post-party weltschmerz, dreams, and flamenco terminology
I pose a question: it’s the day after your birthday, and you’re in a club with your friends. The same person is introduced to you three times. You have become a myth. What do you do?
That’s awfully simplified. Let me say it better.
I pose a question: it’s the day after your 18th birthday, and you’re illegally in a club that you only got into because you know the owner and all the bartenders, and the owner put a stamp on your hand to let the staff know that you weren’t to be served anything alcoholic. That doesn’t matter though, because you’re slowly swearing off alcohol anyways. The same boy is introduced to you three separate times, and he grows more and more confused each time because you’ve been introduced by three different nicknames— one calls you Dean after Dean Moriarty in On the Road, one calls you Joan after Joan Baez, and one calls you Helen, after Helen of Troy. You are also introduced as [Dean, our crown jewel], [Joan, who all my songs are about], and [Helen, the only real one here], which confuses the boy more. You realize that the idea of ‘you’ has become larger than you really are, encompassing dozens of exaggerated stories with conflicting details and characterization, and that you’ve therefore become just as much of a myth as you are a person. And of course, none of those are even remotely your real name. Happy fucking Birthday. What do you do?
Let me give an answer: you sit in the booth with people crowded around and listen as they swap stories about you. To them, you are a saint, a lover, a muse, a bar-fight aficionado, unspeaking, and graceful. You are also “the devil in men’s jeans”, full of vitriol, speak inaccessibly, a pacifist, chatty and witty, and clumsy as a baby deer.
None of these people know me, I’ve realized.
Well, that’s not entirely true. What I’ve realized is that in my existence as a myth, I have taken on the trait of being interpretive. I am what they see, made into what they want to see. To Jack, who calls me Dean, I’m a wise-cracking flirt who loves pretty clothes and going dancing. To Lou, who calls me Joan, I’m her mystery girl of the plains where we met— half enshrouded in mist, wistful, poetic. To Ingrid, who calls me Helen, I’m an outspoken and fiery punk. None of them are wrong, but being wrong and being right isn’t a dichotomy. I have all of these traits, but I have them at the same time. I exist as a mostly flat character to them.
It’s my fault. And I know that there’s people out there shaking their heads and saying no, don’t say that about yourself, but it is. I am not the type of person to take responsibility for something I’m not responsible for, but I am responsible for this, and not in a way where I could act contradictory to disprove their concepts of me— I actively feed into their ideas.
It’s so easy to wear myself as a costume. I put feelers out— small talk, their body language, how they respond to my words and touch— and I take the bits of me that they respond well to and make myself anew for their consumption. I mirror. They, through how they present themselves, tell me exactly what they expect from me and how I can draw them out of their shell. I show them the me that they want to see, they tell me all about themselves, and I get information on them.
(It’s not like I’m using it for emotional blackmail or to gain power over them— of course not. I’m shitty, but I’m not that bad. Besides, I have a guilt complex so strong that I’ll vomit if I feel guilty. Thankfully, I am not someone who feels guilty often, so it’s easily avoided. Secrets are just the emotional safety net I never use— someone else always initiates, and then I match their energy from there. I’m only as vulnerable as they are and nobody gets hurt. It’s a perfect system, aside from me never actually reaching out.)
It works every time. I am everyone’s best friend.
I know it’s probably not the best practice, but it’s harmless. At this point I’ve accepted that I don’t feel emotion like most people— there is nothing that I can’t rationalize myself out of feeling, nothing I can’t stop myself from doing if I don’t want to. I don’t have that desire for connection that everybody else does. My brain is a switchboard and I am in control of this ship, and this ship doesn’t particularly care if other people know me for who I am, because this ship only exists in your mind. Individualism is a poison upon this world and I know it, but the truth of the matter is that I could never see another human being again and I’d probably be fine.
It’s not like I’m being fake, either. It’s all me. Everything you see is me. You’re just looking at a different facet on the jewel than everybody else is.
I get an Uber home from the club and make the guy drop me off a block away— more because I don’t want him to watch me break into my own house than because I don’t want him to know my address. I go in through the kitchen window again, fucking up my bare knees on the brick. The dog doesn’t even bark. She must have figured out that I’m the only person who can quietly wiggle myself headfirst through a ten-inch gap, the only person who knows that the window is loose.
I don’t bother taking off my makeup or my dress. I fall asleep to the jazz station on the radio— Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue echoes through the room.
I have a dream that I’m being operated on. The only lights in the room are the spotlights the doctors shine on my open chest cavity. I’m awake. The doctors know I’m awake, but they just don’t care. It’s not like it hurts— it just feels empty. I’m alright as long as it doesn’t hurt.
I watch as one of them lifts my heart out of my open chest cavity. I can smell the blood.
“What do we think?” says one of them, my blood all over the blue gloves.
“Looks kind of rotten,” says another, touching a black spot.
“No, no,” says a different doctor. How many doctors are in the room? “It’s a blood clot. She’s restrained.”
“She’s rotten,” says the second doctor. “Beautiful and bloody and rotten to the core.”
“It’s as red and pure as a pomegranate seed. Look how it glows.” The first doctor prods the reddest side of my heart.
“Damned to hell, damned to hell,” the second doctor mutters. “A beautiful fire. She’s not even trying to go to Heaven.”
(When I was 10, my family was briefly following the same path as a group of nuns. They liked me as long as I was quiet. I had stained my knees on the grass when I was playing one day, and in my parents’ absence, a nun— Sister Margaret, her name was— cleaned them for me.
“In Heaven, there’s no mess to clean up. No dirt,” she told me.
“Well that sounds bad,” I replied. “I like the dirt. It’s God’s dirt.”
“You don’t want to go to Heaven?” she asked.
“I don’t care about Heaven. Ain’t it good enough to be on Earth?”
“Isn’t,” she said. “Isn’t it good enough.” I never saw those nuns again.)
I’m back into the dream. The first doctor is saying that I’m opalescent, the second says that I’m burning, the third says that I’m as layered as an onion. More doctors from all over the room are chiming in now, adjectives being thrown around like a playground ball— cheerful, mysterious, mellow, beautiful, dirty, prim, ancient. It’s cacophonous. Nobody’s agreeing, but nobody’s arguing, either. There’s no debate, no thinking outside of their views.
They put my heart back in. “I’m getting away with it,” I say out loud, but none of them hear me. The doctors are too busy muttering to themselves and sewing me up with needles, so many needles, hundreds and thousands moving in and out of my skin. They debate my heart to themselves. “I’m right here, and I’m getting away with it,” I say.
The first doctor looks up. “No you’re not,” he says. “You’re inside.”
When I wake up and change my clothing, I realize I scraped my hip bones. Didn’t even feel it, but that doesn’t mean the damage wasn’t done. Ain’t that just the way.
It’s a minor epiphany, I think, studying the newest scrapes and bruises— I got my elbows on the brick, too.
This is a body that is a vessel for a concept. The vessel is a ship that is the focal point for an idea which is an ocean, and everyone has different opinions on the ocean. The ship acts as a lens— you see the ocean through the ship. You see me through my body. I steer the ship in the direction you want. Of course. What is it about a good metaphor that suddenly makes everything clearer?
I’m the motherfucking ship of Theseus. Who knows if I’m the original? Who knows who I am?
I wish I was the type of person who could spiral over that big who am I question. I want to see what I would come up with if I was genuinely invested in it, but I’m not— I never have been. What and who I am really don’t matter that much to me. I don’t need to know my exact sense of self to feel comfortable; I don’t need to pin myself down like a butterfly to know who I am. Who I am doesn’t matter all that much because it reveals itself in relevant situations, like a hidden talent or untapped information. Who I am exists every day. I also exist every day. Crazy that we’re the same thing, isn’t it?
I don’t know exactly when I stopped separating my sense of self from myself, but it’s a good thing, I’ve found. Separation is useless. Everything is so deeply intertwined that we can’t even see how far down the tangles go. Why even try to distinguish it all?
My therapist tells me that I’ve made her reconsider what therapy is because I’m so emotionally regulated. “I’ve never met anyone like you,” she says. “I don’t know how to help you. You’re just doing your own thing, and you’re totally good.”
“I just follow the duende,” I say, and she knows what I mean— we’ve discussed my serenity at length, as well as the idea of el duende.
It’s a flamenco term. El duende is a state of tragedy-inspired ecstasy, uncontrolled poetic emotion. Defined mainly by four things— irrationality, earthiness, awareness of death, and a splash of evil— it is not something to surrender to, but something to battle, something to dance along the edge of. You stay balanced between el duende and logic, and it creates effective art. All that is natural has el duende. It’s man versus beast.
Me, young and playing hide and seek, knew what el duende was. It’s what made me shimmy into spaces far too small to hold a little girl, what made me pretend the washing machine and under the sink and an arching nest of tree roots were graves that I would sprout from like a seed when they found me. They never did find me— not because they stopped looking, but because I didn’t want to be found. That was el duende, too. Death’s siren song hid with me in the dark like Klimt’s Death and Life, dark blue next to my pink sundress and yellow hair.
I lost it for a little bit, but I have it back now. El duende comes up through the soles of my feet. Because of this, I have all I need, and so I have all I want. What happens next is up to the wire I dance on, and I will dance through it when it comes.
I never thought myself to be a creature capable of satisfaction before, but what can I say? It’s so nice to be proven wrong.