Exercise: Where Are You Now? pg. 29
I lie on the table, and the doctor, a female, opens my legs. She tells me it looks a little red. Aren’t they all red? I think, but I tell her okay. I say it encouragingly. I want her to know I won’t blame her if the news is bad. How does it feel when you have sex? she asks. I explain that I have not had sex in a long time.
Later that night, I tell Andrew about my doctor’s short dark hair and the diabetic identification bracelet on her wrist. I do not tell him that she has a twenty-two-year-old daughter, and that as she examined the lump in my groin, I grew to hate this other daughter, ten years younger than I, as distant to me then as I am to Andrew now.
Where have you gone? Andrew asks me this question often, though he does not always speak it. I hear him best then. I listen for the way he walks down the hallway toward our bedroom, the tap of his black boots against the wooden floor, or late at night I feel the weight of his body move through the house toward the kitchen. The secrets of his body are as clear as the water he drinks from large liter-sized cups. He offers me a sip, and I taste the plastic of the cup in the water. The room is dark. Where have you gone? he asks me, and I tell him in my faltering voice that I was thinking about tomorrow’s errands:
-shopping list (cat litter, chicken stock, two artichokes, cheap wine); -pick up packet of stamps to mail a birthday card to the best friend I never speak with; -get oil changed
I do not tell him that I miss my mother, and that sometimes when he touches my breasts I feel very sad.
pg. 14 Make a Phone List for Hard Times:
When any family member calls, I share only the good news. If there is no good news, I do not answer the phone.
My family does not call often. Everything is good, I tell my grandmother, and sometimes my father if he calls. I never know how much to tell or how little. I script our conversations. They begin with the normal pleasantries: Hello, how are you? Then I share just enough for them not to ask more: Work is hectic, but I like it. I finish with a perfunctory statement: Well, that’s the story. I drag out the sound of the last word to let them know it is time to hang up.
Last night I wanted to call my mother. I googled her, but she had no results. She has been dead for eight years. If I had been able to reach her, I would have asked if she had ever faked an orgasm. I find it relatively easy to do and sometimes preferable to waiting. I might not have told her it makes me sad that Andrew cannot tell the difference, and slightly relieved that the work is done, that I can return into myself.
pg. 10 A Letter of Encouragement From a Loved One:
May 30, 2015
RE: Brisance Amar
Dear Sir or Madam:
This letter is written to express our initial satisfaction with the services provided by Brie Amar. As a receptionist for the Used Automobile Organization of Minnesota, Brie was at the forefront of our operations. I had the opportunity to get to know her during this year, and I can recommend her as a hard-working, serious individual.
Brie has developed many skills since she first came to work at U.A.O.M. She still has room to grow in certain areas, like teamwork and remembering certain tasks. However, she is a valuable employee, dedicated and cheerful, we are sorry to see her go.
We recommend her heartily, and we wish her the best in her future endeavors.
Linda Wallis, Executive Director, U.A.O.M.
Exercise: Where Are You Now? pg. 41
It’s been three weeks. I still have not heard from my doctor. When I call to make sure they have the right number, they tell me, Yes, we have the right number. No, we cannot give you any results. I think about giving the lump a designation, but I am not good at naming things.
Andrew takes me to a dessert parlor. He knows sugar relieves me. Glazed donuts with ice cream flavors like Everything But The . . . and Midnight in Paris.
After we saw that movie, Andrew said I should put Woody Allen’s art in perspective because we weren’t in that mansion attic years ago, and who could really say what happened between him and his adopted daughter.
I told him my favorite Allen film was Everything You Wanted To Know About Sex . Gene Wilder falls in love with a ewe. Something about him lovesick for a sheep remains with me, long after Annie Hall smokes pot just so she can have sex, or Hemingway tells us men must hunt lions to be brave.
pg. 15 Things That Give Me Hope:
Wild quail in our backyard
Oprah? (Margaret’s suggestion)
Grapes half-frozen in the freezer
The scruff of my dog’s neck
Coming without thinking of being raped
pg. 40 If You Told:
When I was sixteen, I dated a boy named Jason who was six feet tall and thick-bodied. His face was covered in a bumpy Braille that I rubbed in the dark backseat of his black Camaro. The first night we kissed, I leaned against the emergency brake, disengaging it. It had been so long since I had touched another person who was not my stepfather. Jason listened to Stevie Ray Vaughan and shredded thirty-six-note guitar solos on his red lacquer Gibson. It is weird , he said, to date someone who has been abused . Later, he pushed my head into his lap because I told him I wanted to, not in so many words, but in the grind of my hips against his black jeans, his fat fingers looped around my hips.
pg. 12 Name Your Abuser:
Guven Jankur, Stepfather
Jean Jankur, Mother
pg. 30 Learning to Nurture Yourself:
Because Andrew and I live in suburbia, we are surrounded by same-faced houses and children’s parks. Our house is too silent, and he asks me to go on a walk in the rain. Water streams down our backs as we sneak into a small alcove with a corrugated roof. He sits in a corner beside a fake yellow wheel that steers nothing . I’m not happy, he says. I stand above him and peel off my wet dress. I remain only in my Garfield undies with the hole in the bottom. My hands cup my cold breasts. I shiver, but I want to offer him something he seems to need. He wraps his hands around my hips. You are so beautiful, he says. He pulls me down to him and holds me until the moment where something else could have happened passes. We are just two cold people ready to go home.
Exercise: Where Are You Now? pg. 35
I follow two women as they walk into one of the many pre-constructed IKEA apartment scenes. Wow, this place is enormous, the older woman says as she walks into a black-and-white themed city spread. I told you, Mom. They have everything here.
I linger near them, though the couch, at $899, is too pricey for a receptionist’s salary. The daughter opens a white storage cabinet. Look, I could hang the kids’ backpacks here. The mother nods, silently calculating the cost. It’s nice, she says. I know that before they are done walking the winding path through furniture, bedding, lighting, kitchenware, rugs, and gardening, they will have more than enough to furnish two houses, and the mother will pay for it all. I see them at the checkout lane, the daughter flushed, gazing around at the last-minute impulse-buy items wedged along the checkout stand, searching for final essentials. Her mother smiles politely as the cashier rings up the purchases. Perhaps she feels grateful she can start her daughter’s first home off right.
pg. 20 How Did You Survive?
I remember my mother liked living in hotels because of the food and maid service and how she could leave at the drop of a hat and a $20 tip. ($10 if the maid forgot to leave clean towels.) I still dream about the ugly watercolor above our beds, a small cabin on a river surrounded by dark trees. If my mother noticed the strange absence of any person in the paintings, she never said anything to me. No face peered at us out of the blank blue window, no young girl in a gingham dress, gathering watery poppies in the river-side field.
My mother always left our room in disarray: the Spanish-red duvet yanked around the foot of the bed, rough beige blanket tousled, tumblers etched with lipstick. I opened every bedside drawer to check for the complimentary bible. I delighted in the congruity. Once in a Syracuse motel, I could not sleep because I found the drawer empty.
We never touched the snack bar. Though I would often beg her for a small bag of peanut-butter pretzels, a can of cola, or a Toblerone bar, its long, gold container shaped like a toy pyramid. No, it is too expensive , she’d dismiss .
She told friends she loved collecting the tiny bottles of shampoo, conditioner, and body lotion. The occasional small sewing kit. We do, too! exclaimed her adult friends, people with names like Jane and Hank, who would smile and pat me on the head to let me know I was lucky to have a woman like my mother, lucky I was born to a woman who changes homes like dirty undergarments, this single gypsy of a mother. She is so strong, that woman, they marvel. Hers is a magic culled from the cities where she plants her short roots, turning the soil up to flee a freak rainstorm or a sudden cold front.
pg. 55 What is a Memory?
A list of things I forget: my tax return; to call my stepmother on Mother’s Day; the quiet woman’s name from group therapy. I remember laughing about something after Andrew and I first fucked , I just need to feel close to someone, I said, but I cannot recall what he did to make me laugh. Instead it has receded into my mind, haunting the gray space where sleep the litany of things I cannot remember, or as Margaret says, choose to forget. Trying to remember is like letting loose a balloon into the sky then tracing its tottering path into the atmosphere. My life is full of forgetting. People tell me this comes with the package, that is to say the body and its finite reserves of energy hinge on microscopic structures like mitochondria and synapses, that is to say forgetting is a natural event. Embrace it! My therapist gives me a bookmark with that inscription. I do not tell her I am one of those readers who fold the pages of stories over like origami.
Why do I remember only the strangest things? Today a woman at work I admire made up a lie when I invited her out to lunch. Oh, thanks, really, but I’m not taking a lunch today. I remember the disdain on her round face, how she smoothed her black skirt over her thin hips. In that gesture I heard her disgust. Why should I have to lie to you? Who are you? That night, when Andrew and I try to make love, it is my colleague’s face I see superimposed against the palm-shaped birthmark on his chest. I do not remember how he looked when he finally came, and it is only a few moments later that I return, when he kisses my neck and looks at my face and asks me, Where have you gone?
Exercise: Where Are You Now? pg. 69
I like to read on my phone before bed. What is a lump? A lump is the compact mass of a substance. I am not thinking of an ice cube floating in milk. I am thinking of cells shaped like apricots piling atop one another.
After Andrew falls asleep, I lie awake and look at the ceiling. The stucco forms constellations in the half-dark. I discover “Cat Eats Marshmallow,” “Shocked Baby Lizard,” “Flower With Droopy Petals” or “Umbrella,” depending on the available light.
When I drift off, I dream I have died. Everyone who’s ever wronged me attends my funeral, even my dead mother. A man I don’t recognize calls me the love of his life. My grandmother sings her version of “La Vie en Rose” to a huddled, bereft crowd . When the attendant begins to lower my casket, everyone cries into my grave until I float right out.
pg. 44 Guidelines for Telling:
Margaret teaches me a formula for how to connect with other people. I feel ____ when ____ because _____. I need _____. I think of the video where a girlfriend has an un-rusted nail in her forehead. My head hurts, she says, but I don’t know why , and All my sweaters have snags in them. Her boyfriend keeps trying to tell her it’s probably because she has a gigantic fucking nail lodged in her delicate forehead. You’re not listening, she says. This is not about the nail.
People need to feel heard, Margaret says. She divides all conversations into two piles: listening and reflection. You can’t parrot words, she says. She encourages me to share how I feel about anything. Doesn’t have to be about your sex life, she adds. I tell her something small, something I think I won’t miss.
Margaret dissects my response and voices me back to myself. In the clean, fluorescent office, she translates me into a language easily methodological, and I can see how someone might give their bodies to doctors like they are gods.
pg. 45 Learning To Trust Yourself:
Last night, I dreamed my mother was still alive. She needed money. How much are you living on every month? I asked. About $200K give or take , she said. I paced the hallway with Andrew, trying to figure out how to make the numbers work. I would have to get a job, I decided, I would have to get a job to support my mother. Unless you got me pregnant, I said. If you got me pregnant, then I’d have to stay home. He shook his head, throwing his hands up, I’m not getting you pregnant just so you don’t have to say no to your mother.
Back when I believed in God, I’d visit the interpreter, the Rabbi’s wife, every time I had what seemed like a portentous dream. She was trained in palmistry, face-reading, and dream analysis. She understood how the veins of your life traveled ore-like back through many lives, back to when you had been a spy who disrobed for secrets during wartime, and before, when you had been a slave with rough hands and a short, hard life.
The birthmark on my face, she told me, was a hole in my soul, a breach of insurmountable dark that I had caused in some past life and for which I would need to repent in this life. You will need to fill the hol e, she told me. Fill it with light.
But it wasn’t as easy as getting stoned under a sunlamp and soaking in the rays until you felt yourself tinged with heat and bright. The chasm could only be filled with esoteric deeds even Rachel could not enumerate. They would have to be good things, acts of sacrifice, but more than that, she could not tell me. Only that with every act, the hole would shrink a little, eventually leaving my face entirely clear of a mark.
Exercise: Where Are You Now? pg. 60
I have a fling with a man who threatens to beat me with a pillowcase full of oranges. On the drive back from lunch, I imagine the scent of citrus beaten into my skin, and it sounds strangely poetic.
When I was nine, my mother kneeled in an elevator to fellate my stepfather, while I waited in the car outside. Later, she told me he’d ordered her to do it. When my lover orders me to get down on all fours, I forget my mother’s story. I kneel.
I do not think about whether Andrew will take me back (he does), or how much I will have to hide (too much).
pg. 13 Coping Mechanisms: Underline those that apply to you
Write about a recent experience where you communicated with a loved one. pg. 65 Communication.
pg. 70 Naming Your Losses:
When I leave Andrew, he says, I knew you would do this, I have known it all along. He writes me a two-page letter. B--I knew you would do this, I have known it all along . . . You told me once you have always run. You are leaving because of your past. But I am not your past, B. I know you have been hurt, I know you are damaged, but I love you. He begs me to think it through; he tells me I will regret it. I will always be here, waiting, and later, when I am about to walk through the door, I see his face, pale and unshaven, I’m not always going to be around, you know.
Exercise: Where are you now? pg. 75
When my doctor calls, I am sitting on a used couch I found near my new apartment complex. Its rough orange fabric smells like smoke and coffee. It reminds me of my mother, as does the empty apartment where I now live month-to-month. I like knowing I can leave at the drop of a hat.
My doctor tells me the lump is, as she suspected, nothing. Yet I feel its large and slightly tender form hidden by my skin. It is not nothing, I think, as I touch it where I hardly ever touch myself.
pg. 85 Free Association Writing
My stepfather has a scar inside his mouth, a white mole bedded in the pale pink behind the curl of his bottom lip. I like to touch it, scrape it with my fingernail, stare at it. I scrape the flesh now, turning the red around it white. I got it from a fight in a bar over a woman.
I see the woman’s smoky hair, the bar’s wooden countertops, shot glasses rimmed with copper scrolling. My stepfather with the wave in his dark hair and the sharp light in his gold eyes, his nose crooked like an eagle. I imagine him fighting for this woman’s honor, three drunken, unshaven men circling him, the glitter of their eyes, the sheen in their grinning mouths. The woman squeezes my stepfather’s shoulder, whispering the requisite, Don’t do this. I imagine bodies tossed over shoulders like 1950s prom queens in heavy tulle, only these bodies are not caught and pulled into to a two-step embrace. They twirl into tall, hard bar stools, shatter against the dirty wooden floor.
My stepfather leaves then, limping, his right arm around the lady’s thin neck. I see them walking into the dark wooded park across the street and resting beneath a shapeless tree, its pale oak trunk bright in the moonlight. I imagine tight stars above them pressed deep in the sky, like gravel in a cut—and then he yanks me on his lap and jams his scar against my tongue, and I don’t imagine anything anymore.
pg. 1 INTRODUCTION: Beginning This Workbook
1. What did I do that I am proud of? Start working in this book .
2. I plan to do these exercises: alone .
3. What am I afraid of? _____.
4. What feelings do I have as I begin to work through this workbook? _____.