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.