavished in conviction in what is real and true and belonging to you. the stories you intertwine with the telephone pole and the fear of dependency and the clack of typewriter keys and the rose water. how you sometimes still sing mass and you somehow forgot how many homes you’ve lived in and there are moments when you remember the very first words she ever wrote to you and you open your eyes.