Fragments (sketch of excerpt of memoir)

Amy Sprague

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Fragments

I’m sure I waited too long. Everything feels too heavy and it makes my head hurt. I have all these pieces that make no sense in my hands. I had all these ropes to tie them all together, but it unraveled and they scattered farther away from me. I think I have to put them back inside and build my memories into an image of myself. But I am nothing. The psychotherapist holding my hand and asking me questions is making promises she won’t keep–I’m sure of it. She says she’ll show me that I can get rid of these pieces that aren’t mine. My foot taps itself on the table leg; I feel the panic coming on again. My hand sweats and twists. It’s not the imagined ticking of the clock on her desk. It’s not the scratching of a crayon in my opposite hand. I press harder and harder with some repressed release that slides across the puddles on the construction paper where the tears fall. I don’t hear anything around me but remembered voices and lines, clinking glasses and my blood pressure in my ears, heavy doors, and that deaf singing silence, empty and hollow. It is quiet in this room with its heavy lampshades and aboriginal maps. I don’t hear anything in this limbo; I’ve become an “other” so I don’t feel anything.

I sneak up on him, crawling across the nappy green carpet in my scratchy nightgown. Sometimes staples stick up from hidden ridges and prick my knees. The carpet is smooshed like fields after a storm, with mysterious, stitched rivers dividing the landmasses. I crawl to the end of the dull and sticky table. Two owls with glassy, yellow eyes sit on their perch, holding up the dingy lampshade. A glass ashtray reflects golden light. I watch his profile as he smiles and talks with his brother—my new uncle—who sits among empty beer cans on the other side of the dark living room. They’re talking with words I don’t quite understand yet. He laughs, so I laugh. I like his dimples. I like everything about this strange character. My sisters and I are learning how to spell his last name. He wants us.

He hears me laugh and slowly turns an annoyed, oily face in my direction. My hair is still wet from the tub. He puffs a large cloud of cigarette smoke into my shiny face. They laugh. I cough and laugh, too. They keep talking. It means go away.

She’s pushing me hard. I want to say, “What is there to push?” I have nothing. She’s convinced someone is buried inside—some scared little girl. I’ve heard this shit before. I’m convinced whoever I once was is dying, because I’m trying to kill her. She doesn’t need to be anywhere around me. I enjoy watching her choke out and dim. I want to tell this psychotherapist, and ask her, “Then what?” What happens next? Because I can’t create someone out of nothing. I can’t start over. I can’t create what you want or he wants or she wants or I want. I don’t want anything but to float about through the day, but my body is always shaking and then I can’t breathe. They took me to the hospital and some small part of my mind wanted to go. Some small part of me. Small parts—that’s all we really are, aren’t we? And in the grand scheme of things this is all insignificant. We’re just statistics. Facts. Bodies filing into clinics for revival and pills and assessment. A small part of me wants to lay in a hospital bed for the rest of my life, watching tubes feed into and out of me; white coats, white blankets, white. Fix me, medical people. A part of your brain doesn’t comprehend the difference between physical and mental; all you know is there is no God, there is no point; there is a vast whiteness and you can’t see color. And you can’t hear.

Our new dad has a boy and a girl that live far away. I wish I were his real daughter. He is so happy when they come to see him. They scream and laugh when he chases them across the nappy carpet and pretends to wrestle with them. My sister Nikki and I watch from the stairs. They only visit a couple times, though. I remember them in a different way: I’m in on their secrets. I see them naked on the tire swing in a video recording from summer. They’re coaxed and cajoled by the cameraman. I’ve never heard my stepdad’s voice so gentle and goofy, so when he speaks and tells them what to do on the screen, I am stunned. I see their faces—pale and long, guilty and obedient. They reflect me. His voice is real and behind me, waiting.

Sometimes I get sick when I walk by him in the house . I don’t know what I say but it is always wrong. Everything I touch or do is wrong. I need to be more like my sisters. I hide in my bedroom and shake, crying as I play with Miss Piggy’s string of pearls. Mom hugs me; she looks far away because she doesn’t know what I’m doing. I tell her I don’t want to have babies; I don’t want her to die; or I want to die. I won’t let her out of my sight. I’m terrified when she’s away. Sometimes she takes me with her to clean the urinals at the Rectory. But most of the time I can’t go.

He chases me with boots and fists and belts. My feet sweat and slip around in my jelly shoes when I make my dashes for the nearest door, even though I am never fast enough. He is huge and takes up all space. After awhile I don’t feel so afraid anymore. I propel across rooms like a boomerang—a strange mixture of euphoric flight and humiliation—and crash into the stucco walls or squeaky dressers . Upstairs my sisters sit on their ruffled sheets, waiting for my screams to stop. I didn’t know I was screaming.

It’s best to get it out of the way early in the day. One swift black boot coming at my head means blackout, and I can wake up and be left alone for the whole day to play with my Hug-a-Bunch and Barbie dolls. He locks himself away in the garage, chain-smoking Doral’s and sweating over an engine to Deep Purple. I try to offer him a coke or Kool-Aid, barefoot in the driveway. I think my sisters and me should clean the house to surprise mom when she gets home. I want to shine for her.

A small part doesn’t want me to give up, so I return to Deb’s office, every Wednesday, at eleven. She tells me to re-raise myself. I want to tell her she’s fucking crazy. I knew there’d be some kind of bullshit homework. But I don’t resist, because I’ve finished some strange, sick, and beautiful drawings heavy in Crayola, and I oddly feel lighter. I take my assignment home and work on it for two years.

At sixteen I am too old to hit—my reactions are blank and arrogant to his boiling face. I say, “Feel better now?” and take another shove that I try to gracefully use as my exit. Mom is back in the mental ward and I am glad, because she is bitter and shrinking. She fed him some kind of fuel that kept him full. But he’s looking smaller, now. I think he can never really get me. I remember he was always after me since I was a kid, but I only remember the hits. Videos and memories are pushed back—so close to being forgotten. I am cocky and roll my wisdom off my tongue just to irritate him. I like this new power that seems to come with age. But then he starts using manners around me. An old trigger sounds the alarms. I’m careful and discrete. I catch him staring at my breasts in a ghost-like trance. I want to rip his eyes out. Then he starts grabbing, groping, and finding me in the shower. I slip. I have no comeback. He drilled holes behind a two-way mirror in my bathroom next to the laundry room in the basement. He designed his “workshop” near a towel hanging on the wall, which, I discover, covers his spy holes into where I shower, put on makeup, and examine my face and shapes.

This “assignment” is difficult. There are all these questions. Where is my mother? Where is my mother? She left. She’s gone. I get it. But then who is your mother? New wounds open wide. Where had she gone? Why am I alone?

I stare at the spy holes from my bed. Here comes a shift and I don’t know what it is. Something drops heavy in my chest and settles in my stomach, squirming. A loud slamming shut. I’m out of my league and I can’t cry. I’m not afraid. I change. I am my body—a physical being that watches and waits and prepares. My only weapon is language; I drop him hints that I know; that I will tell; that he is hideous. I stay on watch at the bottom of the basement stairs, in my sisters’ bedroom, every night until I hear him snoring. Then I go to bed wide-eyed and jumpy. I’m just a body making plans. I wake up sore between my legs in the morning, get dressed, and disappear. My mother is furious with me. She doesn’t believe me.

Pictures. I’m supposed to find these pictures.

I leave home to get lost in a city. I want to start over, but I feel colder here—farther away from what I seek. I try starting a band. I think about college. I bag groceries and clean hotel rooms. I meet more men than I can count—and I love them all. I use them to chase away a vague sense of nothingness that creeps up on me and grows. I use them and see that something is gone—something that involves intimacy and faceless entrance. Deeper still is that I am just a body.

It starts to go numb. I feed it lyrics and alcohol, powders and pills. I get so tired but I can’t stop. I let it take over and dull my senses–it’s so easy not to fee. I lie down and let it, inhaling that anything that will fill me to the tips, until I am brimming with it and drowning in stagnate emotions that take shape in electrified flowers and naked shoulders. I feel its effects and I scratch fearlessly at my walls. I climb for the top because there is no ceiling but I only skin my dirty knees on such smooth walls.

I can’t breathe when I am sober, so I have to run and exercise and work work work. Doors slam in my head in the early hours. I wake up in strangers’ beds to the start of a panic. A phantom friction creeps over my skin and settles in my pores. These aren’t my limbs. They sway to something else and I am lost. Whatever can fill me I take. These aren’t my hands and I need to be able to hold something. But the losses are icy and impenetrable, just clinking around loud until they dissipate in my glass.

In the photos there is a girl with rosy cheeks and blond hair—so blond it’s almost white. She isn’t me. I’m supposed to take out my toddler pictures and write to her. I have to raise the girl with pigtails. It’s easy to love her as a child. I watch as each picture progresses her through the years. The most recent ones reveal a girl I hate. A girl I wanted to kill. I can’t connect with her yet. She is nothing. Just a face.

It is October 2002. Their fraction of the globe is starting to freeze and die. The girl I was is twenty-one and acts ageless. Each day blurs together at a frantic pace that leaves her farther and farther behind. And she likes it. Her older sister, Nikki, watches her; wonders why she does what she does. Nikki had managed a cleaner path through all the years, but to say that she went unscathed would be immensely false. They were blown into separate, different spheres that only distanced them from each other. One thing very important remains—they see each other as the sister they know best, beneath the injuries and veils where there are deep scars and laughter and memories. She knows too well that there are reasons her sister, Amy, has drained away. She watches Amy sweat alcohol into her sheets in a drunken sleep. It’s well after two in the morning. They had fun at the bar. Didn’t they every night? Nikki kept all her poems. She doesn’t know her sister anymore. She knows she can’t make her better.

The phone rings at 3 a.m. It’s their mother. John, the girls’ biological father, is dead. Just facts; facts come static through the phone. “…He drank himself to death…He fell down at The Spot Bar…Liver…I’m coming.”

It was so quiet before all the noise came. Then I’m on my mother’s bathroom floor and everything is white and leaving me in a rush of currents. This body can’t breathe. It shakes and my voice screams for the first time in years. It says that I’m going mad. It believes everything is leaving.

I have to pretend the girl in the pictures is someone else so I can take care of her. I have to teach myself how to love her. I become my daughter. I am her mother. She’s taken the burden from me somehow. I find where the whole began to crack and divide into pieces, laced throughout old albums and deep within where I had to pick up where they left off. I don’t feel so heavy now. I can feel the breeze on my flesh. I can hear my voice. The girl looks tired in the photos, but I tell her thank you thank you thank you.

Thoughts:

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