Walking the Line

Not unlike Johnny Cash, as he sings, “ I keep the ends out for the tie that binds… I walk the line,” I walk this tightrope without slack. I’ve already cranked the dial, bit by bit, consuming everything untaught in the years of weeknight poetry groups and the tight art circles of strangers. 

Hung low in these rooms was the kind of cigarette smoke embedded in the fabric of suburban kids’ trench coats as they all sing their hymns of too much and too little in the wrong categories. 

Here, in the anonymity of a crowded room of the like-minded, I shed the last scales of self-loathing and read it into the past tense. 

There are so many ways we are ourselves with the people we love. They are all true and carried and backed by watchful eyes that back your own out of authority. How many times can you break bones and find something different in front of the same people? 

In the 2019 first freedom of dorm room homes and month-long family, I broke into new poses of myself countless times. My roommates heard “you know what I just realized?” more times than they heard the word “sick” tumble from my mouth. It was just as automatic. 

This constant phrase changed its ending every time, contradicting its predecessors and followers with the kind of truth borne from this second’s reality. Each break in my brittle bones offered a new way to look at what makes marrow. 

Every observation is true, even existing in opposition. That is the value of poetry. 

These moments of clarity, spurred thought from another person’s words, or the sight of water dripping that begs a reality from inside you, can be immortalized as any emotion in art. 

So as my friends tired of my repeated self-realizations, I spun them into ballads of wavering woe. 

These first months of poetry classes, and the new opportunity for spoken word Wednesdays in the 7 pm writing center room, allowed me to pull a new authenticity from myself. 

I didn’t have to be the blonde, suburban kid with too much privilege to divert her attention from issues of self-image and intimacy. With these same materials, I could be a voice that walks directly over human metaphors and recognizes the quiet thoughts that whisper in each person’s ear. 

I fell in love with metaphors, allusions, hyperboles, conceits, just lyric. Words that can be read in an infinite amount of ways, each time plucking a chord of truth. Like humans, poems can mean a million different things to a million different people. 

I became a voice, a speaker, separated from myself, my name, and anything about me except the immovable fact that my mind made these words. 

It’s true, what some people say, that most of the time, strangers are the only people you can be completely honest with. I took this expression to heart and wrote from each crevice of my ever-changing understanding of my world. 

We try on many different selves, don’t we, when we realize that first permission to make ourselves what we want. When we remember that people only know what we tell them, people only see what we show them.

So I dyed my hair purple. I pierced third holes in my ears with only half the materials required. I stabbed my wrist with stick n poke mistakes that are all mine. I ate the dining hall’s macaroni n cheese pizza for breakfast and drank their black coffee for dinner. I kissed boys and girls and left the party. I apologized and said “I wish” to people who asked me for cigarettes even though I never smoked them myself. I painted blue around my eyes, debuted them at the campus underage bar, and gave them an encore in COM 103 the next morning. 

I followed through on every thought that hung around my head for longer than a class period, and then I read the email, and everything changed because I felt I couldn’t anymore. 

Covid stole my dorm room home and new-friend-family. It stole my unencumbered realizations and my poetry evenings and everything new I had begun to call myself. 

But, in the shelter of my old room, I continued to write with the self that now dominated me, and I hurt people. 

Instead of calling strangers closer in rooms that called words home, I tugged on the heartstrings of my original home with words that family felt rejected every good thing they ever gave me. Still, I selfishly refused to give up the part of myself that reveled in the honesty that poetry allowed me without focusing on the facts that surrounded me. 

Emotional truth is real, without needing physical fact to bolster the feeling. 

Time here passed, somehow, and we can still debate whether or not it’s over. Both are true. 

I wrote myself through another two years of English classes, poured my soul into poetry workshops, and earned practical credit in marketing courses. I presented a thesis collection based on an ancient religious poet and my conflicted feelings for my ex-boyfriend. I heard enough praise that I held no hesitation in creating this blog space for my self-indulgent travels and self-promoted poems. 

I love it. Having a place to post thoughts I can no longer subject to whatever unfortunate group is trying to relax in my living room. But with this kind of platform, I have lost the complete anonymity I am used to. 

I write for no audience, then send my words into the ether that is truly, if we want to talk about objective facts, made of friends, family, and followers who know my real name. 

I want to be completely honest, but I am not used to hurting anyone but myself with my words. 

So I guess what I am trying to say is this.

“I find it very, very easy to be true. 

I find myself alone when each day is through.

You give me cause to love that I can’t hide. 

Because you’re mine, I walk the line.” 

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