“Chrysalis” by Sheree

Golden sunlight bears the heat of tempered metal when I land at Norman Manley, and all the protection I have is the small shadow cast under the back of my hand. From the back seat, rolling, green hills pass by and behind them, bought-out crystal blue waters and beaches of fine sand, made inaccessible to those who ought to be my people. There is some fleeting form of peace here when I am left alone. I miss it, the scalding warmth on my dark skin, kept at bay with sugary bag juice and a steaming beef patty with doughy coco bread. A few extra pieces of festival are stashed away for later on. In time, the aftertaste of sweet fruit and flaky golden crust will not be enough to make me feel like one of the people around me, laughing and catching up and crying and reminiscing.

Through the blindness of my mind’s eye, everything becomes sensation, stings and tingles that burst and fade in perfect time with the sound, remembered as a distant echo. I can still feel the way my stomach split itself apart from top to bottom, following a line of vision, a side eye running down the length of my body. No camo jackets, no dad caps, only earrings and sandals and sundresses, otherwise I am too butch, and begging for the wrong kind of attention. As far as dresses go, knee-length or lower is best, and if I must go shorter, no higher than the edges of my fingertips. Otherwise, I am a whore and I am not allowed to be here dressed like that, and everyone will stare at me with wide and angry eyes until I leave. Until I sit in the car and cook evenly on all sides, until the edges of my vision are blotted out with a distorted, shimmering mirage.

The goal becomes a faulty attempt at immersion, blending in, closing my eyes, and crossing my fingers. It’s simple, really, to avoid the remarks and the sinking feeling that I’m not supposed to be here. Attach my self-worth to a bottle of cheap, decent-smelling perfume. Wear it religiously.  Own at least three dresses. Wear them until that exposed feeling, brought on by the watchful eyes of grown men, becomes as common and annoying as a tick stuck onto the back of my leg. Nod, smile, giggle, and shrink myself until the way my stomach turns is simply a sign pointing to the ambiguous feeling that something is off. There are no concrete signs to point to, and no conclusion to reach other than the idea that I am not doing enough. Repeat until the world closes in, until everything is cupped between the strong hands that feed me and I ricochet against the skin, over and over again, filling every inch of warm space made humid with sweat that collects beneath the mounds of calloused palms. I am nothing more than an echo, parroting what is designated to be heard, the cacophony of a constant dress good smell good look good do good be good good girl good job.

All light is orange like fire when it passes through skin and muscle and rushing blood. All sound is amorphous unless it is let into this warm chamber. Here, everything is linear, everything is binary.

Either I am who you need me to be or I am not.

You, who began as a muffled voice peering through the round cracks between thick fingers. You, who promised that the wait was worth its reward. You, who came before me, who will come after me, who is a part of me, unseen and until now, unfathomable. You who permeated the shallow breath between my lungs. You, comprised of long threads joined together in celestial twine, wound into the fibers of my being. Something pries apart, and I can make out a few words.

You tell me I am allowed to want. I am allowed to make demands. Desire comes in due time.

Until then it continues, pretty nice girl wears pretty clothes pretty makeup makes nice smiles prettier for pretty men giving pretty kisses with pretty foot pops and I wonder if anyone is truly drawn to this, or if we have all become accustomed to the constant buzz of white noise. A feeling stirs, a yearning that comes alive when I see the girls in their skirts and button-downs. With all of it, all of the beauty, all of the desire that heats my skin, I am overcome and left wondering if there is more.

Any curiosity is drowned out by the grating sound of cupped hands closing into fists. Either or either success or failure either beneficial or destructive either divine or demonic either loved or despised either confident or forever crumbling in on myself. It only really stops in three soundproofed places: between the lines of a piece of paper coated in my sloppy handwriting, in the chair across from my butch therapist, and in a place that is less a home and more a pied-à-terre, cocooned in soft green sheets and watching deft hands work the strings on a bass guitar.

I watch her play without thinking, I watch her gaze meet mine, and I decide then that I am who you need me to be because I am not wired to hold myself away from the warmth that fills my soul in her presence. It would be an honor to be made witness to the worlds contained within her, and I can’t help myself, so I say as much in four words. Can I kiss you?

In response, she smiles and many more words pass between her lips and mine, ones which I swallow and allow to sink beneath my skin. With them, a sudden and strong sense of peace. I lay against her chest and listen to the steady drum of her beating heart until a voice lifts over the rhythm. It’s yours, rising and falling with the air that pools in my lungs.

Desire comes in due time. Perhaps that time is now, perhaps I knew what I wanted all along, and until the air was let in and the dark walls of this chamber thinned into a translucent film, I was not capable of understanding it.

I want warm love on my wrinkled fingers. I want my limbs to stretch to the edges of these rounded confines. I want the cracks to become wider at the corners of the world, to break open so that I might crawl forth into soft arms and a feminine embrace. I listen closely to your voice, which calls from the other side. You and I, we converse in an intimate and wordless language. You say it is I who decides, who brings forth the conditions necessary to allow life to happen, to allow myself access to the divinity that is a kiss on the cheek, the blessing of her touch, smooth curves caught between my tired hands. For so long, I tried to search for a lasting peace that could not be found outside the most primordial parts of my soul, older than me, than you, than humanity itself.

Sheree is a writer based in the Bay Area. She has a Bachelor of Arts in Communications from San Francisco State University. Their (spoken) work can also be found on TED.com and KQED’s Rightnowish podcast. Their writing invokes the placelessness of her childhood, and the freedom that comes from learning to define oneself.