You Told Me

You told me it snowed that first day in early April.  I picture the first hint of spring dusted white. You told me I was extraordinary and that I wasn’t better than anyone else.   You told me to always take care of my little brother.  You told me daddy didn’t love me.  Or I told that one to myself. I can’t remember. You told me to be a good girl and follow directions.  You told me not to ride my bike in the street. You told me when the bus turned the corner I needed to get inside because the driver wanted to kill me.  I called him grandpa, and he slept in the room across the hall.  You told me not to cuss, but I heard that time you said “shit” on the phone. You had just found out Desert Storm had started.  Soon I would stand on the end of your bed singing God Bless the USA along with Lee Greenwood. You told me to be proud to be an American.  You told me I was smart.  You taught me the names of the Ivy League.  I was five.  You told me I was wrong to call the police that time you got a black eye. I was ten.  Did you see the bruises I had when he returned? You told me my teacher was trying to turn me against you.  It was the time she gave me the book to read about the little girl who kept getting hurt until she told someone and then she lived happily ever after.  It was right after the time I went to school with belt marks on my face. Do you remember those?  You told me I was beautiful. You told me I was loved.  You told me to go to my room when Michael Jackson was being interviewed on Inside Edition, even though you knew I was supposed to practice my recorder for you as homework.  When I got mad, you told me to go outside.  You told him to lock the door.  Did you see what he did when I banged on the door to come back in?  It was February and I didn’t have shoes on.  You told me I ruined everything the next day when I told. You told me it was my fault my little brother didn’t get to pass out his cookies at the Valentine’s Day party the day he drove us to the office where the police were waiting. I never slept under the same roof as you again.  But I never forgot what you told me.




It starts in the middle of my chest and rises.  It’s funny that way.  Maybe I first felt it before my mind understood that heaviness sinks.  I prepare my face into the constrained vacancy I have carefully cultivated.  Unseeing, but for the garish whiteness of your perfectly tied tennis shoes, my mind empties of your words.  I fleetingly ponder how they might look in scarlet.

The anticipated shift in timbre. It is almost my turn and I must respond correctly. Preempting the call for eye contact, I begin to slowly lift them.  Before passing even the sweeping hem of faded denim, I realize where the rising weight has flooded.  Not quick enough to stop myself, I blink.

Your eyes pierce mine at the precise moment the salty wetness teases the corner of my mouth.  I deepen my expression.  My rebellion lies in my refusal to let you see me wipe dry my face.  Or to watch your cheek twitch, almost imperceptibly, while I do.

Inequitably armed for the encounter, I falter.  My words stammering out without the confidence I will later try to remember projecting.  I will myself through it.  Temporarily satiated, you allow my escape. Skipping the groaning spot where the step is weakened out of instinct. Through the string of doors my knees bend in synchrony with the slope of the roof. Until I am crawling. In the deepest closet of the attic.

It takes effort to get here, where the body must move in positions it’s unaccustomed.  The light is weak and the shadows, deep.  Deep enough to squeeze beyond an outstretched arm.  It’s where I go to delay the inevitable.  Where I can tell the walls my secrets, and tell myself lies.