The breath between twenty years
That same breath tonight
We'll always betray ourselves
Always hold back time
“We all have rituals,” my friend said, absently digging around the sides of her cup with her spoon. We sat tucked in a corner of Amorino, and it was growing dark. Outside, Greenwich Village bustled into night, and here the windows grew reflective and self-contained inside the gelato shop.
“But Trans people, Queer people,” she said, shaking her head, “Folks on the margins--they feel like their lives go mostly unobserved. Rituals performed in private, no one but themselves to make sure to mark their importance.”
I chewed on this, because she was right. I’d been here before. Only one person had attended my college graduation. It was my father. My mother and I had been estranged, and no one else had bothered to come. I’d experienced my first night truly on my own, not in the empty confines of my first apartment, but in the wet twist of roots at the base of a tree, somewhere in an embankment off the road. The first time I faced the finality of losing family, I wasn’t surrounded people, but tending to wounds in private, wandering past a nursing home may as well have been emptied of all its occupants. I had come back from Spain emptied of my guts, and packed together again with different parts, a changeling walking back into a life that was no longer mine.
All of these moments had happened quietly, free of ceremony and vacant of protocol.
The breath between better days
We came the long way round
Awakening to be ourselves
We died at least once to save our ground
Always forever change
I wish some things could stay the same
I've been thinking of back in time
I never knew what was mine-
Some say that rituals serve as the propellant force that help break the bone, and set it back into place. But what was ritual? Was it the meeting place between our biology and ceremony? Did our lives seem to need borders like countries, clearly delineated beginning and ending places?
Maybe even now, we need bigger justification for our own existence. A grand narrative to make our struggle worth it. We're still so close to the shadows of Plato’s Cave that we still warm ourselves by that same fireside, comforted by myths of Good and Evil. And it made me wonder: was meaning concocted for comfort, or is it–ultimately–an act of sanity to force meaning onto a unfeeling universe?
What did that do to our rituals, our meeting places, and our memories? Was there something unavoidably animal to need something concrete to pin meaning to? Could it be the reason why we undertook pilgrimages and climbed whole mountains just to lay eyes on a Black Madonna?
There were places and objects that meant something fierce and wicked to me, I avoided their gravitational pull. There were the rituals that I could never return to again–running through the woodsy muck with my best friend at my side; my grandmother setting me up on the couch as a kid– with my countless stomach flus–silver vomit bowl in hand, eyes glued to late-night Toonami on the television; there’d always be crackers and water, but I could never keep them down.
When I cried now, it wasn’t to mourn the weather of my life, but because I was saying goodbye to all the sacred places I’d tucked my memories, my love. The places I’d never step foot into again. And it felt like lifting up an ancient band-aid, I had no idea what I’d find underneath, and it hurt to look. But I had to.
“I think you need to pay a visit to a certain tree, and a nursing home,” my friend said, folding her hands on the table, decided. “That’s your ritual. Go, before you leave.”