what do we deserve?

This morning I am all soft song and heartbeat. How do we reckon with all the love we are offered? How do we hold our bodies open into that warm and sticky possibility that not only did we always deserve love, but that we are surrounded every minute by more love than it’s possible for us to hold — we have to let it flow over and through us instead. We have to trust that the flow will continue. There’s nothing to grab onto anyway.

I know, all the poets have already said this. But today I am astonished again. Today I can’t believe that I am still worth loving — when I have forced those who love me to prove their love over and over again. Of course, that’s not what happened. I didn’t force anything. They choose to remain steadfast. Still: more than I believe I deserve.Who teaches us these things?

Today it’s all bright orange sun and here on the radio is a song from 1992 that I first heard on a mixtape that I stole from my job at the storage library at school. This was my first job after I had to withdraw from school when my stepfather decided he would no longer cover the costs of school if I wouldn’t have sex with him anymore. Of course it didn’t go like that. The story had another layer that he could stuff into my mother’s mouth and eyes so that she would go along with his decision to cut me off financially, in punishment. So I left school in the middle of my senior year. I didn’t tell the deans or my advisor (did I have an advisor) what was happening. I was too afraid of dying. I left school, moved in with my boyfriend, and managed to get a job doing data entry at this library way off campus. Later I got to be a courier, delivering big bins of books to all the different libraries, which fit perfectly with the stereotype I had begun to wear: that butch dykes (bi or not) should work with their hands. I spent my afternoons crying or raging, writing into endless notebooks–when I was not sneaking around trying to see the woman I was in love with, that is. And I listened to that mixtape, obviously made with the intent of seduction: “move with me/I’m strong enough/to be weak/in your arms.”

Who teaches us so deeply that we are not loveable? Who teaches us that love is a tit-for-tat, that any kindness will be demanded upon later, that we are building a debt that has to be paid back whenever someone is generous with their love or attentions to us? Twenty years later I can look back over a stream of beloveds who held their arms out to and for me even when I could not feel them. PTSD does this, doesn’t it? Depression does this. Trauma does this. It tricks us out of being able to trust that love does not mean having to turn yourself over into the will of another who will ultimately do you harm. It has taken me years to be able to feel another’s love all the way into my body, my bones– let’s be honest: I am still learning. I am still learning to trust my own instincts, to believe that I can let someone love me without fearing that I will be taken advantage of or demanded upon or accused of being selfish or hateful or narcissistic.

This is the deep violence of intimate trauma: the way it teaches us to mistrust our intuition, the way it teaches us that we must armor ourselves if we wish to survive. We wear that impenetrable armor deep inside and believe we will be safe. The armor keeps us separate, and for a time that feels like safety, doesn’t it? And then it just gets really damn lonely.

It’s terrifying to let love in, to trust the hands and intentions of others — scarier still to begin to trust my own intentions and instincts. But I’m learning. I’m learning.

Want to write some love today? Give yourself 10 minutes — more if you can. Write hard into it, and tender, into all the scary places. Know you are adored as you do so.

Thank you for your generous heart, and for your big and necessary words.

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