I trick myself into a stutter every time I think I’m going to begin writing this. It’s easy to do, because after all, how can I write a memoir when my memories are clusters and boils and sighs. There are the body memories from the post-traumatic stress, there are visual flashes, elegant lights, dark corners where I whimper, peaks on which I soar, voices in my head from the psychosis, and the enchanting scents of lilacs and motor oil on rusty tractors. There’s my mother in the eighties, vacuuming the patchwork carpet she made herself in our hazy, smoke-filled low-income house where I had my favorite purple striped dress and an Oscar the Grouch pillow case. There was the opening and closing of the front door where my drunk father stood in warm light, me watching him from the old yellow couch that had green swirls in it, wrapped in my mother’s brown and orange afghan. Pinesol. Bread, The Guess Who, Cat Stevens and Carly Simon. And then the hidden tracks that my mind seems to so desperately seek these days–the long droning songs of my stepfather molesting me. I don’t know what he did. But my body does. I see snapshots and clips of his jeans, the dreaded belt, the sound of the belt, and a video of his own children in child pornography, and I can’t tell if I’m actually there with them on that tire swing somewhere by a lake, being told to touch, or if I’m being forced to watch the video he made of it, him behind me, talking softly, guiding me. I was five. Late at night, when I missed my real daddy, I organized all my stuffed animals over and over and kissed them each exactly the same, and if I showed one too much affection, I had to start over and I’d cry. Then I’d sneak into the bathroom, roll up washcloths, and try to penetrate myself with them. That was how I could fall asleep.
I was the middle child, curious and I think a little wild, and I had to be brave. I wanted the tough role. I wanted to be held like a baby. I wanted to be saved. I wanted to be super and save myself. I know these things because I still want them–an opening into some unscarred part of my heart still wants them. To be weak–he taught me what weakness was. So did my mother. I interpreted weakness as backing away from danger, holding myself, crying, and shying away from instinct and fear. Fear was my instinct, it is now more than ever, but then, being just a girl, just a statistic, just a warm body, when someone takes away from you your core, your selfhood, you find it much easier to empty yourself again and again, to be rid of yourself, to destroy what’s left, for as long as you can, until grace steps in and you break.
It was the year the Internet was just a word mentioned on the news, shadowed by the first flight of the Space Shuttle Columbia. Innovations in science and medicine disrupted the hazy yellow lull of the seventies, waking the acoustics of the time to everything being sudden. Children learned that test-tube babies were being born in labs, the AIDS virus was identified, red-dotting all the local maps in doctors’ offices. Computers promised speed. Cat Stevens and Eddie Rabbit lost their footing to Michael Jackson, Queen, David Bowie, Blondie, but, most importantly, John Lennon. MTV buzzed through the fuzz and men in purple and yellow make- up cause mothers to feel their age. Jimmy Carter was at the end of his presidency, with Reagan winning the elections eleven days after I was
born. Now I know my mother and father moved several times to different low-income houses, but what I remember is the farm. My daddy came from thirteen brothers and sisters and two Polish parents who had an old, run-down farmhouse on a couple of acres with a broken part and one humongous pig, just on the outskirts of town just out past the hospital. I was the second of three girls and to save money we all moved in with Ma and Pa out on the farm.
There was always people there, aunties and uncles, cousins and extended family. Most of the thirteen brothers and sisters took turns living with Ma and Pa. Most of them were drunks, chain-smoking in the yellow kitchen, pinching our dirty cheeks. Nabozny; Polish hillbillies who knew how to have a good time and knew how to keep secrets. Many secrets.
Chapter ?? Sixteen
I am in my room in the basement. My best friend Janelle and I painted it white and green. We put red scarves over my lampshades and wrote our favorite song lyrics in marker on the wall by my closet. Curt Cobain hung over my stereo I saved up for, and a sheet covered the door to the bathroom–the only bathroom in the house with a shower. The shower was made out of painted blue cinderblocks, and when you stepped out, you stood in front of a secret two-way mirror my step-father put up after he ‘accidentally put a hole in the wall there.’ He’d sit on his stool and watch us shower and undress. We suspect, but were too afraid to say it. I am in my room, frozen in the mirror. It is the first of many times where I don’t know my reflection, and instead of fear I feel only a shadow of it, but I’m mostly numb. The numbing had been creeping up on me like a patient beast in a fairy tale. I stare into my irises as a hand reaches up and brushes purple eye shadow under and around my eyes, black and blue. I like my bruised face. I take more purple and brush it under my cheekbones, slow, long strokes until I look deathly ill. My face doesn’t flinch. Her face. My face has become, in one afternoon, a she. A girl I don’t recognize. A someone else. I feel a rush of accomplishment and make my way upstairs into smoke-filled dining room. I say hi, I ask what they’re doing. My mother looks up and says nothing. It’s quiet but for the chatter of commercials coming from the living room. I go sit on the couch. Dad’s glassy eyes fall on my breasts.
“Hi.” I don’t feel anything.
He looks away and nods. I search for my sisters. Nikki’s in the kitchen doing dishes. I try the same, but nothing. She even looks at me but sees nothing. I go back downstairs and stare at the girl in the mirror. There’s something sad about her dark eyes. There’s something so real about those bruises. I sit in the corner up against the wall so I can hide my crying. It was out of fear, this empty fear, that I cried for. Because I knew I was changing. In every sense I was slipping. I was losing friends because I had nothing to say anymore, I didn’t want to be anywhere. My very brain was changing and I knew it, even then. And I knew that whatever was creeping up on me would come back for me someday.