MISFIT DOC: Engendered :: Non[fiction]

{Cough-shocked and bothered I lean into a fevered moment gasping in a preschool parking lot status-void before a parent-teacher conference that is doom-doom-doomed to hell and think, Jesus aren’t we all, but then roll my eyes because, I mean, come on.

The sun cuts through the windshield like a pre-dawn-hallucination-of-golden-hour. I think about turning around, about warning her, preparing her maybe. Saying something like, “Get used to feeling alone.” Saying, “Feeling lonely— It’s genetic and inevitable.” But I can’t imagine it—her face, big wet eyes staring out from beneath the space helmet, or behind the goggles, or—is she wearing a cape? Or I can, and that’s worse.

I look out the window.

It is evening.}

Light slides through the window-bank in the student lounge like it might blow out the highlights and fade to white. Southern exposure. South by southwest. I imagine it in lapse and it makes the sick-mustard-everywhere/linoleum-speckle almost bearable.

I’m sitting on one of two worn velour couches (facing), in front of another set of two (facing), adjacent-off-four-feet another set behind another set—dark blue. It’s, like, a late-century retrospective of American interior design fads but, you know, tragic in its ensemblage.

For once I don’t have a migraine and think maybe I understand the appeal of directional light. The sun and female energy here are warm-making and I am enjoying [a free period] thinking about thinking about [The Scarlet Letter—about reading it (about rereading it)—as girls’ calves cascade in shutter-step before me, through one door and out another, casting shadows, reflecting light bright and even. Out of space/time. An impenetrable Footlight Parade.]

There’s an off-chance I’ll win an academic award in Religious Studies [this afternoon]. I’m a Natural Born Leader, they say. Epic Catholic. Morality Darling. Poster-something for the Veritable Future-somethings.

{I look up.}

I {still} don’t pretend to understand anything about this place, but I do know this nail-polish was a mistake—if I’d been a man, but I’m not—so when a plaid skirt comes herk-jerk over aside me, I do wish it wasn’t there, but don’t blink when it/girl vomits up, “So what, are you bi or something?”

She says this—assumedly because I am, that day, sans hair—and I wonder what exactly about it reads that way: Bisexual. Not “gay,” but “bisexual.” It’s both specific and on point and I’m confused but content in its regard.

I glare into the light, searching the space between the windowpanes’ image on the back of my retina and the substance of the thing—an acknowledgement of presence.

{I look up.}

She’s still waiting.

I advance a page in my book. “Yes,” I say, like a sociopath. “That’s right.”

“Oh!” She nods. “Cool.”

{There’s a pause.}

The instant her attitude cuts like a breaker, I feel it. And as she launches into some sort of manic monologue about Jenny McCarthy—flapping her arms and belching uproariously—I realize, this is my coming-out story.

And I’m thinking{—now I’m thinking, twenty years later, but also then-plus-twenty-minutes-later when I’m alone in a stairwell—}that’s probably not right. Probably I should have had a little shame. Lied, maybe. Gone off to the bathroom and cried, or masturbated, or both (probably both). I should have waited out high school and had lots of bad sex with people who never really understood me.

Or whatever. Who has the time.

{I’m on my way now—the screaming’s stopped—and I’m scuff-scuff-shuffalling towards the door, my hands full of things-I-might-need like short-range car-keys, paper drafts, data-sticks from the aughts. And caffeinated beverages probably, because I’m orally-fixated and day-drinking’s for single people. I’m a thinly-veiled actual/fictional queer. Narrative-poor in a world that’s inherently narrative-poor. “No matter what I say, I will never discover why one writes and how one doesn’t,”[1] I think, all New Wavy and dramatic-like, back-of-wrist to front-of-head, feigning ennui.}

I turn the page—{then/there/here} in the student lounge—trying to read, but unable to see the words for all the black and white and I don’t know what to say except “I’d like you to leave” so I don’t say anything.

{I turn the page and stare out the windshield. I wonder where Duras is buried, what it looks like, how often people people there.}

{I’m alone.} I’m alone and then I’m surrounded. They flutter around me like neo-Raphaelites, cherubic but a little acned, uniformed in v-necks and oxfords—beautiful, actually—and tell me how brave I am. It’s flattering in the way that attention from young women is always flattering, but I have no idea what they mean. And this, not the other thing, makes me feel the gut-tug of that other-worlding. [This, I think, is the way Bowie must feel.

I mean, I’m guessing. {Here, a man walks too close to my car. I try not to look like a creeper while search-planning in case of assault.} No-way-to-know/with-the-heart-of an/other. {I stare at my screen extra hard.} “I have laughed, in bitterness and agony of [aforementioned] heart, at the contrast between what I seem and what I am,”[2] I think. On the inside. Laughed on the inside.]

I shrug.

How do you say, “You’re hurting me with your beauty,” say, “You other me with every breath?” How do they say that where you come from?

Maybe I made a face and wandered off somewhere. Said, “What?” {probably} but didn’t wait for an answer.

I used to fast-walk—stiff/late-for-a-board-meeting-like, circuitous but purposeful—to burn off nervous energy. I can’t do it anymore. I am not young. Teen madness is edgy but pragmatic; a twenty-something’s, romantic; thirty’s, pathetic. The appearance of sound mental-health is the new Doc Marten’s, I suppose.

I was always well-liked.

[Instead I say, “I don’t—” Heather walks through the room and for a moment I lose my line, but recover, finding the homeliest one, looking her in the eye (softly), smiling (gently). “—know how else to be.”]

Their eyes flash and by the timbre of their delicate hum I can tell this was the right [thing to say]. And though in a Technicolor moment I see that I will be forever navigating the space that difference makes between us, that distance[, I excuse myself]. Their mew-mew sighs follow my hands as they are shoved mercilessly into their pockets and I burst out of the door and into the cold.

{“I’ve never spoken about this to anyone. [But] by [this] the time [in] my […] solitude, I had already discovered […] what I had to do […]”[3] The world says it wants you, but it doesn’t. “I know this every day of my life. […] It’s hard to endure. […It only] seems to make sense all of a sudden.”[4] She whispers in your ear; she slaps your hand away.

This is how it goes.}

{I look up.}

My hips barely shift as I match her stride.

“Not now,” she says.

She says it and it has, like, espionage-type overtones and undertones of promise, so I stop. I watch her walk away from me. [My hands still resolutely in their pockets—left thumb pressed firmly into a thumbtack hidden there—]I watch the light play in her hair, make her head glow like the blessed virgin we all know she’s not. She’s sturdy! And athletic! She doesn’t conform to the conventional standards of beauty and it all quite literally makes my groin ache with want. She’s a woman, clearly—the confidence!—and she could break me here in front of everyone on the paved and curving path of [St. Clare’s] School of the Sacred Heart, in the suburban hills of the have-have-haves, and she doesn’t care.

I watch—her pale-pale skin reflecting, dark plaid skirt absorbing, cutting into the overflowing curve sub-waist super-hip, and, under her polo, showing a little undershirt. I swallow.

She walks away from me, down [and off through another door. My “head f[alls] back, and the Milky Way flow[s] down in[to me] with a roar”[5] maybe.]

{I’m alone. “My friends [I guess] knew nothing about me: they meant well and they came out of kindness, believing they would do me good.”[6] And still they do this. It’s amazing how visible one can be and still not be seen.

I go home. Food waits, and kids. My husband watches me from across the table. I watch him back. We are co-conspirators and we will raze this normalcy together.

We make worlds; we people them. Our worlds are darker/brighter. Our facets have facets and we will watch the world burn from our pelt-warm nestle—giddy and symbiotic—snarling as that old “sun” dies and ours’ (stars) rise.

Let the light bend around us.}

I’m full of love. It’s getting late. There are awards to win and so on. Awards are very, very important here. Doubly so for the outliers.

  1. Marguerite Duras, “Writing,” in Writing, trans. Mark Polizzotti (Cambridge, MA: Lumen Editions, 1998), 5 (italics mine).
  2. Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter, (New York: Bantam Books, 1986), 175 (italics mine).
  3. Duras, Writing, 3.
  4. Duras, Writing, 4-6
  5. Yasunari Kawabata, Snow Country, Edward G. Seidensticker (Rutland, VT: Charles E. Tuttle Company, 1957, Published by arrangement with Knopf), 175 (italics mine).
  6. Duras, Writing, 9-10.



Sarah Gallien cofounded and edited alice blue review. Her work’s been or will soon be in/at Fanzine, Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, Wigleaf, and elsewhere.

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