#4: the look back
He says, “I think you need to remember that even if you ever get back together, you’ll never be in the relationship that just ended ever again. [She] will never be the same person that she was in that relationship and neither will you.” It’s hard to hear him say this because it confirms one of my key fears about us breaking up: once we leave, we can never return to this place again. I feel sick thinking about the grief of time and change and I just want to leave this line of thought by throwing myself into something else, like figuring out how I’m going to approach the revival of a column that’s been dead for three months. But I’m at a loss.
To write articles within the framework of a column is to be an ever-changing individual within the framework of a relationship; you’re trying to do new things within a semi-permanent architecture. All of the truths that were true when you started a column or a relationship can change, but the original logic of the structure tends to persist. Columns and relationships are time-based forms that take shape through patterns, and patterns are created through repetition of the past. So how do I re-enter this column, this closed circuit, this living fossil of who I used to think I was? How can I invent truer fictions?
I smell his cologne, the same one my dad wears, before I register that there’s a man standing behind me. “I’m guessing you don’t like this?” he asks, presumably talking about the work in front of us.
“What makes you think that?” I ask without looking at him, instead continuing to stare at the work that I don’t like.
“Well you’re that girl who writes for Runway, about how she doesn’t like anything, right?” he asks, obviously knowing exactly who I am.
I turn around to look him up and down. He looks familiar but so does everyone at openings. The art world is a psyche: the same few subjects recur.
“I like plenty of things. I just don’t write about those things.” I say, in defense of myself.
“Oh, I know, Emma” he says, smirking as though we’re both in on a joke that no one else here understands.
“Well it’s nice to meet you…?”
“Anton? I don’t think I’ve ever actually met anyone with that name but it’s what my parents were going to name me if I was a boy.”
He smirks again, and then asks what I’ll be writing about in my column when it returns. I tell him I have no idea, nothing’s off limits except my recent break up. At which point, of course, he becomes very interested in the only thing I seem to be interested in writing, thinking or talking about at the moment: my queer drama.
“Well, yeah, I guess I was in a lesbian relationship but I don’t consider myself a lesbian, no” I explain, mid-way through a conversation about identity that I’m finding much easier to have with a stranger than with anyone who’s ever been important to me.
“And how do you do that math?” he asks, not bothering to hide his judgement.
“Pretty easily, actually” I reply airily, hoping my indifference will deflate him. “Not a lot of things in my life make sense according to how sense makes sense.”
He looks away and I get the distinct impression that I’ve failed a test.
The pause in conversation is awkward but just as I’m about to excuse myself to get another drink he asks me why I don’t write about things that I like. I tell him that I want to do that but that’s not really the career I’ve created for myself.
“So it goes against your brand to like things?” he asks and now I smirk in response. “Yeah, basically.”
He says “I see” with the gleeful vindication of someone who’s just had all of their theories about you proven correct, by one of your passing remarks. “So it’s just part of your brand that you would be in a lesbian relationship even though, at a very basic level, you seem to be uncomfortable with being read as a cis-woman?” he asks lightly, because people can’t really ask you questions that serious with a tone that isn’t humourous or airy.
“Why are you so afraid to tell people what you like?”
I should bite back at him with a witty retort but the nausea I feel at his words just pushes me to leave; sometimes I feel like I only have two gears, bravado or withdrawal, and this line of thinking drives me into the latter. When he moves in front of me to block me from walking away, I look up at him in panic and the look in his eyes changes.
“You can leave if you want to, I obviously won’t stop you, but the same questions you don’t want to answer tonight will be there tomorrow.” he says, with his voice lowered, and I don’t know if it’s just because he smells like my dad but I decide to stay.
“You might not understand this right now, but I’ll say it anyway because one day when you’re ready to understand it, you might remember it. I hope you hold onto it until then.” he starts, looking off somewhere to the right of my eye line – right where it feels like I’m floating, outside of my body. I’m so confused.
“Compromising yourself in your relationships, whether it’s because you’ve been asked to or because you feel it’s necessary or because you just don’t know any other way to be, is self-destructive. You will be so much happier if you’re honest with yourself about what you like – and you’ll be better at your job too. You know what I see when I read your writing? Someone who writes in an autobiographical mode that’s designed to erase themselves from existence, in the very process of becoming public. The lengths you go to in order to avoid unadulterated sincerity, to avoid yourself, in your writing, seems to speak more to an impulse to hide and shrink and efface yourself, than a real desire to live and think and love behind a series of masks and scripts. Now I don’t have to tell you that there’s an intimate connection between how you write and how you love and how you see yourself socially and erotically and within the world. You already know that. But I think you need to know that your career built on ‘not liking things’ can change if you decide that ‘not liking things’ isn’t the logic of your life or your relationships anymore.”
I must be starting to look glassy-eyed because he asks if I’m following him. I’m not but I nod anyway.
“This might still sound opaque to you but listen: if a set of conditions you’ve lived by, and a cluster of feelings you’ve lived in, give way to something else… then you’ll change. You won’t write the same way, or love the same way, or fuck the same way, or think the same way. And that’s ok. You are allowed to ask people to accept those changes and everything that those changes mean.”
My eyes are completely clouded with the kind of tears that your body jerks up on instinct sometimes, like when you’re keeping it all together until someone politely asks how you are and you implode.
“You’re allowed to change the parameters under which you want to be loved and you’re allowed to change the way you write and you’re allowed to tell your boss that changes in how you want to be fucked and loved are fundamentally changing the way that you write. And it’s legitimate if that affects the voice of your old column or whatever, if you’re worried about that. I mean, you’re not contractually obliged to perform your old self in drag.”