Someone spilled Coke on the couch cushion. The wicker based, floral cushioned couch in the first rental we lived in. We had been left alone for a while.
I meant to be proactive and I was tired of the chaos of no one watching. I knocked on the door and it didn’t open. I mentioned the couch and went back to my things.
What the fuck.
Some for you,
Some for you,
He grabbed more Coke to pour over our heads, over toys on the floor, over everything.
Words, over and over. The way I started to laugh at first, thinking he was being funny. No.
I sat in the puddle, assessing the mess as he called us names. We damaged things, a tiny spill like the ocean I guess.
The puzzle in the floor was soaked, fraying picture from the wood, by the time he was done.
He said, clean it up.
So I tried to hide my shame and fault. I cleaned eagerly, trying for approval, coke still dripping out of my hair.
When I was young, I would pull my hair out until I had bald spots. It helped me feel in control when I was anxious during the day, but most aggressively it happened when I couldn’t sleep. I knew it wasn’t good, but I couldn’t stop.
She was willing to come with me to see the hairdresser in order to lie about what was going on. Usually, something to do with trying to get sand out of my hair from the beach and pulling too hard.
She spoke to me about it once, to capitalize on my shame and feign ignorance as to why it was happening. The rest of her words were for everyone else, to pacify their concern.
I wasn’t able to stop until I was an adult and moved away.
Reason one we keep you inside:
You are an illegal immigrant. If the police come snooping around, they will take you away forever. You will be treated badly. You will be put in a prison where you eat out of a communal bin like a pig and get raped by the other inmates.
No, you cannot volunteer anymore.
No, you cannot go to school.
You need to stop going for walks.
Don’t answer the door.
You tell me you’re just doing the best you can.
You always had papers. I didn’t.
He was the only one home, so I let him know I was going out for a walk. Something didn’t sit right, so I didn’t stay out long.
Good job, idiot.
He had spraypainted it on the glass doors leading out to the patio, for me. Sloppy blue letters. Underlined “idiot.”
Everybody was home now. Moving along like day-to-day, not acknowledging the large message projecting into the living room, ignoring his reaction to my apparently small sin: I had accidentally locked the door. I had accidentally locked the door and left for 20 minutes.
Seven years old, we went to Disneyland and I got my first purse. It was a crossbody with a tiny silver crown. I wore it everywhere, for years, even when the lining started to fall apart. It was full of little bits of nonsense, but it was all my sorts of nonsense.
I took it with me through the airport for entertainment and snacks.
Before customs, my mom took me aside and asked to put something in my purse– I had the room, so I said alright. $10,000 in the Disney purse, $10,000 dollars to hide from customs. How many of us agreed to do it?
I think they were hiding through us, so they could hide the numbers from everyone else. But I still don’t truly know why, just that it never felt right.
Where is the proof? How does the brain change?
I waited an entire year before I told them about my diagnosis. In retrospect, I should have made the decision last much longer. I wanted to have some sense of what my life would be like, some sort of resolution before I could open the door.
Prove it to me, tell me about academics and science. I am not a daughter, but a translator and educator. Tell me as I cry about how I am hurting that you need to know if this is even a “real thing.” I suppose it’s easier for me to tell you than for you to politely explore it yourself.
I am only your daughter if we can call this a matter of being too sensitive and absolve ourselves of its name. If we can pretend that all my turbulence is no different from what other people go through– what if this is just how it is at your age?
Pull your head out of your ass.
Funny that my reality is unfounded, but is strategically useful.
Are you sure you can handle this? The token response when I do something unfavourable. The voice that tries to say that it can see my sickness, but what it means is that I have done something they disagree with.
Did you take your medication? The thing you abhor, unless you can use it to paint me as irrational. If I am upset with you, it is only manufactured.
As it turns out, you don’t need to believe anything. You just need to know how to manipulate the people that do.
“We were just having a conversation about what she would change if she could do this all over again.”
he looked at me in that calculating way, savouring the moment. Like there was a pleasure in delivering something that only served to cause pain. As if he felt there was righteousness in chipping at my self-worth, never letting me build it back up.
I was prepared. He got nothing from me because I knew the answer years before it came out of his mouth. I felt it before he ever put it into words.
“If she could change it…She wouldn’t have had you.”
I am a product of regret. I will never have to explain that feeling again.
One time, when they were finished fighting, I walked out of my room to see him sweeping up broken dishes from the kitchen floor. As if the moment was disappearing because he was cleaning up. As if what happened didn’t permeate the entire house.
The fighting felt like the worst possible thing. Like my heart sinking out of my chest and the world was falling apart. I thought that was the worst thing, but the honeymoon phases always rolled back in. I could do my best to roll with it.
I could not bear being left behind. They had a blowout fight. She collected my siblings, intending to leave. I told her that I didn’t want to go, I was scared, so she left me.
I watched her go up the driveway with everybody but me. I watched her decide that it was more important to make a statement than to love me. I watched her decide that it was okay to leave me behind in a situation that she herself didn’t want to be in.
That was the new worst possible thing. Being the one left behind.
Running for safety is not graceful. It is tucking yourself away in the back of a closet, smothered in the smell of stale shoes and feeling the grit of dirt pressing into your feet. You sit back as far as you can, hoping the coats will cover you and no one will know where you’ve gone.
Safety, at times, is knowing where other people are, just as much as knowing where you are.
I did not know that he was coming down the stairs. In the briefest moment, I mistook his scream for saying “goodbye,” to us as we were leaving. The chase scene plays over in my head on a reel: she is trying to get out and he is exploding.
He is the collision of a glass ashtray on her head, a storm punctuated by thunder, and I am terrified to be caught in it, so I run to find safety. They go at each other relentlessly, until somebody wins. He leaves, she cleans up the mess.
I just wanted to learn how to dance. We were going to dance. when my mom found me and said he just made a mistake, I decided I could never go back.
She tried not to cry.
We stood across each other at the kitchen counter. You were much better at averting eye contact than I was, a mastermind at holding ground in petty wars. I looked up at your face, searching for something beneath the hostility.
I looked for the right way to break the ice, wondering how you were doing or making a joke. There was no room for speaking.
Three months, this time. Three months of your silence to teach me a lesson, to teach me that you were right and I was not.
Three months of the door closed, the passwords changed, you staying up late so you could avoid us.
My mom used to tell us it was our job to fix it, to make things better for him. We were supposed to wave a white flag that was not ours, to let him know that this was okay and we didn’t have to talk about what happened.
I am confused about what sorry is for, if not a mechanism for smoothing things over.