A handy root in science class, we tell the children it means "many."
Political. Many bloodsucking parasites.
Polygon. Many sides.
Polyester. Many compounds.
Polyurethane. Many chemicals.
Polygamy. Many lovers.
I have never wanted to be one of the many. Strived, in fact, to stand out. To be an individual, in spite of the nagging feeling that taps assimilate! into my back like morse code. I have trained myself to be an original creation: the only one who is exactly like me. When it comes to love, I know it sometimes takes me a while to feel comfortable being my whole-self. In fact, I have spent years and intimacies with people who will never know all of me. I often wonder if my "all" is lovable and, instead, am able to highlight what a specific person might need.
I struggle with this idea of "best." As a child, I thought that, if I was the best, I had to be the only one. I can count the number of best friends I've had on one hand. Each best friend I quickly took a certain amount of ownership of. Especially in elementary school, where they were either my friend or someone else's. My friend. All encompassing. Overwhelming. All. Mine.
I'd like to think I've gotten better about sharing. Years of adolescence taught me that the words in Barney songs really were instructional. I am inherently competitive. Not with other women, per say, but with all people as a whole. I foster that competitive nature by telling myself that I'm just being the best version of myself. Isn't that, after all, the goal of every person? My experiences have instilled in me this idea that we are hardly enough of anything. Hardly-enough-safe. Hardly-enough-happy. Hardly-enough-person, for ourselves--but probably more for other people. For the poly.
Culturally, we are told to function in the name of the poly. How will people perceive us? Specifically the people who interest us. Somewhere between growth-spurts and cup-sizes, girls inadvertently go from do-or-die-lady-squads to something inherently more catty. Maybe we would be less-catty if we didn't feel like we had things to protect. Moms say they have eyes in the back of their heads for spotting their children but these days, those eyes are more for catching infidelities; for protecting what is theirs.
So we, in essence, have two options: to accept that we are part of a community of people that matter for different reasons. Accept the microcosm of love and, like friends, have different people in the same life to satisfy different parts of our psyche. Because, maybe, one individual really isn't meant to fulfill all of a person's needs. Or you opt for something more "romantic." Ignore ticking clocks and televisions reminding you that partnership is the goal; white picket fences, giggling babies, 50th wedding anniversaries. Breathe and wait. Remove your heart from frivolity and release expectations. At least for now.
Last week I was given four minutes to tell my life story. That time was more than enough in the moment; I immediately realized that my timeline has been embarrassingly repetitive. Here's what I've learned:
Before I could count my age with the fingers on my right hand, I would smile for pictures, tilted head. Photographers say the tilt exposes the neck which gives off a more non-threatening appearance; as in flirtation. Ever the pacifist, I still carry my naiveté as a badge of honor; a perpetual tilt from believing in a good that has been long gone.
But, sure, flirty. That's what I was going for.
As a pre-teen, I would do anything to flatten my hair into submission. I found books. Books use words that people have long forgotten; words I didn't yet know. I have always preferred pages to most people. Unless they were filled with darkness--then they took on something more like flesh and bone and I didn't know how else to combat that but to shut it quickly, unfinished; return it to the library and try again. Friends were harder back at chapter one.
In middle school, I wore clothes that were six sixes too big, hoping to look tiny in comparison. I cut my hair for charity, berated my cursing friends, didn't understand how the relationship with the boy I loved since I was three could be so delicate, could be so complicated. Discovered that cyberbullies were birthed from green eyes and name brands. Witnessed friends come and go; learned that the people who stay aren't necessarily the best people for the job.
At the start of high school, I forgot to flat-iron the back of my head more often than I remembered. I carried too many books and started speaking too much. Or started to become aware of it. Noise pollution.
When I transferred schools, I stopped wearing shoes in the building; opting instead for socks with monkeys on them. I wore leggings with "love" scrawled across the legs and bulky sweatshirts. Scarves covered hickeys and other bruises. I learned what family felt like; what community could do. When I tell my students about my high school experiences, I draw from this stream.
Dyed my hair. Let my scalp become an extension of me.
At graduation, I cried from the second I walked onstage well through the summer, when I still hadn't found a way to name my sadness. I lost something that day. Something I have been looking for, since.
That September I moved to New York. My trouble is I had done everything leading up to this point at New York City speed. And the pace of these streets only makes feet race faster. My brain goes too fast. Brains like that make enemies. Brains like that become a harbor for funny thoughts. Before I speak, I look around the room and decide if my words will offend anyone. If they may, I don't say them. This way, I preserve a kindness rarely found in the funny. I am a riot inside my head.
My hair has been various shades of five different colors. My heart has been varying shades of broken. I have lost and found and gained and questioned.
Today I am striving for solace. I am counting the positives, one finger at a time and learning to breathe. I'm reverting back to the head tilt in pictures. Flirty. Non-threatening. I don't think it works as well, post-five.
Neither does singing off-key. Neither does changing your mind. Neither does saying goodbye.
I was sitting on the Manhattan bound A-Train, Friday and an older woman in elephant print, caked in earth, was pacing the car. Bleating "I'm scared" at the top of her lungs, she pointed to a woman who looked similar to her; long dreads and African prints, and yelled "I'm scared for her!" Her rough hands, old with anxiety, thumb pointed skyward, pointer and middle finger--like a pistol-- directed to a face that, too, looked terrified. She cocked her imaginary gun back and belted "One click and she's dead. I'm scared for her!" and I felt myself shutting down, on the Manhattan bound A-Train.
I can't pretend to put words into feelings I don't understand. Can't pretend to empathize when I can really only sympathize. Or is it sympathize when I can only really empathize? Haven't we all been persecuted? Aren't we tired yet? To the lady on the Manhattan bound A-Train, I'm scared, too. The truth is, we have found too many mechanisms for ending lives and too few for enjoying them.
Is it fear that prompts people to shoot innocent men? To destroy families? To make light of life? And then to share it; to have proof of father-less children, of children who will never un-see, un-know the way it feels to have a parent in the car one second and not the moment later. Because fear simply begets fear: a fear we are all responsible for. A fear none of us will take any responsibility for--not if we are conscientious to recognize what responsibility would mean. But we are all driven by fear. Even fear that we will wake up with a bigot spearheading our country, a gas chamber where our hearts should be.
I have a pillow on my couch that has a picture of Derek Shepard and says "It's a beautiful day to save lives." We don't have to be in the middle of surgery to save lives, turns out, we can save lives just by putting down the guns.
This is Me:
My name's Melissa. I'm the girl with her hands in her journal.