I was a mountain girl, living on a chicken farm, hauntingly beautiful amongst the dysgenic flock afflicted with isolation, malnutrition, and addiction. The love of my life—call him H—lived further down inside the Earth, in the valley below. I loved my simple life of tending to the chickens and gathering eggs; I would run my fingers over their perfectly hard, fatally fragile shell, the creamy color pairing perfectly with its smooth texture. I admirably acknowledged how the egg gradually curved smaller at the top so as to be completely painless for the hen. This uncomplicated process made perfect sense to me, and as a very young girl, hardly yet coherent in forming sentences, I inquired to my mother about the color of my egg—the one I assumed I hatched from. She laughed and told me my beautiful angular shoulders and long limbs wouldn’t fold very easily into an egg. I would often mimic the hens, carefully poising myself atop the eggs as a civilized child tends to her baby dolls. My mother, mortified at my innocent vulgarity, decided it was time to enroll me in public school.

H’s father was a methhead and an incessant gatherer of objects, but even before his descent into amphetamine-induced mania, their yard was a graveyard of relics of lost history. The most notable was an enormous wooden cross perched firmly in the dirt in front of their house. His father proudly, with an enigmatic certitude, announced that his cross had been here for “thousands and thousands of years,” hinting at something hysterically implausible. H confessed that his father’s favorite form of punishment was tying his arms and legs to the cross and that he secretly didn’t mind much—he liked the feeling of his arms gradually going numb; if he closed his eyes, he felt himself slowly ascending, sprouting wings, despite the profound heaviness pulsating from his shoulders down to his toes.

A part of me understood that H’s affinity for me was an affinity for my father. My father spoke in a peculiar sort of way, with vague metaphors and a nurturing lightheartedness tinged with some unspeakable heaviness. His words orbited some impenetrable subject, drawing you closer and closer but forever evading total clarity. His darkly serene and captivating elusiveness starkly opposed H’s father’s vulgar destitution. My father sensed H’s admiration and frequently entertained us with his many stories. He would speak frequently and fondly of the traveling circus from his youth; he loved the “ugly little monsters” of the freakshow. Sometimes, he would skip church to attend the freakshow, believing that God’s face up close would “also be horrifyingly ugly; God fabricated order, but he is not order himself.” He told me I was so beautiful because everything was “neat and tidy and correct and utterly lovely” about my face. I was the blueprint for humanity and the plain girls I went to school with were mere deviations. He assumed that Eve must’ve looked just like me and that his frequent shortness of breath and heart palpitations were the symptoms of the gaping wound I had left after painfully sprouting from his ribcage. He expressed, however, that he found those poor souls with fetal alcohol syndrome to be just as hauntingly beautiful. “They were born out of the ecstasy and intoxication needed to counter our capacity for deep, Earth-shattering despair; they are the disorder arising from our sacred quest for order,” he told me, at an age where I could not fully parse his cryptic sentiments. His words would flow over me, the letters losing their shape as they innocuously seeped into my pores and into my bloodstream; only retroactively did I realize: I understood him. My father told me my beauty was hard and strong like the laws of the universe or a stream of racehorse piss. My mother’s beauty was daunting and frightening, like “everything else about the universe.” My eyes were moderately-sized, almond-shaped, blue, perfectly spaced, and receptive; my mother’s eyes were large, long and upturned, grey, far apart, and penetrating. At times, her pupils became so large and so black I feared she would swallow me up. When her pupils were at their largest, blackest, and most daunting I found her most beautiful. When I came across books on Greek mythology, I imagined she was Medusa and I was Aphrodite. She was a perfectly controlled singular flame, the governess of the doors of the abyss—inside of nothing and outside of everything, and he loved her, he loved her so that his tears and words tangled and twisted leaving him entirely stricken, saying nothing, doing nothing; he would often stare at her for several uninterrupted minutes.

H and I spent our youth prying and snooping through the ruination of de-industrialization. Unlike his father, who feverishly and obsessively collected, as if fearing the world would dissolve beneath his feet, we frantically searched for meaning: the ultimate divinity was our unceasing act of seeing. Our eyes, channeling and externalizing our subjective sensations into searing beams bore through matter, breaking down, infusing, extracting, through some quasi-Gnostic trance, the very essence of meaning itself. This abject junkyard rife with despondency and morbidity, for us, constituted the entire cosmos. One evening, I joyously found a Barbie doll—I always wanted one—and despite her missing head and arms, I was enthralled by this sad little object and kept her. The next morning, while I was making breakfast, I cracked an egg only to discover a half-incubated, half-alive bird inside. I initially yelped in revulsion but felt drawn; I had never seen anything like it. I loved her small black hairless wings—I assumed it was a girl, she had the yearning and melancholic downcast gaze of a girl—and I wanted to keep them. I felt embarrassed despite being alone in my dingy kitchen; nonetheless, I removed the wings and secured them to the back of the Barbie with black tape. I thought she was the most beautiful creature I had ever seen despite, or maybe because of her lack of a face. Why did she need a face if she wasn’t alive? But she was so beautiful to me. Part of her had never been alive and the other part had been born dead; she was ephemerality in its purest form. I carried her around with me everywhere until the rotting smell became unbearable. She was so light I thought maybe she could fly, if only briefly. I closed my eyes, threw her as far as I could, and ran away. I thought about her for years.

H and I loved visiting the elderly and senile and I truly loved the little old lady across the way. She let me rummage through her old dusty, roach-infested bin of baby-pink silk gowns. I could tell she was beautiful in her youth by the teeny tiny waist and baggy breast area of the gowns, and this made me all the more fond of her. The roaches made my skin feel like a hard floor the way they glided so effortlessly across my skin. I hated the feeling more than any pain I’ve ever experienced, but I loved those silk dresses more. I explained with total child-like self-seriousness, that I was the center of gravity, just as Earth was, and that’s why the bugs don’t fall off my body. The old lady laughed hysterically with each rupture of her rusting vocal cords compounding the sillage of her powdery perfume.

I imagined the little pink house with white trim and dainty shutters a few doors down was another charming old lady and that was the first time my reality shattered. I was always scolded anytime I ventured too close to that doll-like house. I never understood why until the body of my friend was found dead, brutalized, poorly buried in his yard, unearthed after a particularly bad rainstorm. My mother broke the news to me, peering into me with a look of half-formed sadness. Her every expression, every subtle affect conveyed this half-formedness, this uncanny teetering. She carried a directionless intensity; her gaze plunged into me, gutting me. And yet, her emotions transcended symbology, the body was not yet evolved enough to interpret and coalesce what she felt. My mother’s body digested the tremblings of her soul and spit them back out as nervous, quiet indifference. The dead girl stood to the left of me in my first communion photo on our mantle. My father put a small sliver of black tape over her eyes—he couldn’t stand to look at her—and my mother became hysterical, declaring how morbid this was considering she was found with a piece of black tape over her mouth. My father thought he was being respectful; “she looked like an angel now; what do angels need eyes for? They see with their bodies.” This placated her; she morosely conceded.

H and I, despite becoming more cautious around the bizarre and reclusive neighbors, often stumbled upon things we weren’t supposed to, many things we only understood on a supra-sensory level, only settling down into our bodies and into our waking senses later in adolescence. And one day we found porn magazines in a dusty drawer; I saw every conceivable orifice violated and defiled and I began to wonder with disgust and fascination: what about the eye sockets? I often dreamed my eyes were missing, leaving nothing but empty, cavernous holes in my skull. I saw myself like this, somehow, from afar, without the sacred medium and conductor of sight: my eyes. And that’s why I wasn’t afraid to die; I knew somewhere, somehow, I pushed forth my existence with such intensity until I utterly and completely existed, infecting life itself with my act of being.

As we grew older and in and out of adolescence, H grew into these seeds planted by my father; my kin and his battled and contorted within him. He felt the extreme weight of the world, giving into his body and feeling the pressure of his skin on his bones while being entirely beside himself, detached and disenchanted with material reality. He spoke with a similar slippery, poetic inflection as my father and claimed that the “weight of gravity down in the valley below me exacerbated the heaviness in his chest and slowed dexterity from being separated from me, his beloved.” I couldn’t understand his love for me because I was a mountain girl. He liked running his fingers over my lips, those both above and below, because he felt it was “the perfect middle ground the exteriority of my skin and the plushy insides of my body,” as if he was cracking my “fleshy shell.” I would ask him to kiss my open eyes and he would oblige, despite not really understanding why or deriving any particular pleasure; I never told him about the vacant and gaping sockets of my dreams. My eyes would sting and burn, reminding me of the sensation of rug burns on my knees. A part of me was disappointed he didn’t intuitively understand why I wanted to give my wet, squishy eyeballs over to him, to have him swallow them up and be forced to lead me around forever and ever.

H’s first grand gesture of love was leaving a pig heart on my doorstep. The organ was so fresh, so ripe, so glossy I could’ve sworn it was still beating, but my mother told me it was the whirling tree branches fracturing and distorting the sunlight that gave the illusion of movement. I wondered what else was caused by a “trick of the sunlight.” And I screamed in horror because I thought the heart was his, but my mother reassured me he wasn’t dead. But, “maybe he loved me so much he stayed alive.” She looked at me with that peculiar sadness—her distinctive nominally materialized melancholy. Of course, I wasn’t that stupid, but for some reason, I had lost all reason. I thought maybe your heart communicated with your body through telepathy allowing you to survive briefly with it outside of your body. I thought when my heart thumped in my ears and reverberated through the mountain air and vibrated beneath my feet that my heart had temporarily leapt away, far away, connected by a limpid cord of loyalty and necessity.

H would always find me at dawn when I gathered eggs. When he was feeling sweet, we would stand outside and watch the sunrise and he would tell me the chiaroscuro of dark blue, pink, and orange sunlight made me look like a painting. The evolving patterns of light and shadow across my face and perfect collar bones gave the illusion of growing and shrinking and changing shape; his eyes welled up and he told me he could see my past and my future etching itself onto my body, allowing him to love the entirety of me. Other times, he would defiantly throw eggs around and I would scream and cry and maybe laugh a little. He liked testing to see just how high and with how much force it took to neatly shatter an egg. I observed that the egg yolk looked like the sun and he retorted it looked like an eye. He playfully flicked his hand into the uncooked egg white, saying “this feels familiar” and threw a suggestive glance down at my vagina. The dams of my heart opened up and a great rushing, horrifying and pleasurable and deadening and invigorating, pulsed through me, making me hot and numb with embarrassment and arousal. My blood abandoned my arms just so I could momentarily venture into the abyss of adolescent shame and lust. I looked away; that’s all I could think to do.

Once when his father was acting especially erratic, H wrangled his cold, skinny body and tied him up on the cross. His pale, emaciated, convulsing, sore-covered body looked just like Christ from afar, and the pious and senile flocked outside as if to watch some great cosmic event—nobody had the heart to tell them it was just the town tweaker. He howled for hours at seemingly nothing and no one in particular. He moaned at the sky, he moaned at the ground, he moaned at the very air forcing itself through his body. And with the rage and rebellion of a scorned child, H did not relent. I was disturbed, but too afraid to move. I don’t know why I was frozen in fear, but I was, inextricably so. But as the time ticked on and the air grew dark and cold and heavy my fear resembled intoxication. H saw me start to pitifully shiver and built a makeshift fire; the coldness of my back and the searing of my cheeks intensified the whirring and coagulation of my senses; I couldn’t tell you how or why or what, I simply was. Each frenzied movement and impetuous emotion fell into perfect mimesis with the sky and the ground and the air—everything, this instant, was exactly how it was meant to be. Eventually, his father fell asleep. We gently, as if our bold display of cruelty never occurred, brought him down from the cross. H, astutely and with great secrecy so as to not frighten me, felt his body for a pulse, afraid that his clammy dense body signaled death. He was very much alive, however. H did not have to explicitly tell me—his ambivalence towards his father’s survival was clear. He wanted his father to die in the same way you want an injured deer to die. The severity of pity felt towards his father saddened him. A torrential wave of disappointment engulfed him—H resented the inability of his love to outweigh his disbelief and for his disbelief to outweigh his love. He could not disparage his father entirely nor could he love him truly and purely. His death would mean nothing and H secretly wished they would both violently beat each other to death and perish at the same time, returning to that special place of archaic dissolution, a great mythical restoration.

His father never fully recovered from this incident, and eventually, he fully descended into psychosis. During an exceptionally tempestuous quarrel, he gathered from his holy junkyard a child-sized coffin and, with some preternatural strength, wrangled H’s lanky body into the coffin and buried him alive. We had passed by this small coffin many times throughout the years, the morbidity of its small size keeping us at a safe distance. A rich lore developed: we wondered who it was intended for and why it was never used and how God could allow children to die. All of our stories and assumptions predated and subsumed this incident; H’s death did not wholly belong to him. He ate our words of who and why and how, storing them deep inside his rotting stomach; the unreal and the undead died along with him. Fortunately, the well-below-average general intelligence of this wretched mountain town meant nobody considered that digging a shallow grave would only later lead to a great unearthing, and H too, was discovered after a particularly heavy rain when the head of the coffin teasingly peeked out of the slimy mud. And that was the 2nd time my reality shattered; the second instance canceling out the first, abandoning me in the barren maelstrom of pure, ugly reality. I screamed and screamed until the rawness of my throat and ringing in my ears were all that was left of me. My love for him—a love so disgusting and pure that I wanted to melt him down and pour the sludge down into my body so he could fill me out like a mold and create a case around my heart and lungs and liver—had nowhere to go. It hung in the air and clung to my skin, existing imminently and retroactively: a great cosmic pain that felt just out of reach. In the blue twilight, I’m running and running over the mushy, dewy mud and I can scarcely tell if all of this muck under my toes is egg yolks and blood; everything is blue and nothing is blue and maybe the synapses in my eyes have just been fried by the profusion of this red blood pumping and flowing through my skull, into my cheeks, and behind my eyes. I wanted to throw myself off this mountain and theatrically shatter into perfect, neat pieces; I wanted my eyes to gently roll out of my head, to sensually grind against the ground, with the wetness of the dirt mimicking a passionate kiss.