Rites of Passage
Rites of Passage
by Samuel Matteo Schloegl
Images by the author. Edited for publication by Verena.
I feel like an impostor.
Maybe, a voice keeps whispering in the back of my head, maybe this is the last time.
The last time they let you into their house at all. The very last time. I feel tension, but not much. Their childish relationship, their anxiety and nagging boredom roll off my skin. I just don’t care anymore. I draw boundaries and I stick to them in our conversations. I find that I have the power to provide a topic. I don’t have to talk about myself if I don’t want to. I don’t have to talk about parts of me that might get us into trouble. They are happy enough being listened to. Happy enough.
The air smells of spring, slightly. In the lowermost drawer of my old desk I find a stack of handwritten manuscripts. They must be ten years old at least. I leaf through them, considering if it is really worth the pain. It actually was a bright person writing there, someone completely aware of what was going on around them. And completely helpless to change any of it. A person knowing things I have forgotten so profoundly again in the following years that I can only raise my eyebrows in disbelief. How scarred and still alive.
I decide it is not worth the pain. I take the three drawings from the top of the stack. The one I like most pictures a monster with two heads, two hearts and two pipes protruding from its center that brim with liquid. Drops spill from the monsters’ eyes and smooth stalactites grow down from the ceiling. A scribble beneath the picture says: And once again, we are longing for disinvention. I also looked at the photos yesterday. Nothing really surprising, though. A self-conscious child, clutching whatever animal they could get hold of. A mother smiling a little too brightly, and a father averting his gaze from an unbeloved photographer.
I feel like an impostor. I take the three drawings from the top of the stack. The rest is not worth the pain. The air smells of spring and I am still longing for disinvention. But I have become aware that it probably won’t happen. And it might be the last time that they let me enter their house for good.
Basically, what I do is validate my parents’ choices. It took me a while to get to this point, but luckily enough less than half a lifetime. I automatically wonder how it must be, growing up in a place you are taught to love, a place that embraces you and makes you prosper. I can almost sense it now. It seems as if after having spent a decade on fixing myself, I am finally allowed an idea of the feeling of home. Ironically in the place that I was so desperate to leave behind and never come back to.
I am not one to let go easily. It might seem like it, at first. I leave places and people abruptly, radically. I make surgically clean cuts. But with time I have learned that the tissue of love and pain is not so easily severed. That one keeps dragging invisible weights around. And so I started to come back. It is true, I do leave. But when a person or a place really meant something, I will come back. Maybe once, maybe over and over. Searching for unraveled seams with my fingertips.
So this is it. I came back. There is the tender wind, the occasional car, the darkness descending around me. Light lingering over the hilltop. After a decade of fixing myself by throwing everything I had into the fire, I can muster enough forgiveness and love and appreciation for my parents to tell them: Well done. This is a good place. I can tell by their smiles that it is more than they could possibly have expected.
The grass is a little damp against my bare feet as I walk to the front of the garden. There is the gingko tree. I’ve been wondering if it would still be here, having been my favorite tree when I was a small child. We were the same size back then. Now the tree is about two times as tall as I am, branching out in front of the balcony. It has grown so much.
The thought of leaving this place makes me miserable. Not that I could stay. Or could I? This place itself used to make me miserable. Or at least that’s what I thought.
I root deeply. In things, in people, in places. In sounds, colors, smells. In movements. I used to find this hard to accept. I thought that it makes you inflexible and dependent. That it restricts you – and I didn’t want to be restricted in any way. I was angry and needed to get out. So I fought. I uprooted myself again and again, crossing every possible boundary and tearing myself into pieces.
Rooting is a slow process and reversing it is excruciating. Pulling out roots doesn’t only mean pain, it also means destruction. You’ll never get all the fibers out of the ground. You tear yourself apart.
What I am really angry about is that it took me this long to notice. Rooting is not something you choose, but it also isn’t something you cannot influence. You influence it by picking the right people, the right places. People and places that respect, inspire and nourish you. People and places that make you prosper, not wither.
What I am really angry about is that I didn’t do that. For the most part of my life I chose people and places that exhausted me, drained me, hurt me. I didn’t know that I deserved better. Tearing yourself apart for so many years leaves traces. And roots, scattered all over the wrong places.
I have learned one or two things, though. Roots do not only make you inflexible, dependent and restricted. They also make you strong, patient and healthy. They make you whole. Just like the right people do.
Recently, I started choosing more wisely.
– Ridge -
Black hair creeps across the back of my hands towards the fingertips. We return to where we left off, or maybe I should rather say – where we should have left off? There is a strange power to this emergency mode, to this concentrating on the next step only, because the step after that would exhaust all capacities.
Thick black hair creeps across the back of my hands like a small mammal, quite unsure where it is headed. I am sure but I can also tell that there is nothing left to discuss, me being too radical and you being too well conformist. Has it always been like this? Or did we change roles along the way? We meet rarely, and when we do it is in noisy cafés for half hours between other appointments. There are long pauses in conversations when both of us gaze in different directions. I am tempted to tell myself that we have known each other so long that there is simply nothing left to talk about. But I know that I would have things to tell you, if I only believed that you would listen. This is not exactly devastating. It’s not pretty either.
I sing along to old songs and I know that I will probably be hitting this pitch for the last time. I am not sad. Most things falling, slipping away from me these days, being overgrown by thick black hair, have never been mine to begin with. Although I have been trying hard to convince myself they were. One of those weights you only start noticing when they lift.
Keep your eyes to the ground. There is a pleasant familiarity to this state of exhaustion, the muffled senses of a body always on the verge of collapse. We know the costs of lingering here. We know the costs of leaving. We keep our eyes to the ground, concentrating on the next step only. Because thinking of the one after that would exhaust all capacities.
– Baleful footage -
We dance in the misty morning slowly creeping over the horizon, I took off my shoes, wet sand between my toes, under my soles.
A little tired, a little weary already, but we are still able to move, to hang on a little, waiting patiently like vultures for some undefined precious thing to happen. The silhouettes of the rundown buildings around us grow out of the shadowed ground, filthy walls, covered by graffiti and smutted paintings.
Do not try to sit down on the sofas around the dance floors no more, baby, they are all wet and gritty too. I close my eyes and try to alleviate my mind, return to the state of blessed weightlessness of the preceding, the dark hours, but the light inexorably seeps in under my eyelids. Dreary is the day to come, disintegrated attempts to sleep in a too-big bed, the air of the empty room pressing heavily on my eardrums, the groaning of a strained body that is supposed to be mine, shivering, sweating, breathing painfully, unable to grasp, stand or speak.
And now it kicks in and all my membranes explode, shooting stars down my spine, turning my stomach, spinning my pupils to the back of my head. And now it kicks in and it’s ecstasy, pure happiness man, pure beauty and all the lights taste of candy and all the lips taste of childhood summer morning adventure.
And now it kicks in and my legs feel lighter than air and my movements are glowing in the dark, each flick of my hand a glittering swoosh, it’s magic, man. And it kicks in and everything else kicks out, it’s only me and pure love, baby, and maybe a little tiny bit of you, and it kicks in and the drums are flooding my arteries, right under my skin, illuminating my body right from my heart.
And then it kicks out, kicks my veins back into place, kicks my eyes back front, my spine up straight or down to earth; it kicks out, I crawl, I puke, I suffer. It kicks out and the love, for days now, baby, you know it, is gone, you crawl, you puke, you suffer, you groan. It kicks out and what’s left is nothing but our empty faces dripping with sweat and disenchantment on our ragged sofa cushion wonderland.
Samuel M. Schloegl is a trans poet currently based near Berlin, Germany.
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Whether you’ve stayed in the same place, but the political system, and family relations, or the climate changed around you, or whether you live with the memory of a place or situation you have left a long time ago or just yesterday – there are certain aspects of past and present within you or shared with the people around you that come together in harmony, struggle, or somehow don’t come together at all. They are traditions in transition.
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