Category Archives: Creative Nonfiction

I Lose People, I Lose Myself

Sun came in the windows for a brief moment today. There’s been a lot of gloom. I’m used to being outside. I went from buzzing around all day every day to sitting on my butt in a nest of blankets and pillows playing video games and reading the occasional book. And writing. Sometimes. I’m supposed to be writing. I’ve written some, every day of quarantine, but I’m trying too hard and I know it. I need to work on something else. I need to write but I want to be outside.

The weather is reflective of my mood, though I can’t think of a metaphorical way to say that. It just is what it is. Perhaps the sun too fears the virus; it hides behind clouds and peeks out sporadically to see if the coast is clear. I am reminded of a professor long ago who used to joke about English majors being ready for the zombie apocalypse. When I look outside, when I go outside, that’s what it feels like. The few people who are out wear masks, and those who care queue up six feet apart to enter their destination. They’re talking about creating mass graves in the city parks to deal with the overwhelming number of dead. I never imagined the world would really be like this, despite an upbringing of disaster and horror films. The back of my head echos with thoughts of who the first to zombify will be. As a result, I don’t go outside much. We aren’t supposed to anyway. Stay at home. Social distancing. I’m an introvert, yes, but it still sucks. I miss it. I want to walk and run and breathe fresh air and, for lack of better imagery, frolic in the tulips. Divorced nearly ten years, I find myself in a place mentally that I can’t define, a void where I can’t go out and I can’t see friends and I can’t work. And I can’t go outside.

It feels like my marriage.

My ex-husband wasn’t too keen on the outdoors normally. He was a pretty boy; he spent more time in the mirror getting perfect every morning than I spent in an entire week. He didn’t like to sweat. I’d camped with my grandma a lot as a child, but the ex wasn’t into that. He was, however, into ultimate frisbee. To this day, I don’t know why. The park surrounding the college near where we lived had an amazing frisbee golf course. He called me after my merchandising shift one night to tell me to meet him, and his family, there. He and his brother and his mother and his father and his sister and her maybe by then husband would be playing the entire course. I wasn’t in the mood after a ten hour workday to battle bloodthirsty mosquitos in near darkness when I hadn’t even had dinner yet. But I went. I had to. I was driving his car to work after my recent accident, and I knew he’d want me to drive him home. So I changed in the work bathroom into something more presentable.

The then-husband took my hand when I got there, wove his sweaty fingers into mine and soaked my palm. I could tell by the way he squeezed that I had pleased him. It wasn’t often that he gave me that feeling. I breathed in the dark air, the unidentifiable-to-me tree scents. I took all that for granted back then, when I could go outside whenever I wanted. The most important thing to me then was that the husband was happy. He wrapped an arm around me to pull me in, whispered “I’m winning.”

“I know,” I replied. It seemed like the only thing to say. Anything else that hinted he might not win didn’t feel right. I was in enough trouble. I had to be careful.

I crashed my car on a Sunday afternoon, a few weeks prior. 

The husband and his family were at a concert by the lake in the city where I lived then. Normally I loved concerts. When I was a kid, my grandma would take me to see big band concerts, jazz, symphonies, and the like. But on that particular weekend, sitting in a green camping chair under the white temporary tent, watching the husband press buttons and sliders and try to make the band sound good while everyone praised him for being such a wonderful Christian example and starting his new sound engineering business, it was all too much. I had always thought that because he was a Christian he was good. I didn’t know then that those two ideas weren’t necessarily married, but I was beginning to get an idea. I feigned a phone call from work that urgently needed my attention and promptly got in my car and took off. 

I drove towards the store, fully intending to go there so he’d see me on the GPS. I remember the soundtrack to a “A Walk to Remember” blaring as I opened the car windows to enjoy the 80 degree day, not caring in the slightest that people could hear me singing along with Mandy Moore. It was a straight shot down the rural highway, a maybe twenty minute ride. 

At the third stoplight, a Ford F150 slammed into me from behind. My singing stopped instantaneously as I tried to rapidly process what had happened. The thoughts came quicker than I could hold on to them:

Was this my fault? I was stopped at the red. He smashed me from behind. The husband is going to kill me. Oh god, he’s going to have to leave the gig. What am I going to tell him? How much is this going to cost us? 

I got out of the car. I’d never had an accident before; I didn’t know I wasn’t supposed to. My chest, face, hurt where I’d slammed the dash, but the injuries my car had sustained were much worse. The enormous back truck had crunched its way over the truck of my Oldsmobile accordion style. Glass from the back windows was all over the highway.

The truck was driven by an off duty police officer who summoned his coworkers before I really understood what was going on. He claimed I had failed to signal a lane change before stopping at the light, despite the fact that my signal was on. By the time the husband showed up with his entire family in tow, I had been issued a citation for failure to signal and a tow truck had been summoned to remove my totalled vehicle from the road. 

He wasn’t mad. Somehow, he wasn’t mad. We went back to the gig in the family van and packed up all the sound equipment, headed home, and watched “A Walk to Remember.” I didn’t have the heart to tell him it wasn’t my favorite movie anymore. But for the following weeks, he made me pay for my transgression in different ways. A sideways look here. A changed channel there. An off putting comment about the dinner I’d cooked or the long hours I was working, that I couldn’t always go to church on Sundays. He wasn’t working by that point; his budding new business had taken over all of his time yet produced minimal income. He was jealous of me, but I didn’t see that then. 

That felt erased as we stood on the path in the middle of a bug-ridden unlit woods, searching for the next frisbee hoop. He pointed with the frisbee. ‘Think I can make it?”

My answer was automatic. “Of course.”

He didn’t make it. The frisbee bounced off and got lost in the darkness, but I plunged after it without a second thought. Into the bushes I went, scraping my arms on prickers.

“Do you see it?” He made no effort to follow or help me.

As I plunged further in, a branch grabbed my untethered hair and pulled, eliciting a yelp.

“What’s the matter? See a ghost?”

I kept my mouth shut, my fingers closing around the blue plastic disc. Gently disentangling myself from the wooded bark fingers, I slipped back to the path and handed him his treasure. “Try again,” was all I replied. “You can make it.” And he did.

He was the victor of his family unit, and we left the woods hand in hand. He was happy I’d come, happy I’d played along. He liked when I–

A blast of light greeted us in the face as we emerged from the trailhead to the parking lot. Headlights. I’d left his car headlights on. Did he blame it on the ten hour work day, the lack of breaks or food? No, he blamed it on my ever-present idiocy, a fact he drove home without speaking as his nails dug into my palm.

“Let us drive you both home,” his mother insisted when the car wouldn’t start. We lived around the corner from them then so it wasn’t inconvenient.

I knew when he said no that things wouldn’t end well. I feared what would happen in the dark as we waited for the tow truck to arrive with jumper cables. I was right to fear.

I was right to fear then, but am I right to fear now, fear that I can’t go outside, that I might get sick, that the not-real zombies might get me? The fear is different now, but it feels the same today as it did back then, fear of this virus that waits in the unknown, fear of the husband that cracked in the dark. And I don’t know what that means, if my life is any different now than it was then, if I’ve come so far to be the same person I always was, trapped inside without friends and unemployed. I watch an episode of a zombie show where one of the survivors gets the phrase “I lose people; I lose myself” sharpied onto his forehead with permanent black marker. I realize how much I miss a life it took me so long to rebuild, a life quarantine makes me feel like is being erased. I try the words on my tongue, “I lose people; I lose myself.” I hold my furry best friend a little tighter, and I count the days till life might resume again.

Tagged , , , ,

StayHomeWriMo, Day 6!!!

Writing prompt: Write a ghost story.

When the F train to Brooklyn pulls up after a long day of dog walking, I wait by the last car where I am most likely to get a seat. I slip inside and drop onto the middle of a bench, take my bag off my shoulder, and rest it in my lap. At the very last second before the doors slip shut, a man so tall his head almost hits the top of the door opening, forces his way inside. His dreads drape in a long, knotted mess against his stained white shirt and low hanging jeans. He leans against the doors on the opposite side of the car, and as we start moving he starts muttering. I can’t make out a lot of the words, but as he gradually increases his volume to scream territory, phrases like white privilege and bloody racists come through. Another day in Manhattan, another person going crazy on the train; whatever good or valid points he may have made are lost in his screams. I reach into my bag to pull out my headphones without looking at him, and plug them into my cell phone before popping the buds into my ears.

When I look up again, the man is flying across the train car. He grabs my wrist and yanks my phone out of my hand so abruptly that the headphone cord comes out of the jack. My phone goes flying into the window on the opposite side of the car, right between two bystanders’ heads. The crazy is screaming at me, calling me a racist bitch, and then the man next to me stands up and punches him in the face so hard that the crazy goes spinning back into the pole in the middle of the aisle and crumples to the floor. 

Someone hands me my poor cracked phone as the train pulls into the next station. I pull the earbuds out of my ears and shove them into my purse as I explode out the door the instant it opens. I am not afraid of the crazy; I see crazies every day, though not usually to this extent. I am afraid of what the crazy reminds me of, of the path my brain will take. 

That’s what PTSD is. The human brain is made up of tons of different neural networks. We strengthen the connections between neurons when we learn to do something. When a person is learning how to ride a bike, a neural pathway forms that strengthens every time a person correctly completes the action of bicycling. If the person never has the desire to ride a bike, that neural pathway is not formed because the neurons never receive direction to connect. And if a person who rode a bike as a child doesn’t ride a bike for many years, the neural pathway they made when riding will slowly fade away. But neural pathways don’t form just for happy things like childhood bike riding. They also form from unhappy things. A psychologist named Martin Seligman coined the term “learned helplessness” after his experimentation on dogs. He locked dogs in kennels with no way out and shocked them again and again. The dogs would try to escape, throwing themselves against the sides of the kennel and biting at the metal. But once they figured out there was no escape, the dogs would simply lie down and take the shocks. Even after Seligman opened the kennel so they could walk out, the dogs continued to take the shocks. The neural pathways formed by the repeated electrocution taught the dogs there was no way out. There are chemicals formed inside the neurons during adverse experiences that aren’t formed during happy ones; these chemicals are what make the negative memories last longer. The neural pathways formed by negative memories are stronger and harder to break. 

Post traumatic stress disorder is a name for the formation of a negative neural pathway (or pathways) caused by exposure to something from the past. For instance, there are certain things that trigger the feeling like someone or something is squeezing the inside of the chest. My chest. It’s difficult for me to explain PTSD to people outside of it. Really, it’s my brain being scared. My neural pathways sending me into fight or flight that generally transports me to somewhere other than where the “fight” occurred. I think of my brain as a bit of a firecracker. There is only so long that my fuse can burn before it blows up. Over time, I have grown good at recognizing the signs of an impending blow-up in enough time to escape the situation.

As a result, I have a lot of good days. 

On this day in Brooklyn, however, the bench is cold. I’m wearing blue jeans, and my work hoodie, and my pink sneakers, and my hair is red. These are the things I know, but there is a lot I don’t know. For instance, how long I’ve been here, on the bench. I don’t know that. My arms are covered in goosebumps, and I’m shivering, my teeth clattering and my hands shaking. I am not sitting in the sun. I don’t know why. 

The wind makes my tears sting. I’m crying. When did I start crying? It’s cold. My brain hurts, and I’m scared I’m losing my mind. It doesn’t hurt that I’m scared; it hurts more that I’m not sure why, that I can’t pinpoint whether I am just afraid or if I will always be that way or if it is because there was a man on the F train that I thought might kill me. 

Today is not a good day. 

There are two men throwing a frisbee in the park across the street from where I sit. Brooklyn Bridge Park. I’m in DUMBO. When B and I first got married, we played disc golf together back in Wisconsin. I drove my car; his was at the mechanic. We parked and played through the course, only to come back and find I’d left the lights on in the car. I got in so much trouble for that one.

I’m not afraid today in Brooklyn because of the crazy man on the F train. I’m afraid because of what he represents, because of the things he made me remember, because of the time that I lost walking away from the train. I tell myself not to be scared. 

There is something to be said about surviving. About recovery. It’s never easy. When you’ve told everyone that you’re okay but you still wear your heart on your sleeve, it crushes way too easily under the crazies on the subway. When you think things are going well, when you get to that point where there is a year worth of okay days, the one that is not okay is devastating. I want to be the strong woman, the one that is okay, the one people are proud of. The one that isn’t a disappointment. 

I cry. I cry because I am done with all of this. I am finished with being hurt and I am finished with being scared and I am finished with all of it. I can never get back what was taken from me and I will never again be who I was. But I am in New York City. I am on a bench that is cold, wearing blue jeans and my work sweatshirt and my sadly hopeful pink sneakers and my hair is red. 

And tomorrow is another day.

Tagged , , , , ,

StayHomeWriMo Day 4!!!

Writing prompt: Write about a secret you or a character have been keeping.

Sleep is hard, since the quarantine started. In all honesty, she’s never been the best sleeper. But it’s so much worse now. It all starts out fine – some melatonin there, a trazodone there – she’s out like a light within half an hour, but up again at 2am. 4am. The nights stretch on, long, dark. There are haunting images in the dark: hisses and pings from the radiator like a hammer against a metal pole; deep bass music from the neighbor down and diagonal; rolling on the floor above like a child’s Big Wheel, going up and down the hallway, again, again. Again. Alexa’s white noise can’t drown it all out, no matter how hard it tries. And it does try. And it does work, a little. Not enough.

530am she flips to the foot of the bed and turns on a Lifetime movie to fall back asleep, secure and wrapped up in her giant blue body pillow. If it’s not the right Lifetime movie, she won’t fall back asleep. There are criteria. Not too violent. Not too interesting. Preferably one she’s seen before. “The Pregnancy Project” was too good; she had to stay awake to watch it. The Amanda Knox movie was one she’d seen so many times she was out before they found the bodies. The tabby cat loves this routine and jumps right into the body pillow for movie cuddles and tummy rubs; the cat is the least changed by this virus. For the cat, quarantine could go forever.

When Good Morning, America comes on, she puts on ABC. Every morning. And every morning there are new statistics on coronavirus. The total sick, total dead. They call NYC the epicenter now. Thousands and thousands of cases. This is why it doesn’t matter if she sleeps; she doesn’t have a routine to go back to anyway. No job. No real work. She could sleep all day. She watches the age breakdown carefully; it’s in her age group now. People in her age group are being hospitalized. She tells herself it’s because they’re idiots who refuse to stay home, but she’s not sure. She doesn’t leave the house. She follows the rules. She isn’t ready to die yet. She writes, every day. She plays, every day. She thinks about sleep, every day.

 

Tagged , , , ,

Failure

I went to the State Fair for the first time in summer of 2009. The day was the kind of warm where your clothing stuck to your skin wherever the two met, made enjoyable only by the sights and sounds of every possible food you could imagine being deep fried. An energy drink had been my only real sustenance of the day, and normally that would have been fine, but on this particular day I passed out in the goat barn. It caused quite the spectacle. Bell ambulance showed up in a golf car and took my vitals, gave me and Capri Sun, and told me to take it easy the rest of the day. We went to one of the dining tents after and I devoured a grilled cheese, perplexed as to why I was suddenly so hungry. Writing it off as a side effect of my caffeine addiction, I never even told the husband.

But a little whisper told me that passing out could mean something else. So a couple weeks later I went to Walmart and bought a two pack of pregnancy tests. Both were positive. I put them back in their wrappers and buried them in the Litter Genie under all the gross cat poop and went to go buy more tests. Two more boxes, to be precise. And I took test after test after test because I simply couldn’t believe I was actually pregnant. As I waited for them to reveal what I already knew, I wondered how to tell him. the husband. What to say.

I went down the hall from the bathroom to his office with a test in my pocket. Coming up behind him, I put my hands over his eyes. “Hi.”

“Hey.” He spun his chair around to face me. “What’s up?”

I took the test out of my pocket and passed it to him. He looked from me to the stick and back again before passing it back. “No.”

I shook my head and leaned against the doorframe, slapping the test against my palms uncertainly as I pondered how to respond. “Yes,” was what I finally settled on.

“I don’t…” The husband’s gaze went almost longingly to his computer before looking at me again. “Our marriage isn’t that great, and I don’t really think this will fix that.”

“You don’t want this.” It wasn’t a question.

“Do you?

I was scared to let him know how much I did, scared to tell him it was baby, not a thing. I knew then that while I might be ready for a child, we weren’t ready. He would never be ready.

The first person I told, after the husband, was the person I’d gone to State Fair with. I called her from the line at the post office while I waited to send off a payment for a speeding ticket. She laughed and said she already had a good idea; we referenced the fair incident. By week thirteen, it seemed fairly safe to tell other people too.  I kept working, adjusted to life as an expectant mother, and moved forward with life. It was conveniently the week I was scheduled for my “getting to know you” interview with the church choir. I used that interview to my advantage and told everyone; I was finally starting to get excited.

The husband just…didn’t seem as into the idea as I was. When I started looking through registries on various sites, figuring out all the different baby things we would need, he never helped. I registered for the things I thought we had the best chance of receiving, in a wide enough price range for our friends and family to pick and choose. I created a bookmarks folder on my laptop labelled “BABY STUFF!!!” and dumped all the awesome baby items I spotted into it. But every time I tried to show the husband, he didn’t look. There was always something else to take his attention, something with work or with a band or really, anything else. Everything out there in the universe took precedence over our family. Over me.

By the time I got home most nights, I was too tired after an entire day of work to do anything else. There was an expected chores list as prescribed by the husband: dishes, cooking, cleaning, vacuuming, anything pet related, and anything else he didn’t want to do. Things that didn’t get done: dishes, cleaning, and vacuuming. The cats were my first children, so I took care of them. I cooked because was hungry, but I frequently complained in my head–not out loud, I didn’t dare–that he should cook for me once in a while. When the chores didn’t get done, the husband would make feel so inadequate I’d cry.

I once chucked a pillow at him and called him an asshole. I was, after all, growing a tiny human inside my body. We fought all the time. He’d accuse me of failing at housework; I’d remind him of my 45 to 50 hour work weeks and my need to sit down.

“Do you want to quit your job then? Is that what you’re saying?” He leaned on our breakfast bar and stared me down.

“I didn’t say that. I just said that I’m tired and need a little rest…”

“I do everything around here,” he insisted, “I pay the bills.”

That was literally all he did. He didn’t have a real job. was the breadwinner. I also held our medical insurance policy. He was wrong, and he didn’t understand me at all.

I had one job. To grow that baby, to take care of it. And whenever the husband and I would fight, I’d stress that. So when the baby died, I dreaded making that phone call almost more than I grieved what I had lost. I didn’t want to tell him I had failed.

Tagged , , ,

Knowing

Your last meal was cream cheese stuffed jalapeño poppers. The disgusting greasy ones from Pizza Hut. We had a Pizza Hut problem, you and I. I ate them sitting at my desk in the office at Factory Card and Party Outlet, an old chain soon to be purchased by Party City, in my spinning black desk chair in front of the computer. It was my lunch break, sure, but there was never really break there. Not at that store. Not under that budget. I was always moving, working, managing something.

It was to be my last day. Two weeks before, my boss had informed me I was one month shy of qualifying for the Family Medical Leave Act. I was pregnant and obviously would be taking time off when you came. But because I hadn’t been with the company a year, they would not hold my job open for me if I was out longer than four weeks, and with three weeks to go until my due date, my doctor was pulling me from my labor intensive merchandising work. With nothing to lose, I put my feet up on the desk and consumed every last one of the poppers. With apple juice. You liked apple juice. It always made you move. You didn’t move that day. And I didn’t think it was weird, in the moment, I just thought you were getting bigger and had less space in my belly to swim around.

Looking back now, I realize my mistake. I wish I’d said something then, made calls, done something over waiting for my OB appointment three hours later. If I’d said something then, would that moment where your heartbeat never appeared in the monitor have happened? Would my heart have broken right along with yours, never to be repaired?Would I have had to call the husband and tell him you were gone, that we didn’t know why? I’ll never know. I’ll never know what happened to you. I’ve never learned to be okay with that.

Four weeks later, I went back to work. I didn’t want to. I wanted to curl up on the couch in blankets and picture you in my arm, the heft of your four pounds, the silk of your wispy blonde hair, the not quite stiffness of your fingers when I wrapped them around my thumb. But I went back to work because I needed that job, that insurance, that purpose, in a world that existed without you. And someone came in and asked how you were and I lost it. Locked myself in the bathroom and cried on a floor multiple customers had urinated over in a little ball because I didn’t know how to tell the world that you were dead. I didn’t know how to tell myself you were dead. Ten years later, I still don’t always know. And I wish I could pretend that you were still here, but we’re past that now, you and I.

One minute I was pregnant, the next I wasn’t. One minute you were here, the next you weren’t. And no one ever knew you but me.

Tagged , ,

Your Body

Your body is a temple.

It’s one of the first tenets of eating disorder treatment. Your body is a god damn motherfucking temple. You need to treat it well; you need to feed it so it can function to its fullest potential. You need to take care of it. Your body does not take care of you. Why would you take care of your body? You betrayed your body.

Your body betrayed you.

There’s no connection, between you and your body. Why would there be? It does not belong to you. It never did. It was never yours. It is a thing that gets you from point a to point b and back again, a thing that allows you to work, to exist. But it’s not yours. Your body is everywhere and anywhere and some days you hate it so much that you can’t sit with it, you can’t be comfortable in it. You run and you run, day in, day out, but you cannot shed it. You cannot have a new body. You can’t have a body that belongs to you. This body is not yours. It is not yours.

Whose is it, exactly? 

Your body belongs to the men who took you. You could never control that, them, it. You could never control anything. They still have your body. You’re a ghost; you’re a shell; you exist; you do not really exist. You are a soul without a home.

Your body is a placeholder.

You can’t get out of yourself. You can’t move. You are stuck here. Your body is not yours; it’s disgusting, the idea of so many others inside it. You were weak; your body was is weak. You are your body; you aren’t your body. You cannot make it yours when what was yours is forever altered. Destroyed. Dirty. You are dirty. And you can’t run away because you’re trapped inside this body that is not yours, that will never be yours. You scrub and you can’t get it off. You’re doing okay, but then you’re not. You will always go back. You cannot get rid of it, this body, this disgusting body. 

Your body will never be clean.

You close your body off to a world that doesn’t want it. You shut it down, slowly, line by line, item by item, piece by piece. You can’t swallow; you can’t breathe. You can’t take care of a temple that belongs to someone else. You could burn this all down and not look back. Your body is a map that you can’t change, with too many stories to tell. Stories of other people. Stories that hurt, that fester, that creep up on you when you don’t expect it. Your heart is vacant. You cannot rebuild it. You can give it to other people, but not yourself. 

All your body tried to do was exist.

Your body is you. You are your body; you’re not your body because it will never be yours. You don’t want to be your body, not this body, not this. You stomp it down and you play at existence, and when you’re hurting you push it away and you wish that it would implode. You cannot pretend it doesn’t hurt anymore. You cannot meet everybody’s expectations. You cannot be the person that they want you to be, that they need you to be, when your body is not yours, not really, not ever. 

Your body is ravaged.

You can label, body part by body part, the places that were touched, changed. Destroyed. You can give some a name, others you can’t. You can list all of the ways your body failed you because it’s easier than talking about how you failed your body. It wasn’t you that let this happen. It was your body. You need something to hate. It can’t be you. It has to be the body. It has to be. This hurts too much to think about. You want to hold on, to be better, to not have this body, not this one, give you something different, something else, anything else. You want to be better. You want to understand, but you don’t know how. You want to grab the life ring, but you don’t know how. You can’t control your body anymore than you can control what happened to it, because you don’t know how. You don’t know the why of everything, the reason, and you need that. You need that to understand your body. You want to understand your body, but you also don’t. 

Your body is a horror show on display for everyone to see.

You want someone to tell you that it’s okay. That it wasn’t your fault. To keep telling you, reminding you, every day, because you forget, a lot, because you have to live in this body that carries the weight of every single one of those faults. You are constantly reminded of everything you your body did. You need all of this to go away. Your honesty is all you have. The devastation that you will never fit the normal bounds of living or have a body not exploited, a body not stained with the traces of every hand that ever touched it that wasn’t yours. You do not stain your own body. No, no. You do not touch it. You. Do. Not. Touch. It. If you leave it, maybe, the stain will fade. 

No more dirt. No more map. No more stains.

Tagged , , , ,

Adaptation

Empty Fridge

The fear appears out of nowhere, when I least expect it. Waiting at Whole Foods I can I smell it around the stranger standing behind me, a mixture of alcohol, not the cheap kind, Axe, and Old Spice. I can’t make myself turn and glance at him because I know he’ll be staring, his hair spiked and the lights dancing off it, his Abercrombie sweater situated just so. 

I know he’s not here, my rapist, but he also is at the same time. This man I don’t know becomes him. I can’t explain it. 

I want to be brave like everyone wants me to be. I want to turn and shout and scream and fight. Forget being brave. I freeze, become invisible, and pray I get sucked into the ground. I run, fast, my groceries forgotten, to the doors that don’t open fast enough, past the security guard left wondering if I’m that shoplifter he heard about yesterday. They have a lot of shoplifters.

And my fridge stays empty. I have to be okay with that. I learn to order groceries. I adapt, in all the ways that count.

Never Being Clean

When I think of fear, I think of hands. Not the kind of hands that should have waved to me when I was a tiny human, enclosed me in a safe hug. Not the hands that should have clapped when I was a silly, normal little girl. Not the hands that should have taught me how to properly do my hair, a skill I never mastered. 

No, hands are the worst, hands are dirty and disgusting. They are magic; they find their way inside my pants and force themselves into places I don’t want them, and I can’t make them stop, the fingers as cold between my legs are they were pressed against my throat. I can feel it run into the veins and race through my body, into my heart, and out the other side. I change and my insides are my outsides, stained and just as dirty as he is. 

I know I can never wash that touch away; I fear can never be clean. 

Enjoyment

His mother walked in on us, just one time, when we were in her basement. We hadn’t gotten married yet. She looked, saw his hand clearly in my pants, saw my tears, took her newspaper and walked away. I waited for her to come back, to shout him off, but nothing happened. We would sit side by side when he finished, when he came, and watch a movie. I would be angry with myself and disgusted that I could enjoy those small glimpses of freedom where he wasn’t touching me. 

Hiding

I imagine everyone knows and that terrifies me. But I also want people to know at the same time? How strong I was. How I survived. I imagine they can smell him on me, the shame and worthlessness oozing out as an indication of what had happened to me. I am the best at hiding, in pillows, in blankets, in the middle of a crowded subway car. 

The fear has a fierce grip, its tentacles wrapped firmly around my whole being. I am always on alert, fear of life itself. I am on a treasure hunt, except forget sparkles as a prize, just the realization that monsters are real, though only in my head now. I don’t know how to beat them forever. 

Then

Then is the sound of keys bouncing off a car tire and hitting the concrete.

Then is pain and blood and cold and a purple stain in the backseat of the car.

Then is a sea of white, then nothing at all.

Then is the feeling of melting snow between my toes and a lost shoe. One black flat, size ten.

A Bad Person

The problem with believing you are bad is that it makes you bad. It makes you not want to get up in the morning, not want to leave the house. It makes you want to throw every piece of good you can at the world to try and make up for what you did. 

Walls

The beauty of building walls that are so impenetrable is that they keep monsters and fear out. The problem with building new relationships is it demolishes those walls. Well, that’s my theory, anyway. I have tried to out run them. Drown them. Bury them. But the walls have kept them in not out, and I know that now. I have been their loyal keeper and given them a place to thrive where I could never win. 

Adaptation

It’s been a long tough journey to stay afloat. I met someone who gave me this beautiful gift of trust in such a way I had no option but to allow the words that would stick in my throat, clawing their way back down to the dark depths to finally make the sounds for her to hear. It took huge amounts of courage for her to give me never ending love, compassion and support while I opened up to her and braved my soul. She’s taught me that behind these walls there is someone beautiful and worth knowing. The bricks can be brought down, one by one, slowly, each one letting in more lift so the nightmares and fear will gradually lessen. That the monster can be beaten. That I can, and will, adapt.

 

Tagged , , , , ,

A Life Not Lived

I think of my son, Carter, as a whisper. A glimpse of something in the wind that my mind, in the grand scheme of life, barely got a chance to capture. I have to paint his life in my head, every year, a portrait of who he might be.

I picture him as dirty blonde. I don’t know why. In my memories, his hair after he was born is gray, almost translucent. And my hair is brown. B’s was brown. But I picture Carter’s as dark blonde. For the longest time, I pictured him wearing suspenders, one side on properly and one dropped off the shoulder just so. I think I wore suspenders as a kid. Maybe. Or I just wanted to. When he would have been younger, I’d picture him finger painting. Napping. Eating graham crackers. Now I picture him as he’d be, nine years old. Maybe playing sports. Soccer? Soccer seems safe, so far as sports go. Musically inclined, a trait I’d be much more likely to encourage.

I picture Carter as my everything. My entire world. I think I’ve been looking for him, looking to fill that hole, for all this time. I tell my therapist that I want kids, desperately. There is nothing I want more. I tell my therapist I will never have kids. I don’t want the kind of relationship that creates them. I’m not even looking. She tells me to put my big girl pants on and get to a point where I can foster. Adopt. I look this up and I know that I don’t qualify, that she is hoping and believing in something for me that I will never hope nor believe in for myself. She tells me that the point of all our work is so that I WILL qualify someday. I don’t argue. Can’t.

It hurts sometimes to think about Carter, to realize that I’m getting older and I could be nearing the end of that time of my life. I’m just a girl with two unsustainable careers who goes home at night and reads and plays video games and watches tv because that life she thought she’d have, married with kids, is unattainable. It is harder this year, as I watch the people around me procreate, as I realize it’s been almost ten years and I am really the only one who remembers him. There were no music lessons, no sports. No snacks. No naps. No finger paints. That is all in my head. He lived a life not remembered. And this year, the ninth year, I wish more than anything that I could change that. Because it hurts more than anything.

Carter’s whole life can be summarized by the few minutes I got to hold him. I can see it in photos, the way his fingers curl around mine, the way he fit just right in my arms. The way his eyes never opened, but I knew, just knew, that they were like mine. He was beautiful, and I’m the only one who knew him. And I know that even though he was gone by the time he rested in my arms, he knew he was loved. I know he knows it still.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

The Chair

I threw the chair first.

I’m not proud of that fact. But it is. A fact.

I remember precisely how the fight started. I was 200 miles away from home doing a store changeover, I didn’t mind the traveling. My hotel room was great. I got a king size bed all to myself, and there was even a jacuzzi. When I got the phone call, I was standing in the battery section fixing a merchandise diagram to the empty gondola with masking tape.

“S wants me to travel with him,” he told me before I could even say hi. No ‘I love you/I miss you/hi.’ Just ‘S wants me to travel with him.’

I fingered a torn package of Energizer AAs. “Where to?”

“On their tour! It sounds exciting, right?”

“That’s one word for it.” It didn’t occur to me as I replied that maybe he needed to leave home for a while just as badly as I did. That maybe he too sometimes pretended he was single.

“We’d be gone for a year. Maybe two. All over the country. I’ve never travelled. I’ve never seen anything.” His words were rushed, almost frantic in their excitement.

“What would I do?”

He was quiet. I knew then he hadn’t thought of me at all. After a minute he said, “You don’t want me to go.” It wasn’t a question.

I hung up on him. I didn’t know what to say without being angry.

I finished the merchandising job I was on a few days later and headed back home. It was a Friday night; where else would he be but his parents house? The family was watching a movie in the basement when I came in, sat on the stairs. No one said anything to me at all. I knew what that meant. If I couldn’t be happy for him, couldn’t celebrate his success, I didn’t matter.

After the movie was over, he walked up the stairs and into the kitchen, gestured for me to follow. And I did, because he was what I had.

“I told S I couldn’t go.” He sat down in one of the dining chairs and looked up with the expectation I’d do the same. But I didn’t. Couldn’t.

“You want to leave me that badly?”

“It isn’t–”

“Stop!” I interrupted with a double slap down on the table. “Just stop! Neither one of us is happy and you know it.”

“You aren’t happy?” He stood up, leaned towards me as he pressed both palms flat against the table in a match to my posture. “How long have you not been happy?”

I just shook my head. “You…You didn’t even think of me.”

He grabbed my arm then, his fingers sinking into the tender flesh, pulled me towards him until we were eye to eye. “I’m not happy either.”

I looked down to the basement. They weren’t coming. The “family.”

“You’re hurting me!” I tried to pull my arm back, but his grip only latched on tighter.

“You hurt me when you wouldn’t let me follow my dream.”

His dream? He had never once told me he wanted to travel with a band, not in the entire time I knew him.

“You stole mine,” I whispered before I realized what I was saying.

I had had dreams. I’d dreamed of owning a house with a white picket fence, of having a little boy and little girl, of owning a golden retriever, of not having to work so hard any longer in a job that I hated. I’d dreamed of being loved, of loving back. I’d dreamed of a happy marriage, a storybook marriage. I had had dreams. But I settled. I settled on him, and I gave those dreams away.

When he gave up his grip on my arm and slapped me, I stomped on his foot, in tears. And then I threw the chair, hard, right at his chest, and I wished that he would die.

I threw the chair first. Not him. And this memory, this time, is the one I always forget–because it was my fault. Because I went first. And because, I believe, it led me to believe I deserved everything that followed.

Tagged , , , , , ,

The Next Woman

Dear A,

You don’t know me. I don’t know you. I’ve looked you up online, of course. Who wouldn’t in my position? I wondered what it was about you. Were you prettier? Smarter? Better in some way I couldn’t see? Or was it that you were available? I’m not. Not anymore.

I wonder if you’ve looked me up too. I would, in your position. I’d want to know the crazy I came after if I was you. But note, I’m not crazy. He just likes to think I am.

You’re not either.

I watched an episode of a tv show last week where a woman had to deal with the fact that her rapist raped another woman after she didn’t report him. Silence is more comfortable, sure, but it comes with its own set of ramifications and that is one. You don’t know who will come after you. You don’t know who else will get hurt.

I didn’t think about the possibility of you at all. Not until I saw you that day in Subway so many years ago, holding his hand, waiting in line to get a sandwich like it was any other day. I realized then what I had done. I’d spent my entire life thinking about others before myself, but I never thought about you. And I’m sorry.

I considered emailing you. It would have been easy, what with your contact info on the website, to send you a message and tell you to drop his hand. To run. Now. I never did. It’s a few years later now and I saw this tv show and watched this character cry for the thing she did that was both her fault and not at all her fault in the same breath. And I wanted to cry for you. But I didn’t, because secretly I’m glad it’s not me. And I’m sorry for that too.

See, I have power now. I didn’t want to give that up. I didn’t then, and I don’t now. I hope you understand. I didn’t set out to hurt you. I honestly just never considered you.

Stay safe. Watch for the ticks. When he pushes his glasses up his nose and turns away for a beat before suddenly turning back. When he sits back in his desk chair and crosses his arms over his chest by spinning around. When he leans against the doorframe/wall/counter just a hair too close to you so that you feel his breath on your neck. When he takes one too many beats to stare out the window. When you ask him a question and he closes his eyes before answering. Watch for these things. Watch for more things, because I’ve begun the process of forgetting and I know there are more.

If he ever brings you flowers, writes you a sappy love note in the most ridiculously cheesy romantic card ever, think twice about why.

And remember that this is him. Always him, and never you.

Never apologize.

And please tell him I’m still writing, and I’m coming for him.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,