9. Concrete burns through your skin and your meat, then it burns down to your bones if you don’t get help.

10. One night I mixed cheap whiskey with spiced Russian tea that tasted like moldy oranges. Numbing drunk was what we did in my family when horrible things happened that we didn’t talk about, like being fired, or having the electricity shut off, or Mom eating cereal for dinner so we could have the hamburger. Or being raped; we definitely didn’t talk about rape. Ever. The color I vomited for hours after those drinks was really quite astounding. I still can’t touch whiskey or spiced Russian tea.

11. I started being stupid to turn down the volume of my internal emergency alert system. But blundering stupid through life makes everything way more complicated, creates cascading avalanches of new problems.

12. I wasn’t just encased in hardening concrete up to my chin; it was pouring down my throat. I was in a race to see if I would die from the outside in or the inside out.


I knew that if I fell and scraped my knee ejected headfirst through a windshield chopped off a finger or lost a leg to a shark I’d apply pressure to stop the bleeding use towels, blankets, Goodwill sweaters whatever it took to start clotting, slow the fluid loss

I’d close my wounds with fishhooks and twine or a stapler or a nail gun

welding torch to reconnect my spine I’d knit skin grafts, if necessary.

After I pulled myself back together I’d need a doctor cuz my dark corners would be invaded

by bacteria, viruses, parasites, and more, infectious

vectors of disease, some lethal, some merely debilitating, chronic cripplers.

I knew that. I paid attention in health.

But I had never seen a first aid kit for the spirit or heard the word “trauma” to describe the way I’d hide, slide through the days unseen or scream into the pillows

at the bottom of my closet

door closed even though no one was home.

Rape wounds deeply, splits open your core with shrapnel.

The stench of the injury attracts maggots which hatch into clouds of doubt and self-loathing the dirt you feel inside you nourishes anxiety, depression, and shame poisoning your blood, festering in your brain until you will do anything to stop feeling the darkness rising within anything

to stop feeling—

untreated pain

is a cancer of the soul

that can kill you

Salinger and me

I never thought of killing myself not on purpose, though I was in grave danger of a stupid accident, riding sorrow’s hamster wheel living with a popsicle, momsicle, sisicle, all of us frozen in confusion

me tongueless but alive

When I was little I loved Bread and Jam for Frances the book about a fussy badger

who seemed quite sensible to me.

The author, Russell Hoban, was a fan of J. D.

Salinger—dude who wrote

The Catcher in the Rye, which is a whole other story.

Hoban said this gobsmacking thing about Salinger, called him “a man without eyelids”

the line always stuck with me

I was a girl without eyelids that year; I couldn’t blink

I. saw. everything. all. the. time.

my eyes raining constantly from all the seeings, my throat dry from lack of use

Salinger was a mess, another World War II vet who came home with nasty memories shoved into his head

he and my dad would have made great pals they would have cried and fought and punched the walls and each other when the lid came off.

We tiptoed, terrified, for years, afraid my father would kill himself, once and for all, but he held on, like Salinger, and showed me that holding on was worth it.

speaking in tongues

When I was a little girl, a friend and her family moved to the Netherlands and she had to learn Dutch. I asked if the cows and the chickens spoke Dutch, too.

Then my brain grew and my mouth grew hungry for languages—I studied French and German, tried to read a Russian dictionary.

Exchange students

roamed the halls with their mysteries, circling in orbits

around Mr. P., my French teacher, the only one who always smiled at screwed-up kids like me and looked us in the eye, like he cared cuz he did

one afternoon Mr. P. asked me why I hadn’t joined the International Club he said I’d like it

(answer: because joining clubs meant being with people I didn’t know, which scared me, and I had to do that for classes, which is why I forgot to go to them a lot, but there was no way I was going to do something that stupid in my free time, no way) I told him I was kinda busy but I’d think about it

locker up

Sound of slamming lockers triggers me with the spread of metal across my tongue

as if someone pushed my face into the steel soldiers lined against the wall, patiently holding our books, our lunch, decomposing bananas

and an army of fruit flies, the combination to open sesame always slipping past

spin the dial again until it opens, crouch head in the dark, act

like I’m looking for something important crowd swelling, banging riot in the unwatched spaces

me worrying my stack of books like I can’t hear the conversations around me about some girl who was crying at the back of the bus,

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