Once upon a time (because all the best stories start with once upon a time, O Best Beloved), there was a boy.  Because this is a love story, in parts, there must be a boy – because I am a girl, and at least one of the stories I will tell you across this fire and under a lying moon is about the kind of love that stories usually tell.  A boy and a girl, who are lost and crossed in love for one another, that will never come to be.


So, once upon a time, there was a boy.  I met him because I was a girl who wished not to be a girl – I wanted as hard as I could to be a boy, to live naturally in a boy’s world, and forget ever having been a girl at all.  I met him because I climbed trees and drove cars and rode motorcycles and picked fights, and at least the last three of those things will earn a boy money, if he is fast and reliable and good in a pinch.

There are two kinds of fights you can be in: a pretty fight and an ugly fight.  You have all seen pretty fights, O Best Beloved.  They are fights where boys hold each other back and only make contact to score points with the crowd.  They are fights with rules, and with courtesies.  Ugly fights are the different sort.  Some of you have seen them, and any of you who have will never mistake the difference.  Ugly fights are fought to win, and have no courtesies.  They only barely have rules, and almost always, those rules are about when you have won, and nothing else.

In the same way that people will pay small money for a hockey game that is pretty, and big money for rinkside seats at a game where they can be confident that they will see someone else’s face sliding, gap-toothed and bloody, down the rattling plexiglass inches from their eyes, there is a pay gap between pretty fights and ugly fights.  Ugly fights pay better, because they are not legal in most civilized society, and because they are higher risk for the participants, and because people who are not civilized who must live in civilized societies will pay very good money indeed to see thoroughly uncivilized engagement.


So, I met a boy.  He taught me the difference between a pretty fight and an ugly one, and how to win when there is no one saying “Hold me back!” in a brawl.  I was brought to a ring with him to learn to win, because there is money in the unexpected, and a girl mean enough to win in an ugly boy’s world is often unexpected.  So I met him the first time, and he looked at me.  We stood apart from each other in the ring, and he began speaking.  “Watch their hands,” he said.  (Every time I met him, O Best Beloved, he would say that to me.  And the sound of his voice is something I only got back later, lives away, in a pretty little therapist’s office.)  “Watch their hands, and their feet.  You’ll hear people tell you to always watch their eyes, and their center of mass.  That’s a lie, and a fucking dangerous one.  Anyone can lie with their eyes and their chest with a little practice.  Almost no one can lie with their hands, and their feet, with any consistency.  Watch their hands.”

Now, anyone who has been in a fight will know this for idiocy.  In a fight, an opponent who watches your hands and feet is an opponent whom you can eat for breakfast, because he is watching the easiest and most minute things you can control, so you can control his eyes.  When you control his eyes, you win.  So, while I listened to the words on his lips, he broke my skull.  He ate me alive.  I lost horribly, and fell in love.  The next time we met, I ignored the words of his mouth, and watched the language of his body.  Watching his body, hearing the words his spine gave me, I made him work to win.  Once I made him work to win, I started fighting on my own.

I met him one more time, in a ring that had money on the line.  There were more than two of us, then.  All of us children who believed we were gods, ignoring the shit and sawdust in our so-mortal hair.  By then I believed I was a god, invincible and immortal, immune to the panic cries of my fallible body, driven by a will that was faster, smarter, and meaner than any of these pretenders to my deity.  I was wrong, and he taught me that with a kiss, and a promise.

He met me in the ring – I was near a solid wall, watching forward, and never heard him behind me.  He cupped my head gently, lightly, fingers sliding lovingly into my hair.  Fast, hard, firm, he bounced my head off the wall, clouding my eyes and ringing my ears.  I lost my balance, stunned, and he dragged me up by my hair and kissed me.  He kissed me with passion and fire, like we would both die in the next minute and nothing else mattered.  He kissed me like a god about to burn, and I drowned in that kiss and his fingers in my hair.

“Watch their hands, and get out.  Get out.  You are a girl, and this is not the world for you.  I won’t kill you, but someone else will.  I promise.  Get out, while you still can.”  He whispered, fast and fierce, into the cup of my ear, and pulled my head back to stare into my eyes for a precious split second longer.  Then he was gone, dropping me to the ground, limp as a rag doll and stunned.

The whole meeting lasted less than ten seconds.  The fight lasted less than three minutes more.  He found everyone in that ring who might do me harm, and did to them before they could do to me.  While he was busy doing that, I pulled my feet back underneath me, found my head again.  When he came for me, at last, I saw him coming, and I leapt at him.  I leapt at him with every piece of fire and agony and will in my soul, and I won.  By the skin of my teeth, I won.  He would not kill me, and I flew at him in carelessness and hopelessness, knowing it.  Because he would not kill me, I overwhelmed him, a tidal wave of craziness and despair in the form of a bleeding, silent, raging girl.

That was my last fight, and I won it.  I won it because he loved me, and I loved him back.


Now, I will tell you one more story.  It is also a love story, though of a very different kind.

Once upon a time, O Best Beloved, there was a girl.  She was a beautiful girl – brilliant and kind and funny and fascinating.  She was all the girl I had sworn never to be, and held it with passion and unassailable will that I had never even dreamed possible until I met her.  I loved her for it, for every inch of herself, and she loved me back.

Once, in a deep night, under fluorescent lamps and under a truth-telling moon, she asked me to tell her.  “Tell me what you see,” she said.  “Tell me what you see when you watch me, and what you know because of it.”  So I told her.   I told her what that nameless and much-loved boy from so long ago had said to me, the knowledge I had regained in the lifetimes since, and used so often and so well.  Watch their hands, and watch their feet.  They will lie to you with their eyes, and their bodies, but they cannot watch their hands and their feet.  Watch how they move, how they speak, whom they speak to and whom they do not.  I taught her the things I had gotten back from that time with the boy, and the things I had learned because of those first, basic lessons.

It was the first time I had told anyone what I saw in them, though some had asked.  My trust was not misplaced; she still loved me, even after I told her what I saw.  She still trusted me, even though I told her what I do with the knowledge I have, and how I make the people around me bend to what I want, because I know what they are thinking when they think they are not thinking at all.


And now I will tell you one more story, because this is a lying moon and all storytellers are liars in their hearts, and cannot resist the call of one more tale.  I will tell you, O Best Beloved, as I told her.  Watch their hands, and watch their feet.  Watch your own hands and feet – they will tell you things about you that you never thought to ask.

Watch their hands.  As I fall asleep, watching my hands with the eyes of my skin in the dark, I see the story my hands are telling.  They curl up on themselves and each other, like weasels in the nest.  They scurry and bury themselves under blankets and pillows and body, folding over and protecting the delicate, sensitive centers.  They tell me a story about myself that is truer than pretty lies, and more lie than a bright and cutting truth.  Watch your hands, as you fall asleep, and they will tell you a story about what you are thinking when you think you are not thinking at all.


These are the stories I tell you, O Best Beloved, across this fire and under a lying moon.