This isn’t some tragic story, like, “Oh, this is how much I suffered and everyone should know.” This is just letting you know a few things.
There was this one time, my dad and my sister and I, coming out of the community pool. Middle of winter – Minnesota winter, you can’t imagine it until you’re there – and I slipped on the ice and fell, bounced my head off the ice so my mouth was swollen for days. All I could taste was pennies.
Dad hoisted me up, took me back inside to the men’s room, put me on the sink and washed the blood from my face. We went to a diner and he bought us chili dogs, coaxing tiny pieces past my split lips. I said, “Everyone is looking at me.”
He rubbed my shoulders, made me eat more of my hot dog, and said, “No-one cares.”
There was this one time when I rode my bike too fast down the driveway, skidded and landed on the road. One half of my face was scraped off and replaced with gravel. Dad took me home, sponged the blood off my face and picked out the gravel.
The morning I had to go back to school, I said, “Everyone will see. It’s gross.”
He made me face the mirror, pointed at the still-healthy side of my face and said, “No-one cares.”
When the wind is blowing in a certain direction, I can smell formaldehyde. I am floodlit with visions of how I’ll go out. I’ve had practice, now, and there are warning signs everywhere: punk kids skateboarding on the tram tracks, remedies being pressed into my hands.
In my head, I’m back in Minnesota, where I came from; where I belong. I’m leaning against the fence at the baseball diamond, chipping my feet on hot concrete. Overwhelmed by the green and constantly surprised by the warm and stretching July days.
There was this kid I knew, in Jordan, a tiny town outside of Minneapolis. He suffered from echolalia, which meant he repeated all his sentences. We would stray too close to the edge of the falls, near the lake, and my dad’s voice would shoot up high and panicked, get away from the water don’t you know what could happen. We’d wrap video game controllers around our wrists and battle it out on his Nintendo. We’d sit on the football field because the high school’s baseball diamond was too far away. We’d tear the turf with our fingers and invent ways to destroy the school. But it was just kids’ stuff.
There was a kid I knew in Arizona. She fit right in with the matchstick lights and desert wind hot enough to shut down your lungs. She took me through the streets of her neighbourhood and at dawn we flattened ourselves on the driveway, slightly stunned by the sunrise and from being two days’ awake. Typical teenagers; we thought we’d invented pain. We thought no one had ever felt like we did. We promised we’d never get better. But that was kids’ stuff, too.
And then everything else happened. And it’s not kids’ stuff. What a shame that it turned out to mean so much more.
-Helen Mahar now lives in Australia
(Photo by Michael Inscoe)