Meant to Disturb
I should have been happy then. Picture it a perfect past: I’m in honors and I’m on the swim team even though I am not a good swimmer. They let me race on the C team. I keep swimming into the other lanes and bumping the ropes. But still, I’m not bad, and I’m in the orchestra and band too. But last night, Mom pulled a knife on me and said, “I could kill you, you know.” She was cooking dinner, and she just showed the blade to me and pointed it at my chest, still bloody from trying to saw the meat off the butt of the ox-tail, as if that was going to stretch over to eight people. There’s no way to take this thought, “My mother wishes I was dead,” and turn it into anything bright and shiny. Part of me is turning into stone, but part of me has taken to sawing at my arm with my penknife.
I was telling you this story about the past, but I want to tell you that it is thirty years later now and Rebecca is dead, and Lacy is gone and I am sure she is dead or I want to know where she is! And Ricky was in jail for drugs and Juana went somewhere and Ramiro married Spooky and works for the gas company. See, I wrote Juana and Ramiro into this story, but you should know I’m making that shit up. ’Cause Juana wasn’t allowed to come out with us after a while, her parents kept her in the house, and Ramiro was tempted for a while, but he went back to Spooky. What I’m saying is, to make this ugly story a little less ugly I’m putting in my Mexican friends, but the truth is that they stayed away from us for the most part, because we were the dangerous ones. Me and Lacy and Rebecca. And the Mexican kids weren’t really our friends, I am just pretending for a minute that they were not always a little afraid of us, and something in them was always curling away from us. But I’ll tell you the story. Just read it, and then pretend you are watching another Hollywood movie where the kids are just so multicultural and sweetly ghetto, noble and brave and misunderstood. Then take the noble, brave and misunderstood Mexicans out and put them back into their clean houses filled with cooking dinners where we never entered where they actually were, being goody-goodies. Who was really there were the trashy white kids fucked up and ugly and being true to cliché, high on something, with nobody looking at them with a camera and making it romantic. Let me take you back to the past, where I’ll tell you a fake story that makes me sound tough and just a little crazy, but it’s a lie. I’m telling you it’s a lie, because really, I was just all crazy.
I’m back in the past again. See? I’m in control and I am going to show you my life like it’s better than it is. I sound TOUGH! See, BITCH? I’m from DETROIT. So don’t FUCK WITH ME! Are you scared? I’m making it up, ’cause I’m a liar. Tonight I’m sitting on Lacy’s front porch on Whittaker Street, Southwest Side, two miles from the Detroit River and the Ambassador Bridge to Canada, and 93 million miles away from the nearest star. Juana, Lacy, Rebecca and I all have the idea of carving our boyfriends’ initials on our arms. It’s probably Rebecca’s idea, but I already know that somehow I’m going to make it seem like mine. I do this a lot. Fucking Rebecca will say something stupid like “Let’s see if the school is open.” But I’ll be the one who breaks the locker room window in and starts trying to flush the volleyballs down the boys’ locker room toilets. And I never get caught. Fucking Rebecca just got off two weeks of punishment for bringing JR up to her attic when she thought her mom wasn’t home. Stupid bitch. She’s my best friend, but she can be so fucking stupid. She can be flat-out dangerous.
So I take my knife, actually Ramiro gave it to me; it’s not even a Swiss Army knife. It’s just a penknife, black, with ridges and a little silver oval of a nameplate I polish with the tail of my flannel shirt. I’m working on the “R,” but it’s not going well. When we started cutting the boys’ initials on our arms, we were just going to make tiny tattoos, so we’d all have them.
But I get a little jolt when I make the one clean line for the “R.” As I slice into the skin the pain moves all the way up my arm like an electric charge. I watch the blood seeping up in a line, like a seam ripping open. The fresh jolt feels hot and sharp—even better than straight liquor. I’m floating, and everything seems laughable. I laugh out loud. I hear Juana, Rebecca, Lacy and now Ramiro laughing too. But then I get to the round part of the “R” and I just can’t make a clean cut. I take a sip of the horrible ouzo Rebecca stole from her parents, and a “V” of birds flies overhead, black construction paper cutouts, fleeing shadows. I want to follow them.
I look at my handiwork, and my hand moves of its own accord; the knife is digging into my arm like it needs to be scraped off for a lamb sandwich at the Golden Fleece. We’re just meat, I think. A flap of skin moves aside, and a red bloom bubbles up.
“Felicia! What the Fuck!” Rebecca shouts, but I wave her off and sit back on the cement steps. I’ve broken through the dull buzz of the ouzo, and the mellow high of Benny and Abel’s best primo hash. Cutting is a high that sends me somewhere else entirely and I am glad to be gone. I see a long, dark hallway, and I run as fast as I can and I slip through to the other side. Everything is completely clear. At the end of the hallway is a stage, burnished, light-colored oak, lit with soft rose footlights. I can’t see the audience, but I can sense them, hushed, waiting. They’re here to see me. I’m not wearing my flannel and jeans anymore, but a dress, pewter-grey-blue, low cut, no surgery scars now. It’s me. I lift my arms. Maybe I’m going to conduct an orchestra. Maybe I’m about to find out something important. But I hear something. It’s Mom, in the corner of the stage. “You. Are. Not. Allowed. Out. Get. Back. In. the. Kitchen.” She speaks like some weird marionette. Then her voice changes, her face contorts. “You fucking bitch.”
“Godammit Felicia!” Rebecca is screaming. “Come out of it! Ramiro, give this crazy bitch your bandana!”
I feel pressure on my arm, and I see Ramiro’s thumb, holding down his bandana. Blood’s still seeping through it, but I’m no longer in that other place. I push Rebecca back and shake off Ramiro’s arm.
“I’m fine.” Juana and Lacy are passing a joint back and forth, but Rebecca actually looks worried.
“Here. Let me look at that.” I see a look of doubt in Ramiro’s eyes. But I shrug and pull my knife out again. “Relax, you guys. See? Easy.” I slice down once, deep, and the “R” is complete. The “H” is easy, three quick cuts, and a pair of perfect letters paint themselves on my skin. R.H. Ramiro Hernandez. I raise my eyebrows and signal Ramiro to tie the bandana on my arm. “We all agreed to give ourselves tattoos, and now you’re all freaking out about nothing.” I wipe the blade off on the bandanna and flip it closed. Rebecca, Lacy and Juana have their knives out too, but their mini tattoos barely need band aids. Little pussies.
“Crazy bitch.” Ramiro bends over and kisses me.
His mouth moves over mine, and I feel his lips, hot and insistent, but I’m not feeling it. I’ve been holding back, I realize I can be in two places at once. I’m seeing the red lines blooming on my arm, and I’m walking down the empty stage again. Mother is locked behind a gunmetal grey door this time. The stage is empty, clean. Just me present. I can be in this place, and nobody needs to know it.
My lips move in response to Ramiro. It’s automatic, but I don’t want him opening his eyes and seeing I’m not there again, so I lean into him and open my mouth a little wider, letting him deepen the kiss.
“Damn girl!” Ramiro’s eyes are hooded; I can tell he’s excited. Rebecca laughs and waves her cigarette like a wand, magically producing a set of keys, which she tosses to Ramiro. “Don’t smoke in my dad’s car!” She sidelong glances at me, and she’s smiling so wide I can see her gold tooth. “I guess he likes your tattoo,” she whispers. And then louder. “Go on, you two.” She dismisses us with a wave and turns back to Juana and Lacy.
“Come on girl.” I let Ramiro pull me up, and I don’t pull away when he slips his hand into my back pocket and squeezes. He peers around into my face. “Do I have the right girl?” He jokes and smoothes the hair out of my eyes. We’re by the car now, away from Lacy’s porch and down the street a few houses. I slowly turn my body towards him. I take his other hand, and guide it towards my other back pocket. When he squeezes again, I let myself completely press into him. I can feel his heat. I look directly at him. “Oh, it’s definitely me.” I drop my eyes a fraction, and see his Adam’s apple move up and down in a gulp.
He takes the last two steps to the car in record time and wrenches the door open for me. I’m barely in before he’s slamming the door, and nearly sprinting to the driver’s side.
We turn left on Vernor Avenue, so I know we’re headed towards the parking lot by the abandoned Rec Center. It’s almost all the way dark now; the smoke stacks at the River Rouge Ford Plant are fading into the night sky. I can’t think of a single reason to tell Ramiro to turn the car around, and take me home. He puts his hand on my thigh, and I slide over and lean my head on his shoulder. I watch the blur of the neon signs and streetlights flashing by at a strange angle like the tail of a shooting star, headed for its new life.
Oh, yeah, that story is a complete lie, so you can turn off the ending credits and the sappy song. Here is what really happened. It was Juana’s idea. She carved Viktor Molnar’s initials into her arm with a pin. And it was invisible in a week. Rebecca put Stasio Tomaszewski’s name in her arm, also with a pin and since he doesn’t know she exists it was good it disappeared in a week too, just little scratches really. On my sixteenth birthday I drank a bottle of vodka with Lacy and I sawed at my arm. I made an RH for Ricky Hensall. Not Ramiro Hernandez. Ramiro Hernandez goes inside when the streetlights come on and does his homework. RH is blond-haired, blue-eyed Ricky, the boy who kissed me once and told me his eighth grade teacher told him he was crazy. Just like me. They told me I was crazy too. I branded myself with him. And I didn’t feel so alone. I still have the scar on my arm. Do you want to see it?
Oh, that’s a lie too. He barely knew I existed and I have to stop this now. I have to stop lying ’cause it’s getting easier. Here’s the last layer. I have enough scars on my body to make a Frankenstein doll. I can’t seem to stop cutting. But I want to live. That’s a lie too. I only have about eight inches of scars that are self-inflicted. OK, ten if you count the cut on my wrist from sticking my hand into the dog’s face. OK, twenty if you count the marks from wearing that belt under my skirt so I would remember to suck my breath in. OK, thirty if you count the accidental burns on my hands. OK, forty if you count working a job where I have to smile too much and tuck my bleeding cuticles out of sight. OK, here’s the truth. I am Frankenstein. They are cutting ME. I have had five operations, and THEY keep cutting ME. This is more than a scar. This is a belief old as time, old as bone, old as a curse, carved in stone. Die, Felicia. I could KILL YOU, you know. But it’s my voice. MY VOICE. Saying that.