Desire Ameigh - April 19, 2021

CALL ME STEVE

The same storm system that drapes its grey-bellied body over Eufaula hangs over Tallahassee, too. Therefore, I am not the only matter that connects my past and present. When Netty texts me in the morning, it is not explicitly to ask if I have managed to pull myself out of bed yet—11:30AM east coast time. She checks on the tornadoes, having received a severe weather advisory email from Florida State. It’s only 10:38AM in Alabama, and the answer is no

I like it when delirium bookends sleep—a loose concept of reality before and after dreaming. Although I cannot remember every one of them, I know that I am an avid haver of dreams. I consider this a side-effect of how hard I have worked to become rational when I am awake. Steve says his brain does strange things when he speaks, and he abstractly tosses that into the mix of ADHD and anxiety diagnoses. When we lay in bed, the network of his thoughts casts above our bodies, lighting up like a constellation of trauma. 

Yesterday, Taylor Swift released an album reprising the songs I cried to in the shower during the summer between middle and high school. Yesterday, Steve’s girlfriend found me smoking a cigarette on his front porch.  

My brain does strange things, too. For example, cognitive dissonance, which is aggravating, not unique. I am intelligent enough to read a situation from its surface down to the core, yet practiced enough to separate the nuts and bolts of the machinery. No, I cannot fix the broken light switch in my bedroom by unscrewing the plastic face; but yes, I can pretend to believe that the silhouette of another woman’s body hanging on his kitchen wall is a piece of art he purchased on Facebook marketplace. 

Steve doesn’t like art like that. When he met my friends, who moved from Dothan to Australia and back to Dothan, he did not understand why they wore special clothes to the museum. Afterwards, at the strip club, I almost explained to him the concept of verisimilitude. Steve kept on and on about the lives the performers must have lived to end up on a pole on the receiving end of ones and fives and sometimes twenties. He moved from social theory to social theory to decoding a fight we had two weeks earlier that ended with me crying in my car parked on his driveway.

When we fight, it isn’t loud or elaborate. I told Steve that I do not like yelling, and ever since he has not yelled. Even when I told him I slept with someone else, he just kept making the bed. He was sleeping with someone else, too.

My first college professor told me that I was emotionally illiterate—which must have been true because I was fifteen years old. At twenty-six, I can speak more eloquently and extensively than I could a decade ago. However, there are certain parts of me that I cannot adequately put into words, despite my MA in English.  For instance, I cry when I hear Alexandra Ocasio-Cortes speak. I believe there’s a connection between this and the way I wept over Anzaldua’s Borderlands. Steve is patient and careful with this information.

He wonders why I mix up the names of places. When I drove to Florida from Texas with the bumper of my car bolted from the outside on, my friends said it looked a lot like my personality, which was a poetic way of begging me to get help. It’s kind of a mess, but hey, it still runs.  Not the same friends, but good ones, would say the same thing when I came home from a vacation with a fake engagement to a man who lived on a boat in a marina just south of the tip of the mainland of Florida.

Once, I told a man that I have an identity complex.  Everyone does, he said, but I didn’t tell him that I find myself curled up like a dead shrimp on public bathroom floors, sometimes, smothered by smoke in a crowd outside of a bar, sometimes in the passenger seat of my own car when not even I can remember my own name.  Sometimes I cannot keep my aliases straight—watercolor memories swirling in a wash cup after my last roommate had recolored the living room or kitchen walls again. And again, and again, and again, I am Sarah and Ameigh and Clementine. Sometimes, I’m a variation of the three just licking my scrapes and bruises and waiting for time to do the healing they say it does. 

The rain started yesterday morning, about seven hours after the Swift album dropped, and roughly two and half hours after Steve called into work for the second time this week. Our relationship is not toxic, but it is situated in a series of destructive decisions. Steve’s name is not Steve, but he told me that he’d sue me if I called him ___________. Steve, he said, isn’t even an anagram—he does not use words like “anagram,” but looks at me love-struck and silly when I do. Steve, he said, sounds like _________. I can’t fill in the blank when I’m too busy trying to remember the sound of his voice.

We both have skills that do not necessarily translate to living a meaningful life together. Netty talks a lot about avoidance and behavioral responses – she is brilliant and well-read. Steve is not avoidant, and neither am I, but sometimes we do not behave that way. When that woman popped up on his doorstep, he lied to her while I finished my cigarette. We need to work through this, if that’s okay – but I misinterpreted the we and the work

The tornadoes didn’t happen in Tallahassee or in Eufaula, but instead in Panama City Beach—images and recordings of a waterspout over the ocean filled my newsfeed. Meanwhile, Steve spent the second half of a beautiful thunderstorm with this other woman, and I suppose they worked it out.  At the same time, 2:40PM in Tallahassee is 1:40PM in Eufaula. That’s just the way time zones work. Nevertheless, when I took an interview at Wallace Community College Sparks Campus, I left Tallahassee particularly early so that I wouldn’t show up to Eufaula late. At that time, Steve was married to someone else and neither of us knew the other existed. I wouldn’t exactly call this “a simpler time.” 

He said I was a siren. Most days he calls me killer, but once, he was drunk enough to call me love.  The sky will run out of rain – it always does. And then it will fill up again and there will be more storms and tornados and trees crashing over powerlines between that day and this one. If Steve could live one of the lives he fantasizes about, he would switch his MOS to weather. I’ll do what your sister does, and then I’ll chase storms. Badass. 

The process of becoming a rational thinker took a lot of expensive therapy. An old friend of mine used to have a theory that when a person dies, they have an understanding of the world, which is how she determined her own invincibility. We were the lost girls, then—thirsty souls stuck in young women’s bodies, striding in and out of dive bars and listening to bad bands play good songs. But that was before my most recent therapist prepped me for a protocol that would gather and eliminate thoughts I did not know I had.

If I were the sun, I think I’d feel inferior to the moon, which is something Steve would understand.   

Desire Ameigh is an English instructor at Wallace Community College in Eufaula, Alabama.  She recently accepted an offer to join the English graduate program at Auburn University where she will pursue her PhD in Literature.  Desire’s work is recorded, published, or forthcoming in FreshPicked Prose (wFSU), Beyond Words Magazine, Prometheus Dreaming, and Drunk Monkeys.