Goodbye

The hallway was empty as I leaned my back against the push-bar of the exit door for what I knew may be the last time. This moment was it. I was taking pause to remember everything that had happened in that hallway and in the rooms attached to it. Immediately to my left were the double doors to the stage, through I’d walked every morning I’d attended high school. There were so many moments, on-stage and off. There was the time my orchestra teacher tripped over the podium and smacked her face on the floor. I also remembered sitting in the middle of the second violin section as a freshman terrified and excited and completely lost trying to learn second position. I also remember the frustration I’d felt as a senior when I was told that I not only had to audition for concert master, but that the seat was not going to be given to me and would, instead, be given to a junior.  As a sophomore I stood off-stage, nervously planning a house party – the first real house party that would be hosted by one of my friends – and was picked up early from fall drama rehearsal to go to it.

It was in this hallway that my best friend and I would gorge ourselves on the refreshments for the cast of the spring musical during intermission each year, strangely disoriented after a couple of hours reading music in the pit of an unlit auditorium. “Copa Cabana,” “Once Upon a Mattress,” “Into the Woods,” and “Meet Me in St. Louis;” these were the chapter titles for my life each spring. Making the mad dash to my car and racing to the nearest deli to get food between school and rehearsal was added to our routine in my junior year, along with skipping class to go to Dairy Queen and calling each other’s cell phones from different classrooms.

The second door to the left, string storage, was where my violin had lived and it was where I would sit on my instrument case and hang out and chat with a couple of friends, it was where I stored my candy for the First Ladies’ fundraiser the one year we had to raise money for competition; it was also where I stored most of my other belongings.  The first slot to the right of the divider in the center of the wooden instrument rack was mine, along with the red folder that once belonged to the girl who had given me private lessons and which I superstitiously believed would make me a better violinist since its two previous owners had been fantastic musicians whom I greatly admired.

To my right was the band room where I’d had guitar class with several boys who had meant so much and so very little all at once. The freshman who hit on me mercilessly and for the first time made me feel incredibly attractive, the boy from my graduating class who was so talented and who partnered up with me to get an easy A, I playing the melody and he playing the chords, and my friend from childhood whom I’d met by chance on the playground at age 6. This was the room where we’d had so many initial rehearsals that involved more laughter than music as we attempted to sight read and in my senior year it was where I zealously copied 300 pages of piano music so that I may transcribe and write the string parts since there were none, being watched by that boy who spent so much time practicing improve on his bass. Having almost no classes, we’d both become fixtures in that hallway during our final year.

The chorus room was where I’d spent the majority of my time, it was where my a capella rehearsals took place, it was where we watched The Crosbys, I’d had violin and voice lessons in this room, the orchestra occasionally rehearsed in there, and the choruses both did. This was the room that housed AP Music Theory, a class consisting of eight students and perpetual chaos.

This hallway, as I stood there staring into my past, had been my home. Walking up it singing “I’m a little acorn” with my best friend, vomiting in the bathroom nearby to get sent home early from school, sitting against the wall eating a Chipwich playing around with my cousin after school; this hallway was filled with ghosts. There were so many people who I’d known only in this hallway and so many people who I would never see again.

I inhaled deeply through my mouth and nodded to those infinite memories. With my yellow graduation cap in hand, I bounced my rear against the bar to release the latch and with a quick, awkward motion turned and walked out the door.

Chapter 3

Chapter 3

The time I spent with him is almost as fractured as my memory of what he looks like. The moments we shared, the moments we didn’t – they drip through my mind penetrating every surface, pooling in the dark hidden places I dare not explore. The time before is a blurry glowing mass of life before innocence was lost. There are so many nights while I lie in bed that my thoughts slip, tripping over the quiet dark of night and fall until they drown in those pools. This is when I remember the most. The feeling of complete exhaustion as my grandmother tucked me into the freshly made bed in my childhood bedroom after a long day in June filled with so much screaming, crying and pain. The numb horror which filled my core as I washed a blood clot down the shower drain with my big toe weeks earlier, wondering if that could have been my child. The claustrophobic panic that gripped me when I came home to find an empty dresser after I’d received an apocalyptic voicemail. If every person we meet teaches us something, he taught me what it feels like to be scolded by a bailiff to get off the floor in the lobby outside a courtroom when. He taught me that I have the kind of defensive reflexes you can only know you have once you’ve truly been afraid. He taught me how easy it is to allow someone to completely strip you of every sense of identity until you wake up one morning a pale shell with no memory of life.

The part that no one talks about is the horror of trying to remember who you were. That living like that is the easy part. It slips into your life one tiny sacrifice at a time. One unspoken sacrifice, one microscopic chip of self-esteem, until eventually there is nothing left for him to take. The friends who once cared have been ignored and mistreated for so long that they no longer have your phone number. The family who was concerned has been lied to in so many ways it seems impossible to even begin to tell them the truth. The things that once occupied your time have receded into oblivion and his needs, his whims, his thoughts and his manipulative logic are all that remains until he too is gone.

The truth is surviving is easy. Survival is instinct. Recovery is something entirely different.

Chapter 1

Chapter 1

“Have you ever tried to remember how someone looked to you before you knew them and just… not quite been able to remember it? That’s…. I don’t know. If I try, if I close my eyes really tight and I concentrate really hard I can almost picture him in a pair of red shorts, brown leather flip flops standing at the service desk talking about how he had to wear a shirt at the pool because of his tattoos. But it’s like, I can’t actually picture it, I mean I can, but all I can picture are the facts, you know? Like, I can’t really remember what he looked like. I remember flashes, like extreme close up shots of his teeth or the tattoo on his left hand; the black and purple spade with flames on the fleshy part between his thumb and forefinger. I remember the piece but I just can’t picture the whole…” She bent her head and twisted the tip of her right sneaker into the bodiless commercial carpet. “I just… there are so many reasons I’m here. How do I know where to start?”

“Well, you could start at the beginning.” In stark contrast to the slouching demeanor of the girl sitting across from her, the woman in a tailored grey pants suit was polished, stone-faced and clearly trying her best to maintain what she thought was a gentle and understanding tone.

“Yeah, but what the hell would the beginning be? You want to know how when I was like two and a half I let myself and my uncle’s dog out of the back yard and took him for a walk? I hardly see how that’s relevant, or would you like to know how when I was 14 I was living on a diet of Chipwiches and Snapple from the vending machine and how I quit cheerleading because I couldn’t hold my flyer anymore because I just didn’t have the strength due to malnutrition and the whole time all my family noticed was that I was looking so great because I was thin? “

“What’s a ‘Chipwhich’?”

The girl’s expression changed. Clearly amused, she said, “It’s this really awesome ice cream sandwich thing that has soft chocolate chip cookies for the outside and vanilla ice cream in the center and then the ice cream is coated in chocolate chips. I don’t think they make them anymore, which really sucks because the shit they do make is nowhere near is good. I mean, the cookies aren’t as big and no chips on the cream is just plain lazy in my opinion. I used to love how the solid frozenness of it used to pull the top wire of my braces out a little bit. I don’t know why but that was just a really satisfying feeling – rearranging the wire of my braces so that the pressure on my teeth changed. I mean, I used to just pull forward on the center of the top wire and I could just move it that way, you see the wire was cut wrong on the right side of my mouth so that it totally used to just stab me in the cheek like all of the time. Apparently seeing that a wire is sticking out like forty million inches from the back of the bracket is hard or something. It must be nice to be able to go to school for something, charge tons of money to render a service and just be absolutely awful at it but no one really cares because hey, you’re licensed.”

“So why are you here?”

“You know, when my parents got divorced their lawyers or something decided that I should go to therapy. Apparently they were trying to like figure out who screwed me up worse or whatever. But I got sent to this really fat black woman who just kept informing me that I looked sad and I only went once because that really pissed me off. So many people felt the need to comment on how sad I looked or kept ordering me to smile. When I got my job at Stop and Shop customers used to tell me all the time ‘You’re such a pretty girl, you should smile more’. Apparently beauty equals joy or something. Like, hey, my life is shit but at least I’m pretty! What the hell is wrong with people? I mean, really. Maybe I’m just not retarded enough to walk around with a massive smile on my face for absolutely no reason. Nobody is that happy. I don’t fucking buy it.”

“So you need a reason to be happy?”

“Yes.”

“Do you also need a reason to be sad?”

“Well, obviously.”

“What are you feeling if you don’t have a reason to be happy and you don’t have a reason to be sad?”

 “Did I ever tell you about how when I was little my grandparents used to go visit my grandmother’s parents and they usually took me with them? It’s weird, there are so many things I can’t remember, like I couldn’t begin to tell you what I had to eat yesterday and I forget words all the time, but I can remember almost every detail of that trailer. The apple trees out front, the out-of-date brown carpet in their living room, the closet behind Pop’s chair where they kept all the toys… I can tell you the layout of that entire trailer. They died when I was eight, so I feel like remember someplace I haven’t seen in an amount of time equivalent to three quarters of my life is kind of impressive.”

“You’re changing the subject.”

“You know, the last time I saw my great-grandmother before she broke her hip and entered the hospital for what turned out to be the rest of her life, she took the seven year old me around that trailer and let me have anything I wanted. It’s like she fucking knew, you know?” She wiped a stray tear from her left cheek and looked up at the ceiling. “Is something like that supposed to be traumatic? I mean, not the getting free shit part; I mean, obviously being given stuff isn’t traumatic. But like, are you supposed to be, I don’t know, scarred by great-grandparents dying when you’re eight years old?”

The therapist paused for a moment, studying the girl’s face. “Do you think you’re ‘traumatized’?”

“Is that all you’re going to do? Repeat what I say in the form of a question? Because I’m pretty sure I could just like…. have a kid and wait a few years for them to learn the shadow game and that’s like, free.”

As she opened the door to her car which was littered with trash, its back seat buried under a pile of forgotten belongings, the girl couldn’t help but let her mind wander to the things she couldn’t say; the things that found their way into her thoughts almost daily. As she dropped herself into the driver’s seat, she exhaled a large sigh and braced herself to face the drive home. As she pulled her door shut, she let the silent heat wash over her. There were so many things she wished she could say – so many things sitting at the back of her throat begging to be purged.  She sniffled, took a deep breath, twisted her body using the back of her seat as leverage to crack her back and turned the key in the ignition. Before putting the car in reverse she made eye contact with herself in the rear-view mirror. The eyes staring back at her, they looked nothing like the eyes she’d stared into as a teenager which had been her favorite feature. I used to be strong.  Tired and bloodshot, these eyes were flooded with tragedy and self-pity.