Busy Philipps is reading her memoir to me. Of all the high school characters, I find Kim Kelly the most recognizable. I know that girl. I’ve been that girl. And Philipps’ memoir is as compelling as her tough-girl character from Freaks and Geeks. I like the way she tells her story. Admitting, immediately, that it’s hers. From her viewpoint. She’s narrating her experience as closely as she can get to it, as well as the revisions. Like any memoir, it’s the time we remember. And this time, remembered. It’s all our perspectives. The ones where we forgive, and the ones where we don’t.
I’ve spent the afternoon thinking of a girl I loved for the end of my childhood. In what was the most dangerous of all my relationships. A time so violent that my bruises never turned entirely yellow. A closeted relationship is frightening. EVERYTHING about your relationship is a secret. You can’t describe actual fights that you have, because sex is a context, and it matters. Your feelings won’t make sense to other people — or to you — if they think your lover is just a roommate, or just a friend, or just a co-worker. And the things that keep you closeted — fear, shame, violence — have nowhere healthy to go. Your relationship is self loathing. It spends what little oxygen it has strangling its own throat.
I remember that girl in terrible ways. I remember her anger, and her viciousness, and her laughter, and the way she focused when we were alone. I remember writing her over and over and getting it wrong. What did I know about love? About consent? Nobody had ever said the word consent to me. No one had ever defined it. What was sex with a girl supposed to be like? When was it healthy?
Our families’ answer was NEVER. It’s never healthy. It’s never acceptable.
Our religions’ answer was NEVER. It’s never healthy. It’s never acceptable.
And one of our own answers was the same: Never.
What we do is never OK. It’s sometimes love, but not really. It’s sometimes kind, and that makes it worse. Harder to understand.
How many bruises do we forgive? Do we have to see bruises? Isn’t it enough to feel them?
To feel bruised and to leave.
How would we ever learn to stay?
That is the question I asked myself for twenty years. Each terrible relationship after the next. The sex so frequently savage, and demeaning, and scary, and so fucking hot. And I worried. I worried that I was ill. Not just for the sex, but for the desire to injure and be injured at my most vulnerable. To stand, naked, in the garden, and bludgeon people with the apple instead of eating it.
I don’t want to KNOW ANYTHING. I just want to smash in every direction. I just want to destroy.
I want my fear and my shame and my violence to annihilate everything.
I want everyone to hurt like I hurt.
In this tiny box so broken that it has never hidden me.
We all knew all along.
We all knew, and our knowledge made it impossible to stay. We needed to know and to believe and to want to drag our shame into the town square and expose it to our own scrutiny. Not anyone else’s scrutiny. Just our own.
This sad, small thing. That’s what we expected to see. Something sad and small and sniveling.
But there was only our love. Undernourished, sure, but reaching out to be held.
I had dinner with her, years later, and there were only lies left. Nothing better. I felt free for the first time. To think we had been doing our best after all. Our best at the time. Miserable best. Miserable time. I wish I had learned with less consequence. But the problem with that kind of learning is that it rarely lasts. I can show you the placement of every bruise. That’s what they become at last: stories. What good does it do, now, to want better for the girl-self then? Could I spare her something? Wouldn’t I spare her everything? From this distance, she is my daughter. And rather than pretend to hope that she gets through it, I have the joy to know that she does. She does climb up and out and up and out and up and out. And she doesn’t even need to forgive. The telling is enough.
The telling is everything.