We are eating apricot scones. We are watching the crumbs gather around each other’s lips, spill over, pepper pink skin with white. We are engaging in Eros. We are downing splinter-hot tea with our throats ready to sting hard. We are violating every easy code of friendship when we watch each other eat like this. We are blameless, right, we are fucking without even touching each other, without even saying the word fuck, we are sitting in a cafe with our legs not-quite-touching-but-not-quite-not-touching, slippery, slippery engagement. We are teasing out a long spit-thread of desire, like a hair caught in the throat, like a strand of lace stuck in an earring. We are burning our wrists on this baby kettle of intimacy, whatever vague unweeded trail this is, without looking away.
I am wearing a pretty dress in social isolation. I am wearing a pretty dress in the mouth of a pandemic. Preemptive jubilance, you might say. If there is an ending here. If there are ever such tidy, gutshot things. I am learning how to curve eyeliner around these watery moons, how to stretch myself into a cat-eyed, pink-welded mirage even now. Potentialities, you might say.
Have something to hold onto, our professor suggests. All willowy shadows and half-light in the video-chat window, students of the pre-apocalypse, of usurpations, everyone vague, everyone just discernible but not quite verifiably there. This is not forever. What is this, exactly.
Context collapse. Carson’s blade of spring, rising, but this time, unreachable. Macro-level devastation. Socialism sounds pretty good now. Watched porn while I was still connected to bluetooth. Mourning diaries pile up in the shower, the unshavenness of legs and everything else, unbrushed hair, unknit bank accounts, terror clipping the chest until we are too domesticated to be afraid. No womxn is an island, but right now I am wading so far out from anything recognizable and so deep into my own skull that I cannot believe I might not become one.
Social distancing is a misnomer, someone tweets. It’s physical distancing. We are still with each other. Withness still exists, still plagues and soothes and obsesses us, still keeps us hinged to the bloody project of carrying on. Still, with looks more like a bruise that keeps bruising now. Your body is so away. Your face is a smudge on the screen which I attempt to make my temporary god. With is safer now, but it is never really safe, not ever; withness cannot be strained like this and not start to ache.
But then again. Most of my desire has lived in, even required, non-consummation. Most of my romantic life has been an anti-romance, halves and almosts tallied and blended up, eye contact and wrist-brushes, a single text message, a forgotten sweater, vehement discourse that begins to almost move like sex, the dying orchid on my desk. Then again I can wring a love letter out of anything. Ezra Pound’s “make it new” set alight? Make it new because we must. Intimacy demands it. Tether ourselves to whatever closeness we can get.
In our monster-dreams everything ripens and sweats. I am all blood-need and electric pussy. I could sever you from your own self. I could make a clock turn inside out, could bite into an arm and translate skin into sewer water. Lately I am dreaming so much of my own monster. Lately I am preoccupied with its crudeness, its shark-likeness, its disruptiveness. How to bring the monster into the real picture, offer it a place in the everyday, destruct the way I want to destruct, yank all my insufferable politeness into a paper-shredder and have it return as a thorn. When I am most unable to leave myself, when I am indoors and shaky from a life plucked and smushed into a handful of rooms, into distancing, I want to dynamite myself most, want to light the bottom of me and make the coiled feelings dance. But I’m in my childhood bedroom. But my family’s here.
Collect your thoughts, my therapist says, her voice a ladle raised through my phone, poised above my lips and ever-full with instructions for conjuring warmth, even now. Today my landscapes are all interior. Today every dark-ridged idea plummets through my chest and flicks me in the heart, ready to enact terror wherever it sees fit, but I try to look outwards, try to designate a singular, well-rooted tree from this wailing forest. Everyone I love is losing it. Everyone I know is losing it. Mourning endings that never quite arrived, mourning their lost semesters, the new hearts they’d just barely started to bump into, hunger without anywhere to accelerate. Collect your thoughts, but where to lay them down?
I choose to sing Phoebe Bridgers’ “Garden Song” to myself when I turn the faucet on and begin my fevered handwashing. I murmur, let the soft dark of the song glimmer in my throat like a razorblade slipping, slipping down, just barely skimming the sides of my flesh, drawing just the slightest hum of blood:
Someday I’m gonna live / in your house up on the hill
And when your skinhead neighbor goes missing / I’ll plant a garden in the yard
Then they’re gluing roses on a flatbed / You should see it, I mean thousands
I grew up here / Till it all went up in flames
Except the notches on the doorframe
Tell me. Is this the flamethrowing? The commencement of a burning that peels the walls from this poisonous house, spits out only the brittle, charred bones? Is this the turning, where we see that these bones have never been bones but only masquerade as sturdiness, as natural truths, where it is all scarred beyond recognition and now, now we see this country never knew its own anatomy in the first place.
It’s not a question anymore.
A text from a friend:
who the FUCK am i without other people
I respond: yeah i’m like dissociating so much i don’t even have a Self anymore
From Anne Boyer’s The Undying, on breast cancer: “Only one class of people who have had breast cancer are regularly admitted to the pinkwashed landscape of awareness: those who have survived it. To those victors go the narrative spoils. To tell the story of one’s own breast cancer is supposed to be to tell a story of “surviving” via neoliberal self-management—the narrative is of the atomized individual done right, self-examined and mammogramed, of disease cured with compliance, 5K runs, organic green smoothies, and positive thought.”
To those victors go the narrative spoils. In writing during this virus, I am claiming a victory without even trying to. I am claiming myself as alive. As not-sick. As if that binary means anything, as if we haven’t been pitted into believing in the necessity of sickness for some to uphold the wellness of the many. As if those mythologies haven’t clutched my body too, told me to shut up and choose what I wanted this skin-place to be. I am narrating because I am able to. I am narrating because I don’t know how else to survive this. So let me desecrate the binary right now, let me wield a growling fuck you to the whole panopticon of neoliberal self-management, that grotesque paper moon, let me try to say, when we speak of this virus, we must notice who gets to speak.
I have taken to calling all of my friends babe. In the bleakness of this time, every affection I’ve locked away, disallowed for myself, begins to claw at me, pry at some opening. I send that one song by Jay Som to everyone I know:
Tenderness is all we got.
In Johana Hedva’s “Sick Woman Theory,” she writes, “The most anti-capitalist protest is to care for another and to care for yourself. To take on the historically feminized and therefore invisible practice of nursing, nurturing, caring. To take seriously each other’s vulnerability and fragility and precarity, and to support it, honor it, empower it. To protect each other, to enact and practice community. A radical kinship, an interdependent sociality, a politics of care.”
Our architecture of care is revealing itself as a myth, but our faces still seek each other out even in the shit-bath of now, even estranged, because we want to keep looking. We want to keep leaning close even through the holes, the absences, the recesses and ellipses of our systems, we want to touch hands through the slits and link our fingers, breathe on each other, we want to believe in a soft landing.
Please, we are straining to say, please let the vileness not distract us from our hands, their near-touching. What else matters, what else.
Sofia Sears is a writer and student engaging with and fracturing gender, the monstrous, intimacy, mania, literature, and feminist dramaturgy. She runs A Tired Heroine, a feminist literary criticism blog, and a podcast in the form of lyric essays about girlhood. You can find her at sofsears.com.