CHELSEA HARRIS / I'VE ALWAYS BEEN HERE YOU KNOW
I invite Martin over for dinner. We met at the grocery store several months ago when he asked me what I thought sounded better, veggie lasagna or beef stroganoff? I picked up a packet of seasoning and said, I’m a vegetarian.
We eat and then he fucks me against the refrigerator. After, I ask him if he would ever consider getting a tattoo of my name on his wrist. He tells me he’s too old for that kind of stuff. He tells me he likes me, but not that much. He pinches my nipple through my shirt and asks, What’s for dessert pretty mama?
He asks if I’ll take a shower with him before he leaves, says he likes it when my puss gets all slippery, says he likes the smell of it in the steam. So I strip off my mother’s floral dress and he fucks me against the shower caddy, my face mashed into the wire rods, nose pressed up to a bottle of waterfall shampoo, and all I can think about is how accurate that could be, the waterfall shampoo. How does anyone really know what rushing water smells like? He rams me harder against the caddy, so hard I think my nose might break, might burst the way a cantaloupe would, his barbed bones pricking me over and over again, my vagina gushing harder than Niagara, and I worry that if my nose breaks I’ll never figure out what makes waterfall shampoo smell like a waterfall.
He finishes and we get out and wipe off and he tells me that I look beautiful when my hair is wet. No one has ever said this to me before. He tells me he hasn’t had sex like this in thirty-two years and I wonder if that means that I’m good or that I’m bad. I wonder if I should wonder about anything at all or if it’s just going to give me stress lines on my forehead like the ones my mother had. I think about Mickey Nailer, the boy I lost my virginity to in eighth grade. The boy who told me he had had sex with thirteen girls already and that they were all better than me. The boy who told me this at my locker where I had written I LOVE MICKEY in stolen magenta lipstick, who, after he told me, didn’t hold my hand or kiss my forehead, didn’t pat me on the back or flash me those warm, wet eyes, eyes that said But it’s okay, you’ve got a long life ahead of you girl, you’ll learn, you’ll be appreciated. Mickey Nailer didn’t do any of the things they did on soap operas or romcoms or in those romance novels they sell at Walmart. He just handed me a crumpled piece of paper and walked towards his fifth period class, and when I opened it, thinking maybe this was all some kind of joke, that it must be, I was met with scribbled in block letters reading People I’ve Porked, and underneath was a sloppily-written list of thirteen girls, including Molly B. and Angel F., including my BFF Jacqueline, including the foreign student from Brazil and the transfer from WaterCrest and three of my softball teammates from the year before, and I thought Wow, he really knows what he’s doing and I thought, Hey it was only my first time, and I thought No, I’m nothing, I’m worthless. So I started slipping photos of me in my mother’s lingerie on my unicorn bed spread into his locker for the rest of the year until he winked at me one day in the lunchroom. Now, I email them to him. Except I have my own lingerie and a duvet from Sears and I think he must have enough photos of me to wallpaper his whole house. And I think, and I hope, that maybe he did.
I meet with my therapist and she tells me I have athazagoraphobia. She asks me what my childhood was like. I tell her that my parents split up when I was nine. She nods and scribbles something on her pad of paper and I think she must be playing tic-tac-toe or hangman and that it’s not fair because I want to play too. She asks me what happened after that. I tell her that my father had another family out in California. That he had a wife and three daughters that wore plaid skirts and went to church and played house in a cardboard box in the backyard. We came first, but we weren’t enough, we were never enough. He used to bring me the girls’ hand-me-downs, dolls missing an eye, a scratched kaleidoscope, dresses faded with playground dates and movie theater seats and nights spent on the lawn watching the stars. My mother had low self-esteem and a lazy eye. My mother had been fucked a million times by a million different men because she thought that was how you earned love. My father kept it up, kept visiting and pretending we were worth something, pretending that he loved us so he would have a clean slate when he knocked on God’s door. He kept it up until my mother got sick, until her hair started falling out and her nails started cracking and her lazy eye got lazier.
He came up for my ninth birthday, brought me a cupcake from the grocery store that had my name written on it. He said Baby girl I love you but daddy has to go now, he said Take care of your mom, okay? He said Stay off drugs and read your Bible and study hard. He said, Happiest of birthdays to you my sweet darling, and he kissed my forehead and waved as he shut the front door. My therapist nods. She says, Have you talked to him since? I say, No. And how is your mother now? She’s dead.
My therapist writes me a prescription for antidepressants and tells me she wants to see me next Thursday. I leave the office building and take a cab home. All the lights are off except for the lantern on the porch. I like to leave it on so it looks like I’m home in case someone was to stop by while I was out, in case someone wanted to remember that I like banana bread and my back hurts sometimes so it’s hard to bend over and pick the paper up, but there isn’t anything waiting for me on the porch, so I go inside and switch on the light by the door. I feel a wave of emptiness vacuum me up. I feel like a blender that isn’t mixing anything, but I’m on, and I’ve been on for years, just whirring and whirring, trying harder than any other blender out there to blend blend blend. I sit on the floor in the middle of the room and start meditating the way I’ve seen them do it on TV. With my eyes closed and my legs crossed and my fingers pinched together like I’m holding grains of salt between them. My father appears, he’s standing on a soapbox and he’s holding me. My mother is next to him and her lazy eye is no longer lazy and her hair is full and shining and her nails are splattered in pink crystals and she is reaching reaching reaching up to touch my head but she is smaller than ever, and her arm looks like one of those claws you buy from the little tourist huts on the beach, one of those claws you’re supposed to use for building sandcastles but you use to pull your sister’s hair in the backseat of the car instead. I coo, but it comes out as a purr and I’m doing it in real life with the door open behind me and the breeze flapping at my back, I’m coo-purring loud enough for the neighbors to hear, and I coo coo coo until my mother has her claw hand splayed out across my forehead. They watch me transform, they watch me grow from a baby into a woman, they're there and they're holding me and they’re saying My my my look at you darling, our perfect daughter, you’re so special, we love you so much, and their voices hum together until they sound like the vacuum machine, like they're breathing me up because I’m just a cloud of dog hair and dust and skin flakes cluttering up the rug, so I stop coo-purring, I stop coo-purring and start screaming, my hand wide open, my fingers spread across the floor reaching for something to hold onto, my voice splitting the breeze in half, and I’m saying oh my god someone please oh god help oh god oh god oh god, and I keep saying this with my eyes closed and my fingers spread until Millie, the woman who lives two doors down, the woman who once asked me how I was when I was getting the mail and then later told me she regretted asking, the woman who I invited over for dinner every day for two months after her husband got squashed by a giant metal beam while on the job, the woman who always declined despite my constant offerings, the woman who still wears celebrities’ signature perfumes and eats Hungry Man dinners and has a subscription to US Weekly that she lets rot on her front porch, scoops me up and brings me to my feet and tells me to open my eyes, and when I do I see her face, and it says What was I thinking coming over here, it says God I should have killed myself months ago, it says, I’m sad and I’m lonely and you’re batshit crazy and I don’t want anything to do with you but I’m here and I’m going to help because I’ll probably be dead soon anyways.
Millie brings me to the kitchen table and tells me to sit while she phones her sister. Her sister is my old therapist and she likes poppies and lemon bread and also has a subscription to US Weekly that she never reads. Millie says She did it again, Yeah, Well she’s at the table now and seems calm, Can you come here? I know but I need you, I can’t keep doing this it’s not good for my health, Okay, Yeah whatever, Thanks for nothing. I start twiddling my thumbs because I think it makes me look innocent and no one comes down as hard on innocent people. Millie looks at me and says You need some serious help, kid, and I think it must have worked because she called me kid and that’s a good sign, and then she says, You’re fucking annoying as hell. Everyone on this street hates you. You pester us everyday. We don’t want to be your friend! And then Millie spits right there on the kitchen floor, a big ol’ wad of phlegmy potato mush, and then she says, Sorry but I had to. I don’t say anything at all because I feel like a bag of frozen vegetables slumped over on the table, and Millie grabs a rag off the counter and bends down and wipes it up and says I’m going to go now, and, You need to talk to your therapist and get some real help because I’m sick of spending all my time babysitting a middle-aged woman. Just take some goddamn meds. Jesus. She walks out and slams the door and I sink back onto the floor and try it again, I try pinching my fingers together and closing my eyes and summoning my parents, or Jesus, or anyone who might care, but it’s blank, my eyelids are blank and my mind is blank and I realize that it’s just me and my dishwasher and my house plants and we’re here in this little kitchen on a little street in a little town and there might not be one person out there that cares if we survive.
So I write a question at the top of every page of paper in my house that says, Do you remember me? and below it I write Yes and I write No and at the very bottom I write Please answer and return, and then I take the pile and I get in my car and I drive. I drive until the sun sets and the streetlights blink on and every window of every house is streaked in washed out TV tones. I look down to my lap, to the pile of questions, to the coffee stain on the front of my blouse and I think about what it would feel like to have someone tell me it was there this morning before I even left the house. Someone to say Oh darling, go and change, you seem to have spilled something. Someone to say, There’s coffee right there on your shirt you know, right there next to the button. Someone who might help me get it out, just us next to the sink with a soapy washcloth, and then a person would walk past on the street and see us, and they’d think, Aww look at them, they’re so sweet, and then, that person would be out one day at a nursing home or the grocery store and they’d see another sweet couple working out a stain together and they would remember me because they would remember us. I take the pile off my lap and sprinkle them out the window as I drive down Crossing Street, as I drive towards the middle of the cul-de-sac with this stain on my blouse, just me, all alone, and I step on the gas.
Chelsea Harris has appeared in Smokelong Quarterly, Grimoire, So to Speak, Minola Review, The Fem, and Your Impossible Voice, among others. She co-runs a zine and reading series in Bellingham, WA called Wallpaper Magazine, is the blog content creator for Fifth Wednesday Journal and a reader for Split Lip Magazine. Chelsea received her MFA from Columbia College Chicago.