Beneath the Skirt
When I look back, I see that I am a stamp of a girl, blotched and bleeding red ink, hot-pressed onto an abstract landscape. I am straight lines with spaces. I don’t move or feel or speak. I am just a mark, transparent over the black, solid angles of moving memories.
I Don’t Hear Anything
It starts with noise, scrambled noise and ugly faces—a slideshow of askew images—not of the world so much, but of myself. It’s like broken shards of glass left on the insides of a frame–pieces of mirrors—that once reflected whole images.
It’s not the imagined ticking of the clock on the doctor’s desk. It’s not the scratching of a crayon in my opposite hand. I press harder and harder with some repressed release that slides across the puddles on the construction paper where the tears are falling. I don’t hear anything around me but distant voices and lines, clinking glasses and my blood pressure in my ears. Iron doors, laughter, and that deaf singing sound of silence, empty and hollow. It is quiet in this room with its heavy lampshades and aboriginal maps. I don’t hear anything in this limbo; I don’t feel anything.
She’s pushing me hard. I want to say, “What is there to push?” I have nothing. She’s convinced someone is buried inside—some frightened little girl who needs. I’ve heard this shit before. I’m convinced whoever I once was is dying (and she was never a frightened little girl), because I’m trying to kill her. She doesn’t need to be anywhere around me. I enjoy watching her choke out and dim. I want to tell this psychotherapist, and ask her, “Then what?” What happens next? Because I can’t create someone out of nothing. I can’t start over. I can’t create what you want or he wants or she wants or I want. I don’t want anything but to float about through the day, but my body is always shaking and then I can’t breathe. They took me to the hospital and some small part of my mind wanted to go. Some small part of me. Small parts—that’s all we really are, aren’t we? And in the grand scheme of things this is all insignificant. We’re just statistics. Facts. Bodies filing into clinics for revival and pills and assessment. A small part of me wants to lay in a hospital bed for the rest of my life, watching tubes be fed into me and coming out of me; faceless and white, white coats, white blankets, white. Fix me, medical people. I can’t stay how I am, and I’m too terrified to go ahead because then I must go back—and that’s where I slip and lose. The slip is like a cancer—one that won’t kill you after you can’t take anymore. A part of your brain doesn’t understand the difference between physical and mental; all you know is there is no God, there is no point, there is a vast whiteness and you can’t see color. And you can’t hear.
A small part doesn’t want me to give up, so I return to Deb’s office, every Wednesday, at eleven. She tells me to re-raise myself. I want to tell her she’s fucking crazy. I knew there’d be some kind of bullshit homework. But I don’t resist, because I’ve finished some strange, sick, and beautiful drawings heavy in crayola, and I oddly feel lighter. I take my assignment home and work on it for two years.
Sing, Little Piece
My biological father’s side: Old Style, manure, wet lilacs, rusty chains, worn blankets, and the fat pig behind the farmhouse. I remember watching that pig through the horizontal wood slats of the fence as I stood in the black muck—or someone was holding me so I could look up and over at the wild pink blur grunting in its pen. Treasure hunts: encouraged by our wasted father and his ten brothers as we searched through beer tabs, broken glass, and rusty tools for anything pretty. Then we were flying behind the tractor in our radio flyer, dad looping around the wild apple trees that dropped pink petals into our laps, around the plum trees and dogwood, to the road, and then back down the dirt driveway. Sometimes he’d take us on rides in his brown car with the two heavy doors. I remember the flash of leaves against the windows as I sat up front, clinging to my older sister when the door on my side flew open—dad reaching across our dirty knees to hold us in or reach for the door, juggling his beer on the wheel. I don’t remember feeling fear or elation, just moments.
We saw him every weekend after my mother divorced him. I was three, maybe. Out at the farmhouse, grandma waited in her plastic apron. We were always the special guests. There was the smell of pepper and mashed potatoes. There were blue, chipped China plates. She cackled through broken teeth and kissed and squeezed our cheeks. The walls were a stained yellow and the house was more of a cramped shed, like the ones that tilted toward the fields in the back. I liked to look above the stove where a giant’s wooden spoon and fork hung. I imagined eating with those. White metal cabinets smeared with greasy fingerprints filled the kitchen in a menagerie of cigarette smoke, tin cans, burnt pork chops, boxes and jars, ashtrays, dirty pots and plates, and potato peelings. Grandpa sat in the corner by the window in his soft leather chair with the cracks in it. It was on wheels so we had to stand on his lap to see the hummingbirds he loved to watch out the window.
“John,” he’d say to my dad, “you ain’t no goddamn good, never was. How you gonna take care of them girls? How many times…” It was something to that effect. My dad sat across from him, rubbing his gentle giant hands across the plastic tablecloth, looking down through his thick glasses that looked like the bottoms of mason jars. He was defensive but shy, and he never said much except “I love yous girls!” and “its ok, daddy’s here.” I only saw him angry once—when we told him we had a new daddy. He did one thing without saying a word—he walked away fast enough so that we couldn’t keep up.
He was very thin and lanky, well over six feet tall. He chugged beer in slugs that sent his Adam’s apple bobbing fast. Jodie, the youngest of us three girls, is a red-head. Grandpa called her Paprika; she was grandpa’s girl. Nikki, the oldest, sat on dad’s bony lap. They were inseparable. Her hair is the color of chocolate and they called her Pepper. I was Salt and I lay across one of the leather chairs on my tummy and spun and spun over the linoleum.
Before bed, dad cleaned out the tub and put us in sudsy water with every toy we could fit. He was shy about seeing us naked. He drank a beer. We explained to him about “private parts” and that it was ok. He told us we shouldn’t talk about stuff like that.
Grandma waited at her organ for us and passed around the jelly jar with Old Fashion candies. We’d sing with her as she played, her eyes closed and head tilted up to the painting of a man with thorns and a red heart.
Like a routine slumber party, to the little shoe closet we’d march and then up the green stairs to our bedroom. We shared the largest bed in the house that faced us directly toward a 3D of The Last Supper. It haunted us every night until we fell asleep. In the morning we’d split through the yellow blanket that divided our side of the room from dad’s. Sunlight came in through the holes in the shade, and he’d smile and say, “Good morning my girls!” and kiss and hug us.
There are gaping black holes in my memory of these years. But suddenly I didn’t want to see him anymore. I was terrified of leaving my mother. I was terrified I was going to have babies. I hid in corners shaking. A doctor told my mother I may never remember, and it was probably for the better. I learned to keep secrets so well that I hid them from myself—I still don’t know what it was I kept. But I remember the aftermath: a child with a desire for sex, and for that forever severed part of my life that involves intimacy and faceless entrance.
All the Dolls
I’m to play the daughter. The mommy is hidden in a house full of chatter. And the daddy can’t be an alcoholic, because that’s bad, because that means he loves to drink more than he loves me. My new dad shows me what love is. We watched videos together; videos of my step-brother and step-sister on a tire swing, being told to touch each other. Their expressions are stamped in my memory—tired, giving, long, and ashen. Obedient. I know the voice that talks to them from the camera.
When the mom doesn’t hide, I am relentlessly chased by the daddy with boots and fists. I have to keep my mouth shut; only I don’t know what I can’t say. It’s a testing zone in a three-ring-circus, with physical conditioning for a pat on the head, or to be left alone. My sisters sit tight and tense on their ruffled beds, waiting for my screams to stop.
It’s like an addiction outside of myself, but it’s deep within the chemicals and molecular structures, they say. It’s like a habit my brain can’t kick. It’s long and I get tired of manipulating my thoughts and molding them to a stigma. When I get tired, it takes over so easily and I lie down and let it. I inhale it as it comes and it fills me to the tips, until I am brimming with it and drowning in the emotions I’d made stagnate. I feel its effect and I scratch at my walls—these walls that always came back—and I scratch for the top because there is no ceiling. I reach for the top, the lip of the cup, the tip of the pill—anything—so that I can just peak outside and see that it’s still there, waiting for me to take.
It was all a time in a glass; a composite of lyrics and vacant plans, with an emptiness in my hands when I looked around for what I thought I was holding. But the losses were icy and impenetrable, just clinking around loud until they dissipated in my cup.