top of page

A Personal History of Hysteria (and Other Natural Disasters)

By: Zeynep Bayirtepe

Art by: Zeynep Bayirtepe

I sleep with the curtains open, like an eye that holds the night back. I hide under the window sill. I have one eye. I am a hurricane. I ask those who survive me for their stories. I make them talk to me in long sentences, elaborate pauses, big words, and banned allegories. Scribbled on the soles of their red shoes are the names of their past lovers in blood-thick ink. I send them home with hearts made out of gum wrappers, confessions derived from stolen time, and confetti made out of censured praise. They click their heels and think they made it home on their own. I let them go.

This is no cautionary tale. Unlike the wild women destined to be tamed in pursuit of company that ornate the famed stories of the 19th century or the manic pixie dream girls of today, obliged to exercise their whimsy and emotional turmoil for their audience and perish in dignity, I carry the burden of my emotions as a flag of resistance and declaration of intent. Emotion and reaction fight and yearn inside my belly. They swirl into catastrophe and eventually, me. In a world ruled by brief encounters, relationships scheduled on calendars, first dates that mostly never happen, wikiHow manuals on how to love and be loved, and politics of affection, communication, and friendship, it has been hard to confidently feel. How does one protect love from being an offense or a violation? In lieu of the journals that once belonged to me, but are now burned down to a pile of illegible ashes in charges of heresy, I want to decriminalize my words and my handwriting, make peace, and start a dictionary of scars and memories, vices and virtues.

on attention:

My mother mixes a modicum of love and madness into being and being in misery. Competition is the magic ingredient of my misery. I fantasize about living in a world that subdues currency, where my words feel less like shopping lists and more like a masterless gospel. It’s an atrocity to live under threat, to strive to be seen, to write to be read. I’d like to write myself a looking glass and pull the curtains down for once. I can’t sleep with the curtains down without fearing I would miss out on the day. Only when I know you will wake me up in the morning, can I bear to forgo windows and close my eyes for the night. I desperately try to drink from a cup full of honey and rub some on scars from restless nights. When I’m with you, I promise myself tomorrow, but nothing more. I would like to learn how to share and be brave. Yet, I am terrified to one day find out that once people close their eyes, I cease to exist.

on being:

Would it be so horrible to cease to exist, to fill the cup I’m in for once, be fluid and friendly, to quench the thirst, to know where to stop and how to die? Is it a crime to want to be without seeing where I end and the other begins? Laying claims on eyes and feelings, nerves and colors, time and past tenses, and handing mine out for the taking, I gift the gift of being more. You tell me we are here, in the present, now. I want to look at pictures and tell stories, remind you that you were there all along. I want to remember your childhood. Memories are nothing but myths unless we share them.

on boundaries:

I can only look at the concept of boundaries from across the border. It is infused with icy American individualism, and also distinctly independent. I have no entries for that kind of freedom, I doubt I will ever need it. If conclusions didn’t feel like promises I won’t be able to keep, maybe I too would be made out of sharp and pretty lines instead of all this smoke. I hate to feel like an intruder. I hate to be locked out. I hate to invade and I hate to be deprived. I want to know. I want in. Breathe me in.

on communicating:

Honesty and vulgarity are children of communication. Sisters, both aching to be heard, make blurry what is said to be heard and what to be released. It gets harder to tell apart the points made from the pointed edges aimed to maim. It renders poetry written on the walls vandalism. It’s no longer fair to pick fights with the walls that rise against my face. (I do not have a right to you.)

on feeling:

It’s hard to think of things literally, in their physical form, with their aches and secrets and secretions. It’s hard to be a body (solely some body, sometimes a little more). I like to think of myself with a big dark cloud around me, ready to cry and laugh and rain, full of words and silhouettes. It’s a bad omen, it’s a harmony, it’s a violation to be me. I write and rewrite scripts so my words sound less like lines and more like truths. I don’t know how to be or feel without putting it in words you would understand. I like it when you speak to me in your mother tongue, fully convinced that I will understand you. I do. I wonder if you catch me kiss the faith you have in me and keep it under my pillow like a kid’s treasure.

on intention:

Like an album left on repeat, I’d like to be memorized, eternal, present. It is a gift to be sown into time, to be a habitat, and to know that even if it is just this world, this world in particular wouldn’t have a sky without me, and would leak like teardrops from an ancient jar without a cap on. I quit counting days and weeks and months now that they don’t build up in anticipation of something more, a ceasefire, a breach of contract. Waiting is for those who believe in being on time. If I weren’t late to everything, I don’t know where I would be.

on intimacy:

Is it worth it?

The voices cry. Intimacy is a glowing ball of fire we tiptoe around. We don’t want to wake her up. Every once in a while she rises to a good morning and everyone takes shelter and counts the minutes. She burns alone. Spells names and jokes and flattery to death.

It’s a bit much. An upsetting sight to see.

i wish i was less tired, less high.

i wish i bled less.

it’s weird how normal it all felt

to be so normal is to deviate. you call this freak of nature special, a miracle.

you make it look easy, and when things are easy, i like to bite a hole in my heart to make things interesting. i stare at the sun, and hope you step into the shadow.

on holding on (holding on holding on):

The marks of the past are like stains of tears and paths of water. To know there was life on me before makes me feel real. Desolate lands proud of fertility, I start a garden in the eye of my sickly mind. I make waiting rooms uncomfortable, I pace back and forth. I prove points and don’t know how to enjoy things that happen in front of me. In the alternate plane behind my eyes, I die striving to be a better person. I forgo an honorable death and loudly lead an embarrassing life.

on hurricanes:

When disaster hits the heart, you have to recite not only what you know to be true but what you think is beautiful. That’s where I’ll meet you to paint the horrors of my love in shades of the morning sun. I’ll repent and you’ll stay. You will live in glory. I’ll live in your stories. It will be a revolution, covered in blood and light, we’ll welcome a new day and a new age of love where everything is allowed. In the eye of the hurricane, we’ll make ourselves at home.


bottom of page