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I refer to myself as a magnet to sharks in several of my poems. I write about those who have circled around me, about those who have bitten chunks out of me, and about those who have torn me apart limb by limb. But, see, the thing is, as much as I want something that is soft, I am beginning to think that I cut myself in the water, that it really is all on me.
It’s like my whole life I’ve been eager to find men incapable of loving me. Men with anger tucked underneath their tongue, resting there until my soft ways make them bring it out and cut me into ribbons. Men with hands holding the axe I should have ran away from. Men worshipping my body but failing to see me as a person with a spirit and a self.
I don’t talk about my first love ever. He was my first even though he liked to leave bruises, and ever since then I became accustomed to them, sometimes literally, but always metaphorically speaking. I suppose you do start to condition yourself when you’re young.
The only one who ever called me beautiful, the only one who ever looked me in the eye and told me he loved me, made me feel like a dirty motel room.
He used to tell me he loved me and I would imagine it was real. He used to kiss me and call it transcendent. But the truth is, I was just good enough for when he needed entertainment, on nights her lips weren’t enough, when he was craving crazy. He’d caress the side of my face with his thumb and tell me he knew we belonged together. For years I helped him lie, I did the same, and I pretended that we did. But he was never really here, he liked to just visit for a little while. He’d leave the stench of his cigarettes behind, the smell of his fingers burning through my skin, little bruises from his vehement touch. For years he’d come and douse me in gasoline, leave and never stick around to watch me burn. Transcendent and still I wasn’t enough.
My last relationship amounted to a whipping post. He didn’t touch me (often) but I bled anyway. I was always ready for the next strike with him. And still, I’d stretch, still I’d make myself ready for his hands to bend me; during my time with him it’s all my body knew how to do. I’d bleed and ask forgiveness, when he was the one holding sword after sword in his hand. But it was always I that slipped, something I did, something I wasn’t, something I didn’t do that forced him to give me the blow. I didn’t know who I was anymore. I was tired. He was hungry for it, so I let him reach into my robin-throat and steal my voice. He liked me better quiet. I took his shape. And in every bone, suddenly, a lacuna, until I just couldn’t stand anymore.
When I finally left I still had the echo of his voice ringing in my ears telling me all the ways in which I’d never be good enough. It began to fade, until I could no longer hear it. I gained my own voice back, but something in me just wasn’t as warm, as soft, just not the same.
I began to lose fingers from the frostbite in beds I should have never crawled into. My lips cracked from from kissing mouths that would never say my name. My hair trailed across dirty mattresses I saw as fortresses around me stories high.
I am sick of feeling the hot breath of someone who will not look me in the face. My nostrils will no longer stand to be invaded by the scent of someone who touches me but doesn’t look me in the eye. I am done handing myself out like party favors to those who do not deserve the high. I am taking down the Open To Carnivores from my front step.
There’s scars on my knees reminding me of the unholy altars at which I have knelt. They’ve made me afraid. They made impenetrable. But I deserve more than all the ways in which my heart was broken in the past.
I deserve more than what I only allow myself to have today.
I don’t just want hands. I want someone who knows how to use them right. Hands attached to a considerate lover. Hands that touch me as if they were digging in and discovering me with each caress. Eyes that look into my own and see me. Lips that say my name. Lips that stir something in me.
Maybe this is the first step in learning how to let someone good get close to me – no longer accepting the things that I do not deserve and accepting that I owe myself more.
Maybe I will one day learn to look for someone who loves.
Maybe one day I’ll take the hands of someone who actually asks me questions, someone eager to know me. Maybe one day I’ll see my reflection staring back at me in eyes that praise me. Maybe one day I’ll hear a voice in my ear saying my name like they know and appreciate everything it stands for.
Maybe one day I’ll be reminded that there was once softness here. That there still is.
For now, I am steering clear of shark infested waters.