By Olivia Brooke Duncan
I am a phase girl. Similar to self-cut bangs or inappropriately placed piercings, I happen fast then fade, only to be remembered by photos and drunken stories. Maybe it’s karma for all the times I dyed my hair at 3 a.m. or told my parents I was a Buddhist. I stumbled in and out of so many phases, it’s not surprising that I became one. I became accustomed to the pace of it all. The fast and passionate sprint towards something you want and then the screeching halt when it ends.
And it always ends.
I can’t blame the men that leave. It’s my fault really. I can see them coming from a mile away, I can see the trajectory in their eyes as soon as we meet. Holy shit, how I miss not knowing how things are going to end. To lay beside someone and not know the exact words they are going to say when they leave. Unfortunately, mystery seems to be short supply.
I know the language of a leaving lover. The way their body tenses and how their eyes dart away from mine. I can sense when the shift occurs; their curiosity for me becomes possession and their love becomes need. It’s primal almost, the way they look at me. Like they own me, like I exist for them. I feel how their touch that used to be soft and gentle becomes hard and controlling.
It never fails to surprise me how men demand faithfulness from women they neglect. As if I should wait in the ivory tower they build for me, patiently anticipating their return and greeting them with sweet gratitude for showing up at all.
I become a secret for them. I become someone to keep hidden away until they take me out to make them feel a certain way.
The thing about secrets is that they breed detachment. If no one knows how you treat someone when the doors are closed, if she doesn’t say anything, then it must not truly be real. If you never feel the consequence, the harsh fluorescent light exposing all you hide then you can pretend it never happened, that it was a fictitious dark impulse that you thought about but never acted on.
I never said anything. I smiled at the breakfast table as I sat with his mom trying to hide how hard her son choked me the night before. I didn’t tell her that her sweet, church-going son liked to hit me after sex to punish me for “making him sin.” I told my friends that my bloody lip and the bruises covering my stomach came from rough sex and not from the beating that came after I showed him my positive pregnancy test. Truly obtaining the soul of a woman is a rare art form but fuck, he had mine. It was this all consuming, tumultuous, sea of love blurred with pain and I could never keep my head above water. I could never take a full breath.
I remind myself everyday that love and pain are not synonymous. People say that often you block trauma out. It’s your minds way of protecting you. Maybe my mind isn’t very loyal to me, because I remember everything. I remember wondering why no one was helping me. How my housemates couldn’t hear me crying and begging him to stop. I remember the way his anger would subside and how he would hold me and kiss me softly, stroking the bruises and using his shirt to wipe the blood off of my body. I remember how cool the bathroom tile felt on my face as I laid there wondering if this is what dying felt like.
Much to my avail these memories never fade, they never wither and die off to be replaced by a new and fresh season. Writing this now I feel my body start to ache, my heart beats faster and it’s like I can feel his hands on me again. I run my fingers over the ridges in the bones that never healed right and I can feel his grip again. I put a thousand miles between us but I’m still terrified.
Some may call me resilient and some may call me stupid, but after a few months, I learned how to adapt. When I could feel things begin to escalate I would just retreat into this far back room in my mind where it was warm and safe and silent. That little room was black and small and filled with a numbness that I desperately wanted. Eventually something would drag me out of my safe room. Once it was a fractured wrist, once it was a crushed trachea, once it was his tears warm and salty on my face as he pleaded with me never to leave him. It’s in those moments and the following moments with the next guy, that I clung to being a phase. I knew I could take it because eventually they would get bored of me. The wild girl that made them feel alive starts to cry and they don’t want her anymore. Their pretty little toy broke.
It doesn’t start this way. Actually, the way it starts couldn’t be more different than the way that it ends. He starts off sweet, insecure, rambling nervously and never knowing what to do with his hands. He’s shy, inexperienced, and seemingly in love. He handles me so delicately as if I could break at his slightest touch. His fingers trace me like I’m covered in braille and he wants to read a novel. I pull him closer, lips hovering an inch from his, I feel him shake a little wanting me so desperately.
I know what I represent to him. There’s a part of himself that he’s suppressed for far too long. I know this because every single one of them were taught that women are for marrying and not for fucking, they were taught to be responsible, upright, unwavering moral men who are to grow up to be just like their fathers and marry women just like their mothers and live stable, predictable, righteous little lives. I represent all he shouldn’t want, but does. It’s selfish, really. There’s just something addicting about watching a man feel genuinely uninhibitedly free.
I saw it once when I took off my dress and led a boy into the ocean at midnight. We ended up in the back of his car my hair wet and tangled and my skin salty and cold. He grabbed my face with a force very unfamiliar to him and said he loved me. I knew I was the first because his words were laced with that unmistakable fear that comes from the complete unknown.
Six months later he says it’s time for him to get back to reality and that I would never be the type of girl he would end up with.
What he doesn’t know is that he didn’t love me. None of them loved me they loved the way I made them feel. Like maybe life is more beautiful and unruly and dangerous then they had thought. I was the first time they felt like passion wasn’t wrong and that loving someone and wanting every inch of them wasn’t a sin. The shittiest part of it all is that they didn’t even know who they left.
They don’t know that I cry every time I watch America’s Got Talent, or that I am dyslexic, or that art is the only thing that actually makes any sense to me. They don’t know that my dad is an alcoholic or that my diet mainly consists of goldfish and pop-tarts. They don’t know that I was conceived after an Elton John concert and my parents say that’s why I love to sing. They don’t know that my first crush was on teenage Simba but my first sexual feelings were for Simon Cowell. They don’t know that I would be loyal if they’d let me.
They don’t know that I want to teach my daughter how to dance and to be charmingly rebellious and that she can be whatever she wants to be in the world. Or that I want to play soccer with my son and fill his room with books and teach him to always practice compassion. They don’t know that my grandma with Alzheimer’s thinks I’m married or that I visit her everyday and tell her stories about my husband just to see her smile. They don’t know that I’ve gotten the highest grades in my class since the beginning of college or that I’m allergic to bananas. They don’t know that when it comes to me there’s nothing the ocean and pancakes can’t fix or that I love to jump off cliffs or anything high enough that gives my stomach that flippy feeling. They don’t know that my favorite flowers are peonies or that I’ve broken all ten toes. They don’t know that I want to live a beautiful and compassion filled life and that I can love people really well if they’d stick around long enough to let me.
Lately I’ve been wanting to change. Not who I am but what I accept. I don’t want to be someone’s wild phase anymore when I haven’t even had one of my own. I want to be the surprised one, the invigorated one, the one who feels intensely alive. I want to fall asleep in the arms of someone and not feel miles of distance between us. I want to marvel at how strange yet absolutely irresistible he is at the same time.
I want to feel known. I want to feel like I am more than just an idea but an actual person with thoughts and fears and flaws. I want my strength to not be measured by how much abuse I can take. Fuck being strong–I want to be happy. For once in my goddamn life I want not to flinch every time a boy puts his hand on my face. I want to have a boy who wears sweaters on the beach with me when it’s cold and lets me stop every two minutes to pick up sea glass. I want that stupid warm feeling that makes you just want to lay in bed with them all day perfectly entertained by their skin on yours. I want a boy to make me laugh more then he makes me cry and I want to fight and disagree about politics without the threat of violence. I want him to love me as hard as he fucks me. I want to kiss in the winter even when our lips are frozen and are noses are cold. I want to play with his hair and sing to him as we fall asleep and know that in the morning he’ll still be there. Every feminist atom in my body is cringing when I say this but I want someone to take care of me for once. I want to sleep in his t-shirts and believe him when he pulls me close to his chest and tells me he won’t let anyone hurt me. I want to feel craved for who I am and not just what I do for him. I want to crave him and know that whatever we have will be filled with adventure that we’re proud of and not secrets we’re ashamed of.
I want to be more than a passing phase.
I want to close the door to the back room in my mind and never open it again.