Febos’s second book, Abandon Me, examines the many loves of her life—lovers as well as family—with her distinctive blend of lush language and relentless intelligence.
There’s a line in the book about not being able to trust your own stories. Have you ever started writing, then recognized you weren’t telling the truth?
Truth is just skin-crawlingly uncomfortable, isn’t it? So yeah, I did. I think with almost every essay in the book, there was some moment when I cracked and realized that I had to sink down to a deeper level of honesty about it and I panicked—and then I did it. The title essay was definitely the hardest. I had intended that it be about 40 pages long, and it was about 150 pages. I sent a draft to two very trusted readers. Both of them came back and said, “This is lovely, but this is not what happened.” My one very close friend said: “I was there, I was on the phone while this was happening, this is a beautiful story and it’s a story that the other people in it will be comfortable with, but it’s not the true story. So if you want to write a beautiful story that nobody’s mad about then this is great. But if you want to do what I know you do in your writing, then you have some work to do and you have to get real.”
Why wait so long to tell us your ex’s name? We see her on the first page of the collection, but we don’t see her name until the last essay.
Particularly in the first half of the book, she was this sort of universal love object—the beloved. She was this fantasy that I was craving and chasing, and that I think I meant to compare to my other beloveds, to all my beloveds, and to the way that my parents were beloved to each other, and the way the sea was a beloved of my father. I think in some ways the book is about that consuming craving for the perfect love object, and no one can ever be that. It’s like a craving for God or something—something more than human.
Do parts of your own memoirs seem hard to believe?
I’m no longer retroactively shocked and terrified by my own drug addiction and having been a dominatrix. When I write about something, I tend to exorcise whatever sort of demons or unresolved little caves of feeling in me that I have on reserve. I clean it all out when I write, and so that material doesn’t scare me anymore. The love stuff still scares me. When I was writing Abandon Me, it was almost unbearable sometimes to have to put to words things that I did and ways that I felt. Those feelings and those acts were the woman I least wanted to be up until that point in my life—it was my worst nightmare. Thankfully, I think your worst nightmare coming true can be the best thing that happens to you. There’s a good reason why we don’t say certain things out loud, but in order to write about it the way I wanted to write about it, I had to name it as directly as I could.