Newburyport, MA : 11yrs
The neighbor boy likes you!
He thinks you’re really pretty!
You should go over and talk with him!
No boys ever thought I was pretty.
They took over my space and pushed their dicks into my face.
They pulled my hair and punched me to the floor.
But they never said I was pretty.
Staying at Gram’s I often crossed the street to sit on the rocks by the water.
One day the boy appeared next to me.
He stared at me strangely.
Hi, he said.
Hi, I say, shielding the sun from my eyes as I looked up at him.
Is it true you want to be my girlfriend?
What? I say, alarmed.
Your grandmother told me you wanted to be my girlfriend. I just wanted to tell you you’re way too ugly for me to be interested. Ok?
Yeah. Ok. I say. But I never wanted to be your girlfriend!
I yell as he walks back to the duplex his family shared with Gram.
I THINK YOU’RE UGLY TOO! I yell through the wall hours later.
Alexandria! What’s with the racket! Gram yells from her bedroom, the tinkling of ice in her gin and tonic glass loud from her movement.
Haverhill, MA : 6yrs
Stayed at Gram’s some weekends.
Until I turned 10 she showered me with gifts and affection.
Chocolate and all the foods Mom deemed non-food.
They waged battles over what I was fed.
My body an arena of criticism. Fat-shaming.
Gram had many books, make-up and clothes.
But no matter where she lived, it carried darkness.
Not just the polished mahogany furniture and scarlet braided rugs.
Shadows hung in spots.
Coils of dark energy lingered.
The darkness wasn’t totally uncomfortable.
If I didn’t let it inside me, it was ok to just observe.
I knew this lesson of loss.
Loneliness. Fear. Hopelessness.
Sometimes a woman moped in the room while Gram ate or read newspapers.
Sometimes shadows waited for Gram in doorways.
Gram had TV in her bedroom. Luxury.
We were all bundled in. Bowls of ice cream, of course.
Horror B-movie, 50’s or 60’s.
A satanic cult holds handsome captives in a cave.
A pit of boiling pink gooey stuff in the foreground.
The devil appears. Chanting grows louder.
I don’t wanna watch this. I say, scrunching under the cover.
I’m scared! I say.
Don’t be scared. It’s just a movie.
She’s digging the show.
Oh snuggle-up. She extends her arm and I curl into her side.
I’m scared of the devil.
Do you think the devil’s gonna come and get you?
The devil’s robed minions throw the science-looking guy into the bubbling pit. He screams as it devours him.
We could watch Lawrence Welk? I say hopefully. I hated LW and his sequined bitches.
You don’t need to be scared of things on TV. It’s just TV. It can’t hurt you. It’s not real.
Let Grammy watch her picture show. She is getting annoyed with me.
The devil is in the chesty girl’s face, grinning with lusty, evil intent.
I’m scared! I’m scared!
I’ll tell you why you shouldn’t be scared, Alexandria. Her intonation suggests a treat.
Why not? I say, imagining a gift of candy or costume jewelry to ward off the devil.
Why not? Why not?
She says as she turns away from me, toward her nightstand.
I ask again, leaning to see what she was reaching for.
She snaps back quickly, her hands in claws, her face a wolfman grimace.
Because I am the devil!
She screeches and grabs me, tickling.
I pee myself a little.
Years later I am tall enough to see everything on the high shelf of her sideware.
A woman’s glance catches my eye. I study the photo, bring it to Gram.
Who is this woman? I ask.
That’s my sister Virginia. She died a long time ago, too young.
Best not to talk about it. She says.
It is her visitor.
Virginia is tender, soft & broken-hearted.
Very rarely she began to show me moments when her sisters tormented her.
She was the scapegoat in their Depression-era formative years.
Booze the only escape for any of them.
Virginia died in her 30’s from Cirrhosis.
But she drank as much as they did.
What really killed her was being a Highly Sensitive Person born into barbarity.
The other sisters managed because their hearts weren’t so porous as to collect the rainwater of despair.
They reigned on Virginia until she could take no more.
She says she stays for me.
She tells me she’s there to protect me from the barbs and twists.
That she watches over Gram and her sister.
Watches them continue to hurt their families.
Tries to cool the rage in their hearts.
She tells me, it’s the same, the same, the same.
She says I can turn the dark into the light.
But never explains exactly how.
Years later Gram is nearing the transition.
Virginia appears on the edge of the forest in my backyard.
I am frozen.
I hadn’t seen her in years.
Gram is going to call you and tell you you have to be good to your mother.
Your Mom wants you to pay for going No Contact.
The phone call comes a few weeks later.
I refuse to speak to Gram.
Family is horrified.
There’s no way anyone is going to hear my reasons.
Mumbo-Jumbo don’t fly with them bitches.
Later, after Gram passed I had my own ceremony to honor her.
At first her rage was as it had been in life.
She’d been locked into something tightly.
But as she relaxed into her cosmic self she was kind, artistic, forgiving.
I am so sorry, Alexandria.
I can see your life now.
I am so sorry.
She is with her two sisters and one more who died as a child.
They carry on in their journey together.
Such is family.
Durham, NH : 9yrs
3rd grade was the worst.
Constant bullying from students and teachers.
If it’d happened in these camera-phone days I’d have a nice settlement.
There was a recent video of a child ruthlessly bullied and left motionless in a corner for over 15 minutes. A few days later he killed himself. I was that child. No exaggeration. Somehow I lived.
Even when those I sought comfort from treated me in much the same way.
After a particularly terrible day I came home wanting to kill myself.
That circular thought embedded in my mind.
I’d made one very serious attempt already, some others less serious.
Where others might chalk things up to a bad spell, let the day go, I gave up all hope.
Suicide bloomed into the only option my mind considered. I knew I had to fight it. The bottle of pills I’d taken the year before made me so ill I could still taste them.
I struggled with it and called the only person I could think of, Gram.
Why are you calling me again? She asked angrily.
What do you mean? I ask.
Well, we just spoke for 20 minutes. Why are you calling me again?
I didn’t call you Gram. I just called you. I just got home from school.
No, we talked for 20 minutes and you told me how much you loved the dolls I sent you and you said everything’s great in school.
Gram, it wasn’t me. I just got home. My panic rises.
Stop lying Alexandria. What is wrong with you. Now this is what I want you to do.
Call me back and we’ll see if it was a crossed line.
I don’t understand how–
Just call me back again.
She makes me call her several times, she pretends as if she’s checking some mysterious thing that makes these calls show her I was lying about the first call from someone else.
Now I want you to call me and leave the phone off the hook for 20 minutes.
But Gram, I just wanted to talk about–
We can talk later. Leave the phone off the hook.
I do as she asks.
Later Gram complains to Mom that I was messing with the phone.
She demands that I never call her without supervision.
I explain to Mom what happened, she says to let it go. Says Gram does this kind of thing. But later when the bill arrives Mom accuses me of lying.
I am not allowed to call Gram on my own until I am an adult.
Newburyport, MA : 10yrs
Gram is making an apple spice cake.
I want to help but she is easily annoyed and tells me I am in the way.
I watch quietly from the kitchen table after she smacks my face.
She says something’s wrong, it’s not moist enough to mix.
I suggest she add water or more milk.
No, Goddammit, Alexandria, you can’t just do that! You’ll ruin it!
She becomes irate, she is crying and slamming things in her frustration.
She makes herself a gin and tonic with ice.
She brings the bottle up to her room.
Huge snorts erupt as she sobs her way upstairs.
She’d left the bowl of chalky batter on the counter.
All the ingredient containers are there, it is a mess.
I take the bowl of batter to the table.
After 15 minutes of patient stirring it is thick and creamy, ready to be poured into the pan.
Although I know how to make the cake & use the oven, I know it would enrage her. Instead I clean up the mess, put the ingredients back.
As I’m wiping down the counter she comes back downstairs.
What are you doing down here? I heard you making a racket!
I am proud and pleased. I mixed the batter for you! I hold the bowl to her for inspection.
You little bitch. I told you not to add any water! She thumps my back hard.
But I didn’t–
You ruined it! You ruin everything! She throws the whole bowl of batter in the garbage.
She returns to her bedroom and doesn’t speak to me for the rest of my stay.