Blues: Books, Heartache, Nostalgia, and Grief

Please forgive the lapse in posts for the last few months.

This week I’ve been reading Stone Butch Blues. Yes, I know it is long over do. I should have read the damn thing ages ago, but as it were I was an insanely busy grad student for a while. I’m off work, bored, and stuck in the bible belt so it seemed like the perfect time to pick it up and hide inside its world for a while. I was wholly unprepared for how sad it would make me. Incidentally, it has been just the inspiration I need to get off my ass and write. Not only do I feel intense empathy (and at times sympathy) for the characters in the book, but I’ve also been pitching in some deep, book-induced nostalgia. It made me think of my ex, we’ll call her Cameron, and some of the most wonderful women I know, her friends. I should have finished it sooner, but I have to stop periodically to sob. The book is brilliant, but it has been a tough read for me emotionally. I feel comforted and lonely at the same time. Sometimes the loneliness borders on feelings of exile really.

When I ended things with Cameron I had to say goodbye to some women who I truly admired and respected, and loved. I miss them and the sense of community they gave me more than I am able to express. Nostalgia for lost friends has not been the only thought swirling ’round my head the last few days. I was also reminded of my own internal dilemma of being in a butch-femme relationship. Cameron was a self-proclaimed butch. Even though I wanted her to be her full self, and embrace who she was and love herself, I couldn’t imagine myself in a butch-femme relationship. Somehow it felt like it wasn’t me. It was too constricting. I felt I was betraying myself. I wanted true, authentic equality in our relationship and it felt like she wanted our lives to be one long session of role playing.

I want to take a minute to say that I have nothing against my butch sisters. I love them as I love all women. I still love Cameron. I just couldn’t give her what she needed, or what she deserved in a lover. I couldn’t be the woman to her man.  At first it was nice because I had never been with a butch woman. She doted on me. She did everything in her power to please me. She complimented me, tried to take care of me and make me feel special. She was attentive and sweet. But it was the way she made me feel as a woman that really touched me. It sounds so stupid, but in an ironic way, she made me feel like a real woman. Like the epitome of what a woman is. She made me feel strong and powerful, confident and sexy, beautiful and intelligent, brave and compassionate, caring. And even more than all of that, she never questioned my attraction to women. At least initially…

She was the first person who never treated me like she secretly thought I was a straight woman. She accepted me completely, she believed me, and she loved me for all of it. She didn’t just love me “anyway.” No one had ever really done that for me before. Most women, when they learn that I’m queer, they treat me like an other, like I’m not a real woman, more like a man. Like I’m not one of them. I often feel oversensitive, constantly defending my sexuality, but at the same time trying to strike a healthy balance between owning my sexuality in my way and not feeling that I have to fit into someone else’s definition or expectations of what a queer woman is or does. Although men also have a difficult time believing I could ever love a woman in such a deep and complete way, it somehow hurts more when women question me. Maybe because I do love them so much. And so all the while I was struggling internally with this butch-femme dynamic, I relished in the feeling of acceptance and high femininity.

The feeling felt so good I went so far as to compromise my own comfort sometimes, in particular during love making. Cameron enjoyed role playing. Initially, I also enjoyed it because it was new and exciting and I knew it made her feel good. It made her happy. I feel like most anything is acceptable and normal behavior when it comes to sex and fantasy so long as everyone is comfortable and on the same page. Gradually, the fantasies and the role plays became more frequent. She felt more and more distant. I felt she was nearing the heart of the book, and I was still in the prologue. We were no longer of the same mind. It was my fault for silently swallowing my discomfort. My disgust with myself bled into my other behaviors. It felt as if she were wishing herself a man and me her cunt to fuck, and it made me sick.

Then one night I had been out with a close male friend of mine. I came home earlier than I had planned to be with her and spend time with her, but the too soon the ominous grey clouds of stormy argument began to settle over us. We were sitting in her living room watching television when she asked me,

“Do you think you’ll ever sleep with a man again?”

Her words hit me like a bowling ball to the stomach and chest. I was stunned, angry, hurt. I quipped,

“Why? Are you thinking of getting a sex change?”

She looked vulnerable and unsure. “What am I supposed to think when you say things like that to me?” she asked.

“What am I supposed to think when you ask me things like that!?” I exclaimed. “What have I done to make you ask me such a question?”

“Well, you spend so much time with him. Did you ever think that maybe I could just use some reassurance once in a while?”

And she didn’t say it, but the thought hung over us both like a ton of bricks. We both knew she was thinking about how we fucked. By that point it wasn’t making love anymore. Shock shot through me. Was the fact that I had been in a monogamous relationship with her for the last seven months not proof enough? But it didn’t mater. That was the final blow. She didn’t love me. She couldn’t. If she loved me, if she cared about me, if she knew me at all she would have known how much I love women. Everything about them. How much I want to take care of all of them, make them all feel loved, special, make them feel as good as a woman can. Make them feel important, powerful, strong, beautiful, all of the things Cameron made me feel. Instead she asked me the most hurtful and accusing question anyone could ever ask me. She hurt me just like all the others before her. It was over. Her words were like fire that engulfed whatever shreds of our relationship remained. The deep, romantic love I had felt for her, the trust I gave her, was nothing but a pile of ash inside my now hollow chest. The grey dust filled my lungs. I choked on my own emotions. Never again would she see me vulnerable.

I’ve been fighting my need to grieve the end of our relationship. It seems wrong. I was the one who ended it. I shouldn’t get to grieve, but this book broke down my walls and a flood of emotions has been pouring out ever since. I’ve also been mourning because I feel even more invisible than before without her. When I was with her the world may have looked at me with disgust, but at least they looked at me. At least they couldn’t pretend I was straight.

But at times even the butch on my arm couldn’t keep them from thinking it was a phase, or that I was only with a woman, one who looked and acted like a man, because I had been hurt by a “real” one. Because I had been raped or had daddy issues. Their fake smiles belied their vituperative stares. Their hateful thoughts were so loud they stung my ears.

Their disgust is always easier to bear than their pity.

Incomple…

Though it has been merely minutes, something like 10, 583, but who is counting, I’ve been to the moon and back. Going to the moon sounds like fun I’m sure, but so much happened and I didn’t have you. I was navigating the galaxy Hans style.

Sometimes the solitude of space got to me. Believe me, I’d have hung myself had there only been gravity!

I also had a terrible fit of malaria. Don’t worry, I’ve made a full recovery of course, but I did spend a few nights writhing on the floor.

I was nearly turned into a cane toad by a black magic wielding woman in the Outback.

Hah, I’ve missed you, my dear!

You aren’t aware? The world has been unhinged!

And I’ve wanted to hold you oh so near.

Sure, there have been others. But, oh, how I’ve cringed!

It’s a strange thing, feeling you’re the only one who’s sane.

Oh, but please don’t think me vain!

You see, for a time I was quite torn,

And just when I had resigned,

Feeling rather forlorn,

Again by Loneliness I was confined.

Its long, spiny fingers stretching toward the back of my neck from the corner of the room.

But that is the way of it.

Longing always threatening to drown you…

The memories…

And look what we have here,

It seems Loneliness has brought some close friends.

Ah, but well acquainted we all are.

Terror, Dread, We meet again.

And Panic has already got a vice grip on my heart.

The quartet strikes again,

Pulling me into the dark, into the void.

I’ve been trying to anchor myself down, you know, to make things more difficult for them.

I’m not sure how much longer I can hold out.

Can we wrap this up soon, Fellas?

How much longer will this be?

 

 

 

Vade Mecum

Nervous though she was at the vista of having her heart rent from her breast, she valorously received the invitation to polonaise.  Vim and lasciviousness pervaded her deepest reverie, and upon that inceptive kiss every vexation became but a mere vestige.  Vituperative utterances slide vainly from the vile tongues of observers, for the two lovers perceived none.

And so vertiginously they valse together throughout time. Arms commingled as a nostrum to the vuln they’ve endured by the cleavers of duplicitous inamorata.

Terteguk (Indonesian version of Slur)

Hari ini aku hancur tanpa belaskasihan.

Hari ini aku angkat gelas ini

Dan minum cairan murni yang penuhimu, demijohn sang penghibur.

 

Bersama, kau dan aku ungkapkan yang terselubung

Dalam kesuraman ini supaya besok

Kita masing-masing mampu meneruskan perjalanan kita.

 

Diri kosongmu yang dulu, tunggu

Akan dikumpulan dan dijual oleh seorang wanita yang

bertahan hidup di kolong jembatan itu.

 

Kulitku ku gosok,

Rambutku ku sisir, dan

Kainku ku atur rapi disana-sini tunjuk bentukku.

 

Kita masing-masing mainkan peran kita

Tanpa keraguan, tanpa bantahan , sama sekali tanpa semangat.

Kau sabar saja dalam plastik hitam itu, dibawa kesana-sini.

 

Sementara saya tuliskan dengan jiwa raga.

Dalam kita masing-masing ada kedambaan.

Dan setelah semua, Besok, saatnya kan tiba.

 

Bisakah kau ampuni aku atas kedekatan ini?

Slur

Today I am relentless desolation.

Today I will take up this glass and drink the pristine

liquid that fills you, all consoling demijohn.

 

Together you and I will eviscerate

this bleakness so that tomorrow

we can both continue on our paths.

 

Your former self empty, waiting

to be collected and sold by the woman that

lives under the bridge.

 

My skin to be scoured,

my hair to be combed, and my

clothes to be arranged neatly about my person.

 

Both of us indubitably playing our roles.

You riding along patiently in the black plastik.

 

Me, writing fervently into the night

Within each of us there remains a yearning.

And tomorrow,  after everything, something curious this way comes.

 

Can you forgive me for making you like me?

This image is the property of Michael Irvine. Obtained through Flickr.

The Wraith of the Corner Booth

“You’re pathetic,” Spat a figure in the glass.

 

“You’re as sad and as sorry as that luke-warm gravy you mindlessly sop up with those lumpy, doughy biscuits.”

 

At first she is taken aback.

 

“Who said that?” She thinks as she glances around the diner—stark fluorescent lighting, blinking, flashing, buzzing. Sticky vinyl seats, some with gashes, foam bursting at the seams, a metaphor for the disappointment and self-loathing of anyone who has every stepped foot on the black and white checkered tile. Chaos on the walls and the mouthwatering aroma of sizzling pig flesh fills the air—But it’s 3:23 am and she’s the only one there.

 

“What kind of dinner is this anyway? Not a single green thing on that plate. Why’d you come here?”

 

And then, out of the corner of her eye she notices it’s the figure in the window speaking to her.

 

“They’re probably this bad because Tammy isn’t here. Mmm, how you miss Tammy. Seeing her walk by in those button-fly jeans, with that Wham! shirt on and those white Reeboks, yellowing now from age and grease. Her wrinkles, especially those tight little ones around her mouth, from all those years of smoking, take your mind to dirty places, make you think she’s good at wrapping her lips around things. And taking her full breasts in your mouth…  Who cares if she spends too much time tanning and has had 4 kids? When she was younger she was so wild. You can only imagine the things she did. Those breasts have secrets and you want to know them.”

 

“Wait. Wha…? How do you…? I mean, no…. I…” she thinks, but is soon interrupted again.

 

“But lately you haven’t been able to pull yourself outta the house for the daytime crew. Instead you’ve been catching the little gay boys on the swing shift, or the recent runaways on the graveyard. Every once in a while you hope that Connie or Daniel, or Tausha will call in sick and it will be Tammy that has to cover the night shift. But such wishful thinking is useless. Tammy has been here for ages. She’s paid her dues. Unless you can pull your sorry ass out into the light of day, you’ll be sitting here, alone, washing away the taste of raw flour with day-old coffee. If only it were the 70s, or Indonesia, and you could top it off with a drag off a delicious clove.”

 

A faint whisper escapes her from her lips,

 

Cloves..”.

For a moment she is lost in thought. She closes her eyes and she can almost feel the cigarette gently resting between her fingers. She imagines taking a long drag, breathing deep the thick smoke, feeling it sting the back of her throat as it fills her lungs, rolling it around over her tongue and then exhaling, slowly, a steady stream of fragrant smoke passes through her lips. Head spinning, heart racing, the initial rush of euphoria—a truly sultry experience if there ever was one. The associations begin and she is reminded back to the roof of an old kos on a balmy April night in the tropics, surrounded by bottles of Bintang and Orang Tua, nothing left but dregs, and a melody of some pop song blithely plucked from the nylon strings of a cheap guitar. Despite heavy intoxication, or perhaps because of it, a dangerous mix of warm beer and sweet wine, tobacco, the delicate touches of a lover… the memory of that roof, of that night has become a sanctum in her mind.

 

After a moment relishing in the past she begins to get the feeling she is not alone. Expecting to see a waitress at her table she reluctantly flicks open her eyes and is instead surprised to see the figure from the window sitting across from her. Her mouth hangs slightly open and before she can muster some sort of inquiry her new dinning partner interjects,

 

“The diner used to be an escape. You’d come and stare shamelessly at Tammy. She’d smile and listen to all your problems while she tried to cheer you up. Saying things you know aren’t true, like:

 ‘Have you lost weight?’

“Been hitting the gym, Sexy?’ 

Wow, you’re really talented!’

 ‘Take me!’ ‘Here!’ ‘Now!’ ‘On top of this grimy, old linoleum counter top with all these sorry bastards watching!’

 

She grins and there’s a cheeky glint in her eye.

 

“Ok, so you made that last one up. Mmm, but had she ever said that…”

 

“You mean you made it up.”

 

Well, let’s not split hairs here.”  

 

The two watch as Krystal walks over and without a word to either grabs a mug from the table, flips it and fills it with a torrent of hot brown water.

 

“She isn’t someone you can talk to, though she’d be pretty if she’d take off some of that black make-up caked on her eyes.”

 

“Huh” she raises an eyebrow and nods in agreement.

 

“Krystal, is that her name? She looks like she’s got worse problems than you.”

 

“You think so?” As she looks over at the group of waiters huddled around the coffee machines.

 

“All these girls in here, boys too, they aren’t here because they’re working their way through school, or because they’re trying to make it as an actor, a model, network talk show host. This isn’t a stepping-stone. This is as close as they’ll ever get to home, and it’s a dead end. They’re here because they’ve been beaten, abused, raped, unloved. You can see it in their eyes. Hear it in their sad, desperate voices. They don’t joke and laugh. They don’t even have a car to sleep in.”

 

“Is that right? How do you know?”

 

“Don’t pretend like you don’t know. You’ve been coming here long enough by now. You know as well as I do. There are signs.”

 

“First, notice how thin they are. Look how their uniforms hang sloppily from their shapeless bodies. The trousers are too long and the cuffs are frayed. The skirts too are well worn. The stains—ketchup, syrup, grease—suggest they haven’t been washed in ages.”

 

“I wonder if they have to pay for all the grease they take home in their hair every night. The diner would probably save money if they found a way to harvest it.”

 

“Now there’s an idea. How many of them do you think are pulling tricks on the side?”

 

She looks into the eyes of this figure sitting across from her, now leaning over, elbows resting on the table, hands grasped as if in anticipation.

 

“There’s an easy way to find out.”

 

A smirk begins to spread across the face of the figure, however uninvited it may be, and the two of them direct their gaze back to the waiters.

 

Suddenly, an uneasy revelation comes to her mind. Sensing the vulnerability, the figure can’t help but exploit the situation.

 

“You’re a slob, and no one will have you. And why should they be forced to such an indecency. You don’t even love yourself. Most of the time you can’t even stand to be around yourself. You want to crawl outta your own skin, and a couple of times you’ve tried. Just can’t get it right though. That’s why you don’t go out in the day anymore. Can’t stand for people to see you, you know, with your ‘self-inflicted scars’.”

 

A murmur escapes her lips,

 

“Self-inflicted…”

“Maybe. I wouldn’t call them ‘scars’ though.”

 

“This again? With the minute details? I never took you for a squabbler. What else are you hiding from me?”

 

 

“Well, whatever you want to call it, it isn’t like you just imagined it, right?”

 

Her face is void of emotion, but the emerging glisten in her eye gives it all away and the figure realizes a nerve has been struck.

 

“What do they know? They don’t really understand what “self” means or they would realize how stupid it was to say that you meant to hurt your “self.” Had you been YOUR SELF, there wouldn’t have been any problem!”

 

She shifts around uncomfortably in her seat.

 

“And so really this is the only place you can go, right? The only place you can go and not feel judged is to this greasy spoon, full of broken hearts. Where you’re just one, one wave in a sea of unloved, sorry, broken people on their last leg. The one place you can go and leave that leech back at your dirty, dingy apartment. He can’t stand the fluorescent lighting, and he definitely can’t tolerate gluten. Oh, and best to mind the sugar and dairy too.”

 

“Oh, waitress, Blackberry cobbler, please,” defiantly she calls from her usual booth by the front window.

 

“Ice-cream?” Krystal grumbles from behind the counter.

 

“Don’t do it! He won’t be happy with you!”

 

“Yes, please. And, uh… Make it two scoops.  Will, ya?”

 

“That’ll be $2.00 extra,” Krystal yells.

 

Within minutes warm, sweet berries, flaky crust and cold vanilla ice cream fill her mouth.

 

“Divine…”

 

“Better enjoy it now. He’ll be so angry with you when you get home. You’ll never be able to hide that purple tongue. Go ahead. Try it. Spill your guts. Maybe it’ll help.”

 

She walks up to the counter. “Can I get the key?”

 

Krystal reaches across the counter and puts the key in her hand. Krystal grabs her hand for a moment though as she does, leans across the counter and says with a raw and piercing look in her eyes,

 

“Me too, Doll.” “Me too.”