They say a tiger never changes its stripes.
And I'm drawn to tigers. They are, after all, one of the charismatic megafauna: enticing, alluring, the largest of its species. Cool cats.
Tigers are predatory--they kill more than they are killed. As far as defense mechanisms go, that sounds like a pretty good strategy to me.
In Buddhism, the tiger represents anger. Which makes sense too, since I am so angry, the pink blotches on my face are striped in an effort to wash them away. When my voice wavers, in conversations, it is usually followed by a question: "What are you so angry about?"
I don't want to talk about it. Instead, let's talk about tigers.
When Sigfried bit Roy's neck, in an iconic onstage injury, everyone had something to say about it. As though he should have known better--and perhaps he should have. We do not all know, when we put our heads in the tiger's mouth, that it will be bitten, not until it is too late. Although someone else always seems to, with warnings that fall on deaf ears.
Roy attempted to return to the stage, years after, albeit still paralyzed--but hopeful--but it was too much pressure, then. Once the tiger bites, you know that he has the power to bite again.
I imagine returning to that stage took more strength than what was found in the tiger's jowls, but people are resilient. Resilient and afraid. Like Roy, we are innately willing to go through the ringer to prove that we were not wrong for our faith, blind as it may be.
I imagine critics had spent years beseeching smarter men than Roy to keep his head away from hungry predators but he didn't listen.
Friends spent years beseeching me to keep my heart away from hands striped with red. But I didn't listen, either. If I had, I would have seen that nothing would have changed who we were. Who we are.
It's amazing how we fill in the blanks, based on what we want our story to be. I'm not pretty enough, not fun enough, not good enough, not fast enough...In the litany of who-and how-to blame.
Going over half-finished poems, lines that litter the boxes I hadn't been ready to open, I can finally accept that they will remain unfinished (no matter how much I like them) because that girl who wrote them; who forgot herself to appease the person who could never put her first, is gone. That feverish hope, that manic desire, that broken spirit has transformed into--now, an overwhelming sadness. But later (I hope) an understanding.
Like Roy, whose injury was a lesson to all who toy with the tiger, I hate that the person who comes after me will reap the benefits of my heartbreak. But I guess that is the price we pay, for coming before the tiger stops chomping and after you think the lesson has already been learned.
I still get a pang in my chest, on the thirteenth of every month. At two thirty in the morning, when my hand brushes to the other side of the bed and it's still barren (now it's always barren). I try to quantify feelings I can't name, sadness I can't accept...and when it's quiet enough to hear myself think, I am unconsolable.
Moving on completely and not at all.
They say a tiger never changes its stripes, that--like the core of a person--a tiger's stripes are imperfect and permanent. But there is no way of knowing what a tiger's stripes say about him, until you are close enough to be accidental-dinner. Snakes are different: red touches yellow, you're a dead fellow--red touches black, you're okay, Jack--or whatever that rhyme is. I can handle it.
I wish we had roadmaps for tigers...or better yet, for people, even when their stripes are harder to identify. But, even with all the information, we still put our heads in the lions mouth--we would still put our hands out, as if to say bite me, anyway. Maybe it won't hurt in the end.
I love the Word on the Street section of Time Out Magazine. On weeks where I've had few conversations with anyone over eighteen, this little tidbit next to the STICKY NOTE CONFESSIONS (another favorite), fills my head with ridiculous thoughts that don't belong to me. It's amazing how other people's words can normalize situations that are anything but. Most weeks, I giggle on the train ride home and file them away in that part of my brain saved for funny character development. This week I chortled through the first few overheard moments, in the usual way; thankful I didn't know these people, or wishing I did--until I ran across this: "He'd be a really bad boyfriend--and not just because he's married."
I wonder how many times words like that have been uttered on street corners. How, in one sentence, everything could be so miserable but normalized. Like, "The line at Trader Joe's was exceptionally long yesterday" or "He likes to hum Wannabe in the shower."
I know too much about miserable thoughts like that and how, once you're somehow connected to them, even the most outlandish thoughts have to be normal. So that when they slip off your tongue, you don't feel your personhood slipping away with them. I wonder if, this anonymous voice--too--walked into something unexpected and unconventional. Something not at all how it sounds but a million times worse; I hope this person, better than me, learned to walk away before she had lost the part of her who would have laughed through that overheard remark, too.
In my high school creative writing class, I was chastised for skimming past the important exposition. I would write stories about my parents, about my relationship with my father...stories that were inherently shameful for me. Because I knew they were important (like the words I try to write here) but I couldn't quite verbalize the shame. I had so much that I wanted to say about it but it all came out in code. If you were me, if you were there, maybe you would know it. My words veiled their own meaning by dancing around shame.
I can't dance but I do an amazing shame-wiggle. And, through my wiggling, I maneuver my way through shame and into a bit of normalcy.
Lately, everything I've been writing hardly scratches the surface. There is the shame you live in; calling it by a pet name and cleaning a space for it on the bookshelf, and then there is that overarching shame. The shame that makes you crawl into yourself, willing your organs to churn out cement fast enough to help you rebuild a wall. After you've seen your body heal from bruises and burns, it seems that sort of healing should be second nature. But it isn't always.
There are a myriad of things to be married to. I think I've always imagined marriage to be more fun than paperwork and grading and sleeplessness and crying. But maybe that's my fault to. Or maybe it is the kind of person I am; to devote myself to a task only to be devastated when it misses the mark. I live in two worlds: this globalsphere (home to the world wide web and black and white cookies) and the place inside my head, where I can't let go.
Me, I'm married to my work. At least that's what people have been telling me (too often). But I think that's the way it should be, right now, as I begin this new adventure. Work, like the safer things, cannot let you down. Or, well, maybe it can--but if you're me, that is blame easily placed upon yourself when it goes wrong. You got your wires crossed, you didn't understand, you forgot to scan that document in, by the end of the business day. Shame on you. People are different. People are good at letting you down. People--I often think--bring the shame.
This is Me:
My name's Melissa. I'm the girl with her hands in her journal.