She has boxes of recipe cards; mostly I know their stories and not their flavors. She needs to know what I cook for dinner regularly; she eats a dinner of nibbles and stolen bites. She tells me that sugar is toxic and will cause irreparable harm to my body; she sends me a box of Christmas cookies. Scrumptious little crystals that can tear at my blood vessels from the inside.
In 2014, after learning how to care for a person on the edge between life and death, I went on the bike ride that would, ultimately, return me to myself.
Lilith after all has become a sign of every socially unacceptable aspect of women, including and especially our sexuality.
“I always went the extra mile for you and did so gladly because I loved being around you. You never returned these more concrete gestures, which should’ve been the first sign that things were not reciprocal between us, but I was oblivious and idealistic. I genuinely believed I had found love.”
The first time someone described Casey as having “stalkerish” tendencies, I defended her. For the most part though, I didn’t talk about it.
“We don’t talk about our roots as they relate to the heaviness of humid air recycled through our generations on swampy plantations. My family has never talked about it with me, at least. It feels like a small betrayal, choosing to go south when we were given a new chance in the West.”
I found a different self slowly, learned to exist as if with many different goggles on at once. Always speaking from my mother’s kitchen in the Silicon Valley and, at the same time, my grandmother’s crowded living room in Punjab. In these years, I would feel the sharpness of many kinds of difference, marginalization. But when I looked down at myself for signs of why I felt so other, all I would find was the color of my hands.
I feel nothing and everything when I’m with her and I want that more than I want to protect myself. I know this will hurt me, but pain is part of my life, so I allow it in bursts I think I can control.
In short, Zumba is a dance fitness class set to popular Latin music but honestly, for me, Zumba is more than just that, it’s given me life.
In the pool hall, my sweetheart and a close friend tease me one night: “unimpressive,” “pure luck,” “you aren’t that good.” They were trying to get my ire up so that an hour later when I told them to stare into each other’s eyes as I fucked my sweetheart’s body, I would mean it with a snarky competitive vengeance, I would mean it with power and control, I would be pushed to take what I want.
“She asks me how it went, I say it went bad. I don’t say much more because she hates hearing about my family like they hate hearing about her. It goes better when I keep it to myself.”
“I wanted her to smile at me that way. I wanted her to say my name. This turned out to be easy.”
Dementia used to be called madness, I was told.
“No one knows, including me, that my overindulgence and competitive drinking is an attempt to assert the only masculinity I know. Toxic.”
“I craved that isolation, that feeling of utter aching loneliness that I found inside houses where I did not belong.”
“We took off on our bikes with the intention of shoplifting all the proper ingredients to make homely ham sandwiches.”
“Zoey and I tried to feed our cravings for simple American cuisine, but despite our clever substitutions and meticulous adjustments and innovative ingredients from the bazaar, nothing tasted quite right. Not bad, just not what we’d been looking for.”
“Your truth is always your truth, whether said or silent. It just might not be the idea of your truth that somebody else has in their mind.”
“Presenting as male every day hurts. When the ship is in port, it’s not as bad; I grow to hate coming in to work, but once the day ends I can go home and be myself. When we’re underway, it’s worse. I’m stuck being ‘him’ all day, every day. Sometimes for days, sometimes for weeks… once, for months.”
“Other people built a gender for me and trusted that I would defend what they built. But what I was handed never made sense.”