bloodletting

early summer, 1999.  i am twelve years old, hunkered on the damp green grass by the spigot outside our garage door.  i am wearing my favorite shorts, a slippery pair in greying lime, & favorite t-shirt, one ringed with thick stripes–blue, purple, pink–& thin ones, white, yellow, & green.  my arms wrap my knees, my head rests atop my arms, & i am daydreaming, maybe humming, when i notice the red spot seeping along the stitching at my inner thighs.  instinctively, my hand touches & i wonder, does it hurt?, the blood a signal for wincing, cringing, ginger touch, my stomach knotted.  i go inside & change my clothes, park my body on the toilet & dab with tissue, wondering over & over, does it hurt?  later, when i timidly show my mother my stained shorts, her voice is a minor chord of pity & disappointment.  i retreat to my bedroom, to my junior girl scout handbook.  night after night i return to the same pages written in the voice of a gentle knowing older sister.  i apply the words to my skin like a salve: menstruation, menarche, hormones, puberty.  i read the words again & again, waiting with each pass for that older sister’s pride & quiet excitement to swell in me as i process my breach into adulthood, womanhood.  at the end of those nights, i fall asleep heavy with loss, uncertainty, shame.

*

after that first bleed, my periods came sporadically, two or three times a year.  i saw my family doctor & had blood drawn to test my hormone levels & thyroid when i was both thirteen & seventeen, each visit prompted by my frustration & embarrassment at surprise periods during school.  i remember toting along my calendars filled with records of my period history to the first appointment, clutching my mother’s hand when they inserted the needle & watching the blood spurt, my head turning into a helium balloon.  both times i was told not to worry, that my test results looked good & my body would eventually fall into the rhythm it was meant to have.

that rhythm became two to four periods per year.  at nineteen, at twenty-one, at twenty-three i sought answers again.  each doctor drew blood & performed ultrasounds, all of which came back fine, & then used the opportunity to peddle birth control.  i remember a nurse practitioner urging me that i couldn’t trust my partner at the time because of his number of previous partners, & that i spent the rest of the afternoon huddled in bed after he & i fought, & that he bought me an ugly bouquet of flowers to apologize but still refused to be tested for sexually transmitted diseases.  i remember, later, a doctor telling me i should consider myself lucky–that many women wish they could have so few periods & pump their bodies full of hormones to have my experience.  i remember my body: burden, loathsome, & how i shoved it onto scales, stuffed it with cakes & cookies, starved it.  body, pillowy & freckled, pale defunct junk.

 *

my sophomore year of college, i studied poetry with a man who would go on to sexually harass, manipulate, & assault his students, eventually impregnating one & moving with her into her parents’ basement.  before i knew him as a predator, he taught me to twist words like origami, smudged my pages with thumbprints of peanut butter & jelly & wrote, this is a bunch of noise, circling words like twinkle & jotting, don’t ever use this word in a poem again, sometimes stutter-stopping my breath when he scribbled at the bottom of my pages, i wish i wrote this.  after the first class with him, high on his praises, i signed up for another.

one of the books on his syllabus in that second class was nin andrews’s the book of orgasms, & when he read the poems to our class, he chuckled each time he said orgasm, his laughter like a soft touch to the small of my back after one too many drinks at a bar, & i left those classes feeling small & cheapened by the woman’s words he used like a so-hip party trick told at a circle-jerk at the boys’ club.  so when he asked us to model a poem after andrews’s “the orgasm: an interview,” i chose to interview my period & read my poem to the class aloud.  it was an awful poem that didn’t receive from me the amount of thought it deserved, but as i read the last question & my period’s response — Q: What about high school girls in white dresses?  A: What better time to train a young girl that even her own body can’t be trusted not to betray her? — i hoped my words sailed into that professor’s gut like a punch, that my classmates would avoid me around campus, their eyes lowered to the ground.  the response was not overwhelming — i can’t remember it.  i imagine an awkward pause, the professor clearing his throat, another student rising to read her work.

weeks later, when i was slow to answer to a question he’d asked, the professor snapped, or were you too busy having your period to do the reading?  heat popped into my cheeks.  i can’t remember what i said, if anything, but i hope that it was brave.  i hope that my voice rose to protect me like a shield, that i didn’t cower or allow my eyes to drift to the floor.  i hope that i didn’t allow him to make me feel shame.

*

age twenty-six.  a pregnancy scare & recently-acquired health insurance prompt another visit with yet another different doctor.  unsurprisingly, she orders blood work & an ultrasound, which–unsurprisingly–come back fine.  at the follow-up appointment she chirps that you are cured of polycystic ovarian syndrome, a diagnose you were never given.  you say, i don’t accept that.  i won’t take hormones.  i need you to do more.  she frowns, smiles at the intern at her side, & recommends a consultation with a reproductive endocrinologist.  when you meet him, he, too, recommends blood work & an ultrasound, stating that the previous doctors’ tests were not detailed enough & that your issue may stem from the sexual trauma of your childhood.  he wants to see you at his office in pittsburgh, & he smiles a tired smile, asking, ok, kid?

you schedule the follow-up appointment so that D can accompany you.  the doctor talks selectively about the results from the blood test, speaking directly to your boyfriend to say, this level is the equivalent of four women.  she’s like four women!  he mentions all the eggs spied during the ultrasound–they stop counting after twenty-eight, he says, & when he smiles his eyes close, like he is losing himself in the fog of a sweetest dream.  you expect his next words to be absolutely fine, but they’re not.  instead he says, you meet two of three criteria for a diagnosis of polycystic ovarian syndrome & recommends–as each doctor has always recommended–hormones to induce periods.

it takes a long time to get home.  before leaving the city & its tall, tall buildings with twinkling lights, you stop for dinner & coffee with your best friend & the girlfriend you’re meeting for the first time.  the conversations stay light; your friend is giddy & tired from his first week at a new job working as a deckhand on a towboat, & his girlfriend is spunky & sweet.  you laugh up until it is time to leave, & it isn’t until you are half an hour away from home that you begin to cry in the car.  your head is abuzz–surgery to conceive, uterine cancer, high likelihood of miscarriage, your ovaries strung with pearls, your body once again an opponent in a game you can’t win.  you cry, what about ukulele baby?, already grieving the loss of a child you’ve only dreamed.  D puts his hand on your knee & squeezes.

when you get home, you expect him to begin his three-hour drive home immediately.  but instead of gathering his things, D lies down in your bed & draws you over with the motion of his index finger.  he cradles you, nesting your body in the crook of his arm.  a tide pool leaks from your eyes, & you wipe your runny nose into his t-shirt at the shoulder.  he tsks, he-ey-ey-ey now, & you laugh, & then you begin to cry again.  for the first time in the two years you’ve been dating, he is more than a witness to your sadness; the partition between your feelings & his has dissolved, & he is a participant, his eyes glossy, the corners of his lips down-turned, a man made breakable by his love for you.

you go on like this for a long time–crying & laughing & then crying again–until you are spent, the welts of your eyes swollen-red & sandpapery, your sinuses stuffed.  when you are quiet, he gives himself permission to collect his things.  then he says, let me tuck you in, placing kisses on your forehead, your eyelids, your cheeks, your mouth.  when he creeps down the stairs, you rise from bed & follow him out, the tears coming again.  it is nearly midnight.  buttery-yellow light melts against your bodies hugging in the center of the one-way street.  he kisses your forehead, your nose.  he says quietly, i worry about you, & you blink slowly, once, twice, thrice, the length of time it takes to let him go.

*

tonight, the moon

is the trauma victim frozen in the past, or is the past a persistent and inappropriate intruder on the present?  or, do the past and the present coexist, with no perceptual boundaries separating them?

–robert scaer, trauma spectrum

tonight the moon is low, a white peach cradled by a night velvet & rich as dirt.  i drive through corn fields, past the abandoned school, & watch the brake lights of other cars, my co-workers, travelling through the trees.  the hillside swallows the sky, a mountain, & in this spring nighttime i am reminded of the boy in my ninth grade history class who loved the same songs that now ride with me on the way home, & the way everything became something, a language of outsiders revealing secrets in casual conversation & common gestures.  janet says, as children, we think we have power over the entire world.  when something bad happens, we attribute it to ourselves, to things that we did to cause the bad things to happen, & when we speak up in the best way we can–crying, refusing to go to the grocery store–we feel we are screaming at the top of our lungs.  at fourteen, i keep my secretness tucked close, the meat of me a hard rainbow glitter inside a walnut shell, while sending up signal flares only i can see.  adam sings, waiting here for you.  wanting to tell you.  how i get my ends & my beginnings mixed up, too.  just the way you do.

*

tonight you line the kitchen counter with beer bottles.  in the dark you remove your clothes, hoist open the bedroom window, & pop out the screen.  out, out, you stretch a leg, toes skimming rough shingles.  you steady, balance, bend your body & emerge onto the roof, chubby girl with moon-white skin, knees tugged tight to her chest.  the neighbors with loud motorcycles & too many wild babies are fighting across the street, behind a window draped with a spider-man sheet, & the boy next door who smokes more cigarettes than you do isn’t home tonight.  you add this to the list of things you will do again & again & never tell your mother.  you are twenty-three, one hundred miles away from home, & building a life of secrets, separateness, satisfaction in small rebellion.

*

tonight i am four years old, lying in the back seat of my mother’s van on the way to the babysitter’s house, & we are racing the moon, a coin of buttery-slow mozzarella.  time glows green, dashed & digital, between the two front seats.  reflected on the window where i am tracking the moon, blues & reds of heat dials & air controls.  when i am older, barely a teenager & unable to sleep, i will push my fingers to my eyelids to watch these same colors burst & play.  it is morning, but the world is sleeping still, fog rolling from the hillside like a damp breath.  i want to tell my mother hurry, but i am quiet because the telling takes too much.  instead, each morning i hope she will notice that i am awake, not asleep, & that she will ask, what are you doing back there? in a way that is warm & curious, not like a startle, & then i can tell her.  i can say, we are racing the moon, & if you hurry a little faster, maybe we could win this time.

*

at twenty-six, after eight years living in cities hours away from home, route 322 leads you back.  venango, onenge, otter, county sticky, still, with oil dried up years ago.  you take a job where your mother worked for thirty-five years, & on your way to that job, you travel the same numbered roads she did, you as her passenger, in the same moonlight, twilight, streetlamplight.  you stretch inside her shadow.  she clucks, you’re different than me, & she says “different” like “disappoint.”  you are four years old, the moon out of reach just-so, & you want to tell her but you can’t.  different, disappoint, your belly fizzy with beer, a bottle in your hand.  you want to tell, to tell her or the boy familiar with your favorite songs, to speak aloud, but the telling takes too much.  you pretend you are asleep, disappearing into the sum of yourself, & the person you are disappearing into, adam sings, you, stone glimmering just-beneath the dirt & leaves on a quiet hillside.

*

the slow return

after thanksgiving dinner at your mother’s, where your nephew eats three cupcakes for dinner & your mother’s boyfriend questions your boyfriend D to see what kind of man he is, D helps you hoist a slew of boxes up flights of stairs & into the attic efficiency that will be your new home.  the walls leak cold air & the smell of cigarettes seeps in from the apartment below, but the windows breathe in lots of wintry light & the space is big enough to stretch in but small enough to wrap you like a blanket or bathrobe.  together you fill the bookshelves with your favorite voices, then assemble & decorate a small, cheap christmas tree.  that night, after your bodies blend & sigh in your new-to-you twin bed, D tells you for the first time that he loves you.

a handful of days later, a week before his birthday & over a year after you mailed your severance package, your father sends an email:

Sorry. Started this at least a hundred times. All I can think of is “I’m sorry”. No explanations. Just I’m “sorry”. I wish things could have been different. Maybe in another life. I cannot change the past. “Sorry” to make your life so miserable. “SORRY”

it arrives in your life like a wrecking ball, a tornado, a fist pushing into your gut again & again.  which language to use?  to say it arrives when it detonates, crushes, demolates, lights you redhot, a fire in the center of your body that scorches to your throat.  devastates.  weeks later, the christmas gifts arrive–a check for five hundred dollars, a silver cat-shaped necklace with tiny diamonds.  the songbirds inside you clamor to fly out, a flurry of feathers & wings.  janet says, those are contributions toward a debt that will never be repaid.  so you cash the check.  you give the necklace away.

winter gets the best of you, as it always does.  you emerge from weeks of liquor-drenched nights still layered in fleece & flannel night clothes, your ankles tallying fresh scars, your apartment floor awash in lavender paper penned with ultimatums–if you try to find me, send anymore gifts, cross my boundaries, then…., the threats always ending in your death.  week after weekjanet repeats, a bad thing happened to you, but you are not bad.  the clocks spring forward.  robins hop at the side of the street, pecking through the salt & pebbles accumulated through winter.  they sing in early morning sunlight.  she says, you are allowed to feel pleasure, & she smiles when you tell her that you feel you’ve got nothing left, just a pile full of problems that all your self-destructive ways couldn’t solve.  so you lay it all down–the chocolate & lemon bars & ice cream, the glass bottles half-full of alcohol, the dreams of nicotine & your skin peeled like bark from a birch tree.  you lay it all down & return, again, to the blank page, to the steady, slow blink of the cursor waiting, always, for your nouns & verbs.

therapy

first elyse, who takes your insurance whosits & whatsits over the phone.  you say deductible, co-pay, & she says, wednesday.  you find the office tucked between a parking garage & a building spilling tables of fresh produce into the street.  the office is clean, a muted green.  she says, this is, like, a safe place for you.  absolutely.  she photocopies your insurance card; you sign privacy statement; she hands you a sheet detailing what psychotherapy is.  absolutely.  you spill your guts, let your wet, mucousy entrails vine: chair leg, vase of artificial cattails, bookshelf.  she says, at first you might need to see me a few times a week.  just to talk.  it won’t be easy.  she hands you the courage to heal & walks you to the door.  the following week, a handful of hours before your next appointment, she leaves a voicemail: i know that, like, you have financial concerns, & actually i’m not covered under your insurance, so you cancel the appointment — absolutely — & a week later, receive a bill for $100 in the mail.

second melinda, who scribbles notes about you in a packet of papers.  as you talk, she writes, & you look hard, snatching up the words your eyes can make out: alcohol abuse — denies — mother’s boyfriend – she asks, how long were you a cutter? & the question pierces you, twists your face into a hesitant question mark.  you ask, did i write that somewhere? & she clips, matter-of-factly, no.  at the end of the appointment, she challenges you to think about two things: one, quitting your job & moving back across the state to live with your boyfriend in a city where there are no jobs for you; & two, antidepressants.  you say, i’m not depressed; i took pills when i was a kid & i didn’t like the way they made me feel, & she says, you’re an adult now.  depression doesn’t mean crying & being sad all the time.  you say, okay.  i’ll consider it.  you cancel your second appointment with her the following day.

third, a hallelujah.  janet sits close, arms on her knees, listening.  she asks, honey, were you sexually abused as a child? & doesn’t tell you that, despite your non-memories, you are a liar.  she says, if it walks like a duck & talks like a duck, we call it a duck.  you’re carrying the aftermath.  she uses words like brave & resilient, asks–curious, interested–to see the taser you carry inside your mother’s house.  you tell her, i want to be bad, your voice carrying a laughter that wears a pitchfork & horns, & she asks, well, how are you going to be bad?  you shrug, smile, say, i don’t know; i just want to be bad, & together you laugh–not laughter that is polite, a courtesy, but loud, from the belly, heads tilted & tipped.  your homework, she says, think about your thoughts.  pay attention to those.  let’s get you feeling safe, & when you leave her office & are swept into the wind battering leaves, you think, this is it.  now we’re entering the big leagues, & you are up to bat, muscles flexed, ready to swing.

seven months’ summation

spring leads you to rivers & hills cascading trees, shopping malls & hot, split asphalt, chocolate mouthfuls & gin kisses, a bed with a body (warm).  summer is a languid sticky-taffy-stretch of yellow & blue, the way triple-scoop ice cream melts down the cone: that boy, the fan whirring from the window, your tanning, freckling bodies licked with sun.  summer, an opal flash, a cooling stone, a campfire dwindling in the damp night.

then fall finds you.  it walks you home, naming each river passing: susquehanna, clarion, allegheny lulling in your front yard.  you settle into a bedroom once stuffed with bear skin rugs, squirrels mounted to hunks of soft bark, deer heads with glassy black eyes, & you tuck your things quietly away, into crevices your silence left at sixteen, seventeen, between the girl you were (stolen cigarettes half-smoked at the window, razorblades tucked in jewelry boxes, notebooks fat with poems) & the girl your mother wished you to be (fairies, pink ceiling fan, wooden alphabet blocks spelling out your name).  the girls of your youth leave no room for the girl of your present, & so you parse her into confetti-size pieces to hide under the bed, in a sock drawer, behind a cabinet door.

shh.  shimmer, disappear.  shh.  your life quiets into a flat line, as if you were not there: ever, at all.  shh, shh, as fall tucks you into a bed of leaves, you who were never anything at all.

i make the going slow

coffee for breakfast
to get up, to write, to peddle
on the exercise bike, to buy
lipstick the color of rose petals, & leopard print
lingerie trimmed in bright red

M&Ms for lunch, for dinner
to self-soothe & wake,
rush: serotonin, endorphin, placebo

strawberry jello
one parts water, one
parts vodka,
for dessert
to let go
to forget
the rest

*

after a night of wet, heavy snow, the roads & parking lots puddle into grey slush.  as i stand in line at the grocery store, cradling a box of elbow macaroni, two bunches of kale, & a carton of eighteen eggs, the woman in front of me apologizes: for the items, now bagged, that would not fit into her cart; for the fistful of coupons slowly swiped; for breathing air & existing in the first place.  i say wait & help yank her cart through the parking lot, then load the bags into her car.  she tells me that for eleven years, she was a soloist soprano singer at her church; then she became sick with bronchitis & her voice never quite recovered.  my snow angel, she says, let me hug you.  tears fuzzy my drive home, & i spend the afternoon weeping myself into & out of sleep.

*

at advanced autoparts, the cashier asks if i want him to put on my new windshield wiper blades.  can you show me so that next time i can do it on my own, be independent?  i always think it should be really simple to do; then i try & break every piece of plastic available to me.  i ramble.  i am exhausted after a 10-hour shift at work & preparing for the four hour drive to spend the next three days with the boy i’m seeing.  he says, sure thing, & i work alongside him as he instructs: pull toward you; no, flip it the other way; no, now it’s upside down; no– like this, & i say, thank you; thank you so much.  he smiles.  says, no problem, & when he calls me dear, i am reminded of how i felt as a child when i pictured my imaginary friend, billy brumble, who was like an older brother that would lift & carry my body; protect me; say, don’t you look so pretty, when i smeared my mouth with hot pink lipstick & wore a grey hat too big for my head, a scratchy grey dress draping my body like a table cloth.

*

after i stop for gas an hour & forty-five minutes into my journey, i spend fifteen minutes kicking clumped up snow & ice from my wheel wells at a truck stop.  because it has been snowing hard, i am wearing my reading glasses.  they fog in the cold from my hot breath.  a man gets into the truck parked next to me, & before he closes the door, he looks at me leveraging my snow brush behind the front wheel on the driver’s side.  everything ok? he asks.  i tell him i’m fine, that i feel safer with all the gunk beaten out, & say, thank you for asking.  he tells me to have a good one, travel safe.

inside the truck stop travel center, i buy a twenty ounce coffee & a king size whatchamacallit candy bar.  the boy who rings me up says, whoa, i thought i was the only person who liked these things, & i tell him he’s not alone, that they are my favorite, too.  he says, if you get a chance, you gotta try the ones coated in peanut butter that have chocolate wafers on the inside.  they call ‘em thingamajigs.  i tell him i’ll keep my eyes peeled for them & thanks for the heads up.  he smiles, nods his head, then goes back to flirt-arguing with the girl running the register next to him, who wears blonde streaks in her dark hair, rings of black makeup around her eyes, & rainbow-colored buttons on her red work vest.

*

D & i spend our days off together caught in the cuddle zone.  we sleep late, his bedroom cloaked in dim, grey light, & open our eyes only to poke our heads above the pillows, peep at the time on the clock, & burrow back into bed.  when i pull the thick, dark curtains back from the windows, bright winter sunlight spills inside; we shield our eyes & squint, falling face down into our nest of blankets & body heat.  it can’t be daylight, we groan, our bodies static-clung, hand gripping forearm, bicep, legs crooked round knee & thigh.  on the morning when he goes back to work, i lie in bed staring at the ceiling, imagining my life if it were contained by these–his–walls.  i think of the night we spent in his hotel room drunk on his boss’s homemade blackberry wine, the slowness of our hands husking the clothing from our bodies, the way his lips shook & how i asked myself, do you want this? &, repulsed by my desire for the cupping of his hands, the curve of his biceps, the tenderness, many parts of me whispered, don’t.  i think of how, during our next encounter, i said, there are two kinds of people in my life–the people who care about me, & the people who sleep with me; how, when he asked, it’s not possible for someone to be both of those at once? i shook my head, saying, the circles of that venn diagram don’t intersect; how, still, our bodies joined, my mouth a cavern filled with a child’s howls, my face sopping tears & shuddering breaths.  the way he held my body, silent, his fingers brushing at my eyes, until i fell asleep, & how he returns, again & again, to the wreckage i am diving in.

then, i rise from his bed & tug the bedding into place.  in the living room, i fold our blankets, collect our coffee mugs & empty fruit snack packets from the table, & throw a pinch of shrimp pellets to the idiot fish swimming in their tank.  in the kitchen, i wash each dirty dish & pull half-wet laundry from the drier, draping each piece on a hanger, drying rack.  before i pack my things & let myself out, slipping his key under the doormat, i pull on a pair of his wool socks & tell myself to accept the kindness i find in this series of rooms, the heat that rises from the places where we’ve stood: vapor, love, intersection.  i make the going slow.

the mechanics of letting go

monday afternoon i put a pot of chickpeas & red beans on the stove to simmer, & then i fell asleep.  when i woke five hours later, my legumes were crispy & charcoal-black, popping & hissing in the quiet heat.

let’s not talk about the smoke alarm unhooked & idle on the little bookshelf next to the couch where i slept, its dying battery hanging, half unhooked, outside its body like an entrail.  let’s not talk about the haziness clouding my apartment, the way the smell seeped into my hair & clothes, how it lingered overnight & was here, still, to greet me in the two, three mornings that followed.

in my head, my mother scolds, junebug.  i say, i know, mom, my guts all knotted up, red-hot angst that makes me want to yell & shove.  i think of a cheap ring i owned when i was twelve years old, an amethyst-colored stone with sharp edges set on a gold band, & the way i dug it into the bathroom mirror, dragging, because something i’d seen on TV had led me to believe that expensive gemstones could cut through glass & i needed to know–was it real?  the way the stone scratched, nail on a chalkboard, & how the next day, when momma asked about the incision i’d made, i denied, denied, denied.

*

monday morning, before i left the town where my boyfriend lives, four & a half hours away from my apartment near the lake, i spent $4.50 in postage to mail my resignation.  inside the padded manilla envelope, a sixty-page manuscript written in august to this soundtrack, a beat up red cellphone my father pays for, & a letter that said, i love you, but i can’t go on this way, wishing you into a man you won’t become, any longer.

for days, a knot winds tighter, tighter still, in the center of my chest, until my shoulders draw in toward one another & my breaths are shallow & thin.  i stop singing in the car.  i drink less & less water.  my throat becomes a dry, squeaky reed, my voice a melody untuned.

*

over the past six months, i have done a pretty stellar job of isolating myself from the already-tiny social world i once inhabited.  my job exhausts me; my heart & thoughts exhaust me; my body’s autonomic functioning, this blinking & that breath, exhausts me.  i don’t have time for friends, for people who want to unload the details of their troubled lives into my lap but get squirrelly when i expect them to reciprocate.  it makes people uncomfortable: sadness, raw vulnerability, incest.  after expending most of my energy at work, where i care for eight grown men with various physical and mental disabilities, caring for myself when i go home is hard enough, & caring for two sometimes-whiny cats is harder still; so it follows that caring for others, right now, is implausible.

the trouble is, as i have sunken into this territory of isolation, i have become increasingly uncomfortable with being alone.  i don’t want my thoughts.  i don’t want this pain.  i don’t want to hear the sounds this tattered heart might make.

so i turn on the TV, & i allow myself to disappear.

months ago, i buried myself in dr. drew’s celebrity rehab, & i was struck again & again by the number of people with substance abuse problems who also experienced sexual trauma as children.  in general, the show made me uneasy–the clients showed such little regard for one another & were allowed to be purposely hurtful & disrespectful, i questioned the ethics of combining therapy with reality TV, & in general i didn’t feel like i was seeing many of the folks on the show get any healthier.  but i looked forward to the group therapy segments, where the patients all gathered together & hashed things out with dr. drew, bob forrest, & one another, & their conversations felt real & authentic in ways that the rest of the show does not:

jason davis: through my life, i’ve always tried to, like, in a way, change my father.  & every time i tried to do it, it always ended in a painful, horrible roller coaster.
bob forrest: it’s painful.  but now you need to be loved & you need to be nurtured & you need to be mentored, & your dad can’t do it & your grandfather’s dead.   let me ask you this, what do you want?
jason davis: i just want to have, like, a dad who, like, you know, i can turn to–
bob forrest: you don’t.  you don’t.
dr. drew: you don’t have that.  you don’t get that.

a coping mechanism i have carried with me since childhood is my ability to disappear from my “real” life & into kids’ movies.  on my days off from work, i watch & rewatch–sometimes as much as five times in a day–movies like the rescuers down under & labyrinth.  the hope is that, if i watch enough, until i have memorized all the characters’ lines & can recount, in minute detail, the plot, settings, & background music, that i will finally be part of the stories–stories where the “bad guys” get what they deserve, the “good guys” no longer suffer, & hope & predictability are the bottom line.

the problem with disappearing into these stories is that i carry a lot of childish ideas about the way life works.  if i disappear long enough, hard enough, i will wake up in another life where my problems don’t exist, or another world where a lot of people & creatures are willing to be kind to & help me.  if i am a good person, i will eventually be met with goodness.  & if i wish long enough, i can make my life into what i want it to be.

for a very long time, i’ve tried wishing my father into an amalgamation of the great ones i’ve seen on TV or read about in books–atticus finch, charles ingalls, danny tanner.  the part of me that is still a child–& it seems that a large part still is–doesn’t want to let go of that made-up father or the illusion of hope buried somewhere in his pocket.  because of that reluctance, that willingness to live in denial, mailing the package to my real-life father took a lot of steps & a very long time–in april, i bought the envelope; in august, i finished the first draft of the manuscript; in october, my brother & i purchased a cellphone plan & new phones, mine with a different number, together; in november, i wrote the letter; in december, i put it all in the envelope; in january, i mailed it–because at each step across those nine months, i was forced to accept part of the reality i am actually living.  i had to let go of wishing, which meant that the father i have dreamed of had to die.

*

so now i am panicking.  i am cranky & finding it difficult to care for myself or communicate with others.  the knot in my chest gets tighter, & i wake each morning with a headache & unquenchable thirst.  when i leave work, the muscles in my back are raw, tense, & i feel like i can’t breathe.  all day every day, i just want to eat chocolate & drink shots of cheap tequila, burrow into a nest of blankets & sleep away my desire to apologize.

instead, i comfort myself with pictures of cats wearing hats (& hoodies) & videos of zac hanson singing “don’t stop believing.” (there has to be goodness in the world, right?  when a boy that beautiful will strut across a stage in too-tight jeans with big biceps & a wiggly little belly & belt out a tune that renews hope with pipes that split my heart again & again?)  i apply to graduate school & try to ride my stationary bike every other day while watching an episode of my little ponies: friendship is magic on netflix.  i tell myself, it won’t always be like this, but i remember: the progress, the steps taken forward, & how terrible it has been to fall back.

i wait for him to show up in my driveway & knock at my door in outrage.  i wait for him to violate the conditions i laid out in my letter–don’t look for me, don’t try to call me, don’t show up at the places where i live.  i wait to get in trouble.  i wait for a reply from the school i’ve applied to that says, nope, sorry–we don’t want you.

& while i wait, i burn beans on the stove.  like an adult child who has believed she is dirty & bad her whole life, i punish myself first, before anyone else can, with impulsive, self-destructive behaviors.  i sleep, & each time i wake, my first thought is something like, fuck, i’m still alive, it’s still winter, & i’m still in this alone.  so i allow myself to fade back into sleep & hope for another life next time i open my eyes.

the reality is, atticus finch, charles ingalls, danny tanner–i don’t have that.  i don’t get that.

poppa, it’s hard to let go.