Mulan, Ken, and Anastasia

It was a sunny day, much like many of the days there in Louisiana. Hot. Sweaty. But being that I was indoors, I was saved from the heat by some lovely fans. The floor of Nana’s living room was concrete, and the walls were hard. Sheet rock. Mint green. Once, when my Nana spun, spun, spun me around, we lost control, and she ended up putting her head through the wall. There was a lot of white dust that sprung up from that, and there was some time before Nana stirred herself awake.

The furnishings were minimal, being that there was only her and Papa Jim, plus all of the animals they had acquired. At that point, I believe, they had 20 cats and 10 dogs. Papa Jim worked by somewhere that often had abandoned animals. He’d always bring them home to Nana. She appreciated the new company always.

I was 4, nearly 5. My hair was wheat. My eyes, the ocean. In that moment, I was enjoying my Barbie collection, which was quite rare for me. Although Mama had passed down to me her Barbie collection, as well as bought me any special Barbie she felt would suit me, I grew much fonder towards my stuffed animals. I somehow preferred to use them for storytelling. Then again, I tended to prefer paperclips and pens over a Barbie for storytelling. Safe to say that when it came time to clean out my things before college, I donated them to Stacey’s twin siblings, who enjoy them now much more than I ever did.

I hear the front door open and close. Twice. Mama must have come home. I continue to play with my Barbie’s. Mama enters the room. The living room, dining room, and kitchen are all within the same room, separated only by levels. To get from the living room to the dining room/kitchen area, one must walk up some wooden, worn steps.

Mama is not alone. She brings with her a companion, a man. Ah yes. Mama had mentioned she was bringing home a friend. I knew better. I knew that he was a gentlemen caller seeking to win Mama’s heart. Mama would never say that outright, though. Mama’s divorce from Dad hadn’t occurred so long ago, and I’m sure she worried what effect this would all have on me. I, however, did not seem to mind. Unlike most children of divorce, I felt little to no anger about the whole thing. I of course did not understand why Mama and Dad broke it off, but I cared for their happiness, so I let it be as it should, and continued to play with my dolls as I should.

Mama talks to Nana some. I glance at the man.

Tall. Dark, slicked back hair. Rather plump, and dressed well – loafers, khakis, polo shirt.

He greets Nana. Some pleasantries.

Mama comes towards me. He stays back. Mama greets me pleasantly, asking about school and what story had I conjured up this time. She says she wants to meet someone. He comes forward. She tells me his name. She tells me he has travelled all the way from New York. New York, the star-studded city. She had meant the state itself, but I was caught up in what I had heard of the city. It seemed like a place of fantasy and myth, not a place a simple human might inhabit.

He approaches me. He talks to me like most adults do, cheery. I never really got why adults always did that with kids. I suppose they think we are a pound of flesh, barely understanding normal language, so the use of happy sounds will make us understand that it is time to be happy.

He hands me presents. I open them – my first Ken Doll, a Mulan Barbie, and a Titanic shirt, the first of my Titanic paraphernalia collection. I unfortunately lost it some years later in a YMCA locker room. I was joyous. This man had good taste. He might be worth keeping around after all.

Later on, we followed him to his hotel. It was by a Waffle House, and the highway. I pass it every time I go to see Nana, as Dad’s extended family live in Moss Bluff, a good 45 minutes away. Mama and him put on Anastasia for me to watch. I had never seen it before. I loved it. To this day, I still play the songs over and over again, belting out the words perfectly. If I am feeling ambitious, I pull the movie up on Netflix, attempting to quote all that I can.

I took a peak at Mama and him talking in the parking lot. He was smoking a cigar. He caught me. He caught me, and just smiled to himself.

Advertisements

Always

Always, we would go. Every year. The third week of July. That is when New York was the hottest, he said. It’s too hot and humid, so we go to Old Orchard Beach then.

Always, Old Orchard Beach, Maine. It took hours and hours to get there by car. It seemed like an eternity of rest stops and mountains covered in trees. And then, we’d pull through the right exit, and slowly, we’d pull into a town. Streets. Houses. And then, we’d pull around a corner – and there it was, the pier. The beach. The little amusement park that started right next to the pier and ran a little ways down the beach. We’d turn along the road by the amusement park, pass it, a hotel or two, and there was our motel, our home for the week.

Always, the same motel, the same week. He made Mama wait by the computer for midnight on New Year’s Eve, just to make sure they got the room he wanted, when he wanted it. It was very competitive, despite being so rustic and not particularly fancy. However, it had a pool and Jacuzzi, and was directly in front of the beach. Oh, how I loved the smell of sea salt when I woke up the mornings we had there. At night, we’d go to the little shop next door. They had an assortment of ice cream, and Mama would always get me scoops of what I wanted. I’d tried mint chocolate chip for the first time at that shop. I’d often get that flavor after that.

I enjoyed the amusement park quite a bit. It had a water slide, and rides that spun you around and upside down. After the boat that would go back and forth, back and forth, I learned that I must sit down for a bit, lest I risk fainting. I always made sure to go on the Ferris wheel at sunset. The park and the beach looked so beautiful when the colors of the sunset dripped so elegantly onto its surfaces.

There were silly games to play around the park, the kind you find at the local carnival. Throwing down a hammer to test your strength. Squirting water to make a balloon pop – I won that often. All the toys and prizes I would win. There was also a card reader, right across from the Ferris wheel. We only went the once.

The park had an arcade, where I would often aim for the games that’d give me the most tickets. I didn’t want to leave the trip empty handed. Mama would join in and help me earn tickets. She’d even be sure to make me sit with a game that was just for fun, not for tickets. At the end of one trip, I got a rotating disco ball, with colorful lights. At another, a gumball machine. Both really liven up my room.

Always, he loved this trip. His family did it for years when he was a kid, and he brought his sons when they were young. They’d still come up whenever they could. I recall their drunken slurs in the middle of the night. Like father, like son.

Always, he’d make a reservation for Mama, me, and him to go to this fancy restaurant. It ran along the beach, which looked beautiful bathed in moonlight. Norah Jones seems to always play softly in the background in places like this, with wind gliding the sand peacefully along the beach and the waves crashing into themselves nearby. It was a beautiful place to be for dinner. I’d always be sure to get this one dessert – butterscotch ice cream in a crepe, with a drizzle of butterscotch syrup and a sprinkle of nuts. Not a big fan of nuts, but the dish was too delicious to pass up.

Always, he would have us eat breakfast at this little dinner just before we headed home. Twice, I managed to get the cinnamon bun with the cream cheese frosting without realizing it. I despised that icing. It made breakfast rather unpleasant both times.

Always, he kept a favorite picture from one of our trips. Mama and him. He was pushing her away, acting like the child as he always did. Mama was just standing there, with a beer in her hand. She was mid-laugh, open-mouthed grin strewn across her face.

Always, when I was younger, I found it rather funny, and fitting, as he often pushed my mother away.

Nowadays, it is still quite fitting for their relationship during those days, but instead of laughter, I feel sadness.

The Butcher’s Blade

Lying on the floor.

I am crying.

Can’t breathe.

He’s screaming, fist approaching my face.

No connection.

All I wanted to do was watch an episode of Gilmore Girls before I did the dishes.

SLAM

I am alone, still on the floor.

I can’t breathe.

Tears.

Getting up, I see the knife set.

An invitation.

I go for the largest one, the kind you use to slice off a fish’s head, slamming down with all of your might like a human guillotine.

On my knees.

The floor is wooden, smooth.

Still crying, still breathless.

Poised above my left forearm, palm up.

White, pale skin quietly interrupted by green veins.

Slice up, and it’ll all be done. You’ll be done. You’ll be free.

Everything is slow. A millennia passes as I prepare for my fate.

Suddenly.

 

You can either end your last chapter at your lowest, or get up, and make the chapters of freedom, far from this darkness.

 

I don’t move. Time continues by slowly.

Lowering my arms. Getting up. The blade has been sheathed.

I walk away…..

Two days later, Mama signed the lease to our new apartment, and I moved out. He sent thoughtful e-cards, displaying his sadness in me leaving.

Was this normal?

That same day, I revealed my night in a fight with Stacey, and was sent to the counselor’s office. It was my second time there in two years. I returned for a follow-up visit later in the week, and it never came up again. Little was solved or sorted through.

In some ways, that was probably my fault. I always made sure to persuade them that I was fine. I was afraid of being locked up in a mental institution, like so many of my friends. I also was afraid of what they might find if they investigated my life. What it would mean for me.

Was it normal?

However, it can be easy to trick people into thinking you’re fine when all they are concerned about is avoiding a lawsuit. I saw the women who counselled me that week a year afterwards. She looked right through me. She didn’t remember. The school is her priority over anything else, much like it is for everyone there. I was not surprised, but I was hurt. I had hoped that perhaps maybe, someone had thought something was wrong. After all, it was my second time there for suicidal thoughts in two years. Perhaps he was right. I deserved what I was getting.

I thought he destroyed me. But he didn’t.

My first Thanksgiving break at UB. Our last face-to-face reunion.

I was a bit nervous going in. Joseph assured me that it would be fine. And if I felt scared or unsafe, he was entirely reachable. Taken aback, but….happy. Yes, happy. No one was ever looking to stand for me like that. Everyone always just assumed that I could take care of myself, no need for assistance. It was nice to feel human. Nice to have someone realize that even I could not deal with some of life’s great challenges. I felt so safe, safest I had ever felt.

He asked about shopping that Sunday for the week. Confused, I reminded him that I must leave Sunday morning. I still had classes, and finals to take.

That face. He had no intention of having me leave.

Thankfully, Arthur was kind enough to venture 45 minutes out of his way to come get me. The relief I experienced when I saw his headlights beam across the driveway….

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Very little conversation after that. A phone call every few weeks, demanding money he felt he was owed. Threatening my cats, Mama, myself.

Last time I heard his voice. June 2013. Threatening, as per usual. About my cats. I was distant the whole time. I felt my ability to care for his anger slowly fade away. His threats held no value anymore. I was too far away for him to do anything to me now. Still frightened, but I had lost the ability to want to continue any communication after that day.

After that were Facebook messages. He had deleted Mama and I from his account, but he still managed to send a message every few months or so.

Happy Fat Tuesday!

A concerned message about Snowpocalypse ’14.

Despite the fact that I knew his threats carried no weight, I still went into panic mode when a simple message would come through, sometimes being so bad I became unresponsive, or worse, aggressive.

Until –

103rd year anniversary of the sinking today.

April 15th. Yes, indeed. The anniversary of the sinking. He recalled all of those years of aquarium visits, memorabilia collecting, and repetitive viewing of Titanic. The anniversary seemed to be more memorable than my own birthday, I suppose. Although, to me, it was sometimes more important than my birthday.

I acknowledge his message. Answer his inquiries about my cats and how I was. I let him go.

I felt….calm. No hyperventilating. No bursts of uncontrollable anger and panic. Just…peace.

Later that night, after spending an hour under the stars for my Astronomy class, I gulped in the air in triumph. I did not know then, but I had won. He had lost his grasp.

I had feared this day could never come. Feared that anxiety he had instilled in me would always remain. Feared I would remain broken, unlovable.

I thought he destroyed me.

But he didn’t.

Today, I have been smoothed over and made to glow. My edges defined. All together now, assorted pieces formed beautifully, cohesive not up close, but from afar.

I am mosaic, strong and beautiful.

I am mosaic. Hear me roar.