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Select Memories of Aichmophilia -- creative nonfiction by Naomi Carr

Last summer, I met a boy who wrote a poem about painting a mural with his blood. A crimson first impression flowed off the page like gravity working downstream. I never considered pain a natural poet until I met him. It’s unnatural to capture the feelings lost in past continuous tense, to evade mistranslations between the origin of ache and conception of language. A force of nature becomes artificial under the scrutiny of articulation.

Last month, a girl in the shape of a bird told me I don’t cope correctly. She said crying is better than going quiet. She believes retreating into emotional agoraphobia is frowned upon, but emotional intimacy is like background music. Spoken over. Easy to miss. Someone who cries often would not understand the difference between solitude and isolation, how neither necessarily breeds loneliness. I didn’t tell her I only cry at lesbian weddings. The ones in documentaries because the only wedding I’ve attended was for a straight couple, divorced a few years later. Nothing else can make me quite as sad. I am unfeminine in that way. My father’s daughter.

Last summer, I let a boy drive me to the coast. This was the day Roe was overturned in our sleep. An hour and a half car ride past court precedent and our problems to his grandmother’s house. The hip liberal kind who smokes weed. Cute mutt too. We singed our tongues talking in 90-something degrees, threw ice chips into each others’ mouths to cool off. Burnt our feet on the splintering dock and drove his boat across the delta. I didn’t mind when he asked if his best friend turned me gay. We were halfway across the water when the cliché hit, heard before on Honolulu beaches and FaceTime. I know I’m lesbian and not bi because water melts at 32 degrees Fahrenheit. He bothered to ask even though we were surrounded by a body of it. He could have reached down and felt for himself.

Last April, I learned a friend is scared of birds. Something about the unpredictability of flight patterns, how easily talons could rip open his scalp for a brain matter feast. When explained as fear of uncertainty, it is almost rational. Natural, even. So is McCarthyism and Japanese internment and exploiting my guy friends as boyfriends when my family asks about a lover. Why is it that you’ve never brought a boy home. How every fleshy underbelly succumbs to rationalization. Attach -phobia to anything for a self-justifying prophecy.

Last summer, I left three leis on a Lahaina beach in the grey film of the sun’s mourning. Rocks ravenous, too old to remember all they have never tasted. Eager to breed metallic fury as the undertow awaits just one misstep. Picked garlands apart petal by petal, watched plumeria oscillate in sea foam like the waves of a heart monitor. One for each dead uncle. I never knew the name of the beach. Touristless and frigid. One uncle’s favorite. Everything flows back to the ocean. There was only ever one lei. One beach. One uncle.

Yesterday, I cut my bangs alone in my room and skipped all the Lana Del Rey songs on my playlist. Criss-cross before the shrine of the floor-length mirror. An intermission between legal theory articles that I pretended were Cosmo. Scissors are a sort of ritual object. My mother’s, designed for this opportune moment. I suppose we each have our own sharp fixation. I left the hair on the carpet as a memento. An offering for the birds.

Last week, my supervisor rambled for my lifetime about how the institution will never love us back. This was after she said the museum would cut our internship for the next fiscal year. A moderate economic crisis or something. Hypocrisy only matters in slow motion. All love is unrequited, at least in part. I imagine the museum’s atrium as a good listener, the type that would go quiet after a while. In the belly of hollow stone, you can hear your heartbeat. And your breath, among breathless objects that do not talk back. Marble facade has never seen a lesbian wedding. Institutions do not know how to cry.

Last March, I chopped off my hair four months prematurely and let the trashcan keep the remnants like a war prize. I wasn’t supposed to cut it until the summer, or ever. For my kumu hula, for the art form, for the culture. My hula teacher is the landlord of my hair. I pay overpriced rent on the weekdays. Excommunicated eighteen inches that were never mine, collected over thirteen years. Scissors are the object of only the most sacrilegious rituals when love and sacrifice are not the same. Reclamation through absence is an all-or-nothing principle. Mine or no one’s. Dyed it red a few months later to mark what’s mine.

Last week, I tasted the kaleidoscope of Lacanian psychoanalysis for an AP Lit paper. It all came back to Hamlet somehow. Mirrors are only optical illusions. It is a lie to say we have any idea of who we are. A shattered mirror is not unlike a puzzle that when assembled is really a diptych. A mural of blood on the side. Nonaction is the best course of action. Do not bother to nick yourself on the edges of a broken reality.

Last month, we learned about psychological disorders in AP Psychology. Self-harm sat next to suicide in the back corner of the depressive disorders chapter. Dedicated two paragraphs of textbook real estate, no mention in lecture. The mere exposure effect says that repetition creates preference. Sometimes, it can paint things into existence. I see a pretty girl daily. I start to like her. More discussion of self-harm in classrooms. Increased rates of self-harm among students. That shouldn’t be surprising.

Last year, a girl told me she picks her thumb raw whenever her mother criticizes her. This was before she turned into a bird. She feared her pain wasn’t enough without calligraphic scar tissue to spell it out. I’m not the type to tell someone she doesn’t cope correctly. Instead, I offered insight into pain’s relativity. Your skin doesn’t need to look like mine to say you’ve suffered, too. Scars are the broken vehicle of translation. Severity knows nothing of validity. There’s no threshold for being enough.

Last week, a girl in the shape of a girl whispered in my ear how she found her friend in the back corner of the AP Psych textbook’s depressive disorder chapter. I sat up in bed as the last hour of talking become background noise. The weight of this secret sinking my body into the wad of blankets. I wasn’t supposed to know this, she said, but reality becomes more true on phone calls after midnight. Closer to 1 AM she asked for advice I couldn’t give. I know you went through it and—. The textbook doesn’t mention how to help. How to make him stop. I told her everything I knew. Which was only that pain is a debt paid off in time.

Last April, my friend suggested we get our AP ID labels tattooed on us. A momento to remember one form of pain by the face of another. Black barcode forever on his forearm, my shoulder, her wrist. Despite his fear of birds. My fear of needles. To surrender the skin to an aversion. Betray the psyche. Aichmophilia knows nothing of consistency. Contradiction is permanent ink, the alchemy of transforming pain into art. It is the itch to be transformed.

Last year, I got over my fear of needles. Something about repetition. Exposure therapy. Tolerance. Extinction. This is a year after I stop cutting. Rationally, there is little difference between poking the skin and cutting it. If measured in the volume of lost blood, a drop is less painful than a mural. Pain is a natural poet, but poetry is irrational. Like tattoos, haircuts, fearing birds. Like love and fear themselves. Attach -philia to any forbidden thing as if naming it made it a natural occurrence.


Naomi Carr is an alumna of the Kenyon Review Young Writers Workshop and a 2023 Adroit mentee. A two-time National Scholastic Gold Medalist, her work has been recognized by Susquehanna University, Ringling College of Art and Design, Columbia College Chicago, and the Bay Area Creative Foundation, among others. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in Apprentice Writer, Vagabond City Lit, Sepia, Lumiere Review, and more. When she isn’t writing, Naomi enjoys studying political philosophy.

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