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Communiqué from the Absent, Crazy Bitch
“If an animal is shocked, her body will produce an analgesic. This will involve endogenous
opioids. This will be better than anything. Later, there will be no opioids, and she will go back to
who and what has shocked her looking for more… eventually all arousal will feel like shock.”
—Anne Boyer, Garments Against Women
A meeting between men in two different political groups here in Richmond occurred. It
was on a Sunday or a Monday at the end of a spring semester. It was probably awkward. I didn’t
go. I chose not to. I was afraid. I also had work to do. But I was the topic. The question was: how
do you handle a bad breakup when political activism is involved? It’s a complicated question.
I’ve dated enough people that it would be impossible for me not be friends with a lot of my exes.
But I’m not friends with this one, J–-, and there are reasons why.
The meeting ended. People on my side said that this guy couldn’t talk to me again and
couldn’t come to events we planned. Fine, the other side said. But, they added, we would like a
write up about why he’s not allowed. Our group laughed off the write up. The women in our
group knew it would fall on one of us. I think everyone thought it wasn’t going to happen. Who
has time to tell a story like this one? But more importantly, is there anybody who has any right to
tell my story? I could put my tongue in my friend’s mouth, but then that would be more care
labor than I could ask her to do. Which–-please don’t ignore this–-having a woman explain what
a man did wrong, over and over again–-that is care labor.
I know that it’s easy to make mistakes, and I also think one of the most painful things to
realize is that you have made them. I think it’s harder for groups of men to admit to it. “Mistakes
were made,” they’ll say—and, yes, please note the use of the passive voice there. Because for
men, the buck never stops. It is you, me, her, him, my drinking, my choice of work, your social
ineptitude, capitalism, my queer relationship, your old friendships, a political group falling apart,
the nostalgia of Maoism, an alarming gender ratio, and the stillness of social action in that
summer before the Trump election. It was a slow summer, a rabid summer—what Walter
Benjamin would have called stillstellung.
But first, back up. You don’t know anything about me. And as much as you want an
official write up about events that happened, I’m not going to give them to you without context.
Because fuck that. Am I a ghost? You treated me like one. Is this going to be posted on some
stupid blog? To explain to your new members why all these crazy anarchists have issues working
with you? First off, you have to realize that I’m a writer. I get paid to do this. And if you want
me to do this for free, some labor to pull like a rabbit from an endless hat, I am going to make
you endure the details of my life.
Second of all, none of you have ever asked me any questions. So whatever material you
are working with, you are scraping it together in your locker room huddles. In an email you will
read later, I told J– why what he did hurt me, in the history of things that hurt me. He responded,
I can't respond to most of the email you sent in a meaningful way because its (sic) mainly a
narrative of the various painful struggles and conflicts you have experienced in your life which I
don't dispute or have any direct experience of.
In high school, I vacillated between having sex with bros and wanting to be a nun. My
first boyfriend went to jail for a meth bust. My advisor died mid-semester. I cleaned out his
locker and found a loaded gun. My childhood home was being foreclosed on. My mom didn’t
leave the house, but she did hide the mail and unplugged all the phones. I knew I had to get out,
but wasn’t sure how.
I had never learned about colonialism from any non-textbook perspective. I was stupid,
but this was also before Tumblr. So I learned Haitian Creole and went to Haiti to fill in for
teachers at a school in Port-au-Prince. I translated Langston Hughes poems back and forth, and
taught that to fifth graders. Then we would all play soccer in a courtyard where a mule would
bray one day and then be sos pwa the next. I worked with the Sisters of Calcutta, shoveling grits
into sacks and holding dying foundling babies. I turned 16 there, and I also learned how to put
I came home, and two weeks later the earthquake hit. The orphanage and part of the
school imploded. I had a terrible feeling, for weeks, like I was underground, in a tomb, like
Spoorloos. I stayed in my basement and vomited all my food into a dog bowl. I never had health
insurance so psychiatric treatment wasn’t on the table. I was trying to process grief and an
economic system that I did not understand. But I think I hit too close to something, in that
puking, wretched, darkness, like the nerve ending of a hypothetical void, and I knew that I could
not become a nun; instead, I went as far away as possible to play Division I lacrosse in
California. My parents moved back to a town in very northern Canada where my entire extended
family lived. The distance felt right.
College athletics is a job. It took six hours of my day on top of attending classes. I started
in Fall Ball, but immediately blew out my knee and within sixteen hours was in surgery. I still
had to go to practice, just to watch practice. I still had to go to lifting, just to watching lifting. By
the time I had to go to class, I could only watch class. It was pain and painkillers, “Date Dashes”
where I had to find a male athlete to sleep with, and clambering to the top bunk bed with a
broken knee. And then in November, a couple dozen students were pepper sprayed in the face,
and I stopped really being an athlete and started living in an occupied administration building. I
met the people I had always wanted to meet: academics, anarchists, lesbians. You have to realize
how outside this world was from the one I was raised in. But I understood pretty quickly that
teaching English in Haiti is fucked up and something you should never tell college students that
you did, so I literally never told anyone again. I couldn’t stand being hugged by men in my
dorm, and they made jokes about how much I flinched up.
It occurred to someone else that I was queer, and they told me. Heterosexuality was so
compulsory that it had never even crossed my mind, even though sports are pretty much full of
queer people. I had spent my childhood looking across lacrosse fields during summer camps for
one particular girl with a bow in her hair, and I had turned down an offer to play at another
school because I had repeated sex dreams about the coach. In secrecy in college, I briefly dated
someone who was, at that point, a girl, and I also made every effort to make out with my
teammates whenever possible. So I started to come to terms with this while living in a tent in a
full-time occupation while playing Division I lacrosse. Until that ended, because I got arrested
during a banner drop for — and —, and I went to — jail. I got bailed out by a coach. I was sent
home to Canada, whereupon I was deported because one of my charges translated in Canadian
law into the equivalent of a felony. I had flown into Canada on a bush plane. A hunting dog had
the seat in front of me. The airport was located on a small island. They had never had to deport
anyone before, and there were no more flights out. The airline was also confused, and bought me
a ticket. Anywhere, they offered. And because of Occupy Oakland’s infamy, that is where I
I lived in Oakland for years in a mall in Chinatown with a guy we will call B–. B– was
from the Bay Area. We met on OkCupid and moved in together after a few weeks, basically
because I didn’t know anyone else and had nowhere to go. In B–’s world, American circle A
anarchy was outdated. He espoused Tiqqunism. I learned to, too, because I was 18. Someone
wrote a dissertation about actions he did, stuff he had said, and termed his politics
‘electrocommunism’ because—I’m not kidding, and I cannot write this without
cringing—everything involved dance parties and occupations. The soundsystem to riots sat
mostly dormant in the corner of our apartment, gathering dust. But then it would be out in the
streets, strapped to wheels by truck ties, DJd by B–. Sometimes I was allowed to control it, but
most of the times I was not. It was the year when “Hopeless Place” was the only song on the
radio. I had very few friends, none of whom were my age, because B– was older and his friends
were academics or OG anarchists. We hung out regularly in a bar, Radio, run by the East Bay
Rats. We could smoke inside, in a grody fight cage suspended from the ceiling.
For a long time, I thought I was happy. I did formal labor and got health insurance for the
first time in my life, was put on psychiatric drugs, and at night, cuddling with B–, I felt this
warm, tightening sensation that made me think I was having heart problems. It was that foreign
to me. And food didn’t taste like ash. A literal paid professional explained to me that this was
happiness, that these are what feelings are like when you have them. He didn’t need to explain to
me that they would go away. Because they did.
I made a lot of mistakes in Oakland. I didn’t talk to my family. I went off of medications
that prevented seizures and panic attacks, because B– thought medicine (and college!) were
forms of mind control, even though his father was a Tesla driving Palo Alto surgeon. I didn’t
reach out to people my own age and I kept to myself. At first, my only friends were Brian’s
friends. I went to reading groups way above my level, and spent years thinking I was
unintelligent—the dumbest and youngest in a room—not knowing that a language was
unlocking. I went to poetry readings and people would ask what type of shit I wrote, assuming I
was writer—which I wasn’t, yet. But I’d answer science fiction, because even though it was what
I liked to read, I felt like I was living in the future, where the present was just a historical past.
Does that make sense? There was so much potentiality in Occupy Oakland, you can’t know it
unless you have really, earnestly believed with faith that the scales were going to tip, that some
unknowable rupture was going to happen.
Like, I have one story that I think I can tell about this magic. There was a BART
strike—the metro—because the working conditions were too dark in the tunnels. Without BART,
people in Oakland and elsewhere either had to drive, take the bus, or take the ferry into SF. I was
working for a Michelin restaurant in Fisherman’s Wharf, which was so high class that they
blocked out the windows and the gazes of the pedestrians. It was my job in the early morning to
fill these gaps with thousands of dollars of flowers every week, under the the guidance of a New
Age woman whose hands had stopped working. I hadn’t even known cut orchids existed
beforehand. Wealth was extremely weird, and I got in trouble when rich people ate the berries
off of the centerpieces and got sick, or pulled the strings of pearls uniting different vases full of
water, dumping the contents down on themselves. Anyway, to get to this job, I took BART for
one hour and then had to take a trolley full of tourists for thirty minutes down to the very end of
the wharf. When the BART strike happened, I realized that the bus wouldn’t leave early enough
for me to get there on time, so I had to take the ferry. Which I couldn’t afford. So I went to work,
early when the sky was red, on the day of the week when they tested the eerie tsunami sirens. I
did the displays, cutting and prepping new flowers (lilies, gladiolus, St. John’s Wort) and took
the excess flowers away with me, before my boss could see. On my walk to the ferry, I peddled
the flowers I’d taken to the tourists and paid for the ferry ride back to Oakland.
Once I was there, I went directly to the station where a march was starting, a march
which hit a bunch of development buildings. Someone tried to drive through us, so I popped
open their trunk and they freaked out and stopped. When the march ended, we, as a large group,
realized we were far away from the next place that we needed to be, a BART station that was
being shut down. The workers had cut off the rails—no trains were running—but white Google
busses were there to try and take employees to start ups. I told an AC Transit driver about the
BART strike, and he agreed to drive all of us to the BART station, which was way off of his
When we got off, he gave us all free transit passes, and then was like, Hey, that bike has
been on the front of my bus for twelve hours, do you want it? So I took the bike and pedaled to
the front of the busses. We blocked them as long as we could. Cops came, the busses left. I gave
the bike to my friend Monique, because it was the right size for her son, Taylor. Shit just worked
out like that, when things were still there to work out.
But things with B– were not simple. Our open relationship was messy. The power
dynamic he held when we began dating never ebbed away. So we both started thinking about
school. He had gotten kicked out, and on the condition that he read Pedagogy of the Oppressed
and write an apology note, he could get back in. He paid me to read and write both. I only
applied to VCU because I couldn’t imagine not living in a city, and I wanted to be near my
parents because my dad had had a second heart attack. He’s still sick. Two weeks ago, he died on
an operating table and was resurrected.
But soon after the BART strike, things in Oakland were socially at the lowest
point—collectives broke up over small things, new collectives sprung up, but not in ways that
felt like any progression was being made. The marches were smaller and smaller. I was caught
stealing. I didn’t get hired at stripping jobs. Our friends were going to jail. Monique, who I’d
given that AC Transit strike-bike to, who had stayed over at our apartment for a few weeks, was
killed by a man. I am ashamed to admit that I was afraid to go to her funeral because I knew that
some of the girls who would be there didn’t like me.
People complain in writing workshops all the time that my characters don’t express
enough emotion, that there’s a flatness during the height of drama. But I can’t tell you how any
of this felt, because crying doesn’t cover it, and I want you—especially the men reading this—to
just try your best to infer what feelings happened to me. Because this is what women do for you:
we guess what you’re feeling, what your texts mean, what your intentions were when you said
something horrible. What you might do after you send us a harassing email. It’s a guessing
game, and we try to get you to open up to us. But you, reader, have to open this up.
There’s losing a city that was never yours to begin with. Or a second city. Or a third.
Those have feelings, even if they are not supposed to. You know there are Kantian notions of
time, where it is enmeshed in space. That’s why we can only speak of time in spatial terms. But
deep down, you know that time doesn’t work like that. Being six takes twelve years and you are
so bored you can hear the high sound of cells dying in your one functional ear. But riots that
lasted hours only felt like they took all of ten minutes. That feeling of time moving faster, it
makes you high. But losing the momentum of something that felt like liberation—that is worse
than being dumped. It’s like being ghosted by your betrothed. You would have done anything for
Revolution, followed Revolution wherever they led, even if it was dangerous. It’s a hand you
can’t turn down. But instead you are naked on the altar, alone. Outcast and naked amid the
wonders we have made. And when it’s over, it’s over so slowly. It both whimpers and bangs.
There’s also this part of Nanni Ballestrini’s novel, The Unseen, about the fallout after the
Autonomia movement in Italy: “we only had to press a button and speak but there was nothing to
say any more nobody went to the centre any more by this time there was a new disaster every
day somebody being arrested somebody having a breakdown a disappearance a suicide
everybody vanished there was nothing to say any more and so it all stayed there gathering dust
the transmitter the console the stereo the amplifier the microphone”—I think I was most afraid of
the thought of who was in jail and the threat of Grand Jury witch hunts, and that is what
paralyzed me, and so the dust gathered on the hulking soundsystem in our flat. I don’t even know
where it is today, how it has decayed to kipple or if it found someone else to haunt or excite.
B– helped me move here into an apartment with a grad student who loved Deleuze and
heroin. We broke up, but kept it amicable. The first thing I loved was the library—I had never
had access to books. So I would trace through the stacks, find what I wanted, and note what was
missing from the order. And then I would write missed connections for whomever had the books
that I wanted. How else does anyone make friends? I was 21 and I didn’t know anybody. I didn’t
even know how to know anybody. Leaving B– and Tiqqunism was like leaving a cult. I had not
interacted with non-communists/anarchists outside of work for years. I was shocked by how nice
people were. I would overheard regular women talking about their love of shoplifting and my
heart would leap.
I made an OkCupid, and recruited all of my top matches (girls) into a Caliban and the
Witch reading group. By chance, this involved a few high schoolers. We would drink mimosas
and talk about reproductive labor and witch hunts. There was some anti-police march, and we all
made signs together. Mine said Fuck the Police. The teens tried to talk me out of it—Maybe it’s
not appropriate, they said. I shrugged.
But they were right. It was totally awkward, another world from Oakland. The only other
people propagating a banner of equal criminality had a Maoist symbol on it. The teens and I
walked home. I spat on a cop car and got my first missed connection back, from a girl I didn’t
But somehow, the Maoists found me. They were kind of surprised, wondering how a
reading group of ten women could exist without them. I asked if they were, like, the Bob
Avakian type. They said no, fuck that. I asked if they were Trots, Tankies, etc. and they said no,
no, Maoists. I sighed. They said online, One of us will meet you at the Starbucks. One of them,
as though they were exchangeable, or spies. It was J–. He was loud, he asked questions trying to
target whether or not I knew what historical materialism actually was. Bitch, please. But then the
Maoists wanted me to come to their reading group. I can’t remember if that ever happened, but I
know the general consensus in my own was that we didn’t want it overrun by men, and none of
us took Western Maoism seriously. But I remember talking to a member, Ad–, and he said he
thought I could be a great organizer. I said I wasn’t really that—I was too depressed, had no
experience speaking in front of people, and hadn’t realized living in a mall and reading theory
for years was valuable to anyone. So we, the girl-group, played kickball against the Maoists in
Abner-Clay Park, and we won. We, of course, organized it.
Months passed like this, in more or less neutral happiness, until the reading group
dissolved because people have lives. Social drama leaked over to me from the Bay. I took up sex
work. Winter clambered on. I didn’t feel productive as a writer. I took six months of sobriety,
which inhibited me a lot socially. I went two full weeks without talking to anyone until I heard
people trapped in my elevator and I had to pry the doors open for them. They hugged me, and I
cringed. I realized I was lonely. Everyone I identified with was far away, and incommunicado. I
felt ignored. And when I felt like work was too much, I tried to commit suicide. Looking back, I
know I felt serious about it, like I had planned it to the last detail. But I had made an error where
my email suicide note to my Oakland ex, B–. He was at the time still my best friend. The email
mistimed and he found out, so I vomited everywhere and had to move in with my parents and
start a stint of outpatient therapy.
This might sound like it was a stupid idea, but I thought it would help me if I went back
to Oakland to work for a small press, Commune Editions. It’s partially run by a poet I discreetly
quoted earlier, Juliana Spahr, who is probably my rolemodel. But it was a mistake to go back.
Once you figure out where you should live, you should really just live there. Last night I
dreamed that my dead friend, Feral, came to me, and I asked her for advice. She said, Never go
outside. Carrying on old relationships—especially with people like artists—this is painful. I
don’t know what I was expecting.
I catsat in my old neighborhood for a poet. I haunted myself. I looked at my old
apartment, I looked at a basketball hoop where I had broken my hand trying to hit a pinata on my
21st birthday. Do you know the journals LIES or Baedan or Endnotes? Those are the people I
had been friends with, who had watched me break my hand or throw up in the sink of Radio. I
reconnected with some, but the friend drama was crazy, and here it overlaps into writer-drama. A
rich, connected, New Narrative poet said something racist and protected an alt-lit writer who
sexually assaulted a woman. I picked on her a bunch. She accused me—I secretly love this—of
sending her material from the Darknet to her doorstep, and tried to get me fired from my unpaid
internship. When that didn’t work, she blocked everyone from Commune Editions.
At this time, a famous white conceptual poet read the autopsy report of Mike Brown. I
made the mistake of posting on social media (which I would get rid of, once and for all, soon
after this part of the story). I said, It sucks having to deal with so many white supremacists in the
conceptual poetry scene. I thought this was innocuous, because my writing is somewhere in the
lineage of conceptual and New Narrative, but a girl who had previously called herself my best
friend gave me a call out on Tumblr and Facebook, saying I had white women’s tears. She
thought I was high and mighty because I was doing drugs with poets and not in squats. I went to
a poetry reading that doubled as a noise show where her friend was playing, and they ran me out,
and she shouted, I’m glad you got robbed, and, I wish you had died. Once upon a time, she had
dyed my hair for the first time, and I had cooked her dinner on these blue plates B–’s sister had
given us. On another Once, we had done mushrooms together in gold country up north, and slept
side-by-side without a tent. I’d hung around her mom, her decaying childhood dog. But the
friendship was epically over. This was weeks after the suicide attempt. A queer Black Mountain
poet wrote me a spell to keep the girl away, because I kept seeing her everywhere, and for awhile
I believed it and so for awhile it worked. But then she threw me out of that party.
I called an older friend, also a poet and anarchist, W–, and begged her to commit me to a
hospital. Because, like I said, I really wanted to die. Instead, she basically took me out of
Oakland and hid me in the anarchist house in SF, Station-40, and then her own house, making
me eat food and read books. We decided that it would be best if I went down to UC— to visit
B–, so he could take care of me.
B– and I had talked about once a week since we had broken up. We had dated other
people. He had our cat, I had our dog. I had been in his sister’s wedding. He lived alone,
practically on the beach in a bungalow. When he wasn’t home, which was curiously a lot, I hung
out with our friend from Endnotes, M–. We stole bathing suits and slips, took baths together. We
watched an entire pack of raccoons jump into B–’s apartment’s pool. We talked about suicide,
because her best friend, Chris Chitty, had committed suicide no more than a few months ago. I
still have his blog saved to my favorites bar, and I can see it while I type this. We talked about
dying. She said if I died, then she would die, and that I should suck it up and read more work by
black revolutionary women. We talked about sex work. We talked about how shitty drama can
be. I felt protected, because she was older, cared about me, and I respected her so much as a
gender theorist. It was probably what saved my life, this more than anything.
But let’s talk about what kills me, everyday.
After M– left, Brian came home. We talked, had fun, drank. He asked me if I wanted to
sleep in his bed. I said, Well, I don’t know, we are just friends now and I don’t mind the couch.
He said, Well, you know the couch sucks. We had bought the couch together, and it did suck. So
I got in bed. The lights were off. We were falling asleep. B– started touching me. Is this okay? he
asked. We haven’t even kissed, I said. He reached down and slobbery kissed me. I froze. Have
you had unprotected sex recently? he asked. I don’t think so, I responded. He went down on me,
and then penetrated me with his dick. It hurt, a lot. My whole body was rigid. After it was over,
he lay a pillow-length away from me and turned to me and said, You know this doesn’t change
anything between us. There was just silence. I didn’t sleep. My old cat walked over me, bumped
my nose. B– left early in the morning. But first he said, Listen, don’t tell anyone I said that—that
thing. I said, It’s a horrible thing to say. We lived together for years. I’ve done a lot for you. He
But just don’t tell anyone.
When he left, I broke apart the razor in his bathroom, boiled the blades, and cut long
diagonal lines down my thighs. I wiped it up and cut more. Finally, I called a friend from round
one of college, who had been a teaching assistant, and he drove to pick me up and we slept
together somewhere. I can’t even remember now. I was fucked up. I told him not to ask about the
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