I hate my body. You're not supposed to hate your body.
Maybe it was the suffocating humidity and ninety-two-degree weather. Maybe it was because I forgot to eat and hardly drank any water. Maybe it was the heartbreak. Maybe it was the hangover. Maybe it’s because, on a subconscious level, I’m just really fucking sick of saying yes to shit that doesn’t serve or benefit me in any which way. Maybe it’s because, on a subconscious level, I’m just really fucking sick of saying yes to shit I don’t want to do. Maybe it was God or the Universe whatever high power I doubt I’ll ever *really* believe in, punishing me for being so dumbly confident in my ability to deliver a flawless performance regardless of how sad or sick I am. Maybe my body had finally had enough. Maybe I had finally enough. Maybe it was a little bit of all of it. Maybe it’s just life. I don’t know. All I know is that I bomb the reading. And I do many things. I write. I walk. I drink wine. I workout. I drive through the suburbs and smile, blissfully blasting my suicide music as if I’m bopping along to a breezy pop song. But you know what I don’t do? Bomb in public.
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The moment I step onto the podium and gaze into the sea of tattooed and weather-worn faces staring back at me, my vision turns liquid. And then my legs turn liquid. For a solid ten seconds, I think maybe my legs have perhaps given out on me, that I’ve fainted or fallen. But when I cast my eyes downward, my legs stand sturdy; two Roman statues fixed firmly into the floor. I push my hair out of my eyes and exhale, softly. You can do this, Z.
That’s when I feel pools of sweat bleed down my spine, drip-drop into my underwear, permeating my inner-thigh flesh. The consistency isn’t watery, like gym sweat. It’s sticky; sickly. Poison sweat, the kind you produce when suppressing vomit or other unsavory bodily functions. Okay, drama queen. Get over it. So you’re sweating? Big fucking deal. You’ve successfully performed full plays with 103 fevers on more than one occasion. You can handle a ten-minute goddamn reading on a hot day, asshole. My stomach growls, loudly, I’m pretty sure I can hear the microphone pick it up. You’ve performed hungry more times than you’ve performed satiated, bitch. And this audience is made up of former drug addicts! A stomach growl isn’t going to jar a junkie, dumb ass. My mouth goes dry. Sahara desert dry. I panic when my mouth is dry; all Hebrews do. So you’ve got a case of dry mouth. You’ll chug some diet Gatorade the second you're done. Grow a pair and READ YOUR SHITTY PIECE YOU PRISSY ASS BITCH.
I clear my throat and read the first few sentences aloud: “It’s two o’clock in the morning on a Sunday and I am drunk. I am not belligerent. I am not blacked out. I am good ole’ fashion D-R-U-N-K.”
The audience cackles. I’m still disoriented so it sounds muffled like it’s coming from the inside of a jam jar. But it’s just enough enthusiasm to sustain me. For the next line. Until we reach the fourth line and my heart stops pitter-patting and takes off, suddenly, like it’s participating in a drag race. Not the Ru Paul kind. The dangerous kind. The kind that involves high-speed race cars and helmeted men and near-death experiences. Then my limbs start shaking, aggressively. Normally I’m able to calm any kind of body trembling down by taking a deep, grounding breath. I’ve spent years of my life in acting classes, learning how to take deep, grounding breaths. I’m a breathing expert at this stage of the game. But for some reason, old faithful turns on me and my deep, grounding breath backfires and the shakes turn to quakes. What I'm experiencing can only be described as an earthquake of the appendages. The quaking is so frantic my voice sounds like a freight train. My vision doubles.
“You’re going to have to stop this reading,” My body lectures, decidedly.
My brain, never one to skip a beat, quickly interjects. “No!” She shrills. “You can’t stop the reading. Veronica Katz is here and she’ll never work with you again if you stop the reading.”
I am lucky I’ve performed this piece so many times it’s practically memorized because, between the tremors in my extremities and the fun-house mirror vision that's getting more and more distorted by the second and the back and forth between body and brain—I can’t make out the words I’m reading off my iPhone, which is slick with sick-sweat.
My body raises her voice. She means business. “Just excuse yourself and stop. Before you faint or seize or vomit in front of an audience.”
My brain speedwalks in a circle. “What about VERONICA KATZ? WHAT WILL SHE THINK OF YOU?”
“Why would you CARE what VERONICA KATZ thinks? What you’re worried she won’t book you for another unpaid reading at a men’s rehab center in bumfuck Jersey? Prioritize ME. I’m your body goddamn it.” My body is upset. Tears fall out of her eyes.
My brain is spinning too quickly to be upset. She can’t feel anything, she just vibrates with anxiety. “If you stop the reading everyone here is going to think it’s because you’re high. You’re NOT high, but you LOOK high. They’ll find the weed and the controlled substances sitting pretty in that bag of yours and they’ll tell Veronica and you’ll be caught having BROUGHT contraband into a safe space. Do you know HOW HORRIBLE EVERYONE WILL THINK YOU ARE?” She’s screaming now.
My body is still crying, but she can scream and cry at the same time, so she utilizes this skill set and roars: “WHY DO YOU CARE WHAT THESE PEOPLE THINK OF YOU? YOU ARE NOT WELL. YOU NEED TO STOP. I’M GIVING YOU EVERY SYMPTOM IN MY REPERTOIRE TELLING YOU SOMETHING IS WRONG! I’VE GIVEN YOU A FEVER. I’M POURING BUCKETS OF SWEAT ALL OVER YOU. I’VE IMPAIRED YOUR ABILITY TO SEE OR HEAR CLEARLY. I’M MAKING THE GROUND CONVULSE WITH LIMB TREMORS. I’VE TURNED YOUR LEGS INTO LIQUID. WHAT MORE IS IT GOING TO TAKE TO GET YOU TO FINALLY HEAR ME?!”
The audience claps, slow and awkward, like a teen boy leaning in for his first kiss. I murmur "thank you" and don’t make eye contact, my version of an awkward teen girl kiss back. Somehow I’ve completed the reading. But completing and bombing don’t always shack up in their own separate little vacuums, you see. Sometimes they cohabitate. Sometimes the things we force ourselves into finishing are our greatest failures. This isn’t my greatest failure. I know that, even as I exit the podium, and rush to the bathroom, finally free to vomit into a toilet bowl and curl up and die on soothing cold tile. But as I spit into the cracked porcelain I begin to realize what is. My greatest failure is the pain I’ve learned to tolerate. The countless times I ignored my body’s warning signals. By pumping someone else’s Adderall into my system because I had to stay awake and finish that deadline even though I’m so, so sick and my body is begging me for sleep, sleep, sleep. By tolerating the ruthless, shooting pain of an ovarian cyst combusting in my lower abdomen because I just don’t have time to go to the gynecologist—do you know how much work I still have left to do? By fucking people who make my skin crawl because I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. Showing up to all these parties and events for all these years, even though every single time I feel so out of place I want to rip off my too-tight flesh and run into the street, but I stay and suffer silently because you know. I *can’t* disappoint anyone. Saying yes to jobs led by abusive bosses again and again and again just because you know—I’m a piece of shit and should be flattered that anyone would want to work with me, ever. Hanging around emotional vampires even when I can feel them drain me of my blood in real-time, because like—if you close your eyes the feeling of being sucked dry can feel sort of like love, sometimes. Telling everyone to help themselves to my creative work and ideas, because I’d sure as hell rather give it away for free than dare face the inevitable rejection of charging what I’m worth.
I walk back onto the sad patch of rehab grass feeling like I’ve been turned inside out. Like the protective shields that safeguard me from exposing the parts of myself that are too real to reveal to the outside world, are on display. I feel naked. Feeling naked is my worst nightmare. I hate my body. I know you’re not supposed to hate your body. I’ve read the same articles you’ve read. I’ve written them too. So trust me. I know the drill: You must worship your body, for your body is sacred, like a temple. But temples are pretty. I’m ugly. And now that I’m inside out, I can’t rely on the decorations I hang on my walls, to distract you away from my ugliness. Now everyone will see the truth. And do you know what’s even more demoralizing than having the ugly exposed? The fact they can also see how ashamed I am of my ugly body. Once people know you don’t respect (or love) the vehicle that carries you through life—they know you’re weak. You can’t be strong when you’re constantly at war with yourself. And when people get a sense of your weakness, it’s all over. Weakness works as a human-repellent. Once they catch a whiff of how badly you *really* feel about yourself, the masses will avoid you like the plague. After all, you could be contagious.
I try to slink by Veronica Katz because the last thing I want to do is face her and my failure. I have an obsession with being validated by her. I think it’s because she’s very academic and heterosexual and Los Angeles, but I’m not quite sure. But those are three attributes I’m certain I don’t possess, will never possess—but secretly long to possess. I’m an imposter in the hyper-educated writing world, with my fucking associate's degree in acting for film, what a joke. I dream of being famous, like all women still wounded by girlhood trauma—but I’m a little too queer for the mainstream. And LA likes women they know how to cast. They covet an clean easy brand. “We don’t know how to market you,” Hollywood Gatekeepers tell me every time I go up to bat. I guess I just feel like if Veronica—in all her palm tree Ivy league relatably boy-crazy glory—approves of me—I can keep going. Keep pursuing the pipe dream of being a successful, known writer and speaker. And I don’t want to give up. Even if I’m hanging on by a thread and sometimes wonder what it would be like to let go and let the balloon fly into the sky? But what would become of me, where would I go? Now that I’ve lost Asa, I have no home, no things of my own. I have just this. This passion. This drive. This dream. If I give that up what’s left? I’d probably disappear.
Veronica Katz clocks me and runs over to me clumsily, like a gawky happy kid loping toward her parent’s on visiting day at sleepaway camp in the Berkshires. She hugs me hard. Her pigtails are mussed up and seemingly sexual, in an impish way that’s not contrived or calculated or grown-up enough to be eroticized. She talks like a seventeen-year-old girl in love for the first time, a mile a minute. I’m not seventeen and I am not in love for the first time. I’m the antithesis of those things, so I’m not fast enough to keep up with the conversation. She mentions something about her famous comedian friend she met up with yesterday and some fabulous restaurant she went to downtown just last night and squeals something about a boyfriend and those sleuth-y social media algorithms, I think. At some point, she asks me about my breakup. I tell her I’m heartbroken because I’m inside out, there’s nothing I can do about it, I’ve accepted it, so what’s the point in lying? She grins; toothy and gleamy. She tells me: “It’s too intense between women. You really should switch to men.”
It occurs to me that she might not have noticed the way my body almost gave out in front of an audience. It occurs to me that she might not notice that I’m standing in front of her, raw, a knife twisted into my chest, furiously bleeding from the heart, in plain view. It occurs to me that she has probably never looked at me once in her entire life.
“Yeah, maybe I’ll try men,” I say, before walking toward another exorbitant uber I absolutely can not afford, in my stupid backless lemon dress I wore, hungry and heartbroken, to an unpaid reading at a detox center for drug-addicted men. I swallow the swell of a sob. In the car, I’ll set you free, I silently promise the tsunami of un-cried tears that have been trapped inside of me for far too long.
On my way back to the car the guy with the clumsy face tattoos, the one who wagged his tongue at me earlier in the day, stops me. He touches my arm. I’m surprised that I don’t recoil like I usually do when met with an unsolicited touch from a stranger. His fingers press into my flesh lightly, it’s just enough skin-to-skin contact to remind me that I’m alive. That I’m a human, not an alien visiting from outer space.
“Hey,” he says.
“Hey,” I say back.
“Yeah, I guess.”
“You looked a little green up there. Didn’t think you were gonna make it.”
I meet his eyes. They’re beautiful; golden-red; like amber gemstones. “Yeah, I’m not feeling so great today.”
His eyes sparkle into mine. “Well regardless,” he pauses thoughtfully, “even though I thought you were going to yak up there, I think you are an amazing fucking writer.” He looks at the ground, shyly. “I texted my girlfriend and told her to check you out. That she’d really like you—”
“—Turns out she’s already read your book. And all of your articles. She doesn’t just like you—she fucking loves you.”
I can tell by the stillness in his voice and the softness in his gold glittery eyes he’s not lying. He means what he’s saying.
I feel tears well in my eyes. I let them fall into my eyelashes and slip down my face. “Thank you,” I whisper, as the tears land gently on my lips, like a simple kiss from someone who wants nothing from you; just loves you, that’s all.
On the car ride home, I realize that there is something I have that’s mine. Something deeper and more valuable than my ambition. It’s not the successful career. It’s not the happy stable everlasting marriage and subsequent children. It’s most definitely not money or a home, or a secure future for that matter. It’s my words.
And no one—no one—can ever take my words from me. Not Veronica Katz. Not an abusive boss. Not the surplus of lecherous industry acquaintances disguised as friends. Not a million rejections from a million different publishing houses. These words belong to me because I built these stories, these essays, these poems myself. And no one can take that from me, even when they’re sold to the highest bidder, they’re mine. And all the times I’ve asked myself why I keep on playing with words—what’s the point?—I always end up stumbling across someone who has been impacted by them, in the most unlikely of places. And in those moments, when I discover someone else feels more connected to themselves and less alone in the world because of something *I’ve* written—I stop feeling ashamed of my body. Because that’s where these words live, in this vessel. And then time will stand still, for awhile, suspended in the air, giving me space to view myself through a whole lens. And I start to see myself differently; the ugly parts of myself that are too vile to be shared with anyone, for a brief second, look sort of beautiful, in their own way.
I cry all the way home. But not because I’m embarrassed for bombing in front of Veronica Katz. It’s a cleansing cry. The kind of cry that washes away the cobwebs that cloud you from the truth. The kind of cry that gives you the greatest gift of all: clarity.