The reason I stopped writing was, she murdered it. Which sounds blame-y, but I never bought the “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent”* thing. In my experience, people sure as hell do have the power to make you feel inferior; shamed; mind-crippled. Ask any middle school girl bullied into an eating disorder.
So, yeah: she murdered my prose style like Macbeth murdered sleep, except it happened 400 years later and I lack the dramatic skills to do it justice. When I think of her, I remember that trope about how a butterfly’s wings flapping in Holland can, through a complex chain of interrelated events, cause a devastating hurricane in Barcelona. Except her wings were more like Mothra’s, the fictional Japanese monster who was formidable in battle and also fertilized her own eggs.
We met because I wrote. She was a tech type who liked the fact that I made a living at it (people who have never worked in print journalism think it’s more exciting than it is. Unless you’re a travel writer. That rocks. I once spent a week at a Carmel resort, judging summer Rieslings and getting massaged until I lost the power of speech).
In those first few weeks we knew each other, I wrote electronic reams of comedy, tragedy, and history with lesbian erotica thrown in; also some solid love letters. The Tenant of My Affections thus secured, I relaxed.
You should never relax.
I salamandered around Toronto all that first summer, getting off at every subway stop to visit minimalist specialty markets for ingredients. I bought a lot of ingredients. Back then I specialized in American comfort food — pot pies, meat loaf, vegetable and potato masterpieces thick with drippings and thyme — but I figured since I was a new Torontonian, I should kick it up with spices measured and priced by the quarter-teaspoon by elderly Laotians and Balinese.
I wanted to feed her. I watched her eat with the avidity of a shetl bubbe and the lust of a dyke who thinks she’s finally found happiness. I ground pepper on her salads with a practiced and steady motion. I baked cookies — chocolate chip; chunky peanut butter; oatmeal raisin with fresh cinnamon. Mothra fluttered her wings in astonishment, having never baked anything from scratch.
“I’ve never seen this DONE before,” she kept saying. “I mean, sometimes my mother would bake scones, but I didn’t know you could BUY vanilla beans and crush them like that.”
Like I said, I relaxed. I was so fucking happy, I forgot to write. And then it was time for her surgery (“Operation Chop It Off!” she called it) and when she woke up from the anesthesia, we were over. Except I didn’t know it. It was a lot like the time I slashed my right calf to the muscle and it took 30 seconds to bleed, or when a little kid falls down with a huff and can’t draw a second breath to scream.
After the surgery, everything I did was suddenly and irrevocably wrong, and I could see all my offenses written across my forehead in thick black ink: Does Not Look Hard Enough For Yoga Teaching Gigs. Too Shy at Parties. Heteronormative.
Once, I lovingly called her “The Master Of The Grill” while we were making shish kebabs.
“MISTRESS Of The Grill,” she barked, spearing all the yellow squash.
She never touched me again. I memorized the shape of her broad, turned-away back like I was lost and it was a map. I got up in the mornings tasting bile and oily fear sweat. Two of the cats sniffed me and edged away, but the other — who was dying of cardiomyopathy — let me hold him. We stayed in the bed that smelled like my lover, our sick hearts beating and beating. I cried into my ears.
And I went mute. “As a sheep before its shearer is dumb, so he did not open his mouth,” I thought obsessively, dozens of times a day. You wouldn’t think a Southern Baptist university would give me the Scriptural tools to associate Jesus with rejection by a post-op transsexual, but the Bible offers something for any situation.
I thought that if I could write something transcendent, she’d remember why she loved me, and then she’d love me again. If I could just think of that one clean shining sentence, I could have her back. It was a quest. If I fucked it up, I’d lose everything. I lost.
Now I know that it didn’t matter what I wrote or didn’t write. And I think that my suffering — every drop of oily sweat and saltwater — made me more compassionate, but also more wary. I no longer believe that my life is necessarily bound for a happy ending; nor do I believe that love is solid. It’s breakable if you kick it hard enough, and it can also just sort of dissolve as if sprayed with corrosive chemicals.
I learned that if someone wants to walk away from you, you should let her.
Five years later, there’s a woman who loved me before she read a word I wrote; therefore, I can write. I’m not afraid that muteness, if it returns, might make her pack up her eyes and walk away. Words are not my currency; my Phillips screwdriver with interchangeable heads; my shining silver Thermos; my license and registration. If I can’t write enough, or if it isn’t any good, I’ll still be who she thinks I am. (Of course, it helps that we have no seismic gender-related issues. So grateful over here!)
*Eleanor Roosevelt, our first lesbian president. Seriously! FDR was sick a lot, and she basically took over.