I haven’t been here in a while. I skipped right over Cancer season (which was full of both familiar and new homes), and now we’re getting deep into Leo season (which is mine).
In these days, there are few things I feel I lay claim to. I used to have this feeling of sureness. I used to know where I wanted to relax and belong. In my body I am safe, in my body I am loved, and I am happier than the girl who knew she loved someone else years ago. But maybe I have no idea what love is supposed to be like. Maybe it’s sat begging at my doorstep for months or years and I have passed it over like lamb’s blood. I think: I have spared you. But really I hurt them and act like they could’ve hurt me. How do you protect yourself and still find that light, airy feeling filling your chest? The good news is that nothing lasts forever. The bad news is that nothing lasts forever.
I have spent so long devoting myself to the idea that I shouldn’t need permission to exist the way I want. That I was never his to lose. And as my own self-image becomes sharper and more cherished each day, I feel less afraid that somebody else will be able to take pieces of me with them. Love is supposedly patient, but I am not.
Leo season insists: Selfish is not an insult anymore. Is there a word for who lives when it’s all over? Is there a word for surviving without guilt?
In the Leo season of 2012, I felt far more like a casualty. In those days, when my hands were tied. I whispered hymns to myself that sounded more like eulogies: how did we do today? How did loneliness hold you today? When did you clutch your empty chest today .
I visited the Museum of Fine Arts for the first time, shortly after moving to Boston for school. I was alone and all in my feelings and I found my way to the contemporary art wing, where I saw written in massive white script, buzzing and humming on the wall: With You I Breathe.
It struck me. I sketched it, I instagrammed it; the works. And at that time, I interpreted it as a love note. In those days, I believed that my “better half” had left me and I felt ripped straight down through the center of my body, bits hanging out like loose electrical wires. But what a silly concept, a “better half.” To imply that I am only half a person without romantic love to fulfill me, without constant validation, is everything I have since worked to subvert within my own psyche. And I was drawn back to these words again and again, and each time, I felt a slight shift. It was so gradual I hardly even noticed it, but I began to see the words as a universal, not a personal: With You I Breathe, Tracey Emin writes to her viewers, critics, fans, passersby. With You I Breathe, she sighs to her lover but also to the men who have wronged her. She allows us to adopt this sentiment with a certain person in mind, but there’s always the implied nudge: everyone breathes. Every single person alive right now is breathing Planet Earth’s air. Every single person lives their own rich, colorful and individual life, independent of others. And yet we are experiencing the spectacularly unlikely coincidence of overlapping existences.
Boston began to feel like home for me as my ex-half began to not. I have made homes out of many places over the course of my short lifetime; a couple houses in Connecticut, a lake, multiple cities, rooftops, lighthouses, concert venues, a car at 3 AM. What I thought was going to feel like a betrayal of my love for New York ended up becoming a series of warmths and lightning bug-like flashes. What I thought would be the hardest summer of my life, not returning to my happy place this year, is actually an apartment with my best friend and a window that often hears my neighbors blasting “Controlla.” And I have taught my heart to exist in two places at once. I think I’ve been doing it for years: in memories, in desires, in moments, in intuition, in friends, in resolutions, in promises. These are the ways we take refuge. I think it’s worth trying to teach myself that my own solitude isn’t the only place I can feel safe.
All photos by Tracey Emin.