This alleyway is brightly lit, no place for discretion, and yet here we are, my legs wrapped over his, his fingers gentle on my cheek. I ask if I can kiss him and our mouths pull together. We’re parked by a church, maybe its a school?, and I am here in this new, distant city wanting some kind of tenderness.
When he texted it was already late and I’d been drinking. On the way to meet him I stopped by the liquor store and stuffed a bag of chips in my mouth, hoping the starchy snacks would absorb some of the alcohol. I’d be cool, collected. On the way the silence was broken by two giant black dogs, snarling and barking as they tore down the driveway and after my bike. I pedaled as fast as I could, screaming “GET THE FUCK AWAY FROM ME” and they chased me through a busy intersection.
Luckily I made it across alone.
On the other side of night this all seems like a strange dream. A stranger’s lips in the alley, wild city dogs and burnt rubber. It’s almost noon and there is a thunderstorm through the window of this diner where I eat a stack of pancakes alone, staring into the Styrofoam box printed with American flags and soggy with too much maple-flavored syrup.
That bartender who fashioned me a whiskey drink earlier this week gave me her number in the back of a zine she filled with poems, and they made me cry so hard I had to text her. Thank god I did that.
At her house we sort through the mess of precious food items and moldy abandoned things in the fridge and set about defrosting. She tells me about her trauma. I tell her about mine. We talk about our mental health and our class backgrounds and the terrible men we’ve known. Some things we have in common. Some things we don’t have in common.
Her hard bartender voice gets gentler as we talk, and as her words warm I feel them thaw the joy in my chest that has gotten cold from disuse. We’re laughing together and her laugh is beautiful. I think I want to kiss her but I’m too scared so I just laugh.
Six months ago our friends died in a fire on the other side of Oakland from where I live. I haven’t been to the spot since it burned down.
People asked how I was for a few weeks, and then somehow everything gradually (it felt sudden) was normal again, and my smile was expected and my aches were considered pathology and I had to go to work. And at the same time my own trauma started to surface. Sexual assault. Heartbreak. Microaggressions. Transphobic violence. I feel crushed by the small things because I can’t even begin to address the big ones, but they are all pains held in my body.
I feel as if I’ve forgotten how to talk to myself. I wave at myself shyly from across a crowded room. How are you? Are you okay? You look lonely.
Most days my heart feels hard. I can’t trust anyone enough to share the tender places in me, to share my genuine smile, my laughter. I don’t want to be seen, I’m too tired to see. And yet suddenly here, halfway across the country, I find myself writing poetry, for myself. Slamming my bike’s brakes and pulling my notebook out of my backpack, like its pages are oxygen.
I write a letter, from my old ancient self to my current self, after we win the revolution: thank you for fighting, thank you for surviving. I promise myself again I will make it through this.
I just needed to start the conversation.
On the last day we scrub out the refrigerator and drink coffee and eat vegan Mac N Cheese and I feel so much at home I forget my flight is leaving tonight. We go to the art museum and look into world of Diego Rivera painted on the walls, at old artifacts, at paintings donated when this city was a destination. We go to the beach and swim in our underwear and I worry a little bit but not too much about the fresh wound etched on my arm.
I promise I’ll write.
And when I cry on the plane and try to hide my tears in my sleeves I’m not sure if I’m happy or sad.