putrefaction

this year, you must prepare early, like a squirrel digging through brush & leaves for the perfect seed to complete your winter stockpile–no more ruminating & waiting until the last moment & scratching quickly in a card with snoopy & woodstock on its cover, i love you, only to realise you’re out of stamps.  but august brought few oak nuts, & october even fewer.  the second week of may, you leave the grocery store with a greeting card, an anthropomorphised cartoon toilet springing from its cover above a cloud of text reading, as dads go…  the inside announces, you really make a big splash!  happy father’s day.  because it makes you nervous, you plan to take it to your next counseling appointment.  you forget to put it in your bag but tell your counselor about it anyway, unable to remember anything but the toilet.  you tell her, it’s terrible & shitty & passive-aggressive, but i can’t send anything else.  the following week you remember it, shoving it quickly into your bag, where it will stay for the next two weeks collecting wrinkles & ink stains, & you & your counselor laugh from your bellies reading it.  that is so passive-aggressive, she says, but i love it.

*

weeks pass.  the card stays forgotten in your bag as a sunflower seed or acorn cap, but you think of its loopy font often, trying to dig up the exact words, & fail.  you kill off every seed that sprouted into a seedling in an egg carton on your windowsill–over-watering, underwatering, & then a final day to scorch the tiny, tender leaves in hot late-may sunlight.  in your garden, two leeks from last season surface, grow tall.  last year’s cat nip overtakes the bed, goes wild.  you pierce two avocado seeds with toothpicks & submerge their bases in mugs of water, allowing the toothpicks to keep the tips hard & dry.  the carton of dead seeds, now disappeared, sits nearby, a reminder of careless, ecstatic, & over-thought blunders.  when the water levels change, you replenish them.  the rest of the time, you wait.

*

one week from father’s day, your conscience gnaws at you like a medium-sized rodent whose winter supply has begun, in early spring before the trees have budded, to sprout.  because the seeds cannot be eaten, the squirrel dreams of conifer cones, green vegetation, ripe grapes, & tiny mushrooms & anticipates cool nights no longer covered in frost.  each time you visit the grocery store, you linger in the card aisle, your eyes glazed as they skim ocean greens & blues, elegant typography that slants & loops elegantly.  promotional sign boards announce, this week: spend $50 on dairy, fresh fruits, and father’s day cards, & earn an extra ten cents off your next gas purchase, as if giving you added incentive to choose another.

*

because you do not wish to dream of your body bulbous with babies, a dried up root that no longer menstruates, you stay awake later & later each night.  still, those dreams find you: your belly inflated like a balloon, your back scorched from the heat of the body that has been cradling you.  in your sleep, you roll from side to side like a barrel spinning in fast water, but you cannot protect your entire body, & so you wake often, forced to compromise: breasts or backside, or hot blanket across your torso & thighs.  when you wake, apply your eyeliner & mascara, & enter the world, your body aches: wrists, lower back, fatty tissue covering your pubic bone.  infection, inflammation–you consider all the options: urinary tract, yeast, vulvodynia, clitorodynia.  you practice on the pages of a yellow legal pad the message you will write: we need to talk, or i can’t apologise anymore for the choices you made, or i wish i didn’t have to send you a card like this, or have a great day; talk to you soon.  then you think to send it blank, to allow him to wonder which estranged child chose to send this & why, or to ignore the holiday altogether.  next, you wonder whether ripped pieces of the card & its blue envelope will break down in your compost bin without infecting the rotting black gold with poisonous inks & waxy chemicals that make the cardstock toilet shine.

*

he disappears, in dreams, by magic or death, the way villains perish in children’s movies.  you wonder if he dreams of you, & if you disappear quiet & easy, too, or if you are a body he must drag by a t-shirt collar into the backyard.  if, again & again, he spends a handful of hours digging a shallow hole, his body slippery with sweat, & then dumps you in the dirt.  whether he returns each day to look upon you, the slow decomposition of your grey-white skin & filmy eyes into a bloated mass of blowfly swarm.  you blister & peel, you liquefy & swell, you green & blacken & leek sulfur-sweet methane rot.  you wonder if & how long this is how you’ve been to him: the stink of a corpse his nose can’t purge, the cacophony of paper-thin translucent wings sprouting from the larvae writhing on her skin.

a letter to the man

big boy,

so here’s the thing.  i’ve been composing this letter in my head for months & physically trying to write it out for a week.  i’ve had no luck because each word i write is undercut by the cassette tapes of terrible self-talk playing on a continuous loop in my tiny pea brain, but right now i am going to honor myself & allow myself this space to be candid & frank, to mix metaphors & ooze melodrama, to lay it all out.

first, fuck you.

a lot of things about you never made sense when i was a kid, particularly when i was a teenager suffering with an insurmountable sadness that i, & endless amounts of counseling, couldn’t fix.  all my life i have wanted you to come to bat for me–to be jerry orbach in dirty dancing, gregory peck in to kill a mockingbird, ryan o’neil in paper moon.  i have been waiting a long time for you to transform into the man i have always needed you to be, & each time you don’t rise into that man, i feel like the defective daughter who failed to bring out the stand-up-with-fisticuffs dude in you.  but the truth is, you failed to bring that out in yourself.  when i was a child, you decided to do some some really shitty, terrible things that, in the aftermath, have followed me like pig pen’s stink cloud my whole life.  when i was a teenager, you didn’t decide anything–you just quit the race.  was it too close for you?  did it terrify you that one day, after a counseling appointment, i might come home pointing my finger at you?

all these years, i have blamed myself for everything–my sadness, my anxiety at being alone with you, mom having & continuing her affair, the distance between us i was unable to close.  i have hated myself & my body, & i’ve tried to rid myself of the burden of being a survivor of incest many times in countless ways.  but no matter how many times i dig a pair of scissors into my skin, no matter how few calories i eat, no matter how many times i force myself to have an orgasm alone or with someone else, no matter how many drinks i pound down or which liquor i consume, no matter how many times i accidentally burn myself on the stove or tear up my cuticles or cut my hair or drive recklessly, & no matter which death i choose for myself in the fantasies i scheme up, that hate & shame & self-blame stays.  & dramatic as it may be to say, i’m going to say it anyway: my heart may be soft & goopy & pink for anything that moves & breathes, but if you dig deep enough through the bubblegum gunk, you will find a small black fruit shriveled & calicified into a stone.  & i’m going to say this anyway, too, even though it is trite & cliche: i don’t expect kindness or goodness from anyone.  i know they will hurt me, betray me, & abandon me.  & even though it hurts when that happens–& doesn’t it always?–i’m not surprised.  what else could i expect, especially after you?

but i’m tired.  it’s exhausting trying to embody this posterboard cutout of a girl who has it all together when, in fact, i don’t.  i don’t know how i got so good at not fucking up my life when i am a terrible wreck inside, but i did, & it’s like living in quadruplicate: the white witch uses her strength & gooky pink heart & the pliable grey shit between her ears to do good for others as the grayling remains hypervigilant & the i, this narrator, just disappears, the small seed of our inner child swallowed in the crevice of her palm.  the white witch is responsible, thoughtful, smart, & funny, a loyal daughter, sister, & friend, & she has her act together.  she can dream up goals & be indecisive about the path she wants her life to take (which to choose when there are so many?), & she can & does succeed.  she even, sometimes, thinks she looks cute in a bathing suit.  the grayling, the loose cannonball, the stray cat who’s been kicked one too many times, the ticking time bomb who can’t get close to anyone, stays in constant fear, panic, & dread.  the grayling fluctuates between a wildcat will to survive & the desire to find a dark, small space & crawl in it to die.  while the white witch is fucking around in princessland with the songbirds & rainbow-sprinkled cupcakes, the grayling never leaves the heat, like hephaestus deep in the guts of a volcano with the anvil & twenty bellows.  & when dealing with the real shit gets to be too much, the grayling uncorks the wine & uncaps the beer, digs through the medicine cabinet for the sharps, & disconnects brain from terrible body.  the white witch & the grayling are barely aware of the child cowering deep in the belly of the wreckage’s darkest corner struggling to understand the world as she thought it should be & the reality of how it actually has been as she grasps tiny plush rabbit toys by their necks as tight as she can & whispers prayers to a god who turned his back on her long, long ago.

among the buttercream frosting & pink ribbons & rabbit fur & the endless fire, there’s a thin verdigris bridge where i–the real me–tiptoe a railing, my head fuzzy with bees, my ears stuffed with cotton & static.  i walk a tightrope miles above my physical body; i think thoughts & see myself speaking them, i have physical urges & wants & see my body meeting them.  i watch, tired & sad & confused &, above all else, unreal.  do you know what it’s like to spend days at a time feeling like your body, the physical shell encasing you, isn’t yours to inhabit, like you are living in a dream that won’t allow you to wake up, like you have no will or control?  the days shift by you, & you remain voiceless, powerless, no longer (if you ever even were) the agent of your own life story.

again, let me say this: fuck you.

because here’s the thing: all this shit is not my fault.  i did not choose this, i did not ask for this, i did not have a choice in this.  i was the child.  you were the adult.  you were responsible for making good, healthy, safe decisions for me & the woman i would grow into, & you fucked up.  what i got from you is a disease that can’t be cut out or forced into silence by radiation or cured with antibiotics.  allow me my melodrama: it’s chronic, baby, & sometimes i wish it would fucking kill me.  you were the adult, i was a child.  you were supposed to have been the dude who protected me from predators like you, & instead you fucked around with me & loaded me up with this grab bag of bullshit that, frankly, i just get sick & fucking tired of hauling around.  it’s heavy & it hurts, & you tied it to me for life.  you, my protector, my friend, my testosterone wall, my father.

so i’ve been struggling to come to terms with this: that i’m an adult now, even though i don’t feel like it some of the time–the white witch babysits the grayling, who’s always on the brink of spinning out of control, but who’s real & who’s not & who the fuck am i & why is that little girl always crying?–& i’ve got the power.  i dreamt the other night about aadvarks & anteaters, long-snouted animals & their tiny babies.  when nighttime came in that dream, i found you asleep in a room, or pretending to be asleep in a room, & panic & fear & dread swept over me.  in the dream time passed quickly, but i had the feeling that i’d been waiting a very long time for you to be not-awake so that i could creep past.  i was exhausted & wiry &, because i’d had enough of the bullshit, i chose to no longer keep this stupid fucking secret, no longer keep so silent & still.  you knew that somehow, & that knowledge roused you from your sleep.  when you woke, it was like the scene in action movies in which the hero creeps past the sleeping dragon & that one golden eye opens; the violin music blinks & leaps up & swells, sweeps, staccato; the whole inside of the cave begins to crumble as the dragon chases the hero with fire, & you, the viewer, sit with your stomach shrunk to the size of a cherry lodged in your throat, your fingers gripping your armrest, your jaw clenched tight, your eyes wide.  in my dream, when i opened my mouth to tell (someone, everyone), you attempted to end your life.  when you failed, everyone turned their attention to you, expressed their concern.  i shut my mouth, once again forced into silence.

so here’s the deal.  i’ve spent a lot of time & energy trying to convince myself of your innocence & to defend you, but i’m tired & i can’t do this anymore.  i am not a liar.  i am not lying.  i didn’t dream this up.  i didn’t spend all that time hiding in my closet as a teenager for fun, & my repulsion toward the sounds of men’s mouths & their faces near my cunt & thighs are not quirks.  so i am not going to battle myself about this anymore.  you did it, you are guilty, & i am allowed to hate & resent you for that.  i know that when you felt like trying, you tried to do the best you could do, & that you love me greatly, deeply.  but sexual assault is not love, & you fucked up; i can’t pardon you from that.  you made your choices.  in my dream, you were the dragon just waking, but in this real & waking life, where i am an agent of change & can exert control over my life, i can be the dragon instead of you, my breath lit with fire, my bed a pillow of gold coins.  now, as an adult, i can guard the ruby & sapphire pendants, the opal-crusted tiaras, & each precious stone buried deep in me.  i no longer commit to defending you, pushing the what-ifs & hypotheticals in your favor.

the scales tip, topple.  the violins sweep, swell, as the emeralds glint in the light.

-j

the climb

sitting alone at work, 8:47pm, the billing & documentation for your one-person caseload complete, your hand hovers above a small forest-green notebook from staples, scrawling a list of memories & suspicious details, as delilah’s evening radio show plays from the stereo.  as miley sings (miley fucking cyrus), there’s always gonna be another mountain / i’m always gonna wanna make it move / always gonna be an uphill battle / sometimes i’m gonna have to lose, you begin to weep.  you self-soothe, your hands clutching, fingers fidgeting, your mouth murmuring words you might use to comfort a girl crying to an awful pop-radio song, but you, that girl, are not given peace.

at home, you ramble & rattle to ears in ohio that have drawn out the many ribbons of your dustiest secrets.  you don’t mention miley, or the crying, or any of it, & you are okay.  you talk honey, students’ sense of entitlement, her ability to play the wooden recorder.  when you hang up, you cannot sleep, but when you do, the sleep is peaceful.

so peaceful that you wake at 5:04am, four minutes after you should have punched in at work.  the morning goes smoothly, easily.  turdbird at the kitchen table soothes you, the dimples pinning the corners of his smile, the quiet chuckle that reminds you of a cartoon dog you watched in your childhood.  you come home & nap as labyrinth plays in the background.  you live, always, with the TV on.  when you sleep, you dream of chasing a kitten, escaped from an antique store, down a street, of a boy stopping & writing down information about the cat & how to contact you if he finds her, & you are grateful, grateful, but he tears the page from his notebook & hands it to you, saying, see you later.  another boy grabs your arm, & when you see his face–pocked like bukowski’s but worse, like he slept with his head on a wet, crinkled pillow for a long time–you scream.  this dream grants you a voice, & you run.  you enter the antique store just as the lights flicker out for closing time, & the kitten is there, & you are breathing hard, your heart beating full & deep like a bass drum.

in the shower after you wake, you howl.  awful noises tunnel from your open throat, but you are alive–you are no longer voiceless–you are awake & warbling.  the water erases the snot from your face, the saline from your eyes, leaves no trace of the sadness, the betrayal, the anger you are just learning to channel.  you are okay.  you are alive.  whatever was done to you, you survived.  you cannot lose.