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If you feel different, you drive different, drive high, get a DUI. From the cut and Gimlet Media, this is the cut on Tuesdays, I'm your host, Molly Fisher. The Internet is full of people who are asking in one way or another, is this normal? They're wondering about the error message on their iPhone or the tingling they noticed after trying that face mask or the faint bluish green sheen on their bacon. Sometimes there's a straightforward factual answer.
The bacon thing is normal. I've checked, but sometimes the question isn't about food or beauty products. It's about love. And for those questions, there's the relationship.
Sub Reddit is yelling normal asks one recent post. Boyfriend is highly critical. Is this normal? Asks another. My girlfriend's insecurities aren't normal, are they? Asks a 30 year old guy leading the reader just a little. Is my boyfriend a bit of an asshole, or is this just how relationships go? Wonders a 25 year old woman. The board's got something of a cult following, and periodically one of the posts will go viral. Usually one of the wackier ones, like a guy who's vengeful ex won't stop sending him Game of Thrones spoilers.
But underneath the surface level Internet wackiness, there's a hunger for knowledge that most people can recognize.
Is this just how relationships go? Because it can be lonely when you're stuck inside the walls of what's happening, when you're the only one in this particular relationship with this particular person trying to make sense of what's going on? It's a feeling that's captured in all those Reddit posts. And it's also the feeling captured in Carmen Maria Machado's new book, In the Dream House. Carmens, a writer who's known for unsettling stories that deal with sex and gender. You could call some of them horror stories.
And the new book tells a story from her own life when she's been grappling with for years.
When Carmen came by the studio to talk, her book was just about to come out to have finished copy on my desk and it was the first one Carmen had seen.
Oh, it looks really it does. Congratulations on that. I have never had a hard cover before. Big momentous occasion.
God. Oh, wow. This is really. Oh, wow. The story inside that book begins when Carmen was an MFA student at the University of Iowa. That's when a friend introduced her to a woman who would change her life.
I mean, she was beautiful, really sexy, and she felt really worldly, even though we were roughly the same age. But she spoke French and she had lived abroad and like she had went to Harvard and like she was just gorgeous and like she was funny and like and smart and like I was just completely taken with her.
Near the beginning of the book, Carmen describes the feeling of meeting that woman for the first time. She writes, she touches your arm and looks directly at you and you feel like a child buying something with her own money for the first time. Carmen was into her and to her shock, the dream woman seemed to be into her, too. She really liked me and likes me in a way that was obvious to me, which. It's not something that happens very often with me, so I noticed it and that was really sort of caught off guard by it.
I had always sort of been necessarily the pursuer, but I feel like I was always sort of like an active party.
Yeah. And with her it felt like the opposite.
She was just very attentive and like did that stuff that people do, which is where, like, they touch you a little bit, but it just a little, you know, not in a weird way. And it was like this thing I'd always wanted, which was like somebody loved me and like was sort of chasing me. It was it's fairy tale. Yeah. Yeah.
I mean, it's like a thing that if you haven't had it before or you don't have it as sort of a matter of course, it's as it turns out, like the most intoxicating drug.
Have you heard about love? Kirby knew she was attracted to women. It was something she'd known for a long time, even before she'd really had the language to express it.
I mean, I grew up, you know, in the 90s in suburban Pennsylvania.
And I did not like I was queer, but I didn't realize it because I I thought that it was normal for you to think about kissing your female friends, you know, like, I was like, oh, this is the thing that happens.
But like, I didn't have the context of like, that means that you're not straight.
Even when she was out, she was kind of shy around women for a while. She defaulted to dating men. Some of them were perfectly nice. Some of them were less nice. But almost always those relationships felt like something short of a grand romance.
I had dated many like tech guys in San Francisco, and I feel like there was always this dynamic that I had were like things were being explained to me about what guys did with their jobs.
But I feel like I sort of knew how to navigate that. Like if you let a guy explain things to you and he and also, oh, God, if you let him explain things to you and then fuck you, you'll have a boyfriend.
Yes. Yeah. Like, you know, explain things to you. You know, you let him fuck you like then that's kind of it. Right. And I mean, that's very reductive and kind of fucked up, but I can't believe I just said that out loud. And obviously that does not apply to a lot of people. But definitely I felt like I had a handle on a certain kind of relationship.
That's like the Soylent version of a heterosexual is like you can make it work totally sort of like gives the necessary caloric content to constitute a relationship.
And the dream woman walked into her life, she never had a real girlfriend. And as Carmen got to know her, she began to see the contours of something better than a meal substitute relationship, something more like Thanksgiving.
It was there in all its bounty offered up just for her. She couldn't believe her luck. And then at some point, we, like, hung out one night and watched the brave little toaster. Sexy, very sexy. And, you know, we just sort of inch together.
And I mean, that was that Carmen had found her first real girlfriend, someone who is beautiful and wanted her, someone who was worldly and experienced and knew what she was doing.
I mean, I was like, oh, my God, this is what I've been waiting for.
They declared their love for each other, decided to be exclusive, decided to make things work long distance while they both attended grad programs in different states. They took long road trips together and met each other's parents. They were building a life together. But while they were doing that, there would be moments where Carmen found herself wondering what was going on, like one night while her girlfriend was away and Carmen was hanging out at home watching the movie Flatliners with her two roommates.
I watched the first like ten minutes.
And then I was so exhausted that I passed out. And when I woke up, I realized that my phone was not with me.
And when I went to get it, it was charging into the room. She had called me like all these times that I had responded. When I called her back, her response was, well, who have you been? Fucking like, where have you been?
She barely knew what to say. She'd been sleeping through a Kiefer Sutherland movie at home, the third wheel on her roommate's cozy night in.
And I was like, I'm literally I've been sitting here, Aunt Laura, like we were just watching Flatliners. And then she was like, no, look, I know you were fucking somebody else.
Like, you got to, you know, tell me, you know, she was just and I was like. They're right here, I will give you the phone, and I remember, like John and Laura were like standing near me and I was like, I'll give you the phone. Like, John will tell you, I was here the whole time. I was just asleep.
And I I went to go hand him the phone.
And I will never forget his face because his face just looked like like it was like full of, like, sadness. He sort of like shook his head a little. And I took it to mean like he's like, I'm not going to do that. This wasn't an isolated incident. Carmen's girlfriend accused her of sleeping with dozens of people, her friends, her girlfriends, friends, her exes, her teachers, her students. The director of her MFA program, Kerman learned not to talk about acquaintances who might set her girlfriend off.
But there were other things, too, the way Carmen's girlfriend would call her a narcissist any time she was proud of something she'd written or the time after a fight, which you grabbed Carmen's arm hard enough to leave a bruise. And then there was all the shouting over the phone, loud enough for Carmen's roommates to hear.
She was trying to get me to, like, have phone sex with her. And I was like, you know, my roommates are like really close by. I feel weird. I don't want to do that. I feel weird. She got super mad at me and was like, you don't want to fuck me. Like, you don't think I'm hot. You don't think I'm attractive. And she freaked out and she's like, I'm breaking up with you.
And I was like, super hysterical and like, hung up the phone. And my roommate came in and he sat down next to me and was talking to me and and I was like sobbing and was like trying to tell him what had happened. And and she started to try to call back and she kept calling back and I kept rejecting the call and she kept calling back. And finally he, like, very gently took the phone for me and took the battery eggs.
And then it was like I had no battery for a few hours. And he just sat there with me and. And then eventually I put the battery back in the phone. Inevitably, inevitably, you always do. Inevitably, she put the battery back in and inevitably she called her girlfriend back then, she was crying hysterically and then she's like, what happened?
Why did you break up with me? And I was like, what are you talking about? And she was like, You just broke up with me. And I was like. What like by the end of that conversation, I was like, maybe I did break up with her and I don't remember. Why do you think in that moment when you had your lovely friend, your roommate, like there with you being like, OK, this is not OK, it's not how it's supposed to be.
You still were like. I'm going to have to put that battery back in, you know what I mean? I think it was something probably akin to an addiction. I mean, I never I feel weird saying that I know addiction is a kind of disease, but I feel like it was like it was hitting some note in my brain that I needed.
And the idea of being without her was. Unthinkable. And then the other sort of problem I was having was because she was so experienced. As things got worse, we would have these like really bad fights, like she would scream at me and I would be crying so hard I was like dehydrated, you know, that sort of level of. And then she'd be like, this is what I like to date a woman. Like, it's more emotional, it's more intense, like basically like get used to it.
Carmen tried to get used to it.
And part of her believe that maybe this was just what dating a woman was like. She found herself thinking about all the times when her dad would talk about how women were more emotional, more sensitive.
She always told him that was bullshit.
But what if it turned out he was right because this relationship was more dramatic than anything she'd known with a man more volatile and more scary.
One time after a night out with friends ended with her girlfriend calling her a fucking cunt, Carmen decided to sleep alone on the couch. Her girlfriend wasn't having it first. She yanked away the sheet Carmen had borrowed the knelt beside her to scream directly in her ear. Carmen ran away and her girlfriend followed her. She was screaming and throwing things after her first suitcase, then one shoe and another, before Carmen got to the bathroom and locked herself inside.
But then as suddenly as it began, it would pass. When Carmen finally emerged from the bathroom crying, her girlfriend was sitting on the couch. What's wrong? She asked. Why do you look so upset? Carmen didn't know what to do.
At one point in the book, she captures that uncertainty as a choose your own adventure story. It goes like this breakfast. You scramble some eggs, make some toast.
She eats mechanically and leaves the plate on the table. Clean that up, she says. She goes to the bedroom to get dressed. If you do as you are told, go to page 169. If you tell her to do it herself, go to page 166. If you stare mutely at the dirty plate and all you can think about is Clara Barton, the feminist icon of your youth, who had to teach herself how to be a nurse and endured abuse from men, telling her what to do at every turn.
And you remember being so angry and running to your parents and asking them if women still got told what was right or proper and your mom said yes and your dad said no.
And you for the first time had an inkling of how complicated and terrible the world was. Go to page 171.
No matter what pages you pick, the story leads you in circles winding back to the same, beginning another morning where the fighting starts when you've barely opened your eyes.
It took a while before Carmen could choose a different adventure, but eventually she found a way.
That's coming up after the break. The following message is brought to you by Nizza. Everyone knows about the risks of driving drunk, you could get in a crash, people could get hurt or killed, but that doesn't stop everyone.
You could get arrested or incur huge legal expenses. You could maybe even lose your job. We all know the consequences of driving drunk. But one thing's for sure, you're wrong. If you think it's no big deal, drive sober or get pulled over. Welcome back. This week, we're talking to Carmen Maria Machado. Her new book, In the Dream House is the story of her first real relationship with a woman. It was exciting, but it wasn't easy.
And as her girlfriend became increasingly controlling, Carmen struggled to understand what was going on. She got to a point where she couldn't imagine a way out. And then suddenly one appeared. She had cheated on me, which is on the list of things she'd done was by far the least bad, like it was a non-issue compared to everything else.
But then Carmen's girlfriend told her she was in love with this other woman and that she could it be an attentive girlfriend while she was in love with someone else. Carmen was dumped. She was heartbroken.
For the first time in a long time, though, she realized she was free to choose a different adventure. She started leaving her phone at home as much as she could, training herself not to reflexively reach for her pocket. She started going to the gym with a friend and realized she could deadlift and run. Her ex did make one last attempt to pull her back in. I was like at the gym and I got my phone out of my bag and I had like a bazillion calls.
Like there was just like all these missed calls. And she left me all these really insane voicemails. And there was like, I love you. And then like, fuck you, you fucking cunt. And then like, that's going to be like, I need you.
Then her phone rang again. She ran to the parking lot, her phone ringing and ringing and listened as it rang the whole way home. She knew what was waiting on the other end of the line at home as she tried to figure out how to block the number. Her roommate blasted noise metal and banged on a pot with a wooden spoon yelling, Resist, Carmen, resist. It's funny.
I mean, it's funny in this very, like, fuck boy sort of way. And it's weird thinking about that on the sort of the tail end of, like, what was actually like a horrifying and abusive relationship.
And I don't I don't like it feels weird because those parts were really funny. I had a friend once told me this phrase that I love, which is this thing that happens.
It's like when somebody when you're breaking up with somebody and they send you dislike avalanche of like stuff, it's called the dying wizard.
It's like a wizard that's like blasting out like like speeds of like shooting every direction. But it's like really chaotic. I when he told me that I laugh, I tell myself I was like, that is the most accurate description of that, like final sort of burst of that sort of I'm trying everything. I've got my arsenal right now. All the spells are being everything all at once.
But I luckily dodged all of it for so long. She'd been trapped inside her girlfriend's world, my girlfriend's version of how love worked and what was normal, she'd finally made it out.
Now, she was looking back over everything that had happened alone with the story for the first time that she was trying to understand it, when I ultimately went looking for writing that articulated my experience, writing that talks about domestic abuse between same sex partners.
I found very little and I was like, this seems incredible to me that this does not exist. Like that seems sort of unthinkable.
There are memoirs out there by survivors of all kinds of trauma. But Carmen found surprisingly few about the trauma of women who are abused by other women.
It wasn't a story the straight world was telling, and for a long time it wasn't a story the queer world was telling much either. Still, she caught glimpses of that abuse in court cases and legal records, and Carmen found one case in particular that fascinated her.
These women in the early 90s, these women that were all in prison in Framingham, Massachusetts, for murdering their abusive spouses. And they joined the like therapy group inside of prison and then became known as the Framingham eight.
These eight women had all been in abusive relationships that ended when they killed their partners.
Now they were seeking pardons. And one of them, Deborah Reed, was a lesbian.
Deborah had been convicted of manslaughter for killing her partner, Jackie. And while many of the Framingham eight were ultimately pardoned, Deborah was not all throughout her case. It seemed like no one, her own lawyer, the court, the Board of Pardons, had any idea what to make of her story.
They were like, oh, it seems like you mutually battered each other, which is another sort of myth of same sex violence is that if it happens, it must happen equally in both directions, that if you're the same gender, you must be equally doing the same thing.
In the letters Deborah wrote to the Massachusetts Advisory Board of Pardons, Karmon found something like a secret memoir, Debra's account of her own experiences.
You wrote about first meeting Jackie at a bar called Charly's. She was the nicest person I had met in Massachusetts since I got there. Deborah said Deborah had never been with a woman before, and she felt like Jackie was teaching her how it worked, telling her how she should act and what she should wear, and most importantly, that Jackie should be at the center of her life. She wrote, Jackie would grab me and embarrass me in front of other people, telling them to stay away from me because I was hers.
She did this all the time. I remember once a Charly's I was at the jukebox and a man came up to put money in the jukebox, Jackie ran up to the man and said to him that I was already taken. She started cursing the man and threatened to hit him with a two by four. Jackie had also started to threaten Deborah and to hit her and to choke her until she blacked out. The relationship lasted four years, until the night when Jackie threatened Deborah with a wine bottle and Deborah stabbed her.
I was just really moved by her and I think about her probably every day. For some reason, Deborah really just stuck with me. Why do you think that is?
There was this quote that I found on this essay about Debra, which was when she was on trial for her girlfriend's murder, her like brother, I think it was like brought her address to where because she didn't have a dress. And and when he showed it to her, he's like, here I brought you this dress to wear, her first thought was, Oh, she's going to kill me when she sees me in this dress.
When she's on trial for killing, she's like, Jackie will kill me if she sees me in this dress. Carmen knew what it was like for someone to have gotten inside your head that way, it's been years, but she still has the habits she picked up with her ex. She always half expects someone to demand to know where she's been and accuse her of cheating if she doesn't say the right thing. Yeah, like having that sense of like, oh, my God.
Like, I like that. That's still in me like it was ever going to be out of me. She knew there was at least one person out there who'd recognize what she'd been through, the woman her ex had been dating just before Carmen. And when they first got together. So she got in touch. I reached out to her and we started talking.
And it was really helpful getting to talk to another person who had gone through this kind of situation with this exact person I could speak to. And like I think I spoke to a lot of her experiences in the sense that, like, it's easier to give advice to another person than it is to take that advice yourself.
Right. So talking to her about her experience with her ex, I felt like I suddenly was getting context for what had happened to me. And she felt the same way, but in the you know, the other way around. And so it actually ended up. Yeah, working out really well and by really well, Carmen means really, really well, so spoiler alert.
My my wife, my now wife is my ex's ex.
The woman Carmen was commiserating and comparing notes with is now Carmen's wife. They've been together seven years and married a little more than two.
My wife is amazing. Her name is Val. She's the best thing in the world.
I love her and every time I do anything, I go the National Book Award ceremony. I have like a really fancy interview. I go out of town for like a week and a half. Every time I'm like, if I were still dating her, this would be terrible.
And when I think about Val and how much I love her and like how how supportive and kind I look at her, I'll be like, do you like do you do you realize how bad this would be right now?
Like how pissed she'd be that I was I was you. Something happen to me. And I was like, yeah, that would be terrible. Carman's found someone she doesn't have to explain things to Foul already understands, and it's like a thing that like it's not like we were together, but certainly like a it's a weird perk.
But there's still the question of what readers will make of it all in the Dreamhouse is Carmens attempt to help build the archives she went looking for after she broke up with her ex. It's the kind of book that would have made her feel less alone. Deborah read stories in there, along with the other stories Carmen found buried in academic footnotes and news reports of old court cases. And of course, there's Carmen's own story.
What does it feel like to have this in front of you now to the other side of writing the book and to be thinking about putting it out in the world?
I mean, it's really scary. I would be lying if I said it wasn't scary. I if you asked me how I feel about it, I'm like, not great up. This book was really hard to write. I was really in a bad place working on it. And it's like I want to take it out in the world because I think it's important and I'm glad that I wrote it and I'm proud of it.
But I also am very tired. And the Taurus even started yet. Oh, I'm glad we got you before you know it.
So what I really, really, really do appreciate it. No problem.
Carmen's memoir In The Dreamhouse is out now. You can also read an excerpt at The Cut.
We're taking a little time off for the holidays, so we will see you in a few Tuesdays.
They. The cut on Tuesdays is produced by Sarah McVee and Kate Parkinson, Morgan, our senior producer, is Kimie Regular, were edited by Lynn Levy and Stella Bagby. Special thanks to Olivia Nat'l and Caroline NYTs, mixing it by Emma Mongar. Our music is by Emma Mongar, Hayley Shaw and Peter Leonard. Our theme song is Play It Right by Sylvan Esso. The Cut on Tuesdays is a production of Gimblett Media and the Cut.