Adoration revisited, part nine
Welcome to Not Knowing How: Adoration Revisited, a capsule newsletter by Lisa Locascio Nighthawk in sixteen parts. Names have been changed. The version of events is my own.
It begins like an itch in a place I can’t reach, a persistent noticing, a sense of dangerous possibility that expands to fill my subjectivity. Someone I knew before or someone I’ve just met, it doesn’t matter, because now they are different. Set apart. Made available to my wanting self.
I am dreaming without meaning to dream of the moment we will be together, in whatever fashion, the real moment and the imagined moment, the consummation. But also I want to never consummate. I want to float here forever in this state of possibility and dream. If my longing crosses out of the realm of desire and into action, the delicious tension will be lost.
I want to want forever.
Maybe the crush is my innate artistic medium. It is the art I’ve practiced the longest.
I count out my crushes, remembering the way I wanted them, the stories I made up about them, the things I did to gain a memento of their touch. The boy I chased around the playground, wanting so badly to catch him that I sank my teeth into the toe of his sneaker as he stood above me on the jungle gym. The boy whose Scholastic Weekly I fished from the trash so I could possess a sample of his handwriting in the completed crossword. The boy whose yard I told my friends I’d dug a shrub from in the dead of night and replanted it to my own. Did they believe me? It didn’t matter.
When I was very young I had baroque, fairy tale dreams that put me in bedrooms with my crushes, in castles and heraldic tents. Their names are a rosary of my past.
I wanted girls, too, in a way too occult to collect in a list.
How powerfully my crushes shaped my reality. Dreams and visions. I wished for the day they would notice me, want my want, take heed of it. For this I would wait as long as it took. I knew I would wait forever. I lacked the social capital to be an acceptable match. Being liked by me would make the object of my desire a pariah too. This restraint shaped in me a will to lead a life of high seriousness and swooning desire.
This week I received a message from an elementary school classmate I don’t think I’ve spoken to since elementary school. Lisa, didn’t you dress up as Catwoman?
Yes, in second grade, in the wake of Batman Returns, I told my parents I wanted to be Catwoman for Halloween. I loved the heroic neuroticism of Michelle Pfeiffer’s performance, the sadomasochistic intensity of her transformation. At eight, I wanted that for myself. My mom got me a costume and I wore it to school for our seasonal party.
I have always been meticulous about costumes. The year before, I had dressed up as Jasmine from Aladdin. It snowed that Halloween, and I’m still mad that for trick-or-treating my mom ruined my look by making me wear a turtleneck under the top with flesh-colored illusion mesh that created a faux-exposed midriff.
I don’t remember where we got my Catwoman costume, just that it satisfied my high standards. Sleek and stretchy black lycra printed with white stitches. A boy at school that day—a different one than the one who wrote to me this week—told me over and over, “I really like your costume.”
I guess he wasn’t the only one. My classmate wrote to me that seeing me in my Catwoman costume catalyzed a realization for him, sparking a crush. “From then on you were Michelle Pfeiffer to me,” he wrote; later he saw Basic Instinct and I guess that made him think of prepubescent me, too. I wish I’d known. I liked him. I told him I remembered a gym class when he showed me how to swing a bat, standing behind me, his arms wrapped around mine. I thought something was there, but then I remembered my undesirability, told myself I was making it up.
At thirty-eight I have lived over and over again my old fantasy of confessing my crushes to their objects. There have been some satisfying moments—upon hearing the news as he drove me home from an AP European History dinner junior year of high school, a boy I’d loved in middle school braked in the middle of an intersection. But I have always approached the object of my desire first. I’ve never been on the receiving end before. I am the one who makes things weird.
Is it actually possible to get over a crush? Asking for a friend.
This part of my life did not change after my life as a sexually active person began and it became more common for people to express desire for me. I was still, am still, furtive and specific in my tastes. I have a public heart and a private heart. My crushes picked up speed, became vivid and bright and flexible, private, indomitable. Through high school I was always up to some business with my male friends, longing, requited, unrequited, impossible. A silk I spun like a web. I could try to resist what I wanted, but it found me all the same. The fine sharp object of my desire.
In college and after I was in love with a close friend for a very long time, with great intensity. I confessed my situation to him often, staring him in the face, wondering what he would do about it. Somehow we always made it up to a joke.
I consumed everything I could consume of him. All I could do to release my desire was press my hands against things he had touched. This inconvenient need escalated until the day I was left alone in his house after he went to work.
Overcome, I let myself into his room via a hidden door he had blocked with a dresser. I moved my hands in his intimate air. Fingered his clothes, looked through his drawers, my heart shrieking. Touched the papers on his desk. I laid down in his bed and buried my face in his pillow.
I wanted to fall asleep there, for him to find me later, for my drama to be rushed to its stunning conclusion. But I was electrically awake, filled with a tenderness so pure that I knew I had pushed things too far. Acting on what I wanted would take my greatest pleasure away from me.
I remember so much, but I can’t remember the surname of the Elizabeth with whom I was an intern at Farrar, Straus and Giroux in 2007, a strangely blithe girl who had a habit of issuing insults while wearing a dreamy, measured smile. At the time I knew her I was tortured by this crush on my friend, trapped in my desire for him. When I confessed my situation to her, tearily, as I would do to almost anyone, Elizabeth beamed, looking into the middle distance. We were in Manhattan; she, too, had a boyfriend, some man who lived in Texas.
“I like telling my boyfriend when I have crushes,” she said, insanely. “It’s fun.”
After that I knew she was nuts. Crushes are my secret, dragged out of me with the tuning fork of intimacy, humiliating and alive. They may be obvious, but to me they feel obscure, remote. Some crushes I get to transform into lovers, others remain at arm’s length forever. They are the sigil of my inner life, powering me forward into art.
I try and try to understand why I want the people I do, that elect council, populating my mind for years at a time. Why I’ll do anything to learn about them, how they are the root of my special skill for clandestine internet research, my habit of edging myself with meaningful gifts and professions of supposedly platonic love.
A realm in which my abjection is power. My creativity calling to me, winking at me as it dives beneath the waves.
“Pug” is my favorite song on Adore. It is one of very few genuinely sexy Smashing Pumpkins songs, perhaps the sexiest. There is a thread of sound in the band’s history that begins with “Eye,” the song that Billy recorded alone for the Lost Highway soundtrack, and “The End Is The Beginning Is The End,” the band’s contribution to the Batman Forever soundtrack, which leads into the sonic world of Adore, where “Ava Adore” and “Pug” bring it to fruition.
The lyrics have always made perfect sense to me, matched to my own experience of desire. “A tale of sexual misanthropy, no less dressed up as a delusional pop song,” Billy called it, and I like everything about that, but I think he’s dodging. A confession of desire is an act of submission, which is as everyone knows the ultimate fantasy of a powerful person.
This performance of “Pug” at the Fox Theater in Atlanta on August 4, 1998 contains so many of the elements I loved about The Smashing Pumpkins when they were at the center of my life. Billy’s performance tics, his lip curl and back and forth lean, the one-handed guitar work, the outfit on its way to his now bog standard performance garb of a long black dress. The way he and James trade off playing lead guitar, that smooth and ineffable coolness of James and D’Arcy.
Lately, when I watch videos of the band, I have the sensation that loving Billy wasn’t so much about wanting him as it was giving myself a space to flow into. I watch his movements, his difficult personality, and I feel comforted in my own trouble being myself.
I think I had some idea that being a writer would be like being Billy Corgan.
There is a story about a correspondence I had as a teenager with a man connected to the band that turned into a crush that, several years later, turned into an ill-starred relationship. I was going to tell it this week, but “Pug” deserves better. It has given me only pleasure.
Thank you for reading! This is the ninth of sixteen installments of Adoration Revisited, which will be released every Friday between December 2, 2022 and March 17, 2023. If you enjoy my newsletter, I’d be honored if you share it with your friends. And I’m always interested to hear about your obsessions and memories.