xTx is a writer living in Southern California. She says nothing at notimetosayit.com.
After reading Normally Special, if I knew xTx’s legal name, I’d file a restraining order. Maybe she’s Aileen Wuornos. Maybe she’s a wiccan living under A.M. Homes’s bed. I don’t know, she freaks me the hell out.
Though sometimes brutal, sometimes devastating, I couldn’t look away. Especially not from the skill. Not from the beauty. Not from the truth. xTx is a voice unlike any other I know.
Understand that this is bone goodness wrapped in massacres of lovely, & if I wasn’t before, I am now an official fan of xTx.
xTx’s stories embody the terrors, wounds and deep emotions that tremor through our bodies as we walk around in our daily lives, pretending everything is alright. Nothing is alright of course, but xTx turning our hidden selves into meaningful stories helps a whole hell of a lot.
xTx’s Normally Special is a collection of the painful stories women tell themselves to make it OK for the stories to have happened in the first place. Each story is an open secret. The kind strangers will read right off your face.
When I was little, I begged my parents to buy me a diary. They said I had to call it a journal. “Boys don’t have diaries.”
I asked my parents if I could still tell secrets to a journal. I had a secret I didn’t have words for yet. My parents humored me. I know they laughed later. We lived in a small house. “Ha ha. Boys don’t have secrets.”
I trusted my parents not to look at my journal. I left it out. I drew a penis on the first page. My parents found it and had a fit about how genitals are a private thing and I shouldn’t be drawing them in my journal. My journal was also supposed to be a private thing. I learned there’s no such thing as privacy, even though Americans sometimes have that illusion because the United States is so big. Everyone spread out and hide!
Normally Special is like a diary of different women’s secrets. It’s more complex than that, though, even if these are some of the shortest stories you’ve ever read. We live in a culture where small is supposed to equal simple, but reading Normally Special makes you feel like you’re in a closet that’s somehow bigger than the house around it.
In “The Duty Mouths Bring,” a woman is breaking down boxes in a factory while trying not to break down herself. She feels a duty that seems like pride, but by the end of the story we realize she’s a mother struggling to feed her children, her “smaller mouths.” As she says early on, “There are no choices in poverty.” You do the things you have to do, and you have an audience, and each member of that audience has a mouth telling you its own painful story. There is no privacy because everyone is connected.
Normally Special refuses privacy even as the characters in each story cling to it. In “Water Is Thrown on the Witch,” a woman is hoping to drown the fantasy she has when she sees her husband’s empty clothes laid out, as if he melted while getting ready for work. The woman isn’t afraid her husband will find out she has this fantasy. The woman is afraid to acknowledge the fantasy even exists, as if by accepting the fantasy, she’s accepting she’s the type of person who would have the fantasy to begin with.
There’s a relief in confession because the secret is no longer a secret; it’s a shared piece of information. But the woman in “Water Is Thrown on the Witch” doesn’t confess her fantasy. She buries it. The horror is that you can give something so empty a meaning so uncomfortable you refuse to confess the secret even to yourself. You can’t read your own diary because of what it might say about you.
Normally Special is full of these small potatoes that turn out to be rocks when you try to eat them. The people in these stories aren’t just scared of revealed secrets. They’re scared that other people might be unfathomable too. This is more explicit in some of the longer stories, like “The Mill Pond,” where fascination with a stranger and implied child abuse are different glasses of the same Kool-Aid. People will agree to be together in hideous ways before they’ll ever be alone.
I said Normally Special is like diary, but it’s not the kind of diary you would keep writing for years. It’s the kind of diary you would burn after one entry. These stories walk the line between keeping things to yourself and keeping things from yourself. There’s fear and denial in that, of course, but there’s also relief and surrender. You made your mark. You survived. Now move the fuck on.