By Maddie Fay
maybe it’s the way i was raised
or maybe it’s my cancer rising
but i only ever feed myself well when i am feeding someone else.
my love language is soup.
which is why my whole house smells like curry, garlic, and ginger,
why over the course of a couple of days i spent twelve of the hours i had meant to spend sleeping
pressing blocks of tofu,
individually sauteing seven different types of vegetables in fresh herbs and aromatics,
and really testing the capacity of my roommate’s food processor.
I don’t remember when I first started believing that everything that feels good is either dangerous or morally wrong, or, most likely, both, but I imagine it started with the church.
I don’t remember when I first started believing that love looked less like a fairytale and more like my best friend falling asleep in my sweater with her head on my shoulder, so close I could smell my shampoo in her hair, but I imagine it started with her.
I once spent six months eating cold unseasoned green beans out of a can for almost every meal because suffering for suffering’s sake feels righteous when you believe that you deserve it. I once spent ten years pretending not to be a dyke for essentially the same reason.
And lord, am I ever. A dyke, I mean. A big, masculine dyke,
I have always been more king Kong than Fay wray.
I have always been taught to be afraid of what my hands can do.
I remember big fat dykes depicted as monstrous,
Only able to destroy,
And I wonder if that’s why there are so many of us who make things.
i keep a knife in my pocket most of the time because i have been backed into enough corners to be cautious,
i use it for fixing things and cutting fruit.
danger is contagious and i do what i can to stop it from making me dangerous,
I do not want to be a frightened and frightening thing.
but one time a woman i really liked tried to wake me from a nightmare,
and with ghosts still circling my head
Before I was awake or aware,
i punched her in the face.
When I opened my eyes, there was fear in hers and blood pouring from her nose and no amount of apologizing could unbreak what I had broken.
she kissed me and told me she still trusted me and it made me remember all the bloody noses that i had once forgiven with similar ease.
So i told her i was thinking of moving to oregon and that work was getting busy and that i would wash and return her tupperware before she left in case it was a while before i could see her again.
i hugged her at her car
and she held me for too long
like she didn’t even notice all the sharp things where my skin was meant to be.
i spent the next six months
bleeding venom and avoiding handshakes.
And I don’t mean to say that I am violent,
Because I am not,
I do not yell
I never sleep punched anyone else before or since,
I would never hit a friend or a lover while awake. I only wear spikes to make people think before they touch me, I am all flight or freeze. But violence is not the only way to hurt someone you love. Shutting down or running away can break a heart too and blood all looks the same when it’s drying on your hands no matter where it comes from. So now I try to protect the people I love from everything dangerous, including getting too close to me.
i keep a knife in my pocket most of the time,
but on days when my body remembers in the present tense,
i take a knife from the kitchen block instead.
i cut up limes and sweet potatoes,
drown out the sirens in my head
with bubbling water and simmering oil.
i’m still learning what love looks like,
and i am so tired of breaking,
and maybe this is why every time i see someone beautiful i fantasize about building them a house,
maybe this is why i make soup.
i am only easy to love
on the days when love is not a life raft.
i have never been afraid of fire
but i am frozen earth
full of ancient seeds,
already there are new green things pushing up through cracks in me
and i worry that if the ground were to thaw,
softer things might take root,
and i am afraid that anything delicate might not survive in me.
It’s not that I am wholly unable to love recklessly,
I run whole body into the ocean every time i see her,
emerge breathless and invisible and singing praises to nobody at all but the stars.
The last time I wanted to die, I took an overnight bus to the ocean. I held my breath and dipped my whole body beneath the surface of the sea,
tried to practice drowning but instead,
fell in love all over again with the waves and the moon and the stars,
All the beautiful things too big and too powerful for me to hurt accidentally.
I am a soft foolish thing,
All alive and longing.
I have loved fully
What I always knew I could not hold,
My tiny heart so full of moon and sea
And every mountain
That every place is now both a home
I am not as afraid as I used to be,
I have done a lot of therapy,
And maybe one day I will sleep next to somebody breakable without feeling guilty.
And I think maybe one day,
I will trust myself enough to love the softest things that love me in the fearless way I love the ocean.
And I don’t know when that day will be,
Or whether you will stick around long enough to find out,
but i do know that i want you always to be warm and full of good things,
so in the meantime,
If you want it,
I made you some soup.