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Writing Contest Winning Entry 2018

To My Identity Crisis, With Love by Lana Kreimer

"The call toward authenticity has all the subtlety of a smoke alarm." -Paula Stone Williams, TEDxMileHigh

 

Out of longing and desire was born a poem. I imagined it an appropriate contest entry into a poetry category, but, not unlike myself, it seemed to undergo an identity crisis, and ended up in a pile of essays. Thus came the story about identity, acceptance, love, loss... and more love.

A year ago I was fully identifying as a heterosexual woman in a monogamous relationship. Middle-aged. Overweight and quite self-conscious about it.

Admittedly, I’ve always known there was more to me then that. But for years - for almost 20 years - I was convincing myself that for someone I truly love, I can change. I can make myself... not smaller, no - in fact, I grew immensely with my partner, in all kinds of unexpected ways, and always felt truly supported by him. But I was definitely narrowing myself, attempting to walk the precarious and, yes, narrow path of fulfilling the expectation for this very stereotypical role of a “well-behaved woman”. 

Mind you, I was pretty bad at it in so many ways. Like, I don’t cook. And I hate to do dishes. And laundry. And pretty much any housework - I really try to avoid it as much as possible, whenever I can. I figured, a single grown up man didn't die from hunger for so many years before meeting me, he can probably continue to feed himself after the fact. And believe it or not, he survived - and even managed to feed me, while at it. True story.

But I did agree to monogamy. Not right away, not without a struggle - after all, I told him I didn’t believe in monogamy on our very first "not-really-a-date", and he accepted it. He also bravely tried foreign to him western cheese for the very first time in his life just for the pleasure of my company - and I think I knew then, we have a keeper. Still, I declared myself, not wishing to mislead. 

And he said "Ok" to my nonconforming ways. As if he knew what he was getting himself into. As if monogamy needed me to believe in it, to assert itself back with full force a year and a half later, unexpectedly on a Valentine’s Day, of all the occasions. I faced an ultimatum to choose between being with the person I love, and keeping my freedom. Which I also love, and fought so hard for, escaping from my previous attempts at domestication by what felt like chewing my foot off, and loosing too much in the process. 

And yet, what is your hard won freedom? Still a concept, an abstract, an intellectual construct next to the dear, kind, warm-blooded, very real - and really cute, too! - human being, who is hurting and telling you calmly that he “cannot do this open thing any longer." It didn't work for him. I saw that pain in his eyes, and I never wanted to see it again. Not while I’m causing it. I swore to myself then - never again, not if it kills me.

An so, there we were. What would you choose? I chose him. And that’s how I found myself cornered between my absolute refusal to lie, my fervent desire to never hurt my partner again, and the knowledge that there exists a very joyous, generous, and alive part of me that I am slowly suffocating, intentionally, and often not too artfully.

You see, I didn't believe in monogamy for myself because I've tried it before. Unsuccessfully. But maybe that was with a wrong person, by a younger and more irresponsible me, and now I could do better. Couldn't I? 

Recently, in a discussion on polyamory, when I heard it described more in terms of identity or sexual orientation, rather then a choice of a lifestyle, it made a lot of sense to me. In fact, it was a revelation. It also explained why, what was so important and felt so natural to my partner, and to so many others, felt quite foreign to me. Compersion - an enjoyment of another's joy - became my new favorite word (the one before that was "tranquility"). But 20 years ago all of that was completely unfamiliar to me. I believed the all-pervasive cultural message we all have been hearing from childhood: if you love someone, you don't need or want anyone else; and if you do anyway, you shouldn't. So once again I went on a journey of squeezing myself into a box just a little bit too tight for me. Perfect fit otherwise, though.

Paradoxically, to cut off those offensive parts and become more narrow, I made myself gain a lot of weight. I needed all the help I can get to rein myself in, including the help of our society’s body-shaming and ageism, which I too internalized to keep ridding myself of temptations. I guess, I wanted to make sure I felt as unattractive and embarrassed, as any of my stray desires felt forbidden. Shaming and self-deprecation work. Not a recipe I would recommend.

I became quite depressed. I isolated myself. I stopped writing poetry. Happily, we were great together in many ways (and had a really good couples therapist), and so slowly I learned to enjoy myself within this new boundaries, discovering shades of vanilla I never new before - more loving, more caring, tender... I had the best gentle sex of my life. The other things, things he wasn’t interested in, more edgy, kinkier stuff, I learned to sublimate through dancing, through random erotica, through living vicariously at Burning Man... I never strayed, not at Burning Man, nor while traveling alone in Europe for five month, nor ever. I finally succeeded at taming myself.

Until I met her. And I crushed hard. 

Suddenly, my brain, and my heart, and all the rest of me, was on fire; the centuries worth of romantic gestures from Russian classical literature to Hollywood B-movies seized me: I wanted to write letters and send flowers by truckloads, climb Italian balconies and throw fur coats on icy-cold dirt at her feet, for her to step comfortably... Thankfully, it is hard to find Italian balconies, fur, or dirt in Bay Area, though I still found plenty of ways to goof up.

As a dancer, I always thought a follower's part was hard; now I truly appreciated the difficulties of being a leader in a couple. Pressured by expectations, blocked by fears, confused by assumptions... I was eager to learn the new steps.

Yet, I still didn’t stray. Not that I didn’t want to - but there were obstacles. Like, I still refused to lie. And I’d be damned if I ever proposed to put her into this new closet, while she worked so hard to escape the old one.

And I still hated to hurt my partner. He surprised me though - he also grew during these years, and had long bypassed that awkward and insecure youth that I’ve met almost 20 years ago. He trusts me now, and trusts in our bond, whatever may come next. He is still the man I fell in love with - understanding, supportive, and giving, to a fault. But now he also knows himself and his desires and limits, and he is not afraid to examine and voice them. Which gives me hope that this time when he says he is ok with all shades of me, I can trust him too. Good to know.

Most of all I was surprised with that part of me, that adventurous, spunky, generous, greedy, that sexy, kinky, curios, colorful part - turns out she is still alive in there, after all. And so I am still capable of falling in love, openly, with abundance, all the while loving my long-term partner ever more for being himself and trusting me.

It turned out my love was unrequited. It happens. She preferred to stay friends. And I’m filled with so much appreciation for this friend of mine, the beautiful person that she is - for opening me up, and for opening the world to me again. And for letting me discover myself, previously unknown.

My identity today: I am a bisexual, polyamorous, cis-woman, in primary relationship with the love of my life, and open to my next adventure. The rest of my life has just begun.

And I am writing poetry again. To celebrate my coming out, this is for the love of my year 2018. Thank you.

 

***

I am waiting at the border.

 

Here are my boundaries: 

my skin, my lips. 

My breath. 

My personal bubble. 

Here’s where I end

and you might begin.

Will you come and meet me at the border?

 

I don’t want to invade, occupy, or possess. 

Don’t want to trick you, 

or draw out with treats. 

All I can do is 

wait here, hoping

that you are as curious, 

or daring, 

or maybe hungry for joy, 

as your feisty little dog, who so 

loves me stroking her small body, 

all skin and bones

and wiry muscles 

under matted white fur. 

 

Will you come and play with me at the border?

 

Touching you is

like touching warm silk. What a cliché! 

My lips are aching

to feel that warmth. 

And then your soft stubbles 

surprise me with such a wave of unexpected tenderness, 

that I want to kiss each 

and every one of them. 

I caress them, 

and you’re embarrassed,

the evidence of your long loosing battle

for the world to witness.

Will you please allow me 

to love 

this one last remain 

of your imperfection?

 

I am me, and you are you. 

Will you come and dance with me 

at the border?

 

Your body is also soft

and curvy under my palm.

So much like my own, 

and yet so foreign. 

My skin tingles 

in the same places I touch you 

with tips of my fingers. 

Is this what we call empathy,

every sensation echoing, 

shared by two? 

Multiplied by two?

I brush your nipple 

and mine’s becoming harder

in response, 

breath caught in a mid-draw. 

Yes, that soft skin -

those hard boundaries - 

dividing us...

Is it uniting us now, 

becoming one for two?

 

But here I am

still on this side, 

and there you are.

Will you come and greet me at the border?

Will you come and kiss me at the border?

Will you let me in?

 

Will you let me under your skin?

Like I’ve long since

allowed you 

under mine -

only to feel this throb

in my solar plexus,

only to exhale

and find us 

once again separated at borders

as two foreign 

sovereign bodies we are...

 

I am waiting at the border. 

Permission to approach. 

Granted.

Will you come?