michael king

stack of stained pages, redacted love letters, spilling ink, pressing it into tomorrow

Category: Uncategorized

three weeks into june.

Three weeks into June, and I’ve grown accustomed to pulling a mask over my face before walking out under the sun. At 25, hands shaking, I promised myself, if I could just say the truth out loud, I would never have to wear a mask again. It feels the same and different, hard to breathe but no smile at my disposal to reassure everybody else.

Three weeks into June, and I hear your life updates from a friend you still talk to. It’s been years, I tell myself, but some wounds sting long after they’ve healed. You are the ankle I sprained seven summers ago, still tender when the weather changes. Have no fear, I am well-practiced in the art of writing you letters you will never read. I whisper well wishes into the cardboard boxes you’ve still yet to unpack.

Three weeks into June, and I don’t know what to do with my reflection in the mirror. Has my body changed, has my face grown weary? In my first week of solitude, I broke down in tears remembering no one I love had seen me in days. Lately, the second I find myself surrounded in company, something in me yearns to be alone. I think I’m afraid to get used to the sound of familiar voices.

Three weeks into June, and I am trying with every atom to show up, and I am tired down to every hollow breath. Sometimes I count every footstep on a four-mile run. Sometimes I run longer, just so I can stay outside and forget how different the world was a year ago. Living the same story each day is a wave crashing against the rock wall of trying to muster the energy to write something else.

Three weeks into June, and hope arrives in a hundred forms. The sun rolls itself across green park grasses. My niece sends a Snapchat in the Pride filter. I hear the sound of a friend’s laugh over the phone and forget he’s not right here. I meet a man on rollerblades as I nurse a margarita on the sidewalks of Hell’s Kitchen. I notice people are hugging each other again, hesitation giving way.

Three weeks into June, and I miss making plans. I wonder at my audacity, just a few months ago, booking flights to London and building itineraries. I have hit backspace so much in 2020 that I sometimes forget it is not 2017.

Three weeks into June, and I’m here, hoping and building, tired and trying, fighting like mad to push love through every layer of concrete between us.

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book club: ‘hunger’.

The moment I heard Roxane Gay talk about her forthcoming novel Hunger, I made a mental note that I would, of course, read it. The summer before, I’d ravenously read Bad Feminist, her collection of essays, and I wanted to bask in her writing a bit more. Beyond that, however, I was mesmerized by her description of what it would contain: “it’s a memoir of the body,” she said in an interview with Trevor Noah, “my body.”

Roxane Gay is a woman with a large body, and – in discussing Hunger – her voice seemed uncharacteristically reserved, tenuous, gentle. She acknowledged her story involves hunger in a number of ways, and her memoir would explore that.

Anybody who’s ever struggled to live in their body, to love it as it is in a world pushing them to shrink it, will find resonant notes in Hunger. What a thing it is to crave, to try and starve the wrong hungers and feed the correct ones. Fearlessly, or perhaps despite the fear, Roxane Gay explores her own relationship with hunger.

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Hunger is a memoir arranged in a series of numbered explorations. Some of them are brief –– a musing about sex in a fat body, a description of foods not allowed in her childhood home –– while others stretch on for a few pages. Many elements of the story are deeply personal to Roxane’s story herself –– her childhood, her family, her traumas, her romances –– but there are also passages dedicated to analyzing facets of our society we have accepted as normal. The Biggest Loser, she makes a case, is one of the most harmful shows ever to be on television. (And, she adds, she was mesmerized by it.)

“This is the reality of living in my body: I am trapped in a cage. The frustrating thing about cages is that you’re trapped but you can see exactly what you want. You can reach out from the cage, but only so far.”

In Hunger, Roxane primarily tells the story of her body in a chronological fashion. She describes her body in her youngest days, its youthfulness and momentum, and acknowledges that it is a body she does not remember. The narrative does jump around a bit, and she does revisit ideas with further rumination as she shares her story. Her view of love, of her right to connection and passion and sex and desire as a fat person, evolves and devolves. There is a push and pull to healing, to accepting the bodies we inhabit, and the structure of Hunger embodies that.

“Because I read so much, I was a romantic in my heart of hearts, but my desire to be part of a romantic story was a very intellectual, detached one. I liked the idea of a boy asking me out, taking me on a date, kissing me, but I did not want to actually be alone with a boy, because a boy could hurt me.”

I was, at times, startled by the vulnerability with with Roxane Gay chose to share details of her life in Hunger. To share her exact weight –– a number she acknowledges is startling –– feels a bit revolutionary, as society often chides us never to ask. This is a guise, she points out –– society has never granted fat people their privacy, their right to inhabit their bodies. She describes instances of unsolicited judgment from strangers, from friends, from family, all obsessed with the ‘problem’ of her body.

This, of course, has placed obstacles between Roxane and her hunger for connection, for romance, for wholeness. Society has continuously pushed her to see her body as a problem, a list of limitations, and she shares no small list of indignities she has had to face as a fat woman. Desk chairs, stages without stairs, booths without the ability to adjust, airplane seats –– all of these rigidly, on occasion, refusing to make room for her to belong.

“Everyone was so worried about me when I broke my ankle and it confused me. I have a huge, loving family and a solid circle of friends, but these things were something of an abstraction, something to take for granted, and then all of a sudden, they weren’t… There were lots of concerned texts and emails, and I had to face something I’ve long pretended wasn’t true, for reasons I don’t fully understand. If i died, I would leave people behind who would struggle with my loss. I finally recognized that I matter to the people in my life and that I have a responsibility to matter to myself and take care of myself so they don’t have to lose me before my time, so I can have more time. When I broke my ankle, love was no longer an abstraction. It became this real, frustrating, messy, necessary thing, and I had a lot of it in my life. It was an overwhelming thing to realize. I am still trying to make sense of it all even though it has always been there.”

There’s a truth in Hunger that will resonate deeply within just about anyone: We all have an ongoing relationship with our bodies, we all have been conditioned to recognize some of our hungers as unearned, and we all know what it is to yearn for freedom from our obstacles. There’s a universality to this message, to the vulnerability of Roxane’s story, to the ongoing (and forever-going) journey of feeling at home where we are.

But, more importantly, there’s a story being told, a story often untold (or, at least, unheard): the story of a person, in a fat body, trying to navigate the world around them and to believe they are worthy of the love and the life they yearn for. That, I think, is where this story will echo with me for the longest.

the assertiveness of roses.

nobody ever mentions
the assertiveness of roses, the
way they bloom in
screaming color, faces
turned up to the sun itself,
unblinking in their
blossoming

unabashed, also, in their
keeping of thorns,
as if to say
we are lovely, we know, and
you will not forget
the day you were careless
in your reaching.

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rainbows.

i was raised
on the notion that
god gave us rainbows
as a promise
never to let us
perish en masse
again

when the sky
broke, when
floodwaters
lifted the ark
over the shoulders
of the unnamed,
did they also
utter
‘i can’t breathe’

somewhere i
learned to say
in the storm,
don’t worry,
rainbows are coming,
but nobody mentioned
some of us
have been
weathering storms
all the while.

Hand

book club: ‘the friend’.

In my senior year of college, in a course called Creative Nonfiction, a professor shared an idea that cracked my mind open a bit: Dispense, if you will, of whatever separation you think there is between fiction and nonfiction. More often than not, he claimed, writers are more confessional than we’d like to believe in our fictions. And, in our nonfictions, we take our liberties.

Genres and categories serve their purposes, of course, but I find that interesting things happen at the spaces where they blur.

So it was when I read the synopsis for The Friend, a story I couldn’t immediately determine was true or concocted, confessional or creative invention. Calling off the search for certainty, I opted to read it as is.

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phantom pains.

Venturing out takes a bit more effort these days. My hair is a bit unkempt, the remnant of a whim and promise at the dawn of 2020, and requires a bandanna. Before putting in my headphones, I’ve got to pull on my facemask. Before I set out, I glance at myself in the mirror, shooting myself a small smile.

Maybe I’m kidding myself, but I think I see a difference in my eyes. I commit to smiling at strangers even if they can’t see it.

The city is nearly the same place it was when I moved here two summers ago. Businesses have risen and fallen, and the age of social distancing has cast a bizarre hush over all of it, but the buildings still sprawl, mighty in every direction. My eyes for it are new again, grateful for every inch of my wandering.

Everywhere there are stories. On 14th Street, near 3rd Avenue, I think of my friend who threw a housewarming party for his new roommate, then left us there with her to get acquainted. At that Mexicue, a first date that still makes me smile to think over, even if romance never blossomed from that vine.

There, the Mexican restaurant I went to with a friend after we finished a movie neither of us enjoyed. We both would have walked out, we realized, but we didn’t sit together and each of us stayed for the other. Our server, upon discovering we had no ambitions beyond chips and margaritas, ignored us for customers seeking entrees. A third friend arrived, having been ambling through that part of the city following a house party, and she greeted us with a story about a little black dress and a torn pair of tights. She’d ditched the tights, she shrugged. We laughed, and we raised our glasses.

I ache for new nights, for those wild moments where a bunch of people I love end up in the same place, the birthplace of stories. I yearn to come back to my apartment, exhausted and inspired, sloughing off my jacket and genuinely reveling in home.

Through the window, I can see the sky is blue, but I can’t quite feel the sun on my shoulders. Through the computer screen, I can see the faces of the people I love, but it’s not the same as knowing I can pull them into a hug.

I wait for the days of experiencing the world firsthand. I miss everything and everyone, and I’m tired of living with my breath half held.

A sharp inhale, a long exhale, fogging up the glass between us.

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on friends.

Happy anniversary, the text reads. Around me, my coworkers and friends are laughing, connecting, reuniting. It’s a golden evening in July, one of summer’s final love letters, and, eleven seconds ago, I was lost in all of it with them. Suddenly, my body’s gone cold, and all of them have blurred into the background.

A year ago, he left, shattering me and a hundred closely held illusions. On the first morning after, I embarked on a run, four miles under the summer sun, making it home just in time to collapse in tears on my yoga mat. Getting better was a conscious, stubborn process.

One text message, and my armor unravels at my feet.

I make my escape, bidding everybody goodbye with a wide smile, and walk to an empty parking garage. I stoop down on the concrete, reread his message a few times, and finally ask him: Why? 

At first, he is aloof, as though I’ve simply missed the joke. When my indignation builds, so does his: It’s been a year since we talked, which shouldn’t be true, but oh well.

And here we are again, the Scorpio, after stinging, reveals his own injury: Even after a calendar year, I haven’t taken him up on the offer to be friends. I see him now, in blinding, shaking clarity. I rise, shaky breaths, and walk right back into the sun.

But, hey, we can always be friends.

In some form or another, the sentiment seems to creep its way into the conversations whispered at a relationship’s burial site. The floor has just fallen apart beneath lovers’ feet, tears have leaked their way through the hollows of all bodies involved, and everybody’s reacquainting with the world in raw, exposed skin. Let’s be friends.

After much consideration, I reject any notion of it as ‘the right way forward.’ For a thousand reasons, not all of them mature or fashionable, but all of them honest.

Because my friends tell me everything –– their anxieties, their joys, the sex they’re having or want to have, their bad dates and good dates –– and I’m really not interested in hearing about those from somebody whose face I had to take down from my walls.

Because my friends rescue me when I fall, see the worst of me and stay, own up to their failures and stay, show up on my hardest, ugliest, messiest days. And stay.

Because the whole idea seems to be predicated on the notion that to be a lover is a simple stairstep above being a friend, that at least we can be friends, that, somehow, somebody’s decision to go means they are entitled to step freely among my friends.

Because friendship is not a consolation prize for you finding the courage or cause you need to stick it the hell out and stay.

I’m not saying it can’t be done, not criticizing anybody’s friendship with somebody they used to love romantically, but I am saying this: It doesn’t work for me.

Love letter to you, wonderer, who wandered into my pages carrying new definitions, the way the letters on every page before rearranged themselves upon your arrival;

to you, boisterous joy, whose laugh was the sun on so many bleak evenings, avocado and lime on the cutting board and music painting the air golden;

to you, examiner, eyebrows furrowed as you study the best and worst of me, your love the color navy blue;

to you, soldier, sharpening a machete on my behalf the moment my voice trembles, we both know you’ve got a bad habit of finding yourself in battles, but pinky-swear we will see every last one through;

to you, magician, whose spirit contains some of the same DNA as my own, we are mysteries to so many, but, to each other, a series of private jokes;

to you, tree with deep roots, steady in every storm, dropping fruit in my hands on the days I believe myself unworthy of nourishment;

love letter to you, to us, to the improbable miracle of existing at the same time, to rescue in the form of staying, to love itself.

Hand

book club: ‘a tree grows in brooklyn’.

As a reader, I tend to shy away from ‘the classics’ in my selections. They’ve been mined for meaning, it seems to me, and there are so many stories waiting for my shovel. But here, now, in the days of quarantining far away from my family, I took A Tree Grows in Brooklyn down from the shelf. My Mom’s favorite book. I turned the page and began.

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A Tree Grows in Brooklyn takes place in the early 1900’s, before World Wars and the complications of technology. Its characters inhabit Williamsburg, Brooklyn, though the story lives and pours from the mind of Francie Nolan. She is young, bright, and her eyes are just opening to the truths of the world. Surrounding her are her family members, a younger brother Neely, her hardworking mother Katie, and her warm-but-wayward father Johnny. At the novel’s start, this is her world, and books are her only connection to anything outside of it. Read the rest of this entry »

still here.

These days, I busy my hands in the deep dig for hope. When this is over, I begin a hundred text messages. We build makeshift tomorrows with fantastic elements –– hugging one another close, sinking into seats at the movie theatre, dancing shoulder to shoulder beneath neon lights.

How quickly, we’ve learned, the familiar can unravel at our feet.

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in this moment.

I was at a meeting, etching song lyrics into the margins of my notebook, when it dawned on me that things were about to change. Classes are very likely going to move online, we learned, and, it’s possible we may all move to working remotely. Murmured questions began to rise from the group, and – as if by instinct – I started writing a message to my mom and dad.

If we end up going to remote work for a month or so for coronavirus, could I spend that at home? I hit send, tilted my head back, imagined what life might look like: Dad’s cooking, Mom’s stories from work, the dogs alternatingly comatose and frenetic, late-night vanilla ice cream scoops in yellow bowls.

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