this house is obvious
BY KAYLEB RAE CANDRILLI
I wonder about the consent of sleeping. I wonder about photographing sleep, making it something real in wakefulness. There are pictures of me sleeping. Partners that thought the moment worth remembering. I work hard to feel flattered. My face slightly slack, lips just a few millimeters apart, the only thing that might slip out: my tongue. The only thing that might slip in: a finger from a hand that isn’t mine. My face looks more feminine like this. I am troubled that I consider this a weakness.
When I curl myself fetal, I don’t want to be seen. I want to be as good as dead.
When Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” came out on the radio, it was a great equalizer—unanimously loved. And since, at 14, I had started a CD collection, I bought St. Elsewhere. The up-tempo first tracks didn’t prepare for the darker songs clocking in later in the album.
Gnarls, the “Necromancer,” sings:
Don't wake up, / wake up, wake up, wake up, wake up / It's naughty, very naughty necrophilia / Without a care I'm compassionate about killing her / I'd have my way with what's left of the will in her / Cosmopolitans, and cocaine, and an occasional pill in her.
My mother heard the song from the kitchen and came into my room, my head bobbing along at my computer. Pajama Sam, Carmen Sandiego, and Harry Potter CD-Roms, still splayed along my desk even at 14. “It’s naughty, very naughty necrophilia.”
Though my taste in computer games was stunted in its maturity, I was acutely aware that by the nature of toting a female body, I lived in constant danger. My father liked to tell stories of the women he knew in Staten Island, their walks home alone, their bodies found raped and excavated of organs. My father described to me, in great detail, the way he tried to stop the sexual abuse between a brother and a sister. The way the father of that brother pulled a trigger in my father’s face—it shot blank.
My father taught me that friends and brothers and fathers are the firsts on a long list of reasons to live in fear. He coached me along a topographical map of pressure points, my body crumpling, my arms dead weight and hung limp. How to push my palm upward into a nose, so the attackers’ bones might pierce the brain—a violent body collapsing violently into itself.
The way my mother explained necrophilia is hard to conjure in detail, but the way I reacted isn’t. I slipped the lyric book from the plastic shell, sharpied the song into a blackout, redacted the song title from the track listing. Burned a new CD, spinning every song but “Necromancer.” This was my first redaction, my first attempt to unlearn, to swipe something completely clean.
If the fear of rape is what kept me bolt upright in bed for years, is what insomniac-shoveled deep graves beneath my eyes, to know the indignity could continue after my body turned off was more than I could handle.
Watch me now: the way I scan the parking lot for shadows cast subtle beneath tailpipes, the way I wide turn into an elevator, a contraband switch blade already open and ready in my jacket pocket.
Are you ready to kill for yourself?
Do you prefer glass bottles over cans so you might hole punch a throat? If wearing headphones and attacked from behind, how quickly can you wrap a neck with an aux cord? How hard are you willing to pull? What color do you expect when it’s all said and done?
Have you ever made that kind of blue?
In what I still consider my first functioning adult relationship I was black out drunk for more than half of our intimacies. It was unconscious, and thusly, unconsensual power play. There is no one to blame but addiction, colored Christmas lights burning along the balcony banister, the recycling overflowed with cans, the music too loud, but not loud enough.
On my twenty-second birthday, I was in love with a woman with short hair. On my twenty-second birthday I was surrounded by women with short hair.
The woman who I loved was not the one to touch me that night, to run her fingers through my grated ribs, to rake my taut skin. After, she wrote, in beautiful detail, that, “I was not protesting,” wrote that my lips responded but I “would not remember this.” Now, I spend time wondering what she redacted, what she struck from record. Of the nothing I remember, I know there is more—there always it. What else of my body was touched? How did my body move to flee or to feel more? What does fight look like when your mind has died, if only for a night?
I am ashamed that I feel shame for this—that I blame us both. I am ashamed of my drinking. I am ashamed that my unconscious might have betrayed me. I think often that my body might have felt something that acted as pleasure.
My mother was asleep in the room adjacent. The womb around me, someone else’s’ hands. My mind blank and dark and swollen.
My favorite Shakespearian play is, and has always been, Titus Andronicus. There are theories that Shakespeare didn’t author it at all, as it’s bloodier than even the bloodiest of his revenge tragedies. I like the idea that one person can have so much blood inside them. It makes me think, if ever in need of a transfusion, perhaps I wouldn’t have to run dry. Perhaps Lavinia and I share a blood type. Perhaps if we all just get dangerously close to death, no one will have to die at all.
When I think about dying, as I often have, I wonder what my mother would do to bring me back from the dead. She would suture me back together with dental floss, because floss is stronger than thread. She would incantate, voice guttural with not grief, but determination. She would build an altar of my teeth and hair and diplomas and poems, all of which she has collected. She would spill the throat blood of the closest living thing. She would light the world on fire, and herself with it.
I know people who have never blacked out from alcohol consumption. They keep their memories tidy, shrink-wrapped, and labeled. Their memories are fresh, readily accessible.
In an average week that I convince myself I am not an alcoholic, I lose two nights. When I know what I am, I lose months.
If I summarize my sexual history, this is all that sees the light:
When I first read Titus Andronicus, I am in the woods again, whittling spears with the boy whose fingers searched inside me for years. He never found what he was looking for. His hands were big brothers. I feel Demetrius and Chiron everywhere. Now the boy from the woods is a sniper for the United States Army. On Facebook there are videos of him crushing camel spiders with the butt of his rifle. There are statuses that read “I LOVE MY FAMILY.” Memes that read “Titanic be like, I nominate all passengers for the ice bucket challenge.” And updates on tattoo progress. He writes, “Finally my arm is finished.” And all I can see is Lavinia dismembered. The forest looking more like a battlefield than the desert.
When I die I want my organs redacted, studied for their paranoia. Do I look corroded on the inside? If I was born a battery, filled with artificial power, will they see how dirty I got along the way?
In this life I have tried to make myself both larger and smaller. Sometimes simultaneously. When Lavinia was attacked she was cut away. Pieces of her shaved off swift and soft as butter. It is in the trauma to her body that we remember her four centuries later. The blood spreading out and out and out until an ocean. Lavinia grew with the tide. Lavinia shrunk—a pool drained before winter.
When I tell someone about the way the girl with short hair touched me, I say, “I want to file a title nine.” The someone says, “Don’t do that. She just admires you. Looks up to you.” I say, “What?”
The someone is also a girl with short hair.
What’s an awl besides an axe, blunt blades; my whole body is made of edges.
When I tell a student I’m writing an essay about Titus Andronicus, he gets excited and rattles off characters and plot points with ease. I am proud he’s my student. And he teaches me that I remember nothing of Titus Andronicus except Lavinia, except the way she was pulled apart. She is all I care to remember. I couldn’t forget her if I tried.
After I file a title nine complaint against the girl with short hair it is mandated that we are separated in our classes by a few desks. I talk less in class. The girl with short hair even less. The professors publically make light of our “disagreement.” I am being dramatic—almost girlishly dramatic. How can friends turn on each other so quickly, they wonder aloud.
After I file a title nine complaint, the girl with short hair changes my first name in her essay. She writes:
“My fingers explore the threads of her shirt until, bold, I slip my hand beneath the fabric. I rake my fingernails over her flesh, delighting in its tautness, its heat. I imagine myself an art connoisseur ravishing a master’s sculpture, hungry to gather more of it in my palms.
After many minutes, when the sky begins to lighten and cast the room in aquamarine, I slide my knees behind hers, my chest against her shoulders. I let my hand linger under her shirt, cupped over her ribs, thirsty for her heartbeat. It pounds beneath my touch—she is awake, she is not protesting—so I hide my face in her neck.
The next day I will learn that she remembers none of it: not the poems I scribe over her skin; not the moment when she rolls over and laces our hands together, tucks her ankle under mine. But in the moment I inhale the night, hold its incense in my lungs. This, I whisper in the darkness; you. You are where I want to be.”
A literary journal published the essay in 2014—calling it both stunning and provocative. Reading the published piece, I realize she edited out, “She stays quiet for a moment before meeting my eyes, her pupils blooming like ebony moons; she will not remember this.” But I keep a copy of her first draft on my computer, in a folder titled “The Bird Woman” because I take solace in name calling and seeing or saying or hearing her name makes my heart race and my palms sweat. When I compare versions of her essay I map all her story’s discrepancies along my warm, taut body—my pounding heart beating. I leave the map burning there. I “ravish” myself. I try to remember.
That first version of her essay won $1000 dollars in a Penn State English department contest. A friend later told me that due to a clerical error, she was paid twice, allegedly making $2000 dollars total. The judges were anonymous but I’d like to ask them if they have children.
When I complained to another classmate about her essay making money and having been so laureled, they said I was jealous at having not won the money myself. They said, “You should be happy that you taught her enough to beat you. She really looks up to you, you know.”
My partner reads bits of this essay as I write it. They delete every picture they’ve taken of me asleep. And I want to say, No, this isn’t about you. You’re an exception. But I can’t articulate why they’re such an exception. Can’t begin to express what they’ve done so differently that I’m delighted by seeing my own vulnerability. Maybe it’s the way the light through the blinds stripes me, breaks me up. Maybe it’s because they are the only person I’ve ever trusted with my body.
I fall asleep on their chest in a Philadelphia park. It’s the first time I ever sleep so publically, so unprotected. They fall asleep on my chest on a New Jersey beach—I shield them from wind struck sand—it’s the first time they ever sleep so publically, so opened up.
I would kill for my partner with such astounding readiness that I often scare myself.
After Lavinia’s tongue is cut out, after her hands are loped off, she tries to write to her nephew—a stick between her bleeding wrists as she spells her rape in the dirt. Revenge is sworn against Demetrius and Chiron. These rapist brothers are baked into a meat pie and served to their mother, on which she “daintily hath fed.”
Lavinia’s father, Titus, slays Lavinia in perhaps an act of mercy, perhaps in an act of his own shame. I don’t ever give the benefit of the doubt. Everyone is dead or dying. Lavinia, is always both dead and alive. 400 years later, her tongue is still cut out.
In my bouts of paranoia, in my PTSD, my body is a body covered in hands. None are mine. No one cuts their nails. I scar purple.
Now, three years later, what if I said I wanted to spit up the tongue I’ve swallowed and chew better next time? What if I said this, right now, is me writing in the dirt? What if I said I want to bake a body? What if I also said I want to be just a little more forgiving?
In the end, revenge is only an admittance that you’ll never be the same. And I don’t want to be the same; all I want is to feel better. I just want to know that the next time I’m touched, I’ll be alive.
The “black out” section is a redaction of the complete lyrics of Gnarles Barkley’s album St. Elsewhere.
Kayleb Rae Candrilli is author of What Runs Over, forthcoming from YesYes Books and winner of the Pamet River Prize. They are published or forthcoming in Rattle, Puerto del Sol, Booth, BOAAT, Muzzle Magazine, New Orleans Review, and others. They hold an MFA from the University of Alabama and now live in Philadelphia with their partner.
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