When I was around eight years old my grandma gave me a cactus: a small, thick-leafed, green gift of responsibility. It came with the instruction that as its guardian I was not to water it too much as it will drown but to water it just enough, so it could grow to be big and strong. I recall tending to my little plant, dusting off the leaves and counting the days until the next teaspoon of feeding. I have a twin sister and growing up it became a sore point to each of us that despite being completely separate people, all our childhood days we were instructed to share, divide, take half. Birthdays gave us bigger gifts to play with together but this generosity was wasted due to the fact that we wanted to define everything as a belonging, as mine.
I had this cactus, and a glass tub of stick insects, which were my most prized possessions. Insects that looked like sticks fascinated and amused me to an obsession, becoming a most tended to pet. I coloured in drawings of them and made models from the Blue Peter standard household items of sticky back tape, pipe cleaners and just the right sized twigs found in the garden. Privet was cut daily from the neighbours bush and I would spray the leaves with a light coat of water. They started as two and multiplied to being found around the house, as you closed the curtains they would be clinging on or fallen onto the windowsill, dried up into a fossilised crustacean.
My sister and I shared a bedroom, which was divided by a set of flat pack IKEA shelves, allocated as the bottom one for her, the top one for me and the middle one for our shared possessions. In a moment of territorial protection, when, one too many times, I had provocatively tiptoed over onto her side, she pushed the shelves over with a temper and my glass contained ecosystem fell sideways. Emptying the contents onto the carpet she jumped up and down in delight over my precious woody creatures. In retaliation to this act of unbelievable cruelty I took her cheerleading glitter pop-pom and hit it at her right eye. The swelling and bruising lasted at least two weeks.
Despite her mass murder, I got the bigger telling off and following this lost interest in collecting up the soil that had fallen from the plants pot. It dried up with my neglect and I had to admit to my grandma that I had let it die. “How could you kill a cactus?” My child frame misunderstood her reaction to what was low attention vegetation and I felt such guilt over this response, repeating in my mind, “How could I kill a cactus?” And promising that I would never, ever commit such an act again.
Memories reappear in unexpected patterns of association, and my trodden insects re-imagined themselves whilst I was walking across sandy, red-warm rocks of the Joshua Tree. California: the land of fruit and nuts, the golden land of the golden age. Joshua Tree is full of Joshua tress- and cacti. It is an unfamiliar territory and my enthusiasm is heady and real, this desert lies on lay lines and it makes you feel high. Or rather, I am high. Intoxicated with lust. If only they could bottle lust and make it legal, the skin crawling anticipation, anxiety, adrenalin rush of a first kiss, first touch, first f*ck.
Pinpricks of blood are swelling up as my soles start resembling the color of my polished toes, a biblical sentiment, hemorrhaging innocence, with a man much too old for me tending to my feet. It was the consequence of an impractical outfit, worn in an attempt at desert seduction though now I was feeling that it wasn’t the right time for our first time, this cactus having left its print on me deeply, a punishment of disrespect for the landscape. Or the caution of blood, sweat from heat and tears from wanting too much.
My foot is f*cking bleeding and it f*cking hurts. “F*CK.” “You should’ve worn better shoes, I told ya,” The immortal line. I told you so. The overruling authority, I know better. I know better than you do. “It’s not my shoes it’s this f*cking place,” I cursed back, pulling out a cigarette and rolling the flint with my right hand on the lighter, once twice attempted, lighted, inhale-exhale, release.
Cigarettes are a bad habit. They are one of mine. I have many of them. Bad habits, you could call them, I call them vices. I feel life is lived better through vices; at least it’s a sign that you’re living. That you’re living, getting it wrong, choosing a choice that is somehow more sinful than another. Smoking remains a socially acceptable unacceptable flaw. Lighting up you are subtly confessing your own lack of willpower to the passerby, how of course you will quit, you just haven’t got around to it yet, or your own debauchery and decadence because you still look beautiful enough, yet in ten years time you’ll look older than your mother.
I desire. I wish to possess. I want daily. I want things I can have but I want so much more the things I can’t. Of course, everyone knows, anticipation is so much sweeter than the real thing; it’s just this lust intoxication that alters your consciousness. Craving is often followed by pangs of guilt. Seduction is followed by an uncomfortable fumble, nervousness, and the disappointment of skin being real, not the Casanova ethereal fantasy imprinted in your mind.
I could be beautiful; better.
It’s a daily promise the world gives to me for being a woman.
I’ve started wearing pale pink polish on my fingernails, as I read in a glossy that it reminds men of nipples, and they find it particularly arousing. I wondered if the arousement was specifically the pink on the nails coloured like nipples, or the thinking of nipples themselves. Despite my manicured nails I considered that it’s never going to be nipples that I would find arousing, it would be the soft full symmetry of a woman’s breasts. The article had bad grammar but that’s another bad habit of mine.
He took off his shirt, bandaging it over my left foot. We have painfully removed each spine, surgical style remnants to the side of me. The blood seeps into the white cotton becoming stained with this memory. Want is not the same as need. Need is an essential, an absolute necessity. It holds all the essence of what is important in one four-letter word. I hadn’t wanted to need this man; I had only wanted to want him. “I love you”, I say, the words words falling softly from my mouth, an instantly regrettable statement that you are never-ever able to take back.
People say I love you in a manner of saying I want you. What they are really saying is: I need you. That without you, my life-vice would be filled with wrenching moments of sorrow and jealously and heart stopping anxiety. But no one would want to associate himself or herself with such uncivilized behaviour so we cover it up, L-O-V-E. Sugar and spice and all things nice. That’s what love is made of.