telling her twice, and why it’s never funny

Go back and visit that moment where you learned a hard lesson.
Yeah, that one.
The one even your subconscious shies away from.
The lessons that stick with you are the ones you learned the hard way.

Count on the fact that I’m utterly insane and won’t go away or something.

I’ll say this for myself:
I learned ‘em hard.
He taught me lot.

You make me violent towards women.

For a long time, I wished I could delete him, Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind-style.
Just gone, rubbed away in a cloud of old-school chalkboard dust.
I thought about how much easier it would make my life.

What, did you think I was gone?

People don’t understand
why I obsessively lock my front door,
why I lay awake most nights in April,
why it makes me jump a mile to hear a switchblade open,
why I check the backseat before I get into my car.

Did you get the gift I left in your car? I think it’s a fair trade.

For awhile I wondered if I was just making him into the villain of my story, casting him in a role he didn’t deserve. Maybe I was being melodramatic, making things out to be worse then they were, maybe things were never That Bad.

Sorry about all the noise and blood.

Injuries heal. Bruises disappear, bones mend, scars fade.
Anything physical can be fixed as long as you don’t die of it.
But there were moments I wished I would,
(and I’ve got a pretty high tolerance for pain so I’m thinking it was actually That Bad).

I’ve got far too much time on my hands now, and I’m not entirely sane.

What doesn’t fade is my anxiety
when someone comes up behind me on the stairs,
when someone opens the door without warning,
when someone makes a joke about abuse.

I don’t know if you’re avoiding me because you want to or because the police ordered you to.

You know the jokes,
we all do, the ones we all let slide way more than we should.
Because we’re “overly sensitive” if it hurts us.
“What do you tell a woman with two black eyes?” “Nothing, you’ve already told her twice!”

I found that my right hand will most likely be in too many pieces forever now.

Those jokes are like getting slapped.
They’re not like getting punched, oh no,
I promise, that hurts more
And my friends say them, and strangers say them, and people I love say them.

I’m pissed and I can keep going forever, and very likely will.

And they “don’t mean anything by it” and it’s “just a joke”
but none of them have a fucking clue what it means
to look in the mirror and see rock bottom
and learn a lesson because you’ve seen your own blood too many times.

They dropped all the bullshit about me being dangerous or whatever so I’m not going to stay away from you for long.

Go back and visit that moment where you learned a hard lesson.
Feel what you felt then.
The impact. The weight. The emotion.
I dare you to make a joke about yours.

I’ll probably give it a week before I start hunting.

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Carrie & Coki: Diaries Of Unrequited Whatever

Let me be clear: this is not a book review. I’ve never written a book review and I don’t intend to start now. This is simply a commentary on a book and the impact it had, very personally, on me. That said, there are “spoilers” I guess,  so don’t read this if you plan to read Carrie Fisher’s The Princess Diarist.

***

I read this book for a lot of reasons, not the least of which were my love of Carrie Fisher and my sentimentality over her death. I kept seeing reviews for this, her final book, in which she chronicles (among other things) her Star-Wars-era affair with Harrison Ford. Reviews for this book almost universally take on a fan-girl quality; fans and critics uniting in mutual enthusiasm: Han and Leia were together in real life! They describe the book as “intimate and hilarious,” “an amusing jaunt down memory lane,” “witty and authentic,” “funny and touching,” “packed with one-liners,” ……you get the idea. They see it as rollicking celebrity gossip, or “wish fulfilment for Star Wars fanatics,” which leaves me wondering if any of them actually read the book.

I found it irrevocably and unshakably heartbreaking.

The Princess Diarist is not what I expected. I still can’t decide if it’s even what I wanted. Don’t get me wrong here: Carrie Fisher did an excellent job with it. I loved the book. I’ve reread it three times now, color-coding it with post-its flags of my emotions, and I haven’t even owned it for very long. It’s full of emotion and heart and vulnerability, and it is, at various points, amusing and self-deprecating. But I’d never call it hilarious, or lighthearted.

As someone who also, at 19, had an affair with an older and unavailable man, someone who also kept a journal during the experience (and never again afterwards), I knew before I opened the book that I would relate to it. If I’m being honest, it was the primary reason I bought it. I assumed I’d recognize some emotional parallels between my situation and hers. Knowing Carrie Fisher’s personality, I was ready for a funny, lighthearted, straightforward, possibly self-deprecating approach to her own affair. I hoped it would give me perspective on my own.

Carrie Fisher’s 19-year-old self is full of insecurity, anxiety, and low self-esteem. “I forgave him for not loving me in the way one usually expects,” she writes, “and almost forgave myself for not expecting it.” You experience her heartbreak as it’s happening, and all the while she pretends it doesn’t exist. The worst part of her descriptions is that she consistently tries to trivialize her own feelings, tries to pretend her vulnerability isn’t there. She mocks herself for having emotions, tries to put a comical spin on it, but it comes off much more like desperation than actual humor.

All I could see at first were the painfully obvious similarities. In so many cases, her journal could have been mine, and mine hers. Our nineteen-year-old selves would have either been friends (bonded by the mutual misery of secret-keeping and unrequited love), or hated each other (for being the physical embodiment of our own vulnerabilities). Eerily similar phrases popped up in our respective journals, so much so that I actually went and found my own so I could compare them. I guess insecure 19-year-olds who are in love with unavailable and inappropriate men are all remarkably similar. You can see those similarities for yourself in the quotes I’ve entered below — just a few selections out of dozens of nearly-identical phrases and emotions.

On those points where our stories diverged, however, I found myself inordinately jealous of Carrie’s experience when compared to my own.

Carrie describes Harrison as sullen and silent, disinclined to discuss their relationship or their future. Even as she fantasizes about a potential happily-ever-after future, she seems to accept that it will never happen, writing, “No one was telling anyone that they felt misunderstood and as such there wouldn’t be anything leaving-wise in his instance. So that was that.”

I wish I’d had such clarity at the time. My own Harrison was charming, funny, interesting, and often endearing. It made it difficult to know what he felt for me, or ultimately for anyone.

I tried to seem indifferent to him, Whatever, I know you won’t leave her so I’d never embarrass myself by asking you to, because I refused to ask him for more than we already had. I refused to be clingy, or needy, or to push any boundaries or ask anything that might make him leave. So I faked indifference, all while watching his every move and listening intently to his every word. My focus was entirely on him whenever he was nearby — not that I let him know it — because I constantly hoped that hidden within his words or actions would be some clue or hint that would indicate our future (or lack of one). A clear answer on this point, like Harrison’s refusal to discuss it, might have been the reality check I needed.

Then again, having read Carrie’s experience, I wonder if it would have made any difference at all.

“I was relieved when it ended,” Carrie writes. “I didn’t approve of myself.”

I didn’t either. I ended my affair multiple times. I’d walk away. I’d stop talking to him, wouldn’t go near him, wouldn’t interact with him at all. And then, for a multitude of reasons I could never quite define, it would start all over again. It was like magnets, or satellites — or, more accurately, like a slow-burn chemical reaction destined for an explosion at an indeterminate time.

“While there’s still time for Carrison to grow old together, that gateway is steadily closing,” Carrie mused. “If we’re going to get back together we’re going to have to do it soon.”

And this is the one that really broke my heart. Of all the phrases, all the emotions, all of the devastating musings of Carrie’s book, this present-day passing comment was the one that made me cry. Because here she is, all these years later, having at some point been married and had a child, and yet somewhere in her mind she still hoped that she and Harrison would end up together. Time and distance did nothing to erase that (admittedly dwindling) possibility. The fact that Carrie passed away after writing this book makes that dreamy, wishful sentence even more heart-wrenching.

I enjoyed the book, in the sense that it was very genuine, and very powerful, and very engaging.

But I’d never call it lighthearted. I’d never describe it as “amusing.” I wouldn’t diminish its power that way.

It’s an excellent read, I’ll tell people. And it’s heartbreaking.

[EXCERPTS FROM THE DIARIES OF CARRIE AND COKI]

Carrie: “…perhaps what disturbed Harrison was the implication that he was subsequently burdened with something very like responsibility, in that he had somehow been given a gift he hadn’t wanted or expected.”

Coki: “He seems to feel responsible for me, like I need education in all the ways I should stay away from men like him, all while being charming enough to keep me around.”

Carrie: “Harrison was on his lickety-split way to being everything to me.”

Coki: “I’m half in love with this man, and he isn’t mine. How’s that for absurd?”

Carrie: “How could you ask such a shining specimen of a man to be satisfied with the likes of me?”

Coki: “I don’t even know why he’s interested. Here I am, the nerdiest 19-year-old virgin you’re ever likely to find, and for some reason he thinks I’m something worth looking at. What??”

Carrie: “There were two reasons I wrote the diaries….it seemed to calm me, getting anything that might be chaotic behind the eyes onto the page in front of me where it could do me less harm….[and] I felt that I couldn’t confide in anyone else, because [he] was married. And not to me.”

Coki: “I have a lot on my mind and no good way to put it into words or explain it. And, after all, who the hell would I even explain it to? It’s not like I can go out for girl’s weekend and lament the tragedy of my love affair with [him].”

Carrie: “Someone has to stand still for you to love them. My choices are always on the run.”

Coki: “How did I arrive here, in this moment, loving this man who will never love me back? What choices did I make to get me here?”

Carrie: “He would wonder where I had been all his life and then recall with a bemused, ironic sinking feeling that I had yet to be born for much of it.”

Coki: “I get so angry with him sometimes because when we argue, he likes to dismiss my opinions as being ‘young’ or ‘naive.’ I am admittedly naive about this relationship, but not about much else, so it infuriates me. You picked ME, so don’t you dare act like my age is such a huge problem for you.”

Carrie: “The inevitability of his escape is most likely his most attractive feature.”

Coki: “It’s the chase. I tend to pick a guy who’s totally unobtainable and try to get him, like it’s a game, like no one’s going to be broken at the end.”

Carrie: “I’m quite sure, though, that if I had any principles what I’m doing now would violate almost all of them.”

Coki: “Of my top relationship rules, I’ve broken all of them….I shouldn’t have let it start in the first place.”

Carrie: “We could come to a full stop now if you think that would help. Because like any other B-movie heroine, I can’t go on like this. Can you understand? I don’t want to hurt you any more than I want you to hurt me. It’s now a question of surviving each other’s company instead of enjoying it.”

Coki: “This is wrong. I abuse myself for my own lack of morality every single day and yet I do nothing about it. I should walk away and never look back. So why do I let it continue? Why are there always people you can’t make yourself stay away from?”

Carrie: “I’m frightened of the power that he has over me and of how he will almost certainly abuse it, merely by not being fully aware he has it.”

Coki: “I can’t let him see that I want him more than he wants me. He could wreck me with a look, with a sentence, or with silence, and that’s the worst part of this whole thing.”

Advice To My Younger Selves

Dear 19,

I know you feel like you’re coming apart at the seams,

shadowed eyes and bloody fingernails,

sleepless nights and bruises and whiskey,

and they all want to pretend they don’t see what he’s doing.

But help will come from unexpected places,

so when you hear sirens, I promise,  it’s the beginning of the end.

Don’t let go. Keep fighting, every single day;

put that blade away in a drawer,

and I promise, you will make it through.

Dear 20,

I know he seems kind, after all you’ve been through,

but he has secrets of his own

so I advise you to go looking for his skeletons

and don’t wait for them to arrive on your doorstep.

Listen to his words but pay more attention to his actions,

and you’ll discover who he becomes when no one is looking.

PS – If you’re wondering, he is. Trust me.

Dear 21,

He doesn’t love you, (no, he doesn’t)

and I know that won’t stop you from trying,

but when he promises forever,

protect your heart a little better.

Don’t let him leave you sitting alone and silent,

and yell at him, this time, before he slams the front door.

Straighten your spine and know that you will be smarter, next time,

With whose hands you lay your heart in.

Dear 22,

Of all the things you will feel in this life,

This one is the hardest, I swear.

Breathe. Cry. Breathe.

Feel all the things you need to feel.

Don’t fight it, let it out; yell whenever you need to.

Trust me, you’ll need to.

It gets easier every day. I promise.

Dear 23,

When you’re feeling apprehensive about that date,

it’s for a reason — don’t go.

You’ll make decisions you shouldn’t have,

have conversations you’ll wish you hadn’t,

and you will be in tears by the end.

Give yourself a little more time to heal,

Being in love is not a tax you pay to exist.

Dear 24,

It’s going to be a tough year for you,

But you’ll survive it just fine.

Take your control back.

Be self-assured even when you don’t feel that way.

Fight for the things you’ve earned; make people hear you,

and if you don’t get what’s yours,

make sure you go down swinging.