Gabi Shiner

Bridge Tooth


ISSUE 98 | TEETH | JUL 2021


Mona Lisa (The Immigrant), detail, by Mithu Sen, 2012

I was 4 and watching the sound of music with my family and postured a couch cushion upright like a “hill,” then stepped up on it and sang “the hills are alive,” but I only got to aliv- before the cushion collapsed and I fell flat on my face with a stinging thud and shards of old carpeting got in my now-frayed chin pain shot through out the back of my head I was hurried to the sink to get cleaned up eyes shut tight and when I opened them, my mother was there and my sibling was there and I saw myself cry in the mirror bloody, bringing me out of a vacuous moment of confusion and darkness. I think I smiled, relieved to finally meet myself again in my gory reflection.

My tooth was severely bruised and blackened but far back enough in my mouth that I could not see it, even when I hooked my cheek with my finger and craned my neck in the mirror. I could only feel the change in its shape, a newfound, arch-like concavity. I—a child with a penchant for nonsensical naming (hockey stick was “hockey slugger,” blanket was Blanka, plastic bag stuck in the tree outside my house was Baggina), an overly confident Adam naming inanimate objects like they were animals—called the damaged tooth my Bridge Tooth.

The nickname was unsettling to my mother. Her eyes widened the first time I announced it, standing across from her in her bedroom. In her pupils, I saw myself as some kind of alien. I was convinced that it was my playful utterance that contorted her face into pale horror. I now understand that she had watched friction betray me on the carpet, seen me careen into the underlying hardwood and watched my pearly baby tooth get blasted through with discoloration, blotted like a Rorschach. It was not the first time any of these things had happened. The shame she saw in the damage was my father’s.

* * *

An infant first experiences the phenomenon of identification, Jacques Lacan writes, when they encounter their reflection in the mirror. In this case, identification is defined as “the transformation that takes place when one assumes an image.” The infant stumbles over to a reflective surface and sees a form that they instantaneously recognize as their own. They also instantly recognize a link between their movements in the mirror and the newfound existence of this form, and as such, feel they animate it. Although the infant is in the clumsy early stages of human development, they perceive this form—and consequently, their self—as whole. Lacan refers to this vision of wholeness as a “gestalt.” This “specular image” also “constitutes the visible world,” acting as an intermediary through which the child makes sense of their surroundings. The effect of this particular experience on the formation of selfhood is inexplicable in “psychical terms,” but Lacan is sure that its “power is linked to the species.” The gestalt image “symbolizes the I’s mental permanence,” priming the infant to mediate their ego (or, their “I”) through other others, which might include images, people, and experiences, as they go through life.

The need to identify oneself with an image reveals itself to be a sinister one as the child grows. The gestalt body, forever trying to find a home in the symbols that surround it, is ultimately corrupted by the infiltration of the “social I”: the identity (or identities) forced upon the child in the social realm. It is this process of “social elaboration,” reduplicating itself in an “inexhaustible squaring of the ego’s audits,” that “alienates” the child from their wholeness. It is highly probable, then, that the child will mistake their reflection for someone else’s.

Reflection confusion is at the heart of day-to-day anguish for children who have been sexually abused. In his 1932 paper “Confusion of Tongues between the Adults and the Child,” Lacan’s predecessor Sandor Ferenczi explains that when attacked, the child survives by taking on the identity and whims—the I—of their abuser: “These children feel physically and morally helpless, their personalities are not sufficiently consolidated in order to be able to protest, even if only in thought, for the overpowering force and authority of the adult…can rob them of their senses. Completely oblivious of themselves, they identify themselves with the aggressor.” This identification in crisis leads the child to take on the abuser’s shame as their own:

Through the identification, or let us say, introjection of the aggressor, [the aggressor] disappears as part of the external reality, and becomes intra- instead of extra-psychic…. The most important change, produced in the mind of the child by the anxiety-fear-ridden identification with the adult partner, is the introjection of the guilt feelings of the adult.

It becomes too dangerous for the child to pursue an individual sense of self while sharing an environment (physical or phantasmical) with the abuser. Every relation holds the potential to be violent in an unpredictable way, and as such, it is all the more crucial that the child’s I does not pose a challenge (is not “alloplastic”) to the abuser. Changing the self to mirror the abuser (“autoplastic reaction”) is the safest —and only—option, and thus, the introjection of the abuser is reified. Mimesis becomes a survival mechanism in all situations, even those that aren’t dangerous: “One part of [the children’s] personalities, possibly the nucleus, got stuck in its development at a level where it was unable to use the alloplastic way of reaction but could only react in an autoplastic way by a kind of mimicry.”

The introjection of the abuser’s identity can infiltrate the cyclical “drama” of the mirror stage from multiple entry points. If the child is predisposed to thinking that their participation with the other brings their self into being, like the child who feels he animated his reflection with turbulent motions in the mirror, then the abuser’s doing and being become inseparable from their own. Worse, the child will likely have to harbor this introjected identity in secret, while still tasked with convincingly performing the “social I” of daughter and child (which, in polite society, is a subjectivity synonymous with innocence). Of course, when no one believes what happened (or, what is happening) to you, any remaining shred of your ego is subsumed by guilt, unobstructed violence, and the denial of others. It is no wonder, Ferenczi writes, that the abused child “arrives at the assumption of a mind which consists only of the Id and Super-Ego, and which therefore lacks the ability to maintain itself with stability in [the] face of unpleasure.” The child is left with both a burning need to be recognized at any cost and a paralyzing fear of pursuing true recognition.

How, in such a complicated web of adopted I’s, does the child spot a reflection that feels right?

* * *

Egoless in the orthodontist’s waiting room, I was a steel trap for shame. The multi-roomed office, located in a narrow, shingled two-story, was a winding funhouse, each turn amplifying my self-flagellation. Squeezed into a yellow chair, I’d shift focus back and forth between a poster featuring sunkissed girls wearing Invisalign (a technology unfit for my irregularly angled teeth) and the flat screen, which played the muted Daddy Day Care DVD menu on an endless loop (nauseated by the shifting images, I’d beat myself up for not working on my homework instead). The sound of my own name, called out by the receptionist in aggravation, was a knell. It signaled me to head to an alcove with a sink where I’d brush my teeth, assessing my culpability in their uncleanliness by counting the shreds of food I’d neglected to dig out of my braces and swallow. I’d then wait in a chaise for the hygienist to take a first pass over my teeth, kicking myself for my too-low iPod battery which due to my lack of preparedness guaranteed that I’d spend most of the appointment aware that I was lying prone, tired and small, luring hulking figures to hover over me. One of them would arrive and I’d open my mouth for them, making way for the insertion of a plastic apparatus that would leave my shoddy oral hygiene on display for any passersby. Every now and then, the hygienist would take a break from yanking worn elastics from my braces and rest her pliers on my dry gums. With an irritated sigh, she’d look above my eyes and say, “You need to brush more.” My teeth, it seemed, invited plaque to fester. I’d hear it again when the orthodontist, Dr. Miller, came around to take a final look, leaving only the thin, permeable membrane of his glove between my tongue and his finger. Mouth aching, I’d walk home.

My father’s office shared a window with the mud room immediately off of the back door. He was the first to hear when you got home, and the first person you’d pass on the way to any other part of the house. Even if you took a hard turn into the kitchen, he was situated at an angle that allowed him to quickly register your decision not to greet him face to face. Sometimes someone else would run to greet you, but often you two were alone, you knew as soon as the echo of the door closing was replaced by his computer keys clacking, overriding the tail end of your exhale. My father must have sensed the weight I was holding, eyes downcast, even from the next room. He’d tell me to come sit on his lap and tell him all about the bad feeling, and I would.

* * *

For Johann Buddenbrook—the young son of the eponymous family in Thomas Mann’s Buddenbrooks—teeth are also a routine source of suffering. From the time he is young, Johann’s teeth clutter his mouth and bring on aches and fevers that keep him up all night. On the eve of developing wisdom teeth, he is forced to go see Dr. Brecht, a finicky dentist who often collapses at the sight of his patients’ agony. Over the course of several grueling weeks, Brecht extracts four of Hanno’s molars, a process that leaves the boy so depleted that he must spend a week in bed.

For Hanno, however, home is not a place of respite. He is terrified of his father, Thomas Buddenbrook, a powerful senator who is endlessly displeased with the young man his son is turning out to be. That young man (really, still a boy) is mild mannered, musical, and gentle, but Thomas finds his manner “hostile.” Though he hopes to hold his distaste for his son “in his heart” only, Thomas can’t help but “voice his objections to Hanno’s passionate preoccupations,” or commandeer dinnertime discussions to quiz Hanno on “practical” facts. Thomas’s nightly impositions fill Hanno with “overwhelming sadness.” As soon as he senses a shift in his father’s tone, his mood “[sinks] to zero,” his eyes “[lose] their sparkle,” and “all his powers of resistance [collapse].” More suffering befalls Hanno when he has his nightly toothaches, which tyrannize him to the point of “convulsion.” He lies sleepless through the night, “limp with a fever whose only cause was the pain itself.”

On the eve of developing wisdom teeth, Hanno is forced to go see Dr. Brecht, a dentist he loathes. Mention of Brecht’s name alone invokes the terror of sitting in his stuffy waiting room. He especially despises Brecht’s aversion to the visible agony he causes his patients: “the worst thing, the really horrible thing about him, however, was that he was nervous and unable to cope with the torment his profession demanded he inflict.”

The one thing Hanno likes about visiting Brecht is seeing his parrot, Josephus, in the waiting room. “Imposing, brightly colored, and evil eyed,” Josephus is a jarring spectacle who greets patients with the voice of a curmudgeonly old woman. The bird, in its weirdness, offers Hanno a sense of peace. He feels “a strange attraction for the bird, a mixture of affection and horror.” He especially delights in the vigor and accuracy with which Josephus mimics Dr. Brecht’s “next please,” so much so that he finds himself smiling as he enters the examination room.

I feel a pang of recognition in Hanno’s gladness at the parrot, a disturbing yet brilliant thing making itself known in a still moment alongside rote torture. I see it in my four-year-old self, who feels more comfort in the certainty that the blood paints her face, that it tears and gleams, than she does in her mother’s frenetic consolations.

* * *

The phenomenon that gives the first mirror image its staying power, Lacan writes, is most closely associated with homeomorphic identification, the process of consecutive reflection, recognition, and growth that occurs in animals. For instance, explains Lacan, “it is a necessary condition for the maturation of the female pigeon’s gonad that the pigeon see another member of its species, regardless of its sex; this condition is so utterly sufficient that the same effect may be obtained by merely placing a mirror’s reflective field near the individual.” Homeomorphic identification also gives us the mathematical concept of “homeomorphism,” defined by Merriam-Webster as “a function that is a one-to-one mapping between sets such that both the function and its inverse are continuous.” The definition of the function cannot undo its own recursiveness—it is a feedback loop that ceaselessly recreates its conduits. It is also, in the case of the Mirror Stage, the bridge between the other and the ego. To Lacan, the particles that catalyze the electrical field in which the I and the other are united are those of beauty or erogeneity. We might also add knowledge, especially in the case of the abused child.

The you that knows what was done to you, that knew before anyone told you it didn’t happen, never went away. One way to understand this version of you—sometimes described as the inner child—is as a sort of gestalt self for victims of child sexual abuse. This self is burdened with other subjectivities and the pressures of secrecy, but never drained of its knowledge. Its capacity for growth is always latent, stimulable when placed in the right reflective field.

Since it is the young, young child who first produces this gestalt image of themself, the child always has the potential to recognize their knowledge—even unconsciously—if it is reflected through something, or someone, else. This is aided by the abused child’s expanded capacity for knowledge writ large—indeed, the child is both the species that grows from recognizing itself and from possessing, due to the trauma, the “precocious maturity of the fruit that was injured by a bird or insect” (Ferenczi). The object or sensation (or sound, energy, attraction, affect) that sparks the recognition is likely to be an ugly, terrifying, or “strange” one. What you know is ugly, and it is not legible or valuable to polite society. It belongs to the realm of what Lacan calls the “real,” the intangible essence that underlies all symbols and images.

While the gestalt might bind us with the images we see, it is not bound itself to articulation in the social dialectic. The social I maintains its grip on the child through applied force, persistence, violence. On the other hand, the vapors and beams of the gestalt, in their transcendent multidimensionality, can alter the chemical makeup that unites the child with an image. It’s possible for the gestalt body, in its re-emergence, to alienate the abuser’s I back. This re-emergence is announced through a vision sourced from the depths of whoever has been taking care to hide it their whole life.

Nothing will show us what we know. All mirrors, for us, are broken and blasted through before we arrive, else why would our fathers do what they did? What remains pure when the ego is swallowed, when one’s reflection is only ever interceding, damaging refractions, is the clarity of the pang, when it hits.

* * *

Two sounds from the day I had the roof of my mouth sliced open:

I lay down in the office of oral surgeon Dr. Jonathan Sacks, hooked up to a stream of nitrous oxide. The doctor, Australian and gregarious, finished adjusting the mask and said, “Now Gabi, if anything hurts, just tell me. And if you start to giggle from the laughing gas that’s okay.” I did not giggle. I felt flushed, sweaty and gone, the sound of my iPod overpowered by the aggressive hum of the gas machine. I could feel everything - the pulsing of the freshly cut wound in my soft palate, every jagged link in the gold chain forming the hopeful bridge between my newly exposed, stubborn tooth and the bracket on my molar. When the sharp edge of the scalpel bumped up against the weights glued to my teeth, ache shot through my face, cross sectioning the stinging feeling around my bleeding gums. I remembered Dr. Sacks’ offer to tell him if it hurt. The whole time I presumed that if I told him he was hurting me, he would do something to lessen the pain. He must have had some antidote that was deployable in accordance with the signal. “It hurts,” I cried. “Sorry, Gabi,” he said, and continued on as he had.

I sat home in pain all day. Body depleted, ache in the roof of my mouth persistent, I felt too weak to muster any restraint against the pain pulsing in reliable rhythm, intensity never lessening. Restricted to soft foods, I drank half of a single coffee ice cream milkshake, which instantly made me sick. Twenty-four hours later, in a rumpled camisole and faded Limited Too shorts, I knelt on the cold tile of the downstairs bathroom and threw up for a sixth time. My loud retching barely interrupted my family dinner in the adjacent kitchen. I had been at the table, in spite of my queasiness. Peeking out from behind the bathroom door, I moaned that I needed to go lie down, upset with myself for not making it through the meal. My father consoled me from his seat. “It’s natural that you get sick after surgery. A foreign object has been inserted. The body is in shock.”

I remembered the sounds when the orthodontists squabbled over my rightmost bicuspid, which had not descended gracefully. There was always a chance (they told me like OR doctors huddling with the family of the critically injured) that one of the teeth would come in rotated. One of them did, almost a perfect 90 degrees askew. “You need to brush more,” was soon usurped (and compounded) by, “We have to turn that tooth around.” At the end of each appointment I was informed that whatever contraption had been installed to realign my asymmetrical smile—the gold chain, a bracket that just barely fit over the angular edge of the tooth, a brutalist band reserved for teeth that needed to be gripped and jolted into place—was barely, or too slowly, doing its job. The scolding, though it stung, began to feel as useless as the failed orthodontic machinery. I became frustrated and despondent. I stopped taking my earbuds out in anticipation when Dr. Miller came around to frantically conference with my hygienist. His nags were now half-muted, and even though he stuck his face in mine to chastise me, I blatantly rolled my eyes. My attention shifted inward to the pressure in my chest, where I could feel the echo of my mid-operation plea. Its wavelengths, dampening fleeting sounds, ping-ponged off my back, mingling with a sustained murmur I already recognized.

* * *

The gestalt body is a percolator for the abused child’s desire to constitute their own being. Once they are able, the child finds a way to instantiate the internal recognition of this desire into a new subjectivity.

In order to synthesize the first version of the Mirror Stage—so as to protect “his theoretical efforts from lapsing into the unthinkable”—Lacan uses a “method of symbolic reduction” as his “guiding grid.” We might understand the reduced agent as the “real,” specifically through the lens of Lacan’s three registers of reality: the real, the imaginary, and the symbolic. The ideal-I the child first sees in the mirror is an image that constitutes the ego (solidifying the “real” qualities of the gestalt into a sign), but it is “shattered” upon entry into the realm of the social order—which is itself a symbolic order—where the child’s “social I” is molded by a cultural superego. In the social realm, the real becomes secondary.

Structuralist Ferdinand de Saussure finds this benching of the real appropriate, as he sees no way in which it contributes to the efficacy of communicable signs, such as shared social language. “Sound is merely something ancillary,” he writes, “a material the language uses. All material values have the characteristic of being distinct from the tangible element which serves as their vehicle.” In a sense, this is true: in the context of universal superstructures, what matters is the performance of the vehicle, not the means by which it is executed.

Sassure’s assertion is easily unraveled by the fact that objects, in the words of Fred Moten, “can and do resist.” Moten writes that sound is not, in and of itself, ancillary to signs, but “rendered ancillary by the crossing of an immaterial border or by a differentializing inscription.” Sound, though dissociated from the vehicle, still powers it. It can resurface through the “irruption of phonic substance” which, as a vessel of the signified, can alter the functional and internal qualities and limitations of the sign. In this irruption, writes Moten, the sign is “cut through and augmented in meaning,” culminating in a “rematerializing inscription.” While recognition of sound might hint at a larger truth, the incident of irruption reconfigures the entire chemical makeup of an organism. Phonic substance and the real in general can raze the “alienating,” differentializing inscription, laying the groundwork for a new inscription to take its place. This is the process by which the “realness” contained by the gestalt not only alienates but dissolves the introjected social I of the abuser.

While hearing echoes of the real might help the child recognize their gestalt internally, the release of that sound in the social realm is what allows them to remake their I. The key to excavating long-repressed experiences of child abuse in patients, writes Ferenczi, is verbally reflecting what the patient secretly knows. Once the analyst permits the patient’s experience to pass into language, the patient can begin to talk about it, or as he puts it, “loosen their tongue.” He gives the following example: predisposed to mimicry as the only option for survival, patients will overtly identify with the analyst’s opinions at all costs instead of “contradicting the analyst or accusing him of errors and blindness.” The patient in question, it’s important to note, has likely been taught that “contradiction” means speaking, thinking, or existing at all, and that doing any of these things is equal to doling out the harshest criticism. If the analyst flips this identification inclination on its head and reflects the patient’s opinions back to them as correct, the patient feels safer with the analyst—and therefore safer to say what they think and see as the truth:

Normally they do not allow themselves to criticize us, such a criticism does not even become conscious in them unless we give them special permission or even encouragement to be so bold…The setting free of his critical feelings [goes on] to create in the patient a confidence in the analyst. It is this confidence that establishes the contrast between the present and the unbearable traumatogenic past, the contrast which is absolutely necessary for the patient in order to enable him to re-experience the past no longer as hallucinatory reproduction but as an objective memory.

* * *

It’s January 2021 and I’m doing a lot of incognito googling. Googling is the only activity that sustains me. I have been in trauma therapy for almost a year and a half, but I am still trying to place exactly what has happened to me, and I am not a reliable source—if I trust myself I will fold in on myself. At the same time, I have ideas—nags of some geyser of truth—and they are pressing. I extend my inklings only to the intermediary of the screen, where the reliable source is the glimmer of cobalt autofill in the search bar when I type things like “emotional abuse but feels like sexual abuse.” I crave the relief of a list of results (that aren’t porn), articles that explain that the amorphous sense that one has been violated is not just a sense but a little electrical cloud containing bursts of memory, fragments of sticky experience. A man whose mother held his hand on what could only be described as romantic dates has labeled his experience “emotional incest.” So has a woman whose parent vented about their adult relationships in the shadows of her bedroom. It is in the split, foggy second when I tilt my head up to think that an image bisects me, runs cold through my solar plexus.

I call my therapist when I have an inkling that the abuse might not have suggested sexual violation but was, indeed, sexual violation, and my world changes when she says, “I think so too.” These words give me permission to push a sense of evil away from my body and say “your fault, your fault,” and brimming, I walk to the art store in a rage and purchase the most nauseating hues of paint I can find—shit green, rot brown, an acidic orange. All I can do when I wake up in the morning is paint—scenes of loneliness, the crack in the ceiling that makes me lonely after the fact, scarred pink body, scratched black. I hang them on my apartment wall. I walk to the park, eyes wide, dissociated, and I can only come back to myself when I open my notes app and select a garish highlighter pink, draw two big eyes and a mouth agape, a face of horror. I make the face back at my phone. I remember another drawing of the same face, in washable marker, on a wall of drawings in dark magenta and shit green in the apartment we lived in when I was four. I called it the “scary wall.” My mom hated it. There are pictures of me standing in front of it, before my myriad disturbing creations, smiling in a tiara. I reproduce the wall in my room, visualizing the slashing of my youth and my flesh. I put it where I can see it when I go to sleep. It makes me feel safer. A new world opens up within me and it will open up around me too.

Alienating my father’s reflection requires heavy lifting. I am still learning to tolerate (whatever that means) the daily ebb and flow of memories where I feel the weight of his body on mine. Sometimes I feel like it will blast me into the ground. There is no greater transgression against him, and my intrapsychic version of him, and that of everyone else who knows him, than loosening my tongue. Disidentification requires daily work, a process my therapist describes as an “unhooking.” To illustrate the phrase, she clasps her fingers together tightly, then releases the tension between them and lets the bind wilt until her hands are repelled from one another. They drift apart in diagonal opposition, then rest buoyed in space under two clusters of potential energy—one, the identifications I knew, the other a gestalt personhood learning its reach.

The concept of unhooking calls to mind Lacan’s theory of the Borromean knot. It’s the concept he uses to instantiate the undoing of his theory of the symbolic, imaginary, and the real. The knot consists of three tightly bound rings. If any one ring comes loose, so will the other two. For Lacan, this is an analog for the undoing of the symbolic order, which he believes possible only later in his career. Whereas before the symbol was an impenetrable inscription, now he sees that it is a receptacle tenuously held together at the mercy of the real. The real has the power to dissolve the signifying chains that are reproduced and interwoven to uphold social order and subjectivity. The Borromean knot, incidentally, is the insignia on the Borromeo family crest.

* * *

Theorist and family abolition proponent Sophie Lewis is hopeful that the nuclear family, where the “overwhelming majority of abuse can happen,” can one day be replaced as our “main kinship model.” A new model will come into being through a sort of optimistic social “surrogacy,” where caretaking occurs in community severed from the archaic ties of the biological family:

If everything is surrogacy, the whole question of original or “natural” relationships falls by the wayside. In that sense, what surrogacy means is standing in for one another, caring for one another, making one another. It’s a word to describe the very actual but also utopian fact that we are the makers of one another, and we can learn to act like it. Full surrogacy in that sense is a demand for real surrogacy: a commune, a proliferation of relations rather than a continuation of a logic, Surrogacy, that is about propping up the propertarian, biogenetic, nuclear private household…

Indeed, the social structure of the biological family makes us and unmakes us through the harm it enables. The parent-child relationship as we know it is, in its purest form, a system of domination: parents must treat their children’s feelings and thoughts, however wise, as secondary, in order to maintain their status as proprietor of their offspring. Destabilizing this power dynamic threatens the material and social fortitude of the family. Those who wish to keep a biological family together must resign themselves to the cruel pragmatism of valuing their social roles over their children’s pain, whether they want to or not.

In Lewis’s words, the “making” of the biological family is a form of labor: “the act of carrying a child to term…is labor that has long been exploited and overlooked by the academy—and so is mothering.”

Using this framework, the subjectivity of a parent is comparable to that of a professional. In this way a mother is no different from a therapist or an orthodontist who fulfills the recursive requirements of their social script. All are required to uphold their end of the mirror stage: after all, the social I does not exist naturally but is imposed upon each subject by the Other who willingly reflects any given subjectivity back to them. This is a process to which every child is vulnerable, but for a child in an abusive situation, the stakes are particularly high. The “inexhaustible audits” of the social I, and the degree to which they are indeed inexhaustible or haltable, are determined by the seeings and unseeings of the adults around them.

Unfortunately, unseeing is required of all professionals who shape children, lest they wish to disrupt processes of interpolation that at once constitute their subject position and that of their child. Under our existing social structures, professional guardians of children are always caught between the rituals of professionalism and the rituals of caretaking. This supposed conundrum frequently leads to what Ferenczi calls “professional hypocrisy,” a paradoxical provision of support. Like Hanno’s dentist, caretakers know that the harm children secretly know is enough to make their guardians never want to return to work again.

* * *

In the here and now, alternative support networks prefigure the communal “kinship models” that could flourish in a society where the family has been abolished. In the aftermath of abuse, the “proliferation of relations” outside my nuclear family is what has sustained me.

My gestalt’s intermediaries are no longer internal or restricted to secrecy. They are friends who answer me when I call in a crisis, or when a new memory arises, or when I’m visited by traumatic loneliness. My friends re-make me over FaceTime when I am greasy-haired and bedridden, or when we notice each other across the park and yell gleefully. While it was the mission of the people who raised me, as my therapist puts it, to “not let me know what I know,” my friends celebrate my knowledge. They’re proud of me for claiming it. Their recognition of all that is real about me has helped me find my footing as I undo the Borromean knot of my family’s symbolic order, which has bound me for so long.

My father reduced me to a differentializing inscription that I have blasted through. As I contend with its fragments, my hollow spots whistle and shriek. Still, I know that I am unequivocally distinct from my traumatogenic past, and that my knowing has allowed me to catalyze a raucous irruption. I build a subjectivity that brims with my own desire. I reinscribe myself.

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