My Brain a Splitting Continent

The sun has set and I am standing on the back porch, leaning over the railing.
I hear the screen door creak, his heavy boots sliding.
“Are your friends picking you up tonight?” The nicest question he’s asked in a while. He’s imploring about nonessentials. Something is coming. A faint alarm spins my gut.
He leans against the house under the yellow glow of the porch light and I turn so my side is toward him—I don’t want my ass in his view, and I can read his body language this way. His arms are crossed over his plaid belly, hands under his armpits. He’s nervous.
Hesitating, “Amy, I want to tell you something.”
“What? ‘Is Jeremy going to be there?’”
“No. I trust you.”
Silence. The crickets are loud this spring. I hear the frogs mating out back behind the pole barn. Beyond the tree line, a semi’s headlights float.
“That’s a shocker,” I smile at him. He smiles back and makes room for himself.
“Amy, what are you going to do with your life?”
My smile ends. I look down at Kurt Cobain on my black t-shirt, and hear
“…‘nothin’ on top but a bucket and a mop and an illustrated book about birds…”
I look into the railing’s grain. “I dunno. Why?”
I cannot fully absorb this question. What was I? Who am I but space? I cannot entertain this.
Silence.
I feel his presence suddenly. The atmosphere has changed. “I want you to know something—something I think no one tells you—you have so much potential in you, Amy–so much more than your sisters. You’re talented, you’re smart, you’re brave. There are so many things about you that you will use in this life and you don’t even know it.”
I turn my back to him and watch the tear seep and spread into the wood. Come on Lori…
“I just wanted to tell you that, because you don’t know. Because you act like you don’t care. Because I…”
What is paternal love but the sick twisted measure of a man? I do not know. I think of Jeremy when he says this, and I feel a sickness colliding with compassion for my stepfather. For the quickest moment of my life he is not a monster. He is human. It’s almost love.
The moment passes and I imagine him looking at my body again—yet something in my heart tugs, 16something that has always been a mystery and desperate for me.
“Thanks,” I say coolly, as if in passing. I can’t look at him. Headlights, bass. “Lori’s here.”
“Ok. I just wanted to say it. Have a good night.”
“Thanks,” I say without looking at him and skim down the steps toward the car, heart pounding.
“Hi my Jo-Jo Bean!” Lori smiles, her bouncy self turning down Tupac and putting the Buick in reverse. Night slips around me, the only light from the dash. She hands me a cigarette.
“Hey turn that up,” I say and smile. As if nothing had happened. As if I would forget this.

* * * * * *

I save up for a stereo. It is three hundred dollars and two and a half feet wide. I clear off my dresser with the scarves draped over it, Kurt Cobain on the wall in back. I take my time with my prize; my favorite possession. Speakers hooked up, red to red, black to black. I inhale its plastic newness, the luxury. I open up the four-disc changer and gingerly place Lynrd Skynrd in “disc 1.” I skip to number seven and as the electric guitar starts I gauge the volume by the round knob. My stepfather knows I am angry, so the loudness is acceptable today.
...if I leave here tomorrow, will you still remember me…
I turn it to the right more, until my chest can feel it. It’s the only thing I can feel these days–physical vibrations. The lyrics take me outside myself. I think of Forrest Gump–Jenny standing on the banister of the balcony before her shoe slips. I know that–the curiosity, almost psychotic. No feeling. No thinking.
Next comes “Rage”–Paul York’s take on Bach and the angry, almost cutting violin terrifies me, like a slice through a vein. I want to play it. I see my future in it. I want to be afraid. I want to feel, fear, cry. Anything. (FYI –THIS SONG, RAGE, STILL TERRIFIES ME)

I go to the full-length mirror by the door, a pile of purple and blue eye shadow on the cement floor. The dim light from the lamp shines in the mirror behind my head. I stare as I always do. Waiting for something. I take the shadow applicator and press into the purple powder, as purple as the crayon. I stroke it beneath my eyes and around one, so it looks bruised. Then I hollow out my cheeks, defining the high cheekbones in darkness. I am satisfied and go up the basement stairs to show my family. My stepfather Scott and older sister Nikki are in the kitchen. My mother cross-stitches in the dining room by the bay window. I walk around to face her and wait for her to look up.
“Mom? Can I go to Janelle’s?”
“Yeah,” she barely speaks through pursed lips–a thin white line. She doesn’t look up. I watch her dry, knobby knuckles bend and pull the needle to the dark thread, punched through and in the hooped fabric.
I go back to the kitchen. Scott looks at me, then my chest. He is pale. Read More