Spring assumes its shaky descent into summer. I spend $80 on salads over the course of a week. I don’t finish any of them. I hold back tears during three Uber rides, fall apart on the fourth. I thank God that my driver is hearing impaired. I repeat the word “trauma” so many times in my head that it actually begins to take shape, take form— a thousand broken condoms knotted together in a sloppy swirl.
I WAS A FUNNY CHILD, A LITTLE PRINCE.
EVEN AT THIS AGE,
I’M STILL STAINED WITH HANDPRINTS.
I visit a psychic. She tells me I’m passive, says I’m in love with the cyclical nature of things. I agree to a Tinder date, demand that he pay for drinks. We meet at a bar, and I pretend I don’t smoke— feign purity. I forget the ruse thirty minutes in and light up. He tells me smoking kills, so I put the cigarette out in his beer and thank him for saving my life. He calls me a bitch, but takes me back to his place anyway.
My new agent says she “has a good feeling” when I hand her my freshly signed contract. I starve myself for a week and a half, try remembering deleted dealers’ numbers by heart, decide I’m full of bad ideas. I book a music video, an editorial, and a jewelry campaign over the course of a few days. Crewmembers call me beautiful, but I guess they sort of have to.
I call my mom sparingly. I check in with myself even less. Hipsters on Sunset repeat words like “ghetto” and “drought” a lot. I use dating apps as meal plans, schedule a different dinner every night of the week. I throw back cocktails without caution at a pool party in the valley. A transplant from Idaho tells me that moving to LA has caused him believe in vampires. I attempt at a nod, my head on a swivel, struggling to light a stolen cigarette and mumbling…
“I get that…”
x x x
“I tried to reach out,” my therapist offers when I tell her how self-destructive I’d gotten in Japan. “You didn’t respond to any of my emails.”
She’s drinking chamomile tea and sitting cross-legged on the tearstained carpeting of her office (presumably because she wants me to feel like we’re on the same level, or something) and the entire scene is becoming so ostentatious it’s getting kind of hard to focus. I grab a mint from a bowl on her desk and bite down on its sharp sugar coating.
“I was very busy.”
She uncrosses her legs, sets her empty tea cup down on the couch cushions behind her, and asks me what I want.
“I don’t know.” I sort of sigh. “Jesus! What am I paying you for?”
“You don’t pay me. Your mother does.”
“Yes, but SOMEBODY is paying you.”
x x x
May bleeds into June. There are more pool parties, more rich old men with too-white teeth. Teenage boys with Speedos and drug problems slip away to suck dick in Lamborghinis for free. I ignore innocuous ass grabs and audacious invitations. A lone lesbian tells me I am “lovely, but sad.” Palm trees exhale over the smoggy skyline at night. They remind me of relief or boredom.
SEX IS A WEAPON IF YOU KNOW HOW TO USE IT.
I’M THE M.V.P.
BUT I’M FUCKING USELESS.
I start going out with a photographer I know vaguely, begin begging him for his attention and time. Our courtship extends only as far as the nearest bar, but his company sedates a certain lonely part of my me. We get drunk constantly. We get matching tattoos. When he gets busy with work or goes out with his friends, I resort to sending shameless selfies and longwinded love poems. I’m consistently surprised when he decides to text me back.
My friends beg me to be careful when I mention that I might be falling for the photographer. I ignore their calls while he and I ditch the city on a whim. We hide out in a cabin in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by wild horses and even wilder skies. He counts my freckles in the bathtub. We share swigs from a bottle of bottom shelf wine. I remind myself that other things fall all the time— raindrops, and airplanes, and tears.
And when he kisses me, he does it with his eyes closed. The beat of my heart suddenly becomes so incredibly intense, it almost feels infinite. It’s unendurable, I think, remembering a line by Franz Wright. And hope, I recite. I dig through the rubble of my most recent breakdown and reinvent myself with what’s been left on the ground. I create a costume of a boy worth loving and I wear it convincingly.
The photographer calls me beautiful without being paid to.
x x x
“This has nothing to do with me.” The photographer self-defends after another noxious night out. “You’re incapable of accepting love.”
We’re in bed— drunk and undressed. Tangled in his heavy-handed grasp, my back scratching at his chiseled chest, I’m a blank strip of paper in a fortune cookie. I want to tell him how much I love him, but something about the confession feels like a cheap threat. We’ve only been dating for a few months or so. We’re still learning things about each other.
I’m capable! my brain complains.
“I’m trying my best…”
He’s obsessed with the ocean, fascinated by the color blue. His favorite book is The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. I like these things about him. Every so often, he gets brave after another blackout night of bar hopping and asks me if I was molested, as though repeating the question might somehow shift the semantics of my childhood.
“You have no problem giving it,” he twists the blade, “but you’re afraid of reciprocation. You are—”
It’s getting late, and we’re getting dangerously close to talking about my dad, so I tune the photographer out. I focus instead on the dreary drum of his heartbeat against my left shoulder blade. The rest of the conversation doesn’t matter much anyway.
At the end of the book, the tree becomes a stump.
x x x
Summer initiates a trust fall that Autumn’s not prepared to catch. It lands with a thud. I’ve made a nest for myself in the photographer’s minimalist downtown loft. I’m cooking his meals now, doing his laundry. I wake him up every morning with a blowjob before breakfast. His friends refer to me as his housewife half-jokingly. The stability feels foreign. Domesticity feels like another coping mechanism.
THE WHITE FENCE IS PRETTY, BUT OBSOLETE.
I SOUGHT THIS ONE OUT
IN AN EFFORT TO GET BACK ON MY FEET.
The photographer teaches me how to fuck with my eyes open, how to be “present.” I soften myself— bathe in milk, bite my tongue. He tells me there are five languages of love, so I give my absolute all to become proficient in each of them. I convince myself that I am deserving of happiness, that the ending of his favorite book says little to nothing about our future together.
Gravity is probably worth discussing when one is falling in love (physics are involved… weight is a factor), but I failed every science class I ever took, and my doctors have kept weighing scales strictly off limits for the past several years, so I’m shaky on the details of this descent. I don’t know how soon I’ll hit the ground, nor am I sure if anyone will be around to scrape me up when I get there. And it’s unendurable.
The only language I can seem to speak is devotion. I give up on writing and productivity of the sort. My vulnerability grows vicious. I snort six lines of cocaine off a framed portrait of the photographer kissing me passionately, black out at a party in his building. When I come to, I’m bleeding. He tells me I fell down the stairs. He tucks me into bed. That night, I dream of falling trees.
Nobody is around to hear them.
x x x
“This has nothing to do with him.” My best friend declares during a much-needed night in. “Are you happy with yourself?”
We’re alone— tipsy and talking shit through. Traversing the trailheads of her unmade bed, following the lead of her two fat cats, I’m a burnt out Alice in a blurry little wonderland. I want to tell her how scared I am, but something about the admission feels a bit out of place. We’ve only been drinking for a few hours or so. We’re not quite there yet.
Just tell her! my mind whines.
“I’m the happiest I’ve ever been…”
She speaks in my best interest, focuses on my desire to dissociate. She refuses to let me run too far from myself. I like that about her. Every once in a while, she checks in during another sprint toward rock bottom and asks me what I’m doing, as though repeating the question might somehow change the outcome of the race.
“I just worry about you.” She digs deeper. “I don’t want to see you get hurt. You know how you get—”
It’s still early, and we’re still stressfully stuck in the realm of self-help, so I tune my best friend out. I focus instead on the heartless hum of rush hour traffic outside her bedroom window. The rest of the conversation doesn’t matter much anyway.
At the end of the fairytale, Alice finally wakes up.
x x x
Autumn picks up pieces of summer, tries to make use of them. Things are going smoothly with the photographer, so I go through his phone while he’s not around. (Insert breakup here). I download Tinder, Bumble, Grindr, and Recon in an inverted retaliation, convincing myself that a new mistake might somehow even the score— that feelings of sadness can be subdued by physical pain.
TRIED ROMANCE AND I WATCHED THE BALL DROP.
NOW, I’M A PLAYTHING
FOR THE CITY’S MOST SAVAGE TOPS.
I call my therapist. She tells me I’m addicted to control, says all the sex and the drugs and the issues with food are merely symptomatic. A lot makes sense, but nothing changes. I reduce my diet to baby food and steamed vegetables. I fuck five strangers over the course of four days, asking each of them for their opinion on the visibility of my ribcage. The consensus is that it’s “worrisome,” but I keep on purging anyway.
My agent issues a warning via email after a multitude of missed castings. I reply with an apology that nobody on the board believes. I regain composure reluctantly, return to work with a Mona Lisa smile. I haunt craft service tables and photo studio bathrooms like a phony little phantom. Crewmembers ignore my antics, but I guess that’s sort of their only option.
The photographer texts often. I respond less and less. Stylists gripe about my inability to fill out the clothing they’ve pulled. I use hookup apps to heal, book a regressive rendezvous every day of the week. I choke back tears without pretense in a penthouse on the west side. A dom with a Doberman tells me that every twink he’s ever met is at least a little depressed. I strive for a nod, my neck in his hands, grappling to take the rest of him down and gagging…
x x x
“He’s not worth it,” My best friend spits when I tell her that I’m still madly in love with the photographer. “You deserve better.”
She’s drinking her least favorite beer and lounging on her messy mattress in her last pair of clean underwear (because we both hate doing laundry, and washing dishes, and stuff like that) and the entire monologue is getting so tough love it’s starting to feel like a personal attack. I sneak a cigarette from a crumpled pack in her sheets and light it without asking.
“You don’t even know him.”
She snags a cig from the same pack, sets the beer bottle down on her cluttered nightstand, and asks me where I’ve gone.
“I have no idea.” I kind of cry. “Fuck! What does it even matter?”
“You’re hurting yourself again. This is a cycle.”
“Yeah, but SOMEBODY can break it.”
x x x
Winter fucks the city with frigid temperatures in the high 60s. I drop stacks of cash on a bunch of face masks I’ll never get around to using. I play it cool when I’m in public, lose my shit when I’m alone. I thank God for boxed wine and bentonite clay. I repeat the photographer’s name so many times in my head that it eventually loses its meaning, its weight— just a scramble of lackluster letters that spell out yet another void to fill.
I AM AN EMPTY BOY, A LONELY PRINCE.
I KNOW HOW TO GET BY
IN THE PRESENCE OF ABSENCE.
I revisit the psychic. She tells me I’m frightened of future, says I revel in reliving my past. I meet a family man on Grindr, demand that he fuck me in his youngest son’s bed. He can’t get it up, blames stress. I hold on to the wet dream of his household in ruin. He suggests moving to his bedroom, so I slip back into my jeans and thank him for his time. He calls me disgusting, but he hits me up again anyway.
My doctor calls, says my results came back negative, and I let out a sigh of relief or boredom. I jack off to a video of photographer fucking me from behind, come on my sheets, and then I cry. He texts to remind me that he wants to stay friends. I block him on Instagram to tie up loose ends. I forgo hindsight for blindness, make peace with pretend.
Scrolling through my Camera Roll, I feel like I’m falling. I pause on the portrait of the photographer and I kissing, open and shut the glass door to my heart a few times. A bell goes off, but no one appears. Staring at the photo for a moment, I almost believe we could try again. My eyes were closed, and I was so fucking close. It’s unendurable, so I delete it instead. I toss my phone across the bed. My sheets are creased with crusty crop circles.