When you get born they hand you a costume and sometimes you learn how to wear it, and other times you never quite learn how to make it fit. I was lucky though—when I was young, at least, I could pass for a Believer. A Believer in Christ, in Men and Women, in Families, in Church, in Work, in all the things that are clung to like life rafts in this roiling ocean we call America. I wore dresses often enough. I didn’t speak too much. I kept my thoughts to myself. I watched the men as they adjusted their balls in their dress pants and then sat quietly when they got on stage behind the pulpit and told me the word of God. I saw my mother pause in the car before Wednesday night supper to put on her good face for the congregation and I learned how to do it too, how to conjure up the appearance of placidity and strength when your heart is broken and you feel alone. I saw the boys I knew as a child forget me and retreat into themselves with distant stares of what they hoped to become and who they hoped to convince of their uniqueness. The girls, we began to build entire worlds in secret, among the silent hours of our bedtime dreaming and in the daily dressing of our bodies to get the right reaction from our parents, our peers, our crushes, our friends. Our costuming became a kind of armor to keep ourselves to ourselves. A flashy distraction away from the girl-women who were retreating into private reverie behind heroic attempts at beauty and grace.
Pretty girls wish to be ugly as often as ugly girls wish to be pretty—and neither is wrong to want it so; the trap of these bodies creates an invisibility of our true worth, obfuscated behind the social pressure to charm and seduce.
And as seduction and sex are the weapons of the powerless, I, being stifled and unheard, used these to strike against the boys and men who refused to know me, or confused my confessions and disclosures for intimacy. How rare, that last term—requiring vulnerability and asking the girl-woman to let the child, the old witch, the wolf to risk injury from an unconscious and shallowly brutish Other whose naivety assumes the feminine costuming of softness and shine is the extent of her complexity. How many times have I risen from a lover’s bed and stood in the kitchen by the sink, or outside on the concrete, and looked at my hands that have touched his body, my hands that are a part of this body, and wondered at their future knobbiness, hoped for the grotesqueness of old age, and asked myself: what then? Will I be loved? The answer would return to me, I do not know, but I have taught myself not to aspire to belonging.
We let the wealthy and famous be eccentric, as though the rest of us do not also have skin that burns and thoughts that swell in unexplained intensity as we walk down the street among strangers and friends. If you make enough money you are allowed to be yourself. If you have enough power you are allowed to be yourself. And the converse as well—if you drop out, if your madness takes you away from kith and clean, then you are yourself, solitary and alone against the mass of humanity who shies away, repulsed, in the subway car, everyone hating you for your stench, everyone forgetting you were someone’s child once and are someone still. The rest of us—between the elites we never see, who sleep in other countries while their 39+ floor condos rest empty above our heads, and the grotesque forgotten people picking through our garbage for what might be salvaged from the refuse—the rest of us, we must learn how to negotiate what our employers demand, our families, our gods, while still finding, somehow, that authentic voice within.
I try / have tried to make that voice compatible with outside demands, but every time, I just make myself more of a pretender. Maybe if, years ago, I had given myself permission not to try to impress. Maybe if I had not worried, in small measure, about doing what I thought the adults in my life hoped for me to do. Maybe if I had learned to listen to my voice sooner—maybe then I might have made fewer right then left then right turns along the way.
But I wanted to collect experiences the way comic book fans collect action figures—varied, with different makes and models, and drawers of other faces, other clothes. In my way, I collected places, people, things, as though a life could be decorated, could be manufactured and added to at all. And I continue, even if, in the present, I am a tendril-spindling plant perched on the windowsill. I reach for what, through the glass, I cannot touch. I grow at an angle and seek the sun. But I know no amount of spinning will make me free. I am a plant who needs a hammer. A life that needs a weapon. It won’t be long now. Just you wait and see.
Laura Jean Moore’s poetry, essays, and stories have been featured in VICE, [PANK], the EEEL, FLUX WEEKLY, ENTROPY, the Brooklyn Rail, Corium, the Cobalt Review, and Change Seven, where she is a monthly columnist. She holds an MFA from Columbia University and a BA from Reed College. http://laurajeanmoore.com/
READ ALL COLUMNS BY LAURA JEAN MOORE:
- The Streets Are Full of Blood
- On Vice(s)
- What Gets Missed
- Low Country
- A Dark Graceful Wilderness
- Before and After
- On Greatness
- Whiteness, A Study
- New York
- American Dreams
- Body Talk
- Habits, Simple and Austere
- On Love