I used to steal fruit.
It wasn’t really stealing. I never did it at the store. It wasn’t fruit burglary. The fruit-taking involved no willing offer, though I was always invited into the home. A guest. How can I explain this?
If I came to your home before, hmm, 2005? My relationship with your fruit bowl may not have been entirely consensual.
Fruit is sort of “on offer” anyway. It’s in a bowl, like candies would be. Nature’s candy. Take one. I didn’t open cabinets (very often). I didn’t rifle through crisper drawers. It’s in a bowl in the center of the table, so the arrangement is implied. Grapes are easy. An apple can be picked up and bitten into, no problem. An orange is trickier. I may have once taken a pineapple.
There’s a difference between being offered a snack and just taking one, between consuming the apple whilst in someone’s home and slipping it into one’s bag. I know this. I’m not stupid. I’m saying I’d take your fruit and slip it in my bag. For later. When you weren’t looking. That’s why it was stealing.
“Can I have that orange?” I said once when visiting someone’s house.
“Oh, sure.” There was a slight pause. I didn’t know the person too well and I sort of blurted it, apropos of nothing. “Let me get you a napkin.” She finished.
“No, I just want to have it, not eat it.” I said, slipping it into my bag. No shame. Just desire. See, asking for the fruit was progress for me, so seeming weird wasn’t my first concern. Nowadays, I’m usually only concerned about “seeming weird” in hindsight and only in that “I hope I didn’t make anyone too uncomfortable” kind of way.
Your fruit bowl is never totally safe. Neither are you. Life involves risk. And sweetness. Life involves unuttered offers and many—too many to count—mild transgressions. It’s good to have a snack along. It’s good to share.
I’m grateful for what you’ve shared with me.
I have been in danger, endangered, lived my life with danger and now I am quite comfortable almost all of the time. Certain moments call in strange thoughts and I do what I can to soothe them as all who’ve felt threatened will do. Continuing to feel endangered skews one’s view of the world. We are all holding some kind of damage. Multiple forms of damage, most of us. Even the relative safety of not needing to protect oneself daily from gender affronts or racial affronts renders people defensive and fearful that their safety will be taken. Victims seem like monsters for pointing out that they have been treated unjustly. As Sarah Schulman explains in Conflict is Not Abuse, feeling superior to others and being traumatized by others can both lead to a tendency to escalate conflict. This is the thing about damaged people. We know how to escalate a little fear. We also know how to soothe fear. Remember that story about which wolf you feed?
Healing is episodic. It doubles back and trauma breathes again. In certain moments, all things are true and then progression is linear once more. If you’re afraid you might not have enough food later, take the fruit. That fear may be irrational, but you still deserve to soothe it. If you can do something to increase your own peace—if you can allow a friend to nourish your peace, do it. Taking the fruit is better than not taking the fruit. Asking for the fruit is better still.
It’s best to expect that some days, a person will not be able to listen,
or will not be able to respond to you
as though they’ve understood you
even if they’ve done their listening best.
It’s appropriate to assume goodwill.
Sometimes all a person can do, on a given day or month or year
is to pick up the suitcases from one apartment
carry them down the hall into another,
open a window, think of dawn, consider leaving town
but stay instead.
Sometimes, all a person can do is
carry the suitcases into your bedroom,
hastily push one under the bed,
throw the other on the clean bedspread,
fling it open and let the dirty monsters out.
When I tell you something about myself
I want it to feel important
that I have chosen to share with you.
When time passes between us,
I want it to be filled with small moments
that let me know your tendencies
and tipping points. I want to know
what fruit you like and when you like to eat it.
Sometimes I will help you with the peel,
accept a morsel from your sticky fingers to my mouth,
remind you that the smell
of fermentation coming from your bag
needs tending or there will be flies, infection.
A bad time will come if you don’t keep cleaning it up.
I will look into your eyes and touch your hand.
Sometimes though, you won’t let me near.
I will wait, turning to my own affairs
without a bad word about you in my mouth.
I know you think the telling is worse than the truth;
you are mistaken. We can recognize each other,
even save each other’s lives in certain situations,
then harm each other later. That’s why
I have to look after myself.
You should too.
That’s why I forgive you. You should too.
You saved me once and I won’t forget that our stories
are printed front to back in the same book,
that privacy is constructed of particle-board disintegrating
in the humidity of teardrops, that our narcissism will not protect us.
There is grace and raw power in admitting
that we are not alone and often guilty.
Touch is important,
as are the fleeting facial feature changes in a real conversation.
I don’t need to leave you forever in order to find me.
We need poetic understanding,
reasoning without full form and punctuation,
knowledge without clear criteria.
Sometimes, progress has holes in it,
more breath and fewer words.
Just put it down and look at the water.
Watch the way the waves come in sets
how the liquid eddies, drains from the sand.
There’s too much stress in shame.
Get guilty; get grateful; then get up and go when you’re ready.
I have been a thief and I have learned to ask, not take.
I was taught that my hunger was wrong.
I am sorry for how I looked at you
when it seemed like that was your fault.
I am resilient. I have been the sweetest
star fruit in the bowl; when
your hand moved toward me,
I surrendered with every cell.
When I feel properly entitled to take my place and you feel properly entitled to take yours then we are just people solving problems, making beauty, offering love.
Rumpus original art by Rosie Struve.
Excerpted from Damaged Like Me: Essays on Love, Harm, and Transformation, by Kimberly Dark. Copyright © 2021 by Kimberly Dark. Reprinted by permission, courtesy of AK Press.