No choice

I just finished “Abandon Me” by Melissa Febos and wanted to pull out a few favorite quotes to return to, as otherwise it makes it hard to give away the books that already live in my brain. It’s a minimalistic compulsion. Sometimes I wonder if I read my physical books faster and more frequently purely out of desire to eventually be released from them.

I want to explain this first quote and why it captured my attention. The book is a memoir and part of the story involves Melissa getting to know her biological dad, Jon. In the following, she’s telling her half sister about that experience in their second meeting. What’s reflected about hunger and bravery felt so familiar. When talking to others about my very own half sister’s wedding with months of very physical anxiety leading up, folks told me not to go. I understood it as misguided kindness and “wisdom” (not actual wisdom). There was no option to not go. As she says below: I must face the things that scare me in order to survive. Round after round of low level anxiety with peaks of extreme terror plagued me both before and after I went. I still feel the aftershocks. Still, I couldn’t explain to anyone or perhaps no one could understand exactly why I had to go. There was no choice.

When I tell her that I’ve met Jon, her blue gaze widens. Wow, she says, You’re braver than me.

I’m not brave, I tell her, Just curious. Though that’s not true either. I know that I have less agency than the brave or curious. I am compelled. It is not the bondage of addiction but a different kind of drive, a hunger I cannot ignore. Maybe that’s all bravery is: when your hunger is greater than your fear. I resist the implication that bravery is noble. I must face the things that scare me in order to survive. And survival is not noble. It is not a sacrifice of self but in service to the self.

I want my boy to know where he comes from, my sister says. I want them all to know you. It’s still a secret. When she looks down at her plate, I see it. The shame in her own darkness. I want to tell her that darkness is not bad. It is only the place we can’t see yet. The parts of us we have looked away from.

From “Abandon Me” by Melissa Febos

I often kidded about the voracious need that must be hiding deep inside me. I sat for hours in therapy sessions, searching for my feelings. I wanted to “get in touch with them”. I thought that when I finally found them it would be like a reunion with a childhood friend — emotional, surely, but also sweet — a reward for all my hard work. I did not think that I was leaving messages for a serial killer. I did not think that my feelings, receiving my invitation, would arrive on my doorstep like a cabal of madwomen and refuse to leave. I thought that the host of the party decided when it ended and her guests went home But feelings have terrible manners–they are like children, or drunks. They are mad. They gorge as starved will gorge, until they are sick, until their stomachs split. As you or I would, if we were exiled for thirty years. They do not leave when you want them to. They leave when they are finished.

From “Abandon Me” by Melissa Febos

We who fear abandonment are often the most capable of leaving. We build lives out of moveable pieces. Out of ourselves. It is a creative way to live, both variable and resilient, if sometimes lonely.

From “Abandon Me” by Melissa Febos

My grief was a madwoman who had been locked for years in the attic. Finally freed, she sets fires. She was an animal. She would not be locked away again. My therapist tells me to love her, I said. But I think I need to kill her.

From “Abandon Me” by Melissa Febos


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