by essayan hart
The first time mom left me alone with my older sister to baby-sit, we played on the swing-set naked, well after dark. We took innocent pictures, but they felt illicit, so after a terrified trip to the supermarket developing counter we hid or destroyed them. This, I remember.
I remember sitting, still as dolls at the top of the stairs, always in our best nightgowns, with our hair combed, waiting to be called in on bridge nights. They would pretend to catch us listening to the party downstairs, and parade us table to table. We know our lines, our roles. We are perfect ornaments. The atmosphere glitters, and we are the tiniest belles. After they send us to bed, for real this time, we continue to sit at the top of the stairs. We eat the candy we stole from each table, quietly unwrapping the foil and savouring our spoils. This is payment for services rendered.
I am absorbed in a box of stones. They are gateways, to other worlds, other paradigms. I have been hiding at the downtown library devouring dense fantasy novels. They are becoming real for me, but that is a secret I know how to keep. the red stone with the orange bleed is the key. It is the ill-earth stone. Downstairs they might be screaming, but all I hear is the pulse of this other world, so small between my fingers.
I overslept again, and missed the short bus trip up the hill. I pull on my knit cap and trek through the woods in the snow. I am in second grade. I take the wrong path and wind up crying and lost, in a mess of blackberry thorns. When I arrive at school, I pull thorns from my skin and my clothes while the teacher yells. I fold my hat on my desk, and think about my grandmother’s hands.
Snow again. I keep my house-key on the belt-loop of my jeans. The bell rings, and the bus waits outside. If I run to the bathroom, I will miss the bus. I pull on my snow-pants, and hope for the best. In front of my house, my best friend is screaming with laughter…. “You’re gonna do it again”. I am trying to wrestle my key out of my snow pants, and flushing red with embarrassment. I give up, throw my backpack down, strip, and pee in the yard. This is the first time in weeks I have not peed in my snow-suit. Victorious, I collect my key, and let my stunned friend into the empty house.
Back at school they won’t let me go to the bathroom alone anymore. I recently saw a sequel to The Wizard of Oz, and have been lost in the bathroom for days, talking to the mirror. I am convinced that the girl in the mirror is not me, and that she is trapped there. When they force me to have a bathroom buddy, Sarah Sherwood catches me whispering to the mirror in secret, and asks what I am doing. I realize that I will never see my friend again, and spend the rest of the day inconsolable.
I am sitting on the bed waiting. All morning there must have been screaming because I am sitting now defeated, in a purple gingham dress. I am four years old. I hold my limbs like a dolls limbs. I do not posses myself anymore. I am certain that they will not detect my vacation, so long as I can be posed for the family portrait. My bedspread is yellow, and I imagine the yellow has taken over everything. Pale and listless, the morning passes without incident.
One summer night a stranger grabs my arm and I fall to the ground screaming. “You are not my family”. I am 26 years old. There are years stripped away then, and I cry until I start to dry heave into the dead grass. All around me I hear the terrifying forgotten sounds. I am so small. Everything is happening above my head, in negative space. This, I may never remember.