word count: 2,382
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.
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 prickly 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.
I don’t tell my mother about what happened. I don’t tell her my new Daddy Scott touches me. I don’t tell her how my stepbrother and stepsister are forced to sit in a tire swing while Daddy Scott videotapes, his pleasant voice telling them to touch each other. They’re wearing white tank tops over their tan skin. They look scared, yet somewhat somehow blank, as if they were dead. They do as he says. I’m watching. DO I join in? Am I doing it to? I don’t remember. Then we’re in the water and it’s warm and I am nothing but this empty vessel filling. I don’t know for sure if this is wrong, but the looks on their faces—dead children. I’ll never stop seeing their eyes. Their mouths turned down, silent.
It happened during afternoons when the yellow light came through my mother’s curtains like a stain on the bed. Faceless entrance, in on something, special–special just for that moment, until the hitting would start. I am becoming nothing. I have no identity. I am here to please and keep quiet. Out of loyalty. Where is my mother? Where is my mother? Why does she always have to be away?
My Daddy John—my biological father—would pick us up on weekends from the house we lived in on eleventh. At one point, I refused to go. I screamed and cried to my mother not to send me. I clung to her, screaming. She had an inkling; she sent me anyway. Later I am taken to a psychologist. He tells me to draw my family. I pick up the blue crayon and force myself to draw a bird. A blue bird. I press as hard as I can, over and over the lines. He can’t find out. I hold a world of someone else inside me. And I’m a good girl.
I’m speeding down the country road when I call my mom.
“Mom, mom…I’m sick. I’m so sick I need help I’m driving myself to the hospital something is wrong mom. Mom I’m scared.”
“Calm down, calm down, what’s wrong are you throwing up? I don’t understand—“
“No mom, no—mentally. My head it’s my head. I’m going fucking crazy mom. I’m hearing voices, I’m scared mom I’m so scared.”
“Amy I’m coming. I’m driving back from Hayward, I’m coming. You’ll be okay, you’ll be okay I promise just breathe.”
I pull up to the hospital and run for the door.
“Help me, help me, help me,” I’m sobbing into the intercom. I’m banging on the yellow security door like a child. The fever was at its peak. I had been at home, panicking in the shower. I ran around whispering to my dead grandmother, holding my pounding head. The voices were growing louder, and every time I shut my eyes I saw the red eyes of a black creature. I’m breaking. I’m breaking. I’m gone. The girl, the girl is dead. I’m not going to make it, hurry. I’m losing control. I’m psychotic, your not real, nothing is real.
They let me in and take me to a yellow room where I have to fill out papers. I wait a long time. A nurse reaking of soap asks me if I feel safe, if I’m suicidal.
“I don’t know, no I’m not safe, I’m going to lose control and kill myself, I have no control, I’m hearing things, I’m seeing things.”
I wait longer. My mother arrives and they let her in the room with me. I’m too ashamed to say anything. I’m calming down with her here. They issue me blue scrubs and assign me a room. When my mother leaves, she doesn’t stop looking back, even as the door closes, she’s looking at me, trying to give me some gravity with her eyes.
Days when my mother was home, the air was filled with cigarettes, Pinesol, bleach, and coffee. The warm light came in through the haze and warmed the carpet squares she’d pieced together in our low-income home. She folded our new clothes from the Good Will as I danced to Cat Stevens, Bread, England Dan, and Heart. …I know we’ve come a long way…we’re changing day to day…but tell me…where do the children play…Cat’s voice coming up from somewhere deep in soil and water, flowing with grit.
John (as we now called him) would show up in his dirty el Camino to pick us up. He’d slump in the doorway, drunk—again. Mom wouldn’t let us go.
He had the biggest, bluest eyes with the longest, blackest eyelashes I’ll ever see. He always seemed scared, even of us. He was like a gentle giant, his long-legged jeans with dusty knees, his plaid shirts with the shiny white buttons, his brown goggle glasses—this is how I always picture him. He tried and tried to quit drinking. He wanted us. He’d show up later in tears, begging for us back. It was Easter. My sisters and I stood in the kitchen as my mom and Scott manned the front door, telling him he had to quit drinking first. We cried in silence. I remember the feeling—the new feeling in my tummy: I was wanted. I was being cried over. I was lovable. We were allowed to go hug him. He squeezed us all at once, tears on his cheeks, saying what he always had said in his insecure voice, “I love you’s, I love you’s I love you’s.” We cried with him. I wanted him to save me, from what I didn’t know. From why I cried myself to sleep every night, from the shadow of Scott. Yet I wasn’t sure what I had was wrong or bad, because it was all I knew. This was love—obedience. I came down the stairs when I was around twelve. It was late and I couldn’t take the crying every night—the forcing myself to cry so I could sleep. Mom and Scott were at the dining room table, smoke a blue cloud over and around them.
“What’s wrong?” Mom asked.
I started crying, “I…I…just wanted to tell you how I feel.”
Scott burst into laughter, the guttural kind that humiliated. I went back to my room.
I’m sitting in front of my mirror, applying purple and blue eyeshadow around my eyes and into my cheekbones. I want to look sick. I want to look terrible. Mazzy Star played softly when my stepfather came into my room.
“You’re different from your sisters. You’re not my real daughter, so it’s hard for me. I’m attracted to you and I’ll try to control myself.” These were the words of my stepfather, my stepfather of fourteen years—the man I had always longed to call “daddy” but he was too practical and stern for such sentiments. He was the man I wanted to prove myself to, to make laugh, to love me. Just love me. And now what was this? What is love? Where is my mother? I knew this conversation was coming. Nikki and I found a hole in a two-way mirror he installed that looked directly into the bathroom’s shower which was connected to my bedroom. He was always grabbing and touching us and staring at my breasts, looking for excuses to touch and hold me. “Wrestle.” We put up Rudolph stickers where the hole was to cover it and each day, we’d return from high school to find the stickers gone. He’d yell at us that we were wrecking the mirror.
I went to school the next day after his “talk” with me. The guidance counselor called me in, there was a phone call from my mother. He looked at my eyes (I’d been crying through class, hiding in my book) and he asked me if I was alright, what was wrong, that I could talk to him. I walked past him and into a private room to take the phone.
“If you say a word, Amy, one word!!! Do you know what that would do to your father? He told me what happened. He had the gun, Amy! Don’t you dare say anything!”
“I won’t I won’t, mom,” I could barely say.
That night she held me and told me to tell her everything and I did. I thought finally, I was safe. Finally. It was the first time my mother really saw me. So I thought. The next evening she had everyone leave but me and my stepfather and her. I sat at the dining room table trembling and sweaty. She said it was just a one time thing he’d done, that it was forgivable. She’d made up her mind. I remember thinking “but you’re sick mom…you’re sick.” My mother had suffered from mental breakdowns and Major Depressive Disorder since I was around eleven or twelve. She wouldn’t look me in the eye. That was it. I felt a further closing off, besides a burning anger.
I went down to my room in the basement and cried and kicked. I cranked “Free Bird.” And as suddenly as it had come on, it went away. I sat on top of a chair in the corner of my room, empty and terrified. I felt nothing. Something had happened inside my mind and there was this muffled fear.
Nurse Jo takes me to my room as the psychosis worsens. She grabs a warm white blanket and covers me up on my cot. She dims the lights. In this flashback, I’m blindfolded. I feel the cloth on my face. I reach up in a panic to touch it and I feel hot sticky blood all over my cheek. I open my eyes and I’m still here, under the blanket, Nurse Jo’s silhouette softly relaying to me facts about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Facts. I like facts. Real things. The flashback is easing. I’m so tired. I’m so empty. I’m nothing inside. I killed her I killed her. I look out the double-paned window at the snow falling gently in the halogen street lamp. I’ll never feel that again—that sanctuary. I’m done. Twenty-eight years old and it’s over. Some strange corner of me feels relief, relief to be here. The whole battle has come to a head. Finally. I was expecting this, but not for this to be so terrifying. I didn’t want to find out that there is no god. There is no heaven or hell or hallelujahs, just grief and ache and pain.
Beneath the pink and white apple blossoms that fell like snow out in the yard of the huge white, stained hamper of a farmhouse my biological father, mother, and Grandpa Leo and Grandma Helen lived in. I play in the dirt beneath the two apple trees. Nikki is on the swing my father made, him pushing her higher and higher. I watch her auburn hair flash in the sun, I watch my little sister Jodie wait patiently and curiously for her turn. She never gets one. Neither do I. He doesn’t believe we’re his. I always thought he thought that because Nikki was a brunette, I a white-blond haired thing, and Jodie the redhead with big blue eyes, just like her daddy.