By Renee Gereiner
There’s something painful about living in a world where the rules have never made sense to you, where the idea of following the rules breaks your own heart, so you start making bird calls in the middle of the night, hoping someone will hear you, hoping there will be someone else out in the cold night singing. It takes so long for it to happen so that when it finally does the other bird is old, and she presents you with a bitterfruit. Like no one you know, she speaks, “We are not of this world.” And you don’t question her, because she holds you in the deep brown of her eyes.
When you bite it, you become the women you always knew you were.
You sneak into parties you aren’t invited to where the beer is cheap and the women are shirtless; you drink bottles of wine in fancy restaurants standing up; you talk about film and documentaries and both the history of it and all the bullshit of what happened to old fashioned picture taking like you’re a famous photographer who has an honorary PhD at NYU; you drink your weight in wine; you stay up all night literally burning your shit in a bonfire with hippies; and you finally start making those blue nude portraits that actual professionals compare to the late Francesca Woodman.
But, of course, the bitterfruit gives you diarrhea and you end up spending afternoons over the toilet bowl, and even so, you still go back for more. Because the calling of the bird tickles you from the base of your spine all the way down the sides of your wings until you are flying.
The bird knows shit that women wish they didn’t know.
You watch her, the bird, lick ketchup and vinegar off of her fingertips at 3 a.m. in the morning as she tells you, slowly slurring everything as if she’s still dancing in circles, “You know in Texas, there, the men, they can appreciate a good southern ass. Here, men are all pussies.” You want to slam her hard against the booth; and stick your hand just under her skirt close enough so she knows what you intend to do; and then take your palm and press hard on her pubic bone; you want to bite her ear and pull her hair; and make her wait.
You know her well enough to know that she wants it the way people want it who burn down buildings, for fun.
And you can bet she’d rather pour you down her throat then talk about what actually happened to her when she was say 16 and got her GED or 25 and fled Texas for New York.
With her, everything moves and moves and moves. If it stops, there is Whiskey sitting in a glass.
This story is sort of about her. It’s also about me. It’s because of her that I always want to lie about everything and I never lie about anything, not really, not in words when a person is looking me in the eyes.
I’ve got no cookie cutter cutlery to share. I’ve got no answers.
But I know pain.
And I know love.
And sometimes, I unravel to get from one to the other.
The breath is my unraveling.
You see, when I’m not with her, I’m doing stuff with my body. Sometimes the breath rides in my left nostril and comes out the right. The breath connects and binds me up, right foot to left thigh and left to right so when I gaze down at my legs an x forms and there’s a fulcrum where the shin bones cross and the breath fills my body and as I press down into my palms, my hips lift towards the ceiling and my lower belly starts trembling on the verge of a strong, yes, painful orgasm. I keep breathing and a tear comes to my eye. The one tear that seems to crawl from the base of the pelvis all the way up the spine. This stuff is called yoga. I’m pretty sure having an orgasm without touching yourself is an unusual talent or something.
She says, “It’s all been done before.”
I say, “All art?”
She says, “Yes, Andy Warhol ruined art.”
We both cackle, and the vein between her eyebrows pops.
We talk about the mass democratization of art via the web; and the why-should-we-care-about-this-at-all-origin-demand, or the why-don’t-you-tell-me-all-your-personal-details-your-autobiographical-history-so-that-I-can-determine-if-what-you-made-is-real-art demand that seems to hover over female artists; and we talk about how as soon as a woman takes the mystery away and sort of explains how she made the art, the belief in that art just dies. She hates Andy Warhol, actively. This is funny to me because hating a dead puny guy who seems to not like sex which is pretty essential to life, is funny to me.
Also, I know his art and his short films like an art geek, and I have actually read all of his books, and they strangely comfort me. He has an entire book of conversations he had on the phone with one woman before I think that was a thing. It’s cute though, to me, that she has such a fire in her for someone so long dead.
Janis Joplin and Tina Turner are our jams; and sometimes us singing Hare Om, Hare Om and Kali Durga, Kali Ma because Kali kills really bad men; and feeds babies; and doesn’t have to give up her sensuality or her sexuality or wear turtlenecks to do it. We talk Tina and Janis and Andy; and then there are the Sandinistas in Nicaragua in the 1970s and what did the U.S. government actually do; and well, she is the first woman who challenges my brain while making me wet simultaneously; and I am consumed by her eyes.
Her voice is deep and low enough to carry a tea set. Her almond-shaped eyes express everything one would need to know to write the first Wikipedia entry on A Woman’s Anger.
Like a staged theatre, her apartment is crowded with objects, but empty of food. She owns every kind of black shoe. Waxy green plants cover the windowsills. Portfolios of working documentary photographers lay sprawled on a large wood table. The only color on the wall; an intricately, ornate painting of vulvas with legs in a circle.
She is different from anyone, like ever.
She never uses the words sorry, but, or um. And even though her liver is soaked all night long in acetaldehyde, she pulls off unapologetically smart like a criminal could.
Like I said, she is different from anyone, like ever.
So I recite Shakespeare’s Love Sonnet 116, “Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments, love is not love which alters when alteration finds, or bends with the remover to remove, oh no, it is an ever-fixed mark, that looks on tempests and is never shaken, it is the star to every wondering bark whose worth’s unknown although it’s height be taken.”
Macbeth rolls off her tongue, “Nought’s had, all’s spent, where our desire is got without content; ‘tis safer to be that which we destroy than my destruction dwell in doubtful joy.”
I wish, instead of Love Sonnet 116, I could just say, “I love you.”
Instead, one day in a cab at 2 a.m., I look away from her out the window and say, “Look, there’s my heart, it just rolled onto the sidewalk.”
I want her to hear that, that code I’m speaking, that I love you code.
She is always dating a man who is far away taking pictures in Iran or Afghanistan; and I’m sleeping around with men, mainly, because I live in motherfucking New York; and it’s cold and ugly; and I need someone to touch me like I’m a woman.
With the bird, I’m like a completely different kind of woman.
I pick up a man in New Orleans and he fingers me in the car and after we fuck and I get kind of bored, I literally stand up and say, “I’m going to take a shower; and when I get out, you will be gone.”
The bird has taught me to pretend that I can separate my vagina from my heart, and my heart from my brain.
The day I tell her I love her, she says, “Ray, this is heavy.”
Everything that is light inside of me dims.
“Well, doesn’t it get heavy sometimes? Doesn’t it sometimes get heavy with people you love?” I say.
“No, not with me.”
You can’t let someone in if she doesn’t want to come in; and you can’t go in if she won’t let you in.
We meet one more time. I’m sitting across from her. Everyone else who is not me will tell me I shouldn’t see her one more time. I’ve fallen into the rabbit hole and she’s just sitting outside looking down the way the stoned Caterpillar looks at Alice lost and homeless. I feel like an amusement in a museum sucking in my belly in my A-line skirt, sucking it all in.
She leans in to kiss me for the first time because she knows I want it.
My body doesn’t network with lower parts and tell them to get wet. My body feels very little. Because my body is finally allowing itself to make some sense. After all, she never said “I like you” or “Maybe,” but instead she said “This is heavy,” and she spoke it with a long, ass pause. So for her to lean in and kiss me, well it sucked.
For weeks, I imagine the pulsing, bleeding, coronary-artery-ing heart of mine jumping out of my chest and then seizing on the sidewalk.
I do the walk stalk by her house on my way back from the Park Slope subway where we would take the Q train to Union Square so we could sing and laugh like women-with-burned-good-girl-bones on our way to the good-girl-yoga-studio.
An entire bottle of wine spills in my white bed.
I get so drunk that a man I can’t stand touches me in places I don’t remember and puts things in places I don’t want them.
I dream of shooting her with a handgun.
Winter’s quiet air does not quell my woman’s anger; and is now a very angry, wild, feeling of needing to bang my fists and my hips and sometimes both against all sorts of things. And when the wild feeling just pauses long enough to feel the feelings and know the thoughts, all I can think about is how she lives seven blocks from my house, and that every time I pass by her house on a walk stalk or go to ‘our’ yoga studio, my eyes droop, my muscles shorten, and I have to hold in a primal scream because I live in the biggest city in that great U.S. of A.. You can’t really feel things in Brooklyn not in a loud primal screaming way, besides other people’s body feeling your body as you try to feel things.
Instead of seeing a therapist, instead of drinking less, I move back to Los Angeles to live with my parents. I wake up one day naked in the closet with puke all over me.
Remembering New York means remembering her. I remember finding a red rose on the subway stares and telling her, “It reminds me of you, beautiful, and broken,” and she laughed the deepest, most resonant, Cathedral-like cackle that only Janis Joplin could rival. I feel bad for calling her broken even though it’s the truth.
She would sometimes call me just because there was a full moon.
She gave me a picture painted on wood of the goddess Kali Ma; the goddess famous for killing multiple men at once while nursing a child. Wrapped in the New York Times art section with some recent exhibit of Andy Warhol on the outside, she said, ‘Stuff wrapped with love Raaaeeeee, takes time.’
After her, after we stopped talking about the moon, the sulci in my frontal cortex grew, and the amygdala expanded, and I had a brain that any psychiatrist would marvel to look at but most normal people would not like to live in.
I’m sure the scientists looking at my MRI would tell me I was fucked. After all I was in love with a bird, and I am a totally different species entirely.
But what they don’t know and I imagine saying to her sometimes is; Although we never did that public art project where we dragged away People magazine from women and yelled ‘Sister Stop’ on the Q train; although you never took a real portrait of me where I’d take all my clothes off and stand in front of you, trusting you, even though I knew it was a bad idea; although you teased me a lot and you know it because you wrote those texts; and although I literally wanted to motherfucking kill and I’m glad I didn’t. We are not the same species maybe, but we spoke like more at the level of quantum physics where rules about space and time and how and who don’t make sense. And although you were a total asshole for kissing me with your red-stained wine mouth, I don’t care so much anymore. I can’t help it; probably for always, I will see the moon and think of you. And wonder how you are; and hope you found someone, you know well meaning, to sit on you to calm you down, or maybe sexually, or maybe both.
Renee writes about yoga and being queer at www.blacksheepyoga.com. She lives in Portland, Oregon.