A Letter on Men, to Harry Styles

Helena Hauss.jpg

Harry,

You were the first. My first. Headfirst, stinging eyes, scathing skin. The first time I wanted wanted. What is a girl’s obsession? What will – what can – it do, become, transcend? As soon as I recognize it, there is a crater of longing in my heart, overstuffed, leaking and ravenous. My first obsession was never about you. Maybe it was about me.

The compression of my girlhood: learning smallness, imbibing my unimportance through gulps of everyday America. Everyday trauma.

My father told me I needed a mantra if I was to ever successfully meditate. Ever successfully chill. I am incapable of chilling. I unfurl meaning from anything. I make somethings from nothings. Everything is so much, all the time, and I hang onto casual by its threads, frayed and slipping. There’s a book I love: Art as Therapy by Alain de Botton. He writes with a stillness I cannot cultivate; he writes about the sublime. I contorted you, Harry, into my own sublime, reaching it, scraping its lavish edges, delirious with its fragrance, its undulating and rose-glossed mouth.

Thinking of you made me happy, full. I didn’t need to worry about the consequences that women are always warned will come from our desire. I could be scarlet hot for you in secret. I wanted to think about you more than I wanted you for real. I made poetry of the too-much kind, the kind that scares boys and parents. We wrote fanfiction, so many of us, thousands, and read, shared, clicked, liked, offered feedback. We obsessed, devoured, hungered. We were incessant. An ecology of girl-want, of desire accepting desire. How we cleaved out a space for ourselves, a bunker buried underneath the dirt, our writing spinning us like Penelope and her threads. We never stopped. We spun and unspun. The spinning was the point.

Sappho was stung with love and so was I; you stung every crooked shutter in me. I crashed into the strangest parts of being alive. Somehow, you made me matter to myself. Do I outgrow this kind of lust- the conceptual fuck? Making you into what I want. Making you into someone impossible, because men in reality so constantly disappoint me. I cannot go outside at night, or even midday, in Paris or any city, without that disappointment accumulating. I haven’t gone outside in shorts and a tank top since I was 12. Not freely, not unconsciously, at least. Hypervigilance starts early for women. We tarp ourselves in self-consciousness, try to make our limbs untouchable, but nothing stops the whistles or calls or the dagger voices and fingers of men. A woman walking in a city is a revolution.

When Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed, my ongoing dissertation on “The Existential Exhaustion of American Women” grew by ten pages. When Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed, I sat on the Metro and screwed my eyes shut, struggling to breathe. I was silent glass, not wanting anyone to look at or touch me, not ever again. When Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed, not a single male in my life contacted me to ask if I was okay. I did this with the people I cared about, the women who had known their own Brett Kavanaugh, or maybe multiple. The people who had watched his hearing and perhaps felt their own traumas reverberate like gunfire through their bodies – a reinvasion. When Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed, random women on the internet made me feel warmer and more supported than any of my male friends did. I didn’t want to resent these men for not knowing, immediately, the riotous and chronic malady of being a girl in America. I did not want to feel hurt, but I did. I do.

Harry, sometimes (more and more nowadays) I want to crawl out of myself and abandon all of my whimpering skin, because it doesn’t belong to me. It belongs to them, their brazen eyes, carnivorous gaze. Swallowing me up. I am exhausted. Can anyone blame me for wanting refuge from the sickness of a culture? From the echelons of fear, white-hot and bloodlusty?

At thirteen, I loved you, but a close friend of mine, a boy, said, You know, Sofia, you’re one of the smartest people I know, but I feel like One Direction is really dumbing you down. A girl’s intellect and happiness cannot coexist. The intensity of my adoration somehow mitigated the intensity of my brain. I cannot love something and truly say I am a Smart Girl. At thirteen this was made clear to me. At eighteen I know better, but my subconscious still needs to catch up.

Fragmentary writing reflects my womanhood more honestly than clear un-stumbling prose. I cannot perfectly say so much in so little, but I have tried. For some stories need telling, otherwise they fester? This form of writing – unthreaded, scrambling to reveal itself even to its own writer, feels most true. Fragmentary writing is also a hallmark of Romanticism. In Maurice Blanchot and Fragmentary Writing, Leslie Hill writes: “The time of the fragment, in other words, is never the fullness of the present. It is the time of between-times: between remembering and forgetting, continuity and discontinuity, obedience and objection; and what speaks most powerfully in the fragment is no doubt precisely this unreconciled tension between the artwork and its unravelling, between its gathering and its dispersion, between time past and time still to come.”

Is there a violence about fragmentary writing that scares the most entrenched and straight-edged of institutions and power structures? Most accounts of trauma emerge in fragments, not linearly or chronologically. Many cannot bear these fragments to be brought to the metaphorical surface. But this is what constitutes the survivor’s memory. It is jumbled and dismembered and everywhere. That does not mean it is inconclusive. That does not mean it is untrue.

I want so badly to hurl a hardback book at a gleaming mirror, dare it to break, crumble its peace, fracture my reflection, launch my own disrepair, cracked and kissed and in a jutted pile around my feet. How America seems to me a fragmentary planet, not coherent or summarizable, not neatly regurgitated, its history too dissonant. Or, rather, its histories too disparate, because my America does not look like yours and vice-versa. How womanhood never looks like any shiny one thing, but everything, most vibrant in its sharpest parts, and that sharpness, the most cutting stuff, is different for each of us. The cutting stuff is the most truthful part of womanhood, the stuff we’re not supposed to vocalize, but here I am, Harry. I am articulating the cutting.

Sofia

 

Artwork by Helena Hauss

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