On not running away

by MB


But you are still running away.

One version of running away is to take a very long shower while someone you’re pretending to like sits on their bed watching trailers on the computer.

Soon you will find yourself in more and more situations you don’t want to run from. At work you’ll realize that you’ve spent the entire day in your body, really in it, not imagining what you look like to other people who surround you but just being who you are. You are a tool being put to its proper use. That changes a lot of things. - Lena Dunham

***

But you always were that girl, she insisted. When you were young, you wrote it down, exhausting it from your consciousness.

***

 I’m an old soul. It’s a phrase I’ve insisted countless times over the past fifteen years to strangers and friends alike. Apologetically, incessantly, irrefutably. But I’m an old soul.

I was twenty five when I was thirteen. In mannerisms and sensibilities. In physical if not emotional maturity. I defined myself by of the opposite, what was there but unseen. In terms of what was not.

Thinking about my life in reverse chronological order, I am conscious of a distance that has settled between me and her. This gap is intangible, but its presence is stark, blinding.  I close my eyes and drift towards last week, last month, towards tepid summer mornings spent at the beach, red and white striped towels doubling as blankets protecting my skin from the cool, fine, sand on the easternmost tip of Long Island. Some of these memories are nothing more than fragments, filmy particles of reality bound together by the depths of my imagination. Others are more cohesive, accompanied by reverberating pangs of shame and emptiness that crash like waves on a beach the morning after a storm.

My therapist accuses me of compartmentalizing, of intentionally withholding pieces of myself from her.  She is confused, maybe hurt. Unknowing. Stripped of the power I had ascribed her.

Instead of having all of these little boxes, she tells me, why don’t you try moving things around, shifting them a bit, de-cluttering. You don’t need an Ed box, a me box, a work box, a Dr. E box.

What she does not know – what I cannot tell her – is that she is simply a casualty in this betrayal, an accidental bystander.

***

I am the second-tallest girl in my fourth grade class. In class photos, three rows of six kids facing towards each other on the bleachers and flanked by teachers on either side, I am in the top row, surrounded by boys.

I do not have to stand back-to-back with my peers, shoulders back and chin up, straining for invisible centimeters, to prove this. When we are asked to line up by height, shortest in the front, I walk to the back of the class and assume my place in the hierarchy. I am not challenged by my classmates.

I play center in basketball, back middle in volleyball, defense in soccer, and, occasionally, catcher in softball. I am solid and my legs are muscular.

After school I stand between the double mirrors in the entrance of my house, mesmerized by the seemingly infinite number of mes created by their optical illusion. I stand on my tiptoes and bend my legs, watching as my calf muscles flex back at me in the mirror. Returning to a flat-footed stance, I look at the mirror hopefully, waiting for my calves to disappear back into my legs. My muscles, however, remain. Disappointed, I cry myself to sleep before my parents come home for dinner.

At night I lock myself in my closet and sit under a makeshift teepee I have constructed by placing extra sheets on top of my hamper and some empty shoe boxes. I curl myself into the smallest-possible position and shroud myself in blankets – knees to chest to chin – and will myself to disappear.

***

I begin to take baths at night. After dinner, after I’ve already showered and put on pajamas, is bath time. My house is old, built in 1928, and when I draw water for my nighttime ritual, the sound of running water echoes throughout the entire structure, deafening me to my surroundings. Sometimes, when I can’t sleep, I get out of bed at 2, 3, 4 in the morning, and make a bath for myself. Some nights, the noise wakes up my mother, who comes into my room to question me. Other nights, she sleeps through it, or wakes up but pretends not to hear. We never talk about it in the morning.

***