Everyone who walks past the excavation site throws coins into it. It’s something instinctual and unquestioned, like a new-age tradition. We don’t get many of those lately (we’ve lost the magic of small-town myth) but there’s something about this place which is different. I didn’t even realise people still carried coins.
Every day, everyone who walks past this excavation site throws coins inside. They don’t check the manifest for why its organs had to be removed, or what purpose the husk will now have. People just know that when they see this carcass of concrete and scrap metal they should burrow into their pockets and toss whatever they find inside. Some if it’s
loose change, but some of its very purposeful change (tight change? No that doesn’t sound right…)
Is it a luck thing? Honestly, no one can say for sure why this started. At some point, everyone decided that the excavation site just exists. It doesn’t have a past, it doesn’t have a future, it just stands alone in the middle of the street waiting for someone to give it purpose. Maybe we should feel bad for the excavation site.
But one can’t feel sadness for an excavation site. You can’t pity something which doesn’t standalone, but rather bridges a history with a future. Does something exist if it purely exists due to a lack of something?
What qualities must we give this shell of a structure for us to empathise with it? Maybe the excavation site has dreams that haven’t been fulfilled. Maybe the excavation site is a bit scratched up and emotionally overwhelmed, but it has potential. Maybe the excavation site is a twenty-one-year-old uni student whose future feels warped in a kaleidoscope, pieces floating in the air but unable to be united, and whose past is slowly becoming an opaque, unknowable haze.
Okay fine. It’s me. I am the excavation site.
Odd metaphor, I know. We don’t have much in common, this excavation site and I, except for a big hole filled with hunky construction workers.
(For legal purposes that is a joke.)
No, the way I see it, I am an excavation site because I am not the old me, but not exactly sure about the blueprints for a new me either. If I was a fanfiction, I’d be a “work-in progress”. In the words of inspirational Instagram influencers, I’m “on the journey towards becoming my best self” (I say as I kiss the camera and then turn it off and kick a dog or do a line or whatever influencers do).
Do I exist while I am not finished?
If we are all patchworks of memories, then perhaps I am not a tea towel, not yet a quilt.
If you spend so much of your life thinking three steps ahead about how best to placate your existence, pre-meditating how you inconvenience those around you by mere virtue of your presence, then standing in the middle of a river no longer feels like drowning, but a hug.
If I am a bridge, it is between a body that is bound to itself, bent in brutal ways, baked into a mould, and a mind of unruly imagination which lacks pragmatism.
There’s a sort of quiet which lingers over my in-between existence. It is a tinnitus hum, but its persistence is calming.
I have spent many years thinking that the feeling of compression was soothing, thinking that this cycle of self-flagellation was my best way to survive. I gave myself emotional lashings so that when they came from others, the wounds would fold into familiar crevices, tender yet expected. If I followed every fear into its darkest cavern, then when I encountered monsters in the middle-passages, they could not surmount the dread of the deepest shadows.
Rather than embolden my skin, I made it weaker, flexible. Instead of being formidable, or solidly elastic, it was play-dough. Every push reshaped me, every word like an arrow in my flesh, absorbed into my immune system and oxygenated by anxiety.
Except these arrows were not designed to hurt me. Eventually, when this bodily contortion became visible, these arrows were sympathetic. They were structural, hoisting my clay body into a new shape.
Poor William. He is so beaten down by the world around him. He is a weak little boy, emotionally sensitive, and he is not strong enough to reshape his body himself.
So I took these arrows and I used them. I discovered that they came with contingencies I was willing to carry. I could be soft, and sensitive, and I could have some sense of self which I was not afforded previously. But I would also need to be quiet, and obedient, and not vocal about my actual wants. Slowly these became engrained into my personhood.
Obedience and silence are qualities one learns through punishment. It is frail, to build my self-image on the pity of others.
So I excavated. This wasn’t working. And now, whilst I am not as weak, I am still caught between who I was, and who I am becoming. It is a certain uncertainty. I must take this emptiness and fill it with something other than pity.
2. A new normal
“Are you in the wrong bathroom, or am I?”
This is not a fun thing to have a domineering middle-aged man spit in your face at work. Let me take you through this scene, step by step.
It is Mother’s Day. I work in an Italian restaurant, and this is our busiest shift of the year: every table is triple booked, every mother is the most cherished in the world, every table needs more cheese (it isn’t that nice sweetie, it came from a bag). In a brief moment of reprieve I step into the men’s bathroom, with its plain cream tiles and a sad little iPad to collect feedback which someone flipped upside down so all the sad faces look happy and the happy faces look sad. Alone in this room, I do my business, wash my hands, then undo my cascading black hair and tighten my bun.
A man walks in. I don’t need to describe him, you can colour in the blanks yourself. He walks in, looks me up and down, and walks out.
“Oh.” I think. “This man probably just wants to use the bathroom alone. “Wait, that’s not a normal human thing to do.
“Oh.” I think. “He thinks I’m a woman.”
I’m sure the experience of being misgendered as a cis man isn’t as harrowing as it would be for a trans individual, but jokes on you sucker (the person reading this), I (the person
writing this) am not really a cis man. I’m more of a he/they connoisseur, a man plus, a “male” (terms and conditions apply, warranty voided if you break the seal) kinda fella, and in this moment I have my boundless curls exposed, painted nails gripping a scrunchie, and hanging pizza earrings.
This man walks back in (a reverse walk of shame), and I think “ho hum, he’ll do his business and move on without thinking.” But no. He confidently approaches this wild gender outlaw, and inches from my face, as if inspecting an artwork you think is 3D, he says the magic words.
“Are you in the wrong bathroom, or am I?”
It is as if I am not my own person, but I exist as a mirror for the thoughts of others. My existence is one to be questioned.
It’s a good question though.
I sometimes wonder if I cling to some sort of cisness because it’s easier then expecting the people around me to adapt to new pronouns, new conceptions of who I am. I don’t believe this is true, but the fact it is a thought is more telling than the thought.
My existence is one which straddles lines, straddles who I am and who I am becoming. The thing which holds me back is a lack in self-confidence. It’s not that I’m not loved, but rather, I feel as if my current body is held together by pity and placation. If I entertain the terrible thoughts, they tell me that people only like me, or acknowledge me, because I am pitiable, and they feel so bad for me that the least they can do is pretend I deserve to be treated as equal.
But these people are not gullible. It is perhaps more daring to assume that they are willing to be around me merely because I am pitiable. I mean, that just feels like more emotional labour then just genuinely enjoying my company.
I am not a clown in a circus. I exist for my own pleasure.
I turned to this man, looked him dead in the eyes whilst still gripping my hair like a life raft, and said:
“I am exactly where I need to be.”
I meet with the architect at the excavation site every day. It is a choice I make daily, to be aware of my potential. There’s a solid foundation here, all it really needs is some self affirmation.
This journey of re-structuring begins in these words.
See, even in the way I write, I lack my own confidence. I give you parentheses to affirm myself as unworthy: they are to say (I am infallible, imperfect, untrained) and not to say that my thoughts, transmuted into narrative, are distinguished enough to standalone – parentheses make my thoughts alive (and unalive), a dichotomous voice rampant (like a disease) throughout my writing.
I must be bound (hilarious/provocative/distracting) to justify the unbound (text/ideas/speech). It is a cage of my own creation. It is a cage of stability. It is a cage of inhibition.
A cage of freedom is a paradox.
In a way, I learned to love the bomb. Sure, this amalgamation of self-doubt and placation has completely wounded my sense of self, but surely it also contained my hubris? This is a good thing?
Yet, far from Icarus, it is like my sense of self has never even left the atmosphere. I temper a virile heart and unbridled passion because of this intangible fear which I’ve never come close to crossing. Over-correction is only scary because I am so far removed from a middle-ground the backswing feels mighty.
I can find a new sense of self, of peace, in the middle. Not in the liminal, not in the in between, but in the measured middle. It is not impossible, or unreasonable. I need some strong faith and tight change. It starts with an end to the self-flagellation.
Peace is only security if that peace is true. Norms are enforced, they are not inherent.
I excavated this old sense of myself. I scraped at the walls with a toothbrush and a squeegee till I could roll the gunk into a ball, yet I forgot to fill it in with something new. I thought I was being nourished with water, yet instead this hole filled with coins and sand.
I do not need your pity. I do not need to be the sad little boy anymore. I open my arms to the warm horizons that lay in front of me, and the thickening of my skin which awaits. I am not refusing emotion – far from it, I rise from my knees and level my eyes with yours and refuse to succumb to the voice in my head which yells (It Is Easier To Be small Than To Be Heard).
I refuse that.
I refuse to apologise for my existence. I refuse to be made to feel like I should apologise for my existence. Mostly, I refuse to let the sadness of other people be my wings. I surrender pity.