turn the page

I have a friend who likes to say “good writing disturbs.” I happen to agree with her. As to whom it should disturb — the author or the reader…or both — is up for debate, but good writing shouldn’t pull any punches.

Now, as a Ph.D. student, I read a lot. I mean a LOT a lot. So much so that you’d think the last thing I would want to do at the end of an academic year of cramming upwards of 1,000 pages a week into my brain would be to read more, but hey, I’m a glutton for punishment with a thing for busman’s holidays. As a result, all I’ve done since the spring semester ended two weeks ago is pour myself into as much pleasure reading as I can possible absorb. I’m reading voraciously. I can’t get enough. What can I say? I’m a bookworm. Guess that’s why the academic lifestyle works for me. Maybe the school habit is hard to break, because, right now, I spend most of my waking hours — and more hours awake than I should — ripping through everything I bought, checked out, and downloaded for my summer reading list. It’s been a mixed bag, and I often have more than one project going. It’s not all that unlike school.

This weekend was different, though. I narrowed my reading to one thing only, and I find that was a mistake. The exclusivity wasn’t the problem, although, it probably intensified, and therefore exacerbated, the situation. The issue was the subject matter and the fact that I never should have touched it — or strayed within 50 square miles of it — in the first place. I certainly never should have spent three days alone with it and the inside of my head with nothing external to ground me. I wish I hadn’t done that. I really really do.

If you’re a reader, you can probably relate to how a good book can suck you into its universe. Pull you under to the degree where you have to think to discern between your every day reality and the engaging fictional story while you’re in the midst of it. It’s almost like being infatuated. You think about it when you’re not reading, and you have a hangover and disorienting withdrawal symptoms when you finish the last page. You mourn its loss like a break up with a lover. Usually, the ride is a good and exhilarating thing — escapism at its best…erotic and gratifying — but I’ve been feeling a growing sense of unease over the past 48 hours. In fact, I didn’t sleep at all last night. Couldn’t. The night before, I had nightmares. It’s almost 1:30 am, and I can’t sleep tonight, either. Yesterday, I was ansty. Withdrawn. Irritable. Today, my skin crawled like it was electrified below the surface. My stomach was in knots, the pit of it leaden and nagging. I had no appetite. I cried — BAWLED — spontaneously. My chest felt tight, and I was short of breath. My mouth dry. My throat felt an invisible hand closing on it. My heart locked in a screwed-down vice. By late afternoon, I found myself in the midst of a full-blown panic attack I should have seen coming but didn’t anticipate. I didn’t piece the symptoms together to recognize the building crescendo, probably because I didn’t realize how I was being affected, by what, or why and so didn’t stop to analyze and address the obvious warning signs. Ironically enough, despite being a writer myself, I didn’t give the power of the written word enough credit.

I should have known better. Should have not only seen all the warning signs, but known to stay the hell away from the story in the first place. Should have known it was too personal, too close, too real and visceral, and that it would push every button and flip every switch I’d worked to bury over ten years ago. It had “TRIGGER” written all over it in tall, neon letters, but I ignored the obvious warnings and sallied forth anyhow. It took me back to a dark time in my life and someone I let in as a result. To a chaotic, reckless, self-destructive era where I had a taste for danger and a greater propensity poor choices than self control. When I felt overwhelmed and didn’t want to be responsible for everything. Was tired of always being so structured. Tired of making decisions and caring for everyone without feedback or reassurance. Didn’t want to be in control. And I let in someone that I really shouldn’t have. That I wish I hadn’t. And when I got out and left that part of me and my past behind, I shoved it down so deep that I forgot it — forgot him. So much so that I not only suppressed his name but his memory completely. Until this weekend, when he slowly got a grip on the edges and hauled himself back to the surface to take me completely by surprise.

The experience shook me to the core back then, and the echo of it did no less this weekend — it was only shorter, lightning fast in its inception, and more intense. See, he changed me fundamentally. I’ve never quite been the same. I’m less trusting. Less carefree. Where I once was a girl with almost no neuroses or phobias, I now have several. He is the reason I can’t stand to wear bracelets or watches anymore. Can’t stand to have anything on my wrists. I only make the rare exception for my heart rate monitor, and even then I take it off as soon as possible. I’m claustrophobic. I panic in tight, crowded spaces, especially if they have low ceilings. Elevators are uncomfortable. Put more than a couple of people in there with me, and they’re a nightmare. Crowded open spaces like box stores — even the grocery store — are hard for me, too. I avoid them and often freak out and leave halfway through the errand. It means that I pretty much hate to shop. Like a Mafia don, I can’t sit in a public place with my back to the door without my skin itching and my nerves on end. I don’t like my back exposed. I simply don’t trust what people milling around me might be doing — can’t stop thinking about how I can’t control or anticipate their actions when I don’t know and trust them and can’t see them coming. Usually, I mask these fears pretty well and compensate or orchestrate situations to avoid them, but they’re there. I’m strategizing without it even registering on a conscious level. To be honest, it’s probably more exhausting than I realize, but it functions on a subconscious level most of the time, and not every situation calls for it.

It’s so subconscious, that I didn’t know it was happening to me today. I underestimated the power of what I was reading — of reading in general. And now, I feel like shit. Like I drank too much booze and ate too much junk food when I didn’t do either. I’m dizzy. At sea. My chest is fluttery. I’m tired and achy. My skin feels too tight. My head buzzes and my tongue feels too big. I have a metallic taste in my mouth, and I keep clenching my jaw. I’m upset and nervous and tense. Sick and exhausted. Strung out and needy just from something I read. I feel like I need aftercare. I wonder how long it’s going to take for me to come down and rehab from this. Until then, I’m going to wash a Xanax down with a glass of wine, take a hot shower and pray for sleep. Until then, I’m trapped by something someone wrote. Captive to simple words on the page — nothing more. Words that had the power to bend time and resurrect a ghost or two.

And so, I suppose you can say that’s some good writing. I applaud the author, really, because, right now, you can certainly say I’m disturbed.

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it’s not over

The last moments of AIDS activist David Kirby in 1990. credit: Therese Frare, LIFE Magazine

I really want this post to be intelligent and eloquent. To not be just one long string of the f-word (per usual). To be ruled by logos rather than the pathos brimming over from every pore of me. Given that last sentence, I think you can guess how this is probably going to go. Oh well, here’s nothing.

So, while reading The New Yorker yesterday, because, as a Ph.D. student, I have tons of time for leisure reading, I came across this article called The Changing AIDS Epidemic. It’s fair to say that my blood pressure has been through the roof ever since. I will say this once, and once only, people:

AIDS is still with us. It is not cured. It is not a Third World disease only impoverished people in Africa get. It is not over. People still die of AIDS here in the United States every day.

How do I know this? Because I feel the absence of the friend I lost to the disease last fall every day. I am still haunted by his decline. How he had more than 60 pounds fall from his already-slight frame in a matter of months. How his drugs made him sicker than the disease. How he became unable to work. How he stopped eating. Stopped talking. How he became pale and dry like a piece of chalk — quickly dehydrating and slowly bleeding internally from God knows where in his gut. How it took a toll on his partner’s health, and I started to watch him waste away from stress and worry and lack of sleep and a broken heart. How I helped to care for him in his last weeks as he died of a simple stomach flu. The norovirus. That’s what killed him. Something that usually puts most of us in bed for a few days with nausea and diarrhea killed him. No amount of Pedialyte and bed rest could save him. The doctors didn’t pay attention to what was happening. They didn’t care. They’d give him IV fluids and send him home with us. Ignored our concerns until his electrolytes became so unbalanced that his heart suddenly gave out in his bedroom at home one night. His partner called 911 and performed CPR until the paramedics came crashing in his door and dragged his spouse up the stairs and pounded on his poor, broken, empty body on the living room floor for almost 20 minutes before pronouncing him dead and walking out the door leaving him there for his loved ones to cover him and sit with him until the coroner came to pick up his body four hours later. His death left a hole that affects me and everyone else who loved him on a daily basis. I can’t even begin to do his memory justice here. Or describe the chaos left in his wake. Our lives are forever changed by his passing, and it didn’t have to happen.

It happened because we don’t talk about AIDS anymore in this country. We act like it’s some artifact that killed a bunch gay guys in the 80s and was somehow cured by Magic Johnson in the 90s or caught a plane to the Congo in 2000 and was never heard from by straight, white middle class America again. Bullshit. It doesn’t matter where you are — there are people in your community living with it every day…and some of them are dying.

What really killed my friend wasn’t AIDS so much as silence about it. Even in 2011, he wore it as a personal badge of shame. He wouldn’t openly admit to having it, for fear it would cost him his job. He was afraid it would still be seen as a “gay disease,” and so his health care suffered — partly because he was afraid to advocate for himself, partly because he was the victim of cut-rate managed care under his employer’s HMO, and partly because his doctors honestly didn’t give much of a crap about the two middle-aged gay men who went to them looking for help. That’s not the kind of health care everyone with AIDS gets, but it is the reality for others. Ladies and gentlemen, it’s still 1985 for some of us here in America, and I’m here to tell you that’s not ok.

To make things worse, I downloaded a copy of Outkast’s song “Roses” on Spotify earlier this week, not realizing it was some cleaned-up, uber-Walmart censored version. About a third of the words in the song were bleeped out because they were deemed offensive. Words like “bitch,” “prostitute,” and even “bra.” Because women’s foundation garments make them dirty whores like that. I was shocked to find that among the offensive words omitted from the song was “AIDS.” As in “AIDS test.” That’s right, a lyric about responsible sexual health was bleeped out of a song in 2012. Because AIDS is offensive. People with AIDS are offensive. Because it’s dirty gay disease you get from anal sex. If you don’t talk about it, no one can learn about it, and then no one will catch it. And those who do catch it can just slink off to the margins of society and feel they have to lie about who they their whole lives are even though they’re beautiful, loving, kind, gentle, contributing members of society who do important, undervalued, and thankless jobs like teach bilingual special education kindergarten classes and die quietly in their living rooms and no one can be the wiser. Whatever you do, keep whispering the word “AIDS” in the second decade of the 21st fucking century so no one ever gets their hands dirty. So no one ever learns anything. So ignorance can reign free. So we never cure the disease, because who cares about a bunch of black Africans and aging fags?

I play my friend’s funeral over and over again in my mind. How we all stood out at his graveside on that freezing early winter day. How his partner touched his casket, choking on his tears, and said, “Goodbye, my love,” before we steered him away to the car. How I’ve spent endless hours with him at the kitchen table going over finances trying figure out how he will make ends meet and keep a roof over his head on one meager income in the months since. How I held him in his driveway last week as he bawled his grief out, soaking the shoulder of my blouse after a long day of changing all their bank accounts to take his dead partner’s name off of them — feeling like he’d erased the love of his life forever in one afternoon. It’s cruel. It’s horrible. It’s all so very unnecessary. And I won’t tolerate it. I won’t tolerate the attitude that gay people don’t matter, don’t deserve health care. That sick people, regardless of gender or sexual orientation or race or class or disease, don’t deserve dignity and treatment. That people with AIDS aren’t people. That they don’t exist here in America anymore.

I won’t tolerate whispers about AIDS. I won’t tolerate a society where those who battle it feel they have to live in secret and shame. I won’t tolerate blaming people for being sick. I won’t tolerate us acting like it’s a piece of 80s nostalgia like a Michael J. Fox movie. I won’t tolerate the media perpetuating the idea that we’re somehow out of the woods and that it’s Africa’s problem now — just something we need to send a few million dollars overseas annually for in the name of humanitarian foreign aid to make us feel awesome and lily white and absolved. Because it’s right here, people. Right in front of us. The fact that you cried at Tom Hanks’ performance in Philadelphia 20 years ago isn’t enough. Not nearly. Wake the hell up and speak up. Don’t let the media or the right wing or politicians convince you otherwise and whisper this very real epidemic away.

For shame, I say. For shame.

(ETA: I am pleased to share with you that there are some bright spots out there, and I have the incredible honor of knowing someone who works at the Ponce de Leon Clinic in Atlanta, GA. I am proud to call him my friend.

Please, do a simple Google search for local charities and clinics in your area that support your neighbors living with AIDS to see how you can get involved. They always need help and can let you know how you can work to battle the deadly ignorance that still plagues our nation when it comes to this disease.)

can’t do a thing about it

as you learned the hard way, i love my solitude. as you know, it’s rare that i have these moments of weakness. i do just fine on my own without you.

it’s been one of those days, though. i’m weary. what i wouldn’t have given to come home to you tonight. to walk in the door to find you waiting for me with the home fires burning. hooverphonic pulsing low on the stereo. orange blossom scent on the warm breeze blowing in the doors from the patio. hot take-out waiting in the kitchen. cold beer waiting in the fridge. miles and miles of you waiting on the couch, stretched out with that crooked grin on your face and that look in your eye, ready to wrap yourself around me. my tiny feet tangled in your enormous ones — your goofy little fetish. your hands and mouth all over me until i curl up into your lap and fall asleep. you carry me to bed and let me sleep it all off long and hard.

i won’t care that you’re not here in the morning. i won’t miss you then. i just care that you’re not here tonight.  or that i’m not there.

would give anything to travel into time.

she’s a very freaky girl

A tale wherein the students have become the teachers…or at least my teachers.

Words cannot describe how good it feels to be back in the classroom. Everything about this semester is clicking along like a well-oiled machine and has me walking on a cloud because I’m so happy and in love with my research and everything else I’m doing, but teaching again is by far the best part. I honest to God stroll around with this smitten look and stupid smile plastered on my face like I’ve got some kind of crazy schoolgirl crush going on because it just feels so damn euphoric to be doing what I am meant to do. It’s true what they say — if you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life (even though I’m working my ass off here). And the difference clearly shows. I have friends and even strangers commenting left and right that I glow. My hair, my skin, my clothes, my everything apparently looks better. I’ve been asked if I’m in love or pregnant more than once this week alone.

I am serving as a TA in preparation to take on my own courses as a GPTI next semester. It was my adviser’s idea to fight for me to be placed under her supervision so that I didn’t have to start at zero doing recitations for the 1001 class. I appreciate that she recognizes my level of experience and doesn’t want to see me set back and bored when I’ve taught lecture classes of 250+ students at a one of the largest research universities in the country in the past. She wants to make use of my talents and hone them. I am anxious to be fully at the reins again, and she made it clear in our meeting today that she’s going to get me back there as quickly as possible. I’m taking over writing the quizzes and tests for the class and will start doing a good bulk of the lecturing, too. I can tell that she’d hand it all over to me, if she could. She has such tremendous faith in me and is as eager to mentor me as I am to learn. She has much to teach me. We’re an amazing team, and our already-good relationship has rocketed to a new level in the past week. She’s caring, supportive, challenging, and a good boss and friend. She trusts me, and she gives a damn. Her tutelage combined with that from past mentors and my basic God-given gifts of instruction will make me freaking unstoppable by the time I’m doing interviews. It’s perfect. I’m high on it.

The best part is our students. We have a class of 40 upperclassmen. Some have taken classes with my adviser before. She has groupies, and with good reason. I’m one myself. She knows how to structure a good course, and she’s amazing in front of the classroom. The room is an odd, open, long meeting hall in a building that’s used for advising more than classes, and everyone sits at a long rectangle cobbled together from several tables that takes up the entire room. The class is overbooked, and there are more students than the room can actually hold, so there are a few kids sitting in corners and in chairs along the walls. They don’t care, they just want to be in the class. It’s kind of sweet, actually, and it should have tipped me off to their level of enthusiasm about and involvement with the content of the course.

Thursday was my first chance to really see the students in action as part of a discussion. Prior to this point, we had just had class business and lecture. This afternoon we really got down to business, though, and wow. Goddamn. I was impressed.

While there was certainly a minority that sat there slack-jawed like deer in the headlights because they either hadn’t done the reading on the sexualization of popular culture or because their minds were blown and groins made uneasy by the explicit music videos we were all sitting in the dark watching together. Their chairs were pretty close together, so it’s not like they had much in the way of personal space as we watched Madonna play the dominatrix, Nelly slide a credit card down the crack of a stripper’s g-stringed ass, or Katie Perry clumsily ape and fumble her way through the cartoonish and wide-eyed part-time bisexual slut role in her offering. I felt particularly bad for the poor sophomore guy who had to share a little table in the corner with me. My proximity clearly made him a little uncomfortable, and he had a hard time sitting still. Nonetheless, he was nice about it, and I tried to give him a little room to shift around in his seat.

The majority of the class was right there with it, though, sitting on the edge of their seats, soaking it all in, keeping pace intellectually and applying what they’d read in the week’s assignments and elsewhere to the text and subtext of what we put before them. Practically salivating at the thought of self-expression, they could barely wait for each video to finish before they jumped right in with their sharp analysis. They weren’t very nice to Katy Perry when they did it, either. As much as I’m not a fan, I almost felt sorry for her as I listened to these 19 and 20 year-olds rip her performance and general pop persona to shreds. I won’t lie, though. Inwardly, I was fist pumping with satisfaction in the knowledge that these kids had two brain cells to rub together hard enough to create enough friction to generate some real heat. It was a truly lovely surprise coming off of my experience in the graduate version of this course last semester with a cadre of master’s students whose heads projected ocean sounds to those standing too close to them on a mildly breezy day. They led me to wrongly underestimate the undergraduates.

The best part were the young women in the room. They easily outnumbered the guys 4 or 5 to 1. Add two female instructors to the mix, and you’ve got a regular estrogen brigade on your hands. While there are certainly some girls who looked overwhelmed by the subject matter, the vast majority of them attacked the discussion with gusto and slid right into the driver’s seat of the class. They came prepared, not only from the assigned class readings, but from their accumulated knowledge from their other courses and just general keen life observation. It was inspiring. They were bold and fearless with their academic analysis of the videos we watched, but even moreso, their grasp of sexuality and sexual politics was really sophisticated for their age. Some of the men were right in there with them and had astute and clever things to say, but the majority of them appeared to be more intimidated and out of their depth than the women and needed to have a picture drawn for them on concepts like BDSM and dominatrices. Sexual experience and exploration were clearly in their futures more than their pasts. The women, on the other hand, were right there to do the explaining.  They also had amazing contributions to offer on strippers’ agency, straight female performances of bisexuality and homoeroticism, and the historical context of sexual controversy in the media its resultant censorship.

The part that really blew my mind and schooled me was the students’ (both male and female) feminist approach to the discussion. They were unafraid and unembarrassed to have frank discussions of sexuality, and the women were not shy about sharing what they knew on the topic — even when it came to concepts that might be considered perverse, non-heteronormative, and not appropriate for public discussion. They weren’t scared to be “freaky.” They are so firmly ensconced in third wave feminism and its constant insistence that all things are relative, that the battle is to be fought where you find it, and that compromise is an acceptable option. They do not see the world as a place where they are oppressed at all or that they should be personally offended by anything. The term “sex positive” was used over and over again as a measure of the media, particularly with relation to women’s agency in the examples we watched. Their take on everything was so firmly in contrast to my own second wave- and postfeminst-influenced ideals, that it really made me sit up and take notice. They were able to justify and rationalize and find upsides to things I couldn’t and didn’t see before.

I cannot say I agreed with everything they said, but I cannot say they did not make me think. The third wave feminist is a force to be reckoned with and a puzzle to be solved for the Gen Xer. My eyes are opened, and now I see things I’ve seen a million times in a new light. I am humbled and view my students with a new depth of respect, too. I couldn’t help but think, “Right on, sister” more than once as they contributed to the conversation. This is not only helpful for my research on the intersection of generational identity and the media, but also will improve my skills as a teacher by reinvigorating and challenging my approach to pedagogy with this group and others to come. I have work to do when it comes to negotiating the waters of the third wave and reckoning with the brave women it. They will push my envelope with their openness and unabashed willingness to share…everything. There is a gap to bridge, and I can see I will learn a lot from my students this semester. For that, I am already grateful.

drowned world

When I was little, I loved the movie “The Last Unicorn.” While I was never much of a unicorn kind of girl, the dark story of a lonely and unique creature on a quest to discover the fate of her kind in a dangerous and magical land full of deceitful creatures that sought to destroy her innocence and rob her of her freedom drew me in instantly. It was probably the whole underlying subtext of rape threat or at least the forcible (or not, as will be explained momentarily) loss-of-virginity allegory that subconsciously fascinated the curious pre-adolescent me (the unicorn is immortal, you see, so she tempted a worse fate than death in her quest). But, I digress. That’s a blog post for another time.

In the story, The Unicorn finally finds her brethren — they have been driven into the sea by the enchanted Red Bull of King Haggard who desires to have them to himself. The unicorns live in the surf, you see. The Unicorn is magically turned into the mortal and human Lady Almathea in order to survive her initial confrontation with the Red Bull, because humans are of no consequence to the bull. Upon her rescuing transformation, she and her traveling companions move into Haggard’s castle, where she falls in love with his son and settles into a human life. It’s not long before she forgets about the bull, forgets about her quest and eventually even forgets she’s a unicorn. She’s happy to trade in being unique for being human — safe and loved. It’s easier.

Even when confronted by Haggard, who suspects her true identity, she not only denies herself but has no clue who she is anymore. Haggard knows her better than she knows herself. The very essence of her true self has been obliterated, partly through conscious choice driven by love and self-preservation but partly by the comfort of her current situation. A body at rest tends to stay at rest, even when it means abandoning the very essence of who you are, even when the unicorns are right there in the sea below your castle staring you right in the fucking face on a daily basis.

And so, I find myself in The Unicorn’s dilemma, because I have forgotten who I am. Or at least how to do something very salient to the essence of who I am. I am denying myself.

I have stopped swimming.

Ok, so I know that doesn’t sound like a big deal. Most people don’t even own a bathing suit. Hobbies fall in and out of favor. But swimming isn’t a hobby for me. It’s part of my DNA. It’s hard wired. Those who know me — or at least those who knew me when — know what a big deal this is. I can’t live without the water. I grew up in the Atlantic Ocean and swam before I walked. My mother threw me into the pool hook, line, and sinker during lessons at the Y when I was six months old, and I bobbed back up to surface and kept paddling (that’s how they did it back in the 70s). In fact, I can barely function on land at all. I’m a complete failure on two legs. I don’t have a swimmer’s build, but believe me, I was made for the water. It is my element. My blood is chlorinated. I transform the moment I hit its surface. I suppose the fire sign in me needs some temperament. The fact that I’m no longer doing it means that I am no longer me.

See this? This is sex for me. Nothing is more zen than the moment when I stand on the pool deck at the head of a lane, particularly an empty one like this. I feel tall, which takes a lot at 5’2″. I feel powerful. Invincible. My muscles twitch and ache. My skin flushes. My mouth waters, and I swear to God I can feel my pupils dilate. I feel connected to the water just looking at it. Together, we are absolutely pregnant with potential. I want to slice into it and rip it apart for miles and miles and miles while it wraps around my body. I curl my toes around the edge of the wall and grip it tight — a final grounded moment where I connect myself to the earth in a farewell before I spring and snap myself through the air and into the blue, clear invitation beckoning below me. Time stops. Gravity falls impotent. I am weightless and defiant. It is my lover, mother, twin, and adversary all together all at once. I get in, and I never want to get out. Never want to stop feeling my limbs pull through the water as I propel forward. Exhaust myself to the point of soreness. Push myself to the limit, and just when I think I’ve reached it, push myself some more. Plan ahead to make it worse on the next lap. Harder, better, faster, stronger. Feel the rush of the flip at the wall as I use my core to fling my legs over my head and into the wall with perfect coordination and shove myself into a glide toward the opposing wall. It’s fluid and powerful and balletic. I’m graceful. I’m animal. And there’s nothing but my breath. My constant, heaving, steady breaths. I’m deaf. I’m dumb. The world falls away. No voices in my head. Just air. There is no greater clarity.

While swimming is the ultimate physical expression for me, just doing it isn’t enough. I live in my head, so the mental process is as orgasmic as the physical one. I play mind games in my head with every stroke, every lap. Place bets. Taunt myself. For some reason, count repeatedly to sixty over and over and over again as a meditation. Challenge my head to isolate and connect to each muscle to snap the rotation of my breaststroke kick tighter, feeling the sharp ache in my inner thighs. Will my hips to slam down toward the pool floor harder and pull my wings over and under me for a strong, smooth fly, my pecs and lats burning. Lay back into 200 yards of backstroke, stare at the lines on the ceiling or the clouds in the sky, and think of England while I wait for the flags at the end of the lane to appear. Will my obliques to lead my body into the wall and duck down the perfect push off in an open turn, knowing they will be sore the next day. Extend my short arms to impossible lengths, grabbing and displacing the water with every inch of their flat surfaces down to my fingertips. Empty myself out completely until I’m left hanging on the wall exhausted, calm, satisfied, and spent. Goofy, dazed grin plastered across my face.

So, why did I stop doing something I clearly love, clearly crave? First, the swim culture where I live now is non-existent. The pools here are subpar, and their lap swim hours are just piss poor. I’m used to short and long course pools at world-class facilities that are open until 10pm. The little rec centers here treat swimming as an afterthought and pools as splash time activities for families and the realm of lazy water aerobics classes for non-swimmers who can’t wade beyond four feet of water. I have no respect for vertical water exercise. Get in a lane or get the fuck out.

The problem really lies with me, though. The past three years have been about taking care of things and people other than myself.  They’ve been about dying rather than living. I’ve let my fitness routine slip, let time for myself fall by the way side, and most importantly, denied myself sensual indulgences. I’ve been in crisis mode, enjoying, experiencing, and savoring nothing. Running on fumes and stress and exhaustion and cortisol and adrenaline. Even now, I’m working on this entry at 2:00am, but at least this is cathartic. I’ve disconnected from my body, ignored my physical needs. Let constant motion become my substitute for love as though I no longer deserved to experience the pool as described above. I’ve stopped using my body. Stopped feeding an addiction I loved, and yes, swimming is my crack. It’s not something I can do occasionally. Once I get a fix, I need it all the time. I couldn’t bear to give myself a taste only to have to give it up for work, my dying father, my dying friends, the estate demands, my grief. I just shut myself down completely. Let my gills shrivel into sick and failing lungs. Locked the doors, turned out the lights, and shuttered the windows. When my dad died, I let parts of me die with him. Burned them to ashes and put them on a shelf and forgot about them. Forgot who I was. It seemed easier that way was just too painful to feel, and above all physical sensation had to go, because it was too tangible a reminder that I am still alive. I didn’t want to feel alive anymore. The contrast between how I would feel inside and any stimulation on the outside would be unbearable. Better just to conserve what few shreds of my health and my sanity that were left and just do my best to minimize the collateral damage. Better to deny my senses and my needs. Better to pretend I’m the lady and not the unicorn and let the spark go out of my eyes. Better to just be numb and keep bobbing and weaving and stay in motion without ever moving in order to get through it without feeling the constant blows. Better to ignore the sea full of unicorns staring up at me from below.

Now, I find I’ve changed my mind. I want my religion and my drug back. I want to watch the unicorns tumble back out of the surf. Something clicked over in me with the new year. It’s like someone hit a switch that turned me back on and all my furnaces are stoked. Even though I’m often tired from school and have plenty to do, I walk around with a stupid smile on my face all the time like a lovesick girl. I’m in a state of terminal blush that people remark on constantly. My brain just won’t shut off — I want to do everything all at once. Above all, I want to feel. Want to consume. Want to be bold. Want to taste, laugh, and MOVE. Want to feel things on my bare skin. I’m insatiable with it, like I can’t make up for lost time fast enough. I’m hungry and bottomless and humming with energy. I want to devour. I’m ready to dive back in. I’ve scouted pools. Rented a locker at the university. Bought new suits. I want to swim.

I’ve remembered that I’m The Unicorn again. Remembered what it was I was looking for. I am powerful and ready to go get it even if it means going through the bull to get there. It’s just a matter of time before I dive back in to my wet, warm, silent haven and never surface again.