pulse-berlin

Endless War

When things between us were good...

Karen Lillis

Available languages: deutsch English

NYC, 2003

When things between us were good, I was radiant in my own skin. I remember the ease of picking out clothing to wear in those days: I knew just what to put together to feel sexual, wonderful, powerful - it was effortless. Wrapped up as I was in the love of William's words, "You were so beautiful last night." Knowing he meant the "me" in motion, the "me" in the throes of love-making, in the throes of exploring us, in the throes of becoming. "Me" in the midst - in fluidity - anything I want to thrash around, to try, to become, is beautiful.

When the war crept in - the fears and the barriers and the battles and the retaliations - it was William's silences that cut me to the quick. If he didn't say I was beautiful, then I wasn't, and suddenly I was "Ugly", "Bony", and "Rex",  from the days of late childhood, of early adolescence. I became easily irritable, constantly insecure, my radiant energy dried up and turned inward on itself. I tried to dress and make-up my despair away. But I was working against too much of a deficit - working to cover up too much ugliness. My shadow body.

And William became the overweight young man he'd been at twenty. Not in physical reality, but palpably. I lived with his heaviness, his despairing, sloping shoulders; he started working on a gut from drinking again, though he was barely eating. I could see his ugliness as easily as I could see his beauty. And it was entirely built of his own self-hatred, his utter lack of confidence.

The best thing about my birthday - or the consolation prize - was that the bed and breakfast had cable. We both got so excited, addicted to flipping channels. And we ended up watching (at William's insistence) the end of The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. I didn't care for it as a movie - those Westerns bore the shit out of me - but William told me something so fascinating about the title. He said it comes from Kierkegaard, from a concept he wrote about that essentially translates to "the good, the bad, and the interesting." From what I remember, Kierkegaard said that people are raised with a self-image as one of the three - "the good" are born beautiful, accepted and loved by those around them, and grow up understanding themselves as essentially benevolent forces, capable of giving and receiving "goodness." "The bad" are born wretched or ugly (or poor, or the wrong ethnicity or race, the logical extension says), made to understand that they are not loved and don't deserve love - and they turn to a life of crime out of revenge. Or at least a life outside the approval of their community. That is, they absorb or accept the limitations that were taught to them. And "the interesting" - well, I don't remember what Kierkegaard said about them (other than it was some composite of the first two), but I do recall thinking, oh, that's me and William. Beacuse we ended up being raised with such a sorry self-image (me, too skinny, ugly, spat on by my peers - William, overweight and friendless and rural-poor, tormented by his mother) - but then growing past the awkward years into better looks and white, educated priviledge. So now our image of self is complicated, splintered. We can move through realms of handsome, ambitious, brilliant people. But we carry the shadows of the ugly creatures we once believed we were. They lurk, they wait for moments of lowest confidence to live through us again. To borrow our present-day bodies, like parasites.

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