I. Of this I am certain
I wake to the clatter and hiss of commuter cars and waste removal trucks. Amid the post-dawn cacophony, I am a blip on the radar of no one. There was a time I believed in God. Felt safe in the song of the cantor, the smell of the challah, the certainty of ritual.
And yet. To not believe? Like sealing one’s heart in a lead box.
I brush away my blanket of leaves, breathe in the earth, mold, and exhaust, check the position of the sun. Time to go. Our Lady of Perpetual Healing closes her doors to the homeless promptly at 9:00AM.
II. But some babies do
I had my first nightmare when I was still in my crib. A devil with a pitchfork, hovering above. Earlier that evening, the housekeeper had plugged my new rocking horse lamp into the outlet. She’d screamed and cursed in Spanish when the outlet exploded, leaving the wall, and her hand, charred.
Nonsense, my mom had said, when I was old enough to tell her. Babies don’t have nightmares.
III. Do any of us ever know why we do what we do?
“Why did you shred your sister’s Barbie doll clothes?” my mother asked the four-year-old me sitting at the kitchenette, surrounded by a jury of her bridge-playing peers.
“How could you let that boy do that?” she asked 13 years later, using the butt of one Eve cigarette to light another.
“If only your father were here.”
If only he hadn’t traded us in for a new family, a new life, 537 miles away. Would I still have let that boy do that? The 34-year-old me still wonders.
IV. So much I didn’t know
I’d pulled the blanket over my head, sung “Stairway to Heaven” while tree limbs scraped outside the window and an invisible knife rotated in the small of my back. Earlier that year, I’d read in 10th grade geography that in Africa, girls go off into the woods to deliver their babies alone. I’d stood, felt my way down the hallway to the bathroom. As I turned the cold metal doorknob, warm water gushed from between my legs. I hadn’t read anything about that.
V. Is that you, Lily Grace?
Are you the one wearing Chuck Taylors covered with skulls and crossbones and owls and ravens you’ve painstakingly drawn? Is that you sneaking cigarettes and beers, hiding behind your hair? Or are you the confident one, a cheerleader, running cross-country and spinning heads?
If you come home from school one day and slam the door, I won’t get mad. Won’t accuse you of being raised in a barn. Won’t ask what planet you came from. I’ll have oatmeal and gingerbread cookies, and fresh squeezed lemonade, sans pulp, because I bet you don’t like pulp either. I’ll nod my head and smile while you tell me what boys you like, and how much you want to go to New York, Portland, anywhere but here.
VI. He didn’t make a sound
I remember watching from the passenger seat as he came out of the Kroger with potato chips and onion dip to take to his parents’ house. He and I were a We. He loved me. Even though.
I’d watched as the kid with the black T-shirt knocked him to the ground. Watched as the gang circled him like a pack of hyenas closing in on its prey. I’d wanted to get out of the car but I couldn’t. As if I’d left my body and only a hollow remained. They took turns spinning him around and around, shoving him from one to the next, from one to the next, until he fell into the boy with the switchblade out, pointed at his gut.
VII. Hands like these
I sit on the park bench, listen to the leaves rustle in the wind. You weren’t at Our Lady this morning. Weren’t in the library yesterday. You’re not here now.
I wrap my hands around the Styrofoam cup of brown water Our Lady passes off as coffee while mothers chase their toddlers up and down jungle gyms and around merry-go-rounds, and fancy strollers with neoprene-filled bottles and endless supplies of Cheerios stand in wait nearby. Not an unmet need in sight, I sigh. I look at my hands. So rough and chafed. Hands like these aren’t good for anything. Hands like these let everything slip right through.
I finish my coffee, go over to the swings, start pushing an empty one.
Cindy Winetroub Rogers is a transplanted Texan, living in Rochester, New York, where she raised her daughter and a small menagerie of dogs and cats. She writes advertising by day and creative fiction and nonfiction by night. She also irregularly indulges her passion for food at https://recipeswordswhatever.wordpress.com.