By: Annabel Smith
It’s 2009. You’re sitting on the floor of your New Bedford apartment. You don’t have any furniture left, anyway. Always pop the air bubbles, always pull back, check for blood. The chill comes like normal, but this time it turns hot without warning, like Uncle Jeff when he’s had one too many. You’re sure this is it this time. You wait for the light like you’ve seen in movies. You wait for your salvation. You wait for your life to flash before you, but your tunnel vision only gets worse.
It’s 2008. You just woke up. The ache starts deep in your bones and works its way up to the surface. So does the vomit. Your morning routine starts off with puking into a Mcdonald’s bag at the end of some chick’s bed. You can’t remember her name.
You catch your reflection in the black screen of her cheap TV. It reminds you of who you were supposed to be. The daughter Father would’ve wanted. You caress your bony, pale face. You pluck at your split ends. You pawn your Mother’s pearls.
It’s 2007. You’re released. The doctor tells you you’ve shown improvements, but you know it’s only because you’ve become a professional liar. You’re not going to miss having a bedtime. Or having to share your feelings with the group every Thursday at noon. Or those nasty fruit cups. Or the childish crafts. Father says it’s all behind you now, you can start over. But you can’t erase the memories of the men in white coats with their cold hands and long syringes.
You meet a boy behind a dumpster. Duncan Shaw. You ask what he’s doing, he says he’ll show you. He squeezes you with a makeshift t-shirt tourniquet, he tells you to wait for it. There’s a pinch. You’re released.
It’s 2006. You’ve done this before, but only in small doses. This time you press down with all your power. Beads of red come the surface. You drag downwards. Father finds you, wet and crimson. He sends you away, again. The food sucks. The people are worse. They give you a Dixie cup full of pills every morning and check your tongue to make sure you swallow. You eat melon chunks and listen to Connie mutter to herself while you fill in the phrase “good things come to those who wait” before the contestant on Wheel of Fortune. How long are you supposed to wait?
It's 2005. Darryl Bishop gives you a ride home after the senior kickback. He pulls into a deserted Marylou’s parking lot. He ignores you when you say no. You pretend you’re sipping on an ice-cold Minty Lou on the beach and savoring every last sip. When he’s done, he tosses you an old t-shirt off the floor to clean yourself up. No amount of wiping makes you feel any cleaner. Ashley McArthur calls you a slut in the hallway before trigonometry.
Father smokes a cigar and looks up from his copy of Small Business Man. “We’re not going to tell anyone about this. An accusation like this could ruin a young man’s life. If you would only listen to me, things like this wouldn’t happen.”
It’s 2004. Father sends you away for the first time. The nice men at camp are supposed to help fix you. The priest tells you you’re stubborn and that is a sin. He tells you there’s a poison inside of you that needs to be extracted. This is the will of God. You resent Him.
You can’t help but envy the kids who are pulled away on stretchers. You never see any of them come back. How come they get to leave?
It’s 2003. Father sits you down on the brown leather couch in his study. You’re broken, you’re a sinner, you can be different. You can still be saved. “There’s hope. Kyle David’s family sent him away to the Berkshires and he was cured when he came back.” He must not know that Kyle David got sent away again. This time for possession. You go back to your room with pink walls to tear up the pages of your grandmother’s bible.
It's 2002. You stare at Lindsay Carlson all class. You think about touching her skin, running your fingers through her hair. When she smiles back, you know she’s just being nice. You know what she would tell the other kids if she knew.
It’s 2001. You spend each morning dividing your pills into baggies for your prospective clients. Five bucks a pop, ten if they’re desperate. Kids at school act like your friends now. You know they’d drop you if your supply ran dry.
It’s 2000. You learn how to function without sleep. Father buys you a pink tulle dress for your first school dance. “I wish your mother could see you today. A beautiful young lady,” he says, his eyes pooling up. He drapes Mom’s pearls around your neck and places his large hand on top of your head.
You sit in a stall and wait for it to be over. You squeeze the budding clumps fat on your chest. You wonder how much it would hurt if you cut through your skin with a scissor. My loneliness is killing me…you hear your classmates chant lyrics from the cafeteria turned dance hall…I must confess, I still believe....
Jill Cooper tells everyone there’s a boy in a dress in the girls’ bathroom. Mr. Hanson comes to escort you out. “I know it’s tough, but I promise it won’t hurt to socialize a bit.” You hear them laughing.
It’s 1999. The dentist warns you to stop grinding. The sight of food makes you nauseous. James McNeil yells out that you pissed blood in American History class. Everyone giggles. You run to the nurse with wet panties and a wet face. Father tells you not to fear; you can have babies now. You’re not so sure about that.
It’s 1998. The doctor starts you on Ritalin. He swears it will be good for you. He swears if you don’t take it, you will end up on drugs or in jail. Father gives it to you every morning before school. They say it will fix your problem with focusing. You never knew you had a problem.
It’s 1997. You join soccer. You get kicked off the team after you puncture Ricky Nelson’s ball sack with your cleats. The coach scowls at you like you’re nothing but a monster. Principal Murphy tells Father you’re violent. Nobody ever asks about your side of the incident.
It’s 1996. “You’re turning into a beautiful young lady, Katherine. You need to start acting that way. How many times do you think I’m going to have this talk with you?” He slams his Maker’s Mark down on the coffee table. Little droplets spray across your face. You can taste the toxic flavor.
It’s 1995. You learn your multiplication tables. Mrs. Bridge has a meeting with Father to tell him that you refuse to pay attention. “She needs to be told five times to open up her book every morning. She cannot focus. The same thing happened to my son and we were able to manage it with medication. If she does not get this under control, it could affect her entire life.” You wonder why she can’t just tell you five times.
You go to the Principal for shoving Siobhan Smith into a chalkboard. He never asks you why you did it. You never get the chance to tell him she called your dead Mom stupid. Father takes his belt off when you walk inside that night. You swiftly understand why.
It’s 1994. They call you four eyes, tard, sped, loser up until the day you bite Eric O’Neill so hard you can play with his skin between your teeth. You spit blood onto the puzzle rug of your first-grade classroom. Nobody calls you anything for the rest of the year.
Father spanks you when you get off the bus. Everything is fine once he’s had a drink. He puts you on his lap. “Fights are for boys. Little girls don’t get in fights. Little girls don’t get in fights...” he repeats himself over and over until his eyes seal shut.
It’s 1993. You’re crammed onto a strange yellow box every morning and shipped off. The building is littered with bright lights and checkerboard tiles. You and the other kids sit around all afternoon playing with glue and squiggly scissors. You learn about the Great Molasses Flood of 1919. The nurse tells Father it’s time for glasses. He picks out pink sparkly frames from LensCrafters for you.
It’s 1992. You play in the woods with JoeyMartin from next door. You make mud pies and he shows you a game on his TV called Tetris. He says you’re his best friend. Father makes you stop when you come home with your nice floral dress covered in dirt. Little girls aren’t supposed to play with little boys.
It’s 1991. You learn about the Pilgrims in pre-school. Father hosts Thanksgiving dinner for the last time. Cousin Nina kicks you out of the playroom because you tear the head off her new Beach Barbie. Bobby lets you play with his dolls, though. As long as you promise to leave their heads intact and call them action figures.
“Katherine, those toys are NOT yours. Those must be cousin Bobby’s. G.I. Joe isn’t for girls, for Christ’s sake.” Instead, he lets you play with Mom’s pearls in his dark study while you can hear the rest of the cousins laugh.
It’s 1990. Nanny Marsha sings to you in the bathtub. She tells you stories of gorgeous girls who fall in love with princes and live without a care. She promises that one day you’ll have your own husband to take care of you. She paints your nails with sparkly varnish. You like to bite the polish off once it’s dry.
It’s 1989. Mom’s gone now. If only you had stopped with your goddamn colic.
It’s 1988. Fluorescent light pours into the tunnel, permeating your undeveloped retinas. Smeared faces coo in awe of the new life presented before them. Frigid air fills your lungs for the first time. A man’s voice echoes, “that is going to be one lucky baby,” as you’re passed from distorted face to distorted face quicker than gonorrhea in a brothel.