The Woman in the Wallpaper, Part Two

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Today’s post is a continuation of an essay written as a university assignment. Every detail is true, except for the name change of my then fiancé, known here as Frank.

 

The Woman in the Wallpaper––Part Two

Months later, while roaming the aisles of Target Stores, I note a young boy of about 14 years stalking me. I am decked out in all my protective, full-body compression garments, that includes a clear facial mask. (This is medically required that I wear these twenty-three hours a day. The purpose is to help compress the scars from raising, and to reduce bumps and ridges.)

It isn’t a sophisticated style of stalking but spawned by curiosity. I am bone-weary of these encounters.  I turn the corner and hide behind the end-cap of bottles of Arrowhead water. I hear the smush-smush of tennis shoes approaching. I jump out and yell BOO. The gloriousness of his terror pervaded, faded, then a squawk, the voice of shame in my ear like a parrot belting out mimicry.  Yet I laugh as the boy runs his 100-yard dash. I wonder at my maturity.

Burns scars are external––I can’t hide them– yet they leave a different kind of scar. I see it in the eyes of others. I detect it in the eyes of misogynists especially, who think a woman’s only purpose in life is to provide beauty and slave to their every need. I see it in the soul’s window of other women: a thankful gleam for their retained beauty and a twinkle of superiority. Other times, it is pity that reflects back to me.

They proffer a shiny-gold, gift-wrapped box tied with a pretty pink bow: take this gift and accept the shame enclosed. They say things like “People can tell you used to be a beautiful woman” and “If I were you, I wouldn’t go out in public, I’d be a recluse.”

I accept the gift of shame at my appearance. It is a mill-stone weighted necklace causing my head to hang.  I think this talisman will protect me, but I deceive myself.  I attempt to return it and rid myself of the weight. We play the you take it––no, you take it–– game.

 * *  *  *

I sit across from Jim at his gray, metal desk, a desk piled with paper; coffee-stained and tinged with pale yellow.  Jim, my trainer, is teaching me to box like a butterfly and sting like a bee. He drones on about something––I am multitasking, listening with one ear (my good one) while composing a text message on my gold, iPhone 5. Then he gains my full attention.

“You know, my father-in-law is a burn survivor. I remind him when he is down that this is only something that happened to him. It is not who he is: it doesn’t define him as a person.”

I stare back into the dark, brown eyes, a brown so dark they are nearly black. Images come of an encounter the day before when a fellow burn survivor reproved me for hiding my left hand behind my back.  I look down at the now-still fingers of my right hand and think about the mismatched set I now own. The sight of my “lucky fin” fills me with shame.

Yet I sit silent.  I don’t tell Jim my mother said God had done this to me because I wasn’t going to church and was living in sin with Frank. I don’t mention how our blue eyes locked––I had my mother’s eyes–– how my own blues eyes were filled with venomous fury at her accusation, nor of my fiery retort.

The internal dialogue runs through my mind like a Dow Jones’ ticker tape: “No, Mom, he didn’t. I’m his child. Would you do this to your child –– would you do this to me?”

But I sit silent remembering the slammed doors, gravel spewing, how I varoomed my black Dodge Ram away.

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Me in my mask, circa 2000, and pictured with Frank’s nieces and my daughter, Christa, in the background.

 

The Woman in the Wallpaper–Part One

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Photo credit: Lucas Mobley/Redding Record Searchlight.

I am posting this autobiographical essay in parts because the original essay was written as such. I wrote this in response to a course requirement in the Advanced Composition course at Simpson University.

Every detail, even the seemingly miniscule, is true to the best of my recollection. The exception is the name change of my fiancé­­­­––now and forevermore known as Frank.

The Woman in the Wallpaper ––Part One

The vexing sound of the 3:30 a.m. alarm trumpets through the dark morning air. I groan and pull the duck-down comforter around my chin. My fiancé, Frank, jumps up like a jack-in–the–box and heads into the kitchen. I rouse from a groggy fog and aim for the bathroom. My head throbs and I search through the muddled mist as to why when I remember the festivities of the evening involved beer­­––a lot of beer. I cherish the sweet, therapeutic bouquet of brewing coffee wafting into the room, ‘go-juice’ that promises to counteract the cobwebby fog.

I stand before the mirror in the dimly-lit room of the porcelain god and begin slathering flesh-colored goo over the source of my identity. I stare at the face in the mirror.  Everyone says I am gorgeous, but I don’t believe them.  I wonder what I would do if anything happened to my face.

“That’s a weird thought,” I mutter to the reflection as I click off the light and head to the promised land of java.

* *  *  *

The fuel-tanker’s roaring motor is silenced as Frank brings the truck to a stop at the Whiskeytown Visitor Center. He hops from cab to ground, not bothering to use the two stairsteps, and begins to check the tires––tires carrying nearly 8,000 gallons of gasoline and diesel.

We had met as employees of SST Oil, Inc., a wholesale gasoline and diesel company. We discovered we had attended the same high school, but he was two grades behind me. I knew of him, we knew many of the same people, but we ran in different crowds. I was a band-geek and an aspiring journalist, and he was of the cowboy-party crowd.  I remembered seeing his picture in the year book because the class that put the book together thought it would be funny to list his name as a brand of beer, a name similar to his.

At SST Oil, Inc., I work as a bookkeeper, billing fuel stations for gallons of diesel, gasoline, and kerosene delivered by our drivers.  Frank is one of our drivers.

I hear the thwack of the tire thumper pounding the tires. Frank whacks each tire––all eighteen of them, a legally required and routine safety check.  I have a sudden, all-consuming urge to get out––and stay out. But this urge remains mute and mum.

Frank directs the rig back onto the pavement, West onto Highway 299, a highway buzzing with holiday traffic as we head to the Weaverville BP fuel station.  Frank’s conversation takes a weird turn: he talks of recent nightmares of crashing the tanker.

“Well, I hope it’s not today.”

                                                                         *  * *  *

I fight through a fog of another kind as I am rousing from a medically-induced coma. I am told I have been under for two months.  I fade in and out. Morphine-laden dreams.

Awareness slowly ebbs in to stay. Was it real? Was I the headline: WOMAN HAS EMERGENCY TRACHEOTOMY IN TACO BELL?  Pain and tears are the bane of my existence, an existence nearly extinguished.

Nurses bossing, machines beeping, and laughter from the night-shift  are the sounds that fill my day.  The face on the wall glares at me––we face off––one without blemish, mocking.  A red luminescent hand swings around 360 degrees, 1, 440 times a day. I wonder if this ‘hand’ gets as tired as I do from the constant vigil.

I can’t speak or move.  I lay in bed with the video playing––what happened; when it happened; and why it happened.

A year later the official report reads that a tire blew out. The blown tire caused the truck and trailer to veer into the ditch. Frank fought to guide it back onto the road, but the weight of the fuel shifted, throwing the truck and trailer into chaos. In the process, the trailer split in two, sparking against pavement. We flipped and rolled across the road into a small ravine. Flames engulfed and surrounded us before the truck stopped twisting, turning.

I lay with pain, tears and memories: hearing Frank say that we’ve got to get out; Frank breaking the windshield with the tire thumper; how he scampered up over the dashboard and out the tiny opening of shattered windshield. A far greater pain pierces and splinters like the windshield at the memory that he bolted and left me to fend for myself.

I replay scene after scene: I think of how I stayed in the midst of bone-penetrating heat, staring at the golden-red flames around me­­––a moment so surreal––I am starring in a Hollywood film. I replay the panic of knowing I would be burned trying to get to the road; I remember thinking of my grandchildren; thinking that if I was going to die, I would die trying; I recall reciting the mantra– stop, drop and roll– and I remember the rocky ground as I begin crawling army-style up the steep- sided ravine.

The sound of a harsh, double tap at the doorway jolts me back into real time. It’s Nurse Kate. She scolds me for crying. Coming down from morphine accentuates emotions, and I am on the downswing. I say that if you were a burn victim, you’d be crying too.

“You are not a victim. You are a survivor,” she chides.

Quiet on the Blogging Front: The Happy Soul

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It’s tricky navigating through the junk.

 

I’m back after a hiatus full of funk, junk and many deliveries to the local transfer station, formerly referred to as THE DUMP in childhood days.

 

 

 

We mark our days by events. Having surpassed the 19th anniversary of the worst day of my life, I’ve been in a funk, a funk dark and deep enough that writing didn’t seem to bring joy.

In an attempt to prod my way out, I’ve been clawing and pawing through useless junk in my home.

Sorting through things I once valued, I find the hardest part is making decisions: stay or go? Sometimes it’s really tough.

Asking myself two questions helps speed the process and eliminates much hedging: “Has this thing served me?” and if the answer is in the affirmative I ask: “Will this continue to be beneficial to me on a regular basis?”

Murphy’s Law says that the thing I stored for 15 years and never used, will be the exact item I need in two weeks’ time. Such is life.

The new rule is that if I bring something new into my home, something old has to go.

Paralleling this physical activity, I’ve encountered meaningless emotions, thoughts, attitudes, perspectives and memories tied to these things. I am actively exposing the crap to daylight, dusting them off and asking the same two questions above. These things haven’t always served me well. Thus, the rule applies: bringing a new (positive and edifying) thought, emotion, etc., into my soul requires the old must go.

This requires active, purposeful and constant care. I suspect it’s going to take a lifetime. A healthy soul is a happy soul.

The Abyss

Dear Jaydan,

Your mother prepared a wonderful tribute
to her beloved son:

I ‘ve enclosed a note to you––

You didn’t know how much
you would be missed.
You didn’t know of our unfailing love for you.
Your mother, your father,
Your brothers and your sisters,
Your Gram and many others, too.

This abyss.

Every day
We think of you––
Of what could have,
What should have,
What would have,
Been.

This abyss.

I flew in a jet plane to see you
The day you were born.
Your sweet, tiny face shadowed
With my father’s image.

You were three weeks old
When you took your first jet ride
1,000 miles to your Gram’s house.
You were the tiniest of visitors.

They called you Jay-Jay the Jet Plane.
I called you Cricket.

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The Cricket and the Frog (photo credit: Jessica Martinusen)

I could not see you, but I could hear your teeny voice.

It was in a stupid moment, a cursed choice.
that will not allow us your face to see.
Let us hear you.

Many thoughts are of you this day––
Of what could have,
What should have,
What would have,
Been.

Your 18thbirthday.

With much love,

Gram-Gram,
from the abyss.