Monthly Archives: June 2013

The Day I Disappeared

Three days.

I should not be here.

The desk is constraining; I can feel its weight around me even in the places I’m not touching.  Words being spoken enter my brain but fail to process at anything more than their base level.  I tap my pen against the enormous hardcover anthology on my desk, but the noise is not distracting enough.  My focus flies away; I twirl the rubber band around my wrist and snap it just to feel the ping against my skin.  

Behind me, the speaker for the overhead system emits a random crackle.  I jump.  

I try tapping both of ends of my pen against the desk.  It doesn’t help.

I love this book, and this author.  His subtle nuances, the way that he says things without saying them.  But that’s at the back of my mind now.  All of the things I love about the stories have vanished in the presence of a word that’s being said over.  And over.  

And over.

The speaker crackles again.  I jump.  People stare. 

The discussion continues.  I keep a tally in the margin of my book, a permanent series of slashes that will live for as long as the book, of how many times the professor or someone else says the word.  I am hyperaware of it; it feels like someone is pressing a taser into my back and every single nerve in my body is electrified.  I am completely lit.  I could jump out of my chair.  I want to.  But I don’t.  

I tell myself I like the professor.  I tell myself I like the class.  Neither of these statements help me.  I lean forward so that my hair falls in front of my face, preventing me from meeting anyone’s gaze.  I lose count of the number of times my pen strikes the page.  I move it to the desk, the noise is much more satisfying.  

Tap tap tap tap tap tap.

The professor is looking at me.  Did she ask me a question?  I’m not sure.  I was counting the taps.  I look up; my eyes meet hers for a moment and then flit away to something else.  Anything else.  I can’t let her see me.  If she asked me something, I didn’t hear.  I can’t answer.  

She is writing on the board.  Someone says something about about adequate punishment, and the word again, and…

Tap tap tap tap tap tap. 

Can I just drop out?  Just leave?  Would anybody notice?  Can I walk out of the class?  I told her that if I came for this, if I came to class, I needed to have the option to leave.  She said that was fine.  But can I do that?  Can I just get up and leave a class?  I’m frozen.  I can’t move.  Breathe in, breathe out. 

Too much pressure.

Tap tap tap tap tap tap.

Class is ninety minutes long.  We are more than halfway done.

It’s just a word.  It’s nothing more than a word.  

I love school.  I love learning.  But I didn’t know how much this would suck.

I remind myself again that I like this class.  I remind myself again that I like the professor.  Peeking out from behind my hair, I accidentally catch her gaze again.  I stare down at my book.  What page are we on?  The words make even less sense than they normally do.  I yearn for regular English.  

This is too hard.  College is hard.  I should quit.

My leg joins the pen.  Tap twitch tap twitch tap twitch tap twitch tap twitch tap twitch.

Ten minutes left.  I can do it.

My teeth sink into the inside of my cheek, keeping the tears inside.  I hate how hard it is to handle some things.  I hate how hard it is to handle this.  

I lean back in my chair, taking care to still let my hair cover my eyes.  I move my pen to my lap.  The slash marks number seventeen.  The discussion was all about that.  I never should have come.  I hide my hands in my lap.  I stare at the board.  I avoid everybody’s eyes.

It is time to go.  I can’t escape fast enough.  I think the professor tries to talk to me, but I grab my stuff and leave the room as quickly as possible.  I run up the stairs towards my advisor’s office, and when I pause in the stairwell to take a breath, a single tear slips down my cheek.  I wanted so badly to do this.  I want to be okay with it.  I hate that I can’t be.

My advisor is waiting when I get to her office.  I push the door mostly shut, sink into a chair, and I can finally breathe again.  She asks how class went; she knew I was worried about it.

My professor is outside.  She knocks; she says something like, “Are you with someone?” I recognize her voice, but can’t see her past the crack in the door.  She is there about me; she is there about class.  I know it.  Crap.

My advisor nods without saying anything, and my professor disappears down the hall to her own office.

I wish that I could hide here forever.  I want nothing more than to disappear.

Damn you, college.

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Out of Nowhere

Elizabeth leaned back against the headboard, her arms snaking around the throw pillow as if it was a life preserver.  

“This floor is….disgusting.”  Barbara nudged aside an abandoned pile of clothing with her toe, a slight slur woven into her words.  She was different than normal.  Off.

“Well, I know where everything is,” Elizabeth retorted, her words muffled by the fluffy black pillow.  Carefully gripping the sheet, she edged it up further so that it hugged the side of her leg.

“I sh-shouldn’t have to clean up after you anymore.  You’re seventeen years old, and–”

“It’s my room,” Elizabeth cut her off.  “I can do whatever I want.”

“In my house.”

“Whatever.”

Barbara closed her eyes, and when she opened them again they were red and watery.  “Elizabeth…” she started wearily.  “I…”

“What?” snapped Elizabeth.  Her eyes darted from her mother to the door, to the dresser, and finally to the wall next to the bed.  “Did you have a little too much to drink or something?  Did it make you all sentimental?”

“I…”  Barbara’s glance shifted to the door and back, and she took a tiny step backwards.

Elizabeth’s eyes widened and her hands balled into fists.  “What is your problem?” she cried.  

Wavering slightly on her feet, Barbara leaned back against the wall next to the door.  The car keys fell from her hand and disappeared almost silently into the monstrosity that was the laundry mountain.

“What do you want?” Elizabeth asked again.  Her hand closed around the cold, wet object under the sheet.  Warm liquid seeped between her fingers.  She must have started bleeding pretty badly.

“I need to tell you something.”

“I promise I’ll clean.  Really.  Could you just go away?”

“It isn’t that,” Barbara replied vaguely.  “I…”

Elizabeth rolled her eyes.  “Mom, it’s late.  Just spit it out already.”

“I went…out tonight.”

“I know,” Elizabeth retorted.  “One of those mark it on the calendar events.”  She drew air quotes with her fingers to emphasize her sarcasm.  After a moment she added, “Did you come to rub in how much fun you had?”

“It was great,” Barbara replied wistfully.  “And then, I…I guess…” she stuttered.

“What?”

“It happened so fast.  One minute he wasn’t there, and then the next minute he was, and I…”

Elizabeth shook her head.  “I don’t understand.”  She pushed slowly and precisely under the sheet until she was against the wall, hearing the faint ping as the metal object bounced off of the bed frame and slid to the floor.  

Barbara didn’t register the sound.  “I’m not sure what happened.”  She blinked, a single tear trailing down her cheek.

As she sank down to a sitting position in amongst the clothes, it occurred to Elizabeth that she couldn’t recall the last time she had seen her mother cry.  “What is it?” she asked, more gently than before.

“I just needed to have fun, you know?  I needed to get away from everything.  I needed to have fun, to have a few drinks, to just…get out.  Is that so wrong?  To just take time for me?  Is that wrong?”

“No,” Elizabeth laughed lightly.  “It’s probably good for you.”

“He came out of nowhere.  I didn’t know what else to do.  I panicked.  I drove away, I came home.”

Elizabeth’s brow furrowed as she struggled to read between the lines.

“He came out of nowhere,” she said again, suddenly seeming empty and hollow.  “There wasn’t any time.”

Elizabeth’s leg was quite wet.  It had to be seeping through by now.  Without looking down, she shifted the pillow so that it would cover up the spot.  Shaking her head, she replied, “Look, Mom, I really don’t get it.  I–”

“I did something really bad.  They’re going to come for me.  When they do, don’t be scared.  You need to tell them, Elizabeth.  You need to tell them that I’m really a good person, that I–”

“What are you trying to say?”

“You know I love you, right?  Always?  No matter what?”

Downstairs, the doorbell rang.

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Purpose (Full Version)

Women should remain silent.  They must not be allowed to speak, but must remain in submission….To the woman He said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbirth.  In pain you shall bring forth children.  Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.

–The Book

The chamber was much darker than the bright hallway from which Ciera had come, and it took a few moments for her eyes to adjust. The walls stretched upward for what seemed like miles, coming together at the top in a small glass dome.  It was dark outside, rainy.  Fitting for this day.  Placing one foot in front of the other, the only sound she could hear as she moved to what felt like center stage was the clanking of chains that shackled her arms to her waist.  Stadium seating went from floor level almost all the way up the dome, and the seats were all filled with silent men staring down at her.  Her masters.

“Masters,” she thought angrily.  Ciera came to a halt a few feet in front of the judge’s bench and spit on the floor.  “I’m my own master.”

A thick black hood shrouded the judge’s head, but she knew it was a man.  Men were the only ones who were allowed to judge.    Imagining where in the shadow his eyes were, she looked up as defiantly as she could manage in her pathetic gray cloak and chains.

“Do you accept the charges against you?”  The judge’s voice thundered through the entire chamber.

Ciera blinked once before uttering a simple, “No.”

One week earlier, Ciera was running early for her appointment, and she wanted to take the long way around to the doctor’s office so she could take in the lakeside scenery.  There was a line of Authority cars parked at the head of the path, marked with the sign of the Church, and the uniformed men had a woman down on her stomach with her hands tied behind her back.  Dropping her eyes so as not to draw attention to herself, Ciera kept moving past the entrance and went straight to the complex where her doctor was.  It wasn’t worth it to challenge the Authority–it was a much safer bet to just continue forward and not give any indication of involvement in the woman’s troubles.

If Ciera were the woman, she would just take her pill.  It was small and red, and belted securely around her waist in a tidy little pouch.  If there ever came a moment when Ciera was really in trouble, the pill would save her.  They were hard to come by, but Ciera had been much craftier in her teenage years than she was now.  She wasn’t willing to let go of this one small sign of rebellion when she had worked so hard to procure it.

Early, she went one door down to the grocery store  relishing the cool air that encompassed her as she stepped inside.  The grocery store was crowded but still amazing.  She didn’t often get the opportunity to visit nicer places.  They were usually reserved for men.

Her craving of the moment was an ice-cold beverage.  Wandering around, she noticed that there were plenty of warm beverages but nothing cold.  The cold beverages were tucked away in a corner past the cash registers.  Plucking a strawberry-banana smoothie knock-off from the shelf, she got in line at the register to pay.

“Do you even have any money?” the cashier sneered.

“Oh, like you’re so special,” Ciera thought, wishing she had the nerve to utter the words aloud.  It was true that her dingy grey maternity smock did display her class; she was poor, but she wasn’t a thief.  She pulled two dollars out of her wallet and threw it on the counter before storming out the door.

Shaking the bottle as she walked, Ciera opened the door to the obstetrician’s office and slipped inside.  The waiting room was crowded and she was still early, so after she checked in, she folded herself quietly into a corner to read a magazine.  It was quieter behind the door to the actual exam rooms, and she sighed with relief when the receptionist finally called her name and she could escape the chaos.

She found herself in the same exam room that she had been in the previous week:  same pale green chair, same blackened monitor.,  same little white belt contraption to put around her and hook up to her belly.  The doctor had told her that the baby was a tad small, and they wanted to monitor his activity a few times a week.  Ciera was fine with that.  Patrick didn’t allow expensive air conditioning at home and she was always hot, so she was happy to come in and relax beneath the vent.

“Can you roll up your shirt for me, please?” the nurse asked.  A quick check of her name badge revealed her name to be Joanna.

Ciera obliged and pulled her grey smock up toward her breasts.  As she pushed down the waistband of her leggings, she thought about how terrific it would be not to have to wear maternity clothes anymore.  At least until the next baby  The Book said that women were only as good as their ability to reproduce, and when they couldn’t, they ceased to exist.  They were surplus, extra.  Purposeless.  Patrick and Ciera followed The Book to the letter.  Ciera was young and fertile.  She would be able to fulfill her purpose for many years to come, whether she wanted to or not.  It wasn’t that Ciera didn’t want to have children.  She wanted her baby more than anything.  She just wanted to have it be her choice, and no one else’s.  It puzzled her that the Church could have the right to tell her when she could and could not have babies, but she knew better that to outwardly question the decree.

Joanna fiddled with the monitor, and then with the printer, turning them both off and then on again.

“Not working?” Ciera asked.

“Yeah, it’s an old machine,” the nurse replied.  “Sometimes we have trouble with it.”

“They had some problems Monday when I was here too.  I had to hold the sensors down on my stomach to get good enough readings.  Try that again,” she suggested.

Ciera pressed down on both sensors as the nurse shifted things around, but they still couldn’t pick anything up.  “Hmm,” Joanna pondered.  “Let me get a nurse who has been here a little longer and has more experience with the older machines.  Give me one minute.”  She left to return a few minutes later with a woman whom Ciera had never met before.  The new nurse played around with the equipment in much the same manner as the first nurse had for a few moments; then a third nurse came in.  All three of them crowded around the apparently ancient machine, whispering things, things that Ciera couldn’t quite hear.  Despite Ciera’s resentment about women being the ones who had to do all the work, she felt like she could suddenly understand why nurses were female and doctors were male.  These three didn’t seem to know anything.

The last nurse to enter the room turned to Ciera, who automatically read her name badge: Tina.  “We’re going to have one of the doctors come in and do a quick ultrasound so that we can figure out how to better position the sensors.”

Ciera shrugged, somewhat tired but still unfazed.  She hated the thought even as it was crossing her mind, but perhaps it was better if a man were looking after her.  “Okay,” she replied.  “Is that normal?”

“Yes.  Sometimes we have problems with these machines.”

“Are you calling Doctor Wasserman?”  Doctor Wasserman was the doctor Ciera saw every time that she came in to the office.  She liked and trusted him, about as much as any woman these days could like and trust a man.

“No,” Tina answered, “we can just have the on-call doctor do it.  Wasserman is off today.  No reason to call him in for something so routine.  Someone will be back with you in just a few minutes, okay?”

Ciera nodded, wishing as the three nurses left the room that she would have brought in the magazine.  She pulled out her phone, looking around the room guiltily.  The phone was meant to be used only in an emergency, or to talk to her husband.  But she couldn’t call him for this.  If there was really something wrong he would be angry, and Ciera wasn’t in the mood to deal with his rage that day. She sent her good friend Kelli a message instead.  They seem to be having trouble “finding” him on the monitors.  Scary?

After several minutes, Tina came back in and started disconnecting the sensors from her belly.  “I’m going to take you over to the ultrasound room.  The doctor is with another patient right now, so it will be a couple more minutes before he can get to you.”

They walked down the hallway to a new room, and Ciera settled into a new chair, tapping her foot and trying to keep her nerves from overcoming her.  Routines were the best way to live life, and the safest.  It didn’t do any good to break routine.

Ciera tried Kelli again.  She was desperate for someone to talk to.  I’m starting to freak out a little.  Is this normal?  They’re saying it’s routine.  It doesn’t feel routine.

“So, what…” Tina started to say, but she was interrupted when the doctor entered the room.  He was a short Oriental man with a ponytail.

“I’m Doctor Yang,” he said.  “Let’s just take a quick look here.”

Ciera rolled up her shirt and Tina spread some of the cold gel on her belly.  The doctor placed the wand on her stomach and moved it around expertly with one hand while reaching up  with the other hand to angle the screen away from her, out of her line of vision.  Ciera jumped every time she heard what sounded like a heartbeat, only to be told it was just the uterine artery.  Tina whispered with the doctor for a few minutes, far enough away from Ciera that she couldn’t make out what they were saying.

Pulling out the phone again, Ciera frantically punched the buttons.  I don’t like this, she texted.  They’re still saying they can’t find him, and I don’t understand what that means.  Everybody here is giving me these ‘I’m so sorry’ looks and it’s scary and I think something is really wrong.

Looking up from the phone, she noticed that Doctor Yang had left the room.

“He went to go page Doctor Wasserman,” Tina explained.

Ciera nodded slowly.  “It isn’t routine any more, is it?”

Shaking her head, Tina replied, “It’s time to call your husband now.”

Kelli tried to call buzzed in on her phone as Ciera scrolled through her few contacts to find Patrick’s number.  Sending her friend to voicemail, she summed up the details for Patrick’s answering service and told him to get there as soon as he could.  Closing her eyes for a moment, she worried about what his reaction would be.  His hand flying toward her face played like a movie on the back of her eyelids, but the thought left as quickly as it had come.  She hadn’t done anything wrong.  She had obeyed everything that he said; nothing was going to happen to her.  Hanging up the phone, she pushed another button to listen to the voicemail Kelli had left.  “Sorry, sweetie, I was in the grocery store shopping for Nathan’s work dinner tomorrow night.  You know how he likes everything to be just so…but anyways, I just got all of your messages.  I don’t know what’s going on but I’m praying for you and I know that everything will turn out okay.  Let me know as soon as possible what I can do.  We are praying for you.  Love you.”

Prayer.  The way they prayed didn’t solve anything.  It wouldn’t make this situation okay.  There was nothing in The Book that would tell her what to do.  The God Ciera had believed in as a child would love her no matter what, but the God of the Church was nothing more than a farce.

Doctor Wasserman appeared in the doorway just as Ciera lowered the phone into her lap.  In sweats and a t-shirt, he looked like he had come straight from the gym or an exercise class.  Ciera had a thought most inappropriate for the situation–that a woman would never be allowed to get away with that kind of clothing–but she pushed it away.  He grabbed one of the cheap plastic chairs away from the wall and spun it around so he could sit on it backwards.  “I’m sorry,” he whispered, so quietly that Ciera could barely make it out.

“What happened?”  She bit down on the inside of her cheek.

“I really don’t know.  Everything was perfectly fine.  His heart rate was fine.  He was a good size.  Everything was formed.  We will do what we can to try to determine what happened, but sometimes you just don’t know.”

He kept on talking, but the words floated up around her into nothing.

Patrick appeared in the doorway and sat down, his eyes red.

“It sucks that this happened to such a good couple.  I’m so sorry, guys.”

“Thanks,” Patrick said.

“What happens next?” she asked absently.  What she secretly wanted to know, but was afraid to ask, was how soon could she try again?  Slipping her phone back out, she sent one more message to Kelli.  He’s gone.

“Well, we have basically two options.” Doctor Wasserman answered solemnly.  “We can send you on over to the hospital where you’ll be induced, or you can go home and wait for the labor to start naturally.”

Ciera’s phone vibrated against the plastic chair.  Oh, Ciera, I am so so sorry.  What can we do?  “So wait,” she said , plucking another Kleenex  and holding it to her eyes.  “Why can’t you just cut him out?  I have to wait?  I have to do all that?”  Her voice was rising, but she didn’t care about that.  She didn’t care about anything.

“If you want to have children in the future, it isn’t really good for your body to perform an unnecessary cesarean now.  It just isn’t a good option.  It’s better for you to do things the natural way.”

Ciera glanced sideways at Patrick.

“We have to have children.  You know that.” Patrick wouldn’t meet her gaze.  “I think we should go the inducing route,” he told the doctor.  “I don’t want to deal with waiting around at home.  And we WILL be having more children.”

“Okay.  We can go over there right now.  I’ll take you out to the garage the back way so that you don’t have to go through the waiting room.”

“My car is here,” Patrick said.  “I can drive her.”

Doctor Wasserman led them into the hall and slid a key card to open the back exit door to the parking area.  “When you get there, just go up to labor and delivery and tell them you’re a patient of mine.  They’ll be expecting you.  I’ll be over there in a little bit.”

“Okay,” Ciera nodded slowly, following Patrick.  Did she understand anything that was happening?

Patrick was on the phone with his parents as they drove across the street, but Ciera’s frazzled brain couldn’t process the conversation.  She dimly took in the words “dead, surplus, purpose…moving on.”  But it was all a jumble.  Nothing went together.  We are on our way to the hospital to be induced, she texted Kelli.

Kelli’s response was almost instantaneous.  Do you want us to come?  Nathan has a meeting until six thirty, but I’m sure he would allow it after that.

No, that’s okay.  She didn’t want her friend to get in trouble.

  The towering hospital blocked out the sun as Ciera looked up from her phone.  Entering the hospital doors, she amended her previous response.  Well, you could come.  If it isn’t too much trouble.  You don’t have to.  But you could.

It’s no trouble at all.  Where are you guys?

Columbia St. Mary’s.

Okay.  We’ll be there soon.

They walked up to the desk at labor and delivery, and Ciera told the nurse who she was.  Another nurse came out and led them through three different sets of double doors, down an incredibly long hallway into a room.  She handed Ciera a green hospital gown and a strange- looking contraption that looked like a very large, very wide rubber band.  “I need you to put these on,” the nurse said.  “Also, there’s a catch basin in the toilet.  If you’re going to go to the bathroom I need you to try to make sure you hit that so we can monitor your urine output.”

Ciera held out the weird rubber band belt as an unspoken question.

“That goes around your belly and your lower area.  The top part holds the contraction monitor, and the bottom part gives you a little coverage in the lower regions.  You can’t wear underwear.  You will have to be checked down there too frequently.”

“But what if I have to use the bathroom?” Patrick asked.  “I’m more important than SHE is.  What am I supposed to do?”

“You can either go around it or call one of us to come take it out,” the nurse replied, as if she encountered men like Patrick every day.  Chances were, she did.

The nurse left the room, and Ciera went into the bathroom to change.  Sure enough, there was a large white contraption in the toilet.  It looked suspiciously like a measuring cup from the kitchen, with tiny blue lines and letters up the sides.  She stripped out of her clothes item by item, folding each up as carefully as if she would be receiving a grade on her folding techniques.  For all she knew, she might be.  Who knew what would happen to her now that the baby was gone?  What if she couldn’t have more children?  What did The Book have to say about that?

Sliding into the hospital gown, Ciera stared into the mirror and contorted her body in an attempt to tie the gown’s strings together.  Unsuccessful, she gave up and pulled on the rubber band belt before going back out to the room to have Patrick do the tying for her.  Crawling into bed, she covered herself up with the sheets.  She felt utterly naked.  “It’s super warm in here,” she commented, gazing at anything she could rest her eyes on , anything except Patrick.

Patrick wandered over to the thermostat and monkeyed around with the controls for a while.  He must have been warm as well; it wasn’t like him to be overly considerate of Ciera.  The nurse came back in.  “We need to insert an IV now and then I’ll need to ask you some questions.”  She had Ciera make a fist and tried to find a vein in her hand to insert the IV.  After several unsuccessful attempts, she called for another nurse to come in and try.

“I have really bad veins,” Ciera whimpered, squeezing the bed rail and looking down into the sheets so she wouldn’t have to watch the needle.

“Oh, I’ve seen worse,” the new nurse joked, trying again.

When the IV was finally in place, the second nurse left.  The original nurse showed them a little picture of a leaf and explained that it would be taped to the door to the room, essentially to tell hospital staff that they shouldn’t be happy and excited when they entered the room.

A new doctor neither of them had met before came in.  He held up a little pill, and explained to the couple that they would be placing it in the vaginal area to help move things along and start the labor process.  Then he had Ciera put her legs up in the stirrups and placed the pill with his freezing hands, telling Ciera not to get up for at least an hour.  It would be four hours until the next pill was placed.

After the doctor left the room the questions came, basic ones about allergies and such.  Ciera answered them all without really paying attention. The nurse asked if they wanted clergy to come.  “It’s customary in these situations for someone from the Church to come and discuss your options.”

That thought terrified Ciera.  She had spent her entire life avoiding crossing the Authority as best she could, but she had suddenly found herself in a very bad position.  What would they do to her?

“We have someone coming from our personal branch,” Patrick clarified.  “That’s okay, right?”

“Yeah, she said, “but if they’re coming after eight you need to tell them to park in the employee parking ; the main entrance will be closed.”

There was a knock on the door and Nathan appeared with Kelli trailing shyly behind him in typical wife-like fashion, making the parking comment unnecessary.  They introduced themselves to the nurse and she drifted out.  Kelli allowed Nathan and Patrick to take the seats closest to the bed, and settled into a seat across the room.  She wrapped her coat more tightly around herself, and it occurred to Ciera that she was trying to hide her own pregnant belly.  Kelli was her best friend, but that didn’t change the fact that Nathan worked for the Church.  He was the Authority, a fact that filled the room with an awkwardness so heavy it became difficult for Ciera to breathe.

“I’m so sorry, guys,” Nathan said.  “This is really hard.”

Patrick shrugged, and Ciera looked away to the hills and valleys formed by her sheets.

“The church leadership would like to extend their condolences for your loss.”

“Thank you,” Patrick answered politely.  “There’s always next time, right?”

Ciera flinched, but then forced herself to hold her stance and keep the expression on her face neutral.  No matter what she thought of Patrick’s comment, she wasn’t allowed to show it.  Especially not in front of Nathan.

Patrick and Nathan made conversation for a while.  Ciera kept watching Kelli out of the corner of her eye, trying to figure out a polite way to get the men to leave so that she could talk to her alone.  It wasn’t customary for women to spend a lot of time alone together.  It bred trouble.

Nathan gave her an opportunity when he asked, “Is there anything I can do for you guys?”

Ciera knitted her hands into the sheets, grabbing fistfuls as she said, “I think I’d like to talk to Kelli alone for a little bit if that’s okay.”

“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Patrick replied.  “Maybe it would be best if–”

“Labor,” Ciera blurted out, the first thing that came to mind.  She knew that the personal topic would make Patrick feels uncomfortable, and she played on that.  “I need to ask her about labor.  The blood.  The baby.  What happens.”

“Maybe we could go grab something to eat,” Patrick conceded, just as Ciera thought he would.  “For a few minutes.  But we’re coming right back.”

Nathan nodded in agreement.

The four of them prayed together, and then Patrick and Nathan went off down the hall in search of food.  Kelli crossed the room and settled into the chair that Patrick had vacated, taking care to keep her coat drawn around her stomach.  They stared at each other in silence.

Ciera thought about what she wanted to say, twisting the words around inside her head as she tried to sort it all out.  “So…” she started after several minutes of quiet, “what…what’s it like?”

Kelli rested her hand on top of Ciera’s at the edge of the bed.  “What is what like?  Labor?”

“I don’t know.  Labor.  Having the baby.  What’s it like?  We didn’t take the class yet.  It was supposed to be downloaded to our computer next week.  I don’t know what to do.”  It occurred to Ciera as the words tumbled out of her mouth how stupid a thing it was to say, but she didn’t really care anymore.

“Honestly?  It didn’t teach me much,” Kelli answered.  “I think that your body just sort of knows what to do.”

“Oh.  I think I’m sort of hoping…in the back of my mind…I’m hoping that they’re wrong about him.  Maybe he’s still okay in there and they just can’t find him.  Maybe it really is important that I know what to do because they will all be expecting that he’s going to come out dead, and I know that that’s wrong, and I’m the only one who knows the truth.”  Ciera looked up from the sheet mountain that she had bunched together with her hands to see tears streaming down her friend’s face.

“I’m sorry, sweetie.  I was trying not to cry for you.”  She squeezed Ciera’s hand, and Ciera squeezed back as tears streamed down her own cheeks.

“I was trying not to cry for YOU,” Ciera whispered.

Kelli grabbed a Kleenex box off the window sill and plunked it down on the bed between them.  They both dug into it for a while, sniffling.

“Is it going to hurt?”

“Yeah, probably,” Kelli  nervously played with the edges of her jacket, avoiding Ciera’s eyes..

“I mean, I was prepared for it to hurt, but I expected it to hurt and then to come out on the other side of that hurt with a baby.  You know?”

“Yeah,” she whispered.  “I get that.”

“I just really wanted to be a mom.  It’s my purpose as a woman, you know?  It isn’t fair.  I don’t know what’s going to happen to me now.”

“You’ll always be a mommy.”

“How do you figure?”

“It’s different for you.”  She hesitated for a minute, seemingly sorting out what she wanted to say.  “You have a connection to the baby that Patrick doesn’t have.  You carried him, you felt him move.  You did everything you could for him.  So you’ll always be a mommy.  You’ll always be his mommy.”

“I suppose.”  Ciera rolled her head to the side, taking in the darkness that pressed against the window over Kelli’s shoulder.  “I just…I don’t know how I’m supposed to go back to things.  It’ll be like nothing happened.  Like he was never really here.”

Kelli stared down at her lap.  “I…”

“What?” Ciera asked after a moment.

“I’m not sure you can go back.”

“I don’t understand.”

“You k…know,” Kelli stammered.  “I mean, if it is true, if he is really gone….”

She didn’t have to fill in the rest.  Ciera knew what she meant.  The Authority would want to come and talk to her now that the baby was gone.  Women were around only to work for the men and to reproduce–and take care of their families.  It was the main focus of The Book–women should honor their husbands and Masters, produce many children, and take care of their families.  Ciera was a failure; her baby was dead.  And if she couldn’t have any more children?  Not being able to have babies was a termination-worthy offense.  There wasn’t enough room in society for someone who couldn’t carry her weight and fulfill her duties, and both of the women knew that.  Ciera didn’t deserve to live anymore.

“The guys have been gone for a long time,” Ciera said by way of response.  She didn’t know what else to say.  There weren’t any words left.  There was no script.

“Probably just giving us space.  I can go get them if you want.”

Ciera bobbed her head up and down.  “Yeah.  It’s probably time for you to go.”

A long hug later, Kelli got to her feet.  She crossed the room and had her hand on the doorknob as she asked, “Will you be okay by yourself if I go to get them?”

“Yeah, I’ll be okay.”

“I love you, sweetie.  Hang in there.  Maybe it will all be okay.”

Minutes turned into hours.  It was almost three o’clock the next afternoon.  Ciera drifted in and out of a hazy sleep, and time felt like it had frozen solid.  Doctor Wasserman came in to visit briefly, reassuring her that he would be around when the baby came and would be there for the entire rest of the process, but he disappeared before Ciera could even register fully that he had been there.

A dull pain started in her right side, helping to draw her back closer to reality.  A nurse was next to the bed, holding the printout with the rate of contractions on it.

“It hurts,” Ciera whispered.

“Where?”

“Right side.”

“We can try rolling you onto your left side to help the medication distribute better, and then we can call the anesthesiologist back to adjust the levels if that doesn’t help.”  Ciera held onto the bedrail as the nurse helped her to roll over, but then started as the woman gasped, “Holy cow.  Your baby is coming.  Right now.”

A gigantic wave of shock washed over Ciera.  “What?  What do you mean?  Doctor Wasserman isn’t here.  I want Doctor Wasserman.”

The nurse pushed buttons on the wall behind the bed.  She came around and guided Patrick into a chair, apologizing for not knowing.  A man in blue scrubs entered the room, but Ciera had never seen him before.  “Where is he?” she sobbed.  “I don’t want you.  I want Doctor Wasserman!”

“We can’t wait,” the doctor informed her.  “The baby is coming right now.”

“We paged him, but he’s getting ready to do a c-section on another patient,” the nurse added.  “Nobody thought it would be this soon.  I’ll have to do the delivery.”

“He promised!” Ciera screamed, finally releasing the anxiety that her plagued her for the last twenty-four hours.  “He promised he would be here!  I won’t do this!  We have to wait!”

The strange doctor guided Ciera’s legs back into the stirrups as the nurse asked, “Can we try to get him again?”

“There isn’t any time,” the doctor said.

“We have to do it now, honey,” the nurse said soothingly.  “We can’t wait.”

The door banged open and Doctor Wasserman suddenly appeared, clad in scrubs and a scrub cap.  He pulled on a pair of gloves and nudged aside the strange doctor to take his place at the foot of the bed.  “Made it just in time.”

Everything moved very quickly.  There was a flurry of activity at the foot of the bed, and suddenly Doctor Wasserman was holding something in his hands.  “Cut it,” he quietly told the nurse.  It was twenty-five after three.

“Do you want to hold him?” she asked.

Ciera nodded, crying quietly.  As the nurse moved to place him in Ciera’s arms, Ciera was worried she wouldn’t know what to do.  It all seemed to come naturally, though, once he was settled against her chest.  It seemed she had barely held the baby before she had to pass him to Patrick, and Ciera fought against the irrational feeling that she was the only one who could hold him.  She knew it was wrong, but she was worried that the baby would be scared, or cold, or….He was hers.  She should be the one to hold him.

When she finally got him back, Ciera held her face against the baby’s.

“Do you want to keep him here a little longer, or no?” the nurse asked quietly.

Ciera looked at the clock.  It hadn’t seemed like that much time had passed, but in reality it had been almost an hour.  After a moment, she bit her lip and whispered, “You should take him now.  If I don’t let you take him now, I’m never going to let you, and I’m going to try and take him home with me.”

The nurse reached down and gently removed the baby from Ciera’s arms.  Ciera began to sob as she wrapped the baby up, burying her face in her pillows.  She knew that she would never see him again, and she closed her eyes and drifted into a sleep that she almost wished would last forever.

When Ciera woke up the next time, she tried to roll over but there was something wrapped around her wrist.  She opened her eyes, squinting against the harsh light of the room, and felt her way up to the bedrail.  Handcuffs.  She was handcuffed to the bed.

Patrick was sitting next to the window, quietly flipping through a magazine.  He didn’t acknowledge her.

“Patrick?”

He blinked once in her direction, and then went back to his magazine.

“Patrick?” Ciera pulled at the bedrail, but she couldn’t get her wrist free.

“Something went wrong.  You won’t be able to have any more children,” he informed her, closing the magazine and getting to his feet.  “This was it.”

He sounded as if he was reading a story from a news magazine.  As if he didn’t care about it.  As if it were happening to somebody else.

“What?” she gasped, tears springing involuntarily to her eyes.  “What do you mean?”

“Exactly what I said.”  Patrick looked down at the floor.   “I’m sorry, Ciera.  I really did love you, I…at least I thought….”

“Patrick…”

“I can’t be with you anymore.  I have to move on to someone else.  It’s better this way.  You understand.”

Ciera didn’t understand at all.  “Patrick!” she screamed, yanking again and again at the bedrail as he walked out the door.  “I lost him!  I lost him too!”

Ciera’s screams resounded through the entire room.

It was over.  Suddenly, just like that.

It was all over.

A sound of thunder broke into her consciousness.

“Young lady,” the judge bellowed.

“I don’t,” Ciera said defiantly, sticking her chin in the air.  “I won’t.”

Murmurs filled the room from floor to ceiling.

“You can’t just make everything so black and white,” Ciera said, biting her cheek to keep her voice from shaking.  A single tear trailed down her cheek, but she didn’t care who saw her.  She didn’t care about anything anymore.

“Do you understand what a serious offense this is?”

Ciera shook her head.  “Do you?  I lost my son, and now you’re treating me like I’m the one who did something wrong.  Men are the only ones who are allowed to judge, and you judge based on what’s on the outside.  I didn’t do anything wrong.  He just died.”

It seemed that the judge was stunned into silence, but then he suddenly spoke again.  “I’m sorry for your loss.”

Maybe this would end up going in her favor after all.

“But we can’t use you anymore.  It is the purpose of the women in our society to serve their men, to bear their children and take care of the families…to keep our society moving forward.  You won’t be doing that now.  You can’t.  And it’s unfortunate, I grant you, but it is what it is.  The charges stand.  You are now considered surplus, and all surpluses must be terminated.”

“That isn’t your choice!” Ciera cried, unable to control her sobs.  “It isn’t right!  You aren’t God.  You don’t get to decide.  You don’t get to decide who lives and who dies.  You don’t get to pick a person’s purpose.  It isn’t right.  It isn’t fair.”

The judge nodded at the guards, who in turn stepped up to stand on either side of Ciera.  “It’s the law,” he glared, not offering anything else by way of explanation.

“I won’t go along with it.”

“You don’t have a choice.”

Ciera pulled against the chains to feel up under her smock shirt.  The pouch was still there, wrapped tightly within its belt against her stomach.  They hadn’t taken it from her.  They couldn’t take everything.  This last decision would be hers.

Pulling out the red pill, careful to not draw any attention to what she was doing, Ciera clutched it between two fingers and stared directly at the judge.  Her tears had stopped flowing.  “You can take my son.  You can call me a failure.  You can say that I have no purpose.  You can take everything.  But you can’t take this.  Only I get to decide when I die.”

Ciera popped the pill into her mouth and swallowed, knowing as she did so that it meant the end.  It would be her end, though, her choice–not theirs.  And she would be with her son for all eternity.

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When You’re Gone

On the day we got married, we received a framed copy of our wedding invitation that had been decorated with quilled paper flowers.  It was supposed to serve as an example of our eternal love.  For a while, it hung in the living room above our mantle.

On the day our divorce became final, I dismantled the frame, removed the paper flowers, tore up the invitation, and fed it all piece by piece into the fireplace.  And it was stupid, but I cried.  Not because we were getting divorced; for that, I was very glad.  No.  I cried because I was afraid to be alone.

*

I was significantly early for my OB appointment that day, so I took the longer way around to the doctor’s office that wound down by the lake.  Nudging the volume up on the car stereo, I rested my hand on my stomach.  The baby tended to kick more for show tunes.

When I drove into the parking garage, I still had almost an hour before my appointment.  I parked on the fourth level by the doctor’s office and then took the elevator back to the first floor where there was a massive Whole Foods grocery store.  I figured there had to be something there to eat or drink that might strike my fancy.  The baby was a fan of apple juice, and since I was thinking along the lines of how to make him move more, that seemed like a good bet.

Whole Food was a crowded, yet totally amazing, grocery store.  I wandered around lost for quite a while, finding plenty of warm beverages but nothing cold.  I finally found the cold beverage section tucked away in the corner by one of the registers, but there was no apple juice to be found.  However, they had a wide selection of different smoothie type beverages.  I decided a real fruit smoothie would be an even better afternoon snack than an apple juice for the baby, and for me as well.

I walked towards the check-out.  When I was approaching the register, my purse swung and took out the lower shelf of a travel mug display.  The mugs hit the ground in a mass, the clanging echoing throughout the store.  I kept walking, hoping that no one had seen.  But even if they hadn’t seen, they had definitely heard.

*

The potholder clanged off of the guitar that rested in the papazon chair.  “You.  Are.  An ass,” I said as it fell to the floor.  It was the first time I had expressed myself in a long time.  I wished I had better aim.  I wished it had hit my husband in the head.  Not that a potholder would do much damage, but it would get my point across.

“What?” he asked.  “I just…”

“I worked all day, I’m tired, I come home, and the first thing you say is what’s for bloody dinner?  Are you serious?”

“Well, it’s your job.  To cook.  It’s not my job.”

Nothing is your job.” I spit.  “Absolutely nothing.”

I turned around and stalked back to the kitchen, minus the potholder.  I stood over the pot of spaghetti, stirring it with my wooden spoon.  I thought about our marriage, about the unequal division of pretty much everything.  I kept my mouth shut.  My small explosion was the most I dared to express my feelings.  He didn’t work; I worked fifty plus hours a week.  He didn’t clean; cleaning was a woman’s job.  He didn’t do anything.

But, I consoled myself, at least he usually let me control the remote.

That was pretty much the highlight of our marriage.

*

When I checked in at the registration counter, I still had half an hour before my appointment.  The waiting room was crowded, so I dropped into a chair in the corner to play a game on my phone and drink my smoothie until they called me to come in.

It was quieter behind the door, back in the doctor’s offices.  I was in the same room for testing as I had been in two days before, so it was all familiar.  There was nothing wrong with the baby, they just thought he might be a little small.  As a result, three days a week, I got to be wired up for what they called a stress test.  This was my second time.  Same chair, same monitor.  Same little belt contraption that they put around me and hooked up to my belly.  The only difference was that I was prepared this time.  I had a new book to read on my phone and a smoothie to drink.

“Can you roll up your shirt for me, please?” the nurse asked.  I checked her name tag.  Joanna.

I obliged and rolled my shirt up.

Joanna fiddled with the monitor, and then with the printer, turning them on and then off again.

“Not working?” I asked.

“Yeah, it’s an old machine,” she replied.  “Sometimes we have trouble with it.”

“They had some problems the last time I was here too.  I had to hold the sensors down on my stomach to get good enough readings.”

“Try that again,” Joanna suggested.

I pressed down on both sensors, and she shifted things around but still couldn’t pick anything up.  “Hmm,” she said.  “Let me get a nurse who has been here a little longer and has more experience with the older machines.  Give me one minute.”  She left the room and came back a few minutes later with a woman I had never seen before.  The new nurse played around with the machine in much the same manner as the first had for several minutes.  At that point, another nurse came in.  They all crowded around the apparently ancient machine, whispering to each other things I couldn’t quite hear.

The last nurse to enter the room turned to me.  I read her name badge too.  Tina.  “We’re going to have one of the doctors come in and do a quick ultrasound so we can figure out how to better position the sensors.”

I shrugged, somewhat tired but still unfazed.  “Okay,” I said.  “Is that normal?”

“Yes, of course.  Sometimes we have problems with these machines.”

*

One afternoon, my husband and I went through the drive through at my insistence.  I had to work in an hour, and wouldn’t have time to eat anywhere else between that and church.

“What do you want?” he asked.

I shrugged.  “A quarter pounder?  I don’t care.”

“Well, if you get that, that’s like all of your money for the day.”

“What are you talking about?” I shook my head.

“If you want to eat, you can have like three dollars a day.  Including stuff at home.”

I did the math quickly while he spoke with the cashier through the speaker.  Three dollars a day was twenty-one dollars a week.  We lived off of my salary.  Where was the rest of it going?    To his bands?  To his technology?  Did it matter?

*

“Is Doctor Wasserman coming?” I asked.

“No,” she said, “we can just have the on call doctor do it.  Your doctor is off today.  No need to call him in for something so routine.  We’ll be back in a few minutes.”

The nurse all left the room.  Tina reappeared not long after to take me to the ultrasound room.  I settled into a chair in the new room, tapping my foot and valiantly attempting to not be anxious.

“So, what do you do for a living?” she asked, pulling up a chair to sit next to me.

“I run a party store,” I answered while staring at the door.  I wondered when the doctor was coming.

“What does your husband do?”

“He’s a recording engineer.  He records bands and does live sound and stuff.”

She plopped a box of Kleenex in my lap.  I hadn’t even realized I was crying until she did that.  “Tell me about the most exciting trip you’ve ever taken.”

I thought for a second.  “Well, I went to Jamaica on a work mission the summer before my senior year of high school,” I responded woodenly.  “We built houses.”

“That sounds interesting.”

“It was.”  I began absently shredding the Kleenex one by one into a giant pile in my lap.  “There were termites.”

“Termites?” Tina repeated, confused.

“Yeah in the wall of the house.  They…”  I was interrupted when the doctor entered the room.  She was a short Oriental woman with really long, black hair.

“I’m Doctor Yang,” she told me.  “Let’s just take a quick look here.”

I rolled up my shirt and Tina spread some of the cold transducer gel on my belly.  The doctor placed the wand on my stomach and moved it around expertly, while reaching with the other hand to angle the screen away from me.  I jumped every time I heard what sounded like a heartbeat, only to be informed that it was just the uterine artery.  Tina whispered with the doctor for a few minutes, once again far enough away from me that I couldn’t understand what they were saying.

The doctor left the room.  When I looked quizzically at Tina she explained, “The doctor left to page Doctor Wasserman.”

I nodded slowly, attempting to comprehend her words.  “It isn’t routine anymore, it it?”

She shook her head.  “I think you should call your husband.”

Key word:  sometimes.

*

It felt like my husband never called me when he was away with his bands.  Like he was happy.

Likewise, I never called him when I was away for work.  I usually viewed it as a bit of a vacation.  A healthy break.  We didn’t really text each other.  We didn’t do normal couple things.  We stayed at home.  It was easier that way, easier to hide.

In the back of my head, I thought that a baby would fix things.  But we lost the baby.  And things got worse.  He changed.  We both did.

The baby left a hole behind that wouldn’t heal.

*

Doctor Wasserman came into the room wearing an outfit that made it apparent he had come straight from the gym.  He reached out and grabbed one of the cheap plastic chairs, dragging it in front of me and spinning it around to sit on it backwards.  “I’m sorry,” he said quietly.

“What happened?”  I bit the inside of my cheek to try and stop the tears.

“I really don’t know,” he replied.  “Everything was perfectly fine.  His heart rate was fine.  He was a good size.  Everything was formed.  We will do what we can to try and determine what happened, but sometimes you just don’t know.”

My husband appeared in the doorway and then sat down, his eyes red.

“It sucks that this happened,” Doctor Wasserman continued.  “I’m so sorry, guys.”

“Thanks,” my husband replied.

“What happens next?” I asked at the same time.

“Well, we basically have two options,” the doctor answered quietly.  “We can send you on over to the hospital where you’ll be induced, or you can go home and wait for labor to start naturally.  As the baby is…dead…your body will naturally attempt to expel it at some point in the next few days.”

“So wait…” I said, plucking another Kleenex out of the box I was somehow still clutching and jamming it against my eyes.  “Why can’t you just cut him out?  I have to wait?  I have to do all that?”  My voice steadily increased in pitch with each question, but I didn’t care.

“It isn’t really good for your body in the future if you want more children to perform a cesarean now that isn’t medically necessary.  It just isn’t a good option; it isn’t the best option.  It’s better for you to do things the natural way.”

I looked at my husband.  “I don’t want to go home and wait.  That’s like delaying the inevitable.  Like pretending he isn’t gone.”

*

The pastors told us that we could work things out.  I didn’t believe them.  And I didn’t want to work things out.  I wanted no part of it, of him.

I took my ring off the first night I was away from him, while I was sitting in the Walmart parking lot.  I didn’t delay the inevitable.  I didn’t pretend that we were going to get back together.  I was done with marriage, and done with him.

I still have the ring, tucked into a jewelry box packed deep within my belongings.  Several times a year, I consider selling it.  But I haven’t yet.  I also kept my wedding dress.  At the time, I believed that our marriage would last forever, and that someday we would dress our daughter in my wedding dress for when she got married.  It’s been difficult to let go of either.

I kept the pieces of our son that he allowed me to have as well.  I will never let those go.

I can’t say that our marriage was perfect.  It was not.  The balance of power was shifted dangerously to his side, and I am never willing to go back to being in a relationship like that—if I ever go back to being in a relationship at all.  But there is something to be said for that feeling, that hole, when a person is gone from your life.

Even when you hate someone, even when they hurt you, it can still be hard to fill the hole they leave behind.  Whether they walk away, or you walk away, or they just disappear, it’s all the same.

It takes a lot of strength to be alone.

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Evidence Collection

Via is broken.  Tired.  Her heart hurts.  She wonders if she is breathing anymore; she wonders if she even needs to breathe.  Does it matter?

She is gone.  And no one knows.

There is a wall between her and the rest of the world.  Not a normal wall of cement or brick; it is invisible.  Like a force field.  But it is there.  She is on one side of the wall, and the rest of the world is on the other.  People try to talk to her; they say things, they reach out, but they don’t understand.  They could never understand.

If it is possible for a person to lock themselves inside their body, Via has done just that.  People are staring, but she doesn’t acknowledge them.  She doesn’t move.  The world goes in and out of focus.  The pictures spin around her like a kaleidoscope being turned by an excited child.  She can not hear; she can not see.  She can’t feel anything.  But they don’t know that.  They don’t understand.  They can say whatever they want to her; it doesn’t matter anymore.  Nothing does.

Via leans on the counter.  She knows that she needs them to help her, but she doesn’t know how to get their attention when she can’t speak.  She falls down, folding into the linoleum like she consists of liquid.  As her eyes close, she wishes that it would open up and absorb her; she has no place in the world anymore.  Disappearing would be easier than living.

The world is loud, too many colors.  Everything is moving very fast.  She is in a room with no idea how she got there, on a bed surrounded by a dirty blue curtain.  The gown she is in is paper thin.  She feels naked, exposed.  People are staring, and she has the thought that they will see her, that they will know what happened.  One man is wearing a uniform, dark blue and official looking.  But he’s too close.  Via opens her mouth to scream but nothing comes out.  She tries to erase his existence by ducking into her arm, but there are wires and cable streaming out of her elbow.  They are jumbled and tangled together, like her insides.  She screams again, soundless, and he fades into the fog that is the rest of the world.

A weight settles on Via’s chest, and she thrashes in an effort to shake it off.  The fear increases the fog.  Everything around her is blurred together; everything is messed up.  Light and dark at the same time.  Loud.  Overwhelming.  She can’t focus.  Emerging from the fog, a woman takes her arms and holds her to the bed.  Every place the woman’s fingers make contact with her skin, Via feels a bolt of cold deep inside her bones.  The only thing she can focus on are the ten places where the woman is connecting with her skin.

The fingers are like a mirror, a reflection of the past.  Everything comes rushing back.  She can feel everything that happened.  She remembers.  Everything.

She blacks out.  But then she is awake, like no time has passed at all.  The woman is talking almost as soon as Via’s eyes crack open.  Was she sleeping at all?  Or was she just disappearing?  The questions were too fast to comprehend.  Was there someone they could call?  Via laughed deep inside, but not in a comedic way.  It was deeply sarcastic, bitter.  Someone they could call?  What a riot.

It is all over her, what happened.  She can’t get it off.  She has this notion that if she could just shower, if she could just scrub what happened away, things would maybe feel a little better.  But she isn’t allowed; she has to stay there.  There are no choices; there is no way to make things better.

She will never be clean.

The woman explains what she is doing as she goes along.  Via only catches a few snippets.  They call it evidence collection.  They are inside her.  Her experience as been reduced to nothing more than the collections of evidence, the collection of remains.

This proves it.  It is all over her.  He is all over her.  She is his.

She is his, and he is the wall.  She can not touch the rest of the world, and the rest of the world can not touch her.  Everything is right there, but she can’t reach it.  She will never be whole; she will never fit in again.  He has changed her; he has broken her.  Her place, her existence, has been erased; what is so large to her, what is so huge and irrevocably altering, seems so small to the rest of the world.  He has made a wall, strung her behind his net.  She is lost.  She can’t get out.  She can’t voice this, any of it.  She can’t speak.  She will never speak, ever again.

She hurts, but she’s numb at the same time.

She is ashamed.

Nothing more than evidence collection.

Alone.  Always.

Voltas in Literature and Life: The Larger Truth 2.0

In the literature world, the volta is referred to as the turn.  It’s the shift in a work, or the point of dramatic change.  Voltas don’t just occur in literature; they occur in life as well.  I believe a volta to be a point or event on a person’s timeline that drastically changes them—for the good or the bad.  I believe that we all have a volta, and maybe even more than one.  But for sure, there is one major event that completely changes who you are.

I have mine.  It’s always there in the background now, quietly humming away.  Sometimes it’s louder than at other times.  But it’s always there.  I fear it always will be.  And I can’t discuss it.  But where I lack in discussion, I compensate with writing.  Writing has given me a small edge.  Even though a large portion of what I write can never be shared and is just for me, I’ve found my own way to talk about what happened without actually having to speak.  The how and the where and the why don’t matter in the slightest; it just matters that I can write it, get it down, and get it out.  Getting the words out is the first step to healing, be they written or verbal.

I tell myself that I will share my memoir some day, in it’s entirety.  But I worry I might be too scared.  I feel like my story could mean something to people, and I truly struggle with that.  On the one hand, if sharing could help somebody else, shouldn’t it be done?  But on the other hand, would it just put a giant neon spotlight on me and all of my faults?  And on that note, are they even my faults, really?  Or are they the faults of others?  In what universe did it become acceptable to place the blame solely on myself?  I think about it all the time.  I worry about how I would be judged if people knew; I worry that I’ve broken the mold and will never be able to put it back together.  I worry that I don’t fit in with others the way I should; I worry that I never will.  I worry that people will not know what to say; I worry that they will say too much.

I worry that they will confirm my belief that what happened was my fault, as others have.  And I do not want to take that chance.  So I just don’t speak about it.

Society, whether we like it or not, dictates much of what we say.  There are many things that are deemed unacceptable to speak about, things that could get a person pounced upon verbally and emotionally for daring to bring them up.  So much in life comes with a stigma attached.  And who decided that that was okay?  Who decided that it was acceptable to dictate what other people should and should not be allowed to do?  Who decided that it was okay to look down on people because of their experiences?

Worse yet, who listened?  Well, I did.  I still do.  I wish that I could be strong enough to speak.  But I’m not.  I’m not strong at all.

When does it become okay to talk about things?  Will I always be writing them?  And is it okay to never let myself have that physical voice?

I’m not a girl; I’m not a woman; I’m not a victim of any kind.  I’m just a writer.  That’s all I want.  That’s all I’ll ever want.  And I hope that as long as I can write, I’ll be just fine.

The Larger Truth

The glass was cool; I leaned my forehead against it before sinking below the railing and sitting down on the radiator.  I felt disconnected.  It was hard for me to understand how people could be so ignorant.  I didn’t run on the wavelength.  I never had, and I never would.

They were right, at least partially.  Rape is an herb.  The word rape, in botany, belongs to the mustard family; it’s the same group that covers the cabbage, the mustard plant, and the turnip.  It’s used for lubrication, cooking, illumination, and making soap.  

I sipped my apple juice.  Used for making soap.  Somehow, I found I wasn’t surprised.  

I looked up all of its definitions.  The refuse of grapes left after extraction of the juice in winemaking.  A European plant of the mustard family.  Ordinary.  But not funny.  

The only thing that had come to mind was “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.”  It in no way applied to the situation.  Maybe people can be ignorant.  But that ignorance doesn’t entitle them to be inconsiderate.

There were more definitions.  To plunder or pillage.  To seize or carry off by force.  Abusive or improper treatment, a violation.  The crime of forcing another person to submit to sex acts.  

They laughed.  

The definitions streamed across the wide range of wine to sex.  It was ridiculous to have one word mean such completely different things.  With the myriad of words available in the English language, it should have been easy to come up with another word for it.  Perhaps even just “stringy yellow plant.”   

They laughed.  They heard the start of the paper, they made the connection between rape as an act and rape as a herb.  They cracked jokes.  And they laughed.  I listened for as long as I could, until I couldn’t breathe.  And then I got up and walked out.  I wanted to scream.  I could still hear them laughing from all the way down the hall.  I wasn’t sure I could go back inside.  

Every two minutes, someone in the United States is raped.  Each year, there are about 207, 754 victims.  44 percent of rape victims are under the age of 18.  80 percent are under the age of 30.  54 percent of sexual assaults are not reported to police.  97 percent of rapists don’t even spend ONE day in jail.  Two-thirds of assaults are committed by someone the victim has met previously.  38 percent are committed by a friend or acquaintance.  It’s that on one hand; it’s a yellow plant on the other.  It’s grapes.  It’s soap.

When I left, the door slammed behind me.  I hadn’t meant for that to happen.  Or maybe I had. 

Rape jokes aren’t funny.

Waiting

“You’re not giving up.  You will never give up.  You will never stop waiting for her to return.  And if she does come back, then you’ll be here.  But if she doesn’t?  You hope.”

I believe that the best writers are those who are touched a little by the dark side.  Now, I don’t mean dark as in “evil in a cloak wielding a lightsaber.”  I’m more thinking of dark as in touched by experiences beyond our control.  There are these experiences in life that we can’t stop, we can’t do anything about, but we can get them down on a page.  And that means something, at least to us.  It’s how we survive.  We craft our experiences into something manageable so that they don’t completely overwhelm us.  

Experiences change us.  It’s up to us whether that change is for better or worse.  I think that some experiences have the possibility to completely eradicate who we are.  Who we are, the original, is not gone; they are simply painted over by their experience.  The problem comes in when we wait around for the original to reappear.  I don’t know that that can happen, ever, at least not fully.  Some things are just too dark, and color us permanently.  Like a white piece of paper scribbled on with a black Sharpie.  You can’t come back, not all the way.

The challenge in living is the fact that we still have to keep going.  We aren’t giving up on our original selves.  We are simply choosing to move forward.  In the back of our minds, we are always waiting to see if that original will reappear.  We will welcome that original with open arms.  But we accept that this may not happen and we don’t stay stagnant—above all else, we keep going.  If we don’t, if we stay still and silent, we run the risk of becoming bitter and rotted.  And then our experiences win.  

The me that was is gone.  But I can’t stop and wait for her anymore.  I hear a lot how strong I am, and I laugh at that.  I’m not, not really.  But I want to be.  I want to be strong.  I want to be brave. I don’t want to be broken.  

All this to say, I’m not giving up.  Ever.  I’m not going to stop waiting in the back of my mind for myself to reappear.  I am, however, going to keep putting one foot in front of the other and moving forward.  And I’m going to keep talking.  Being silent benefits no one in the long run, but talking/writing/sharing benefits everyone. 

To Prove I CAN Be Funny

To prove I can also write funny things, here is an entry I wrote from the long ago land of MySpace entitled “Attention Walmart Shoppers.”  Yup, I worked there too, before I knew better.  I think this was from 2003 or so?

 

As the majority of the people who read my blog know, I work at Walmart.  And Walmart is evil.

No, seriously, I need to vent, and I have a few things that some people in this world REALLY need to know.

I’ll start with cashiering, which will probably be a good portion of the entry, because that’s what I did today.

First off?  Cashiers are people too.  We are not your servants, made to do your bidding.  We spend all day on our feet, scanning YOUR groceries, until we are ready to fall over–and we come back for more absolutely every single day.  We are, for the most part, ordinary people with ordinary families and ordinary lives…JUST LIKE YOU.  There’s absolutely NO EXCUSE for some people to treat cashiers the way that they do.  Just because we check out your groceries and such does NOT make us inferior beings.  If anything, it makes us SUPERIOR for putting up with the lot of you.

And now for a few more things y’all need to learn:

If you are writing a check, please have the check filled out beforehand.  I mean, when you pull into the parking lot, you OBVIOUSLY know where you are shopping.  The date?  Guess.  As for your signature…well, if you don’t know your own name, then you have a BIG problem.  For gosh sakes, have your identification ready!  When the cashier asks to see your driver’s license as you present your check, it is for your OWN protection.  We just want to make sure that it’s really YOU that’s using your checkbook, and not some moron who wants to steal your money.  I suppose if you’re up for having all of your money stolen, then by all means, don’t show an ID.  Heck, if you’re stupid enough to refuse the protection we’re offering you, then…Whatever.  The same thing goes for signature credit cards.  If you’re not going to sign it, or if you’re going to (and ESPECIALLY if you’re going to) write See ID on the back of it, then you had BETTER have your ID, and you better not be cranky when you have to get it out.  You should have it READY.

If you are writing a check from a different state, then I will need to get it approved, REGARDLESS of whether or not you have shopped in our store before.  I don’t care how long you’ve lived in this state, or how often you shop in our store.  I NEED TO GET APPROVAL.  If that check goes into our accounting office, and it’s an out of state check, without a CSM’s (customer service manager) signature, I will quite possibly lose my job.  On most days, I like my job.  And I want to keep it.  So I am GETTING approval, and that is the end of the story.

Please keep in mind, especially with a store the size of mine, that I do not know where everything is.  I don’t know where HALF of our stuff is.  Just because I work there does NOT mean that I know everything.  Sure, I know a lot…*takes a bow*…but not THAT much.  I know my department, and the places that I work, like the back of my hand.  I know bits and pieces of the rest.  I WILL help you find someone who DOES know, but you might have to wait a little longer.  Suck it up and deal with life like the rest of us!  Isn’t it worth it to have an answer, even if you have to wait an extra minute?  Yeah, I thought so. 

Just because I am your cashier does not make me God.  I do not write the schedule.  I don’t agree with it most of the time, that much is for sure.  If I am the only cashier out on the floor, that is not my fault.  Walmart is cheap.  They’re cutting labor.  So SUE ME, for pities sake!  I do not take the schedule and magically erase all of the other cashiers.  The managers make the schedule.  If you have a problem with it, call 1-800-WALMART.  Please.  Call.  It would make my day.

Walmart DOES match competitor’s ads.  However, we do it as a favor to YOU, the customer.  So don’t take advantage of it.  You can’t expect us to match an item if it’s not the exact same thing.  We do the price matching as a favor to you.  Take the extra effort, and find the exact same item.  We don’t honor buy one get one frees from other stores, or percent off coupons from other ads.  Take the gift we’re giving you, and accept it.

If I am going home, I don’t want to stop and talk to you.  Notice that my vest is hanging over my arm, and I am walking out the door.  I am not on the clock.  I have worked nine hours, and I am LEAVING THE STORE.

If you are drunk, I am not going to sell you alcohol.  If you appear to be under the age of thirty, and cannot provide a government issued ID, I am not going to sell you alcohol.  If you harass me about this, I will call security and have you removed from the store.  You guys know the rules.  Enough is enough.  I didn’t make the laws, I just obey them.  Same thing for cigerettes.  We can only sell them off of one register now.  I didn’t make the rule, I’m just following it.  It’s not my problem.  If you want to make it YOUR problem, then, again, call 1-800-WALMART.

Also, one last thing.

If you bring something with you up to the checkout, then BUY IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  Don’t decide you don’t want it at the last minute.  And KNOW HOW MUCH MONEY YOU HAVE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  Don’t bring up more than you can afford.  If in doubt, guess low, check out, and then go back and get more.

If you’re having a bad day, I’m truly sorry.  HOWEVER, that doesn’t mean you can take it out on me.  I will listen, I will play the bartender, but I will NOT take your bull.  I am a person too.  I am me, I am an individual, I am a PERSON.  So treat me like one.

Guns and Robbers

My normal daily routine while running the gas station involved first loading hot dogs onto the roller grill, balancing the store cash, stocking the soda cooler, and then hanging out inside the cashier cubicle.  The cashier cubicle was surrounded by glass and had a window that closed and a door that locked.  After two years, I was used to the bad neighborhood.  I did not require my cashier’s to lock the cage; they only did if they felt uncomfortable.  Personally, I only locked myself in the cubicle when I was stuck working overnights because it was a pain to try and interact with customers through glass.

Always a people person.

I actually had enough payroll on that particular day to afford both myself and a cashier, which meant I was free to do other things.  My mission of the morning was figuring out how to best set up my two beer displays so that they would take up the least amount of space.  I had finished all of my normal tasks, and had no real grand plans for the rest of my day.  It was nice to have a day off of the cash register.

A big guy came in, dressed in khakis and a creased blue shirt with a wrinkled collar.  He had a blue plastic clipboard clutched in his armpit.  “Hello,” he said, approaching me where I knelt beside one of my wheeled displays.  “Are you the manager?”

“Yes,” I replied, “what can I do for you?”

“My name’s Ron.  I work for the health department.  I’m here to do your inspection.”

I frowned and asked for his badge.  He produced it from his back pocket and held it out to me.  Rubbing it between my fingers, it seemed legit if not quite old.  It was laminated, but still a little wrinkled.  I shrugged and handed it back.  I had been through health inspections before.  “What do you need from me?”

He wandered away towards the front windows without answering me at first.  Leaning closer to one of my front windows, he gestured, “See this here window banner?”

I nodded.

“It’s way too big.  You need to be able to have a clear view of the parking lot from the cashier area.  This covers up everything; you can’t see in or out.”

“Okay…” I answered, confused.  Why did the health inspector care about my windows?

He came back past me and headed towards the walk-in cooler.  He pulled open the door and looked inside.  “I’m not sure about this either.”  He took a step in, and I held the door open behind him.  “I think that these maybe not be stacked quite so high.”

Maybe?  No, I was clearly violating height regulations, but I didn’t have a choice.  The store was way too small.

Without going any further into the cooler, he turned around and went past me and out into the back room.  “What do you have here by way of security systems?”

My spidey sense for weird had already been tingling, but the bells started going off full force at that moment.  Health inspectors checked things like food preparation and storage.  They didn’t ask about windows; they certainly didn’t ask about security systems.  Something wasn’t right.  “Uh, well,” I stammered.

“Can you show me?”

If I took him back towards where the computer was, I could slip into the cashier cage, shut the door, and press the holdup button.  Whether he was a robber or not, the police would still come.  They came whenever I called; I gave them free coffee and donuts whenever they stopped by so they were more than happy to help with whatever situations arose.  “It’s this way,” I told him, heading in the opposite direction from where the security system was, towards the cash control computer and the cashier cage.  My cashier was in the cage, waiting on a customer.  “Give me just one second,” I said, holding up a finger and leaving Ron standing by the computer.  I had just barely crossed the threshold of the cashier cage when I felt something pressing against my back.

“I need you to open the safe now.”

My cashier screamed and dropped to the floor, but the movement barely registered.  Nothing did except for the hard object pressed against my back.  Gun.  I dropped down to my knees in front of the safe, which right under the cash register.  I looked at my cashier, and she met my eyes, tears streaming down her face.  She was barely eighteen years old.  I looked back up at Ron.  “I’ll open it if you let her go.  She’s just a kid.”

He didn’t answer me, instead jabbing the gun into my back again.

“She’s scared.  Please, just let her go.  I’ll give you whatever you want.”  I was scared too, but I was the manager.  It was my job to get her out first, to get her away from the gun.  I wished I had paid more attention in robbery training; you never really think that it will happen to you.  It also occurred to me that if he let her go and she made it outside, chances were she would run into a bike patrol cop before too long and they would come back and save me.  The holdup button was too far down the counter; I wouldn’t be able press it without him seeing what I was doing.  The cashier was much closer.

“Open the safe, and then I’ll let her go.”

Step one of robbery training came back.  Don’t negotiate.  Give them whatever they want, and try to get them out as quickly as possible.

I fumbled with the safe, entering my combination once then twice then three times without no success.  He put one hand on my shoulder and held the gun to my head with the other.  “Open it.  Now.”

My hands were shaking.  I looked over at my cashier, and then at the holdup button.  White and huge under the counter.  It was right there.  She looked at me, and then at the button.  I nodded.  After I entered my combination, successfully, and pulled the door open, Ron bent down and began pulling unused cash drawers out.  My cashier lunged up into a squat and rammed her finger into the button.

The police sirens came into range no more than a minute later.  He had been stuffing money into a bank bag, but when he heard them coming he struck me with the gun and then bolted.  The money scattered everywhere as he ran.

My cashier and I sat on the floor, stunned.  He was gone, but he hadn’t shot us.  I didn’t cry, not until I got home that night.

He was never found.

We locked the cashier cage on every shift after that.

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