Things I Wanted To Say To Men I Dated But Never Did
I am not your Blanche DuBois.
I am not the crazy ex-girlfriend you laugh about after too many beers, whose thighs and wet lips you reminisce over, remember your hands over. But whose passion you continue to confuse with simple mania or obsession.
I liked the way you always existed in a swoon of smoke. The way you proudly proclaimed yourself a feminist until I realized individual women weren’t your concern. You can read all the bell hooks you want. But that won’t change the fact that you treat the women you’re with as placeholders for the perfect muse that does not exist.
You’re surprised I can talk like that? That my voice carries such venom and verve? I told you not to equate my age for naiveté, my propensity to care in antiquated ways for being foolish or worse, in love with you. But if I’ve learned anything it is that men can undress me but have yet to learn how to unravel me.
It was with you that I realized the difficult choice for women artists like myself, between art and love, a calling of career and a calling of the heart. This becomes particularly hard when you date another artist. His pain, his art comes first.
Should I be surprised you left me for some girl-woman who confuses fucking an artist for being one? Who has no voice but the one you give her?
I am not your Hitchcock blonde. My sexuality is full force apparent and I won’t let anyone write the narrative of my life except me.
I am not your Zelda Fitzgerald. My mania won’t be your inspiration. You can’t take my words and make them your own. You got in bed with an artist not just a muse. I rather be a madwoman than your muse anyway.
But why can’t you embrace both sides of me?
I’m not your fetish. I’m not your chance to finally be with a black woman. I am flesh and blood, neither idea nor ideal.
Hating all of you would be easy but I don’t have the energy and know I should kindle these fires elsewhere.
When I hovered over you on that Wednesday night, my birthday no less, and you said to me with a voice that once would comfort and now haunts, “You should stop calling yourself a madwoman. Guys don’t find that attractive.”
A simple, bitter laugh bubbled up in my throat.
The next day (isn’t it always?), I came up with a retort.
“What makes you think I am the kind of woman who only lives by the narratives of men?”
But the thing is for you, I had. I remember exactly when it started, when I realized if I was to keep you in my life I had to change myself.
It was the night you called me “cold”, when I was talking myself out of an intense panic attack. It was after we saw Stoker. I was on a creative high from the film. It reminded me of the ways violence can take root in a woman.
You were drinking beer and I was trying to eat my burrito. But I was cracking. Fading into one of my depressive episodes.
Oh, these quicksilver moods of mine.
You gave me that look of fear and pity. I told you I was schizoaffective on our first date in a drunken haze and you shared the pitfalls that were out of your control. We looked at each others wounds. I thought maybe you were different and your voice wouldn’t join the chorus of those in my head.
I knew you had an ex-girlfriend, the ex, who was bipolar and far more unstable than me and you still love her. So, I thought you would understand. I knew in that moment—-hearing your nervous laughter, mapping where pity began and fear ended on your face—-to salve my loneliness I would have to be someone else for you.
I did the one thing I said I would never do, I rewrote my narrative, my essential self, for a man. I was kinder, more spontaneous, I bit my tongue when you would take my low-level romanticism the wrong way or made me feel broken when I didn’t have an orgasm.
Oh yes, I forgot a woman’s sexuality is never her own. It is a yardstick for which she is measured. Slut, prude, deviant, broken, whore. Which one? Take your pick.
I had begun to tally up the cuts you gave me and regressed further into myself. Is erasure the price I must pay to find some sense of community and passion in Chicago?
When I read the poem The Kiss by Anne Sexton to you on my birthday you looked at it as a declaration of love. But I enjoy reading to all my friends.
Your eyes darted across the darkened living room, your voice mocking me over the idea I would associate you with this poem.
Did you not hear Sexton’s words?
My mouth blooms like a cut,
Before today my body was useless…
My nerves are turned on.
That’s not love, that’s bodily passion. All sweaty limbs and well timed thrusts and pursed lips and soft murmurs of pleasure. But if I’m honest with myself at night, usually around three a.m. I did in fact love you for a brief moment in time. Thinking of this reminds me how deep my loneliness goes.
Deep enough that I would try lying to myself, that I would rewrite your narrative and mine. I cloaked my anger. I put the madwoman on a leash. I bit my tongue when you leaned over at The Burlington on my birthday in front of your friends after recounting a story of the time you forgot the name of a woman you used to fuck and in earshot of all these strangers said to me, “Don’t worry, I won’t forget you.”
At that moment I wanted to claw you, make you bleed, crack your ribs. I wanted to scar you so you would indeed never fucking forget about me.
But months have passed and you’ve led me on, used me sense then. Stolen my art to pass off as your own and I finally hold no anger. No, you don’t deserve the exquisiteness of my fury. I can only look upon you with pity and disappointment. We’ve switched places. You no longer hold the keys to my heart, my time, my desire. And my look of pity is warranted because I have seen your rotten insides. While yours was simply based on the fact that I wasn’t fitting the projection of me you so expertly crafted in your mind.
You are like every other man you said you did not want to be.
I dulled my edges for you because I am lonely. Because I have no group of friends to call my own. Because I thought there was something wrong with me. Because Chicago is littered with acquaintances. Because. Because. Because.
You are my Bluebeard. All your exes, a harem full, color the edges of all our time together. A Rolodex in case you’re hard or lonely or both. Your bloodless flings reminding me with a cursory glance and a strained smile that I would be joining the list soon.
But the buzz has worn off, babe.
I won’t be added to your collection. I won’t be Bluebeard’s seventh or twentieth or whatever fucking number you have wrongly pegged me as.
I am not your honey bun, sweetie, one a.m. quickie, friends with benefits, second string bitch pick.
He gets me, I once thought. No, you just enjoyed looking at your own reflection in my eyes.
It was your charisma, a trait that usually causes me to recoil, but for you I was taken and foolish. Yours was lava hot, shooting star bright, straight to the veins charisma.
I looked in the mirror and said to myself, one morning after you left…
You seek it out, driven by hunger and the wounds of your childhood. You want someone to be hungry for you for a change, to devour you. You want to believe that despite the broken home you come from and the broken mind you call your own you can find friends and love.
There is love. There is lust. There is opportunity. There is the chance to prove to yourself that a man could love you in spite of your own madness or perhaps, because of it. There is all that whiskey and beer you drank. There is the flush of youth you refuse to have misspent. There is self-destruction and ego and romance.
There is at the core a need to be truly seen and understood. That is why you rewrote yourself to fit his narrative. That is why you ache. That is why you can’t wallow in this mistake.
I don’t want to admit to myself but under all this fire is a hard, cold kernel of sadness. That’s the point of these flames, to beat the sadness out of me. But I thought you saw me, I thought you cared. But I was just a footnote in your romantic history until someone better came along to resketch the idea(l) in your mind away from your Great Mad Ex.
Then there is you, with your sun dappled hair and crooked smile. You promised to be different. There was no pretense with you. Your were simple. Until you weren’t.
When I cracked as I tend to do you looked at me with fear and a haze of confusion. It is look I have received from damn near every person in my life. From my mother on down.
When we broke up for the second time you said you felt burdened by the weight of my eccentricity. But I never gave you anything to bear. I never asked you to save me. I don’t need a knight in shining armor, darling. I have my own sword. I built it from words and hope and strength, to cut my way out of these woods. And if anyone needs saving we both know it is you.
I won’t let the memory of you hold me back. I am not ruined like you thought. I am poetry made flesh, ambition given a voice.
So, don’t give me your kiss or your pity, your dick or your predator eyes. See, I am mad again.
My skin is hot and when I think of you and people like you I feel my temperature rise. This is for the women tired of existing in the margins.
Women who will use barred teeth and bloody hands to find a way out of the prisons named manic pixie dream girl, femme fatale, bitch, whore.
Women, who like me, realize we’re more than the thickness of our thighs and the willingness of our mouths, even if men refuse to see that.
If Medusa has her snakes, then I’ve got my words.
I’ll make you bleed with their precision. I will make you weep from their sheer beauty. I will paint this town with fire and compassion. I will create the community I so long for and deserve with these words. I want a life of poetry and passion. I want the mutual cannibalization of being each others muse. I want a man whose hunger and beauty and knowledge match mine. And I won’t be damned or scorned for these desires.
I have stepped back into the fire, darling.
Lilith ain’t got shit on me.