I debated sharing this draft but I find that I am eager to. Looking for opinions on if the flow and metaphor are going where I want them to. Thanks.
“Amy, you’re gonna get it,” Nikki tells me. I’m hiding between the lilac bushes, Barbie’s head in my hand. It’s our weekend at our father’s old farmhouse.
“What’d you use?”
“Daddy John’s pocket knife.” I’m not afraid. My father is harmless, even almost scared sometimes.
“I’m telling!” And she runs toward the house. I fish for the knife in the pocket of my dirty overalls and slice at Barbie’s pretty blue eyes so they open. I sit and poke little holes where her pupils are and then I saw at her ratty hair. I lick my bottom lip, almost got it. A pleasure fills me.
“Amy! You get in here!” It’s Grandma Helen—I can see her wiping her fat hands on her apron through the lilac branches. The white house is blinding but filthy. The shutters are falling off. My Uncle Bob saunters up the dirt driveway and tosses a beer can near my hiding spot. He doesn’t see me, I breathe. His hands, I don’t like his hands.
I wait for him to get to the porch before I emerge. I stuff the knife in my pocket and leave Barbie behind.
“Amy, what are you doing? Give your daddy his knife back, you don’t belong with that. Come in it’s lunch time.” I race up the stairs and into the kitchen where Grandpa Leo sits in his brown chair that spins and spins when you lay across it. He’s next to the window, above the lilacs, watching the humming bird feeder as usual, sipping his Old Style. I know it’s time to be good so I toss the knife on the table and take my seat. Nikki and Jodie are already eating their Spaghettios from the chipped blue China dishes I always love to look at, and grandma stands by the counter smiling over us as we eat, her hands together on top of her belly.
The kitchen is a dismal yellow place with large wooden silverware hanging on the wall. There’s dishes and beer cans and paper bags all over. The floor is a brown linoleum that slants down into the next room where Grandma’s organ sits. My sisters and I sing church hymnals with her on Sundays. There are old jelly jars all over, filled with old fashioned candy, and flowers fill white bubbly vases. The floor then rolls into the paneled living room. On my tricycle I barely have to pedal around the rooms. Grandpa’s torn, black leather chair sits in the corner. The first time he gave me a sip of his beer, I was sitting on his lap, picking at the stuffing coming out of the arm.
Daddy John walks into the kitchen on his long, faded denim legs. He wears one of three shirts—this one brown and white plaid with the pretty metal buttons. He sits down at the table and opens another beer.
“Jesus Christ, John. You’re good for nothin’. Good for nothin’. You got three babies here and alls you do is sit around and drink, pissin’ your life away. Can’t even hold a job.” I don’t look at my dad, because he’s silent. Grandpa shakes his bald head. I finish and get up to go outside, reaching across the table, barely reaching the knife but I do, and slide it towards Daddy John and look at him. He pinches my cheek.
Outside we race for the huge apple trees. The pink blossoms fall across the yard like snow and if you stand beneath the two of them, they arch over you and it’s like being in a snow globe. The swing Daddy John built is a board on one piece of rope. Nikki gets there first and Daddy John comes out to push her. I climb the tree, up the nailed-in boards my cousins pounded into the bark. Heavy bumble bees buzz all about in the honeysuckle fragrance.
“Daddy John, daddy—when’s it my turn?” Jodie and I take turns asking. For the first and last time I see my father get angry.
“I’m not ‘daddy John’ I am your dad! He can’t take you’s away from me!” He walks away and out into the field where the hay bales dot the horizon. We follow him, chanting his name.
It’s getting dark and Grandma tells him to put us in the tub. All three of us strip down, shameless with the door open. He fills the tub, sees us and looks away. He gets up and says “Okay, okay you’s, wash up,” and he leaves, making Grandma come in to wash our hair. She calls me Salt for my white-blond hair. Nikki is Pepper and Jodie, Paprika. I know in my bones it is safe here, where Dan’s hands can’t get me.
We march up the nappy green stairs to the room we share with our father. It’s divided in two by an orange afghan. We crawl up into the high double bed we share, Jodie in the middle because she’s the smallest and we don’t want her to fall out. It’s dark up here and my pajamas are clinging to my wet body. Daddy John kisses us good night and says “I love you’,” and walks toward the light in the door, descending the creaking steps. I watch him disappear and then my eyes catch, as they do every weekend we are here, on the haunting picture of The Last Supper. There are golds and silvers and glittery greens in it and it shimmers somehow, in the dark. I stare at it, somewhat afraid and I don’t know why the terror, and doze off.
I sneak up on Daddy Dan, crawling across the nappy green carpet in my scratchy nightgown. Sometimes staples stick up from hidden ridges and prick my knees. The carpet is smooshed like fields after a storm, with mysterious, stitched rivers dividing the landmasses. I crawl to the end of the dull and sticky table. Two owls with glassy, yellow eyes sit on their perch, holding up the dingy lampshade. A glass ashtray reflects golden light. I watch his profile as he smiles and talks with his brother—my new uncle—who sits among empty beer cans on the other side of the dark living room. They’re talking with words I don’t quite understand yet. He laughs, so I laugh. I like his dimples. I like everything about this strange character. My sisters and I are learning how to spell his last name. He wants us.
He hears me laugh and slowly turns an annoyed, oily face in my direction. My hair is still wet from the tub. He puffs a large cloud of cigarette smoke into my shiny face. They laugh. I cough and laugh, too. They keep talking. It means go away.
In the kitchen we’re learning how to spell our new last name. I try to copy my mother’s cursive–the elegant loop of her capital S. “Stevens.”
Jodie looks up from her construction paper of scribbles, “How do we write Daddy Dan?” My mother tells us “just dad is fine.” She likes him, so we do too.
Dan chases me with boots and fists and belts. My feet sweat and slip around in my jelly shoes when I make my dashes for the nearest door, even though I am never fast enough. He is huge and takes up all space. After a while I don’t feel so afraid anymore. I propel across rooms like a boomerang—a strange mixture of euphoric flight and humiliation—and crash into the walls or dressers. Upstairs my sisters sit on their ruffled sheets, waiting for my screams to stop. I didn’t know I was screaming.
It’s best to get it out of the way early in the day. One swift black boot coming at my head means blackout, and I can wake up and be left alone for the whole day to play with my Hug-a-Bunch and Barbie dolls. He locks himself away in the garage, chain-smoking Doral’s and sweating over an engine to Deep Purple. I try to offer him a Coke or Kool-Aid, barefoot in the driveway. I think my sisters and me should clean the house to surprise mom when she gets home. I want it to shine for her.
I am I am I am
I’m standing on the roof of a four-story building downtown in a city. I’ve just taken Ecstasy. I don’t feel ecstasy. I feel what I learned later to be verging on a psychotic panic. I’m going to jump off if someone doesn’t stop me, if someone doesn’t touch me.
The sky is clear. Alisha spins and spins, her arms out “Amy, oh Amy I love you,” her red hair flashing.
I tell her she looks like Satan.
I feel like the roof is going to tilt and my body will let itself slide to its death. I’m too embarrassed to speak; the stars pulsating in time with the veins in my temples.
It intensifies. More so intense because without it I don’t feel anything. I can almost hear the depth pressure when I look over the edge and then run back to the center and fold, wrapping my arms tight around my legs. Alisha is sliding all over in smooth colors. She’s scaring me. And then suddenly I am fire; I am bottomless.
“I am I am I am.”
Sylvia written in my racing brain. And then I see her head stuffed in the stove and I hear the blade wretch back on my wrist. Suicide. The very word gives me metal chills, the way the “-cide” sounds like a knife slash on cold teeth. I can’t take it. And now I start believing I am going to die. It has been per-ordained from a higher power that my heart will stop. ….Now
Alisha’s laugh peals through the air and I choke down my fear of the word. It must be obvious, this affair I’m having with “suicide”–so now it feels like a major question on my lips, but I can’t get up and tell her. She’s holding her breasts through a Dropkick Murphy shirt. The moon high over the rooftop glints on the barbell piercing under her lip. Ed, her boyfriend, makes me think she is a suggestion of a woman, and how will I choose?
I’m a train. I need the ultimate climax in everything I do until I’m repelled by fear—this is all that I have learned about myself, living out here. And that new fear –it’s hard to scare me. Alisha takes my hand and pulls me through the thick air and into the stairwell and kisses my lips, “Let’s go,” and I hold her hand and crash into another night.
I find myself rocking in the dark wet grass behind my apartment. I don’t know how much time has passed since the rooftop. A few people are here and there, bottles of booze and clear baggies of coke. My head spins and then stops, spins and stops. Someone comes out of a threshold somewhere, and I think it’s my dead father, no, I know it’s him. The familiarity I felt when I turned to look over my shoulder was real. The moon shine’s down on a large, flat, white face. A choker with spikes. I am alarmed at this apparition, and then at this ease of myself seeming to slip between reality and delusion. I feel the blood in my temples pound. I’m tearing at the grass, desperately making piles under a calm facade. My roommates are having a party inside and after what seems like hours of confusion, I see clearly, a thought. An act. I have an idea.
I feel myself stalk. My arms sway weightlessly and my hips are on rails. Lily comes to me and she hugs my face and dances in the square of light coming from the kitchen window. “Rider’s on the Storm” is humming and rolling through the house. I scream for Bill to play “Not to Touch the Earth,” and before I realize I finish asking, it shakes me to my core—that high organ keys sounding like an Atari ghost chasing me and I smell brown smooth leather boots and jackets and “Wake up GIRL, WE’RE ALMOST HOME!” And we are dancing. Or we were. Or I just thought we did. Because in another moment I am alone in the quiet grass, easing out of a scare and into a numbing. Not a fine numbing. It used to be fine until it started mattering. It’s easy not to feel. Not even in this pretty, flimsy dress. Not even with this black-eyed makeup. I lie down and let it, inhaling anything that might fill me—be it words or fantasy or pills or gin—until I am brimming with and drowning in just a reflection of myself, pooling into a glass the man I fuck takes a drink from. Electrified flowers. Naked shoulders. Gone.
The Color of Loss
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 scared little girl. I’ve heard this shit before. I’m convinced whoever I once was is dying, because I’m trying to kill her. She doesn’t need to be anywhere around me. We’ve been working hard in psychotherapy since my break-down after “Daddy John” died of alcoholism. But the therapy isn’t based on him, he was just the trigger to what had chased me most my life.
I tell her how I was just a body, just a body making plans, how I’d set weapons up in my room in case Dan came in at night. How I’d wait at the top of the stairs by my sisters’ room to make sure he was asleep before I left them unprotected. How I died inside and everything went blank. 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 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 feed into and out of me; white coats, white blankets, white. Fix me, medical people.
Dark, Dark My Light
The little girls are dancing in white tutus. It is my niece’s dance recital. Last Saturday night. The music is so loud and the auditorium so dark except for the stage lights. I am still smiling from the performance of the previous dancers. The music ends and the crowd roars—this is the youngest group up so far and they are weightless and beaming, pigtails bouncing. They take a cluttered bow together and exit the stage, but before the last six or so make it behind the curtain, one stops, turns towards us, and jumps into a curtsy. The crowd laughs and claps and “aww’s” again. And I everything stops. All I see up there is this lively, wild, carefree child getting a laugh. Her bony little legs twist and she jumps back in line. But I have stopped before that. Because tears are beginning to pour down my face as I smile and clap. It’s dark so I stay, no one can see me. But more music comes on. And faces all around me are shining in the shadows. I wipe and wipe them away but it doesn’t stop. I have to leave. I am not panicking. I am not hurt or afraid or confused or lost. I am sad. Sad for someone I have never felt for.
“Tell me what you saw,” she invites me to do. It is my choice with her. Everything is in my hands.
“It was me,” I can barely say but am not longer ashamed of how I sound when I talk and cry. “She was me up there, all this spirit, getting people to smile at her—and all I could think, like out of nowhere, before I even realized it, was—how could someone want to break that spirit? How could someone take and break her and leave?”
“It’s safe here, Amy. Just let yourself feel that, yeah….you’ve been holding it in. Let those tears for that sweet little girl come. This is the space for you to do that in.”
“I was just so sad, I am sad—for her. Me. Whatever. I am calm somehow, but I feel this, I really feel this,” I take in my breaths and wait for the tears to pass like a yawn, “and it’s not scaring me. I wanted to call Nikki or Jen, someone, out of habit. But I thought about it and realized something I’ve done my entire life—I tell Nikki or Jen or even before—you–what has happened or I write about it and I either guess at your feelings so I know what mine should be, or I watch you guys for cues. Like how you react is probably how I should react or feel. I’ve never just let myself have my own feelings—I never knew how. Until Saturday—well it’s a start. And I am actually pretty excited about it. And I didn’t just shut it off, I’ve been carrying it with me, because it’s real.”
I’ve been seeing Dr. Allison haphazardly for over two years, but have recently made it my commitment to be there every Monday. And after our session two weeks ago, where my barrier busted and I looked at her as if for the first time, and showed her me, through my eyes and crying and less restraint, it was clear to both of us that she had finally gained my trust. At least from what we can tell.
“Like this—“ I tap my thighs and my chest—“this is me. I feel myself in my own skin and I am….I am real. I am made of some kind of substance, I never was—or thought I was,” crying again but it doesn’t matter because I’m talking a mile a minute, “I’ve always felt like these pieces of ….transparent parts—I was nothing—“ and that phrase opens up something inside of me, and I sob harder, “I was nothing.
And I can’t explain how that feels for me for the first time saying that and its past tense. Because I am something, I can feel it. I notice it more and more every single day, for Christ’s sake even on my bike ride down here this morning I see and smell and feel all these things out in the world I’d been hiding from. All these memories—good ones. Last night I was kind of meditating in my own way which is really just shutting off my head and I swear I was thirteen years old again, sneaking V.C. Andrews novels into the camper in my bare feet, the crab apple tree blossoms, the bumble bees near the ground—it was so real like it’s all coming back to me after what, twenty years? And I remembered how I use to make worlds and worlds for myself, playing pretend, imagining all these things and feelings….”
I went home and wrote this:
…my bike ride to Allison this morning and I’ve been mulling it over for a while but never worded it—there is not an end to everything. Anything. I was thinking of this because I was thinking about how I have always pushed and pushed myself to just “get better” and to make it go away and cure myself, heal, recover, that the hell would end. But the thing is “recovery” doesn’t mean getting back what you lost. Because you never will—it’s gone. Recovery is change–like evolution. You change. You change, change, change—good or bad, usually your choice. Like the springs that shot from that embodiment of the death–that piece you lost– are now fuelled with a new strategy, protons and neutrons and whatever-the-hell-have-you imploding your neuroplasticity, and you wake up, and one day you just know, chemically in your soul—the science of your heart–that you are of some kind of substance. So many things that kept you transparent, floating about as a million different selves, had ruptured, and made you sick. Made you mad. Made you hide from the world out of fear that you were dying, when really parts of you were. A midnight bloom. Jacynth. And like I said, you wake up, and you actually look down at your hands, your forearms, your thighs, to your words, to your feelings, to your thoughts and reactions—and they are there, you can actually feel these things as you–as your own. Your own—like living in a world where you were owned and almost destroyed by others—yourself, your one God given right, was never given to you. And one day, after what so many faiths and poets call the darkness—you emerge not in grandeur and answers, but in your own skin, under your say, your command, your voice. “I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.”
The space between
faith and failing—as fragile
as my grandmother’s slip–
those two don’t exist
as I had thought they did.
For a few years
as if from a cave and floating out
into an inlet in an ocean,
left for dead–
your eyes need months to adjust, your breathing
needs to steady, you can’t speak
or understand the horizon
blinding linens, her knotted hands
on the clothespins, pulling down
the white cord beneath white clouds
by the Birch tree; whites
color around my thoughts
as if surviving meant
that the only truth