Part of this is the simple legacy of being an awkward child who preferred not to be presented with cues she might respond to erroneously. Certainly, it isn't a result of childhood sexual abuse (ah, the desire amongst, it seems, nearly everyone for all creative girls to come by their art through damage) or more general mental illness (as a vague acquaintance once started telling everyone when I declined politely to hug her in greeting and departure since I barely knew her). Mostly, it's just how I am.
It is also something I view as a necessarily pragmatic choice, but then I come with an austere and ascetic heart. Yes, I know, I went to Australia because Baz Luhrmann was once a whore and so was I, but that was that story and this is this.
The problem, of course, is that I like being touched, and I waver to it easily; I was proud of it, only briefly, in my early twenties. Then it became inconvenient. Now it is just something I navigate like celiac disease or strange cities.
Kiss a girl like that, I've said to more than one lover who took my face in his hands like a goblet, and she might think you're in love with her. They took me as young and fishing, but I was just warning about languages I understood and they, apparently, did not.
Above all things, I am a physical person. I tell stories far more with the cant of my face, the jut of my chin and the sorrow of my slightly down-turned eyes than I ever will with words. I am grace and loss. And when I choose to sit on the floor, I skim one leg along behind me, crossing it under the front to sit in a single motion that folds me into a triangle, well designed for peering up curiously and looking away thoughtfully. It is in my mind as if I speak a formal pantomime language of some lost court that never existed.
In a life of this, I have learned things not the hard way, but often the foolish way. I have discovered I do better in the world if I can contrive to spend five minutes a day on my knees whether that be in the churches of faiths I don't share or in the guise of stretching my back in the salle. I wonder sometimes, if this is true of most people, and if they are as uncomfortable about it as I am; I wonder if this is what has made God so rampant and angry and dishonestly eroticized a thing in our culture; I wonder if it means most people are sheep and most leaders tired, or if there is merely some part of me that must always be reminded of subjugation to remember that in truth I have no taste for it.
What I do know is that I've rarely done things by half, and I always want to demand others share in my narrative or aesthetic when I'm busy being completist. My life in the fetish scene was no different -- I had to be good, thorough, and exceptional as surely as I had to be grace and sorrow. But mostly, I did outrageous things largely in place of beautiful things, which were hard to come by with tops parroting scripts about my being a stupid little whore -- I've never been stupid and certainly, I was never little in the way they wished. I spent a long time hiding from the knowledge that the world I wanted to be sharp and clever was largely merely crass.
Which is why I spent the better part of a year running around New York City clubs performing with what could have been a fetish circus had someone let me put the brains to their ego instead of presuming that my class origins and proclivities meant I knew nothing at all, and it's why, in the course of that, I let a woman involved with all of it single-tail me in the midst of a club -- three parallel stripes of literally blinding pain down the middle of my back. They scarred like burns and lasted six months.
I wore them, and a nearly backless black cocktail dress, to my ten year high school reunion, and even people who didn't know what they were, knew what they were, and what I remember about that night -- other than chite sitting on my lap and us flirting with a guy I had barely known in high school, chatting with Meg, and the same people from back then who were always vaguely appalled by me looking self-righteous about their finally having been correct -- what I remember is the way people looked at me, like I was fire and I was awe. As if I was powerful and fearless.
And maybe I was.
And maybe it was the first time.
I miss nothing about that life. I am embarrassed by much of it, particularly moments where I devalued myself or lacked honor or discretion. But sometimes I miss those scars, all the scars, really, that I never had, even if I always walk now still as if my back is bare.
People who have known me a long time say I am different now. That I move a certain way because I fight, that I am strong or healthy. And it is easy to suppose that all of that is because of what I've left behind. But the truth, of course, is that it's because of what I took with me and the marks my flesh still carries in memory of itself, no matter how much my knees have always wanted to rebel in churches and dance studios, against wood and leather in my silent language of graces and sorrows.