The second book,
a child in the park
this was no ordinary park, mind you: there
tennis, the pool, and a maze of streets for bicycles
People drove golf carts around in the park, or large
tree-tops cris-crossed over the streets. In the afternoons,
I remember the summer afternoons when it rained in
There was even a street named after me in the park,
pretending I was grown-up, feeding the ducks,
Oh, I remember Mr. Whorall, how he would walk
I was getting better at the game every time he saw me.
just before Halloween. She invited me in to help
And there was Ira and Betty Wiggins, who lived on
They had a hammock on their porch, and art so
many things collected from all their travel. They both
went to the side of the road, and with a spoon pulled
decorated with Panamanian art, at the pool table, playing
watch me on Easter Sunday, me in my pastel dress, by
And I remember the McKinleys, Pete and Lindy, another
would visit them just to hear them talk. And Pete would try
classes since the last time I visited the park. Sometimes they
It was like another world there. The park was
thirteen, when my parents told me I was an aunt.
from Blue Skys Drive. The couple that had the ornate
peace” painted in white on the metal. Yes, I say, I
to, I think, all these memories are slowly disappearing.
lifestyle, another everything. This was not an ordinary
Too many things bombard us
excerpt from Hope Chest In The Attic, 1993
You’re my best friend
Thanks for going to C Street
Thanks for talking to
Thanks for spilling
Thanks for being so caring
For buying me a
for sitting with me
for inviting me to
for all the pizzas
for taking walks with me
I say you can be happy
I feel that way about you
Childhood Memories one
I was in the basement, the playroom
that’s where all my toys were, you see
and I had just run in there
now, I’ve never said that before to
and I had just run into the playroom
and I ran in, and I looked for things
I took one of my chairs
then I took the little schoolhouse for
I was running around looking for
I knew I had been defeated
Childhood Memories two
I was in the basement, the playroom
and Sheri was with me
instead a lot of the times. I had old forms
well, we were playing grown-up, whatever
Well, we were playing this make-believe,
What are you doing? she asked. Getting
and she attended the wedding, and I threw her
What are you doing? I asked. Getting
Why did we want to grow up anyway? Because
Childhood Memories three
I was in the basement, the playroom
and that’s also where I kept my bubble gum
and my friends would come over, and
and I would say that I didn’t have any
you see, I hid it
and all the time it was right behind
it was one thing I had that they didn’t
they would ask over and over again
Childhood Memories four
I was in the first grade, in Mrs.
and every morning, probably
snack-time. And everyone would
made for them, and we’d all
Zlotow, we would take our math
throw a napkin over our arms,
and walk around the room
give you this apple for your
come back with a quarter of an
We’d put the orange quarter in
act like monkeys. And laugh.
Childhood Memories five
I was in the fifth grade, and I had
is something I’ll never forget from
“tough ten” and once we had to
It was a form of black lung disease,
world. I still remember it to this
then use it in a sentence. Whenever
the lyrics: “doctor, doctor, give me
and wouldn’t be able to say “loving
the next word.
Childhood Memories six
It was Sunday night, I was
but by now it was already
So it was late, and I was in
and John Lennon was shot.
And the next morning I walked
After he died I remember
and my seat, the chair with the little
* “imagine”, John Lennon
Childhood Memories seven
I was in kindergarten
and at the next table
and I thought
we made dinner
we were putting on our coats
i decided to pack up
we got in the car
i got out of the car
asked him if he was hungry
i got the bowl of noodles
i told them to promise
i got in the car
and all i could think of
on Christmas Eve
I am back
sharing some beers
then i remember
she told me about the
in all my years
they name names
there were arrows
when she told me
i forgot about that wall
i get up
all the names are still there
i can even still see
This dialogue is transcribed from repeated visits with a patient in Aaronsville Correctional Center in West Virginia. Madeline*, a thirty-six year old woman, was sentenced to life imprisonment after the brutal slaying of her boyfriend during sexual intercourse. According to police reports, Madeline sat with the remains of the man for three days after the murder until police arrived on the scene. They found her in the same room as the body, still coated with blood and malnourished. Three doctors studied her behavior for a total period of eight months, and the unanimous conclusion they reached was that Madeline was not of sound mind when she committed the act, which involved an ice pick, an oak board from the back of a chair, and eventually a chef’s knife. Furthermore, she continued to show signs of both paranoia and delusions of grandeur long after the murder, swaying back and forth between the two, much like manic depression.
For three and a half years Madeline has stayed at the Aaronsville Correctional Center, and she has shown no signs of behavioral improvement. She stays in a room by herself, usually playing solitaire on her bed. She talks to herself regularly and out loud, usually in a slight Southern accent, although not in a very loud tone, according to surveillance videotape. Her family abandoned her after the murder. Occasionally she requests newspapers to read, but she is usually denied them. She never received visitors, until these sessions with myself.
The following excerpts are from dialogues I have had with her, although I am tempted to say that they are monologues. She wasn’t very interested in speaking with me, rather, she was more interested in opening herself up to someone for the first time in years, someone who was willing to listen. At times I began to feel like a surrogate parent. I try not to think of what will happen when our sessions end.* Madeline is not her real name.
I know they’re watching me. They’ve got these stupid cameras everywhere - see, there’s one behind the air vent there, hi there, and there’s one where the window used to be. They’ve probably got them behind the mirrors, too. It wouldn’t be so bad, I guess, I mean, there’s not much for me to be doing in here anyway, but they watch me dress, too, I mean, they’re watching me when I’m naked, now what’s that going to do to a person? I don’t know what they’re watching for anyway, it’s not like I can do anything in here. I eat everything with a spoon, I’ve never been violent, all I do, almost every day, is sit on this bed and play solitaire.
Solitaire is really relaxing, you know, and I think it keeps your brain alive, too. Most people think you can’t win at solitaire, that the chances of winning are like two percent or something. But the thing is, you can win at this game like over half the time. I think that’s the key, too - knowing you can win half the time. I mean, the last four rounds I played, I won twice. Now I’m not saying that’s good or anything, like praise me because I won two rounds of solitaire, but it makes a point that as long as you know what you’re doing and you actually think about it, you can win. The odds are better.
I think people just forget to watch the cards. Half the time the reason why you lose is because you forget something so obvious. You’re looking for a card through the deck and the whole time it’s sitting on another pile, just waiting to be moved over, and the whole time you forget to move it. People just forget to pay attention. They got to pay attention.
You know, I’d like to see the news. I hate t.v., but I’d like to see what acts other people are doing. Anything like mine? Has anyone else lost it like me? You know, I’ll bet my story wasn’t even on the news for more than thirty seconds. And I’ll bet the news person had a tone to their voice that was just like “oh, the poor crazy thing,” like, “that’s what happens when you lose it,”
But I want to see what’s happening in the real world. I just wanna watch to see what, you know, the weather is like, even though I haven’t seen the sun in a year or two. Or, or to hear sports scores. They won’t let me have a t.v. in the room. I think they think that I’m gonna hot-wire it or something, like I’m going to try to electrocute the whole building with a stupid television set. They let me have a lamp in the room, like I can’t hurt someone with that, but no t.v. They won’t even let me have a newspaper. What can a person do with a newspaper? Light in on fire or something? If I had matches or something. But it’s like this: I’ve never been violent to nobody in all of the time I’ve been in here. I haven’t laid a hand on a guard, even though they’re tried too many times to lay a hand on me, and I haven’t cause one single little problem in this whole damn place, and this is what I get - I don’t even get a t.v. or a newspaper.
You know, I don’t really have a Southern accent. See? Don’t I sound different with my regular voice? I picked it up when I started sounding crazy. See, I’m not really crazy, I just know the kind of shit they do to you in prison. I think it’s bad enough here, I would’ve had the shit kicked out of me, Id’ve been sodomized before I knew what hit me. I think this voice makes me sound a little more strange. I’m actually from New York, but I mean, changing the voice a little just to save me from going to prison, well, I can do that. Here it’s kind of nice, I don’t have to deal with people that often, and all the crazy people around here think I’m some sort of tough bitch because I mutilated someone who was raping me. Oh, you didn’t hear that part of the story, did you? Those damn lawyers thought that since I wasn’t a virgin I must have been wanting him. And he wasn’t even my boyfriend - he was just some guy I knew, we’d go out every couple of weeks, and I never even slept with him before.
What a fucked up place. You see, I gotta think of it this way: I really had no choice but to do what I did. In a way it was self-defense, because I didn’t want that little piece of shit to try to do that to me, I mean, what the Hell makes him think he can do that? Where does he get off trying to take me like that, like I’m some butcher-shop piece of meat he can buy and abuse or whatever? Well anyway, I know part of it all was self defense and all, but at the same time I know I flipped, but its because of, well shit that happened in my past. I never came from any rich family like you, I never even came from a family with a dad, and when you got all these boyfriends coming in and hitting you or touching you or whatever, you know it’s got to mess you up. Yeah, I know, people try to use the my-parents-beat-me line and it’s getting to the point where no one really believes it anymore, but if a person goes through all their life suppressing something that they shouldn’t have to suppress then one day it’s going to just come up to them and punch them in the face, it’s going to make them go crazy, even if it’s just for a little while.
Society’s kind of weird, you know. It’s like they teach you to do things that aren’t normal, that don’t feel right down deep in your bones, but you have to do them anyway, because someone somewhere decided that this would be normal. Everyone around you suppresses stuff, and when you see that it tells you that you’re supposed to be hiding it from the rest of the world, too, like if we all just hide it for a while, it will all go away. Maybe it does, until someone like me blows up and can’t take hiding all that stuff anymore, but then the rest of the world can just say that we’re crazy and therefore it’s unexplainable why we went crazy and then they can just brush it all off and everything is back to normal again. It’s like emotion. People are taught to hide their emotions. Men are taught not to cry, women are taught to be emotional and men are told to think that it’s crazy. So when something really shitty happens to someone - like a guy loses his job or something - and he just sits in front of a friend and breaks down and cries, the other guy just thinks this guy is crazy for crying. Then the guy rejects the guy that’s crying, making him feel even worse, making the guy bottle it back up inside of him.
I think people are like Pepsi bottles. You remember those glass bottles? Pop always tasted better in those bottles, you could just like swig it down easier, your lips fit around the glass neck better or something. I wonder why people don’t use them anymore? Well, I think people are like Pepsi bottles, like they have the potential for all of this energy, and the whole world keeps shaking them up, and some people lose their heads and the top goes off and all of this icky stuff comes shooting all around and other Pepsi bottles want to hide from it and then the poor guy has no Pepsi left. And how can you do anything when you have no Pepsi left? Or maybe you do lose it, but you still have some Pepsi left in you, and people keep thinking that you don’t have any left, and then they treat you like you shouldn’t be allowed to tie your own shoelaces or you should be watched while you’re getting dressed.
Can’t you turn those cameras off?
I heard this story in here sometime about Tony, this guy that was in here for murder, and after he was in here he went crazy and cut off his own scrotum. I don’t know how a man survives something like that, but I guess he did, because he was in here, and from what I hear he was using the pay phones to call 800 numbers to prank whoever answered at the other end. Well, I guess he kept calling this one place where these women would answer the phone, and they got fed up with it, I guess, and traced it or something. They got the number for this hospital, and talked to his doctor. I think he told them that Tony cut his balls off, now I thought doctor-patient records were private, but I suppose it doesn’t matter, because we’re just crazy prisoners, killers who don’t matter anyway, but he told these girls that Tony cut his balls off a whole two months ago. And then he called them back, talking dirty to them, not knowing they knew he was a murderer with no balls and they laughed and made fun of him and told him they knew, and he hung up the phone and never called them back. True story, swear to God. Can you just imagine him wondering how they knew? Or were they just making a joke, or...
Did you know that I write? I figured that if they won’t let me read anything, maybe I could put stuff down on paper and read it to myself, I guess. I try to write poetry, but it just don’t come out right, but I’ve been trying to write a thing about what I went through, you know what I’m talking about? Well, I just figure that if other people that are in prison can get best sellers and make a ton of money, then so can I, I mean, my story is better than half the stuff that’s out there, and I know there are a lot of women who have a little part of them that wants to do what I did. I think all women feel it, but the most of them are taught to suppress it, to keep it all bottled in like that. But now that I think of it, what am I going to do with a bunch of money anyway? I’m never going to get out of here to enjoy it or anything. Anyway, how would I get someone to want to read it in the first place, now that everyone thinks that I’m crazy.
Sometimes I get so depressed. It’s like I’m never going to get out of here. I think I wanted to have kids one day. It’s easier, I guess, not having to see kids, I guess then I don’t miss them too much, but...
For the longest time they tried to get doctors to come in here and talk to me, and you know what they did? They got men doctors - one after another - and then they wondered why the Hell I didn’t want to talk to them. Amazing. People really just don’t think, do they?
I guess it’s hard, being in here and all, I mean. I was going to go back to school, I had already taken the GED and graduated high school, and I was going to go to community college. It was going to be different. Sometimes I wonder, you know, why this had to happen to me, why I had to snap. I really don’t think I could have controlled it, I don’t think this could have happened any other way. It’s hard. I have to find stuff to do, because otherwise all I’d want to do is sleep all day and night, and I suppose I could, but then what would happen to me? At least if I write a book about my life, about this whole stupid world, then maybe everyone would at least understand. It wasn’t really my fault, I mean, I think we women have enough to deal with just in our regular lives and then they keep piling on this sexism crap on us, and then expect us not to be angry about it because we’re taught to deal with it all of our lives. Maybe this guy was just the straw that broke the camel’s back or something, maybe he was just another rapist, maybe he was just another drunk guy who thought that he could do whatever he wanted with me because he was the man and I was his girl, or just some chick that didn’t matter or whatever, but shit, it does matter, at least to me it does.
I know I’ve got a lot of healing to do, but I haven’t really thought about doing it. I mean, what have I got to heal for anyway? To get out of here and go to prison? Then I’ll just get abused by guards over there, have to watch my back every second of the day. At least here people watch my back for me. They think everything and anything in the world could harm me, even myself, so they’re so overprotective that nothing can go wrong, unless it goes wrong in my own mind.
when he was a child, a little boy, he
over and over again
a science book, a volume
how the world works
once he looked though the pages
of planet earth, how it was
temperature would rise, all life
and reading that it was
with the fear, the instant panic:
one volume from the rest,
when he walked through his
decorating the lockers
Days when we sat in the gold gym,
The hero walked away from the twisted
There was no screaming, just the
The water has always called
a (fe)male behind bars
January 29, production room, Seattle Magazine
For only two weeks she had been preparing for this interview. She struggled to get it approved at the magazine she worked for. See, Chris Hodgkins was a flash from the past, there was no current interest, no timeliness in doing an article on her. In fact, she knew from people who have checked on her whereabouts that she was just living in an apartment on her own, occasionally working, usually not in politics or her usual seminars. The public forget about her anyway - no one wanted to hear what she had to say anymore. Not that she had fallen out of favor with the American public - in fact, she was loved by most women when she decided to leave the public eye. If anything, the American public had fallen out of favor with her.
But Melanie wanted to write about her, find out why she left, why she really left. The editors knew Chris didn’t grant a single interview since she decided to leave her work in the women’s rights movement. Besides, even if she got the interview, Chris knew how to deal with the media, with audiences, and she would probably manipulate Melanie into asking only what she wanted asked.
But the writer said she was sure there was something more, she could feel it in her bones, and the editors always told her to follow that feeling, so please let her do it now. So the editors and the higher-ups told her to try to get the interview, and get back to them with her progress at that task.
They expected to never hear about the matter again.
Bet she came back to them not one week later, saying one phone call was all it took. She called Chris directly, and not only did this elusive leader grant her an interview, but in Chris’ own home. Editors were a bit stunned. They let her go ahead with the interview, told her to focus on the “where are they now,” “why did she leave” angles, and they’ll put together a long piece for a future issue. A long fluff-piece, they thought, but they had to let her go ahead with it, after having no faith in her ability to get an interview.
Maybe it was just because no one tried to get an interview with her anymore, the writer thought. Maybe the editors were right, that there’s no story here, at least not anymore. But now, even after feeling this fear which began to grow into a dread, she had to go through with it. She had to research this woman, inside and out, and talk to her. See what makes her tick. What made her decide to give it all up.
And the more she looked, the more questions she had. Maybe is was the journalist inside her, to question everything put in front of you, but she couldn’t get those questions out of her head.
writer’s cassette tape diary entry, February 11
I didn’t know what I was getting into when I decided to interview her, Chris Hodgkins, feminist leader. I did all the research I could, but for some reason I still don’t know where to start, and I have to walk into her apartment tonight.
The more I studied her, the more I was interested. She became a prominent figure in the women’s movement when she wrote her first book, A Woman Behind Bars. The theory was that all women in our society were behind bars, in a sense, that they were forced into a role of looking beautiful, into the role of mother for children, servant for husband, employee for boss, sexual object for single (well, probably all) men.
The chapter that interested me the most was the one on how women adorn themselves in our society in order to please men. Women put on make-up, they grow long hair and long nails, both difficult to work with. They shave their legs, they shave their armpits. They tweeze their eyebrows - they pull hair out of their face from the follicle. Perfume behind the knees, at the ankles, at the chest and neck, in the hair. The list goes on.
But that’s not even the point of all of this. The thing is, a few years ago she managed to pull together the majority of twenty- and thirty-something women out there into her cause. Everyone loved her, in a strange sort of way. She had a great command over audiences. She would hold rallies in New York, then San Francisco, then Chicago, and before you knew it, everyone was talking about her, she was running seminars all around the country, she was appearing on morning talk shows. She was the first real leader in the feminist movement, a movement which for years was felt in everyone but laid dormant because it had no Hitler.
Did I say Hitler? I just meant he was a good leader. I didn’t mean she was Hitler, not at all, she’s not like that, she’s not even calling anyone into action, she’s just telling people to educate themselves. She’s not even telling people to change, because she figures that if she can educate them, they would want to change anyway. And usually more radical feminists and lesbians are leery of that, they want more action - and she doesn’t do that, and they still support her. A movement needs a strong leader, and she was it.
Chris is an interesting looking woman. You’d think she was a lesbian by her appearance - she was tall, somewhat built, but not to look tough, just big. She had chin-length hair, which seems a little long for her, but it looks like she has just forgotten to cut it in a while, and not like she wants to look sexy with it. She almost looks like a little boy. Sharp bones in her face, and big, round eyes.
That was all I knew before I started doing research on her. I started looking into her childhood first, found out that her parents were killed in a robbery when she was fourteen, so she started high school in a small town where her aunt and uncle lived. Her aunt died a year later, and she lived with her uncle until she moved out and went to college. Her uncle died a year before she began to gain fame. In essence, there was no family of hers that I could talk to, to find out from if she played with Barbie Dolls with her best friend in her bedroom or played in the ravine in the back yard with the other boys from all over the neighborhood. To see if her theories were right - even on her. All of that was lost to me.
She took honors classes in high school, kept to herself socially. In fact, most of her classmates didn’t know whether or not she was a girl, she looked so boyish. Even the other girls in her gym class didn’t know sometimes, I mean, they knew she was a girl because she was in gym class with them, but she never even changed in front of them. She wouldn’t take a shower and she would change in a bathroom stall.
So I started hearing things like this, little things from old classmates, but as soon as they started telling me how they really felt about her, how they thought she was strange, they would then clam up. But it was in my head then; I started wondering what happened in her early childhood that made her so introverted in high school. Maybe the deaths of her parents did it to her, made her become so anti-social. Maybe the loss of her aunt, the only other maternal figure in her life, made her become so masculine. It was a theory that began to make more and more sense to me, but how was I supposed to ask her such a question? How was I supposed to ask her if her parents molested her before they died, and that’s why she’s got this anger inside of her that comes out seminar after seminar?
the interview, Friday, February 11
The apartment building was relatively small, on the fringes of some rough neighborhoods. Not to say that she couldn’t take care of herself, she had proven that she could years ago. The interviewer followed the directions explicitly to get to the apartment, and Chris’ door was on the side. She knocked on the door.
Snap one, that was the chain. Click one, that was the first dead bolt. Another click, and the door was free. With a quick jerk the door was pulled open half-way by a strong, toned forearm. Chris stood there, waiting for the interviewer to make the official introduction.
“Hi, I’m Melanie, from Seattle Magazine,” she blurted out, as she tried to kick the snow off her boots and held out her hand. Chris nudged her head toward the inside and told her to come in. The interviewer followed.
She followed Chris down the stairs, looking for clues to her psyche in her clothes, in her form. Grey pants. Baggy. Very baggy. Button-down shirt. White. Sleeves rolled up, make a note of that. Not very thin, but not fat - just kind of there, without much form. Doc Maartens. She had big feet. She was tall, too - maybe five feet, ten inches. But her feet looked huge. The interviewer stared at her feet as they walked down the dark hall. I’ll bet no one has looked at her feet before, she thought.
Chris lived in one of the basement apartments, so they walked past the laundry room, the boiler room, and then reached a stream of tan doors. Hers was the third. Chris opened the door, the interviewer followed.
She looked around. A comfortable easy chair, rust colored, worn. Walls - covered with bookshelves. Books on Marx, Kafka, Rand. History Books. Science books. No photos. No pictures. A small t.v. in the corner on a table, the cord hanging down, unplugged. Blankets on the floor. Keep looking, the interviewer thought. A standing lamp by the chair. The room was yellow in the light. Where were the windows? Oh, she forgot for a moment, they’re in the basement. Sink, half full.
“May I use the washroom?” she asked, and without saying a word, Chris pointed it out to her.
Check the bathroom, the interviewer thought. No make-up. Makes sense. Generic soap, organic shampoo. Razor. Toothbrush. Colgate bottle. Hairbrush. Rubber band, barrette. Yeah, Chris usually sometimes her hair back, at least from what the interviewer can remember from the photographs.
“Wanna beer?” Chris yells from the refrigerator to the bathroom. “No, thanks,” the interviewer says. She turns on the water.
She wants to look through the trash, see what she can find. No, that’s too much, she thought, besides, what’s going to be in the trash in the washroom that would surprise her so? Nothing, she was sure of it, and from then on she made a point of avoiding even looking in the direction of the trash can.
This was getting out of hand, she thought. There was no story here. Nothing out of the ordinary, other than the fact that Chris decided to give up her cause, and now she’s living life in this tiny, dark basement apartment.
The interviewer walked out into the yellow living room. Chris was stretched out in a chair, legs apart, drinking a beer with no label.
“I really appreciate you offering me this time to talk to you.”
The interviewer sat there, suddenly so confused. Chris was terse. She didn’t want to talk, yet she accepted the interview and offered her home as the meeting place. They sat in silence for a moment, a long moment.
“What kind of beer are you drinking?”
“My own.” Chris sat for a moment, almost waiting for the interviewer to ask what she meant. “You see, the landlord gave me some keys for a storage room on this floor, so I converted it into a sort of micro-brewery. I’ve come up with this one -” she held the bottle to the interviewer - “and another one, a pretty sweet dark beer. I call this one ‘Ocean Lager.’”
The interviewer felt she had to take the bottle. “Ocean Lager, that’s a nice name,” and she took a small sip and passed the bottle back to Chris.
“Yeah, I used to be a photographer, back when I was in high school and college, and I loved working in the dark, timing things, and I loved the stench of the chemicals. I’ve given up on the photography years ago, so I thought that this would be a hobby like that. You know, it smells, it’s dark, you have to add things the right way and wait the right amount of time. I like it. And it’s cheaper, too,” she said, and with that she took another swig. “Cheaper than photography as well as buying beer from the store.”
The interviewer tried to listen to her voice. It was raspy, feminine, almost sexy, but it was very low; she didn’t know if she’d ever heard a woman’s voice this low before.
“Looking over your career,” the interviewer finally started, “I didn’t know why you just decided one day to quit. You had everything going right for you. People listened to you. What happened?”
She thought she had dropped a bomb.
No one ever got a straight answer for that question.
“Well, it was my time to go. I couldn’t take the spotlight anymore. I wanted to become who I really was, not what the world wanted me to be, not what the world perceived me as. I still haven’t done that. I haven’t become myself yet.”
“When were you yourself? Or were you ever?”
“I suppose I was, when I was little, but by the time I got to high school, I started hiding from everyone, because no one seemed to want to know who I really was. I didn’t fit in as who I really was. So then I started with my seminars, started trying to work my way to success, and people started to like me. But in all of that time that I was working on women’s rights, I wasn’t who I really am deep down inside. Not that I didn’t believe in the cause, but I was doing it because it seemed like the best route to success. And when I reached the top, people still wanted more out of me, more that I wasn’t ready to give. I wanted to take some of myself back.”
“Have you gotten any of yourself back since you’ve left the spotlight?”
“Some.” Chris paused. “I can sit at home by myself and act the way I want to, without having to project a certain image for everyone else. People have begun to leave me alone.” She paused, then looked at the interviewer. “Not that I consider you and interruption; I wouldn’t have accepted the interview if I didn’t want you here. If fact, I think I really wanted to be able to tell someone how I feel, what I’ve gone through. I don’t talk to many people nowadays. This is like a confessional.”
Melanie wondered for a moment what Chris was planning to confess.
Chris paused, swirled her beer in her bottle, then looked up. “Sometimes I think of getting a pet. I’d get a cat, but then I think of this stereotypical image of an old woman in an apartment alone with forty cats, where she keeps picking a different one up and asking, ‘you love me, don’t you?’ I don’t want to be like that. Maybe a dog. But a pet requires too much care, and I think I’d end up depending on it more than I should. I should have another human being in my life, not an animal. But I’m so afraid I’ll be alone.”
“Why do you think you’ll be alone?”
“I carry this baggage around with me everywhere. People know me as Chris Hodgkins, and that’s not who I am. I don’t want anyone liking me because I’m Chris Hodgkins. That’s not real. Chris isn’t real, not the Chris everyone knows. The only way I could escape her is to go off to another country in a few years, maybe, and start life all over again.”
“Isn’t that a scary thought, though? I mean, you could ride on your fame for a while longer, make more money, be more secure. You wouldn’t have to work as hard at anything. And people respect you.”
“People respect a person that I’m not. Okay, maybe that person is a part of me, but it’s not all of me. The world doesn’t know the whole story.”
“What is the whole story?” the interviewer asked. By this time she put her pen and paper down and wasn’t writing a word. She was lost in the conversation, like the many people who had heard her speak before. Suddenly she felt she was thrown into the middle of a philosophical conversation, and she was completely enthralled. “Can anyone know the whole story about another person?” she asked.
“Do you really want to know my story?” Chris asked.
“I wouldn’t be asking if I didn’t.”
“You realize that if I tell you, it goes off the record. Besides, you won’t be able to substantiate anything I say. More than that no one would believe it, especially not your editors.”
At this point, she didn’t even care about the interview. “Off the record. Fine.”
the confession, February 11, 10:35 p.m.
Chris sat there for a minute, legs apart, elbows on her knees, beer hanging down between her legs. She kept swirling the liquid in the glass. She took the last two gulps, then put the bottle on the ground between her feet.
“I wanna take a bath,” she said, and with that she got up and walked toward the bathroom. Halfway there she stopped, turned around, and walked to the refrigerator. It creaked open, she pulled out another beer, let the door close while she twisted the cap off. She walked into the bathroom.
The interviewer could hear the water running in the bathtub. She didn’t know what to do. Was she supposed to sit there? Leave?
Chris popped her head out of the bathroom. “I hope you don’t mind, but I really need to relax. Besides, it’s cold in here. Sorry if the cold is bothering you. We can continue the interview in the bathroom, if you want,” and she threw her head back into the bathroom.
Melanie didn’t know what to think. She edged her way to the bathroom door. When she looked in, she was Chris with her hair pulled back, lighting one candle. “The curtain will be closed. Is this okay with you?” Chris asked.
Melanie paused. “Sure,” she said. She sounded confused.
“Okay, then just wait outside until I’m in the bathtub. I’ll yell through the door when you can come in.” And Chris closed the door, and the interviewer leaned against the door frame. Her note pad and pen sat in the living room.
A few minutes passed, or maybe it was a few hours. The water finally silenced. She could hear the curtain close. “You can come in now.”
The interviewer opened the door. The curtain to the bathtub was closed. There was one candle lit on the counter next to the sink, and one glowing from the other side of the curtain. The mirror was fogged with steam. Chris’ clothes were sitting in a pile on the floor. There was no where to sit. The interviewer shut both seats from the toilet and sat down.
“Okay, I’m here,” the interviewer said, as if she wanted Chris to recognize what an effort she went through. “Tell me your story.” She almost felt as if she deserved to hear Chris’ story at this point, that Chris had made her feel so awkward that she at least deserved her curiosity satisfied. She could hear little splashes from the tub.
“You still haven’t asked me about my childhood. You’re not a very good reporter, you know,” Chris said, as if she wanted the interviewer to know that it didn’t have to come down to this. “You could have found out a lot more about me before now.”
They both sat there, each silent.
“It must have hurt when your parents died.”
“I suppose. I didn’t know how to take it.”
“What was the effect of both of your parents dying at such an early age in your life on you?”
“I was stunned, I guess. What I remember most was that my mother was strong, but she followed dad blindly. And dad, he had his views - he was a political scientist - but no one took him seriously because he didn’t have the background. He wasn’t in the right circles. I just remember dad saying to mom, ‘if only I had a different start, things would be different.’ In essence, he wanted to be someone he wasn’t. He failed because he wasn’t who he needed to be.”
“Did it hurt you to see your father think of himself as a failure?”
“He had the choice. He knew what he wanted to do all of his life. He knew the conventional routes to achieving what he wanted - he knew what he needed to do. But he chose to take a different route, and people thought he didn’t have the training he needed, that he didn’t know what he was talking about. But he made that choice to take that different route. He could have become what he needed to in order to get what he wanted. But he didn’t, and in the end, he never got anything.”
“But you, you got what you wanted in your life, right?”
“Yes, but that was because I made the conscious choice to change into what I had to be in order to succeed. If I didn’t make those changes, no one would have accepted my theories on human relations and no one would have listened to my speeches on women’s rights.”
“How did you have to change?”
The interviewer finally hit the nail on the head.
“I’m not ready to answer that question yet. Ask me later.”
The interviewer paused, then continued.
“Okay, so your parents died and you had to move in with your aunt and uncle. How well did you know them?”
“Not at all. In fact, they didn’t even know I existed. You see, my father had no family in the States, he moved here from England, and he lost contact with all of his family. Mom’s family didn’t want her marrying dad, I still don’t know why, so they disowned her when she married him. She never spoke to any of them. In fact, my mother’s sister didn’t even know my parents died until the state had to research my family’s history to see who I should be pushed off on to. When my aunt and uncle took me in, it was the first time they ever saw me. It was the first time the even knew I existed.”
The interviewer could hear the water moving behind the curtain, and then Chris continued.
“My parents were in New Jersey, and my aunt and uncle were in Montana. It was a complete life change for me.”
“How did you get along with other kids from school?”
“Before my parents died, fine. Once I changed schools, I didn’t fit in. I didn’t know how to fit in. I thought it would be too fake if I tried to act like all the other girls, even the ones who were like me, who didn’t fit in. I just didn’t know how to be a girl. I wanted to, and I tried, but it was so hard.
“I just wanted to be looked at as a girl. I didn’t want anyone to question it.”
“Why would they?”
“I looked so boyish. I didn’t go on dates. Because I was so anti-social.”
“Do you think that has something to do with the fact that your mother died, then a year later your aunt died? They were your maternal figures, and you lost them both at a crucial age.”
“Yes. But my aunt didn’t know how to deal with me. She never had children. She left me alone most of the time. She knew that was what I wanted. I remember once she asked me if I had gotten my period yet in my life. I didn’t, but I didn’t want her to think that, so I said yes, so the next day she bought me pads. I didn’t know what to do with them. The day after that I told her that I would buy them myself from now on, so she didn’t have to, but I thanked her anyway. That way I knew she would think that I was still buying them, even if that box in my closet was the same box that she bought me.
“Relations with her were strange. And when she died, I only had classmates and my uncle to take cues from. I wanted to be like the girls in school, so I tried not to take cues from my uncle. I tried to avoid being like my uncle. But sometimes I couldn’t help it.”
“Why did you want so hard to be a girl? Did you want to fit in? Or do you think it had more to do with your mom?”
“No, it wasn’t that at all. There wasn’t a part of me that said I needed to be feminine. But at that age I knew what I wanted to do with my life, and that was work in political science and sociology - specifically, in women’s rights. I knew I wanted that, and I knew that I’d have a better chance of succeeding in that field if I was - well, if I was a girl.”
“But you were a girl, no matter how much you didn’t fit in.”
And that was when Chris decided to drop the bomb.
“But that’s exactly it, Melanie - I’m - well - I’m not a woman.”
“There are sometimes when I don’t feel feminine - when I want to go out and drink beer, I know what you -”
“No, you’re not listening to me,” Chris cut in. “I’m not a woman. I’m a man. My name is Chris, not Christine. I am a man, I have a penis, I’ve got testosterone running through my body. Just not a lot.”
“You don’t really expect me to -”
“Look, when my parents died, I knew what I wanted to do with my life - I knew before they died. But I also knew that I wouldn’t be taken seriously in the field unless I was a woman. So at fourteen, when they died, I had a clean slate. I told everyone I was a girl. I was given to my aunt and uncle as a girl. I went to my new school as a girl.
“And I went to gym classes and I didn’t have breasts, and I had to hide from all the other girls. Although I was boyish-looking, I wasn’t manly, so I got away with it. I shaved only occasionally, only when I had to. And once I got out of high school, acting like a girl was easier. No one questioned who I said I was. People accepted me as a woman.
“Then I started doing the work I did, and people loved me. I got a lot more fame for it than I ever anticipated. I was succeeding. It was wonderful.
“But then it hit me - I’m all alone, and I can tell no one about who I really am. I’ve been doing this all my life, and people would look at me like I was a freak if I went out and told them the truth now. I’m a man, and I like women, I’m not gay, and I could never tell any women that exists that has ever heard of me the truth, because then they will no longer trust me or anything I have ever said regarding women’s rights. I would take the whole movement backwards if I told the world who I really was.”
“That you were a man.”
“You still don’t believe me, do you? I’m telling you because you wanted to know, and because I needed to tell someone. But I can’t destroy women’s chances of being treated with respect in this country by telling everyone.”
“So what you’re telling me is that at age fourteen you decided to become a woman so you could do the work you wanted to do in your life.”
“But that’s a lot to do to yourself, especially at fourteen. What made you decide to do it?”
“My mother’s strength, but her submission to my father, made me want to go into the field. My father’s desire to do what he wanted, but his failure to achieve it because he wasn’t what the world wanted, made me decide to become a woman. I realized then that I could never succeed in this field if I wasn’t one.
“And look at the success I’ve had! Look at all of the people I managed to bring together! I was famous, people were reading my books, people wanted my opinions. I was succeeding.
“But even with all my success, people still expected a messenger for the welfare of women all over the world to be a woman - even the other women expected this. No one would have listened to me for a second if I was a man.”
“And so you stopped because -”
“Because there’s a price you pay by becoming what the world wants you to be. My father knew that, and he didn’t want to pay that price. He didn’t, and he failed at what he wanted to do. I was willing to pay the price, I made the sacrifices, and I actually beat the odds and succeeded. But then I realized that I lost myself in the process. I’m a man, and look at me. People think I’m a woman. I wear fake breasts in public. I have no close relationships. I have nothing to call my own other than my success. Well, after a while, that wasn’t enough. So this is part of my long road to becoming myself again.
“I’m going to have to change my identity and move to another country, I’m going to have to start all over again, I’m going to have to more completely separate myself from working on women’s rights, but it’s the only way I can do it. I’ll know I did what I wanted, even if it cost a lot. The next few years will now have to be me correcting all that I changed in myself in order to succeed. Correcting all my mistakes.
“I want to have a family someday. How am I supposed to be a father? There are so many things I have to change. I couldn’t go on telling the world I was a woman any more. But I couldn’t tell them I wasn’t one, so I just had to fade away, until I didn’t matter anymore.”
The interviewer sat there in silence.
“Do you have any other questions?” Chris asked.
The interviewer sat there, confused, not knowing if she should believe Chris or not. She could rip the curtain open and see for herself, she thought, but either way they would both be embarrassed.
“Then you can go,” Chris said. “I want to get out of this bath.”
Melanie walked out of the bathroom, closed the door. Then she started thinking of all the little things, not changing with the other girls in school, looking so boyish, the low voice, the way she sat, her feet, the razor, the toilet seats. Could she be telling the truth? Could he be telling the truth, the interviewer thought, is Chris a she or a he? She didn’t know anymore. But it seemed to make sense. Her birth certificate would be the only thing that would prove it to anyone, unless she somehow got it changed.
She could have had her birth certificate changed, the interviewer thought, and therefore there would be no real proof that Chris was lying, other than looking at her naked. It was such a preposterous story, yet it seemed so possible that she tended to believe it. It didn’t matter anyway, because she couldn’t write about it, proof or not, she offered this information off the record. She grabbed her pencil and note pad from the living room and walked to the door.
Just as she was about to leave, Chris walked out from the bathroom. She walked over to the front door to open it for the interviewer. Melanie walked through the doorway, without saying a word, as Chris said, “Good story, wasn’t it?”
The interviewer turned around once more, but didn’t get to see Chris’ face before the door was shut. Once again, she was left with her doubts. She walked down the hall.
fishIt’s a pretty miraculous thing, I suppose, making the transition from being a fish to being a human being. The first thing I should do is go about explaining how I made the transition, the second thing, attempting to explain why. It has been so long since I made the decision to change and since I have actually assumed the role of a human that it may be hard to explain.
Before my role in human civilization, I was a betta — otherwise known as a Japanese fighting fish. Although we generally have a beautiful purple-blue hue, I was more taupe, and most people familiar with different species of fish thought of us as more expensive goldfish. I was kept in a round bowl, about eight inches wide at it’s longest point (in human terms, that would be living in quarters about 25 feet at the widest point). It may seem large enough to live, but keep in mind that as humans, you not only have the choice of a larger home, but you are also able to leave your living quarters at any point in time. I did not have that luxury. In fact, what I had was a very small glass apartment, not well kept by my owners (and I at that point was unable to care for it myself). I had a view of the outside world, but it was a distorted view. And I thought I could never experience that world first-hand.
Previous to living anywhere else, before I was purchased, I resided in a very small bowl - no longer than three inches at the widest point. Now, keep in mindmy body as measured in length, not vertically, and I was living in what humans would consider an eight foot square, I had difficulty moving. I even had a hard time breathing. Needless to say from then on I felt I needed more space, I needed to be on my own. No matter what, that was what I needed.
I lived in the said bowl alone. There was one plastic plant in the center of my quarters — some algae grew on it, but that was all I had for plant life in my space. The bottom of my quarters was filled with small rocks and a few clear marbles. It was uneventful.
Once they put another betta in my quarters with me — wait, I must correct myself. I thought the put another betta there with me. I must explain, but please do not laugh: I only came to learn at a later point, a point after I was a human, that my owner had actually placed my quarters next to a mirror. I thought another fish was there with me, following my every motion, getting angry when I got angry, never leaving me alone, always taking the same moves as I did. I raced back and forth across my quarters, always staring at the “other” fish, always prepared to fight it. But I never did.
Once I was kept in an aquarium for a short period of time. It was a ten-gallon tank, and I was placed in there with other fish of varying species, mostly smaller. I was the only betta there. There were different colored rocks, and there were more plastic plants. And one of the outside walls was colored a bright shade of blue - I later came to discover that it was paper behind the glass wall. Beyond the other fish, there was no substantial difference in my quarters.
But my interactions with the other fish is what made the time there more interesting. I wanted to be alone most of the time — that is the way I felt the most comfortable. I felt the other fish didn’t look like me, and I often felt that they were specifically out to hamper me from any happiness. You have to understand that we are by nature very predatorial — we want our space, we want dominance over others, we want others to fear us. It is survival of the fittest when it comes to our lives. Eat or be eaten.
I stayed to myself most of the time in the aquarium; I occasionally made shows of strength to gain respect from the other fish. It made getting food from the top of the tank easier when no one tempted to fight me for the food. It was lonely, I suppose, but I survived — and I did so with better luck than most of the others there.
Then one day it appeared. First closed off to the rest of us by some sort of plastic for a while, then eventually the plastic walls were taken away and it was there. Another betta was suddenly in my space. My space. This was my home, I had proven myself there. I was the only fish of my kind there, and now there was this other fish I would have to prove myself to. Eat or be eaten. I had to make sure — and make sure right away — that this other fish would never be a problem for me.
But the thing was, I knew that the other fish had no right to be there. I didn’t know how they got there, what those plastic walls were, or why they were there. But I had to stop them. This fish was suddenly my worst enemy.
It didn’t take long before we fought. It was a difficult battle, all of the other fish got out of the way, and we darted from one end of the aquarium to the other. It wasn’t long until I was given the opportunity to strike. I killed the other betta, its blood flowing into my air. Everyone there was breathing the blood of my victory.
Almost immediately after this I was removed from the aquarium and placed in my other dwelling — the bowl. From then on I knew there had to be a way to get out of those quarters, no matter what I had to do.
I looked around at the owner; I saw them walking around the tank. I knew that they did not breathe water, and this confused me, but I learned that the first thing I had to do was learn to breathe what they did.
It didn’t take much time before I was constantly trying to lift my head up out of the bowl for as long as I could. I would manage to stay there usually because I was holding my breath. But then, one time, I went up to the top in the morning, they way I usually did, and without even thinking about it, I just started to breathe. I was able to keep my full head up out of the water for as long as I wanted and listen to what was going on outside my living quarters.
Everything sounded so different. There were so many sharp noises. They hurt me to listen to them. Looking back, I now understand that the water in my tank muffled any outside noises. But beyond that, no one in my living quarters made noise — no one bumped into things, no one screamed or made noises. But at the time, all these noises were extremely loud.
I then knew I had to keep my head above water as much as possible and try to make sense of the sounds I continually heard. I came to discover what humans refer to as language only through listening to the repeated use of these loud sounds.
When I learned I had to breathe, I did. When I understood that I had to figure out their language, I did. It took so long, but I began to understand what they said. Then I had to learn to speak. I tried to practice under the water, in my dwelling, but it was so hard to hear in my quarters that I never knew if I was doing it correctly. Furthermore, I had become so accustomed to breathing air instead of water that I began to have difficulty breathing in my own home. This filled me with an intense fear. If I continue on with this experiment, I thought, will my own home become uninhabitable to me? Will I die here because I learned too much?
I decided that I had no choice and that I had to as my owner for help. I had to hope that my ability to produce sounds — and the correct ones, at that - would be enough to let them know that I am in trouble. Furthermore, I had to hope that my owner would actually want to help me. Maybe they wouldn’t want me invading their space. Eat or be eaten.
But I had to take the chance. One morning, before I received my daily food, I pulled the upper half of my body from the tank. My owner wasn’t coming yet, so I went back down and jumped up again. Still nothing. I kept jumping, until I jumped out of the tank completely. I landed on the table, fell to the floor, coughing. I screamed.
The next thing I remember (and you have to forgive me, because my memory is weak here, and this was seven years ago) is being in a hospital. I didn’t know what it was then, of course, and it frightened me. Doctors kept me in place and began to study me. They sent me to schools. And to this day I am still learning.
I have discovered one thing about humans during my life as one. With all the new space I have available to me, with all of the other opportunities I have, I see that people still fight each other for their space. They kill. They steal. They do not breathe in the blood, but it is all around them. And I still find myself doing it as well, fighting others to stay alive.
She had lived there, in her fourth floor apartment on the near north side of the city, for nearly three years. It was an uneventful three years from the outside; Gabriel liked it that way. She just wanted to live her life: go to work, see her new friends, have a place to herself.
But looking a bit closer, it was easy to see what a wonderful life she had. Her apartment was impeccable, with Greek statues and glass vases lining the hallways, modern oil paintings lining her walls. She was working at her career for a little under two years and she had received two hefty promotions. She served on the board of directors for the headquarters of a national domestic abuse clinic and single-handedly managed to increase annual donations in her city by 45%, as well as drastically increase the volunteer base for their hotline numbers. She managed a boyfriend, a man who was willing to put up with her running around, working overtime for her job, visiting clinics. A man who loved and respected her for her drive. Not bad for a woman almost twenty-five.
Yes, life seemed good for Gabriel, she would dine in fine restaurants, visit the operas and musicals travelling through the city. And she had only been in the city for three years.
Eric would wonder what her past was like when he’d hit a nerve with her and she would charge off to work, not talking to him for days. She had only lived in the city for three years, and he knew nothing about her life before then. In the back of his mind, he always thought she was hiding something from him, keeping a little secret, and sometimes everything Gabriel said made him believe this secret was real. She told him her parents lived on the other side of the country, and even though they dated for almost two years there never was talk about visiting them. She never received calls from her old friends. There were no old photographs.
This would get to Eric sometimes; it would fester inside of him when he sat down and thought about it, all alone, in his apartment, wondering when she would be finished with work. And then he’d see her again, and all of his problems would disappear, and he’d feel like he was in love.
One morning he was sitting at her breakfast table, reading her paper, waiting so they could drive to work. “Hey, they finally got that mob-king guy with some charges they think will stick.”
Gabriel minded her business, put her make-up on in the bathroom mirror, hair-sprayed her short, curly brown hair.
“Hey, Gabriel, get a load of this quote,” Eric shouted down the hallway to her from his seat. He could just barely see her shadow through the open door to the bathroom. “‘My client is totally innocent of any charges against him. It is the defense’s opinion that Mr. Luccio was framed, given to the police by the organized crime rings in this city as a decoy,’ said Jack Huntington, defense lawyer for the case. ‘Furthermore, the evidence is circumstantial, and weak.’ What a joke. I hope this guy doesn’t get away with all he’s done. You know, if I--”
Gabriel stopped hearing his voice when she heard that name. She had heard Luccio over and over again in the news, but Jack. She didn’t expect this. Not now. It had been so long since she heard that name.
But not long enough. Her hands gripped the edge of the ceramic sink, gripping tighter and tighter until she began to scratch the wood paneling under the sink. Her head hung down, the ends of her hair falling around her face. He lived outside of the city, nearly two hours. Now he was here, maybe ten minutes away from her home, less than a mile away from where she worked, where she was about to go to.
She couldn’t let go of the edge of the sink. Eric stopped reading aloud and was already to the sports section, and in the back of her mind Gabriel was wondering how she could hurt herself so she wouldn’t have to go to work. She would be late already, she had been standing there for over ten minutes.
Hurt herself? What was she thinking? And she began to regain her senses. She finally picked her head up and looked in the mirror. She wasn’t the woman from then, she had to say to herself as she sneered at her reflection. But all she could see was long, blonde straight hair, a golden glow from the sun, from the days where she didn’t work as often as she did, when she had a different life.
She had to pull on her hair to remind herself that it was short. She pulled it until she almost cried. Then she stopped, straightened her jacket, took a deep breath and walked out the bathroom door.
Eric started to worry. As they car-pooled together to work, Gabriel sat in the passenger seat, right hand clutching the door handle, left hand grabbing her briefcase, holding it with a fierce, ferocious grip. But it was a grip that said she was scared, scared of losing that briefcase, or her favorite teddy bear from the other kids at school, or her life from a robber in an alley. If nothing else, Eric knew she felt fear. And he didn’t know why.
He tried to ask her. She said she was tired, but tense, an important meeting and a pounding headache. He knew it was more. She almost shook as she sat in that car, and she began to rock back and forth, forward and back, ever so slightly, the way a mother rocks her child to calm her down. It made Eric tense, too. And scared.
Work was a blur, a blur of nothingness. There was no meeting, the workload was light for a Friday. But at least the headache was there, that wasn’t a lie. She hated lying, especially to Eric. But she had no choice, especially now, with Jack lurking somewhere in the streets out there, winning his cases, wondering if his wife is dead or not.
She never wanted him to know the answer.
Eric called her a little after four. “Just wanted to check if we were still going to dinner tonight. I made the reservations at the new Southwestern place, you said you wanted to go there. Sound good?”
Gabriel mustered up the strength to respond, and only came up with, “Sure.”
“Do you still have the headache, honey? Do you want to just rent a movie or two and curl up on the couch tonight? Whatever you want to do is fine, just let me know.”
She knew at this point he was doing all he could to make her feel better. She didn’t want to put him through this. He shouldn’t have to deal with her like this. She searches for her second wind. “No, Eric, dinner would be fine. We can go straight from work to save the drive. Thanks, too. You really have a knack for making my days better.”
Eric smiled at the end of the line. And Gabriel could feel it.
They got off the phone, she finished her work, turned off her computer, started walking toward the elevator when it finally occurred to her: Jack might be there. She can’t go. Even if he’s not there, she could see him on the street, driving there. She just couldn’t go.
She pressed the button for the elevator. And he could just as easily see me walking out of work, getting in Eric’s car, she thought. I have to stop thinking like this. This is ludicrous. And he won’t be there, he won’t see me, because, well, the chances are so thin, and Hell, it’s a big city. I have to try to relax.
But she couldn’t. And there was no reason she should have.
At the restaurant, they sat on the upper level, near one of the large Roman columns decorated with ivy. She kept looking around one of the columns, because a man three tables away looked like Jack. It wasn’t, but she still had to stare.
The meal was delicious, the presentation was impeccable. She was finally starting to relax. The check arrived at the table right as the place began to get crowded, so Gabriel went to the washroom to freshen up before they left. She walked through the restaurant, feeling comfortable and confident again. She even attracted a smile from a man at another table. She walked with confidence and poise. And she loved life again.
She walked into the bathroom, straight to the mirror, checking her hair, her lip stick. She looked strong, not how she looked when she was married. She closed her purse, turned around and headed out the door.
That’s when she saw him.
There he was, Jack, standing right there, waiting for a table. He had three other men with him, all in dark suits. She didn’t know if they were mob members or firm associates. Or private eyes he hired to find her. Dear God, she thought, what could she do now? She can’t get to the table, he’ll see her for sure. She can’t stare at him, it’ll only draw attention to herself.
And then she thinks: “Wait. All I’ve seen is the back of him. It might not even be him.” She took a breath. “It’s probably not even him,” she thought, “and I’ve sat here worrying about it.”
Still, she couldn’t reassure herself. She took a few steps back and waited for him to turn around.
A minute passed, or was it a century?, and finally he started to turn, just as they were about to be led to their table. She saw his profile, just a glimpse of his face. It was him, it was Jack, it was the monster she knew from all those years, the man who made her lose any ounce of innocence or femininity she ever had. She saw how his chin sloped into his neck, the curve of his nose, how he combed his hair back, and she knew it was him.
By the washrooms, she stared at him while he took one step away from her, closer to the dining room. Then she felt a strong, pulling hand grip her shoulder. Her hair slapped her in the face as she turned around. Her eyes were saucers.
“The check is paid for. Let’s go,” Eric said as he took her jacket from her arm and held it up for her. She slid her arms through the sleeves, Eric pulling the coat over her shoulders. She stared blankly. He guided her out the doors.
She asked him if they could stop at a club on the way home and have a drink or two. They found a little bar, and she instantly ordered drinks. They sat for over an hour in the dark club listening to the jazz band. It looked to Eric like she was trying to lose herself in the darkness, in the anonymity of the crowded lounge. It worried him more. And still she didn’t relax.
And she drove on the expressway back from dinner, Eric in the seat next to her. He had noticed she had been tense today, more than she had ever been; whenever he asked her why she brushed her symptoms off as nothing.
The radio blared in the car, the car soaring down the four lanes of open, slick, raw power, and she heard the dee-jay recap the evening news. A man died in a car accident, he said, and it was the lawyer defending the famed mob leader. And then the radio announced his name.
And she didn’t even have to hear it.
Time stopped for a moment when the name was spread, Jack, Jack Huntington, like a disease, over the air waves. Jack, Jack the name crept into her car, she couldn’t escape it, like contaminated water it infiltrated all of her body and she instantly felt drugged. Time stood still in a horrific silence for Gabriel. Hearing that midnight talk show host talk about the tragedy of his death, she began to reduce speed, without intention. She didn’t notice until brights were flashing in her rear view mirror, cars were speeding around her, horns were honking. She was going 30 miles per hour.
She quickly regained herself, turned off the radio, and threw her foot on the accelerator. Eric sat silent. They had a long drive home ahead of them from the club, and he knew if he only sat silent that she would eventually talk.
While still in the car, ten minutes later, she began to tell him about Andrea.
“Three years ago, when I moved to the city, my name wasn’t Gabriel. It was Andrea.
“Seven years ago, I was a different person. I was a lot more shy, insecure, an eighteen year old in college, not knowing what I wanted to study. I didn’t know what my future was, and I didn’t want to have to go through my life alone. My freshman year I met a man in the law school program at school. He asked me out as soon as he met me. I was thrilled.
“For the longest time I couldn’t believe that another man, especially one who had the potential for being so successful, was actually interested in me. He was older, he was charming. Everyone loved him. I followed him around constantly, wherever he wanted me to go.
“He met my parents right away. They adored him, a man with a future, he was so charming. They pushed the idea of marrying him. I didn’t see it happening for a while, but I felt safe with him.
“And every once in a while, after a date, or a party, we’d get alone and he’d start to yell at me, about the way I acted with him, or what I said in public, or that the way I looked was wrong, or something. And every once in a while he would hit me. And whenever it happened I thought that I should have looked better, or I shouldn’t have acted the way I did. This man was too good for me. And I had to do everything in my power to make him happy.
“Less than eight months after we met, he asked me to marry him. I accepted.
“We were married two years after we met; it was a beautiful ceremony, tons of flowers, tons of gifts--and I was turning a junior in college. My future was set for me. I couldn’t believe it.
“And as soon as we were married, which was right when he started at the firm, he got more and more violent. And instead of thinking that it was my fault, I started thinking that it was because he was so stressed, that he had so much work to do, that sometimes he just took it out on me. I was no one’s fault. Besides, if he was going to climb to the top, he needed a wife that was perfect for all of his appearances. I had to be perfect for him. Take care of the house and go to school full time.
“Money wasn’t a problem for us, he had a trust fund from his parents and made good money at the firm, so I could go to school. But he started to hate the idea that I was going to college in marketing instead of being his wife full time. But that was one thing I wasn’t going to do for him, stop going to school.
“He’d get more and more angry about it the longer we were married. After the first year he’d hit me at least once a week. I was physically sick half of my life then, sick from being worried about how to make him not hurt me, sick from trying to figure out how to cover up the bruises.
“I’d try to talk to him about it, but the few times I ever had the courage to bring it up, he’d beat me. He’d just beat me, say a few words. Apologize the next morning, think everything was better. I couldn’t take it.
“I threatened with divorce. When I did that I had to go to the hospital with a broken arm. I had to tell the doctors that I fell down the stairs.
“A long flight of stairs.
“When it was approaching two years of marriage with this man, I said to myself I couldn’t take it anymore. He told me over and over again that he’d make me pay if I tried to leave him, I’d be sorry, it would be the worst choice I could ever make. This man had power, too, he could hunt me down if I ran away, he could emotionally and physically keep me trapped in this marriage.
“So I did the only thing I thought I could do.
“I wrote a suicide note. ‘By the time you find my car, I’ll be dead.’ I took a few essentials, nothing that could say who I was. I cut my hair--I used to have long, long hair that I dyed blonde. I chopped it all off and dyed it dark. Then I drove out to a quarry off the interstate 20 miles away in the middle of the night, threw my driver’s license and credit cards into the passenger’s seat, put a brick on the accelerator, got out of the car and let it speed over the cliff. Everything was burned.
“So there I was, twenty-two years old, with no future, with no identity. My family, my friends, would all think I was dead in the morning. And for the first time in my life, I was so alone. God, I was so scared, but at the same time, it was the best feeling in the world. It felt good to not have my long hair brushing against my neck. It felt good to feel the cold of the three a.m. air against my cheeks, on my ears. It felt good to have no where to go, other than away. No one was telling me where to go, what to do. No one was hurting me.
“I found my way two hours away to this city, came up with the name Gabriel from a soap opera playing in a clinic I went to to get some cold medication. I managed a job at the company I’m at now. Did volunteer work, rented a hole for an apartment. Projected a few of the right ideas to the right people in the company. I got lucky.”
She told him all of this before she told him that her husband’s name was Jack Huntington.
She brought him home, sat on the couch while he made coffee for her. He tried to sound calm, but the questions kept coming out of his mouth, one after another. Gabriel’s answers suddenly streamed effortlessly from her mouth, like a river, spilling over onto the floor, covering the living room with inches of water within their half hour of talk.
She felt the cool water of her words sliding around her ankles. And she felt relieved.
Gabriel, Andrea, was no longer Mrs. Jack Huntington.
Eric told her that she could have told him before. “I’d follow you anywhere. If I had to quit my job and run away with you I would.” It hurt him that she kept this from him for so long, but he knew he was the only person who knew her secret. He smiled.
There was a burden lifted, she felt, with Jack’s death, the burden that she didn’t have to hide who she was anymore. She didn’t have to worry about public places, cower when she felt his presence, following her, haunting her. It’s over, she thought. She can walk out in the street now, and scream, and run, and laugh, and no one will come walking around the corner to force her back to her old life, to that little private hell that was named Andrea.
But sitting there, she knew there was still one thing she had to do.
She put down her coffee, got on her coat, told him this was something she must do. Gabriel got into her car, started to head away from the city. As she left, Eric asked where she was going. She knew she had done what she could for the last three years of her own life to save herself; now it was time to go back to the past, no matter what the consequences were.
He thought she was going back to her family. She was, in a way.
She drove into the town she had once known, saw the trees along the streets and remembered the way they looked every fall when the leaves turned colors. She remembered that one week every fall when the time was just right and each tree’s leaves were different from the other trees. This is how she wanted to remember it.
And she drove past her old town, over an hour and a half away from the city, passing where her parents, her brother could still be living. She didn’t know if she would ever bother to find them. Right now all she could do was drive to the next town, where her old friend used to live. Best friends from the age of three, Sharon and Andrea were inseparable, even though they fought to extremes. And as she drove toward Sharon’s house, she knew she’d have to move quickly, if her husband was still there.
She double-checked in a phone book at a nearby gas station. And she turned two more corners and parked her car across the street. Would she recognize her? Would she believe she was there? That she was alive?
Gabriel saw one car in the driveway, not two; she went to the window, and looking in saw only Sharon. She stepped back. She took a long, deep breath. She was a fugitive turning herself in. She was a fugitive, asking people to run with her, running from something, yet running free. She knocked on the door.
Through the drapes she saw the charcoal shadow come up to the door. It creaked open. There they stood, looking at each other. For the first time in three and a half years.
Sharon paused for what seemed a millennium. Her eyes turned to glass, to a pond glistening with the first rays of the morning sun.
“Andrea.” She could see her through the brown curls wrapping her face. Another long silence. Sharon’s voice started to break.
“You’re alive,” she said as she closed her eyes and started to smile. And Gabriel reached through the doorway, and the door closed as they held each other.
They sat down in the living room. In the joy, Sharon forgot about the bruises on her shoulder. Gabriel noticed them immediately.
They talked only briefly before Gabriel asked her. “Is Paul here?”
“No, he’s out playing cards. Should be out all night.”
“Things are the same, aren’t they?”
“Andi, they’re fine. He’s just got his ways,” and Sharon turned her head away, physically looking for something to change the subject. There was so much to say, yet Sharon couldn’t even speak.
And then Gabriel’s speech came out, the one she rehearsed in her mind the entire car ride over. The speech she gave to herself for the years before this very moment. “Look, Sharon, I know what it’s like, I can see the signs. I know you, and I know you’ll sit through this marriage, like I would have, this unending cycle of trying to cover the bruises on your arms and make excuses--”
Sharon moved her arm over her shoulder. Her head started inching downward. She knew Andrea knew her too well, and she wouldn’t be able to fight her words, even after all these years.
“I went through this. When Jack told me I’d never be able to leave him, that I’d be sorry if I did, that I’d pay for trying to divorce him, that’s when I knew I couldn’t take it anymore. No man has a right to tell me--or you--what you can and can’t do. It hasn’t gotten better, like you keep saying, has it? No. I know it hasn’t. It never does.
“I know this sounds harsh, and it is. If I was willing to run away, run away so convincingly that my own family thought I was dead, then it had to be serious. Do you think I liked leaving you? My brother? Do you think this was easy?”
Gabriel paused, tried to lean back, take a deep breath, relax.
“No. It wasn’t easy. But I had to do it, I had to get away from him, no matter what it took. In spending my life with him I was losing myself. I needed to find myself again.”
They sat there for a moment, a long moment, while they both tried to recover.
“You don’t have to run away,” Gabriel said to her. “You don’t have to run away like I had to. But he won’t change. You do have to leave here. Let me help you.”
Within forty-five minutes Sharon had three bags of clothes packed and stuffed into Gabriel’s trunk. As Sharon went to get her last things, Gabriel thought of how Sharon called her “Andi” when she spoke. God, she hadn’t heard that in so long. And for a moment she couldn’t unravel the mystery and find out who she was.
Sharon came back to the car. Gabriel knew that Sharon would only stay with her until the divorce papers were filed and she could move on with her life. But for tonight they were together, the inseparable Sharon and Andi, spending the night, playing house, creating their own world where everything was exactly as they wanted.
And this was real life now, and they were still together, with a whole new world to create. They were both free, and alive, more alive than either of them had ever felt.
“I want you to meet Eric. He’s a good man,” Gabriel said.
And as they drove off to nowhere, to a new life, on the expressway, under the viaduct, passing the projects, the baseball stadium, heading their way toward the traffic of downtown life, they remained silent, listened to the hum of the engine. For Gabriel, it wasn’t the silence of enabling her oppressor; it wasn’t the silence of hiding her past. It was her peace for having finally accepted herself, along with all of the pain, and not feeling the hurt.
The next morning, she didn’t know which name she’d use, but she knew that someone died that night, not Jack, but someone inside of her. But it was also a rebirth. And so she drove.
he told me his dreams
he was walking by the
and they turned around the
he was hit over and over
he said he died then
he even saw his obituary
but then he went back, did it
office. It’s always like this,
he told me his dreams
he was in bed, but
with her best friend, and
it wasn’t her until he
he told me his dreams
he was making love to a
blonde. They were in a forest
with her later, but she wasn’t
does he keep having dreams
said, just look closely. Why
he told me his dreams
as he wakes up less
fell out again, he said.
Sometimes they all fall out
stuff them back into my mouth.
I just don’t understand these
fall out, when you dream it
No, I said, it means
walked to the washroom,
more times that day
he told me his dreams
they were trying to kill
from them? they had guns,
do, and I only had my
could feel the bullets
always have to run away;
he told me his dreams
in the recurring dream
and every time I would
always had the same things
I asked for door number
on the top. I would then
there was something else.
would dream of it I would
climb it and find a fort to
would choose door number two.
light at the end of it, but I
tunnel, but I only got a
Sometimes in the dream I
Walt Disney World amusement
coasters, and lots of food.
which door I got. Sometimes
doors, the desolation, the
he told me his dreams
when I was little
a large rare, expensive
And the one thing I
it back with me; I knew
please, I just want to
would try to hold the
only to find tightly
the wealth under my
My instinct told me to
was never anything there
he told me his dreams
he remembers escaping from prison
he managed to run away
the evil men with the machine guns
they plugged him with bullets
he kept trying to run away
he lived through it
she told me her dreams
we were at some sort of showing
sculpture, it was eighty-three
and it went on and on, one smooth
they displayed it on the water
and I was in the water with someone
I didn’t think I could make it across
I kept feeling the sides, the smoothness
somehow, transcribed along the
there’s wasn’t much at eighty-three
information about the future
what it says
she told me her dreams
The Bulls basketball game
with my co-workers, we were
and being aired over the
argument with one of my
that on television
and I remember thinking
she told me her dreams
this is my recurring dream:
is a window near the top of
looking through it. There was
and my other brother was
for the garage was filled
it in order to leave the
in the garage with us, and
window, looking into the
she told me her dreams
I was in a shopping mall
were near the stairs to
and pushed Efi down the
know who murdered him
down in the basement of
I wrote, “I saw who did
else wrote me a message.
saw who did it, and I
board before me and
still read it. No, it wasn’t
she told me her dreams
I was back at my college town
a cliff, to enjoy homecoming
of the cliff, at the lake, swimming
then the man from the lake came
come down the cliff and swim with
I was afraid I was going to fall
she told me her dreams
I went to visit some old friends
I went outside to save a
I came back, but they
I was abandoned
I was at a beach, I don’t know
me any my sister and my
I was walking into your living room
red dead crawfish
there is no sleep
wear the mask
there are two choices
go out or
They put in the tape
he told me his dreams
She said: Do you know that feeling
you feel like you’re falling
gets that feeling sometimes
You see, it happens when you’re
fast a speed. Your heart rate,
makes you feel like you fall
slowly. He said: No, no, that’s
what I’m talking about is
She said: Well, what happens?
sometimes I land gently and
No. He said: Why do I have
hole in the heart
how you looked then
I take snapshots of these things in my mind. I rifle through them.
I never told you that I loved to watch you in the bathroom, getting ready to go out. It would usually be after you shaved, or even after you dressed, when you were almost ready to go but had to fix your hair. And you’d look in the mirror,and you’d be brushing the sides of your head with your curved fingertips, and you’d be scrutinizing yourself, eyes just slightly squinted. I always thought you looked most handsome when you did that with your eyes, squinted like that, like you were looking for something, searching.
Or when we were at that restaurant and you were sitting across from me, wearing the denim button-down shirt I bought you, and you were eating, and you were slouched over your plate, elbows on the table, and you were just eating, not paying attention to much else around you. And you hadn’t shaved in a few days, and the copper-colored stubble was every once in a while catching the light. And in between bites you kept combing your hair back with your fingers, because it kept falling while you ate.
While you were eating, I just had to stop, lean back, and stare at you for a while. I don’t know why, but I’ll never forget how you looked then.
Rolled up sleeves,
Your hands, the
Your fingers, I’ve
Along the tip, and
Your hands, they’re
And like a
The table. They
You can do
You must be
Let me create
Feel your power.
Hungry. Why are
It’s harder to find the
Jackson Square/Bourbon Street
we’ll read your palm
we’ll pipe you full of liquor
aren’t you happy, friend
my father, shooting an animal
we sat in our
onto the patio, the
away from the ravine.
in a sling. He had
and he looked out
over his shoulder.
along the edge of the
propped his gun
through the sight and
guns, he seldom
house, aiming at the
good arm. And then
into a nearby hole.
People wonder why
with two good arms.
my love for you will stay the same
everybody’s looking for some shelter from the storm
now the tide is turning
everybody wants to find a way to shed the shame
the rhythm in your fingers
listen to your flowers now, the petals scream out loud
Winter evenings I would look for you.
You were my favorite. whenever I
You, spending millennia fighting. You
as I did so many years in you.
I live in the basement
but I would have a little plant
I’d take on all those tasks
I live in a room
when I make it
When they met
oh, it was so
don’t you think so, darling
we sit here at dinner.
I know no one else sees them:
They are evil fish. They sit
And the yogurt, the yogurt
And we sat there before
How could you do this? How
poam: a conversation with Jimbo Breen
dedicated to Steve, a marine
we sat at the poolside together;
and we talked about nuclear war.
why: for you, the man of war, the
death. You loved the thought of
in the swimming pool while you sat
a method of fighting more direct,
fight them one on one, man to
now, only years later. I’ll remember
Poam: Militant Man With Schizophrenia
Private Lives I
Private Lives II
Private Lives III
Private Lives IV
And she got out of her car, walked across her driveway, and walked up the stairs to her porch, trying to enjoy her solitude, trying not to remember that he followed her once again. She thought she was free of him; she thought he moved on with his life and that she would not have to see his face again.
Why did he have to call her, on this one particular day, years later, while she was at work? Maybe if she could have been suspecting it, she might have been braced for it. But then again, she didn’t want to think about it: she was happy that she was finally starting to feel as if she had control of her life again.
It had been so many years, why would she have expected him to follow her again? Didn’t she make it clear years ago that she didn’t want him waiting outside her house in his car anymore, that she didn’t want to receive the hang-up calls at three in the morning anymore? Or the calls in the middle of the night, when he’d stay on the line, when she could tell that he was high, and he’d profess his love to her? Or the letters, or the threats? No, the police couldn’t do anything until he took action, when it was too late. Why did he come back? Why couldn’t he leave her alone? Why couldn’t it be illegal for someone to fill her with fear for years, to make her dread being in her house alone, to make her wonder if her feeling that she was being followed wasn’t real?
All these thoughts rushed through her head as she sat on her front porch swing, opening her mail. One bill, one piece of junk mail, one survey.
It was only a phone call, she had to keep thinking to herself. He may never call again. She had no idea where he was even calling from. For all she knew, he could have been on the other side of the country. It was only a phone call.
And then everything started to go wrong in her mind again, the bushes around the corner of her house were rustling a little too loud, there were too many cars that sounded like they were stopping near her house. Her own breathing even scared her.
I could go into the house, she thought, but she knew that she could be filled with fear there, too. Would the phone ring? Would there be a knock on the door? Or would he even bother with a knock, would he just break a window, let himself in, cut the phone lines so she wouldn’t stand a chance?
No, she knew better. She knew she had to stay outside, that she couldn’t let this fear take a hold of her again. And so she sat.
She looked at her phone bill again.
She heard the creak of the porch swing.
She swore she heard someone else breathing.
No, she wouldn’t look up from her bill, because she knew no one was there.
Then he spoke.
She looked up. He was standing right at the base of her stairs, not six feet away from her.
“What are you doing on my property?”
“Oh, come on, you used to not hate me so much.” He lit a cigarette, a marlboro red, with a match. “So, why wouldn’t you take my call today?”
“Why would I? What do I have to say to you?”
“You’re really making a bigger deal out of this than it is,” he said, then took a drag. She watched the smoke come out of his mouth as he spoke. “We used to have it good.”
She got up, and walked toward him. She was surprised; in her own mind she never thought she’d actually be able to walk closer to him, she always thought she’d be running away. She stood at the top of the stairs.
“Can I have a smoke?”
“Sure,” he said, and he reached up to hand her the fire stick. She reached out for the matches.
“I’ll light it.”
She put the match to the end of the paper and leaves, watched it turn orange. She didn’t want this cigarette. She needed to look more calm. Calm. Be calm.
She remained at the top of the stairs, and he stood only six stairs below her. She sat at the top stair.
“You really think we ever got along?”
“Sure. I mean, I don’t know how you got in your head -”
“Do you think I enjoyed finding your car outside my house all the time? Did I enjoy seeing you at the same bars I was at, watching me and my friends, like you were recording their faces into your memory forever? Do you think I liked you coming to bother me when I was working at the store? Do you -”
She paused. “You were what?”
“I was logging everyone you were with into my head.”
She sat silent.
“At the bars - I remember every face. I remember every one of them. I had to, you see, I had to know who was trying to take you away. I needed to know who they were.”
She sat still, she couldn’t blink, she stared at him, it was just as she was afraid it would be.
And all these years she begged him to stop, but nothing changed.
She couldn’t take it all anymore.
She put out her right hand, not knowing exactly what she’d do if she held his hand. He put his left hand in hers.
“You know,” she said, then paused for a drag of the red fire, “This state would consider what you did to me years ago stalking.”
She held his hand tighter, holding his fingers together. She could feel her lungs moving her up and down. He didn’t even hear her; he was fixated on looking at his hand in hers, until she caught his eyes with her own and then they stared, past the iris, the pupil, until they burned holes into each other’s heads with their stare.
“And you know,” she said, as she lifted her cigarette, “I do too.”
Then she quickly moved the cigarette toward their hands together, and put it out in the top of his hand.
He screamed. Grabbed his hand. Bent over. Pressed harder. Swore. Yelled.
She stood. Her voice suddenly changed.
“Now, I’m going to say this once, and I won’t say it again. I want you off my property. I want you out of my life. I swear to God, if you come within fifty feet of me or anything related to me or anything the belongs to me, I’ll get a court order, I’ll get a gun, I’ll do whatever it takes to keep you away forever.”
He held his left hand with his right, the fingers on his right hand purple from the pressure he was using on the open sore. He moaned while she spoke. She stood at the top of the stairs looking down on him. He slowly walked away.
She thought for a moment she had truly taken her life back. She looked down. Clenched in the fist in her left hand was the cigarette she just put out.
st. anthony’s medallion
“A father brought his ten year old son to the cemetery where his mother was buried about a month
The sky is weeping again.
didn’t you, you unfair God?
our anniversary. How am I
in this world that looks like
him free? Did I not watch
the bridge to new orleans
you have to pass the desolation
what do those people see
they have the isolation
they tell me i was born
the first of twins
they tell me it was difficult
i have an indentation in my chest
they tell me they kept Douglas alive
i wonder what it would have been like
we could switch places
we’d be inseparable
my family doesn’t talk about
maybe with the medical world
sometimes i feel
then the man from the lake came
come down the cliff and swim with
waiting for you (2/13/94)
i look out at the evening sky
snow falling out of the sky
falling onto my face
touching me sharp and sweet
like your hand on my cheek
in the cold of winter
walking home from school
once when I was little
I was walking home from school
the other kids made fun of me
but once, I’ll never forget, Patti
they landed right next to me
I don’t know if I stopped
all the entangled dead branches
and I thought
as hard as I could
and she would never
I looked at the trees
and the others were laughing
I look back now
was I scared of them
I still keep asking myself that
walking with you (2/18/94)
It’s springtime again
picking flowers from neighbor’s yards
it’s still a little cold
hands clasped walking in stride
lily of the valley,
it’s a beautiful wind
wanting you (2/18/94)
It’s night again
that’s when I feel most alone
when will this end
that’s when I miss you most
sometimes I feel
watching you (2/18/94)
a strand of your hair
you brush it behind your ear
you move your head
it falls again
it curls in just the right way
it directs me
with you (2/18/94)
It’s Friday again
the birds are singing this morning
maybe it’s always like this
it always seems darker
without you (1/6/94)
i look out at the evening sky
trees laced with snow
the darkened sky the powdered streets
the trees aren’t as beautiful anymore
Copyright Janet Kuypers.
All rights reserved.
No material may be reprinted
without express permission.