Fiction, Writing

Salt Meat: Part Five

Honey I’m home and I had a hard day
Pour me a cold one and oh by the way…

Becky wipes suds from a plate before placing it in the drying rack. From the window overlooking the small sink she can see her daughters playing in the backyard. They’re laughing, smiles so big she can almost see their tonsils. She smiles to herself and for a moment she believes she really did make the right choice coming out here. They seem happier now, the circles that used to darken their eyes nowhere to be seen. Becky reaches out and turns the radio up a little, singing along as she moves around the house picking up scattered toys and crayons, pausing to read the beginnings of a short story Jessie is working on.

In this house at the top of the hill, they’ve found some kind of peace and routine. Even as the months pass, Becky still expects to see Charlie stumbling up the driveway leaning heavily on whichever drinking buddy dragged him home.


Kayla put powder on my face today. She put enough to make me pale, pale, pale, like a vampire. She dug around in Mom’s makeup case until she found a shade of lipstick convincing enough to be blood. She put some on my neck in the shape of bite marks and French braided my hair. We pretended to be children of the night and stalked around the house in our tablecloth capes and fake plastic fangs until the sun went down and we could safely go out into the front yard without catching fire.

She’s fun.

She used her Barbies to show me what sex is. Sex is when boys and girls take off all their clothes and lay down and rub together. I’m not really sure why they’d want to do that, it seems ICK GROSS YUCKY, but maybe it has something to do with the way HE looks at me when Mommy brings me to his house. Maybe that’s why HE always makes me sit on his lap while HE puts his hands in weird places. I hope HE doesn’t want to do sex with me. HE’S family and Kayla tells me that’s wrong.

I wish HE would just stop. I don’t like it when HE does it.

I like it better when my Barbies are doctors and teachers and rock stars. It seems like much more fun than sex.


The house isn’t much to look at. The beauty is in the land. Winters with the windows wide open have done all they can to destroy the inside of the house the girls used to call home every other weekend. It would have been the perfect place to rebuild, start over, maybe build a dock and land a boat. But not now. The girls are long gone, never to set foot in the home that shaped who they ultimately became.

Sometimes there’s just no use looking back.

Fiction, Life, Writing

Salt Meat: Part Four

Oh God.

No.

No, no, this isn’t happening, it can’t be.

He’ll calm down, relax his hands and uncurl the fists he keeps hurling at my face.

I swear to God, he’s not a bad guy.

He just gets emotional.

And jealous.

He thinks I’m cheating on him.

If I lay still enough with his hands around my throat, he’ll realize what he’s doing and stop.

What if this is it?

What if they never find me and I become just another missing persons ad floating around bus stations and curling at the edges?

Some people are never found.

Maybe if I don’t fight back he’ll calm down.

He’ll remember that I love him.

I love him.

I do love him.

I love him, right?

Sometimes I’m not so sure.

He tells me I’m a terrible person and maybe he’s right.

Maybe I deserve this, deserve everything.

I hope not.

I saved a butterfly from dying once upon a time,

too young to understand the concept of karma.

Too young to understand that what goes around doesn’t always come around.

Sometimes what comes around is worse.

I might be passing out now.

Am I passing out?

At least then the pain will stop.

My mouth is bleeding.

Please make it stop.

I’m sorry.

They find her in a bus stop with flowers in her hair. It wasn’t supposed to end this way, not like this. Not in bits and pieces and flashes of a life that started out right and ended wrong. A little girl whose smile shone so bright and was snuffed out by the darkness that sought it out like moth to flame.

I read her story over my morning coffee with the TV telling me the day’s weather in the background. I swallow the lump in my throat and remember that I once found myself in similar places, surrounded by similar darkness. Even now, far removed from the faces that once haunted my dreams, I distinctly remember the metallic taste in my mouth as it filled with blood drawn forth from someone else’s hand. The sensation of breathlessness as someone else wraps long fingers around a soft throat and squeezes until the air left inside the lungs has turned rancid and the need to inhale becomes desperate.

It’s strange when I read the stories of the ones who didn’t get away. They remind me of butterflies who never got the chance to escape the jar. They remind me of the girl who once looked back at me from a grimy bathroom mirror with fatigue and resignation shining in her eyes, thoroughly convinced that there were no other choices than to remain and wait for the end to come.


Smoke curls its way up to the ceiling as the teenagers recline on ratty pillows. The floor is cold and a bit damp, but it’s nothing the dehumidifiers running at full speed in the basement can’t take care of. Passing the pungent joint back and forth, they go from silent and serious to giggly and rambunctious in very little time. One of them tells a story of when there were frogs in the basement and one jumped on her and she did the splits in an effort to escape her amphibious attacker. The other laughs until she chokes on the smoke she’d been valiantly trying to hold within her lungs. Great plumes of gray erupt from her nostrils as she laughs at the idea of her rigid sister doing painful splits while screaming about frogs.

It’s the only way they can cope with the reality that awaits them outside the confines of the basement. It’s another small town, another stepfather, another family that barely functions upstairs. Watching the mother that fought tooth and nail for them whittle herself down into someone so small she’s barely visible has brought the sisters together, a united front against the advancement of the Evil Stepfather. It’s a familial game of chess and there can be no winners.

The crunch of tires on gravel signals the return of their stepfather. Quickly snuffing out any remaining smoke and turning on the fans, the girls run upstairs to continue washing the dishes he’d left for them. The lists of chores grew longer the more he insulted their mother, as if giving the girls plenty to do would somehow distract them from the blatant emotional abuse.

The only time they bond is when he’s drunk, a delicate balancing act that both girls learn to do well. Keep things lighthearted, never insult or jibe, go along with drunken jokes that fall flat on sober ears or risk invoking the alcohol-soaked beast within. Faking laughter long enough to forget how to actually smile. Neither of them discuss the transformation of their mother from amazon to wallflower.

Some things are better left unsaid in the name of survival.


I was fascinated with the books lining my grandfather’s shelves. Great tomes devoted to all sorts of delicious subjects, each one bound in leather and adorned with gold lettering. I couldn’t always read the titles. Some were in languages I had never learned. He would lock himself inside his office with his books and spend hours drifting away. I liked those times the best, because they meant I could sneak past the living room almost undetected. On the rare occasions he would leave the door open slightly and take a walk down to the beach, I would poke my head inside and try to figure out what exactly made him tick. Try to discern what made him do the strange things he did to me in the living room when my grandmother wasn’t looking.

Sometimes I would watch her through the window as she hung wet clothes up on the line while his callused hands worked their way under the hem of my shirt and up over my back. I would mentally cry out for her to come back inside so he would stop before he reached around to my front. My sister, seated on his other knee, told me years later she would stare at the clock on the wall and try to read the time even though she was still too young to have learned it yet.

I learned how to keep secrets long before I really knew what they meant.

When the police came to our house to question us, my sister and I locked eyes and lied for him. The hold he had over us, telling us what he did was secret and good girls would never tell, was too strong to be shaken even by female officers with kind eyes. Accusations put forth by other family members only got him five years in prison. I still wonder what would have happened if I had told the truth.

(To be continued.)

Read previous parts here.

Fiction, Life, Writing

Salt Meat: Part Two

READ PART ONE HERE.

“So you understand, right? Why you have to go away for awhile?” The softness of his voice betrayed the hard granite of his eyes as he watched the two young children in front of him crumple their faces and cry. He knew exactly what he was doing and why. The only thing that mattered to him in those days was where to get his next fix. Doctors, the street, he didn’t care. Coming home at three in the morning with broken bones and bloody noses, screaming at the top of his lungs that if he wasn’t sleeping, no one would. Radios on full blast, tables flipped and dinners scattered, doll clothes tossed out the window to float on the coldest wind until they too reached the ocean where Ronnie had been reclaimed. All this juxtaposed with the man who would play dolls with his daughters and feed them candy until their mother complained about all those ruined dinners.

Boxing up the house was the hardest part, wrapping plates and cups into dish towels and fitting as many as possible into a single box. Jessie packed and unpacked the forks until her mother snatched the cutlery from her grubby fingers and dumped them unceremoniously into a plastic bag. “We don’t have time for this, Jess,” she sighed. “Go pack your toys.”

Two days later Jessie’s father stood in the kitchen doorway and watched Becky zip the girls into their coats and usher them toward the door. The house was barren apart from the few dishes left behind for Charlie. His hands shook as he felt the beginning grip of withdrawal and all he could think about was getting them all out of there so he could sink into his high. Colors only he could see would bloom in his eyes and the constant pain that made it near impossible for him to move would abate long enough for him to fall asleep. It was the only thing that mattered. The girls were young enough that in time they would forget him.

Breaking her mother’s grip and running back into the house, the older girl flung herself at her father and wrapped her arms tightly around his neck. “I still love you, even if Mommy doesn’t,” she told him. He peeled her little arms from around him and held her hands. “Go with your mother,” he said, and turned and walked down the hallway to his darkened bedroom. He shut the door behind him and effectively shut himself out of her life simultaneously.


It was the fucking chip fryer that did it. Coming home with Jessie to find Charlie sprawled on the couch, mouth open and spittle just beginning to work its way down his prominent chin, with Charlotte alone in the kitchen playing next to the plugged in empty fryer. She had been furious, had woken him up by whacking him with her purse. Becky knew he’d been into the fucking pills again, had taken them from her purse and swallowed them down with water straight from the bathroom tap. It was probably when he’d said he was taking a shower that he’d done it.

Jessie was a good girl. Whenever she caught him digging around in her mother’s purse in search of his favorite bottle, she’d run out to the deck and let her know. Whispering, as if she knew she was telling a secret, she would tell Becky exactly what she’d seen and where Daddy was. The last time she told on him, he’d grabbed her by the cheeks and screamed straight into her face, “SO YOU’RE MOMMY’S GOOD LITTLE SPY, NOW ARE YAH?!” Jessie had batted at her father’s hands as he berated her for speaking up and Becky had stepped between them, daring Charlie to raise his fists. He never did, but would turn around and grab the staple gun from the garage and staple his hand to the kitchen chairs. The cheap fake leather would crack around the stapled skin and his blood would seep into the stuffing. Afterward his pain would be so bad, he would crawl into Becky’s lap and tearfully ask her for just one pill, maybe the Vicodin, or the codeine if she preferred – anything to stop the burning pain in his hand.

One time, he took Charlotte into his lap and twisted her leg until she cried out in pain, bringing Becky running into the kitchen yelling and throwing the bottles at him, telling him to just fucking take them until they killed him, he was too far gone for her to save.

Her children learned how to cope with chaos before they had learned how to spell.


HE DOESN’T UNDERSTAND. I DIDN’T SWEAR.

The book was glossy and the pages slipped between my fingers. They had been protected against the inevitable spills caused by small children, but I knew better anyway. I was careful with my books because they meant so much to me. I never ate while I was reading.

Forming the words I saw with my eyes by using my mouth like teacher said was harder than it had seemed. With every correctly pronounced word, I felt a small sense of pride growing bigger. I was GROWING UP, I was turning into a BIG GIRL, and soon I’d be able to read the thick books I loved looking at in the library.

“The squirrel…. goes… CHIT CHIT CHIT!” I yelled, impressed with my ability to finish a sentence with minimal stumbling.

I was instantly shaken when a voice boomed from the kitchen.

“YOU CAN’T SAY THOSE WORDS IN THIS HOUSE!” My father screamed. He stormed into the living room, where I had set myself up with a blanket on the floor. My mother stepped in, eager to defend me. “She’s not saying SHIT, Charlie! She’s saying CHIT, like a squirrel!”

But my father would have none of it. He was enraged that I had dared to defile his house with my prepubescent profanity and I would therefore have to be punished.

It was a long time before I would be able to read aloud again.

(To be continued.)

Life

Whiskey & Wagon Wheels.

It’s hard to find time to see my sister. She made it downtown for my birthday last month and we decorated my Christmas tree and ate pie and rocked some classic N SYNC Christmas tunes. It was nice. But I typically only see her once every few months, and that’s a bit sad.

We’re both baristas, and not only that, we’re both managers, so we always have someone to turn to when we need to gripe about work, but I miss those days when we shared an apartment and she was always there. I miss card games and board games and conversation with someone who sees my side but doesn’t always agree with me. We’ve been through our fair share of rough patches and what was a typical childish sibling relationship has blossomed into a true adult friendship — something I wouldn’t trade for the world.

I went to visit her last weekend. I knew full well that she had opening shifts all those days, so I spent a large part of my time just hanging out on her couch watching Criminal Minds reruns. The time we did spend together was nice, and she kicked my ass (and her boyfriend’s ass) at Monopoly. We watched the live-action 101 Dalmations while drinking whiskey and eating Wagon Wheels — it was so much fun. And on those days when no one was home, I would sit in the living room and look around at the life she’s built for herself and be filled with pride. I’m proud of my sister. I’m proud of the challenges she faced early in life and her reaction to them. She’s not one to take things lying down. She’s one of the best people I know, kind and giving and instantly warm to strangers. She’s bad ass at her job (I’ve seen her working and I’m not even HALF as friendly as she is), not afraid to take risks and aim higher every single day.

The point of this post is, I love my little sister. When I grow up, I want to be just like her.

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Life

Signs Of Age (Or, Be Awesome Instead).

I do not get sick.

Taking a tip from Barney Stinson, when I feel myself getting sick, I just be awesome instead. Apparently my body didn’t pick up what my brain was putting down, because it sort of feels like I’ve got fistfuls of cotton balls rammed into my chest and someone took a Bic and burned the shit out of the bottom of my throat. Every swallow is like trying to force down bits of broken wine bottle and triggers a need for coughing so great it surpasses my need for food, water and sleep. At the same time, I’m so tired it’s not funny.

Truthfully, I’m not the healthiest person around. I like to smoke, I like junk food, and when I’m broke, expired sandwiches from work are like manna from heaven. If coffee’s not a major food group, I’ll eat my hat!

But it all comes down to one horrifying fact: I AM GETTING OLDER AND AM DESTINED TO DIE. We all are, really. One day at a time, the shining hope of youth long abandoned, we wander into an unfamiliar world of leases, rent checks, grocery shopping and laundromats. Body parts begin to lose their vitality and soften and sag, the feet of crows we’ve never even seen begin to make their appearance at the corners of our still-sparkling and somewhat indignant eyes. And it’s unstoppable. Once it starts, you can’t magically reverse to your teenage days and remove the lines from the contours of your face and no amount of drugstore makeup can hide what’s happening.

My days of hardcore partying seem to be behind me. I used to be able to stay up all night rolling the fattest of the blunts and chugging ecstasy-laced apple juice with the best of them. I’d show up for work with eyes the size of dinner plates and no one said jack shit to me because I still did my job better than half the people I worked with. If I tried that now, they’d have to wheel me into the cafe on a stretcher and pronounce me dead upon work arrival. My coworkers would have to fashion flowers out of plastic straws and paper cups because I could not handle that shit now the same way I could then.

The changes are largely subtle. The “fuck everything” mentality of youth gives way to the need for routine and preparedness. I changed my home page to The Weather Network so anytime I open my browser, I automatically know which granny sweater to wear today or if I need my umbrella. When I was younger, I didn’t give a flying shit about the weather. If it happened to rain while I was out, I let the water drip all over my face and if I happened to be wearing a T-shirt with thin material then I turned that shit into a contest. Staying up all night gradually resulted in the worst delayed sleep phase disorder/insomnia combo I’ve ever had, so eventually that gave way to a set bedtime and wake up time and I always eat breakfast within a half hour of waking up. Laundry that used to pile up until I had to separate it into piles based on stink and spend the next week and a half dragging it to the laundromat has become a thing of the past and now that shit gets done weekly.

And here’s what I’ve learned:

There’s nothing wrong with aging. I realize coming from a 25-year-old this might sound like total bullshit. There are still a lot of life lessons and rites of passage I haven’t experienced yet, and my hair hasn’t even attempted to turn gray, but I figure the sooner I accept what’s going to happen, the better I’ll feel and the more time I’ll have to devote to becoming an AWESOME old lady.

Routine is the shit (for me). Some people hate it, other people love it, and I fucking need that shit to survive. I worry sometimes I’m getting too hung up on doing things a certain way, but it’s my house and I can do things how I want. Washing the dishes every morning while waiting for my coffee to brew and my toast to shoot out of the toaster and frighten the shit out of me results in time saving AND clean dishes. Sue me. I’m prone to depression and lethargy so any way I can trick myself into actually doing stuff is a massive help.

Financial independence is amazing. I mean, I’m broke most of the time, but it’s my OWN money I don’t have. I don’t depend on anyone to buy stuff for me, I do it myself and if that results in two weeks of expired work food and discount Dollarama noodles, then so be it. My financial choices are my own and I have to deal with the consequences. That also means when I make good financial decisions, it results in me feeling damn good.

Being young sucks. You have parents and teachers and adults in general telling you what to do and when to do it. Yeah, you might not have any responsibility beyond finishing your homework every night, but when compared to the responsibilities of adulthood, that’s just gravy.

Downside: When you’re a kid and you get sick, you get to slough off your responsibility and stay home from school watching those soap operas your mom told you not to watch and eating ice cream. When you’re an adult, staying home sick from work means you don’t get paid, you realize soap operas suck, and you have to go to the store to buy your own damn ice cream.

Upside: At least I got sick on payday, so I can afford to get the tasty kind of throat lozenge and maybe some name-brand painkillers. That = AWESOME.

 

Life, Work

Dust Jackalopes & The Misery Of Overworking.

Work has overtaken my life, hence my lack of posts over the last little while. Believe me, it’s not because I don’t adore the folks who have chosen to follow this little blog, because I love the shit out of each and every one of you (in an intense and potentially carnal manner). It’s work.

I have a tendency to say yes to every extra shift that comes my way, and I am always drawn by the prospect of extra dollars lining my bank account. I am, by most definitions, a workaholic. It’s a fairly lucrative addiction, especially when compared to my penchant for cigarettes (though I never stop TRYING to quit). I’m convinced if not for free coffee from my job, I would probably go bankrupt trying to support my crippling caffeine addiction.

The problem with working so much (like, 50 hours in one week followed by a six-day work week with a dreaded “clopen” — where you work a closing shift directly followed by an opening one) is that eventually you’re going to sleep in.

I slept in this morning and was an hour late. I made up for it by staying an hour later, so essentially I’m still tired.

Also, insomnia. So much insomnia. I’ve been plagued with it since I hit puberty so I’m at the point where it doesn’t even bother me anymore, I just accept it as reality and move on. Some nights I lay awake in my bed, willing sleep to come and before I know it I’m still up and my alarm clock is screaming its morning serenade in my ear.

Too many hours spent working means I’ve let a lot of my personal tasks slide slowly but surely to the back burner. My laundry has grown steadily into a mountain and my floor is overrun by dust bunnies that can be said to have sprouted horns and gone full jackalope at this point. Tuesday and Wednesday are my two days off (woo! Jen Weekend!) so I’m playing catch-up all day today.

On the upside, I spent the beginning of last week in a little town I like to call Cannington working on some lyrics my aunt penned. Songwriting has been a solitary activity for me for as long as I can remember, although I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of co-writing. She was nervous about singing her songs in front of me, but I explained that in order to work out chords for her melody, I’d need to hear it. With a little coaxing, she overcame her fear and I was able to do her lyrics some justice.

Here are the two videos we shot while I was there.

It was a lot of fun, and we ended up finishing two of her songs. It was a great creative refresher. When you’ve been doing anything for too long, sometimes you just need to look at it in a new perspective and it restarts your engines, especially when it’s not music you’d typically make.

For now, I’m off to buy food and tackle my chores.

Being a grown up sucks.

Featured image from HERE.