1. I use my parents’ health insurance to lie to therapists. I was thirteen when I first walked
into Natalie’s office and sat on the pale green couch with my hands between my thighs. I
never meant to lie to her, I just didn’t want to make her uncomfortable, to appear ill-fated
to a woman who has to stare at people all day long and figure out the root of it all. I
imagined her at brunch with her ex-husband, pushing the edge of her fork down to cut a
pancake and saying, you know, I have this patient, and I can’t reveal much, but let me just
say, she is a delight. He would ask why, and she would say, Well, her parents put her in
therapy, pause to bring a forkful of pancake to her mouth, but I think she’s a great girl.
2. When I was seven years old, I was terribly afraid of death, as most children and adults
and dying people are. I couldn’t close my eyes to go to bed because all I could imagine
was dying in my sleep, like Uncle Phil did, and everyone was so happy it was in his sleep
and I couldn’t understand why. My dad held me and I cried and cried and asked what
happens when we die, and I couldn’t believe that neither of my parents knew, why the
fuck didn’t they know the answer to the only thing that matters. He told me maybe he has
it wrong but from what he can understand, nothing happens, and it was just lights out.
Lights out, the exact words he used, and I could imagine turning off my bedroom light,
how it only took a second and nothing in my room changed except the color wasn’t warm
and yellow anymore, just grey. “Lights out?” I made sure. “Yes, honey, just lights out.”
3. It is summer of our freshmen year of college when Rudy tells me this is the age for
friendships, the best time to pour ourselves into platonic love. So we did just that, pouring
every little bit of ourselves into something that could have been platonic if pheromones
and poetry and having nobody else wasn’t a part of it. If it didn’t boil down to spending too much time together over the hottest, stickiest, wettest months of the year, I would tell
him he was right.
4. Men aren’t friends with women unless they would fuck them.
5. It is my roommate’s 21st birthday at some point that summer when we all get home from
the club and sit on the kitchen floor. There were people I had never met sitting
knee-to-knee with me as I made out with her--the birthday girl. She kisses me like she’s
gay. I kiss her like my eyes are open. Rudy doesn’t kiss me at all because I wouldn’t let
him make such a fatal error but he watches, intently. I make him coffee after class and we
sit on the couch and look at each other like, what next? but there is never a next for us, so
he moves his hand from my leg and it is, of course, for the best.
6. Five years after my first session with Natalie, I am eighteen, finished with my second
semester at a state university where it is sacrilegious to not enjoy football, and home for
winter break. I’m barely at 100 pounds and have crescent moons stamped underneath my
eyes with no good grades to show for it. I have lost all sense of what I thought was my
identity--a cumilation of the identities of my friends that I’d been abducted from to
instead fail at connecting with my peers, who appeared to be on an acid trip that I was not
invited on, which made me wonder if I will ever be able to connect with people that
didn’t know everything about me when I was fifteen. I cannot stop thinking-- “We are
what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.” I tell Natalie
breathlessly that I am so grateful for my opportunity and swallow the lump in my throat
when she asks how it feels to finally be on my own. “Best four years of your life,” she
7. And then I am nineteen in Olivia’s bed staring at the said state university flag hung to the
right of me. Olivia is kind and naive, and so smart. She just told me I’m poisonous and
I’m trying to not take it personally.
8. My father told me he always thought I’d make an impressive lawyer (something I have
been told enough times to recognize is less about being detail-oriented and studious, but
rather talkative and manipulative) and also, perhaps I should consider marketing. Your
cousin Amy works in marketing, makes great money, and I wonder, but does Amy write
poetry at nighttime?
9. I was letting the mountains move me that summer and in my state of half consciousness
you were there to stare at. Whatever you saw in me was an optical illusion I’m afraid to
tell you. Mitski sings, But I know through mine, you were looking in yours.
10. When I learned what jail was, I asked every adult if they had been to jail and I wouldn’t
give it up until they gave me a real answer. Mommy. Mommy. Mommy. Have you ever
been to jail Mommy. Tell me. Tell me if you ever went to jail. She finally told me yes one
day. I froze in my car seat. I couldn’t look at her. Mommy was a criminal, a scary, bad,
bad, bad, criminal. She had two hands on the steering wheel and said, “A lot of people go
to jail. It isn’t that bad.”
11. Richard Siken said sometimes you get so close to someone you end up on the other side
of them. He said we wish so badly to be understood and then we are and it is awful. I’m
not saying you knew me, but if you did you wouldn’t say you still talk about me like you
met me yesterday. I hate that I know exactly what you mean.
12. I would have so many lines of poetry tattooed on me if I weren’t afraid of being corny.
From Ella Pelvin: “Sometimes your heart just splits open in a Dutch supermarket and you’re crying with gratitude for every breath you’ll ever take.” Another from Angie Sijun
Lou: “I ask Jessica what drowning feels like and she says not everything feels like
something else.” Sylvia Plath: “And I eat men like air.”
13. Rudy moved back to Miami a week ago. He tried to say goodbye before he left, but I
overslept. And I eat men like air?
14. I told my mother I wanted to move to Ireland and she told me you can go anywhere in the world and you’ll still be there. She tells me these Alcoholics Anonymous sayings and
sometimes I’ll repeat them to myself under my breath.
15. One time I called my mom a paranoid schizophrenic because she accused me of being
high on Xanax.
16. I was high on Xanax.
17. The bouncer at the Manor, a gay club in Fort Lauderdale, was the same every Saturday: a
muscular guy with shoulder-length blonde hair, he could’ve been a Hemsworth brother. I
forgot his name, but he knew me by multiple different ones: Isabella, Emilee, and
eventually Maddie. The first time I met him I asked him if was gay. He said no with a
thick French accent. I touched his chest. When they renovated the old building, cops
stood behind the bouncer for security and to catch underage gay boys from getting a
wristband. I presented him with an I.D of someone five inches taller than me. He looked
behind his shoulder and said, “I can’t let you in.” I kissed his cheek firmly and asked if he
loved me. He let me in and said, in a way that felt so passionate and real, “I’ll see you
inside.” And I eat men like air.
18. I was seventeen when I met Larry at the Manor. He was the only person in the entire club
drinking a beer, which made me think I had a shot. “Why aren’t you dancing?” I walked up to him leaning on the railing of the upstairs portion. I was screaming over Forever
Young. “I’m just watching my brother and his husband,” he pointed to them in a crowd
full of people below us and I pretended to see. Larry was at least fifty, silver hair, blue
eyes, wearing a checkered Polo tucked into jeans. He seemed uninterested, married, even.
We moved to the outside deck where my friend was doing a line of something, I asked
what, she said not sure. I sat on Larry’s lap and listened to him talk about living in
Sacramento and being here for the week. When he finally asked how old I was, I said
don’t be weirded out, but I’m only nineteen. “You’re so mature for your age,” he said,
pulling at my skirt with his hands that looked so much like my father’s.
19. I’ve been trying to lay low--a practice me and my body are not yet used to. I make my
bed. Scurry around like a worried ant completing my tasks. Crawl into bed. Sleep.
Dream. Sweat. Make my bed.
20. I wake up every day with the glory of knowing I can start over, change my name to
Isabella, believe in God, become a minimalist, buy a gun, marry a man, develop a
ketamine habit, something, anything.
Madeline Paskow is a creative writing student at Florida State University. She is also an editorial assistant at the Kudzu Review and a devoted mother to her cat Clementine.