IN CONDITIONS OF INSUFFICIENT LIGHT
We are more similar than you think. I have felt alone in a place commonly called comfort.
My mother’s first name is Maria as in: Santa Maria. As in: holy, holy, holy.
My mother gives birth to boundaries and also to daughters.
My father tries, but will never be able to speak her language. His fault is all in the absence of accent. His Irish-American roots are spread heavy on his tongue.
She never speaks to the other mothers in her neighborhood. She walks a line that is thin like thread, like separation.
I’m sorry for pulling the flowers off the tree in the backyard. I know how you tanned the backs of your hands that summer working so hard to plant it. I know that I did not inherit your ability to spend long amounts of time in the sun. I know that this is not what you had planned for me.
But I wish you could see the way I can cradle a delicate thing in my hands.
The plant my mother buys for me is not a cactus but I still call it that. I leave it on the ledge of my window next to my prayer candles. I know that I am not good with things that require constant attention.
I know that this gift came with intentions.
Its label has little to no instruction regarding its care. Sunlight. Small amounts of water. All of these are presented to me in pictograms.
Lucy touches the edges of the ceramic pot. They gently correct me, “this is a succulent.”
Guilt comes at me like aimless hunger. Happening upon me in moments of stillness or silence. I try drowning it out with music and books and TV. I watch seasons of shows in a matter of days. My favorites are the ones that depict happy and complicated families. A queer interracial couple that fosters children. Two mothers that encourage their adopted son to wear his nail polish. The kind of mothers who sit him down in the bathroom as he tries to scrub it off in violent strokes and explain what it means to feel safe and unsafe as a queer person in public.
My mother watched seasons of Grey’s Anatomy with me when I was in middle school. She kept her legs tucked inside the couch so deep that I thought she may have grown into it. She takes note of the way I do not shudder in disgust when Callie Torres kisses her wife.
She tells my sister she is worried about me.
I am never where I say I am but I am sure that by now, you know this. My hair is only getting shorter with age.
Lucy has their hands pressed against their face in mock of someone with a more delicate nature. I’m leaning over their bed, and over them to open the window. To let the light in. To take their picture.
I imagine my body without blood and flatten against their sheets.
If I place my knees on either side of them it is easier to take a picture that is worth it. They look bright with their overgrown pixie cut tucked behind their ears.
I think about the time I let go of Lucy’s hand on the train and feel a different kind of guilt. One I can identify. I eat it with a comfortable kind of ease.
I am sorry that you’re scared. I think that you are symmetrical, all your parts line up perfectly in a way mine never have. Is this because you are sure of yourself? How long will it be until I know the answers.
We will never go to Paris together, of that I am certain. But the Eiffel Tower isn’t as tall as we need it to be.
p.s There are sheets in the dryer and I will get to them eventually.
The day I take Lucy to the beach we are wrapped and curled around one other, our backs are twisted like the way water can warp cedar. Although, I always imagine their spine like a streetlamp.
We went to see the sun set over the water, but instead I am reminded of the way my hands can tighten against anything. I grip sand as a group of men walk past us. They walk in between us. They separate our hands. We pull apart and I remember the way curdled milk can sit on top of coffee. They are saying so many things to us and they all sound like: I am not their kind of woman.
I don’t know who designed this city.
And the sun has never set over Lake Michigan.
Please be careful when walking home from the bus tonight. It is getting warmer lately but the night can still hold the weather in its hands, turn it cold at any moment.
p.s. The dishes in the sink are rinsed but not stacked
I tell my sister that I sometimes feel numb during sex. That when I did it for the first time my whole body went limp. How I could not register the pain on a scale because there was none. Only pressure. She nods and says that this is normal the first few times. I smile as if I am relieved and don’t tell her that what I meant was: always.
I have sex with men to prove something to myself. I take off the necklace I wear for my grandfather. I sneak a cigarette beneath my basement stairs.
I thought: my face can press against a pillow if I need it to.
I came home to tell you about Lucy, but you were asleep in your bed. I can see your arms outstretched, your head balanced between them.
I won’t be home tonight, please do not wait up.
I borrow Lucy’s body scrub. The one they need specifically for their sensitive skin. They have skin that is hollowed out and thinned by years of acne. I know that I do not need this body wash but I am convinced that borrowing it will bring us closer. I love how it smells and buying it for myself will only make me more lonely.
They know how I am feeling. They ask me what it is that I am not saying. And I do what I always do and turn on my back and sigh lightly into the wall. I lick my lips which is less like stalling and more like waiting for the words to string themselves together in front of me. I say, you know that you scare me.
They ask me what I want. And I know. I know that I want a job like the ones characters have on TV. In a bright office with indiscriminate but very meaningful work. Something that makes me late for important birthday dinners. But my friends understand. They explain to everyone, it’s her job.
I ache for something average.
I do not vocalize this. Instead I say quietly: I want to see you less.
I think: this is the only way I will not become accustomed to how they make me feel. I think: this might be the only way to become untethered.
We feel heavy like paper is. We only hold a certain weight when stacked on top of each other. There are no small parts to this. It is all big.
I have forgotten the story you told me. The one about never wanting to change your last name. I want to know why it ended the way it did. And mom, when you say that you are sorry, know that I am too.
I think about the possibility of never dating someone who can pull me onto their lap again. I am not particularly small. I think about my body as if it were a backpack. Full of things and needing to be emptied out from time to time. I think about telling a story from a stage. I think about becoming light; softer. I think about my body teaching itself to levitate.
Lucy has made habit out of licking my elbows. They say, I’m here for the parts you could never reach.
I imagine myself into a child. Remember the way I would overfill the bathtub until the water and soap would create a fine foam that would cover the floor. I would slide my body across it. Now I can’t even lay down on the tile without having to bring my knees into my chest. I don’t know if anything was simple when I was a child. But I know that I was small. I am sure that I was small.
I cry with my legs wrapped around them, in their clothes, after we showered in their parents house. I say love is good. It is so good.
I felt clean and warm and counted trees out the window. Felt my size. Recalled my mother. Her hands that are mine, only older.
My therapist reminds me to say, I am a good person. Instead of, I am not a bad person. The first is more permanent.
Lucy dreams themselves into another city, one that is warm and not necessarily south but not necessarily west. In this particular dream they give me a library that I operate out of my home and a kitchen with open cabinets. And I am appreciative. But unsure. Pretty soon, things will happen. The lake will freeze over and then thaw. There will be a future my mother disagrees with.
I will learn and then perfect different ways to explode slowly.
I am in love with Lucy and I dream of living with them in a house with big windows.
I find the name of my succulent and it is something I cannot pronounce. It’s sprouts reach out toward the bottom of the ceramic pot. It’s limbs more brown than green. The soil squelching, and shrunk against the roots.
I take it into the backyard and lay it on the ground. I watch as the earth goes on with it’s caressing, using the exact amount of energy I cannot manage.
I press my legs into the grass and do something I did as a child. I tear at the weeds with my hands.
I pray this word: want.
Katie Burke is a writer living in Chicago and she is trying her best. She is the social media coordinator for Lettered Streets Press and her work can be found in Alien Mouth, The Fanzine, Witch Craft Magazine, and others.