Note to Self | Nonfiction
January 23, 2016. 10:47 PM.
“What was I? And who will take care of me?”
When I write this note, I have spent twenty-seven years thinking of myself as a closed circuit. What this looks like on a daily basis varies, but it involves a lot of solo drives with the same song looping. Asked to describe my ideal day, I describe a day alone. I am proud of this, and it mostly feels good.
The people who know me are scattered across the country. None of them are here with me and though there are a few people here who might come to know me, they don’t really know me yet. This is fine, I think. Facebook exists. Texting exists. Skype exists.
Time passes the people who might come to know me know me more and more each day, but they know me incompletely. I am holding parts of myself back out of uncertainty. I am a work in progress, and I have always preferred to present myself to others as a fait accompli.
My friends across the country build their own lives. I joyfully go and visit. When I return to my apartment with its lovingly undusted surfaces, I am shocked to discover how lonely I am. But I am. I am lonely from the soles of my feet. I cry about it on my mother’s shoulder when she comes to visit.
The realization, evident but shocking, is this: she will be gone someday, and so will my father, and the number of people who really know me will have dwindled and will continue to dwindle
If I don’t submit to the ugliness of being known, I am going to be alone. But I don’t think of it this way. I think:
I am really fucking alone.
March 4, 2016. 7:41 PM.
“Any circumstances in which keeping a secret is preferable?”
How to write a theoretical note: keep it as nonspecific as possible. Lean academic. The theoretical note is non-threatening. The theoretical note could be my lock screen, for all I care.
Are there any circumstances in which keeping a secret is preferable? I’m just curious; I’m considering an essay on St. Augustine’s Confessions. Or I’m just looking for permission; I need to figure out where privacy ends and withholding begins.
Obviously, circumstances exist; the question is designed to jog my memory when I actually sit down to craft the essay, something I will never do. Instead, I will get a line from Confessions tattooed on my ribcage and keep it a secret from my mother for months. “Have mercy so that I may find words.”
April 4, 2016. 3:05 PM.
“Is this a sexuality crisis?”
Did I write this after I pulled into the McDonald’s drive-through with two wish-we’d-been-better friends and explained in the wait that two nights previous I’d dreamed of going down on a bunch of women? Or was that much earlier, did this note come much later? When I opened the app and punched in this question with smeary fingers, did I remember my childhood diary, with its own version of this question? Had I connected the dots? Or was this suspected sexuality crisis a wholly new fear, inseparable from the fear of attending class, of spending time with friends, of revealing a single goddamn truth about myself?
It was around this time that I most strongly believed in disappearance, my own and others’. Always prone to solitude, I went all in on isolation and began to pray for days without speech. Everywhere were friendly misinterpretations of who I was and what I meant. Alone in my apartment, I could reject the notion that others could beat me to the summit of my own identity.
August 8, 2016. 11:12 AM
Confronted with the delights of late summer, I fail to conjure appropriate joy. The feelings are like a panel from the “Depression Part Two” installment of the webcomic series Hyperbole and a Half, where the oblong narrator asks herself, “How do you make the face for ‘yay’? Am I doing it? I hope I’m doing it.”
February 13, 2017. 9:02 AM.
“Walk the labyrinth.”
I strip myself of all but the most essential external feedback. I go to therapy. I walk the arboretum labyrinth, breathing in and out. I return to church, willfully ignoring the Trump stickers on the parking lot SUVs. I ignore the priest and his football homily, too; I inhale incense. I start attending weekly, free Yoga for Mental Health. Every single session leaves me sad and drained, but I keep going back. There are conclusions I can no longer avoid, and I want them to be my own. I want to know for sure I had a hand in my own becoming.
June 30, 2017. 4:13 PM.
“What happy possession!”
For many reasons, it’s possible to write a coming out post, tell Facebook and Instagram I’m queer, and turn off my phone and go lie down. One of those reasons: I have become more discerning about who gets to know me; I have grown more willing to give those lucky few my love.
It comes out of nowhere or everyone knows.
With my friend Molly, I am writing a screenplay about Lord Alfred Douglas via weekly Skype sessions and fevered exchanges on Messenger. When I come out, we have been working on the screenplay for just under a year and the work is so joyful—the research so easy, the writing so fluid, the historical voices so close to hand—that we joke we’ve been possessed by the ghost of Oscar Wilde.
In the weeks following my coming out, I pour myself into the screenplay with renewed fervor. My interest is explicable, my investment legible. When I discover some new fact that tallies perfectly with our wild wine-fueled speculations, I message Molly, “We. Are. Possessed.”
She replies, “What happy possession!”
November 15, 2017. 1:37 PM.
“‘There’s a void beyond where I am now.’”
I move from Ohio to Kansas.
I leave my one-bedroom apartment and move back in with my parents.
The move is supposed to be temporary, but the months roll by and my Ohio driver’s license is close to expiring, so I cave and gather my paperwork.
In line at the Lawrence DMV, I read Ohioan Hanif Adburraqib’s They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us as I move sequentially from one waiting area chair to the next.
The closer we get to the desk, the more the woman sitting next to me wants to talk. She asks about my book, asks whether I am also a writer, reveals that she is a poet.
She is about to turn ninety-two, a fact I learn when she mentions that this will be her last driver’s license.
I gasp. “No!” I exclaim. This is very out of character. I try not to react one way or another when I am surprised by someone’s age, but in this Kansas DMV, I am trying on a workable persona. “I would have said you were sixty!”
“I don’t feel old,” she says. “I don’t mind being old.”
“That’s good,” I say.
She nods. “But there’s a void beyond where I am now, and I don’t know what to expect.”
The void is not the front desk, where they welcome me to this new state before I half-smile for a mounted camera. The void is uncertainty no one alive can resolve.
January 4, 2018. 11:44 AM
My therapist already knows that chewing gum makes me feel better. She tells me to Google it so I can know too. I learn about opening the back of the throat to feed or yawn, active pauses in an otherwise unrelenting fight-flight-freeze.
I have learned that I don’t always respond well to change, even desired change. Presented with the seismic shifts I have yearned for I tend to respond with breath squeezed out of my clenched body like toothpaste from a mostly used tube. I respond by imagining all the ways my carefully constructed life must falter. I respond, still, by wishing that I could see no one, touch no one, interact with no one, hunched protectively around my wobbly sense of self.
I shiver from my car to work, brew a black tea to rattle my core, and take selfies in the good light of the front gallery. Later I will look at photos from this time and think, “She’s okay.”
I am more used to the photos from years before, the last time I felt this flimsy. “Give that girl a hug,” I think—I will think—looking at those photos from early 2016. I think, “Breathe.”
March 24, 2018. 9:24 AM
“Not knowing who I am until it is shown to me.”
This is about pop culture, or my propensity to find representation in unlikely places. I tend to approach books, movies, music, TV, history as dressing rooms full of selves, where I can find pieces of identity mirrored back at me.
Or it’s about these notes, sans spin, sans agenda
Sans audience, an acting force I always, always, always imagine, except, apparently, in these fragmentary manifestations of thought, I can find the truth unvarnished.
Subtext or the subconscious, there are hints in these notes. I am still untangling the threads of who I am, but, having done it once—“What was I?” Oh, honey: yourself—I know what’s possible.
June 6, 2018. 2:43 PM
“‘Look at the wings.’”
Molly gives me a t-shirt that says “Post Subtext Queer” across the chest, a reference to stories we love, where queerness is free to be manifold and incidental. I bring the shirt with me to Paris for the summer and wear it to Oscar Wilde’s tomb on a sunny day.
The day gets warmer and I unzip my jacket but don’t take it off. Walking up to Père Lachaise, I make sure the lapel is partially obscuring the shirt’s message. I’ll be able to take the jacket off when I reach the tomb, I tell myself, but I arrive and there are British tourists everywhere. I sit in the shade opposite and wait for them to go, but when they leave, they are replaced by Americans. Then Germans. Then French. Then more Americans. I begin to lose heart. If I can’t bring myself to wear this shirt out and proud by Oscar Wilde’s grave, where can I wear it?
The good news is that Oscar is never alone. He has this rotating company of watchers and pilgrims, each of whom has a particular reason to be here. No one finds this place by accident. There is a sense of the sacred, either in the bright sky or nearby crows cawing or the fact of the cemetery, twisty and nonintuitive and wholly itself.
People come and go. Some of them stop to eat snacks. None of them pay any attention to me in my patch of shade. To pass the time, I begin to take notes on their conversations. I sit for an hour and Oscar is never alone. Neither am I, of course, but with each passing minute, I feel more and more fine. I shrug off my jacket.
A girl as young as I was when my dad first brought me here comes with her mother. She scuffs her shoes, disappearing around the back. She hasn’t noticed the face of the angel, or its famously chopped genitalia. She doesn’t care; she is grumpy. Her mother calls her back. She reemerges, babbling about lunch. Her mother says, “Come here.” Says, “Look. Look at the wings.”
Jackie Hedeman is a tea drinker and a Midwesterner. She holds a BA from Princeton University and an MFA from The Ohio State University. Her work has appeared in The Best American Travel Writing 2017, Autostraddle, Entropy, The Offing, 1966, and elsewhere. Find her on Twitter @JackieHedeman