Wednesday, October 21, 2009


I’m talking about us, because it’s what we believed. I don’t know if I’ll ever believe again, and that’s why I’m writing this. It’s why I don’t go to the Mission now, or I try not to go, or if I do go then I go in a different way. There are still people who go there for the same reasons, but I don’t think they find what they’re looking for, or what I was looking for, or if they do find it then I still don’t believe. I can’t tell you everything, I can only tell you what I learned.

When Laurie and I moved to the Mission, we lived one block from ACT UP meetings, two blocks from Junk, three blocks from Rainbow Grocery -- most of our friends lived within 5 or 10 blocks. Someone was always having a potluck, or an activist meeting, and if there wasn’t a potluck or a meeting then maybe cocktails at a neighborhood bar or some party where everyone would argue, or try not to argue but get in fights anyway and then there were all these different allegiances. This was when I met Zee, in DC, 1993 and I went to the March on Washington to protest with ACT UP, we thought there would be hundreds of queers ready to get arrested protesting for universal healthcare, but I think we only ended up with 41. Maybe it was 141, I’m not sure. But there were a million people at the march, literally a million. Remember those white fags in white T-shirts? That’s who was there.

But Zee was also there, I met him at an ACT UP demo, a tiny nose ring just a silver dot that matched his braces, we were both 19 and we got arrested together, what could be more romantic? And then bashed together and already we were taking care of one another. Soon he moved to San Francisco to join me, even though we didn’t call it that. He said he was already planning to move to San Francisco. When he got there, I was in the middle of a two-week dance intensive, getting up in the morning to do contact improvisation all day and then afterwards I was a mess, a mess but there was something else there, my body and this boyfriend, his body, our bodies and there was the way he held me but mostly his eyes, they would always get glossy when he looked at me, even when we were fighting, which happened pretty soon but what happened sooner was that I remembered I was sexually abused. Zee was telling me about a professor who raped him and I was holding him on the outside but thinking why can’t I feel it or actually I went past the not feeling to thinking why, why get so upset about something like that, it’s happened hundreds of times to me and then I was thinking what the hell, why can’t I feel it?

I was looking at the outline of Zee’s face and there was an extra dimension, everything was moving diagonally upwards and back. Not just a physical dimension but an emotional dimension of terror. I shut my eyes and saw a cylindrical blue metal tunnel to fall into and get out of the house but it was floating, shifting angles. Layers of fluorescent dots in chains: blue, lavender, green. Remembering when I was younger and I couldn't sleep because of the same dots, thought it had something to do with the way I shut my eyes too tightly. I'd wake up screaming and my mother would soothe me back to sleep. Later it was my sister who was screaming, but first it was me, or maybe it was always us both until I stopped: I'd see faces in the navy blanket, eyes on my walls and the same terror, like something horrible was going to happen and I couldn't stop it, I was paralyzed. I used to think the dots related to atoms, that somehow I could see the structure of things. Afraid of the dark, had to keep my entire body covered, even my head, run for the light in terror if I needed to get up.

Everything in the room was flickering and shaking, no stillness except for my body. I was crying like I did when I was four, exact tone and everything. I wrote: is it something to do with my father, his naked body? Just that sentence, I mean that sentence among everything else, everything else I was feeling. Zee knew what it meant, he’d dated someone before who’d been sexually abused. He knew what it meant when there were places where I didn’t want him to touch me, towards my neck or down my belly and I would freeze. I just thought that was sex: I leave, they can have fun. No one had ever noticed before.

Camelia, who lived with me and Laurie, was the first person who ever told me she was an incest survivor -- do you see how lucky I was? How lucky to live in this house in the Mission, in a culture that talked about rape, a culture where we could go crazy and it was okay, it made sense, sometimes it was the only thing that made sense except sometimes it felt like we would get stuck and some of us did, but there was still so much potential. Zee and I fought because we didn’t really understand one another, he’d grown up in a small town and so for a while it was hard for him to walk more than a few blocks on his own, I mean when he first moved to San Francisco and he was sharing my room and I would go out to the dance workshop and when I got home he hadn’t gone anywhere, he wanted to get groceries, groceries were only a few blocks away, but he was worried he’d get lost. We fought because he would use words like nature. I would say: what do you mean by nature? Nature doesn’t mean anything. We fought when he would disappear for several days into a new affair and neither of us were ever interested in monogamy but it was hard for me not to know what was going on, I just wanted him to tell me. I became his beautiful object, something bold to hold. But first we held each other and that was enough, there was so much in this physical intimacy I’d never experienced before, even if we couldn’t figure out the rest at least we could rest, I mean when we weren’t fighting.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for writing that.

Especially for this:

He knew what it meant when there were places where I didn’t want him to touch me, towards my neck or down my belly and I would freeze. I just thought that was sex: I leave, they can have fun. No one had ever noticed before.

mattilda bernstein sycamore said...

And thank you, my dear!

Love --