Topping from the Bottom

When your body is a tool to inflict pain upon yourself

Susannah Breslin
Sep 24, 2019 · 6 min read
Image Credit: GeorgePeters / Getty Images

I.

It’s years ago, but in your mind it may as well be now, and you turn your back to the nurse, and your spread your ass cheeks apart to show her the rash that circles your asshole. In a series of humiliations, this is the one you will remember years later. At the time, it almost seems normal — one more tie in a railroad track of horrors that’s your life. Months earlier, you were diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer, but now you’re in the thick of it. At first, the chemo wasn’t really that bad — your hair clogging the sink, the sensitivity around the gum line, the slight sense of fatigue. Then, things progressed. One day, you will try and tell people what it was like — that, truly, the drugs were killing so many cells in you that it felt as if you were dying — but you won’t be entirely sure that you’ll believe it yourself. Back then, it was all a weird blur: the sores opening up in your mouth, the people gawking at your baldhead, the bone pain. The afternoons you lay on the sofa watching the clouds track across the blue sky, and it felt like someone was wrapping their hands around your bones and squeezing. The underlying sensation that when it came to your body, you were just along for the ride.

II.

It’s more recently, and you end up having sex with this guy you used to go to high school with. You’re either bored, or angry, or somewhere in between, so you get him to do the stuff that you usually get them to do in order to make yourself feel more alive / less dead / at home inside yourself. Eventually, you’re on his bed, and he’s got one hand wrapped around your throat and he’s choking you because that’s what you want, and he’s hitting you across the ass because that’s what he wants, and you’re debating whether or not to tell him to slap you across the face because there’s just something missing. Maybe you’re getting too old for this shit. Maybe you’re not drunk enough. Maybe no matter what you do, no matter how many guys you fuck or how many times they leave you bruised, you still can’t escape yourself. It’s all a cliché, at this point. But what else are you going to do? Really, you’re topping from the bottom — and he knows it, too, which is why he hates you a little bit. Sure, one more guy gets to feel like he’s in control of you, but the reality is that it’s all a set up — a stage you arranged upon which you try to obliterate yourself. It’s an exercise in forgetting you can’t get away from you.

III.

In the Valley, you see everything. On porn movie sets, you bear witness to the human condition laid bare. Two guys bounce out of a closet and knock over a blonde starlet pretending to be babysitter. A Polish girl at a bukkake gets cum in her eye and the director tells her not to rub it because that’ll only make it worse. A superstar who looks back over her shoulder and tells her co-star: Take it easy on me, okay? Eventually, your mind goes numb. Over time, you can feel the dissociation as it happens. Soon enough, it’s not a temporary state but a full-time fugue. At home, you watch porn movies in which middle-aged men dress up like babies, and Germans eat what appears to be human feces off a plate, and some guy you date procures you a bestiality video in which a terrifically sad woman fellates a border collie. You tell yourself this is some sort of protracted study of humanity, but in reality it’s a reflection of whatever you’ve hidden inside of you.

IV.

You try and go straight. You always do this. You get tired of sinking and start climbing. You stop letting guys choke you out, get married, and only watch porn behind closed doors when you think nobody’s listening. The girl who’s in pain gets locked in a closet, and every time you pass it, you plug your ears and sing a song so you can’t hear her calling out to you to release her. This is a great plan, but it never, ever works. Eventually, the girl in the closet always finds the key. Then she starts running around, tearing apart the straight life you made for yourself. Everything becomes a mess, and you’re reminded of the fact that there’s nothing wrong with the world: There’s something wrong with you. This girl’s trouble. She makes you get divorced, tells you to move across the country, and eats too much. She’s a glutton: for food, for sex, for punishment (meting it out and taking it). You hate her, because she keeps ruining your life, but you kind of love her, too. She wears too much makeup and black short dresses and takes a lot of prescription pills. What would you do without her? Nothing. Nothing at all.

V.

Days, months, years pass. You get older. Your face cracks, your tits sag, your butt collapses. You’re no longer a sex bomb, and there’s no one left to hurt you for you. One day, you walk into the kitchen and pick up a cleaver. It’s time to start hacking. With a swing, you remove an arm. With another, you take off a leg. Things are getting messy — the linoleum’s a little slippery — so you take things up a notch. You put down the cleaver, pick up a spoon, and scoop out your eyes. You feel around until your fingers wrap around a pair of scissors and use it to cut out your tongue. You use brute strength to rip off your ears and stuff them in the garbage disposal. There’s something emancipating about the process. With less of you, you feel lighter. The lights are out, so you no longer have to survey yourself in the mirror. There are no words to say — not ones that make sense, anyway. Even if some Romeo showed up and tried to save you from yourself, you wouldn’t hear him calling out to you. Somehow, you manage to stagger out the door. A few minutes later, the neighbor calls the police. Apparently, someone has fallen into the ravine behind the row of houses on the street where you live. As you slip through the air, you muster up a heroic grin. Joke’s on them. You’re through.

Gay Mag

A new magazine from Roxane Gay offering some of the most…

Susannah Breslin

Written by

Author | Editor | Consultant @susannahbreslin

Gay Mag

A new magazine from Roxane Gay offering some of the most interesting and thoughtful cultural criticism to be found on the Web. Our first quarterly is coming in June 2019. We value deep explorations, timelessness, and challenging conventional thinking without being cheap and lazy.

Susannah Breslin

Written by

Author | Editor | Consultant @susannahbreslin

Gay Mag

A new magazine from Roxane Gay offering some of the most interesting and thoughtful cultural criticism to be found on the Web. Our first quarterly is coming in June 2019. We value deep explorations, timelessness, and challenging conventional thinking without being cheap and lazy.

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