The Center Cannot Hold

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 non-essentials. 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 surprise,” I smile weakly 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 don’t know. Why?”

I cannot fully absorb this question.

Silence.

The atmosphere has changed; I feel my body instincts alert my senses… but this pressure is different—his presence isn’t to harm right now. His voice is closer, but he is not.

“I want you to know something—something I think you need to hear—you have so much potential in you, Amy–so much more than in anyone I’ve ever seen. You’re talented, you’re smart, you can do anything. There are so many things about you that you can 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 see you wasting your talents and time and you’re so…I…”

The pressure is starting to push itself down on my chest and make way for something I am not ready for—to look at him, to see him, to hear his words as human. He wanted to say what I’d chased after from him over a decade ago, on that nappy carpet, me crouching behind the owl lamps, spying on my new father, giggling until he turned his greasy nose in my direction and blew smoke in my face. My wet hair, my itchy nightgown stuck to me.

And I felt a forgotten piece in me move-an isolated bubble in my chest rising—a shape of a silent center I can’t quite feel, and then I felt it start to grow into a globe–a planet–a world of loneliness, the ocean where I had sucked up all the silences in the shell of what I was becoming, the land masses the million faces I was dividing into, shifting each continent of myself either away from or crushing into each other, dismantling. Only the beginning of how I masterfully destroy. But that anger doesn’t bubble up here. It is stripped away, and so is my guard, and in that slip of a bare moment, a kind of shared sorrow I’ve never heard of floats between us-I saw it. I’ll never forget what I saw in him that night under the porchlight-a shame and grief so deep, so big it cut through me into that lonely center. I saw him saying he was sorry; almost as if he were saying leave, get away from here, this is not meant for you; there is nothing that can be done to repair the damage I have done, so I will give you away. Maybe you’ll make it. Get out of here.

My sorrow is him. All I had ever wanted was him to love me. I wanted to be his daughter. All the years of my girlhood spent in the dirt in the garage watching him with engines and tools, pretending I liked Deep Purple, asking what a socket wrench was, who was Led Zeppelin, how do I bait a hook…and he couldn’t love me like that. And he knows it. And I know it. And that very fact hangs between us like a breath on frost. The shared sorrow from opposite sides of the ice.

This center he had pressed, it is the only thing left I do not hate about him. And I have denied that center ever since.

The moment passes and I remember my defense—that he is despicable. That I was naïve for allowing this. I thought I’d fear him looking at my body again—but my chest is hurting, trying to swallow that earth, that world, that small center I cannot hold.

Beneath his sickness, beneath his ghost-like existence, beneath his perversion and depression, there is something in him to speak past all that, step on what pride he had left, to tell me what he sees in me-as a human. As a person. Maybe he wanted to, as a father, give me something no parent had ever given me—hope.

I can’t look at him anymore. I cannot bear seeing someone in so many pieces who has broken so many things there are no words.

Headlights, then bass. “Lori’s here.”

“OK. I just wanted to say it. Have a good night.”

“Thanks,” I say without looking at him and trot 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 could forget this.

 

Sex, Abuse, Dreams, and Taboos

My hands are actually sweating writing this.  I’ve wanted to write it for a long time but how do you talk about it?  Well–you don’t.  So you write about it, and then no one 11111111111111111111111111111111111111can look at you.  Childhood sexual abuse, a well-known internet topic, but not-so-known is the secret many victims share–the abuse aroused us.  Maybe not all, but many, many, many survivors share this shame with me.  My therapist wasn’t surprised when I told her about it–which is the only reason I didn’t puke.

I’ve been looking around and found this place helpful–Pandora’s Project.  The opening of their page on Sexual Abuse and Arousal states:

A sexual response or orgasm in the course of sexual assault is often the best-kept and most deeply shameful secret of many survivors. If you are such a survivor, it’s essential that you know that sexual response in sexual assault is extremely common, well-documented and nothing for you to be ashamed of.

and I liked this as well:

If you were sexually assaulted as a child, you were victimized by somebody who had knowledge of how to touch and manipulate you to the ends of their own gratification, and ensuring that your shame and (false) sense of complicity rendered you less likely to tell. It is another dimension of the abuse, and not a statement of you being bad. As you heal, you will come to give the abuser back the responsibility for all of the abuse, including the responses.

However, even though knowing that this reaction is normal, I just can’t accept it, and for very good reasons.  But before I get into that awfully private shit, I want to talk about shame.  I don’t even understand what the word means and I want to know why I don’t.  It’s not in my vocabulary.  I don’t feel like I caused the molesting in any way.  I did not provoke.  I was four for Christ’s sake.  Then why do I hate myself for it?  I don’t understand.  Like this part of my brain is blocked.  I want to do more EMDR.

I have dreams where I am being molested or raped and I wake up in an orgasm.  And the worst part?  The “dirtiest” part? Is in the dream…I like it.  I wake up nauseous and cry my eyes out, wondering what kind of person am I?  And it take A LOT for me to cry.  I have nightmares all the time but these ones kill me.  And then 11111111111111111111111111111there’s the other reason I was hinting at before–my sexuality.  I am a submissive heterosexual bordering on bondage.  Utter submission.  And there are fantasies in my head I’ve only shared with one other  person, and luckily he’s as fucked up as I am, so there’s that camaraderie, lol.  OK, why am I making jokes.

I know arousal is a normal response.  I know that.  But what about now?  What about current sexual desires? –the submissive, bondage, etc.  And is it normal to be having these sick dreams at the same time that I am figuring out my sexuality?  yeah, I’m a late bloomer.  I was very…inhibited and numb until my thirties. 

Read More

A Space to Fill

I.
It’s the coldest January I’ve known
the white light coming in
through the protective glass–
white, I think, like my grandmother’s
white sheets she’d hang in June.

The white light coming in
takes me for a turn and
I think for a moment–
is it color? Or space? Like
the space we can never fill

and then I remember where I am
and why I am here.
Emptiness leaks out of me.
It’s hard when you learn
there is no God.
Now there’s the girl that weeps in my ears
but I can never find her.
At home I searched the house
for a crying child
until I realized it was in my head.

Out in the common area
I crouch over my puce tray
and take anti-psychotics,
mood stabilizers, speed,
and a mysterious one that
keeps the flashbacks mild. -er.
Patients ask me where I’m from,
do I have a home, if I want my
pudding, if I cut myself.
II.
The drive in the old red Chevy
is a quiet one, nothing but
white headlights
through the haze of cigarette
smoke, my stepfather
watching the road and
my thigh.
We are
outside of town
where the mental ward
sits back behind the snowy pines.

The sky is the only thing I see.
The only thing I don’t
have to think of.
It’s a place I’m already
falling towards.
I stare up at the stars
where I’m beginning to
recognize myself–everything means nothing.
My Catholic grandmother, June.
Even then I knew it was okay
to be lost when you’re
reminded
how small you are, how little
your voice is.
III.
Flashback. I nod
at Nurse Jo and she follows me
to my room. I lay on the
cot and tell her it’s coming.
She gives me a warm
blanket to squeeze and it begins.
The crying–an impression
of the child in my head.
Then I’m there–he’s
video taping me and
my step-siblings, and we
are not dressed; cajoled, his
soothing voice; encouragement.
There is water.
There is a blindfold on my
face and blood.
IV.
My mother comes outside
into the November air in a robe
and slippers, shuffling next
to my stepfather, crying.
My sisters and I keep our
distance, believing
that she wants us to.
She turns away into his shoulder
and I turned and stared
into the sky.
I thought about God,
about how the earth was really
just this round ball he had
in a box and for our nights, he
put a lid on that box and
punched holes in it for stars.
In my mind, God was a giant
old man forcing us to love
each other in a darkness
we could never fill.
V.

Nurse Jo asks me
to tell her what happened
when I come out of it.
I tell her about it,
and that I do not remember
too much more except
for the most chilling part–their faces.
My step brother and step sister
looked like dead children,
and I imagine I did, too.

 

I believed
he was the only one I could ever
answer to, the only power.
This is love.
He was a giant man forcing
us to love each other in a space
I’d never get back.

A Poem by Sharon Olds

This poem by Sharon Olds comes from her amazing book, Satan Says.

Let me know what you think.  It’s probably one of my favorite poems out there; I’ll never forget it.

 

yvetteinufio9TIME TRAVEL

I have learned to go back and walk around

and find the windows and doors.  Outside

it is hot, the pines are black, the lake

laps.  It is 1955 and I am

looking for my father.

I walk from a small room to a big one

through a doorway.  The walls and floor are pine,

full of splinters.

I come upon him.

I can possess him like this, the funnies

rising and falling on his big stomach,

his big solid secret body

where he puts the bourbon.

He belongs to me forever like this,

the red plaid shirt, the baggy pants,

the long perfectly turned legs,

the soft padded hands folded across his body,

the hair dark as a burnt match,

the domed, round eyes closed,

the firm mouth.  Sleeping it off

in the last summer the family was together.

I have learned to walk

so quietly into that summer

no one knows I am there.  He rests

easy as a baby.  Upstairs Read More

An Old Essay

I found my flashdrive from college back in 08′ and I found this piece.  I wrote it when all my essays and poems and stories began spilling out in college like a damn fever and this, oddly, is before the PTSD hit full-force.  And it describes my current nightmares.  Weird, eh?

Amy Sprague

Eng 360

04-08-08

Meditative

The Nothing Caper

 It came in the night.  We were all sleeping in the creaky house and I woke to it lifting my sheets; it made my nightgown bleed.  My doll saw it all so I ripped out her eyes the next morning before breakfast.  Then it started coming in  my dreams, and I thought a monster was asleep beneath my bed, gathering my things.  On the scratchy carpet where the sun comes in, it branded my skin with its tongue, so I gave it my voice.  Mother and father swallowed it up.

They found me in corners and closets and they didn’t hear their words running from my mouth.  I didn’t know so I swallowed the words whole; they fed me spoonfuls of aches that echoed deep into my belly, burning my insides until it dulled.

I began to sweat them out my pores like a broken fever.  I washed and raked my skin Read More

A Dream in My Mind

I have this recurrent fantasy where I’m lost in a forest so deep it’s purple.  The grass is black, the moss creeping up the trees is black, the birds chatter like the noise in my head.  Hungry wolves are near, always near.  Then, there, there’s an opening of light not far off, finally.  I walk to it, unable to cry anymore, unable to care anymore with hope.  But I go anyways.  There’s a field of strawberries spread before me, and mountains in the back like Switzerland.  At the end of the field there is a cottage with smoke coming out of a

Around the Island Photography at Etsy
Around the Island Photography at Etsy

stone chimney.  I walk through the white blossoms.  A crab apple tree slouches in the back of the cottage where the pink and white petals fall like snow.  I smell honeysuckle.  The noise is gone, the birds have turned into song, but I don’t notice this yet.  The sky has never been so blue, the grass so fragrant.

I knock on the wooden door but no one answers.  It’s unlocked so I open it and enter.  An old stove holds pots bubbling and boiling, fresh strawberries on the table by a window that has no glass.  Checked curtains sway in a gentle breeze.  “Hello?” I call but no one answers.  A hound sleeps lazily on its bed by the door, and a cat leaps to the counter by a bowl of eggs.  I walk through the rooms, doors framed in oak, a bed swathed in a handmade quilt, a basin of water.  I’m suddenly tired.  So tired.  I’ve never been so tired in my life.  And at last, at last, it must be safe to sleep.  Safe to sleep.  What a relief.  I lay down on the quilt, the springs squeaking beneath me.  Hours pass, and then days, and then weeks, and then months.  I wake to an old woman in an apron, holding a cool washcloth to my forehead.

“Where am I?” I ask, unalarmed–a new feeling.

“You’ve made it, my dear, you’ve made it home. It’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay.”

Daddy’s Game

published in FRiGG Magazine

and Haggard & Halloo

 

DADDY’S GAME

 

I imagine you must’ve shut

yourself off somehow–the way

you’d eventually teach me to do–

before you entered my room

like a king’s shadow.

 

I hear the scrape of your jeans

your hands hot and big like swings;
I’m young so I love you.  I do as you say.

You blow smoke in my face.

 

Now, here, I slip

because you taught me how to shut off–

how to die inside,

and I have only memories

of my body:

 

fear, arousal, panic and pain,

death around every corner

 

shh

girl

shh

 

I hid so well I lost me

in this confusion of a woman

trying to bud from

what’s already been picked.

Save

Fragile Things

At some point everything becomes clear. That doesn’t necessarily mean a good clear, but fact is preferred over fiction when you’re locked up in a mental ward. Again. And it’s snowing out–and worse–it’s New Year’s Eve and you’re thirtieth birthday is coming and you’re little girl must be looking for you. It’s all you can do to decipher the shell-shocked woman-child looking back at you in the tin mirror bolted to the wall above your sink. Here you get your own sink because this time, this trip into the bin, they knew it was much more serious than they had originally thought, and your “security” was upgraded. You have a thought you would usually have–that the upgrade only makes you feel more nuts–but at this point, you don’t feel nuts. You are nuts. I say to myself ‘I’m clinically insane’ and for a moment I believe it’s something to smile about. When the leading psychiatrist told me on New Year’s Day morning that I was clinically psychotic and suffering from complex PTSD, I thought about my mind–clearly–for a second, and I imagined a blue and orange brain-scan image showing clouds of sick. Then I slipped back into the room , in and out of dissociating, and the yellow walls were much too close and I could taste rubber in my mouth and then the Read More

Daddy’s Game

I imagine you must’ve shut

yourself off somehow–the way

you’d eventually teach me to do–

before you entered my door

like a king’s shadow.

I hear the scrape of your jeans,

your hands hot and big like swings.

I’m young so I love you.  I do as you say.

You blow smoke in my face.

Now, here, I slip

because you taught me how to shut off–

how to die inside,

and I have only memories

of my body–

fear, arousal, panic and pain,

death around every corner,

shh

girl

shh

I hid so well I lost me

in this confusion of a woman

trying to bud from

what’s already been picked.

published in Haggard & Halloo, Frigg Magazine, and Aqueous