Shawna with the long braids and rainbow beads stares at me. She chews with her mouth open, bits of soggy bread and turkey rolling between her teeth. “So, get lost?” Her eyes narrow, sharp slits of brown locked on my face.
I stab at my turkey, slip powdered mash potatoes around in a circle. I organize the peas like green pearls around my plate.
“Witchy, I’m talking. You deaf? You don’t belong there.”
In a way, she’s right. In a way that is deep and true and sharp, a way that is carved into my bones where no one can see. No one can see, but I can feel how jagged and uneven they are, split seams with steel stuffing that scrapes against my skin. She’s right. I don’t belong.
“Deaf people are stupid, know that? Deaf. Dumb. Blind. Figures, some witchy white girl from the country. Probably married to a cousin!” Her biting laugh echoes in my ears. A poor white girl lost in a sea of scars and toughness that is way too big, so far out of her league.
“What do you want?” I say trying to match the strength and force of her words. I want them to sting, to burn against her cheeks with embarrassment. But they’re weak, a whisper, a passive plea.
“What do I want? Girl, you have no idea. But you – you don’t sit there. That’s for one of us. Whiny, soft girls sit down there.” She points to the end of the table, five chairs down.
“No different than here,” I say, my words becoming stronger like cement. But I’m all red, a brilliant cape dangling in front of the charging bull that’s been cramped in a cage for far too long.
“Fuck off, Shawna. Go pick on first graders of something. You’re good at bullying babies,” Roan says. Her voice is precise, sharp. She knows how to protect me, how to protect herself even though she’s fifteen.
“You’re a dyke, Roan. Protecting your bitch? What you think this is, prison?” Shawna slaps her thighs and laughs. A couple of the other girls start to laugh, oohing and aahing, priming the air for an all-out fight.
“Yeah, well better watch your ass then when you sleep, eh?” Roan placer her tiny hands on the table, pushes herself up with pride. I can see her staring, her eyes burning right through Shawna’s act. She has a fork in her hand, clenched tight. But it’s plastic.
“Girl, girls, come on now. This isn’t how we act here. Don’t set a bad example for the new girl. She’s just as welcome,” Casey says as she carries a plate of colored wafers to the table. I wonder how long she’d stood there in the kitchen with her ear to the door, listening for the moment she had to come in to stop the heat.
Shawna rolls her dark eyes, a deep pit of brown like the bottom of a swamp. I hate her. Fear hear. Am fascinated by her.
Filed under: Bi-Polar, Creative Nonfiction, Hannah's Place, Memoir, Nonfiction, Uncategorized, Writing | 4 Comments
Dinner is Stove Top stuffing and Swanson’s turkey and gravy from a tinfoil container. Frozen food at its best. There are eight paper plates with plastic silverware and mismatched napkins. Eight paper cups of grape Kool-aid. With each sip, the girls’ upper lips begin to darken, the infamous grape mustache staining their skin.
Roan and I are the only white girls here. The rest are black, except for Maria, the Mexican with the stereotypical name. Maria. With braided hair like the artist Frida Kahlo, wearing a white gauzy dress with flowers stitched on the hem. She is pretty, too pretty to be here with the thugs and druggies and bad kids with bad lives. No one who dresses like her has been neglected. At least, I can’t imagine it. Her mommy makes tamales and prays to the Virgin of Guadeloupe and lights candles. That’s what it says they do in books I’ve read about Mexico. I’ve only met one Mexican in Michigan, Ricardo, and I made out with him on Christmas Day a few years ago. My brother drove me there, to that “Spics” house, though I didn’t quite know what a spic was except for a cleaning product on TV.
We made out on his mattress, on the floor like Pat’s. It was a twin, and the blankets stunk and were scratchy. He room smelled, too. Like wet dog and cigarettes and Aqua Velvet and sweat, maybe sex. Maybe. I knew that he was fast, the way he grabbed my tits and tried to unhook my bra within seconds. No happy holiday or a tacky present, just a groping brown hand all over my 13-year-old body, the one I was unfamiliar with. The one that confused the hell out of me, just like it does now.
Ricardo didn’t get too far. He rubbed on me with high tight Levi’s, his crotch hard, a tight lump. I hadn’t seen a cock, at least not like this. And I surely didn’t know about dry humping. But that is what happened that snowy, poinsettia laden Christmas. Groping hand, tight ass jeans, and a quick “call your brother now” when he was all done. Later, in my bedroom with the squishy waterbed and purple walls, I realized I left my retainer. It had my name on it.
Filed under: Hannah's Place, Uncategorized | 4 Comments
“What’s your crime?” Roan asks. She’s my new roommate at Hannah’s place and she’s all nosy. She shoves a skinny finger into her mouth, her tiny teeth gripping the tops of her crimson painted fingernails. She violently tears the paper thin nail, spitting a red and ragged half-moon on the floor.
“Being born,” I say and kick the chalky wall with the toe of my boot. I scrape the wall, leaving scuffed streaks like tire tracks running towards the window. On the other side, that is where I want to be. But the windows have bars, thick pillars of cold, gray metal you can barely slide your hand through.
“Blah, blah. Come on Gypsy-poo. Look at you in that long skirt and black shirt, all mysterious like you’re a fucking fortune teller. We’ve all got that story. I mean, who’d you screw or rip off? Smash some bitch with a baseball bat after gym? Let me guess. You screwed the theater director. Yes you did! Look at you wearing all that black with your pouty little lips. How was he?” She winks like a dirty old man.
“Yeah, right. My theater director was a fat dude with soup stains on his shirt. No thanks,” I say seeing Mr. Dillard in the back of my mind like a movie. An overweight, balding ninth-grade drama teacher with a bad mustache.
“Too bad. Thought those artsy faggy types wore berets and smoked cloves. You’ve broken my dreams of Hollywood,” she pushes out all her breath with a dramatic sigh, her chest falling to her knees, a battered marionette without strings. “So why ya here then?”
“Not for gang fights or night walking. I can’t hot-wire shit. I just picked a lousy traveling partner, sorry it doesn’t excite you.” I roll my eyes so hard they hurt.
“BORING, Gypsy-poo. Thought you crystal ball types came along with magic potions and wagons full of dirty boys with dirty mouths and dirty, you know.” She winks, trying to be smooth and seductive, but her little-girl face can’t capture the experienced look of a woman.
Roan has a scar above her left eyebrow, a pale pink slice with little holes lining the sides. They remind me of silver eyelets from a pair of Keds. It is the only hardened feature on her smooth round face, creamy skin sprinkled with bronze freckles. She looks like a fairy blew bronze glitter on her face while she slept. Her hair is orange, a frizzy tangled mess like an overgrown cottage garden in some old lady’s backyard. A yard that was once manicured, but forgotten years ago, given way to weeds that choke the hollyhocks and gladiolus until they are thin and weak.
Roan slips around like a gymnast, seamless movements as if she’s floating through air. She stares right at me, eyes wide and inquisitive, a baby owl lost in its fur. “Watch out for Casey the Counselor, what a fucking name. She is a total bitch, period. Oh yeah, she’ll try to love on you with “I know how it feels” talk and free cigarettes and candy bars, but watch out. She’ll sink her claws into you so fast you won’t even know what came at you. Cat Scratch Fever. Meow.” She wrinkles up her nose and swipes the air with her hand, nail beds all ragged and bloody from her teeth. She jumps to the top of the dresser, squatting and nervously moving her head – part animal, part nut job.
“I don’t give a crap about Casey. I’m gone in three days,” I say, sounding more brat than confidant young woman.
“Oh, that’s long enough, trust me. Those savages,” she whispers, “are so hungry. They’ll rip right into that meaty witchy thigh in seconds.” She jumps up next to me, pressing her tiny mouth into my ear. “Mmmm…you smell so good, my dear. A new piece of meat at Hannah’s House for the Screwed, Rude, and Twisted girls of Chicago.” Her words are warm and wet, her mouth pressing closer and closer to my ear. “Ah, Witchy-Poo,” she coos softly.
My neck feels exposed, the air suddenly dry and dull, the wet warmth of her words snatched away as she jumps onto the floor. Her withdraw is so sudden, so violent, as if she saw right through me. She must have seen through all the layers of my clothes and skin, underneath slabs of rage and deceit, where my thoughts and memories are permanently recorded. Shiny threads of memories that come to life after the sun slips underneath the stars, when my eyes feel all purple and heavy but refuse to fall.
“You’re fucked,” I say, but I want her to come back up next to me. My neck feels too naked and cold, needs the warmth of her words again. Roan stares at me with curiosity, as if I am an abstract squiggle of paint on a canvas she can’t quite figure out. A black splotch that is supposed to hold meaning, supposed to be deep and thought provoking. But in the end, it’s only a blob of paint some art student slapped on after too much jug wine.
“And so are you,” Roan purrs. She locks her eyes with mine and starts to bite her arm like a cob of corn, munching and drooling all the way from her wrist to her bicep. “We are all so hungry here, my dear….” She continues to lick and pet her arm with her other hand.
“Is this a nut house?” I scream at the ceiling. The words spill out attached to images of steel, stiff bars and pad locks and alarm systems that beep if you breathe to close to them. Syringes and coats and plastic silverware and paper plates. Nurses who push pale pills in tiny cups and doctors with gray mustaches with last names too difficult to pronounce. And the room. That room that Casey the Counselor said I should never go in. Never open. Not even slip my fingers around the door handle for a quick minute. Is that where they put the crazies?
“I’ve been in and out of this place at least three times now,” Roan says all bored and flat. “I know the deal like the phone numbers of my drug dealers. Just play along, make your bed in the morning, go to group, and do whatever chore they assign you. Smile and say how much you like it, how you feel so better and rested.”
“But I’m here for three days. No one seems to get that!” Is it a joke? Have I been tricked into some nut place for wayward girls with bad habits and shitty homes? The cop lied! Some friend he was. Yeah, I was like his daughter… just another bunch of grown up lies to box me in.
“I’ll see ya later. Gotta give my man a call. Maybe I can sneak out and give him a kiss before lights out,” Roan sings. She swipes a pink notebook from the top of her dresser. It’s covered in pencil hearts with uneven arrows piercing the sides. In the center, the name MITCH is carved the deepest. Despite her seductive eye winks and naughty sex talk, Roan is really a freckle faced school girl, silly heart dreams pressed into her pink lined notebook.
Filed under: Creative Nonfiction, Hannah's Place, Memoir, Nonfiction, Uncategorized | 3 Comments
Ever wonder what it’s like at a Chicago group home for wayward girls? My newest series “Hannah’s Place” will leave you feeling glad you’re not a twisted teen any longer. Coming soon!
Filed under: Uncategorized | 1 Comment
I haven’t been posting as frequently, but I still pop on to check out any comments, browse the reader, peek at dwindling stats. I am humored by the daily broken-English Spam comments advertising green tea extract or selling some bigger, badder blog engine.
I am always amazed by the Google searches that bring people to my blog. For example: “Broken Inhibitions” or “Vintage ECT Machine” or “Mad at Kids.” I get a lot of searches for crazy people and psych wards, rightfully so. I’m happy to see my SMILE series still getting hits here and there.
Though, yesterday, one freaked me out. It was a search for “Boy Tied in Basement” and somehow it gave them a link to my blog! I don’t know how these search engines work, but I’m certain that I’ve never written about a basement or a boy tied in one. Maybe someone can shed some light on this subject.
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Tags: Essays, Memoir, Search Engines, Spam Comments, Writing
My father is fond of saying that there is the business of life and the passion life: not everyone is good at both of them. Lately, I have been trying to market my memoir. I’ve been scouring through essays and blogs that offer advice and tips and tricks for interesting agents. No matter how much I read, practice, and perfect my query letter or attempt to distill my book into a three paragraph synopsis, I feel it comes up short.
After spending the past year in an artistic whirlwind, I have resisted switching gears. It has taken the form of depression, anger, and angst. I try to break down my “business” moments into smaller pieces, sending out query letters a few times a week instead of daily. But even that has been daunting, for no matter how hard I try, I make sloppy, careless mistakes like spelling someone’s name wrong and hitting send, only to realize it after the email has been sucked into cyber space and delivered neatly, but inaccurate and embarrassing, to the agent’s inbox.
My father is right. I have that passion of life down pretty damn well. It’s this business part that I am deficient in, like some part of my brain has been scooped out and replaced with straw. I have neurons that are firing backwards, or places that don’t connect, cracks and crevices where rational thought gets stuck. No matter how much I slow down and concentrate, I still impulsively hit send too quickly or mix up the names on my email. Marketing this memoir has turned out to be much harder than writing it. I guess that’s why there are a million blogs devoted to this never-ending process and why many savvy writers are switching to self-publishing to cut through some of the bullshit.
I’m finding this business a bit soul-sucking, as one smart reader said it. I’m spending more energy boosting my fragile ego than writing.I miss those moments where brilliance strangled reason. I think it’s time to bring those days back.
Filed under: Creative Nonfiction, Memoir, Nonfiction, Writing | 10 Comments
Tags: Bipolar, Depression, Essays, Publishing, Query Letters, Writing
Spring has finally sprung here in Minnesota. I’m honoring the moment with a dance-around-the-maypole / cigarette postcard. A favorite of mine, really, with all the creepy, cultish movement and hazy, sweet faces full of bliss. If only one smoke could provide that joy…
Filed under: Uncategorized | 2 Comments