• Britt

Inconsistent Cycles

Content warning:

  • Mentions of blood (car accidents with no major injuries, periods, accidental scrapes)

  • Self-harm: skip the section/list right after "This is nice; there are worse ways to exact my untethered moments.”

A horse stepped through the night and into my grandparents’ Chrysler. I sat in the back seat, listening to some forgettable western on tape, and an airbag smashed into my grandmother’s face and then another into my grandfather’s. I believed this was a dream until, as an adult, I mentioned it to my parents. They confirmed it happened when I was five or six (my mother) or eight to ten (my father). The paramedics removed glass from under Grandma’s eye. Too much blood and a dead horse.

***

Elementary school? Middle school? In the still-unfamiliar backyard, behind a shed full of wasps, I stepped on a rusty nail. This might’ve been a dream. There was less blood than I would’ve imagined.

***

I’ll be honest: I had an excellent, bloody story in this section but I erased it. I feel very connected to this story, I know it by heart, and also it isn’t mine.

I previously told someone else’s story publicly. I believed telling it was a kindness, honesty in art (whatever the hell that meant), and subverting the narrative of cis men’s partners being muses. It might’ve been those things for some people. In the end it wasn’t that for me. I wish I had just rewritten it. Telling another’s story isn’t far removed from stealing it.

Some people dislike reading private writing - diaries, personal emails, DMs, notes passed in science class. I feel especially guilty about posthumously published private words - is it somehow more respectful or just cowardly if the writer doesn’t know - but, god, I’m nosy enough to keep reading.

***

I’ll tell this one instead. Maybe I’m contradicting myself and I’m definitely as self-obsessed as any of us... still I think this story says more about me:

On the church playground a toppled jungle gym crashed on the boy who liked picking on me. It split his head. He and his friends were rocking the jungle gym back and forth - I recall this like a salve for my conscience. As he ran into the church, blood poured into his eyes and down the back of his neck. Reflecting on this today I still (shamefully?) think: he did it to himself.

***

My first period started in gym. I had been warned this would happen eventually. The teacher gave me a pad. I ripped the crinkly paper off and instinctively knew how to stick it on my underwear. I wasn’t embarrassed but I was irritated. Even more so when I realized this didn’t mean I could go home for the day.

***

I’ve started unexpectedly bleeding on others twice - both times from my period and both times on cis men. Once during intercourse. They both falteringly did their best to prove how not-a-big-deal it was, because they were trying to be good people and good friends. I was embarrassed and irritated at my embarrassment and generally unable to have a good time afterwards.

***

I am generally unable to have a good time when faced with the effects of having a body of any kind, but especially one with womb and soft belly and tits and hips. And yet, surprisingly, sex can be a good time to carefully put all of my parts in motion and, if it goes alright, forget about their maintenance momentarily. This is nice; there are worse ways to exact my untethered moments.

***

A list of worse ways I have tried to exact a feeling of freedom:

  • scratching, cutting, and peeling back layers of skin

  • a roiling inside, boiling water contained under a thin hide - stretched translucent, constricting the torrent, trying to hold everything within. once out loud to a therapist: “it would be best for the skin to break.”

  • my mother called recently, worried because she read that picking your skin and lips is a sign of past trauma... i didn’t know what she wanted me to say

  • deception for deception’s sake - i will keep myself from you

  • mean-spiritedness - watching pain shoot from me and stab into someone else

  • an overwhelming need for cleanliness - ignoring complications; instead hunting for any speck of dust, the smell of bleach on every surface, scrubbing skin raw, tensing at dropped clothes and dirt under fingernails

  • a protective refusal of any cleanliness - staying under the covers, won’t wash? can’t wash, there is a spider working in the corner near my side of the bed and in this moment it seems the industrious artist has more right to be there than i do

***

Has anyone talked about the sheer pointlessness of everything yet? Yes? Oh. Never mind then.

***

I held a mottled red bit of toilet paper against my mouth - a pointless endeavor, my lip refused to stop bleeding - and stared at the reflection in the mirror. I tugged a cheek, fluffed my hair, leaned forward and widened my eyes, waiting for the reflection to make a mistake, to move, to blink.


This cannot be what “me” is.

But the reflection didn’t fuck up, and the moment reminded me of the mirror scene in Duck Soup.

Am I the Groucho or the Harpo here?

The newly-shorn hair and “masculine” fashion, including a stunning pair of light brown derby oxfords from Pete, helped ground me a bit but…

This cannot be what “me” is.

***

The first time I polished my light brown derby oxfords, I nicked my finger on the polish tin. Nothing bad, a drop of blood similar to a pin prick or paper cut. I ignored it and continued gathering polish on the cloth. I’d never used polish before and the smell reminded me of being a kid on

saturday night, my father preps

a sermon, a suit, and his shoes.

He opens a small can of polish,

swipes some up with an overused

rag, and begins to carefully care

for his leather shoes,

a gift from someone dear to him.

these are the brown shoes,

to match a lighter suit, because,

I realize now, it is Easter.

My father mumbles the

sermon as he works.

Jesus says

“take this cup from me”

to his father.

He is scared and begging,

not very god-like,

not even prophet-like,

just human, I guess.

My father methodically

rubs small circles around

the toe,

the side,

the heel,

the other side.

His church doesn’t have the rituals of,

say, Catholicism

but my father makes his own.

Religious or not,

sometimes it feels important to let these things carry forward.


So I methodically rubbed small circles around the toe, the side, the heel, the other side. And as I did I thought of the Easter sermon, and the conversation I wanted to have with him, a conversation I think we’ll never have.

***

Pete stands in front of a wall of tampons searching for the right box as I keel over, clutching my abdomen. It’s my third period in six weeks. I swoop a claw down onto my brand and clutch the box close, ambling off to the register. On our way home I have to stop three more times. I almost collapse once. I distract myself by thinking about menstrual cups and holding a silly mock interview in my head. Are tampons feminist? Pete says “I’m sorry.”


We both know what I’m thinking:

It’s not fair. Pete says “it’s not fair.”

“You know,” he says. “There should be an opt out box. Like ‘Hello! A mistake has been made! I don’t need this!’”

This helps a little. “Like a little check box.”

“Like a little check box.”


Check - take this cup from me.

Check - pass it on to someone who wants it

Check - could you take the whole of my body while you’re at it?

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© 2023 by Britt A Willis.

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