Maybe You Remember This
"Assimilate My Purse," Maximumrocknroll, March 2008
My whole face scrunches up like I'm looking at something in a horror movie
Maybe I should add some red cabbage to the collard greens, that's what I'm thinking -- there's an old red cabbage at the bottom of this drawer, let me see if it's still okay. I pick it up in the bag, it looks fine until I notice this white mold crawling out of it like claws and then my chest is locked, shoulders up high and tense, throat pulled tight and I'm shaking. The sound is a vibrating in my throat, oohhuhuhuhuh kind of like a ghost in a movie except it's me.
I put the bag with the cabbage on the counter, but then I have to take it out right away to the trash -- I look again and the same thing with my body, what is it about this mold? I almost want to save the cabbage so I can investigate this feeling, but it's mold I can't save mold. Even now while thinking it, I'm getting that same feeling in my chest. A while back, I read this book by Margaret Randall where she talks about her phobia of mushrooms, and how she eventually realizes that's where she's stored her memories of her father sexually abusing her.
Like once when adzuki beans got stuck in this drain with big holes that I had in an old apartment and I totally panicked, had to throw the drain out I was so disgusted -- something about being trapped and cut up. Or, more clearly, with this knife that I kept thinking about when I first started to remember I was sexually abused, when I went to that house that last time before the 11 year gap I tried to pick up the knife but my hand would start shaking and I couldn't, finally I succeeded in wrapping it in newspaper. Then I kept it under my bed for years and even moved it from apartment to apartment until I realized I was still scared of it, scared that somehow I would hold accidentally chop off a finger or even my neck or poke out one of my eyes. Sometimes I could see my father with a knife over my body I'm on top of a bar counter fireplace and he cuts me open like a chicken. The way memory is stored sometimes in ways that can't be literal. It's hard not to get caught up in delineating the shape of events, the shape I'll never know even if I can never let go of trying. I want to make something illogical into an orderly timeline of events that I can struggle to understand. Unfortunately memory doesn't work that way, at least not my memory -- in some ways my father did chop off my neck because I never learned how to breathe always throat pulled tight, shoulders high and tense I learned not to shake to hold everything still when everything wouldn't hold.
Sometimes I still thought maybe he would protect me from the vibrating of my throat, the knife everything he stabbed into me, for years I could only chop vegetables with a tiny little knife no bigger than the one you'd use to butter bread. Even if I was chopping a whole cabbage. But I don't know where the mold comes in, thinking about it now my whole face scrunches up like I'm looking at something in a horror movie. I never could watch horror movies, I was always scared enough. Still I can't look at gore, bloody images stay inside my head like a slideshow with flashing lights illuminating my eyes frozen between images.
I could almost levitate
In fifth grade music class we learned that song Bye-Bye Love, you know – bye bye love, bye bye happiness, hello loneliness -- I think I'm gon-na di-ie. Something like that -- it was catchy, soon I was singing it in the shower with the sponges that started out as little plastic animals but then you put them in water and they grew, grew, grew. They made more sense before they were sponges, it was hard to wash yourself with a brontosaurus. Anyway, soon I was singing Bye-Bye Love, except I didn't want anyone to know I was depressed, maybe this was a little later like sixth or seventh grade but anyway I changed the words so it was hello love, hello happiness, goodbye loneliness -- I think I'm gonna live and be hap-ee-ee-ee-ee!
Meanwhile, my father would unlock the door with a scissors and I'd scream get the fuck out, no that was later at first I would just freeze like maybe he could only see the dinosaur. I didn't have the words I wanted.
Later I'd scream get the fuck out, but that didn't work either -- I just need to piss, he'd say, like there wasn't a bathroom in his bedroom just on the other side of the wall, another bathroom downstairs. The way that aqua green shag rug that hugged the toilet would smell like piss and mold and everything else in the bathroom we'd keep washing it that didn't work for long, there were two rugs actually. The oval-shaped one went by the sink, that's the one I’d grind into with my face in the other one, pressing right into the pubic bone until I could almost levitate. Then maybe there were other smells, and I felt sad again.
Maybe you remember this. Adults would peer down and say: enjoy it while you can. They meant childhood. I studied their eyes for evidence: were they lying to themselves, or just to me? I never figured it out.
I collected stuffed animal mice, if I kept them under the bed then maybe they could teach me something about disappearance. I refused childhood, but still I asked: do animals have souls? I didn’t want to eat them -- I flipped over mousetraps to rescue someone. I tried to bury my grandmother's fur. I rushed outside to set a lobster free in the yard.
I imagined myself with a forcefield, flying around with mysterious best friends. We would be thirteen forever, there was something magic about thirteen because of the teen part, finally. We would intervene when children were about to be crushed by the hopelessness of imagination, when animals were dying of starvation, when war was about to begin. You could do a lot with a forcefield, especially if you were between worlds, forever between worlds.
I didn't want to get too old because I saw the way that adults forgot. Thirteen came and went, the only thing I got was money for my bar mitzvah and I saved it. I already knew thirteen wouldn't be enough, now I fantasized about sixteen and eighteen and twenty-one. My father would scream and pound on the door while I turned up Tracy Chapman’s "Fast Car," tears pouring down my face, repeating "fly, fly, fly, fly away-ay..."
I did get something when I was sixteen, a while back it had been the new car but now it was just perfect for your teenage son, the third car in the driveway hierarchy -- you know how Volvos are safe, it didn't matter if the kids had picked away at the shoulder rests on the sides so they looked like they were rotting away, a defect. Volvos break down, but they're safe, and they last forever -- liberalism's mantra
It wasn't my car, but I could drive it, 85 on the highway until it was shaking yes I played Steppenwolf’s Born to Be Wild then Magic Carpet Ride when I decided Born to Be Wild was cheesy and overplayed, every teenager who drank listened to that shit. It's so tempting to excuse this taste in the packaged language of teenage rebellion by saying that I was only thirteen at the time, but then I said I was driving on the beltway as fast as the car would go and it was shaking so you know.
Okay, so I got to 16 but it wasn't what I wanted I was already dreaming of 18 and 21 and way further in the distance, so let's circle back. Before I could drive, there was this new kid at school who was from the suburbs he had a perm but somehow he pulled it off as masculinity, he was pale and had lots of freckles he drove a white convertible which was tacky for our school but he offered me a ride, we ended up in his apartment which doesn't make sense because really it must've been his mother’s but his mother wasn't around so it felt like his apartment. We were lying on the bed and maybe he was drinking or I was drinking, he was definitely smoking so maybe I was smoking. It felt sophisticated because we were alone in the house together it wasn’t a house it was an apartment I liked that. But this didn't last long, maybe a few times and then he realized I might not be the right person to be friends with. Now I wonder if he wanted me to kiss him.
Things were different in the suburbs, I knew but I didn't know. The city was what I wanted, in the city we thought the suburbs were tacky. In our suburban neighborhood, we never knew any of our neighbors, when we first moved in our parents tried to introduce us but I was scared. We always went to school in the city, so all the suburbs meant was longing. But when we first moved into that house, a bigger house than the other one in the suburbs, I was ready to create my parents’ dream -- we were still living in Rockville, a middle-class suburb with upper-middle-class areas, but in a neighborhood called Potomac Highlands so I started saying we lived in Potomac and it stuck, everyone changed the zip code so that it was 20854, the 90210 of suburban Maryland, and then for years after that the post office would correct the zip code on our mail but we decided they were wrong.
I went to the same school from second to 12th grade, and most of the students grew up in the wealthy neighborhoods of Upper Northwest DC, but in high school there was an influx of suburbanites -- they had perms and drove convertibles, now I didn't want to be from Potomac but it was too late -- sometimes I joked that I was from West Chevy Chase, since Chevy Chase was just across the border in Maryland and seemed as urban as DC, the part of DC that we knew. The truth is that the kids from DC were actually richer than the kids from the suburbs, but it didn't seem that way because they didn't have cars and they asked you for money at recess. It's funny to have an awareness of class privilege and a desire to erase that privilege with a different kind of privilege of belonging.
But back to 16, what was good was that I could have imaginary friends and just drive away into the distance and then I was hanging out with them. They weren't imaginary to me, I mean I didn't imagine they existed I just wanted other people to think I wasn't so lonely.