i didn’t feel lonely until i learned that i was supposed to. i didn't choose this, but i wasn't born this way. i often wonder if i would still be bisexual if i never watched porn, if i would still want to cut off my tits if men and women were treated equally, if i would still starve myself if being fat was considered the beauty ideal. everyone wants to believe that they’re an individual with the capability of forming unique thoughts and opinions, but on closer inspection, even the most antisocial and rebellious rejects still have icons that they look up to, standards that they try to reach. subcultures formed within pre-existing communities, and even those that were formed for the sole purpose of subverting social norms will simply form new ones. before i learned that sex existed, i had never once looked at someone and thought about how much i’d like to stick my limbs into one of their bodily orifices. in fact, the act was more than just foreign to me - it struck me as grotesque. i imagined myself as a car mechanic, awkwardly manhandling greasy auto parts and struggling to screw pipes together. the idea of masturbation didn’t even occur to me until i read about it in a book. i knew that homosexuality existed, but it seemed like a distant dream, something that was completely alien to me. gay people were like dinosaurs - they existed somewhere, at some point in time, but the concept of actually having a relationship with someone of the same sex was an option that seemed to be reserved for people much older than myself, and degenerate ones at that. for whatever reason, many of my earliest memories somehow involve homosexuality. i suppose the memories that truly stick out in my mind are the most traumatizing ones, and entering uncharted territory is always a nerve-wracking experience. when i was around six years old and i still lived in new york, my mother and i walked to my cousin’s house one night. though the sun had long since set and the sky was now an inky shade of indigo, the streetlamps illuminated the snow-covered black metal fences like a ray of artificial daylight. if you squinted as hard as possible, you could barely make out the outline of a faded and ripped rainbow flag on display outside of a local bar that we passed by. i asked her what the flag represented, and she stuttered, before finally settling on a vague but admissible response - “it means that they accept everyone.” i opened my mouth to ask her what she meant, but quickly stopped myself. even as a child, i understood that she did know exactly what it was, but the more i pried, the more resistant she would be to explaining it to me. years later, i asked her why she had refused to tell me, and she claimed that she was “protecting my innocence.” again, i kept my thoughts to myself. but you had already given me “the talk” by that age, i thought. what exactly is it that makes this any different? i was not too innocent to learn about heterosexuality, but i was too innocent to learn about homosexuality, so naturally i inferred that there was something inherently shameful about it. later that year, my father told me that we were going on a mission, as he so often did when he wanted to show me something special. the destination in question was an art exhibit. one photo in particular that was displayed on the wall caught my attention. it was around five feet wide and four feet tall, looming over the audience, a black-and-white shadow. there, immortalized in a freeze-frame like some sort of ancient specimen fossilized between layers of earth, she was. she was a transvestite. her cheekbones were strong, or maybe they just looked that way because her face was so gaunt. her blonde wig looked like it was on the verge of slipping off her head, and it was just as messy as the unmade bed she was sprawled out on, surrounded by used needles. her manner of dress indicated that she was a prostitute - she wore nothing but a white satin slip and high heels. she appeared to be residing in an apartment. there was a huge window behind her and you could see the new york city skyline through the glass. i wondered if she moved there with a dream in mind. maybe in another life, she would’ve been a businessman or a construction worker. he’d exercise constantly to get used to lifting heavy weights and whistle at the girls who passed by the construction site. they’d hiss “fuck you, pig!” and he’d chuckle and glance at his friends, who were really only his friends because they happened to work at the same job as he did. he wouldn’t care because they were still his friends, and he didn’t waste time thinking about that sort of thing. at first, i wondered why he would choose prostitution, out of all the jobs in the world. then i had an epiphany - not everyone can program a website or operate heavy machinery, but anyone can have sex. almost every business is understaffed and yet nobody can even get hired at a gas station without four years of work experience, minimum. if you want to become a hooker, all you need is a computer and a bottle of lotion, and you, too, can become an amateur actor. who wouldn’t want to whore themselves out? what really struck me about the image wasn’t her surroundings, her outfit, or her appearance. it was the way that she stared into the camera that got to me - she seemed to gaze past the viewer. the expression on her face was one that i can only compare to that of a shell-shocked soldier. it wasn’t an expression, really. it was the opposite of an expression. lifeless, yet so incredibly afraid, a wounded animal anticipating the return of the same predator it had been attacked by in the past. she seemed to look directly at me and stare into the distance simultaneously, like she could see something that nobody else could, something so unimaginably horrifying that no one on earth besides her could possibly comprehend it. her eyes were watering, and it seemed like she wanted to cry, but she couldn’t. she’d repressed the urge for so long that she had forgotten how to, and the tears just built up over the years as if they were layers of rust. it was like trying to trap the entire ocean inside a coke bottle. she was a human aquarium, and the thin wall of glass that kept her misery contained threatened to break under the pressure at any moment. she had the kind of massively dilated pupils that you would typically associate with a cocaine addict, but the syringes scattered across the mattress she was lying on suggested otherwise. as i grew older i would come to believe that every time someone has sex, they donate a little bit of their soul to the person they’re fucking, and eventually there’s nothing left. if you have too much sex, it becomes less and less intimate every time you have it, and someday you’ll have fucked so many people that you’ll start to become incapable of ever truly loving someone. when i was young, my uncle told me that when a dog stops to stare and bark at seemingly nothing, it’s because they have the ability to see ghosts that humans cannot. now, whenever i see a dog growling at a blank wall - eyes so wide you can see their entire sclera, glazed over, pupils large enough to eclipse the iris, nearly pure black - i think of that picture. no matter how many times i try to recreate it, no matter what medium i try to render it in, no matter whether i paint it in watercolors or sketch it in pencil or draw it in ink, i can never quite capture that expression. it is a face that i hope i never see outside of my worst nightmares. years later, i would talk to psychologists, psychiatrists, and everything or everyone in between about my childhood, discussing how or when or why i became so sexually discombobulated. i started to wonder whether it was possible to open up to someone too much. every person i ever met who went to therapy seemed to get worse with every appointment. all of the most vile human beings i knew were heavily invested in therapy, in the same way that one would be incredibly passionate about scientology. and the men - my god, the men. they’d get into a screaming match with their girlfriend, and she would tell them to get a goddamn therapist, and for once in their pathetic lives they’d listen. in fact, they listened so closely that they learned how to put themselves in a woman’s headspace - and in turn, they became experts at fucking with their heads effectively, subtly. less “shut up, bitch”, more “respect my boundaries.” the entire experience simply provided them with more tools that they could use to manipulate the weak. therapy is a pseudoscience, much like homeopathy or reiki. i don’t believe in god and i don’t believe in therapists. i watched everyone around me go in and out of mental hospitals and rehab facilities and residential centers. it seemed like every institution was hellbent on leaving their patients more mentally ill than they were before. maybe they insisted on giving their teenage patients pills that didn’t work and hiring staff members who hated children because they knew that the medical system would trap these poor lunatics in a cycle of endless, profitable misery for the rest of their lives. they were completely aware that they were creating a generation of dysfunctional adults who would keep coming back to the same system that abused them for more because there was a part of them that liked it. this kind of pain was safe and predictable, unlike what they experienced out in the real world. a little bit of suffering was thrilling in a controlled environment. there was a difference between getting unexpectedly attacked by a shark while surfing and choosing to ride a rollercoaster. it made them feel cared for. after all, being treated awfully was still better than not being acknowledged at all. oddly enough, i never struggled with the idea that i might have been a homosexual. if anything, i had a harder time accepting that i may have been straight. in my dysphoria-ridden brain, i figured that i would always be perceived as a mentally ill woman, so i would rather be perceived as a mentally ill lesbian than a mentally ill straight woman. after all, a butch lesbian was the closest that a woman could get to being a man, or so i was told. men despised butch lesbians even more than they despised men who were of a higher social status than them - how could a woman look more manly than i do and get more pussy than me? nevertheless, my first sexual experience was with a male. i was young, old enough to know how to tie my shoes but too young to have given away my collection of stuffed animals. he was older than me, but not by a wide margin. i was not raped or molested - i was actually the one who initiated the encounter. i wish i could say i only fucked him because i was lonely and hormone-crazed, and he was there. it would be so much easier to explain that way. growing up ugly gives you a complex. as you get older, you start to feel as if time is running out, and you have to prove to the world that you are desirable before it’s too late, because even the most beautiful people on earth have an expiration date and no amount of botox can prevent them from shriveling up like a worm in the sun. i didn’t need to prove to others that i was desirable. i just used others to prove to myself that i was. i didn’t need to get laid, but i wanted to at least try just so that i could tell myself that i was capable of seduction. i wanted to be able to say that i was fuckable. as i got older, i realized that finding a man who was desperate enough to fuck me wasn’t exactly the major accomplishment that i initially thought it was. i felt embarrassed for my past self - i truly believed that he saw me as a man and that he wasn’t just going along with my delusions so that i would let him fuck me. he did not need to view the object of his desire as a human being, much less a man, to fuck me. men won’t even let themselves be seen in public with the fat chick they’re fucking, yet they’ll screw inanimate objects, animals, babies, corpses. they will fuck everything with a hole, and if it doesn’t have a hole they’ll carve one in it just to fuck it. you don’t have to be sex-starved in order to become a rapist. most male celebrities are physically attractive, and they could easily have any woman in the world that they want. women already throw themselves at them as is, and yet they are still one of the most sexually predatory demographics, constantly abusing their access to adoring young fans. if sexual assault was a product of attraction, then only supermodels would be raped. no, it is the chemical reaction that occurs when you combine fascistic tendencies with opportunism. a man’s desire for sex is a desire to control, to conquer, to desecrate - most of all, it is an uncontrollable urge to hurt. i believe that the existence of truly heterosexual men is a myth because a man’s wish to subjugate will always override any sort of biological programming. even the most straight and macho males would become bisexual given the right circumstances, as exemplified by the rates of male-on-male rape in prisons. in some ways, women hold power over men - throughout time, men have always competed with others for the affection of a woman, rather than the other way around. every female virgin is a voluntary celibate. lust and disgust are not two mutually exclusive emotions in the male mind. in fact, they are often intertwined. married, effectively heterosexual men willingly pay for the services of cross-dressing male prostitutes - just like the one whose expression was captured in that photograph i was exposed to as a child- just to brutally murder them afterward out of pure shame and embarrassment. then they cry rape by deception as if they somehow didn’t notice that the unfortunate hooker whom they bludgeoned to death was six feet tall before deciding to fuck them. men will even rape prostitutes simply because they can, and in their minds, anything that they want to fuck (and by extension, humiliate) is a woman. i enjoyed fucking him in the moment. i was the one who started it, after all. but when i laid my head to rest at night, i couldn’t sleep. i’d just stare at the ceiling, trying to ignore the awful feeling that consumed me. i envisioned myself being encased in layers of grime like a human cocoon, suffocated by it. have you ever tried to clean a greasy pan, only to find that the harder you scrubbed, the further the oil particles seemed to spread? it was the kind of filth that went deeper than just the skin. it ran through my veins. it seeped through my body, into my mind, infecting my spirit and contaminating my soul. time passed, and he moved on. i, however, did not. we had sex every other day, but he never called me his. every time i tried to hold his hand in public, he’d try to wriggle his way out of my grip like i was holding him hostage. whenever i brought up his obvious disdain for my affection, he’d make excuses. i believed him for a while - that is, until he met her. he finally settled down. every man has a bisexual phase while he still can. i wasn’t special. we agreed to remain friends, and i smiled and told him what a lucky man he was. but beneath my tranquil veneer, my burning rage prevailed. god only knows whether he never truly loved me in the first place or if he was simply ashamed to be seen with me, but one thing was clear - it wasn’t that he had commitment issues. he had an issue with committing to me. it would be years before i got into another long-lasting relationship - i had flings here and there, but nothing ever compares to your first love. i eventually realized that it wasn’t my “first love” that i longed for - i missed being young. my sexuality was still there, but the naivety, the thrill, the curiosity - in other words, all of the things that made sex fun - were not. in the years i spent unintentionally practicing celibacy, i discovered other ways to spend my time. i dabbled in sewing, gardening (i cultivated both legal and psychoactive plants depending on the season), weightlifting, scrapbooking, bowling, alcoholism, painting, and prescription drug abuse, to name just a few. i eventually picked up thrifting as a hobby. one day, i was busy sorting through a rack of pants when i noticed a girl/boy/single-celled organism of indeterminate sex heading in my direction. her angular eyeliner vaguely resembled a tribal tattoo - or the painted-on makeup of a haunted porcelain doll brought to life through the power of some sinister magic. her neon green hair was spiked (think “siouxsie the hedgehog”). i walked up to her and complimented her on her sense of style. she told me her name was fern, and we automatically hit it off since we had similar tastes in music. we roamed around the thrift store, flipping through racks of abandoned nu metal cds and guarding the children’s section from upper-middle-class resellers dead set on robbing impoverished toddlers of clothing items and marketing them as “fairy grunge y2k baby tees.” we encountered a young woman clad in school shooter chic wandering around the building and looking confused. fern handed her a pile of clothing that we didn’t end up purchasing, and we went back to her place. i didn’t know what normal people talked about, so i tried to observe them from a distance and learn through imitation, but all of their conversations seemed to revolve around gossiping about their other relationships. how was i supposed to start a conversation with another person if i didn’t have pre-existing relationships to gossip about? which came first: the relationship that was built upon a foundation of gossip, or the other relationship that was being gossiped about? people like fern were slightly easier to start a conversation with. we didn’t talk about people, we talked about things. but while people can change, things always remain the same, so i lived in a constant state of fear knowing that someday we would run out of things to talk about. i didn’t know how to make friends, but fern looked like me, and she was able to. if it wasn’t the way i dressed, it must have been my body. if it wasn’t my body, it must have been my face. if it wasn’t my face, it must have been my personality. it took me an embarrassingly long amount of time to comprehend that perhaps my looks weren’t the sole reason why people disliked me. when i finally figured this out, i started to wonder whether i only thought this was the case because i assumed that everybody around me was just as shallow as i was. as i realized my belief that they all secretly held the same opinions as me and they were just too scared to say it out loud might have been indicative of a broader narcissistic worldview, i started to miss who i was 30 seconds before i gained the self-awareness that most people had possessed throughout their entire lives. i felt as if everyone around me was born with a built-in instruction manual, and i was some sort of abandoned device left at a local antique store without any directions on how to use me. the local punk scene was a diverse sphere, but not always a welcoming one. punk rockers are a group of people who are all different, unique, and non-conforming in exactly the same way. i was amused by the way their cliquey mannerisms mirrored those of the same popular kids they claimed to hate (“ugh, can you believe she wore a green day shirt to a grindcore show? how is she not embarrassed?”). fern, who was always less socially challenged than i was, functioned as a sort of tour guide for me when it came to navigating the scene, with its many unspoken rules and regulations. she played the same role as the social workers who my school hired to follow me around and “redirect” me in 6th grade (a friend of mine so affectionately deemed them “retard wranglers”). she picked up on my lack of “people skills”, and she took it upon herself to introduce me to her other friends, which was as infantilizing as it was helpful. one girl in particular, lucia, seemed to be fascinated by me - albeit in the same way that one would be enamored by a particularly exotic or endangered animal. the first night i met her, i could barely make out the outline of her body underneath the dingy glow of the parking lot light poles. a gangly blonde boy was clinging to her like a parasite. she escaped from his clutches and got lost in the crowd, conversing with the other punk girls. from a distance, one could have mistaken them for an invasive species of aposematic treefrogs huddling together on a tree branch for warmth - at least 30 heads of unnaturally dyed hair, bobbing up and down in the crowd. i glanced at lucia’s boyfriend, who was now leaning against the warehouse wall smoking, sulking in the shadows. many of those involved in the scene wore makeup, male and female alike, but the style didn’t suit him. he had a real michael cera-esque look to him. if they ever released a silence of the lambs-inspired sequel to scott pilgrim vs. the world in which the title character develops autogynephilia and attempts to skinwalk ramona flowers instead of seducing her, then he’d make a perfect candidate for the lead role. he was sporting a woman’s black fur coat along with a striped polo shirt and blue jeans. his pasty face was slathered with smeared eyeliner and dark lipstick. no man on earth would willingly do this to himself, i thought to myself. this has to be some kind of satanic humiliation ritual. the elites are trying to figure out how far they can push him before he breaks. or it’s a fetish thing. when in doubt, it’s a fetish thing. the irony of judging his outfit as if i wasn’t dressed like a demonically possessed stripper as well was lost on me at the time. i asked fern who he was there with (or rather, who had dragged him there), even though i already knew the answer - i just wanted to find out what her name was. she pointed at lucia and said that he was her boyfriend, oliver. i opened my mouth to ask her why they weren’t talking to each other, but i quickly stopped myself. i nervously glanced at oliver, who was huddled in the corner of the parking lot in a fetal position. he was cradling a cigarette and shielding it from the cold wind as if it was a child. later, lucia explained to me that oliver was a theater kid with no interest in rock whatsoever whom she had groomed into looking vaguely punk that night, like a toddler playing dress-up with his mom’s clothes, which explained a lot. but in that state, he actually did fit in with the mopey outcasts that surrounded him. “so, so sweet”, she told me. “but when we fucked he’d just lie there like a dead fish.” i suppose it should be telling that i barely remember the night she first kissed me. months later, she would tell me that she only approached me in the first place because she had just broken up with oliver, and she was lonely. she really did like him, she said. it just didn’t work out. she seemed to smell the desperation on me and she approached me even though everything about my body language screamed that i was already socially drained, like a vampire feeding on its victim in a vulnerable state. i was draped across a couch in the venue, lifeless as a corpse, spider-like limbs sprawled out across the sofa. i traced her movements as she approached the bartender, trying to sweet-talk him into giving her another drink, even though she was clearly and dangerously intoxicated off of the disgusting homemade concoction that one of her friends had cooked up. i saw her acquaintance wandering around the club, offering the noxious potion to a couple of underaged goths in a thermos from ikea, but i was too exhausted to say anything. lucia approached me and sat down on the uncomfortable vinyl couch without asking for my permission. she turned to face me, making direct and discomforting eye contact, and asked me a question - “do you think i’m hot?” i was so flabbergasted that i didn’t know how to respond, and my immediate instinct was to burst into laughter. i’d never had anyone hit on me before. at least, i didn’t think that they had. my misunderstanding of basic social cues often led me to miss the most obvious hints, while misinterpreting the ones that i did pick up on. male socialization is inherently isolating because women are so terrified of men that they rarely express any sort of affability towards them, so when a woman acts even the slightest bit friendly towards a man, he will usually mistake that amiability for flirtation. i was foolish and naive enough to think that i would ever attract someone again just because someone loved me once (or at least, i thought they did). sex was not an inalienable human right, but rather something i had to fight for like a hungry wolf competing with other animals for scraps. to my shock, she started to laugh too. she started to make small talk with me, but not in the way that most people did. every so often, she would make a seemingly random and unexpected comment to keep things interesting. she could keep a conversation going forever if she wanted to - she was a master storyteller. she would abuse this power later on. while the “friends” i made in the scene grew increasingly more distant from me, they kept in touch with her. it didn’t matter how many times she’d push recovering alcoholics to drink with her, how many mentally unstable and fragile creatures she could date until people started to notice a pattern, or how many people she used for her own gain when they were at their lowest. there was something addictive about her. she pulled out a small packet containing some unknown substance from her purse. she presented it to me as if she was a dealer handing me a bag of cocaine, and asked “do you like peanut butter?” i assumed “peanut butter” was a euphemism for some new designer drug i’d never heard of but on closer inspection, the packet did, indeed, contain a tablespoon of peanut butter. i mumbled a response. “yes….i uh…i ate 6 pop tarts dipped in peanut butter yesterday.” she burst out laughing hysterically, and i couldn’t help but laugh too, even though there was nothing particularly funny about my statement, and even a teenage boy with the fastest metabolism in the world could not maintain my then-skeletal frame with a diet like the one i had just described. i didn’t tell her about my signature trick, of course. i didn’t want to ruin the mood. she was short, but not petite - buxom if anything. her hair had been dyed and bleached so many times that it was almost impossible to tell what color it originally was, although it was thick and so heavily layered that sometimes if i ran my fingers through it i’d see a single strand of brown hair, indicating that she had once been a brunette. i still don’t remember the shade of her perpetually lined eyes, which is strange considering that we spent more time simply sitting in silence staring at each other than we did doing anything else. i’d see my pupils reflected in her own as if you positioned two mirrors directly across from each other. they were always dilated like she had just snorted a line of speed (one of the few drugs she never tried). they could’ve been bottle green, hazel, slate blue, amber, or a combination of all four- an ever-changing, chameleon-like bruise. as time passes, i find it increasingly more difficult to recall specific details about the time that we spent together, so i try to piece together the little things that made her lucia, a found object sculpture of fragmented memories. maybe it was because i liked the idea of her more than i liked her. i always loved her more when she wasn’t around. perhaps my love for her was born out of a selfish desire to have somebody whose personality complimented my own like an accessory to myself - the same way my old middle school girlfriend, jamie, saw me. lucia liked richey edwards. she liked collecting elaborate vintage rosaries that she “borrowed” from her catholic family members, who naively assumed that she was just passionate about her love for christ. she liked pineapple rum. she liked riot grrrl zines. she liked the waxy lipstick which she shoplifted from the nearest drugstore in the shade “cherry bomb.” and most importantly, she liked me, which was perhaps the strangest thing about her. the fact that our relationship was formed around our ability to bond over shared traumatic experiences should have struck me as, at the very least, questionable. but this was the only way that i had ever managed to connect with other people, and so, i saw nothing wrong with it. the second real conversation we had revolved around the topic of eating disorders. we were reminiscing about what the internet had been like before mass censorship, and she brought up the pro-anorexia movement. we started recalling various examples of symbolic imagery from the heroin chic era, finishing each other’s sentences like we were reciting a call-and-response song. “thigh gap.” “black and white pictures of pencil sharpeners with missing blades.” “cigarettes and diet coke.” “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.” “four stone, seven pounds.” “manic street preachers.” lucia’s favorite song told the story of a teenage girl with terminal anorexia, detailing the stages of mental and physical deterioration that came along with the disease in gruesome detail. as the protagonist’s body starts to shut down, so does the music - the song begins as an angular, wiry post-punk tune and slows to the pace of a minimalistic dirge as it progresses onwards. rather than focusing on the most superficial aspects of eating disorders like most songs that attempted to bring awareness to the subject, it addresses the most taboo aspects of the illness - the sufferer’s desire to be unattractive, the illusion of control that the disease provides, the superiority complex i developed because i was able to resist a temptation that everyone else gave into, hunger. i scrawled the chorus in my diary: i, i, i, i, i want to walk in the snow and not leave a footprint i, i, i, i, i want to walk in the snow and not soil its purity the catholic saint known as catherine of siena starved herself to death in pursuit of holy cleanliness. her condition was coined “anorexia mirabilis.” an empty stomach represented a fresh beginning. to me, anorexia offered an opportunity to start anew and shed my cocoon, emerging as an entirely new person - and judging by the way i was treated before and after i lost weight, it worked. anorexia is the only mental illness that comes with societal benefits, and unfortunately, those benefits extended to my love life as well. as much as watching my eating disorder consume me disturbed and upset lucia, who used to be anorexic herself, it also seemed to arouse her in some strange way. she wanted my body, but not the behaviors that sculpted my body into what it was. she clearly had a type - all of her previous boyfriends were wan, thin, and tall, willowy with limbs like pale birch tree branches that could be snapped with little effort, though they didn’t bear the same gnarled scars that mine did. she spoke openly about her preferences (perhaps “requirements” would be a more accurate term). i was her type, yes, but i had to force myself into a mold to make her want me. no matter how many times she told me that she loved me for who i was i could never believe her, though i never told her so. not with her sexual history, and certainly not with the way she fetishized the physique that i only achieved as a result of starving myself. around the time i reached my lowest weight, we were lying in bed together, and she started commenting on how thin i was. she groped at the parts of my body where my emaciated frame was the most prominent and exclaimed - almost excitedly - how bony my knees were, how my wrists were so small that she could wrap all of her fingers around them. previously, i would have been pleased that someone was acknowledging my weight loss, but for whatever reason, i wasn’t. i crumpled in her arms, and collapsed into her, desperately trying to speak through stifled, racking sobs. i told her that i wanted to occupy as little space as i could because that was the closest i could get to experiencing what it was like to be a child again. this way, i would remain stunted forever. in april, a friend of hers successfully auditioned for the leading role in a local play, and we went to see it together. bored by the musical, we walked upstairs. we exchanged stories about her childhood, and she told me about the priest she had encountered when she was a child. he said to her that if she ever told anyone, she would go to hell, and so she didn’t. the wooden beams of the staircase, covered in peeling white paint, cast shadows on her face like she was back in the same confession booth where so much pain had been inflicted upon her. i told her that she was safe, that he would never be able to hurt her again, and that it wasn’t her fault. and though it wasn’t, i couldn’t help but wonder how much innocence would have been spared if she had told someone, even though i would have probably done the same in her situation (and i did - i was afraid that what my father’s friend had done to me wasn’t significant enough to be considered a serious form of harassment, and that speaking his name would only give him more power and notoriety). i excused myself to go to the bathroom so i could purge my last meal. she knew what i was doing, and she still guarded the door like my own personal athena, shielding me from the world. when i emerged a couple of minutes later, i slumped to the floor, and she laughed. she turned to me and said, “maybe we shouldn’t kiss right now after all.” i once asked her if she still would have loved me when i was fat. i don’t know what the point of asking her that question was - what was she supposed to say, “no, i wouldn’t?” i guess i just craved empty validation that wouldn’t even make me feel better in the end. she said she still would have, of course. all i could do was sit next to her in unsatisfied silence and think: yes, you could have. but you didn’t, lucia. no one did. our relationship was always at its least turbulent when there was some amount of distance between us. even when we were sitting just an inch or two apart from each other, that tiny gap seemed to represent an ocean’s worth of space. we were separated by an invisible glass wall that only i could see. if she got too close, she’d end up killing herself in the process of pursuing me. if i got too close, i would lose myself in her. if i allowed her to hold me, or god forbid, embraced her myself, there was always a danger that i would never let her go. and yet, i was terrified of being abandoned by her for the same reason. if you fuck this up, i said to myself, you’ll never get another chance again. it was a mantra i repeated to myself every time someone told me they loved me. and so, with this in mind, i tolerated everything she said or did, no matter how ill-advised it was. i wanted to be cared for. every anorexic i had ever met used to fantasize about getting into a horrible accident or getting cancer as a child so that people would give a shit about them. i had finally found someone to look after me, but that attention was conditional on staying ill. our relationship was less similar to that of a girlfriend and boyfriend and more like that of a mother with munchausen syndrome by proxy and her unfortunate child. it was no surprise to me when i started to receive fewer and fewer phone calls from lucia after i was discharged from the hospital, their frequency decreasing from daily to weekly, until finally, they stopped coming at all. my relationship (if you could call it that) with him was the first and last time i’d ever feel truly present while being physically intimate with anyone. i desired him, craved him in a way that was animalistic and crude. i was starving. i wanted to tear into his flesh and devour him whole. he was, and will likely always be, the only person i have ever had “real” sex with. the relationships i entered after he left me for her seemed more symbolic than anything. the men were bad, but the women were somehow worse - their capability to experience emotions on a deeper level than men could also provided them with an advantage when it came to manipulating others. when i was a child, my peers would often recite a rhyme when provoked - “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” i couldn’t disagree more. scars fade, wounds heal - but you will never forget the first time someone made you feel like a burden. i was an experiment, a fetish, a party story that these women would tell their friends years after they left me. i was nothing more than an embarrassing memory to them, a regret. i’d imagine them laughing over glasses of wine. can you believe i dated that fucking freak? i’d have to pry my eyes open whenever we would kiss to remind myself that it was her, not him, not any sort of hypothetical paramore, not a figment of my imagination. once, she suggested that i put on some music in the background, and in the absence of an appropriately “romantic” soundtrack to our sexual escapades (elvis costello, throbbing gristle, and captain beefheart weren’t exactly erotic), we begrudgingly settled on christian death’s blasphemous homo-core classic only theatre of pain. i was so distracted by the sound that the audibly scratched b-side of the record was emitting that i got up to turn it over to the a-side, conveniently skipping over the questionable first line of “romeo’s distress.” when she looked at me, i would find myself on the verge of tears because of how beautiful she was to me, but every time she tried to touch me, i’d find myself staring at the ceiling, unable to focus. i would imagine that i was the insect crawling across the wall, an observer rather than a participant. my soul left my body and went out the window along with the smoke of her cigarettes, circling the apartment like the veiny vines that kept me trapped inside that building. i used to think it was the house itself that haunted me, that it had too many terrible memories attached to it to ever be hospitable again. but even when i was surrounded by different scenery, they still lingered. i tried to run from them, but they learned to fly, chasing me wherever i went. it wasn’t that i wasn’t attracted to her. i liked her too much to taint her purity with my filth. i was terrified that my inability to have a normal sex life, my tendency to bottle up my emotions until the pressure became too much to bear and i exploded, my bitterness about events that occurred years ago and people that were no longer even a part of my life which manifested itself as emotional outbursts towards my loved ones (i often lashed out at my family, but when it came to my sex life, i was terrified of confrontation and never let myself express anger) - would rub off on her. i never exactly fell out of love with her, but the problem with falling in love is that you can’t fall forever. eventually, you’ll hit the ground. it seemed like the more sex i had, the less i enjoyed it. i watched people the same way that people watched birds. i liked to admire them from a distance. about six months after lucia left me, a boy at my school started to flirt with me. i thought that i liked him too - until he leaned in to kiss me. suddenly, i was overcome with the same sort of repulsion that one might experience when they bite down on a piece of meat and notice something that looks like a vein, an unsightly reminder that their meal was once a living, breathing thing. initially, i speculated that i was only repulsed by the experience because he was a man. maybe i was just a victim of compulsory heterosexuality, i told myself. but even when i tried to get intimate with women, the feeling was still there. it didn’t matter who i was doing it with - the act itself was the problem. it was not any one thing lucia did that made me start to resent her. it was a series of small, seemingly insignificant events that triggered a domino effect. i started having to initiate every interaction we had. i’d make the effort to drive to a local hardcore show just to see her, only for her to spend the entire time talking to a random male stranger, and most of the time, the man in question effortlessly represented everything that i had spent my entire life trying to become. looking at these men made me feel like a plastic surgery victim with botched breast implants ogling a woman with natural double-d tits. they were so thin that their dick would probably break in half if you fucked them too hard, and they could paint their nails or grow their hair long and still be able to look like a man because they didn’t need to “pass” as anything - they simply were. i would vent my frustrations to anyone who would listen because i could never talk to her, and word would spread. she eventually found out that i had been gossiping about her, and it would be weeks before she finally mustered the courage to confront me about my cowardice. in the meantime her behavior became increasingly more passive-aggressive. it was march when i received the phone call. i had an odd habit of sitting in the corner of my room hugging my knees for hours and watching the shapes clouding the gray sky slowly morph outside my window. the phone rang, and i hesitated before picking it up because i knew what was coming. it took me a minute or so to realize that no matter how i responded, what was about to happen was inevitable - i’d find some way or another. unlike me, lucia didn’t hold back. “samuel, you are the most self-centered piece of shit i’ve ever met. and don’t give me that spiel about how i wasn’t supposed to hear it. it doesn’t matter if i wasn’t supposed to hear it. the problem is that you chose to say it in the first place. i’ve never done anything but support you and be there for you, and this is how you repay me?” i sat there in shock for a moment, not knowing how to respond. i knew this was only the consequence of my own actions, but it didn’t make it hurt any less. there was nothing that i could possibly say to de-escalate the situation. i started to sob, choking on my own mucus and tears. i bashed my head against the door of my room, hoping the physical pain i was causing myself would distract me from my emotional distress. this wasn’t like me. i typically operated well under pressure. stress was like the glue that bonded me, helping me keep myself together in difficult situations. once again, i heard her voice and braced myself for impact. i was struck by how calm and collected she seemed compared to me. her voice didn’t break a single time. “aww, samuel…don’t cry.” her response to my reaction seemed so condescending. suddenly i gained awareness of how childish i was being. she had been forced into playing the role of a parental figure, trying desperately to comfort her child in the midst of a temper tantrum. “i’m not doing this because i don’t love you. i’m doing it because i love you too much.” i finally managed to collect myself, taking a deep and ragged breath that sounded more like a death rattle than the result of a meditation session. “i’m sorry, lucia. i’m so, so sorry. you deserve to be with someone better than me. someone who isn’t a fuckup. someone who won’t drag you down with them. you deserve the world. i’m sorry i couldn’t give it to you.” i awaited her response anxiously. i didn’t realize how pathetic my self-flagellating meltdown seemed at that moment. after what felt like years, she broke her silence. “you did give me the world. and our relationship was fucked up, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t fun. i think you need to work on yourself before you get into another one. i’ve been seeing a therapist and taking my meds. i’ve actually been getting better. i’m finally happy.” i paused. suddenly, i didn’t feel like wallowing in self-pity anymore. i was angry. even though i had said it myself, the way she phrased it made me sick. i was not a person to her - i was a dark cloud that followed her, the small voice in the back of her mind that tempted her and encouraged her to fall back into old habits. that day was the last time i talked to her. every woman tells her boyfriend that they can stay friends after the relationship crumbles, but they never do. besides, i didn’t want to taint the happy memories i did have with her with my newfound perception of her. it wasn’t until she left me that i started to remember all the bad parts, the things i had filed away in the cabinets of my brain, gathering dust. for someone who claimed to be an advocate for the marginalized, she wasn’t too keen on supporting people with mental health issues. strangely enough, it was only after i started actually making an effort to recover from anorexia that she began to tell me about how my mental illness was emotionally taxing. she was upset she had to try to support me now that i was making an attempt to reach out for help rather than suffering in silence. her activism was completely performative - when no one was looking, she suddenly lost interest in being politically correct (once, after making a joke about how she hated all men, she turned to me and clarified that i was exempt from her misandry: “not you, though - you’re not really a man”). i started to wonder if the only reason she adopted the persona that she did was that she was afraid that people would find out who she really was, and this way, no one would ever suspect her of hurting someone else. she existed in a state of perpetual victimhood. as a child, i enjoyed reading people’s diaries. i didn’t revel in learning other’s darkest secrets. it was the mundane details that excited me. they added a sense of photorealism to stories that would otherwise seem unremarkable. for a second, i was able to escape my own life and insert myself into someone else’s. i had discovered a new form of astral projection. i realized that what lucia did to me would happen over and over again until the day i died because i could never date a mentally stable person, and they didn’t want me either. there would be nothing for me to psychoanalyze, and my hypothetical partner wouldn’t feel the urge to “fix” me (or vice versa). i realized that this wasn’t a normal desire, but if i dated a sane person, then i wouldn’t have anything to talk about with them. how did non-demented people make friends? what campfire tales did they have to tell? what was their supervillain backstory? most importantly, did they even have to develop a personality to compensate for their failures considering they were already born equipped with everything that they needed to succeed in life? when you lose someone you love - whether because they died, or they chose to leave you of their own volition - it’s devastating, of course. but there’s a sense of relief that comes with this loss. with every relationship i enter, i spend less and less time in the present, never enjoying the situation for what it is or was. all i can think about is when it will end, and how. my fear of abandonment consumed me. so, when the person i was in love with finally chose to leave me, i took comfort in the knowledge that the worst part was over now. except it wasn’t. being abandoned was the easiest part. the worst part was the constant reminders that plagued me in my day-to-day life. i nearly collapsed sobbing in the middle of a safeway that we used to shoplift alcohol from. the pain that came with knowing that she was probably fucking a different man every weekend and she most likely never thought about me at all while i would spend the rest of my life struggling to move on was indescribable. i felt like i was being haunted by the ghost of someone who hadn’t actually died. after lucia left me, i spiraled. perhaps there was a part of me which wanted to believe that if i became sicker, she would eventually return to me, or maybe that was just an excuse to cling on to any remaining coping skill or distraction that i had in my life. either way, it didn’t matter - nothing was ever enough, not for lucia, and certainly not for myself. eventually, i was forced into a partial hospitalization program, before i was kicked out within a month for being naive enough to think that the staff wouldn’t notice the stench of vomit coming from the trashcan downstairs. a week or so before i left, a diminutive, impish girl with a pixie cut approached me. whenever i saw an anorexic girl with short hair, i always played guess-the-issue with myself (“did she have a britney spears moment, or is she just balding? and do i really want to know?”). “hey, do i know you?” i jumped, slightly startled. i scanned her face for any recognizable features until i realized who she was. i was speaking to lucia’s friend, gray. she cocked her head, absent-mindedly picking at the long strands of dark hair (the only thing that remained of her once-long, flowy mane) on her moth-eaten argyle cardigan. “yeah…i do know you. you were dating lucia, weren’t you? how’s she doing?” “i….” i stuttered, not knowing how to respond. gray quickly figured out what was going on, and i didn’t have to say a single word. “oh…yeah, i had a feeling things wouldn’t work out between you two. you’re both crazy little borderline freaks.” was this supposed to make me feel better? “you hate her, don’t you?” she insinuated, chuckling. she stated it like it was a fact rather than an inquiry, a rhetorical question. the truth was that i wanted to hate lucia, but i didn’t. hating her would have been so much easier. hatred was an emotion much easier to comprehend than the complex amalgamation of feelings that i was actually experiencing - devastation, nostalgia, disgust, regret, misery, rage, jealousy, self-loathing, and the weight of knowing that i had ruined something that i would never get to experience again in my entire life in a matter of seconds. perhaps even worse was the knowledge that i barely even appreciated the time we did spend together because i spent too much time worrying about everything that could possibly go wrong and obsessing over imaginary nightmare scenarios that only existed in my mind like i was watching reruns of my favorite saturday morning cartoon. but i couldn’t sum up my feelings in a couple of words, so i didn’t. i just smiled softly and played along. “yeah, she’s fucking psycho. classic case of broken bird syndrome.” i didn’t want to get well anymore. lucia never really wanted to “fix” me after all. getting better meant that there would be nothing that she needed to repair about me. that was why she left me, i thought. her work was done. my loneliness is a chronic disease, and i find comfort in its familiarity. i don’t wonder how i would feel if things had worked out differently anymore. there is no point in lamenting over the absence of something i’ve never experienced. nobody is worthy of living the life that i couldn't experience, and no one deserves to know what it feels like to have a taste of what life could be only to have it immediately stripped away from them. i do not wish happiness upon anyone.