Didn’t See

Who does your hair?

He asked me from the hospital bed

What size shoe do you wear?

Me.

Size 9. Maybe bigger.

How do you get it to stay like that?

Days of oil and a rubber band.

Why did you look away?

I didn’t.

No, listen, I need you to believe I didn’t look away.

That’s not me.

I don’t look away from ugly scars.

Blood doesn’t bother me.

Decay and shit and desperation.

I don’t look away.

Why?

What did you see?

Tell me.

What did I let you see?

Before you leave.

Please.

Tell me what you didn’t see.

Can’t Talk Yet

Sometimes, World Poetry Day is missed because of brutal fucking ignorant mental illness lapses. Anxiety and depression. The pneumonia was easier, gang. By a mile.

Listening to confessions from a mother

And songs respecting the struggle of abortion

I cried

At least the baby didn’t die

She said

I smiled for the first time

In miles

She’s been in

The car with

Me

Us

Half of

Gone

Many times

Can’t talk about it

Not to someone

Being so nice

To me

An indicator

Of true illness

Doing it again

Misplacing comfort and kindness

Where I want spark

Two lengths of jumper cables

Battery leads corroded

Green

A color I knew

Wearing it in the crowd

Staring the stage

Wanting my own light

Coveting conversation

Forsaken for

Hugs that don’t need feet

Those come from both

Sets of Arms

I’m told

Cemented you chipped me

Not enough to be broken

But enough to be surrounded

By ceramic pieces

Mosaic

Disconnected enough

That every edges finds

Your soles

When you get out of bed

In the morning.

Can you sprain your

Diaphragm crying?

Or is that just

Heartache

Setting up housekeeping?

Rattling pans

And nailing down

Carpet

Planning to stay

Until the foundation

Gives

Tucked with wool

Set aside from

The destruction

Handed gently

Handled

Purpled with

Neglect

Color of a fresh

Bruise

Waiting for the

Ease of pain

That comes with

Greens and yellows.

Twitching to a

Touch

Melting to a

Mouth

Stealing comfort

Even though

It’s freely given.

Some things

Can’t talk about.

Not yet.

Pace

Where in the cadence

in the pace

in the place

does sorry fit?

In between a scream and a punch

Sinews are slight

Between clenched throat

Dug In fingers

No space to slip in

Behavioral condolences

I didn’t space 20 paces

To your none

And I know

I slapped leather to skin and demanded

satisfaction

Drew my gun first

And called out cowardice

So you couldn’t see

My quivering

But I’m not here

On this pitted ground

Alone

I followed when asked

And brought supplies

For the fight

Don’t call we unwound

For bracing for battle

When I only came first

With shields

I didn’t draw my sword

Until there was metal

I could taste

Because it was

On my lips

I didn’t put it there

But I enjoyed

The stinging cold

On my tongue

The blood it drew

disguised with wet warmth

The wintry war

Putting down arms

Putting them around

Each other if

There is any room

In the trench

For I’m sorry.

Take Care of Her – The End

Chapter 11 – The End

“Ow,” Gretchen said, plucking a white strand out of the part of her hair. There were so many white hairs now. She put the tweezers down. It was silly. Let it go. It had been years. The woman had become older and achier and heavier. The little girl hadn’t changed. Still five. Still wearing her bikini with the woman’s green t-shirt as a dress. Still only seen inside their home.

Their apartment was tiny now. Three rooms. They stayed close to home most days. Gretchen had found a job at the convenience store down the block. No one minded that the little girl came with her. Or if they did, no one said anything. The girl still liked to play in water. They left the city with the museum. She never got to play in the fountain again. There was a tub and the girl played in that. They walked to get groceries. They read books in bed. They saw no one but each other.

“Can we have pancakes?” the girl asked.

“Are we ever going to have something besides pancakes?” Gretchen asked.

“No,” the girl said. Then she laughed. It was the high, free giggle of pure happiness. Gretchen couldn’t help but laugh with her. But the work of laughing showed on the woman’s lined face.

“Honey, I’m tired. Is it okay if I lie down for another minute?”

“You won’t be too long?”

“I won’t be too long.” Gretchen shuffled down the hall to her bedroom. Her head ached. It did that a lot these days. They girl was sweet and tried to keep quiet when the woman needed the lights off. That lovely girl. Gretchen didn’t change clothes. Didn’t even take off her robe. I took all her strength to stand, so she lay down in bed, on top of the covers. The little girl was hunched on the edge of the bed. She always liked to stay close.

“I love you,” the little girl said.

“I love you,” Gretchen said. “I’ll see you when I wake up. Just a few minutes.”

The little girl scooted from the edge of the bed up to the pillow. She didn’t lie down, but sat up, holding Gretchen’s hand. The woman had squeezed the tiny hand once. It was tight. Too tight. Then the fingers relaxed.

When the men came to take the woman away in the black bag, there was no one else in the apartment. It took them hours to stomp around the tiny home. They talked too loud and were nosy. Everything got moved. The little girl stayed in the bed, still and quiet. No one saw her. Once they were gone, the little girl climbed under the covers and waited for the woman to come back. She hoped it wouldn’t take long. She didn’t like being alone.

Take Care of Her – Chapter 10

Chapter 10

When Gretchen woke up three hours later, she was lying on a hospital bed. The little girl sat on a chair in the corner of the room. Gretchen’s matted eyes opened and she smiled through her haze. The girl ran to her and collapsed against the stiff patterned gown. Gretchen cried and wrapped her arms around the small shaky body.

“Hi,” Gretchen said.

“I missed you,” the girl said.

“I missed you. Bunches.”

“Can we go home? You were asleep so long. I don’t like it here.”

“Me neither,” Gretchen said. “Let’s go.” She pulled down the covers and swung her legs over the edge. Her muscles pricked and pounded. She kicked and squirmed against the neural torture. The girl copied her spastic movements with twitches of her own squishy legs.

“Good morning,” the voice said as the nurse entered the room. “I have your meds.”

The little girl shook her head. She tucked herself behind the chair and started whispering. “No, no, no, no, no, no, no. If you take those, then I have to go away. For more than a long time. For longer than you were asleep. For forever. I don’t want to go away. I want to go home. I want to stay with you.”

The nurse handed Gretchen the pills in a small paper cup and a tiny plastic cup of water. Gretchen took them and hid them in cheek, then took a pretend drink of water. After she put down the water and the empty pill cup, she coughed into her fist.

“Hard to get those down,” she said, showing the lady in scrubs a wide-open and empty mouth.

Good job,” the nurse said. “Doctor Brandon is going to be in later. Ring if you need anything.” The nurse left and the room was quiet.

The little girl crept out from behind the chair. There were tears in her eyes. Gretchen showed the girl her hand. In her palm were the pills. Gretchen threw them across the room and they plinked against the linoleum floor. The girl smiled. Gretchen looked around the room. There was a cabinet in the corner. The girls ran to the door and inside in a pile were some regular street clothes. Gretchen pulled them on and shoved her feet in the shoes. She wasn’t sure that anything in this room was hers, but she didn’t care.

“Let’s go. Quick and quiet as you can now. Let’s see if we can sneak out without anyone seeing us. Think we can do it?” The little girl nodded with vigor. Gretchen squeezed the girl’s hand and they left.

They did it. They left together and went home. No one saw them.

Take Care of Her – Chapter 9

Chapter 9

The red dots on her phone never went away.  Gretchen hadn’t taken a call or acknowledged a voicemail or text in almost two weeks. She just couldn’t bear it – couldn’t fathom spending the day, or even an hour away from the girl. It was a life better than Gretchen ever imagined. Until one night, when the girl started crying.

“Honey, what is it?” The girl shook her head. “Tell me. Please. I bet if we talk about it you’ll feel better.”

The little girl sniffed into her pillow, burrowing herself deeper into the big bed. “I’m afraid you won’t be here.”

“What?” Gretchen asked, her heart sinking. “Baby, no. I’ll always be here.”

“I’m alone sometimes. And I get scared. I don’t like to be alone.”

Gretchen wrapped the girl in her arms. “You’re not alone. You’ll never be alone. I promise you. I will always take care of you.” The girl trembled and Gretchen felt the tears on her own skin. They cried together. Sometime in the night, they both fell asleep. Together. In the morning, they both went to see Rachel.

“I’m glad to see you. You missed appointments. I was concerned.” Rachel sat in the chair, notebook in her lap.

“I should have come earlier,” Gretchen said. “As soon as she came. I should have brought her in. Should have made you take to her. You didn’t believe me and I should have fought harder. This has to be so scary for her. I wasn’t a good enough mom.”

“It’s a great initiative you’ve taken. Really embracing this concept of caring for your inner child. You should be very proud of yourself.”

“This isn’t about me. It’s about her.”

“Yes. This of it this way, that by protecting and empowering the child of your inner self-“

“No. Stop your therapy shit. Her. Right there. I brought her in today. You have to work with her. She’s afraid. I want you to help her.”

“I’m not sure I understand.” Rachel leaned in to Gretchen. “Explain it to me.”

“What am I not explaining? Her. I know she’s struggling and I want you to help her.”

Gretchen turned to the little girl. “This is my friend, Rachel. I talk to her sometimes. And she helps me. I wanted her to meet you. Maybe you’d like to talk to her.”

The little girl shook her head. “You. I only like talking to you.”

“Gretchen,” Rachel said, “what’s going on?”

“I want you to talk to her. She doesn’t like me to leave, so I have to stay in the room. But maybe we could all talk-“

“Are you requesting some role play, or some dissociated-“

“I’m requesting that you acknowledge, that you look at and talk to this little girl. Right here. Right now.”

“Gretchen,” Rachel said, “we are the only ones in this room.”

“What is wrong with you? This beautiful little girl, who is scared and needs help and you’re acting like she’s not even there.”

“There is no little girl, Gretchen. There’s only you and me.”

Gretchen kneeled on the floor so she could be as close to the girl as possible.

“I don’t like it here anymore. I want to go home.” The little girl looked up to Gretchen with tears in her eyes.

“We’re going home,” Gretchen said. She stood and took the girl by the hand.

“Wait. Please,” Rachel said. “I’m sorry. I wasn’t listening. Can you give me a minute? I’ll help. I just want to get something. Something for her. I’ll be right back. I promise. I’ll help.”

Rachel left the room. Gretchen squeezed the girl’s hand.

Take Care of Her – Chapter 8

Chapter 8

“What should we have for dinner?” Gretchen asked to the backseat.

“Pancakes,” the girl answered.

“Silly. We already had pancakes today.”

“Do you have to go to work?” the little girl asked. “My mommy always has to go to work.”

Shit. She hadn’t thought about that. What was she going to do about work?

“No,” she decided. “I don’t have to work tomorrow. We can play all day.”

And they did. All the next day. And the day after. And then for the rest of the week. No work. Lots of pancakes.

Eventually, the ladies moved on from breakfast sweets. Broccoli was less than okay, the girl had decided. There was more success with the organic cauliflower, but only because Gretchen had found frozen versions that were purple and orange. Food came pretty easily. Maybe she had the makings of a mother after all. Gretchen had never been sold on the whole thing. It was something they had talked about, her and him, in bed, late at night. That seemed like a lifetime ago. She hadn’t thought about him or those times in what seemed like ages. Her current life was better. She couldn’t believe it. The lonely was gone.

Luckily, it wasn’t time for Gretchen to figure out how to handle school yet. That was going to be a task for another day. It made her chest ache just thinking about sending the girl away for an entire day. Pushing her off to a cold cement building with teachers who would never appreciate this little girl in her green shirt? No. They would stay here at home. Settle into their life. The pair of them. Silly monkey and lazy giraffe dancing while teeth brushing. Naming their favorite city landmarks, the tower building, the funnel that glowed with the weather changes, while Gretchen combed the gnarls out of the girl’s hair. She slept beside her all night and Gretchen had no idea what that child did in her sleep. It looked like it involved having a goblin building nests for dragon eggs among the curls.

Bedtime was their only struggle. Probably what caused the knots and twists and brush-defying hair. The girl was scared. The first few nights, they slept with the overhead light blazing in the bedroom. The girl was still scared. They’d graduated to sleeping with the closet light on and the door open. She couldn’t bear to be alone. Gretchen once had a weeping sack in front of her as she sat on the toilet, when she’d gone to the bathroom in the middle of the night and the little one was devastated to find herself under the covers without her grown-up.

No. No school. She’d keep the two of them cuddles up here for as long as it took until no one was scared anymore.