Don’t Hit, Girls

Monday, January 2nd, 2017 – 3:35 am

“My grandfather helped raise me and he would read to us from the Bible about Joseph. How this man was privileged to love and raise a child not his own. There is a reason I didn’t really care when I heard Sonny or even Ben died. When my grandfather passed away, I lost the only man who ever loved me as a father.”

“When your father wouldn’t back me up and told me to quit if I didn’t like my boss hitting on me, I got depressed. I started drinking a lot more again. When your dad hit me again in the face, I gathered up and tried to sneak you three boys across state lines. They tracked our location based on my using the home phone number to charge my calls to aunt Linda in New York. The sheriff pulled us over still in North Dakota, right after we left the motel. He arrested me and took you kids to the crisis center.”

“I was running two departments at the college, both Post Office and Printing, when they made all the administrative cuts and let us go. Within a week, I was in the hospital fighting for my life with my first stroke. That’s when I had my near death experience. I’ve never been the same.”

My first babysitter was Mrs. Sullivan and her glass cabinets were filled with figurines and mementos, worth more than souls in the bank. They were memories and families and holidays and generations. At three, I could see my brother Paul grabbing Rosie and leading her to the bus, their joined five year old hands the sacred safety from the steel and steam. He would never get on, until she had climbed up first. I watched them from the window. You protect. You shield. You love. You don’t hit girls.

An hour’s drive from there was the camp dad beat me and mom for the first time, when I was just two months in the womb. She hit back. You don’t hit, girls.

I punched the beautiful blonde Lakota Indian girl in the face without thinking and she dropped to the ground like a wet rag. I wiped at my nose to see if she had drawn blood. I don’t think she was used to being hit in the face as much as I was daily. She and the others on the reservation took turns beating me up for being white. A couple miles east of my school, my mom’s boss was hitting on her for being a woman and a filthy sabbath breaker.

I stumbled in drunk and bleeding again. And I prayed to the God I hated.

“I don’t believe you exist, but if you do, let me die in my sleep.”

I repeated the antiprayer a dozen times a dozen times with a hook born of a mind long torn and recobbled to hide the seams and panic room screams.

“I don’t believe you exist, but if you do, let me die in my sleep.”

And then an another.

“I don’t believe you exist, but if you do, let me die in my sleep.”

I would sleep a deeper sleep than I’d even known. I forgot my humanity and the silver cord was loosed.

Opened my eyes and grabbed for my cigs and my hand passed through the dresser.

I saw myself lying on the bed. No puke, like Bonham, at least. How did I die? I began to float away. I was finally free. Until I burst into flame and screamed. Let me back. Please.

For a long time I screamed. In the cold and the dark. Burning.

When I awoke a final time, I was surrounded by an ocean of souls, white streaming from their faces and robes. Above me, I heard a voice say,

This is given to you as a gift, to know it is real. But you must go back.”

I opened my eyes in the pretend world you’re reading this in and the Marlboros had not moved. I slowly hovered my hand to them, until I felt the cool cardboard on my palm. Hand still shaking, I pulled one out and lit it and closed my eyes with the first, sweet inhale of morning and raw nerves soothing.

Twelve miles south, my mother started another day of recovery in the Southampton hospital. The hive they discovered was constricting a blood vessel in her brain.

When they brought her in two days before that, they had to use paddles to restart her heart. She floated above and saw her body on the metal table and heard the nurse say, “we’ve lost her.”

She went toward the light and felt a love and peace like never before.

Tonight, thirty five years later, she told me the words she had heard before the doctor took the paddles to her heart one more time and brought her back that night:

This is given to you as a gift, to know it is real. But you must go back.”



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