Shards of Rain
Life is easy on my mismatched, green, holey sneakers. The days are sunny, my shoes are comfy, and there’s a house party only an hour away. I’m on my third to last cigarette, plenty of time to exhale and exhale again. Shades of green trees line the streets, curtsying as the cars zoom by. The shades are less translucent than my posse, thick and real, their weight held by the earth. My backpack isn’t as light as these shades; as I pull it back up on my shoulders every each street I cross. The fam, my dark skinned individuals back on the sunny (South Saginaw, MI) side, calls this pack my circus, containing ten journals and a pet rat. I never know when I’ll run into one of my fellow writers. We always have time to share a bottle of wine and half a dime all night, reading poetry. I am carrying this burden of assumptions, walking across the Saginaw River, down East Genessee, to the east side. The breeze is gaining momentum. My jeans whip like a flag tied to my legs. On the next step my eyes lower to the cracked cement between cars and burned down businesses, and I notice that my shadow is missing. Up above, the clouds are gathering, having a party of their own. Oh, and did I mention I’m not alone? My company is several boys and girls, the girl with bright pink hair, giggling too much for my style, and the boys passing a brown paper bag bottle to their left, opposite of the street. Cars whizz by, and for some reason, I am rather embarrassed by these kids, more so than if I’d been by myself. Their shoes are noisy, their talk about music boring, their words cloud around my head thicker than the clouds above. I cannot think. I cannot breathe. I do not feel the rain coming down when I am walking alone. “Shiloh! Get over here!” They are sitting on the stoop of a tattoo shop, their faces soft and bored, and their lips pouting. I notice a razor hanging from the Jew’s neck. The Jew is a big guy, a couple of years older, who buys our cigarettes and beer. I went to his house once. At that time, his mother was the only Jewish fortune teller in Saginaw. He gave the razor to me as a present, when I became someone else who goes by the name of Ginger. Ginger had a shaved red head and a nose chain. She talked a lot, while Shiloh is a girl with long dark brown hair, who rarely talks at all. I had let him wear it for today. I am envious of the glimmer, too far from my heart, so I ask for it back. I am separated from them. They support a wall of conversation that does not contain my brick. I carve the word “wall” into my arm. I should have carved the word “bar,” because it’s shorter. Ginger would have thought of that, but Shiloh doesn’t think of these things. Regardless, wall, or bar, the rain won’t wash away the blood for a year.
The common fear of thunderstorms will brew in me for a long time after this night. The bolts are shooting down around me, each one planting bars of a mental prison. The thunder is shaking reality into bits and pieces of memory, each reflecting shard falling into puddles around my feet. All I have is the journal tucked under my arm. The nurses had adorned me in baby blue pajamas, the shade of a childhood sky. The nice lady had taken my ballpoint pen, and now I sit in a chair two times my size, my slippered feet swinging off the edge. Fingering the thin, blue material, I count patterned squares in the carpet. 67 and ½. Given or taken, for the lightning and thunder interrupts my count, rattling the three inch thick glass where I rest my head upon. The room appears as a dentist’s room, but a tad bit more comfortable, with a television behind a glass screen, boxes of puzzles, books, chairs piled with pillows and blankets, and a table littered with juice boxes, milk cartons, and single gram cracker wrappers. I forget what I am waiting for, but the nerves of impatience cause my fingers to drum on the worn wooden arm of my chair. I wait for change. Distant footsteps introduce a thin black girl wearing normal clothes, blue jeans and a sweater, with worn shoes. She drags in four garbage bags of clothes, two in each fist, and sits next to me, also waiting. “How long have you been here,” I ask, eyeing her warm jeans. “Two years,” she says quietly, gazing at poster with flat flowers, her lips tightening into a straight line. “Goin’ home?” “Naw, I just turned eighteen. They shippin’ me upstate.”
I'm sleeping in a stripped bed, the plastic mattress squeaks when I turn my body. Every hour the security guard cracks open the door, shining the flashlight, revealing my squirming silhouette. A large black woman is masturbating in the bed next to mine, grunting in her activities. I concentrate on the crickets, which I can still hear through the glass and brick. I am a spectator of their symphony, and finally nap in a soft patch of grass next to a bubbling river. I am still as the night, doing my best not to move, not to rub against the mattress. My dreams are of highest quality. I wake to fists pounding my face in, but I only welcome the hot tears, while the blood tickles, trickling down my cheek. Somewhere I hear screams, but I am laughing, I am comfortable, I am somewhere else.
I wait by the phones. They are constantly occupied, patients cradled in plastic chairs, their twisted faces weeping into their stiff bath robes. We are lined up along a brick wall; there are only three booths for the sixteen of us. I am one of those who rarely call home, but rather call my people stationed in separate wings within the facility. We plan shit. When I’m on lockdown, they report the weather, who’s strapped down, who overdosed, who’s going home, who’s being shipped upstate. Often we plan escape routes and drug traffic. My teddy bear, Fluffy, has been a mule for the past six months. Today, I plan to call Rob, one of the many forbidden boyfriends I’ve had this year, because relationships run short. We run around; if we’re lucky, have a quicky in the bushes, until we are banned from each other after getting caught. Then I find someone else, usually the new patient, because they know nothing. Crouched against the brick wall, I’m fingering his four digit number on my sweaty palm. He came back from a home visit, and rumor has it he’s got some good shit with him. Suddenly, one patient is pried from the phone after wailing too loudly to her father about being raped two years ago, and the phone rings. I look to my right and then to my left, waiting for someone else to answer it. I let it ring, waiting for it to stop, because I’m next in line. After fifteen rings, I answer it. “Yeah?” “Shiloh? Is that you?” The voice is one of the few I have had the blessing of remembering. It is soft and warm, coming from the heart of my mother. I know now, I won’t get to talk to Rob today. “Hi, Mom.” “How are you?” I imagine the Christmas tree in their living room, but I cannot remember what the room looks like. I imagine my own version, placing smiles on my sister and brother. My dad is cracking jokes at the dinner table. In reality, my parents would be separated in three months. “I’m here.” What else would I say? I am getting by, through what pleasures I can steal from the security guards eye. “Did you receive the present I bought you?” “No.” Now it’s my turn to curl my body up in the chair, my face towards the brick wall. The fact that she brought me a present means that she was here. No one tells me these things. I even receive her letters weeks later, after the staff has read them. “They didn’t give it to you? I bought you a plant!” I could hear her smiling. In here, I learned to read body language very well. Things usually meant the opposite; because there was the ideal patient we were all trying to be, because the ideal patient got released. It hurts to hear a real smile. “How come you didn’t come see me?” “I couldn’t see you. It wasn’t during visiting hours.” Down the hall I spy Sue, a nurse that I didn’t particularly like. She is a middle-aged woman who always wears skin-tight black pants with an oversized sweater. She now pretends to read the paper, and we meet eyes every five minutes. I know she is watching my every move. I’m on double watch, and two people watch me at all times. That is when I stopped shaving. I think of these things every time our eyes meet, hers painted black, mine puffy. In this paranoia, I can’t hear my mother on the other line. Next time she lowers that paper, I give her the middle finger under my chin, then my hand becomes a gun that shoots my head, and I motion sliding a razor across my wrists. I’m on the ground. Don’t remember why. My chin grinds into the carpet. I think of my mother, when they handcuff me to the bed. I see her in the ceiling, in the dull gray sky contained in a square window. I wanted my present. That is all I wanted. The present is a real Christmas tree, a miniature pine tree that goes up to my waist, decorated with tiny ornaments and a red ribbon tied around the shimmering pot. By the time I received it, the tree had been raped. They removed the ornaments with hooks on them, and had even uprooted the tree from the pot, to search the soil. The tree was already drying up, because it sat in the nurse’s station, and no one had bothered to water it.
This New Year’s Eve, I will taste a woman. Mary had copped sleeping pills from the schitsophrenic down the hall, and we crushed them, and then put them in the night staff’s coffee around nine pm. We weren’t sure if the pills were going to react over the caffeine, but the guard was knocked out half an hour before the stroke of midnight. Mary and I sat Indian style on her bed, playing Uno. Hyper, I start a pillow fight. Every fifteen minutes we poke our heads out the hallway, but no security. In the dark silence, the confessions came. “I am in love with a woman.” she says, blushing. She is the whitest girl I had ever met, with red lips. She snorts when she laughs. “You have no choice but to love a woman,” I say, “unless you wanna be manhandled like me.” They had finally put me on sexual alert, and I could not be alone with any boys. “I don’t know how to love a woman.” “It’s easy, you’re a woman. You know what a woman wants.” I had learned what a woman wants by being tight with the most popular lesbian in Detroit. On her home visits, she parties hard, and had once masturbated on the stage of a Gwar concert. “Show me how.” I tell her the anatomy of a woman, and the power of the pivotal clit, what I believe to be the key to any relationship. “Where is it?” We run to the door then to check on our dreaming security officer. We even step up to him, and touch his cheek. After his dreams linger, we tiptoe back to our room and close our door. Now we just have the other girls to worry about. I proceed to casually take my pajamas off and then my panties, and show her my clit. “What is so special about that?” “Have you ever touched yours?” “No.” “Try it, use your finger…” I proceeded to show her how to masturbate. “How do I touch another woman?” “You don’t, you use your tongue.” Mary learned to masturbate, and I learned that vaginas come in more varieties than do penises. She became a lesbian then, and dated her first girlfriend for over a year. I thought about how moist women are, and how their femininity cannot remain dry. I continued to collect lesbians like I did Bazooka Joe cartoon gum wrappers, by fertilizing their lovemaking and writing their love letters.
Upstate is a bedroom, the kind of bedroom furnished with plain twin beds fitted with plain colored sheets and plain dressers with pictures of painted flowers hanging above them. One window held a view of Saginaw in all its nightly pleasures and secrets. Two other women accompany me in this room. At night, listening to their soft weeping and snores, I spy under the flickering streetlights cats prowling across the street, dreaming of their freedom. Though there aren't bars, there are still walls, walls with doors that I am legally not allowed to come and go through without permission. However, there are enough loopholes, enough moments apart from eyes and cameras that nurture privacy, nurture dreams long ago dormant. These brief moments give me enough time to scratch my ass or pick my nose without a staff worker jotting down my every move.
Not a pleasant place to grow love. Love and I would climb out of windows and crawl across rooftops when the heat of the night became too much for us. We met upon the roof, in between days, to create new lives. It is especially exciting when it rained. I would climb out of the window; get my tank top caught on a nail, while the cold rain beats down my back. His crackhead roommate, the lookout guy, would laugh at me from across the horizontal layers of rain as I trekked across the slippery tar on bare feet. On good nights, when the one-man night staff fell asleep dreaming of relapses, we’d go for a run on the town. Sometimes those nights would stretch too long, and we'd creep in during the morning smoke break, casually puffing a cigarette on the stoop, watching the sun come up.
Yet, now we are here, lying down on a field, waiting for the sun to come up, hours away from the smoking stoop. My bones shivering, because he isn’t warm enough. Because he isn’t enough. The rain falls like a ton of gravel on top the single sheet thrown over our entwined bodies. We pin down the edges under our weight to make a tent over the tickling wet grass.
“When is the train coming?” I ask, my eyes burning beneath the pattering rain that is massaging my whole body. I shift my body, numbing one side, and then press it against him, to bring the numbness to life, while the other side numbs.
Time is not a factor when one defines their own schedules, and my schedule says sleep. So I sleep, knowing the train will never come.
Corey will come. I wait outside the hospital, staring at an empty parking lot, wishing it would rain. Then I would appear miserable, my hair would be stringy, given that tragic sexy look of a woman caught in a tree, in the rain, in a parking lot. He would embrace me, and I, somehow, would be wearing heels, lifting one foot in the air. Then the credits would roll down, and Sara Jessica Parker would be playing me. But, that would never happen. I sit on the cement curb and cry. I imagine I hear the rain this time, and this is odd, because it isn’t raining. The rain is remnants of my past seeping into my hair, tiny shards reflecting stories. While most people’s expectations exist in their futures, mine exist in the past. I count on the past’s truth because it has already happened, but I don’t count on when it will happen again. Jeffrey never came, and I expect Corey not to come, but I cannot count on such simplicity. The future is my guide, we walk hand in hand. She opens doors for me. She is a He, sometimes. I am not holding his hand right now. The past is a dark familiar. I never know when I’m there or when I will go there again. Now, a memory is within the curtain of my hair over my face, a transparent ghost appears in disconnected shards that tell bits and pieces. I have the scars to prove it, dashes across my arms, legs, chest, hips. I see them in the shade of my hair. I have been here before, when Here wasn’t here but was somewhere else. It’s all the same.
This is when I lose my mind. How is it the dark familiar finds me disconnected?
My reflection is expected from past experience, but today is cracking this dusty mirror. The image is a jagged past, veiling my future with a false reality. These past familiars blur reality into an unsatisfying ignorance. Like the day, full of sun, full of rain. I follow the familiar, cradle his hand in mine. I sit on the curb, holding his hand, my head bent, staring into the darkness between my thighs. Tears drop to the cement, hot and real. I remember so much more than what I see.
He pulls up in his car. The tires grind against loose gravel. That noise is always real. His soft boyish face, the head leaning against the steering wheel, twists in concern for me. That body is real, and I give it many names. It walks over to me. Those hands, calloused and soft, pry my stubborn arms from around my knees. All of the names brushed my lips. I am kissing many boys, some who drive cars, and some who ride bikes. They all embrace me, and tell me to never look that tragic again. But this is a tragedy. Pieces of reality, the boyish face, the gravel, the sunshine. They are cracking the familiar. The collision of reality and the past insert a shard of my fiancé into my heart. This boy outshines them all, the shard more vivid than the blue eyes that are looking into mine, and the kiss more real than the lips that are tasting mine.
The familiar is my fiancé, who once left me in this parking lot to drive a Mercedes over ninety miles an hour into a tree. His smile is more beautiful than the smile Death now grants his borrowed human skull.
Grey water sits in a bath tub. When the water is hot enough, when the submerging of my body into the grey blesses me with a brief burning sensation, I lean back to count the cracks on the ceiling above. My hair is boy-cut, so the cold back balances it out. Sometimes I shoot water up from between my teeth, so that fat bubbles collect in the cracks and slide, drip down onto my breasts and face. My wedding ring sits on the cold mouth of the toilet. The same pair of pajamas, white with blue stripes, are thrown over the antique heater, and my pink slippers, one right side up, and one upside down, just so, about two feet from the cream plastered walls. I had drawn a map of the bathroom in my journal; so that I will remember exactly how to properly prevent a future I had not accepted from arriving. I carry this mirror as if it were my life. Thus, every Tuesday night, at precisely 6:13 pm, I draw a bath. At the moment, I am living in what most people would call a half-way house, in between my past and future, a place where the two realities get all twisted. I was court ordered to be rehabilitated for two years, so I live with eight other women, and have two roommates. To prevent any quarrels over the bathroom, I permit them to shower first at night, so I always have 6:13 to myself. Every Tuesday, for 6 months, I never heard one of the males during smoking break tell the security guard my fiancé is coming to get me. I never miss my ride. He never drives into a tree. In fact, he is still on his way to come get me. I never understand the sad faces, the half smiles, the flowers, the visitations. He is still on his way. I have been bathing for six months waiting.
Then a shard of reality cracks the mirror.
One of my roommates has to use the bathroom. I have been smoking a cigarette by the window about ten minutes after my bath, when she barges in. She is a middle aged woman, around fifty or so, and so she announces all of her movements with groans and farts. When she sits down, she is one of those whom you are afraid is never going to get up. My wedding ring clatters to the tile floor. I am still sitting in the corner, smoking my cigarette, but her groans are too loud. Her twisted face too real. He is too gone. I stay in the bathroom for many hours, rejecting group therapy time when they knock on my bedroom door. When the sun sinks, I tie pantyhose in two slipknots, place my neck in one, a plant hook in the other, and kick the chair I am standing on over.
Reflections after the pantyhose snapped
It is now necessary that I explain myself in the speed of time, that I explain the series of changes that take place after the pantyhose snaps. I had been trying to kill myself since age thirteen. ·first with over two hundred of my father's pills, ·then with three layers of stitches in my wrist, ·then almost shooting my brother in the head because I wanted to see how fast a bullet would go through my skull, ·not to mention the amateur task of holding my breath under water as a toddler.
Thus, having had the rope snapped, having not cut the main vein bulging between my slit flesh, pinching that vein, watching my arm turn white, knowing if I cut it, that's it, having not shot myself in the head, I decided that I didn't want to die. My past had failed me, had returned with promises of false deaths. I don't decide to walk away from past, I see a glimpse of myself for the first time without the distortions of those shards reflecting false, past, realities.
The morning after the pantyhose snapped,
·I hear the birds twittering just outside my window, ·and feel a pang in my side. ·I also miss my mother, something I'm not used to. ·When I look in the bathroom mirror, I am fat. ·My face is round, my cheeks bulge slightly, ·and I can’t touch my toes, much less see them. ·When I get on the scale, I am nearly one hundred and ninety pounds.
I never thought I was fat. I never looked at myself in the mirror without trying to cover myself up. Later that month, a group worker called me fat. That confirmed it. When I refuse to go to group therapy again that morning, he laughes, saying “I tell you what, if you work out during the entire time of the group, you don’t have to go to group.”
That first month I lost thirty pounds.
I never understand why a cracked mirror projects a clearer reflection of the present, but it does.
I haven’t been to school for over a year and decide to go. I am nineteen, still in rehabilitation. The rule is as follows: absolutely no outside trips by yourself without a rehabilitation worker or your case worker. At this point, my case worker and I are tight. She’s been with me since I was thirteen, holding my bloody hand on the side of a hospital bed, and arriving to my treatment meetings all over Michigan. So, on a weekly visit, I tell her they, the rehab, entrusts me to enroll in school, and she believes me. The next morning I leave on a bus to school after breakfast, declining to do my chores, and ignoring their threats to call the police, yelling down the street as I run to the farthest bust stop. After weeks of daily drug testing, they kick me out. I move into a foster home and get a job on the night shift, while going to school daily, and taking night classes before work. I always carry a switchblade in my sleeve, because I have seen almost as much blood during night school as I had within hospitals. One girl gives me friendship, the kind that doesn't involve any pussy, during high school. She has different shards in her mirror that brings her to these dark halls of adult education. A couple early pregnancies and her man being in jail. We laugh over our frustrations as she braids my hair back for my graduation ceremony, while I chug on a forty o. I had been declared valedictorian, and though it isn’t over an average public high school, I am still proud because I had previously dropped out of school. I had been told to write a speech, and I did, but it was rejected. The speech wasn’t a negative speech; I was just trying to touch the hearts of the hooligans, to speak to them about why school is important. These cats sell drugs on the corner; these cats are the ones who are wanted city-wide; these cats are the ones who fire the gun in the local shootings. I’ve seen them come and go. I've held one’s hand as he cried because his boy was fleeing parole. He was laughing at the same time, remembering when they stole their first car together. These are the kids I am graduating with. Junkies, pregnant women, killers, juvenile delinquents. The prom had even been canceled for the past four years due to violence. I read my speech, but no one hears. Everyone is yelling over each other, throwing basketballs and books in the air. I read the speech that had been rejected. I am tipsy to say the least, having drunk all morning, and my heels dig into my pinky toes. I have a photograph of my sister, brother, and I. It sits in one of my mother’s shoeboxes.
In the past few years, I am still collecting photographs, some that fit into frames, and some that fade into memory and become silhouettes of emotion, like déjà vu. The feelings are familiar, but I don't remember why, often until months or years afterwards. For example, for six years, I couldn't have anyone hug me or touch my back. Then, when I am hospitalized for suicidal intentions, I remember. The police asked me to come with them into the ambulance. I eyed their handcuffs dangling from their belts, and remember the fights I've had with them in the past. One always stands by, while the other jerks my shoulders around. I always swung with my right fist, and because most cops know this, they would knee me in my back to the floor, and pin down while they hand cuff me, my chin rubbing into the cement or rug, or wherever else I happened to have been arrested. The next time someone hugged me, I realized that it was that nook in my back that was being touched, where so many knees held my ass down. Then, miraculously, I let it go. Their knees have been holding me down all these years, but they had released me long ago. I had once dreaded back massages and felt stiff hugging my own mother. Least to say, I just learned how to enjoy having sex about three years ago. Another example is the fear of waiting. I never knew what I had been waiting for, but when I realized that whatever I had been waiting for was never going to arrive, I began walking on my own, never staying in one place. I let the train pass, I let my love die, I quit riding time. I now wait only for opportunity. I am waving at the world in the passenger seat of a fellow college student’s car. Okay, a stranger’s car. But he is a college student. This time is different, I swear. The bus doesn’t ride past 5:00, but my first class ended at 5:00, and usually I left early, but this time I didn’t. I have a destination; I have a home, and got a ride. It’s funny, when you have a moral reason for getting a ride, it isn’t hitch-hiking. Hitch-hiking is when you’re searching for drugs, for a party, for a lay, for a lover. You have to pay a fee sometimes for hitch hiking, or they’ll drop you off at a rest stop. But I have to go home to do homework. My mother is there waiting for me, and she doesn’t need to be in the rain to love me. He drops me off at the bus stop, and there I wait for some time, counting the raindrops that cling to the glass.