I thought to write down lines from Jeanette Winterson’s Lighthousekeeping on an index card and tape that card to the wall above my writing desk, next to the photos of Frida Kahlo’s artwork. I couldn’t remember the exact quotes so I searched online and then remembered that I gave my copy of Lighthousekeeping to a friend.
At the time she was just my hairdresser and I thought she would like the book. Then years passed and we became friends. Then another couple of years passed and now we no longer speak to each other.
The last time I stepped into the salon, she said, “Hi, Stranger.” I thought that “stranger” was not just an expression but a deliberate way to tell me the state of our relationship, as was the way she looked at me, and did not walk up to embrace me, but just stood there, with scissors in hand. She was giving a client a cut and perhaps was trying to be subtle, almost polite, in her coldness.
A few months before, she had let me borrow her orange jacket, which she loved. To borrow, not to have, she insisted. When grief turned to anger, I wore the jacket and accepted compliments as if what was hers was mine. Now the jacket lies on the floor of the passenger side of my car: wrinkled, bright, and deflated, like an old balloon.
I was about to tell you that our end wasn’t a violent one, but that’s not true because the break hurts. I suppose I mean our break was quiet and slow, almost imperceptible, and now we are strangers.
Taped to the wall, above my writing desk, I have three photos of Frida Kahlo’s paintings. One photo is the self-portrait in which her spine is a cracked and collapsing column, and nails are on her face and neck and they run along her arms, torso, and hips. In the painting, she holds the viewer’s gaze, as tears run down her face. The landscape behind her is a dry, bare, and cracked terrain. Her internal reality, one overwhelmed with physical anguish, has caused the outside world to become depleted of color, vibrancy, and joy.
Then there’s a drawing of a platter of fruit. She drew this later in life, and the drawing is not precise and seems a messy, hastily drawn sketch. The colors of the fruit are bright, as is the background, the dish, and table. This drawing looks like it was created by a woman who needed to draw, whose life—and by life, I mean spirit—depended on it.
On the wall, I also taped her drawing of two legs and coming out of those legs are energy lines, like electric circuits, shooting upwards. Below are the Spanish words, “Pies para que los quiero si tengo alas pa volar.” In English this translates as “Feet, what do I need them for if I have wings to fly.”
Last night I walked around the Echo Park Lake with a young poet and told her that I spent most of my days alone, that I go with long stretches of time without seeing people. She said she couldn’t do that because she needs human touch. She repeated this throughout the conversation: human contact, human touch. The thought of needing human touch never occurred to me and that seemed odd—wrong, almost. I thought all I needed was a voice, a presence, some conversation. Even now I believe our bodies don’t matter.
This afternoon, as I poured cleaning products on a swarm of ants, I thought, “Killing ants, time and time again, is the most violent thing I’ve ever done.” Then I wondered what the Dalai Lama would do if a swarm of ants came into the kitchen and ate the cat’s food. I decided the Dalai Lama was not a slob and his cleanliness would prevent a swarm of ants from coming into the kitchen in the first place. I’m not sure that killing ants is actually the most violent thing I’ve done. Most of the time, the way I think about myself is a kind of violence.
My friends send me gifts for my birthday, for my bad days, and just because. From one friend, I have a beautiful mug that is less of a mug and more of a piece of art work. From another friend, I have songs that I need to download, a first season of a show I’d love. Sometimes I say thank you, sometimes I don’t acknowledge the gifts and mostly I leave them untouched.
To use the presents would mean I was worthy of my friends and their love and it’s been some time since I felt that kind of worth. I am thinking of these gifts because I noticed the beautiful mug on my desk, next to a bundle of dry sage. I held the cup in the palm of my hands and wondered what it would mean to love myself as my friends love me. It would change everything, probably.
After I wrote about the mug my friend gave me, I washed out the dust and made a strong cup of coffee and now I drink coffee from it most days. When I drink from this beautiful mug, I am holding a warm and delicious drink in my hands and I am also holding my friend’s love for me. If I pay enough attention, I can feel myself on the verge of receiving this kind of love.
I found the lines from Lighthousekeeping and taped them to the wall above my writing desk. The first line reads, Love is an unarmed intruder. And it’s followed by, This is not a love story, but love is in it. That is, love is just outside it, looking for a way to break in.
Zoe Ruiz is the managing editor of The Rumpus. She studied creative writing at UC Santa Cruz. She curates READINGS, a reading series in Los Angeles.