Small Parts (rough first draft to Difficult Degrees)
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.