I’ve been thinking about tentacles this week. “But Gentle,” you cry, “Do you not think of tentacles during every waking moment? Is that not, in point of fact, your fetish?” It is, O Best Beloved, but I have many fetishes, and I have to cuddle them all roughly equally or they get grumpy and start to sneak out at night. And also, it’s a metaphor, so hush up while I’m pontificating.
When we’re alone, when we’re unhappy, we cling to others who offer us comfort and companionship. We wrap our tentacles around them, and they around us, and we cry for them to hold us tighter. Untangling is painful, and leaves raw, glowing sucker-marks on our skin, fingerprints on our heart.
They don’t wash off - I’ve tried. They don’t wear away. They do change, and shrink, and become less obvious with time; I’ve learned to incorporate them into the pattern of my coat. You may not notice that everyone around you has spots of their own, scars that have faded to stripes. People leave their marks on us whenever our lives intersect, whether for good or ill, and we make them part of the creature we’re becoming.
is about a tentacled creature I met at the bottom of a Well
, who wrapped me in his arms and tried to keep me there. I was lucky that this only happened the once, and so unsuccessfully - he came into my life at a time when I was beginning to realize how warped my reality had become, and when my body reacted to him with animal terror and revulsion, I was just barely able to discern that something about this relationship was very wrong.
I didn’t get out clean, quite, but I got out alive. Based on what I experienced, I don’t think I’m being dramatic when I say that there were other possible outcomes, ones in which I wouldn’t have been the only casualty.
It’s hard to see, that close. You can only see the tentacles - you don’t see the teeth. One of the faintest marks on me from that time was one that saved me, one that came from far enough away to have better perspective. I met a man named Mike - naturally; based solely upon my romantic history, I can confirm that between forty and sixty percent of all white boys are named Mike.
This Mike was a gentle hipster in the classic mold - curled moustache, craft beer obsession, basement full of anime posters and expensive computer hardware. I met him in a bar, where I painfully tried to conceal the gouges in my arm that I’d made with a plastic stylus the previous week. It’d been about ten years since I cut myself, before that. At thirty years old, I’d forgotten the excuses I used in high school. I no longer knew how to conceal the fact that I was falling apart.
When he looked at my scars, his eyes got soft and sad. When he looked at my face, he didn’t seem frightened or disgusted. I loved his company because he didn’t ask me to be better than I was - when I had no words and the world felt like sandpaper on my skin, he put a VR headset on me and held me while I lay immersed in a field of stars. When I laid naked in his bed and asked him to fuck me, he said, “No.”
That had never happened before. There had never been someone who got close enough to see how bad things had gotten for me who then had the strength and maturity to set a boundary. He was the only person I met during fifteen years of drunken misbehavior who said, “You’re in a really bad place right now, and I don’t think my dick is what you need. You are not safe right now - not for me, and not for yourself. It might be an idea to talk to a professional about that.”
That’s the mark he left - a warning from someone outside the bottle, one garbled message from Earth that said: “Ground Control to Major Tom - your circuit’s dead, there’s something wrong.” He didn’t stay in my life long, but I held onto the memory of his mercy - the negative space, the anti-scar of a blow that never landed. I remembered that he didn’t take advantage of me, the wounds he refrained from giving me - I remembered that a lot during my years of therapy and recovery. I remembered that, just once, a normal human being thought I might be in trouble, and hoped I might be okay.
So tentacles - and scars, and boundaries - are things I love. So painfully, leaving marks on my skin I’ll never erase, they pulled me out of the Well. They saved me alive from the water. And now I do their will, and wrap you in mine, and say: “Take care of yourself. Ask for help. Reach out, entwine, and pull close. Hold on.”