Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Before, or after

I’m wondering when I started associating the beach with freedom, and I’m guessing it was right around when I started drinking or maybe before because we could walk around by ourselves in a way not possible back at home, my sister and I or my sister and I and Steve and Cynthia, the Daniels kids. But maybe that was around the same time as when we started drinking.

Backing up to school, sixth grade and I liked to say that I didn’t need alcohol, because I was so happy. Did anyone believe this act? I’m looking at a picture from that time, just around my 12th birthday -- Memorial Day at the beach, actually -- and I’m standing frozen in the camera’s gaze, one shoulder up way higher than the other and I’m rail-thin, hair in an overgrown bowl cut and I guess the scary part is the way I’m standing, like in shock almost except this is a pose, a pose for the camera, relax!

And then my eyes: so distant like I’ve already left, this is my body I’m not here this is. Smile.

Somewhere there’s the transition from the kid who always looked scared unless answering a question in school but that kid always got the question right. Kids noticed the fear but adults just commented on the intellect unless they were teachers and they worried about the wrong things, never the parents. If you’re reading every book you can find to escape, that’s good behavior.

This photo is before the transition from trying to disappear to trying to appear. Here I’m still in those first 12 years when I wore the exact same clothes as my father, in the picture that means corduroy OP shorts, Izod shirt, bronze-rimmed eyeglasses literally the same shape as my father’s, the only difference is that somehow I got away with wearing a women’s watch with the skinnier band, maybe because my wrist was too small for the men’s watch. Probably they didn’t call it a women’s watch; sometimes people would call me she. Probably a children’s watch, that’s what they would call it. Was this before, or after I stopped eating?

I think it’s after, because now I’m looking at another picture from that same period, probably slightly earlier because my hair is shorter but they both say 6/85 on the back. I’m so glad pictures used to come with the date imprinted like that, it’s helpful now. In the second picture I’m standing in the exact same position, the light even reflects off my glasses in the same way, rose almost -- maybe it’s the metal. It’s like I’m standing at attention, no one was ever getting me ready for the military but it almost looks that way. This time I’m wearing a beige Izod shirt instead of the green one and it makes me look paler, like I’m going to fade into that shirt except for my chapped lips. I’m pretty sure this is after I stopped eating because my belt is wrapped high and tight around my waist like maybe I could get smaller. It makes the jeans hang strangely around the hips.

This picture takes place in my bedroom: there’s no way that I could know that one day I’d sit here trying to read the names of the books on the shelf behind my younger self, what is that wooden box on the desk? That vertical rectangle against the wall that looks like a hard drive but this is way before something like that -- oh, it’s the world atlas, another book I liked to disappear into.

I forgot that I liked plants then too, the rubber plant doesn’t look like it’s doing too well because all the leaves at the bottom are gone but the pine tree looks healthy, would it make sense that I got that pine tree as a tiny little sapling someone was selling around Christmas and it wasn’t supposed to grow? But I kept it.

So here I am standing in front of the plants, straighter than the vertical blinds behind but more distant. Maybe I want my belt to pull tighter. After the picture I’ll go back to reading, or wrapping fingers around wrists -- thumb to middle finger, thumb to ring finger, can I reach thumb to pinky? I worry about the skin I can squeeze, too much fat. I remember doing this in Hebrew school, where everyone called me Mental and they didn’t mean it as a compliment, sounded like my Hebrew name and I tried to disappear into more words, letters shaped differently: I didn’t know what they meant, but I could sound them out more clearly than anyone else in the room and they hated me for it.

7 comments:

davka said...

this is fucking crazy amazing.

mattilda bernstein sycamore said...

Thank you, Davka!!!

(It's funny, but I actually thought of you after I wrote it, is that strange?)

Love --
mattilda

mixedqueer said...

i'd say i wish we could have been friends and supported each other but to be honest as a child i kept to myself or made friends with kids that seemed to have all their masculinity come naturally. it was probably an attempt to have some of it rub off on me, to figure out how they never had to think about it, and apply that to my own life. i had a fear that i'd be outed, and spending time with other people that weren't my idea of my father's idea of young machismo might provide dots to be connected, and a line of thought could develop that would end on me.

now i'm a young adult and i'm livinig in brazil with my extended family, back in the closet, and, let me tell you, books are still a blessed escape. books and the internet. holy fuck thank goodness the internet exists.

mattilda bernstein sycamore said...

"i'd say i wish we could have been friends and supported each other but to be honest as a child i kept to myself or made friends with kids that seemed to have all their masculinity come naturally. it was probably an attempt to have some of it rub off on me, to figure out how they never had to think about it, and apply that to my own life."

Gorgeous and sad, thank you for sharing -- and good luck surviving (and thriving) with your extended family, that sounds intense...

Love --
mattilda

mixedqueer said...

thank you mattilda! your writing has been such a wonderful source of strength for me, especially since i've found your blog.

this post was beautiful and sad. the things i've read that you've written about your childhood make it clear that you survived so much pain and trauma, and your writing now makes me feel like you bloomed beautifully.

i only intend to let you know how your posts touch me on these comment sections, but sometimes i get a little carried away. i know this is your space -- it's helped inspire me to start my own.

Elián Maricón said...

"And then my eyes: so distant like I’ve already left, this is my body I’m not here this is. Smile."

I hope there aren't too many people out there who will get this on a visceral level. I know there are, though, and it makes me sad. Hell, I'm in my 30's and sometimes I'm still "not here this is. Smile."

"Somewhere there’s the transition from the kid who always looked scared unless answering a question in school but that kid always got the question right. Kids noticed the fear but adults just commented on the intellect unless they were teachers and they worried about the wrong things, never the parents. If you’re reading every book you can find to escape, that’s good behavior."

That statement not only deserves a standing ovation; it should be placed on a giant screen in a football stadium. Then, every "education professional" in the world should be rounded up and forced to stare at it (a la Clockwork Orange) while someone reads it over a loudspeaker at 300 decibels...for a month.

Funny how teachers found the time to notice that I used to read books like a drug (and they-I mean books, but probably teachers too- can be really good drugs for helping one leave one's body when necessary), but those bruises all over me and the fact that I was frequently forced to wear long sleeved flannel shirts to school in the 90 degree south Florida heat when the bruses were really bad...

what bruises who said anything about bruises I didn't "Oh, how darling! That little brown thing likes to read books, and even books written in English too praise Jesus! I imagine that our little bookish intellectual monkey here who has no athletic ability whatsoever got all banged up like that playing football with all the other boys, boys will be boys & so forth, wait did I just say 'bruises'? What bruises?"

mattilda bernstein sycamore said...

Mixedqueer, feel free to get as carried away as you want, I love love love feedback that's for sure (and part of the reason for the blog)!

Elian, I love this:

"That statement not only deserves a standing ovation; it should be placed on a giant screen in a football stadium. Then, every "education professional" in the world should be rounded up and forced to stare at it (a la Clockwork Orange) while someone reads it over a loudspeaker at 300 decibels...for a month."

And yes, they never want to notice the bruises -- sometimes I wonder what goes on in their heads, but then I remember that doesn't really matter: what matters is what they (don't) do. So many brave kids, and so many cowardly teachers.

Love --
mattilda