Sucker.

I want a lollipop. I want a red lollipop full of swirls and a stick as long as my arm. The colors should spin like a merry-go-round, or the spokes on a bike, round and round until I’m dizzy from head to toe. When I hold it up it should stick out like a red kite on a blue sky line, shaping clouds of white elephants chasing circus peanuts. It should exist forever and never run out of licks. It should be everything I want it to be.

But I wake and I open my eyes and it’s only a sucker. It cracks when I bite it, like grinding rock against rock. It sticks to my lips and to my jeans when I drop it- and I always drop it. The taste dulls. Fields of cherries become watered down, flooded out. I want a lollipop but he gave me a sucker, sticky and now fuzzy, cracking and dissolving until one day it will only be a soggy stick.

Walking beside me in the dark.

I stand next to this twin of mine. This twin that looks as much like me as a sewer does a stream. It is bent over under the burden of an invisible weight. I hold my cane behind my back and debate going it alone. It has the nose of Cyrano with a stout end. Mine is nothing special but normal all the same. Its ears droop and it drags along in a tired sort of way. I stand upright wearing my a silver wrist watch and finely laced black leather shoes. I wear a crisp peacoat tailored to my tall frame while it is draped in an ill-fitting sheet with a ghostly silhouette. There is nothing gentle or feminine about it, nothing bold or masculine. This is not my twin whose beige skin is broken along like the cracks of a concrete wall, broken and to the mercy of any passersby. This is not my twin that walks beside me, always chained to me where our feet meet the sidewalk. This is not my shadow.

Out to Sea.

You left. I still ache for the leaves that were on the ground the last time you danced across the lawn. I watched you go. I let you go, pledging to follow that old time rule: if you love something, let it go and if it comes back to you, its yours. Well, doesn’t really work that way with ships because your current never came back my way. You left. And I stayed.

I stood there, that afternoon. I’m sure my body witnessed the sunset-they’re so pretty on beaches- but I didn’t. I was glued to that skyline, the one where the waves slip into the clouds. The water washed my sandy feet again and again, a little colder, a little more each time. I don’t know exactly how long it’s been. All I know is sometimes I’ll drive by, peer over that hill, and see myself, rooted there, hair surrendering to the wind, watching that skyline. And that’s when I know, even if I haven’t remembered to look in a while, that you left. You never came back. And I’m still standing there.

You were meant for me.

Heads up: if you have lost a child, particularly in pregnancy, you may want to consider whether or not you want to read this before starting as it is about that.

I lay on the bathroom floor until all the midnights for a month after you left me. Pushing my forehead into the cold, dingy white tile, I wondered why you’d gone, where the redeeming quality was, where the sun was hiding. I’d finger my pink baby blanket mom had wrapped me in as a child but took no comfort for it. There was no consolation prize for this and I didn’t really understand what God was trying to teach me when he closed the door behind you and locked all the windows. The only thing that worked when it was supposed to was the plumbing in that clammy bathroom. After I hugged the lid with frail fingers, the toilet, though it did so reluctantly, flushed. Though it came through rusted pipes, the water always found its way to my tired body. Those things worked, why couldn’t I?

It would be so much easier if there had been a “why” to go with a “what” but I suppose there are some questions that don’t have answers. It was a small but brutal jest that left me alone on that bathroom floor every night, pulling up my shirt and looking down at exposed ribs, following them down to a scarred stomach and pelvis. The worst part was there were scars but no you. My body had proof you’d been there, proof you’d existed, but my arms were and remain empty. Somewhere inside I knew it. But the world showed no record of you. You weren’t there in my apartment,waking me up in the middle of the night wailing like some sort of siren. You weren’t there. Instead I just had this scary, unaffected, silence in your place. I knew you were there somewhere, had been there somewhere. My body knew it. My scars proved it. But as far as the world was concerned you were just a pocket of silence, a blank silence that had never really been there.

I lay on that bathroom floor every night until midnight for a month, just trying to remember the honey brown locks that I’d never comb, the first words that would never be spoken, the kindergarten graduation I’d never attend, the milk that would never be spilled. Then I settled on the truth that hearts are broken every day and mine isn’t the only one chained to the bathroom floor, swaddled in a pink baby blanket where perhaps somebody else ought to be. So that thirty-first night, I got up and went into the bedroom and turned on Letterman. You had been in there somewhere once, tucked securely beneath my heart. I had the scars to prove it. Maybe the world forgets the lost too easily in its eagerness to pick up latenight talkshows and turn the channel to afternoon sitcoms. But all the same you can only swim against the stream for so long before your body fails and it sweeps you along with it. Wherever you’d gone I couldn’t follow and you can’t hold on to a hand that isn’t there. It wasn’t time to let you go. There is never a time or place for that sort of thing. But either way, at some point I had to do it. At some point I had to get lost in the television and let somebody else do the talking.

This is something I wrote at nineteen that has always stuck in the back of my mind. I’d never been pregnant and still haven’t so I forget exactly what led to me writing this. I think I was listening to “You were meant for me” by Jewel and thinking about an alternative meaning for it.

Journey between two walls.

There’s three of us. I don’t know where we’re travelling but I know we must do it urgently. There’s also the most adorable, chubby puppy I have ever seen, brown with a round face and even rounder eyes that melt you to the ground. We’re accompanied by a white horse with the most beautiful white hair I have ever seen.

We enter the city through a gate. I don’t know what city or even the general location of the city but it feels partly European with the narrow road between two sides of the street, on both of which sit lodging. The road is stone paved and there are some fires in lanterns just at the gate as it rolls downward behind us. Something in the deafening sound as it hits the ground unsettles me.

I shift a books of Irish folk tales in my satchel as it sticks out, pushing it down in the bag and putting the pup in there, letting it open so he can calmly look out, observing the street around him. He presses his cold nose against my hand thankfully. The horse walks gracefully beside me, his shoes making virtually no sound, almost as if they are lined with layers of cloth.

The old man, my escort, with the handlebar mustache and the kind brown eyes, smiles back at me, looking furtively to see if I’m still there. His dress reminds me of an American from the Midwest with his jeans and flannel button-up. His brown boots carry him steadily onward down the street.

Behind me, there is a young man, mid-20s with jet black hair and obsidian eyes that catch and swallow everything from a speck of dust to the wrinkles in a flag waving over one of the doorways. I start to walk under an awning and he sternly pushes me away, point to a minor, hardly visible tear in the red cover and then to a post bent outward. He turns to look about him and whistles the quietest, clearest whistle I have ever heard in my life. The older man doesn’t even turn to him. Instead, he immediately turns left and takes us down an even more narrow alley, one where I can touch the walls on both sides. I don’t like this. I begin to feel like a mouse with a hawk looming overhead, waiting on him to drop down and end my short existence. I have to clench my hands to keep from instinctively wincing and clenching my scrawny shoulder muscles to my ears. The more I think about it, the more convinced I am that I move like a mouse, in and out of the site of a calm, patient predator.

I stick my arms out and allow my fingertips to graze the walls, taking in their rough stone textures and the chiseled and weathered cracks among them. Another soft whistle. I turn around and the young man shakes his head, pointing to the pads of his fingertips and then pretending to place them on the walls. Fingerprints. I bite back a sigh and hold onto my lower lip with my teeth for a moment then drop my shoulders and my hands to my sides.

After a long and agonizing 15 minutes of claustrophobia, we emerge from the narrow passageway into yet another silent street, this one with a fire burning. I sit down on a wooden crate and let the puppy out to relieve himself. I don’t have a name for him. I suppose I didn’t think they would let me keep him long enough.

 

This is something I wrote sort of for the sake of writing about 5 to six years ago. I wrote several entries in a row but never finished it. This is the first and was something I thought would be a good fit for my blog to add a bit of variance.

Breathing in water.

I pull my head above water and shake it. Cold air stings the water droplets on my face. The waving water pushes my shoulders down. I sink below. I punch at the endless and suffocating cocoon of navy around me, effective as a child against a giant. Some wave is not going to wash over me. I’m not going to sink, all the rage rushing through my veins says I won’t.  Something catches my feet, wraps around an ankle and pulls. A last fleeting hope floats out into an air bubble in front of my face. I’m going to sink.

Water beats around me, waves hitting me from all directions. It’s just a flash of black after black wave. I don’t kick at it so much as flail and my ankle is freed. I scramble in the most desperate, least graceful attempt I have ever made, pulling at the water above me.  My mouth feels cold stinging air and I inhale like it is my first and last breath. I am shoved coldly and forcefully down by hands I can’t see.

Hopelessness gives way to frustration and ebbs back into hopelessness. My muscles relax and I sit there, suspended like a doll on a shelf. I cannot do a thing. My hair floats above me, reaching for the surface. It seems to be the only part of me that believes it should be above water. I try to follow it up only to feel the colliding crash of a wave into the surface of the water hit me in the stomach suddenly and brutally. The water beats me down, again, and again, and again, from all directions. Lactid acid burns in my muscles and once I do reach the cold air again it freezes in my lungs. Heat never burned as hot as that cold air, siphoning all the energy and hope left in my gut.

How do people swim? How do they surf, how do they wade in these currents? How do I get washed away under a thunderous wave while they flirt around in the sandbar? This and so many other questions I do not understand but it seems that preponderance doesn’t stop the sinking. Maybe I will just quit. Maybe I will just forget to breathe. What will the water do to me then? Who will the darkness wash over?

Those would all be things I would be thinking if I had enough oxygen left in my body. I stare out into what I can see, no sunshine breaking the surface to provide light past my own area. My body begins to feel so heavy I feel as if there is water in it, as if I have either become the cold and merciless water or have allowed it to fill my every extremity with boulders. I just drift there, batted back and forth by the waves like a lifeless toy being hungrily attacked by an overzealous dog.

The waves grow tired of me, they cease. Maybe I have enough to get to the surface. But whatever I might have left will be gone long before I am submerged again. For the first time, I cannot move towards the surface with the ignorant belief that I will be able to stay.

This is something I wrote maybe six years ago when I was about 23.

Take your hand from around my throat.

I can’t breathe. And it might have something to do with you pinning me to the floor, my shoulder blades digging into the wood as you hold my arms down with your body, pressing your knees into my forearms like a rolling pin into dough, kneading it into the flat object it never asked you to be. You hold one finger in front of your mouth, slightly pulling down the bottom lip as you press it, demanding I be quiet. You press your forearm into my throat, not hard enough to cut off oxygen, not even enough to make me worry for my survival, but just enough to tell me you’re serious. But we’ve been here before and I know the routine.

My heart skips a beat, desperate to escape, an otherwise healthy animal caught in a live trap, not knowing if this trap is meant to bring her to needed care or a taxidermist’s knife. It accelerates, zero to sixty. When it stops at sixty, it presses the breaks to the floor, stopping so fast my momentum hasn’t gotten the memo in time and nearly flips me over into a damaging crash. I feel the pulse in your wrist on my neck, mirroring mine. Your eyes screaming with fear and their own sense of desperation, praying I don’t scream but knowing it would only be natural. You hope I fight my natural urges and do the smart thing.

I calm down. You look at me with sorrow and guilt, like an adult who just broke the hopes of the child most dear to her. I can see your grief and your remorse. You’re far less physically comfortable than I am but the weights of the chains around your extremities aren’t enough to root you to the ground so here you are, desperately trying to save me from myself. I can see the finger you press to your lips in hopes I stay silent is more of a trapped prayer than anything, one you hold back because you pray for me to resist the urge to call out for help only to find danger. And at the same time, you pray for yourself, to be free from the prison that is your role of living a half-life as a sentry, merely to stand guard over me and save me from myself and everything beyond me. You pray for yourself to be released from the emotional wounds pressed into my body in the same places you restrain me, restraining yourself at far greater cost. You pray to be deserving of the forgiveness you won’t grant yourself for holding me with such force in spite of the fact that you choose it as a necessary evil, the necessary evil you’ve always chosen like a parent who grabs her small child by the wrist much too tightly just after she before steps off the curb of a busy street.

But most of all, you pray for yourself because of the agonizing fear validated by your constant level of alert, scanning my world for a clenched fist, an impatient push of an elevator button, a book dropped with a little too much of a toss, a disappointed exhale, or a tense and restricted drawing of breath. And I pray for you too, for you to be free from the barbed wire, electrically charged cuffs I know will never dissolve, for you to hear somebody shut a door and not need to intuitively calculate how hard it hit the frame with whether there was an open window, if it was a heavy door, or if the air pressure was unexpected.

I am sorry. And I am grateful. I’m grateful for you. That you pin me to the ground and fight the urge to close your eyes in the expectation of pain because you know if you keep them open, you might be able to block the right strike from the wrong angle, the worst word from the most bitingly lethal tongue. But most of all, I pray for you because I know you are hopelessly imprisoned to the task of standing guard against attacks that almost never come, always raising the hyper-alert to feel like a fool when a shadow in the concrete turns out to be a cloud crossing the sun. Worst of all, I pray for you because I feel guilty, cruel even, that if I weren’t here, praying for you to not have to think like a predator to protect me from being prey, I would be praying for something like you to come along and shelter me from the rocks and rows of storms I know would destroy the barriers of my skin at their first assault, flooding my lungs with water and entangling my ankle in titanium vines that anchor me in the center of nothing and drag me down much further than even any fatal resurfacing could ever be possible.

What I was waiting for.

Fine, then leave.

It’s funny how you wince at the expectation of words only to remember how familiar they are once they come, like they have been grafted onto your skin.

There’s a reason I don’t like unpacking, ever. Rephrase that. I love unpacking. It makes me feel safe and comfortable and whole. I don’t let myself unpack or I push it away as much as possible because I know unpacking is ineffective when everything is only temporary. And everything has been only temporary my whole life. Love. Family. Parents. Home. All of it.

The only thing I’ve learned to depend on is the realization that I need to hurriedly shove my things into a duffle bag and shuffle somewhere else. I’ve been doing it since I was younger than I can remember. I just always know it’s coming like some kids always know to expect their parents to pick them up from school. It’s empirical.

So when you say those words to me, you think you’re just being grouchy, voicing annoyance with me that will wash away in the night. But I know what those words mean, what they always mean no matter who says them. They mean that I’m not a permanent fixture here. They mean that I am a guest, a visitor whose pass may be revoked at any time. As a kid, that meant one family member drove me across town to the doorstep of another family member. As an adult, it means I’m already a ghost in my environment and my occupation of it is an accepted annoyance.

You think you want me around. Sure. You say it. You’re kind most of the time. We get along. But you can’t erase twenty-nine years of meaning. It’d be like you saying my name and not expecting me to turn my head. As soon as you said that, sure my feet stayed rooted for a few seconds before I let the hurt sink in and I left the room, but as soon as you said it, I was already gone, even from myself. Because that’s what happens. As soon as somebody says something that cuts into a scar they didn’t even make, the eight year old inside of me, the real me, is flooded with fear and she dissolves. All it takes is the reminder that this isn’t necessarily a fixed part of my life to take me back to how fleeting and fragile everything is. It reminds me that I’m standing on nothing that is my own and that if I don’t bend every which way to make things convenient for others, I’ll be packing sooner than I’m ready.

I have lived a life of wearing out my welcome like that, watching the sands fall from the broken hourglass, reminding me not to get too comfortable, not to enjoy anything too much because things would take a turn for the worse and there would be nothing for me to say. So I just learned to bandaid through life, keeping my head out of the rain until I couldn’t and then being ready to dart under the nearest cover as soon as I was left vulnerable.

As a kid, I did it by staying with family members to avoid going home because I was tired of wincing until bed time every time I heard an angry tone. The hope that got me through it and gave me the courage to unpack at least part of my bag in each new place was the belief that one day, I’d have my own. I’d make my own stability and nobody would be able to tell me that this just wasn’t working out and they couldn’t raise me.

Now I’m an adult. And when you say, fine then leave, you mean fine then leave the room. I hear, this just isn’t working out so you should leave as if it is routine so that I don’t feel bad for abandoning all my promises. Humans are fickle things and I don’t care how much you say you care about me. You’ll turn out to be fickle too.

A Bull in a China Shop. A short vignette.

Mother never liked Daddy and I never understood why she didn’t. Every night after he worked outside all day, Daddy’d stretch out on the lazy boy, dirty and tired, smelling like a mix between oil and stale beer. He’d try to hug her first but she’d squirm out of it, saying to shower, that it made her sick. She went to college. He didn’t. But he was the one paying the bills and she was the one washing our socks. I felt sorry for him.

She hated his calloused hands. I loved them. They felt like sandpaper. I’d crawl into his lap at night and trace my fingers along his, twigs on tree stumps. It was quiet and calm, like the naps Mother made me take after school when she wouldn’t let me outside to “roll in the mud like some pig.” But Daddy wasn’t like that. He didn’t pay me much mind and just let me sit there. Every once in a while he’d ruffle the curls on my head, like he sometimes did with our mutt Burt’s ears. I liked Burt. Mom said he smelled but he wagged his tail a lot and sometimes when he was close enough it would sweep picture frames off the coffee table, sending them clattering to the floor. Mom complained that Burt was a “bull in a China shop,” just like me. Daddy and I would laugh on rainy days when Burt would dart in between Mother’s legs and leave Burt-sized paw prints all over the floor. She’d chase after him like an angry babysitter or the cat from Tom and Jerry.

Sometimes Burt and I used to go hunting for an invisible squirrel. He was invisible because that made him harder to catch so I got to be outside longer-and because I was too afraid to have to kill something. You can’t kill a squirrel you can’t see. Once Daddy brought home a deer–Daddy brought home lots of deer actually and I would usually hide somewhere and try to pretend it was just another stuffed animal and the last look of fear on its face was just a trick. Daddy’d be proud of his catch and would want us to have dinner of deer steak and noodles and sit together as a family. Last time though Mommy said it was out of season and left the room. I always thought Daddy was much braver than both of us.

I stopped hunting after that though and Daddy did too because he went away for work for a few weeks. That was the same week Mom broke her wrist, fell down the steps Dad said, and I had to be extra good and help her carry things into the house. I also couldn’t be knocking all my toys to the floor and forget about them. I did a good job, at first, until once when Mom called me away from an epic game of checkers I was playing against myself. I groaned and asked why she couldn’t have picked up her feet going down the stairs like she tells me to, then she wouldn’t have broken her wrist. Mom said she did it carrying groceries–I asked if there was Rocky Road ice cream in the bag and did we have any more. She itched a spot in the corner of her eye and went into the other room, breathing strangely like a wounded monster after it’s been caught. She had never really tolerated my questioning but Daddy always had on account of I played in the woods and not in jumpers and pig-tails like a “sissy.”

One day though, at the end of summer, I went to the elementary school instead of my old church one. We had recess there instead of naptime because that’s first-graders are much too old for naps. There were girls everywhere in pink jumpers and purple ones and blue ones. The first day I went over to the soccer field to play touch football. I shoved one boy down and he got a rock in his knee. I spit on the ground next to him–just like Daddy taught me- and told him to get up, hooking my thumbs in my belt loops and puffing my chest out. The teacher saw and called my mom on me. Mother brought me home jumpers and a brand new brush. There was a gleam in her eyes and she smiled a broad, pretty smile. I liked her until she threw out my muddy hunting boots and my jeans with the pockets ripped out. That night I told Daddy on her. Later when it was dark and I was in my bed I heard him call her a “snotty bitch” and made her go outside in the trash and dig them out. I didn’t know what a bitch was but I hoped he was going to give her a timeout. He loved me.

The next morning Mom sat on her bony knees and raked the turquoise brush through my ratty hair–I knew it was turquoise because that was the crayon in the teacher’s box that I had accidentally broken the day before. She tried to kiss my cheek. I leaned away and wiped it off just in case, glaring at her in the mirror. She pulled a curl behind my ear, looking at it and sighed like she had just lost at Red Rover.

“Be good at school today, please.”

“I’m always good.”

“I know. But just maybe try to play a new game today, just to see.”

I didn’t answer her and I didn’t do it. But I wore the jumper and didn’t try to tear the buttons off.

The next day on my way over to the kickball game this girl named Lane stopped me. She told me she needed somebody else for Four Square. She wore a green jumper with cream-colored shoes. A black barrette held back a chocolate curl. I decided I liked her. I played with her that day and the one after that. She was nice to everyone and never spat.

We were best friends by the time we got through the times tables in class and one Friday after school Lane road the bus home with me. We stepped off the asphalt and into the dusty, gravel road that ran like a snake through the neighborhood. I got the urge to spit, and then, embarrassed by Lane’s reaction, wiped it out with my shoe. She just shook her head and giggled, walking with skinny arms that matched her skinny legs. Mine were scraped and had mosquito bites, my arms bobbed at my sides.

We walked side by side and I tried to be graceful like her. Once we rounded the corner my dad’s red truck was there, one of the headlights out from where he swerved to hit a deer. I tried to shrug it off like it was no big thing, like he would, but I couldn’t wait to tell him how I had climbed to the big Oak tree on the playground to the highest branch I could–I would have gotten higher if Miss Crabtree hadn’t raised her pointy nose and snapped her fingers at me. At least he would appreciate it.

I bounded up the steps onto the wooden porch, stomping in a way that would have shamed thunder as I tried to dance across, tripping halfway. Swinging open the screen door, I welcomed at least three moths into our home. Daddy came towering through the living room, looking like he had just eaten cabbage. Read More

A Waking Dream.

I can see his heartbeat through the hole in his face.

Please don’t be real, please please. Please don’t be standing there. I close my eyes so tight I think they are about to explode in their sockets. I cannot wrench my fingers from my hairline to cover them. Just please don’t be there. Please go away. My heart bleeds with a terrible anxiety that burns its way to every corner of my body.

External silence butts against internal screams. I listen to it and it sinks into me. I breathe and open my eyes, forcing their gaze to the corner of the room.

He is still standing there, looking at nothing, holding nothing. His cargoes are dirty, torn at the knees. His shirt untucked and a button hanging from its string. Yet, his chest does not move. It does not heave, it does not rise. His fingers do not twitch. There is a red dot on his shirt, then another, then another, as if red rain is falling from the ceiling. His adam’s apple is paralyzed, his pouty lips pressed impassionately together, his pupils stones with blue water running over them. The only turmoil, the only interruptance of his compusure is his cheek.  A wound. A bullet hole. The bullet is nowhere to be seen, lodged in some part of his head. But the wound. It’s just red, strings of blood running down his cheek and dripping off his chin, pitter pattering against his forest green shoulder. More and more blood comes, like a steady beat, pulsating. Bum, bum. Bum, bum. Bum, bum. Blood, blood. Blood, blood. Red, blood. Swelling in and out, in and out.

My concentration sinks into the sight. I can smell the salt in the wound, the sulfur shot from the gun. I zero in and can’t turn my head. The wound is not clean. It’s jagged, skin hangs down over part of the wound, specks of white bone break up the beating pool.

I can’t stand to not look at him but I can’t stand to look at him. The smell overwhelms me and I start to get nauseated. My stomach contracts over and over again until I am ready to heave but I remain frozen and so does he. He is the worst living nightmare I can consciously imagine and all he does is stand.

 

 

This is a throwback of a journal entry I wrote seven years ago of a nightmare or mental trigger I had because of PTSD at the time. When I get especially stressed out, this is something I see fairly vividly in my dreams.

Credit for the photograph goes to Alexander Krivitskiy on Pexels.com.