I remember the way the lighting changed through my closed eyelids as he stood in the door frame. He was a tall man, my father. I remember trying to keep my eyes from squeezing too tightly shut when he blocked out the hallway glare…if he noticed I was awake, it could change the rules to the game. And everything was a game. The rules would be hinted at, if I was fortunate, in the first 10 minutes or so. Some nights I was not fortunate.
Most nights he wanted me to pretend I was asleep. I’d like to say I was very good at faking, but really, I’m sure he saw what he wanted to see, and ignored the rest. Anyone who can fuck a five-year-old is ignoring something.
He blocked out the light from the hall. I can smell the Camel cigarettes as he closes in on me. His weight settles on the foot of the bed, and my body shifts slightly to the left. I work to hold my limbs loose, so they roll and fall in a weighted, sleeping way. His hand moves over the blanket, and rests heavy on my calf. As if setting off ripples on the surface of a still pond, my body stops feeling in waves. The temperature goes first, but no amount of numb can fully quell a Ponchatoula summer. My body sweats in panic and humidity. Then I lose the ability to feel pressure against my skin. Is his hand still touching me? I can’t tell anymore. It won’t matter soon, anyways.
I hear the blankets moving, and know he must be progressing onward. I plunge deep within myself. Hide…hide! I dig through memories of happier times-what time isn’t happier than right now? I see Allison and Alex running across the yard towards the old rope swing that my mother hates because it stains our clothes. Grandma Carrie stands on the patio out front, chain smoking and holding a glass of some iced liquid. The air is stagnant. A dragonfly rests on the dry fountain, perched and tipping slightly every few seconds, as if adjusting for takeoff. But it’s getting darker somehow, and I can feel warm rising from between my legs.
I’d hope it was just nightmares. Nightmares aren’t real. Years of oddly specific, extremely graphic material via dreams that I’d never seen before but happened to make up. I did have a wild imagination. Maybe I’d just made it all up. Kids lie all the time.
Do people really sleep through rape? I feel like most people would wake up.
He coughs in my face, and I know I must have squinted, because I am pushed deeper into the bed. He doesn’t want to see my face. I’m a bad girl, and I do bad things. I must. Otherwise why would he do this to me?
I make lists in my head of ways to be better-ways to be good. Make my bed. Clear my plate. Pick up my toys. Wash my hands. Look after the kids. Help make lunch.
A pain shoots through my spine, exploding out of my head. I bite my tongue to not cry out. It tastes metallic. I feel the outline of my body jostle up and down over the sheets, pillows becoming blocks against free flowing air.
I choose to stop feeling. Then I start explaining to myself in the only thing I understand: lies.
This isn’t happening. You’re making this up. Daddy loves you, and this isn’t happening. It’s not happening. Why do you make up things? You are such a little liar. Liar! No one will believe you anyways, because you’re always lying. If you tell, they’ll know how bad you are, how much trouble you’re in. Then you’ll really get it.
I get it regardless. And time slips away…
I’m sticky, lost in a tumble of bedding. The sun must be rising because the windows are starting to let pale light seep in from the bottom. I hear the rattled snoring of safety, broken by his occasional hacking cough from years of bad habits. I slide out of bed, and into the bathroom. My feet feel tingly against the tiles, and I try to find more feelings. It’s harder to come back every time. My body betrays me, and I don’t want to feel it anyway. I hate it. I hate me.
The toilet paper clumps together when I try to clean off. I don’t understand these smells or what it all means, only that it’s all my fault. I don’t know what I did wrong, but I need to try harder to do better. To be better.
I remember missing my mother.
In the daylight, I know I must have made it up. Night obscures the truth and I fall victim to my own wild stories and tall tales. “She’s so creative” translates into “don’t trust anything she says” and I keep my secrets. I keep his secrets. I keep all the secrets, close, in my heart, so there is no room for anything else.