Pin Her Down on a Photograph Album

What a strange thing, to be a teenage girl. What a strange thing, to be a person who is also a teenage girl. Do you know what I mean? When I was fourteen I didn’t know any music to listen to except what my dad listened to and my dad only listened to classic rock and the more known names from 90s alt rock, so I took his Walkman and his August and Everything After cassette and I listened to it over and over and over. In retrospect I don’t really even know why I liked it, because listening to it now is only good in the way where you understand that a twisting in your gut is important. It’s pretty, though. Maybe that was just it. It’s pretty and it’s horrible and it’s mine and that’s, like, life. Or whatever.

There was a certain point, I think, when I was still a round-faced child, when I wore the same coat every day and tied my hair in a ponytail at the base of my neck because I didn’t think of anything else as an option, when I was just a small person who read books with her claws dug into the awfulness of reality, that I realized sometimes people narrate me. Sometimes people–no, sorry. Sometimes men narrate me, sometimes men narrate me and I’m a character in some thing but never a protagonist. Sometimes I’m there but also not, which is a strange thing to feel when you are a human who is always there in real life. I have always known what it’s like to be seen but only sometimes do I know what it’s like to be. Men narrate me and it’s almost worse when the person they narrate, instead of being only secondary and flat, is–something that rings true in a part of me I wish they couldn’t see. If I am not to be described as a person, can I not at least silently own my own complexities?

And what do you do when some boy says “Maria says she’s dying, through the door I hear her crying, why? I don’t know,” when your own life or death is just a beautiful complicated mystery in somebody else’s story, when the response to “she says she’s tired of life” is “she must be tired of something, round here”? That reduction of reality and specificity and viscerality into some kind of quasi-literary observed melancholy, and the way that gaze isn’t not your own self-image sometimes too.

And sometimes it feels like you’re always the subject but never the narrator but the subject is still there, though, she’s right there in front of you and you get it. You don’t know if the guy describing it gets it in the way that you get it, but you know that what he’s describing feels strangely internal even though it’s all external.

And how angry it makes me, to be somebody’s subject and for them to have the gall to be right. To not just be looked at but seen. To identify with somebody that’s not allowed full narration, who isn’t the main character. The girl in the car in the parking lot, he sings, and I think, that’s me. I’m the girl in the car in the parking lot. I can feel the tender flesh of the palms of my own hands and I can taste the back of my throat and I am still the girl in the car in the parking lot. Just light on skin, just this exterior thing, but described well enough that you can feel the insides of it and you don’t know which makes you feel worse: that it might be ignored, or that the whole of it is seen, but still doesn’t quite matter.

The thing about August and Everything After is it’s a boy that says snap her up in a butterfly net, pin her down on a photograph album, but then when he does you look at that awful flattened thing and you realize he’s captured something a little too real, a gross picture of some tender part of you that you never meant to be visible. Especially to somebody who’d frame it.

I guess all I could really do when I was so young and so enraptured was what I’ve learned to do with a lot of things that are about me but aren’t supposed to be for me–take them anyway. It’s this complex damp incredible perceptive album, this album about exteriority and looking and pain, and those outsides, and those insides, and everything, belong not to an emotive singer-songwriter strumming in the background and watching but to Anna, to Maria, to the girl in the car in the parking lot. To me. Maybe you pinned me down, but that doesn’t mean I should be yours to look at.

About Elisabeth

Elisabeth Sanders is from California and owns four different pairs of gold shoes.

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