Integrate by Richaundra Thursday

1: Like cookie dough, I tell my kids,

After you’ve mixed dry and wet ingredients, can’t split anymore; disparate particles now chemically married, sibling to conflation, a kaleidescope crossover of ideas, a sparkling but broken mirage, like how my socially acceptable self-destruction smuggles in under the alias Protestant Work Ethic or how there is no difference between ‘I can take care of that,’ and ‘Are you hungry?’ and ‘Let me repay you for putting up with me’ and ‘Please don’t leave me.’

There are phantoms on the floor among the dustmotes, gremlins behind the unwashed bowls and I’m so afraid they’re tempting you to abandon me so I exorcise the fridge, baptize the microwave, wield this broom like an acrophobic witch and pray the spell is strong enough to bind us, that the kitchen sponge confessionals are enough to absolve my socialized sins.

Like a linguistic stereotype, I have 500 different words for ‘I’m sorry’ but only one for ‘no.’

2. I am faceblind to the differences, so instinct is to be gracious before good, nice before safe, gifting smiles like bouquets to entitled barbarians, a Pavlov’s bells defense, how many ‘Thank yous’ have dripped from my snout in response to threats masquerading as compliments. How do I separate kind from craven, responsible adult from anxious mess when my whole life people have told me I was good for the things I do out of self-loathing?

My friend asks if i have any happy music and when i switch playlists, he asks if i know the difference between happy and angry and I’m scared that i don’t and terrified that’s why I’m a poet.

3: My robot is paradoxically non-binary. My fallen angel is a frustratingly pretty boy, my vampire is a high femme fatale.

I do not know how to separate my girl from my monster, intimacy from cannibalistic consumption; only the demon is strong enough to let anyone close enough to hurt me because it pretends it can control how. I don’t know how to want you to want me without giving myself a carnivore’s fanged smile, only a short afterthought line separates ‘slay’ and ‘stay.’

4. I don’t know if my repulsion at being called ‘ma’am’ is a desire to be recognized as gender non-conforming or one to NOT be recognized as an adult.
Integrate means I can’t tell where the damaged bits of me end, the difference between strengthening scar tissue and necrotic polyps so sometimes I carve all of it out with a cherry pitter, just to be on the safe side. The etymological glue holding together bittersweet; integrate is holistic which means when I am asked what kind of help I’ve come in for that day, I don’t know how to isolate which system is failing.

5. They say find the people who fit you, like puzzles, like our borders are soft cardboard and not tempered glass shards, not so much clicking into place as grinding, integrate means smooth out your edges or risk being alone, which is to say that integrate can mean conformity, but it also means to bring out the best in everyone welcomed into the mosaic, the rejection of othering in the knowledge that we are all spinning together, so we dive into the rock tumbler, hoping we come out jewels.

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