This essay was born from my desire to write about my emotionally abusive relationship in an experimental way, a way that gave me a window into an otherwise traumatic topic. I’d been trying, and failing, for years to write about this relationship, but for whatever reason, I couldn’t do it using a traditional style or form. Every time I tried, I froze. How to summarize my time with this person? How to get to the heart of the issue? I was too close to it.
In facing the blank page of a traditional essay, I was so worried about transitions, dialogue, story, etc. that everything came out forced or stale. The luxury of using an existing form to outline story is that you no longer have to worry about structural elements. With a hermit crab essay, the structure is already laid out for you; all you have to do is focus on the story, then fill it in. So, I read the WikiHow page for “How to Be a Point Guard” and used it as a guide to write this piece. I read this article because I somehow instinctually knew that I needed the basketball element to get me to the intimate partner violence thread—I’d made the connection between the coaches of my life pulling the strings from the sideline and my abusive girlfriend acting as my puppet master. I don’t mean to say that my coaches were controlling or abusive, because they weren’t, but there was something about my lack of agency in both situations that created a powerful parallelism. For most of my life, I identified as a basketball player, a point guard. I wanted so badly to make all my coaches happy, to do exactly as they said, to perform all of their instructions to perfection. And there came a point, I think, during my abusive relationship in which I stopped thinking about who I was as a person and just who I was to this person—both relationships, in a way, mirrored one another in my desire to please someone else, in the losing myself in service of another.
I also found it easier to be vulnerable when using an experimental form. The form created some distance between, firstly, myself and the piece so that I could manage to write it, but also a distance between the piece and the reader so that the reader can (hopefully) absorb a narrative that can otherwise be draining and hard to sit with. And, in speaking to the specific form of a user’s guide or a WikiHow article, this format, in my eyes, created a sort of trapped feeling—as in, this is the only way to do something. The only way to be a point guard or be a girlfriend to an abuser. And what could possibly be worse than believing that you have no out?
MARISA CRANE is a queer, nonbinary writer whose work has appeared or is forthcoming in Passages North, Catapult, F(r)iction, TriQuarterly, Lit Hub, The Florida Review, and elsewhere. A graduate of the Tin House Summer and Winter Workshops, Marisa is also a prose reader for The Adroit Journal. Her debut novel, Exoskeletons, is forthcoming in 2023 from Catapult. She currently lives in San Diego with her wife.