She tells me that he used to do the meanest things when he was angry. She tells me that when her brother bill was young, he touched something he wasn’t supposed to touch so he held bill’s hand over the flame on the stove until it burned. She told me how he used to kick her up the stairs and call her a slut when he was drunk. She told me how his mother used to scream and pull out her hair and threaten to kill herself when her son wouldn’t do what she wanted him to do. Each story drops into me like a warning, like a red flare flaming saying, there is danger here, tread lightly, there is danger close by. She tells me about someone she knows who doesn’t love her son, who burns her sons with matches ,who tried to kill herself, who has a gun, who may have killed her son if no one stopped her. I am in the fire, the shaking, the quivers in my gut, the place that is forbidden, that you don’t want to know, you don’t want to see. Vampires. Bonfires. Dark alleys. Fertile ground for devils and demons. Am I one of them? I tried to drown myself in the ocean. I laid down at the water’s edge and offered myself to him, asked God to take me out on the waves in the tide so I could reside with the moon and the starfish. God said no, the waves pushed me further back from the shore, deeper into the grass and the trees, snakes on me and through me, black coal inside of me.
I wrap a frightened girl around my body, her legs around my waist, her arms around my neck, like primates, like monkeys, we are no different. Without a mother, without comfort, we are dead. I carry her. She is mine and she is me. Inside and around me, I walk the water’s edge with her. She is light, she is not a burden. I thought I was burden. I thought you said and she said and he said that I was a burden. I thought I was heavy. I thought I was hard to handle. I thought I was too heavy to carry.
I breathe deep. The salty imagined air. The seagull. The sunset. The orange and crimson sky. I wanted to trust you. I wanted to know that I could take 2 steps away and you would be there upon my return. I wanted to know that I could take 4 steps away and you would still be there like a granite stone in the sun. I wanted to know that I could take 6 steps away and I could wave to you and you would wave back smiling and encouraging. I wanted to know that if there were long distances between us that love would travel the miles between us, that we would still be connected. I wanted to know that I mattered, that I was seen and heard. I wanted to know that I was loved.
I drop down into an empty heart. I knew your disarray before I knew my own. I knew the imbalance between us like a tightrope tied to two wobbling poles. You were unstable. I knew your instability as my own. I was bright, too smart for my own good, they say, a small wise one, one wondrous little person dropped into an insane circus. Look at the lions, daddy! All the better to eat you with my dear. He held my little brother over Niagara Falls. He threatened to drop him in. He thought it was funny. Mom cried. I watched. Smaller and smaller, I shrank inside myself until I almost extinguished my own flame. Can you put yourself out? Can you extinguish yourself? The one unique expression of you. Why would you even want to commit such a crime? Would you extinguish a star? Would you pull the plug on the ocean and let it run down the drain? Would you filter the sky in black and white? Pull the flowers from the roots so the smells could no longer burden your nose? The absurdity of it all. The waste. The shame. The malice. The grief. The pain.
I said I’d rather feel shame than anger. I’d rather freeze than burn. I’d rather be small enough to stand on the tip of a needle then be so big that my foot tramples your garden with one step. I grow like a giant with the anger. My long wet pink tongue falls from my mouth like Kali, the goddess of destruction. I can dance her dance. I can ride her tiger. Hissing and spitting. I can shoot fire with my eyes. I must be evil. I must be catholic because I think my fire is evil. I must be conflicted. I must be twisted up in knots, in misunderstanding, in contrast, in contempt. I must be walking on hot coals. I must be older than myself, older than this feeling. I must be God – the generator, organizer and destroyer of my experience. I must be dead. Less alive than the fish and the moss and the cockroaches. I must be all of it and none of it. sweaty palms and cramping hand. I must be getting old and staying young and figuring things out and getting lost. I must be out of my mind.
Take me where you are going. Please hold my hand, hold my heart. Tell me that it’s all ok, that it will all be fine. Lie to me. I don’t care. Let your words caress me like aloe soothing burned skin. Help me gather up all the burnt children – the boy with his hand on the stove, the girl kicked up the stairs, the child scarred with matches – help me gather them all up and put them in a bowl of cake batter so we can swim and lick our fingers and taste sweetness with every swallow. Make it better. Make it safe. Make it the way it should be.