6.04 / April 2011

I Wear a Leather Jacket in My Head

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I wear a leather jacket in my head. I ride a motorcycle in my head. I snort powders and don’t take showers in my head. Sometimes I sing for an imaginary punk band. Scream through a microphone and vomit onstage. Rip off my clothes and cut my skin with a glass sliver just to disgust you. I will disgust my own audience.

I wear a leather jacket in my head. But really I am a quiet overweight girl with hip-length hair no one notices and a s-s-stutter that no one can ignore. BA in Marine Biology. I dive, swim, scuba, snorkel, chase sea beasts who don’t speak. Once I thrust my hand into the tentacles of a jellyfish just because. I am quiet-bodied and loud-minded, with waterlogged ears, comforted by the thought of the ocean floor, unreachable even by the sun, filled with ghastly eyeless sucking things.

I wear a leather jacket in my head, even in real life, even underwater. I work at the aquarium on the wharf. I clean bathrooms to feed sharks. From 5 to 5:15 each day T-shirted tourist families watch me jump in the water in a seal-black wetsuit and feed steaks to tiger sharks. Watch me dive. Watch me swim. Through the wrong side of the aquarium the people take on funhouse shapes. I see their faces seeing me. Holes for eyes and mouths. I can be dangerous. Like today when I tease the sharks with a steak. I swim around the tank and won’t let them have it, making them chase and circle me. I am in the middle of a moving circle of gray. I bite the steak and taste the blood. A tiger shark swims toward me and bites the other end. I almost kissed a tiger shark. I almost got my face bit off. My boss yells at me when I resurface for Not Following Proper Procedures but my heart gallops and I can’t stop my crocodile smile. I can still taste the steak’s blood.

I wear a leather jacket in my head. Cooking fish sticks at home. Masturbating in the bathtub. At therapy, discussing death wishes. I am never what I am. On my tenth birthday six girls in pink party dresses showed up and yelled surprise and threw bowtied gifts at me. My dress was blue. I ate cake and threw it up in the bathroom and I wrote I’m a boy I’m a boy on the mirror with my finger until the mirror was covered with invisible ink. On my twentieth birthday I bought fireworks and let them off in my college dorm room, hoping to start a mini-apocalypse. Or at least disfigure myself somehow. Instead I got a written citation, a stand-in for nothing. Sometimes I climb up on my apartment’s roof and consider spitting on the shiny cars and dull people below but I just couldn’t. Can’t. Instead I climb back down to the ground floor and swim more laps, eat more frozen dinners, pass through another calendar square, another number on the digital clock. I don’t want my thirtieth birthday. I reject it like a gift.

Once I bought a leather jacket. Didn’t fit me. Too heavy. The leather jacket screamed at the world I’M A LEATHER JACKET and I hated it. Don’t look at me. In real life I wear windbreakers because they’re cheap. I drink cheap beer all night because it tastes like water. Water is my air. I swim in the apartment pool until work starts and after it ends. At work, I imagine I’m onstage, ugly, crooked eyeliner, reeking of piss. Really I don’t talk much or make eye contact and I wear no makeup or perfume. But I’m yelling silent obscenities as I restock the restroom toilet paper. Sweep up the linoleum, riding far away on my motorcycle. Smashing my guitar onstage as I Windex the glass aquarium walls. 5’o clock. Feeding time. The tourists watch, cameras ready, kids lick iced cream cones, parents yawn and fan themselves with brochures. Up here on my plank above the water I look down at the sharks forming a hungry circle. I’ve got a bucket of meat and a handful of rubber bands that my boss would name Unauthorized Items. I want to turn inside out. Once I asked my therapist if you are what they remember of you or what you imagine of yourself. My therapist shook his head and said he couldn’t understand a word I said. 5 o’clock. Feeding time. The imagined and remembered converge while I rubber band steaks to my arms, legs, unzip my wetsuit to stuff one into my chest. While I dive into the water with steaks strapped to my chest and arms like dynamite and watch the tourists’ eye and mouthholes widen from behind the dark glass and the moving water. While I sink. While I let the tiger sharks and their knifelike fins and their blackhole eyes surround me. Converge. The swarm of sharks open and close their jaws and tear through the meat on my arms and chest until they reach me: stars of pain, nerves that scream, wet clouds of blood. Their teeth tear through my leather, finally angry enough to, draining me of me.

Faith lives in Oakland and has recently had stories in Red Fez and Defenestration. She plays in the band Hooray for Everything and solo under the name Scarlett O'Hara. Evidence of these things can be found at faithgardner.com.