Flashback to a girl. Standing at your door, smoothing her dress against hips that you’ll hold, the hammering – her heart or the knock, same thing. Stepping across her first real line when the handle turns. Wanting to fall because it is raining outside and she has just turned 27 and someone took a scalpel to her heart right after she discovered it was there. Cut out little pieces and took them away so that her love is full of gaping holes when you meet.
Last week the way you watched her felt like being stitched back together.
So she’s here and she’s watching you now. Sitting on the edge of the bed, clutching at a wine because she doesn’t want you to see the way her hand trembles, the sudden jolts. The way she is electric in your presence and how you lean back in the chair as if this is common, every day. There is a beginning in this, she knows. And the ending of something too, the passing of torches. It is there in the sudden flare when you kiss her mouth for the very first time.
She thinks I was worried I’d forgotten how and keeps her eyes open the entire kiss. Your lips will forever be her favourite thing.
When you remove her shoes she nearly cries. Please take care she would say, if such things were allowed. When you slide the straps from her shoulders, when you run your hands over and down – the touch you have both imagined these careless weeks. You turn her from the mirror now, concede. With a single look back to see what the glass reflects of hotel beds and borrowed time.
Then the trembling of a different kind, the way you slowly make her sea levels rise. You will always remind this girl of salt and tears. In time to come, when her body remembers – this tectonic shift, her first transgression. The way she breaks apart in your arms. And how she is pieced back together in the soft morning light.
There are words that express both hello and goodbye. Words that mean to cling and to sever. Words to make one against or against – that is,to be completely opposed or pushed right up close.
There is refrain which means both to cease and repeat. Also quite to suggest whether the fall will be measured – or utter, complete. And fast for when things move so quickly. Then, too, for when they don’t move at all.
They had written an entire love with this language. A love composed of equal and opposing forces. Their god of two faces watching from the coin that was tossed, this Janus who also lent his name to the month of her birth – and the month of their ending.
She left. What is left. Their yield – what was made of their love and all they conceded?
Turns out they were bound. The leap she took into his arms, and how those arms restrained her. When Janus swung open the door to heaven they held on tight, and they put one foot down on either side.
I’m sorry she said when she let him go. I couldn’t love you any more.
How I say I am leaving and you mumble I’ll see you soon, and how with your eyes still closed you miss the way I shake my head, no.
Nine months ago I wrote a piece called I know you don’t watch me walk away. To quote Adele, this one was me kind of on my knees, really. I was taking an honest and painful look at the ending of a great love (and a great folly). This was me writing my way out of the pain.
The human heart may be slow to learn, but it makes its decisions in moments. The piece was about that split second where you understand that you have to move, that you have to get up and walk away – even when it means leaving your love behind. And it was about accepting that some peoplewill let you go. That there are a thousand ways to surrender.
A few months back I know you don’t watch me walk away took on a little life of its own. People started to share it across the web, and some began to tell me their stories – to say that they knew this moment, that they had been here too. Every reader with their own little bruises, people from all over the world with hearts and sleeves that were damaged. Heartache is indeed a universal – and the response to I know you don’t watch me walk away has shown me that we’re never, ever truly alone in this.
And now my dear friend Jo has created a visual essay to capture what I felt all those months ago; we worked together on the photo shoot, but the art is hers alone and I am thrilled to present it here. The word emotion comes from a Latin root that means to move through or out and this is what Jo has grasped so beautifully – the hesitance, the deliberation, the looking back … and ultimately the moment she walks away.
When she puts one wobbly foot in front of the other on a midnight street. Because she feels far too much to stay.
I wanted to tell you, readers – it’s worth it.
I Know You Don’t Watch Me Walk Away by Joanne Piechota – for the full portfolio of images click here.
It is my 35th birthday and I will not cry. One wobbly foot in front of the other on this midnight street, I walk away.
I had a dream last night where I said your name. Out loud. Tongue against teeth, it snaked out from pressed lips, the sound escaping with the slowest release of air. As if I had been holding my breath for days.
Oh that’s just like —– and there it was. Such freedom in the word, the way I suddenly released it from where it had so long been sitting – this sugared pill hidden under the tongue and now spat out at the feet of my friend. Who stared in surprise – but just for a second. I felt a cloudless relief to say where I had gone for all of these years, and as she took my hand we saw nothing but sky.
(This of course is how I know it a dream; in waking hours the ramparts survive. When we wall up our histories and set them apart our secrets block any sun from the other side).
I won’t be voting for Barack Obama on Tuesday. Mine is a vote he cannot have. Not because I will cast my vote for the right, however. I won’t be voting for a simple and defining reason: I cannot vote at all. Honorary American though I may be, and a yellow-dog Democrat to boot, I don’t have the papers or the legal status to prove it.
This election matters to me, having to watch it from the side. Or across an ocean specifically. Where the decisions of next week will flow on down; the cultural currents between us are swift after-all. A profound shift to the right in matters of equality, and the inching (running?!) together of Church and State will be keenly noted from battlegrounds here. Where our Cardinals talk about gay marriage as a “grave offence” to children whilst protecting decades of abusers from their pulpits, and our Archbishops softly advise our brides to submit. Where our opposition leader calls abortion a “national tragedy” and a woman is still paid on average $250 a week less than a man.
It is true that the bigger implications of an American Presidency are these – the wars you engage in, your economic troubles, your relationship with other players on the world stage. The impacts of 9/11 in particular have flowed downstream. A list of Australia’s 242 casualties in Afghanistan can sadly attest to that. But your cultural reign is another tie that binds, and has a global impact just the same.
America, you are the maker of manners, you see. Art has always influenced culture; art informs the way we live, and we consume your art in every way. Since the early 1980’s, 60% of all films screened in my country have told your stories. Seven of our current top ten singles are from American singers and bands. Six of our ten best-selling books from 2011 were written by US authors. Our television stations rush to show your hit shows right after they’ve aired stateside (the rest we can find on the internet). About the only cultural aspect you don’t dominate is our sport. But then, alas, you suck at rugby! We know your icons and your heroes America – the actors, the singers, the sporting and the political. We mourned the loss of Camelot too.
The stories you tell matter. The stories you tell about yourselves matter. How you treat your women matters. This crazy war on women that the right is waging, their re-defining of rape, their push to make women incubators, the attempts to close down vital providers of women’s health – these are all stories you’re telling our men and our boys. Our young girls too. In a country that supports a $10 billion dollar porn industry but gets jumpy at the idea of sex education (teen pregnancies cost you just about the same by the way) this retrograde view of women and sex in particular informs your culture and it informs mine too. It keeps the word slut in rotation, it sexualises the violence of rape, and it tells the world to get pissed off at me when I don’t get the joke. I repeat: the stories you tell matter.
And they don’t just matter to someone who looks or lives like you and me. This cultural disempowerment of women, the allowing of the religious right to change and control the narrative on women’s reproductive choices, it will cause a tidal wave for women in developing countries if Romney wins. Actually, if Republican precedent is anything to go by, it will be the very first act of President Romney – a reinstatement of the global gag rule, the policy that bans US funds from going to any aid organisation that so much as provides information on abortion. Information. This is the party that makes silence consent.
This sacrificing of vulnerable women to the alter of the right breaks my heart. I have lived in a developing nation, amongst the very women this gag rule affects. I’ve spent time in stinking, under-staffed hospitals with 14 year old girls holding swollen bellies, with women trying to feed another mouth after their husband dies of HIV. I’ve watched bibles not condoms destroy communities from the outside, in. Romney and his men will cut off money to The United Nations Population Fund and other such organisations who do life-saving work with impoverished women. They will essentially shut these organisations down – for providing information, for offering choice. It is not called the gag rule for nothing.
Which brings me to this. A blog post unlike my others – but connected. I am a writer and a feminist, for me they are one and the same. I write about women at body, remember. About flawed, passionate, courageous women. I don’t believe in angels and whores, and you will not find heroes here – only stories. And every so often the story is mine.
You have to vote for Obama.
There, I said it.
Vote for the man who rescinded the global gag rule. Vote for the man whose first bill signed into law was the Equal Pay legislation of The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act(which Romney opposed). Vote for the man who expanded VAWA, the Violence Against Women Act (chipped away at by the Republican Party). Vote for the man who says “Rape is rape. It is a crime.” (when the Republican Party seeks to dilute and re-define it). Vote for the man who repealed Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and supports marriage equality – for the man who understands that gay rights are civil rights too. Vote for the man who put two women on the Supreme Court, including the first Latina Justice.
Vote for the man who turned around the US auto industry. Who ended the war in Iraq. Who passed Wall Street reform and signed into law the Recovery Act. Vote for the man who got Bin Laden. Vote for the man who is providing healthcare access to 11 millions kids living in poverty, the man for whom Obamacare is not a derisive term, not when you consider how theAffordable Care Act provides universal healthcare for the very first time in your country’s history.
You have to vote for Obama.
He is the story you want to tell. The son of a black Kenyan and a white Kansan. Raised by a single mom and his grandparents. A community organiser, a civil rights lawyer who rose from poverty to become the first African American President. Whose journey to your highest office personifies the American Dream. Right when we thought we had lost it.
I am a writer and a feminist. That capital F on my chest doesn’t ensure I get things right all the time. It doesn’t make me a superhero – this blog is primarily about all the mistakes that I’ve made. But it gives me a voice and I’m using it now. As loud as I can, across the Pacific. The personal is political, after-all.