Friday, November 04, 2011

Discovering Love

By Kiana Nguyen

He gave me a yoyo, my absentee father. The cheap toy was broken and tangled after a few hours of play. Yet I love it, the memory I have of it, of my father who broke me, who taught me how love is fickle, empty, and shaped of knives. He made me what I am: from a child of folly, to a young girl scared of feeling anything for anyone.

He was a giant, tall and thin. He loomed over everything. And I, so small, so young, saw him through stars. He could do no wrong and I relished what little time I had with him during his scattered visits. Scattered is too full of a word.

His shadow directed the course of my life. I had friends, many, but none too close, none who knew me as I knew me. Which wasn’t much, I never looked too closely at my feelings, ignored all sudden floods of emotions. I was self-destructing, but I didn’t know why. Didn’t realize how much hurt was locked inside, hidden from even myself.

In middle school I met a boy. He was the leather your parents forbid you to wear, the oil that stained and never cleared; everyone liked him, and I felt full and warm when he paid me any attention. He was cruel, but I was crueler. I neither cared for his feelings, or how I could hurt him, I just wanted the rush of being held, of being wanted for something. I desperately wanted to be needed, even if only as a doormat. I took from him whatever semblance of emotion he could muster, took from his hands and his mouth as if I could siphon his very soul and complete mine. His sloppy kisses and warm body couldn’t make me feel as real as his insults, his mean hands. It was pain that kept me alive. Through the ups and downs of that toxic infatuation, pain was my constant companion – whether from his words, his silence, or my blade. The blood ran warm, and I kept my smile.

But self medication wasn’t enough. He didn’t love me, I couldn’t muster a response. My blood was cold, my skin tired, and I was done with highs and lows. Love wasn’t for me; there was no one to love and no one to ever love me. That was the hole I fell into, one of despair so deep it clawed at my ribs with fingers poisonous, relentless. I felt nothing in those last days, but the ache that filled me to numbing. It was blistering, chilling, hungry and pitted deep within my chest. Where lay my soul, my heart - all the things I had scarred, all the things he had thrown away as if it were a wrapper to discard.

They were heavy knots sliding down my throat, the chalky taste washed out with the overbearing tang of orange juice. Nausea rose in my belly, a sea that reached the back of my mouth, and I swallowed that down too. I felt numb, the cacophony of screams I had held down released with every sound of the plastic hitting the counter, and the gulp of my esophagus as it squeezed down all it could at once. I consumed golf balls, and acid – a combination I gave my hopes to, but settled nothing. Finally, the bottle came down upon the Formica with a dull clang, the jiggle of its contents nonexistent. I smiled then, cracking and bitter.

I had done it. The rush had kept me going as, handful by handful; I chose the path I wanted. I remember walking up the stairs with sleepy steps, climbing into bed with wriggling toes and lax hands. Laying on my stomach, and hearing the whispers of his rejection. My belly felt light, my head pounded a drumming beat.

The world was fuzzy the next time I woke, like a dream. I had to pee. I was laughing, knocking on the bathroom door and hearing my brother laugh along. Going dark, then seeing the ceiling. My stepdad shaking me, asking me what I had taken, my mother’s frantic cries. The tile was hard and icy against my back. I could see, but I wasn’t focused, I could hear, but as if I was submerged under water. Underneath it all I was terrified, but I could only speak with blown eyes and a slack jaw.

My stepdad later told me that I was talking. Repeating, “Why doesn’t he love me?” as if it would somehow save me. I admitted in my drugged haze to the pain I had pushed deep down – I was worthless, and unworthy of anyone’s love. I was thirteen.

I am ashamed. And looking at them then, I felt a tiny glimmer of desire, to love like they did.

That thought was on my mind on a crisp October morning some years later. I was finally in my last year of high school, the relief bone deep. After that, I couldn’t lie to myself. Even if I had to lie to others, I refused to trouble the waters of my sanity just to get through each day.

My life finally felt right, the satisfaction of it brought a kind of happiness I had never known before. I have to thank my friend Lyanne for that: I met her as a junior and have so much to thank her for. She unconsciously helped me ‘come out of the closet’ by introducing me to the music of, however cliché it may sound, Tegan and Sara. Through our mutual obsession with their songs we became best friends. Those two women gave me the confidence to say to the world, “I love women, and intensely so.”

But it was Sara Quin’s prose that filled my lungs to bursting with the passion of loving and losing another woman’s touch. Her words lit the flame of wonder and rightness within me. I had to tell them. My family.

It was a Saturday, and I still had yet to do any school shopping. I went with my mother, my father, baby sister, and Lyanne to Woodbury Commons. I had to tell my parents first, that’s the kind of town I’m from. I hadn’t consciously decided to come out to them in a public arena of stubborn shoppers who strode with deals on the brain. But it seemed right. I told my mother while we stood outside of a store waiting for my father to leave. I looked at Lyanne, looked at my mother, and blurted it out.

The surprise and liberation that shot through to my feet at my mother’s “Is Lyanne your girlfriend?” was dumbfounding. I stared at my mother, this smiling woman with cocked eyebrows - and I laughed. Of course my mother would worry about the who, rather than the why that plagued the minds of everyone who couldn’t understand that the heart and body knew what it wanted even if the mind did not.

And of course Lyanne wasn’t my girlfriend, but that question would often emerge from my mother’s glossed lips whenever I introduced her to, or mentioned, a female friend. She was obsessed with the concept, as if every time I answered “no,” her hope of a boyfriend for me became real. I didn’t care for that, ignored it rather, because I had been true to myself.

I was free. I was proud. I was ready to face life with courage and an open heart. I had a purpose, and that was to be the best person I could be, to love and care and create without restrictions.

Then Amanda came into my life, this girl with warm brown eyes, a witty tongue, and fingers clever enough to illustrate beauty with a guitar. She taught me the wonder of emotion, of expression, with only the fire of her eyes to guide me, the curve of her lips. Without fear I gave her what I had always wanted to give without regret – my heart.

A writer since childhood, Kiana Nguyen studies Anthropology and History as a freshman at the University at Albany, State University of New York. She writes "to make sense of the thoughts in her head and to express her experiences in the only way that feels right."

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