In Samantha’s office, I’m hunched there in my spot, and Samantha sat across from me, her legs crossed, one foot bouncing up and down, up and down. Kind of mesmerizing.
“So, Violet, how was your week?”
I stared at her Birkenstock, ignored the question.
“Have you thought more about why you think you did things right with your uncle, but not with your mother?”
I rolled my eyes, sighed. No, not really. “Aren’t there more important issues? World peace, ecological disasters, the mole at the end of Ms. Engle’s nose?”
Samantha frowned. “Who’s Ms. Engle?”
“Just some random math teacher at school. Doesn’t matter.”
I shrugged, leaned back and studied the ceiling. Painted white, that weird plaster, all spiky. Who thought of making plaster in your house as weird as that, anyway? Some psychotic scientist? A construction worker on a bender, and it had just caught on? Too bizarre.
“Violet, I think we should talk about your perceptions of your mother, why you think you did things wrong around her, why you blame yourself for her hurting you. You can’t keep blaming yourself, okay?”
I looked at her for a second, then let my head fall against the back of the couch, stared at the ceiling some more. Who did she think she was, anyway? Some profound goddess? Out to save me and all the other little messed up children. I had something for her, for sure. Messed up? Not me. Nothing wrong with me. I was fine.
“Violet. I want you to pretend that this chair here is your mother, okay? I want you to talk to her, tell her what you’re feeling, what you’re thinking about. Will you do that for me?”
I sat up, stared at her.
Was she daft? Talk to my mother? I’d never really done that when I’d lived with her. I looked over at the chair in question. Roll-playing, huh? Fuck that. I crossed my arms, my legs, glared at Samantha. “I’ve got nothing to say to her at this point, so, no. I won’t be doing that for you. Got it?”
Samantha tucked a bit of hair behind her ear, bounced her foot up and down. “Why not? Does the thought intimidate you?”
I shook my head, looked away from her, shook my head again. I started feeling nauseous. “It just sounds really, really stupid.” And intimidating. And something I just would never do. You wanted grief? Talk to your mother about your feelings.
“Okay. Pretend the chair is you, you’re your mother. Talk to Violet, Mrs. Egan. What do you have to say to your daughter?”
I stared at the chair, me. She’d say, “Nice hair cut, kid. You join up? Or are your latent skinhead tendencies finally appearing?” She’d say, “Shut up. Get to your room. I’m sick of looking at you.” And she’d say, “You’re pathetic. Can’t even pretend to talk to me? I’ve got you that scared? How amusing. You’ve always been incredibly stupid. Guess you can’t change what you’re born with. Born. That reminds me how much I regretted having you. So stupid. Get out of my sight!” Followed by a smack across the mouth, me running to the bathroom and puking, wiping the blood and vomit from my lips. Nice.
I jumped up, ran down the hall and puked. In the mirror, after I’d rinsed my mouth out, I stared at my face. What had I done? Why did she hate me so much? What did I ever do? I so wanted her just to like me, to want me. Why couldn’t she want me? Was I that ugly? Too broken? So undesirable that my own mother couldn’t look at me for more than five minutes at a time? Why? What had I done? What could I possibly do to change her mind?
A knock on the door startled me. I backed away from the door. It had always been the worst when she’d found me throwing up. It made her so mad.
“Violet? Are you all right? Violet?”
Samantha. That was all, just Samantha.
I let my arms drop from covering my stomach, stepped away from the wall I’d backed in to. “Fine,” I managed, too quietly for her to hear. I coughed, wiped my mouth.
“Violet?” She rattled the doorknob. “Violet? I’m going to go get the keys. Are you all right?”
“Fine,” I said, a little louder. “I’m fine. Just give me a minute, okay?”
“Are you sure you’re okay?”
“Fuck! Can’t a girl pee without it being a national crisis?”
Silence, then, “All right. Two minutes and I’m back here with a crowbar, got it?”
I heard her walk away over the creaky carpeted floor, looked back at the mirror, at my eyes. I saw fear in them, opened wide, pupils dilated.
Afraid, that was me.
Afraid of my own mother, who couldn’t have possibly loved someone like me. I just couldn’t figure out what I’d done.
I meant, it was like there wasn’t anything.
I’d tried so hard to please her....
I stopped myself.
There was something I’d done, somewhere. Sometime.
To make her hate me.
There couldn’t not be something.
That wasn’t possible.
I’d done something. I dressed funny, I was moody, I shaved my hair too short. I pissed her off. It couldn’t be that she just hit me for no reason.
It couldn’t be.
That would be crazy.
That would be...
I stopped myself. I couldn’t possibly take that thought in.
I mechanically unlocked the door, walked back to Samantha’s office. She sat at her desk, looked through some papers. She jumped a little when I slammed the door, frowned at me.
“Don’t slam the doors, okay? Other people are in sessions. It’s kind of rude.”
I decided to try to piss her off. “So fucking what? I don’t give a damn.”
She shook her head. “That’s not okay, Violet, and you know it. It’s rude and disrespectful. Don’t do it again.”
I reached over and opened the door, slammed it again. Samantha stood up, started to walk over to me. I stepped back, leaned against the door, stared at her. She stopped immediately, shook her head, one hand out.
“Don’t be afraid, Violet. I’m not going to hit you.”
“Who said I thought you were?”
“Your eyes did.”
I looked down at the ground, wrapped my arms around my middle, nauseous again. “Just leave me alone.”
“Violet, it’s not your fault that your mother abused you. There is nothing that you ever did to deserve being hit and yelled at and pushed. Absolutely nothing. What she did was wrong. It’s not your fault.”
I tried to step back, to get away from her, but I just pressed up against the door. So I said, “Leave me alone.”
“Violet, it’s not your fault.”
I could feel myself breaking, just disintegrating into cells and down into atoms. I tried desperately to put myself back together again, some semblance of ‘Violet.’
So I said, “Fuck that crap. You don’t know anything about it, so get off my back.”
“Violet, please listen to what I’m saying. Nothing you could ever do would make what your mother did to you okay. It’s her fault, not yours. You didn’t deserve the abuse, Violet. It’s not your fault.”
I covered my ears, shook my head. “Shut up.” Willed her to stop. “Shut up, shut up, shut up, shut up....”
When hands touched my arms I screamed, pulled away, fell to the ground, tried to get away from my mother.
“Violet. Violet, it’s okay. It’s me. It’s Samantha. Violet, it’s okay. Listen to me, Violet. You’re okay.”
I let the words sink in, tried to calm down.
Tried to come back to my body.
Tried to hold onto to Samantha’s voice.
I lay on the floor, hands up, trying to stop....
Trying to stop my mother from hitting me.
God, I was so fucked up.
I couldn’t stop the tears, couldn’t stop crying, but I kept the sound in, tight.
I didn’t understand what was wrong with me, couldn’t figure out what I felt inside of me. Something grew there, like some sleeping creature shifting, waking. Some great something stretched within me, pressed the boundaries of my skin and bones. I curled up in to a ball on the floor.
What was wrong with me?
“Violet. Listen to me. You’re okay. It’s okay.”
I tried to pull myself together. “It’s not okay. Nothing is okay. Nothing.”
But it didn’t really help, because I yelled it rather than just said it quietly.
“All right. It’s not okay, Violet, but you’re safe here. You’re safe. No one’s going to hurt you.”
I sat up, pulled my knees to my chest, tried to breathe.
I thought of the time, a couple of years ago, when I went to Mother’s restaurant after school, because I needed something. I couldn’t remember what. She was laughing with some of the waiters, talking about a party they’d all been to. When she’d seen me, her face went dead white, and she hustled me out into the cold parking lot. It’d been snowing, so cold in the middle of February. She was furious that I’d come to her restaurant. I’d tried to explain, but she wouldn’t listen. She sent me home and when she came in from work that night she pushed me against a wall, slammed her locked fingers into my stomach, tossed me into my room.
I looked at Samantha, crouched there in front of me, hair in her face, one hand reaching out.
“What did I do to her?” I breathed through my mouth, gasped just a little, locked it down.
She shook her head, frowned. “You didn’t do anything. It’s her fault. Not yours.”
“Why are you doing this to me?”
“I want you to be well.”
She raised an eyebrow. “You’re fine? You really think you’re fine?”
I sat there with my arms around my legs, sore back pressed against the wall. Maybe fine was too strong of a term. I rested my head on my knees, shut my eyes tight. “Can I go yet?”
She paused a beat, and then said, “Not quite. Ten more minutes. Do you want to stay here or go sit back on the couch?”
“All right.” She made settling noises. “What did you learn today?”
Silence. Learn? What had I learned?
I was a basket case. A complete loon.
“Sharing with me is the only way that I can help you, Violet. Let’s hear something.”
I opened my eyes, raised an eyebrow at her. “Getting kind of pushy, aren’t you?”
“I just think I’ve given you enough room for right now. I need you to see this.”
“Fine, Samantha.” I stretched out her name, just to be nasty. “Today I’ve learned that I’m a nut case. A psycho. A head-trip. Totally demented. Completely out of my mind. I also learned that ‘i’ comes before ‘e’, except after ‘c’. Did you learn anything today?”
She shook her head. “Nothing I didn’t already know.”
“Well, good. That makes two of us. Can I go yet?”
She checked her watch. “No. Your assignment for next week is to write, ‘It’s not my fault’ one thousand times. Bring it in so I can see it. You can go now.”
I jumped up and reached for the door.
Samantha stopped me with, “Happy Thanksgiving.”
I looked over my shoulder, surprised. “Excuse me?”
“Tomorrow’s Thanksgiving. It’s customary to wish people ‘happy’ around holidays, you know?”
I turned to her.
“I didn’t realize that it was Thanksgiving tomorrow. I lost track of it. Happy Thanksgiving.”
It was the first time I’d ever said that to anyone other than Uncle Stephen. It felt weird.
I just wanted to run away, to not think, to leave everything behind.
In the lobby, Mrs. Grant stood as I headed out and we walked into the cold together. The snow hadn’t gotten very deep yet but the sun sat low and heavy along the horizon.
It made me think of the Greek myth about Demeter, the goddess of harvest and growing things and her daughter, Persephone. Persephone was so beautiful that Hades fell in love with her and kidnapped her, spiriting her away to the Underworld. Demeter, so heartbroken at the loss of her daughter, caused everything to cease growing.
The first winter came. Zeus became distressed, seeing how the humans suffered, and begged Hades to let Persephone go. But Hades refused, knowing that if he could just get Persephone to eat something in the Underworld, she’d have to stay forever. She hadn’t eaten anything, so sorrowful to be separated from her mother. But then, he offered her a pomegranate, which was her favorite food. She said no, took three seeds with her and ate them in secret, one per day. Hades’ crow saw her and flew back to tell his master.
By this time, Hades was so in love with her that he couldn’t give her up completely, but he couldn’t keep her away from her mother, so he let her go for three quarters of the year, spring, summer, and fall, and she had to return for winter. The seasons reflected Demeter’s happiness of her daughter’s return, and the sorrow of being separated from her.
It was a good story. When winter came I thought of that. A daughter so loved by her own mother that everything seemed to die, the whole world became as cold as her tears.
I couldn’t imagine that kind of love, not even a little bit.
At the house, Mrs. Grant dropped me off so she could go do some final shopping for Thanksgiving. I went upstairs to get a glass of water and there I found Ivan, sitting at the table reading. I ignored him. He set his book down.
“Hey,” he said.
I continued to ignore him.
“How’d it go at the shrink shop?”
I shrugged, thought about me flipping out, yelling, puking. “Very boring.”
I searched the cabinets for some invisible something.
“Huh. Boring. When I went it was never boring. I wouldn’t categorize it as such. I was evil, actually, yelling and throwing things. I was ‘acting out’, my therapist said.”
I turned to him slowly, completely shocked. Tried to put that together with the picture the Grants have painted of Saint Ivan.
“You were...” I paused. “You were bad?”
He grinned, leaned back, put his hands behind his head. “I was terrible, sweetheart.”
I narrowed my eyes at him. “I don’t fucking believe it. You’re a god around here. I should’ve recorded some of the shit I’ve heard about you. Always perfect little Ivan.”
He shrugged, grin growing wider. “I was under a lot of stress.” Shrugged again, sat up straight, face stilling. “That’s the official line. But even before my family died, especially before they died, I was really wild. Completely out of control, running with the bad crowd, motoring late at night. Drugs, drinking, sex, you name it. Driving the folks crazy. That’s when they decided Europe was having a bad influence on me, so we came here. Fairbanks, Alaska. I was going mad, from Paris and London and Amsterdam to hicksville. And then they died, two weeks after we came over. I felt so horribly guilty, like it was all my fault. If I hadn’t been so terrible, so out of control, we never would have come here.
“But you could drive yourself crazy with that line, and I almost did. The Grants saved me, with their infinite capacity to accept everything I threw at them, like a deep still pond, swallowing each stone I dropped in with hardly a ripple.
“I realized that I didn’t have to be horribly good, which I tried for awhile. But I didn’t have to be just plain horrible, either. That’s where my painting came in. I could be anything with my paintings. Angry, sad, joyful, good, bad. It didn’t matter. So I gave up the drinking and drugs and got addicted to paint.
“Now I wouldn’t say that I’m good, but I’m no longer a pain in the neck.”
I blinked, so surprised as he morphed from a god into a mortal, a flawed one. Strange.
Flawed like me. Different from me, but hurt, too.
I said, “Why do you think you used to need to be such a bad-ass?”
His face crooked into a grin, shook his head. His hair fell across his forehead as he looked down, a sadness passing there like the ghost of a memory. “Bad-ass. That’s funny. And easy. I was trying to get my parent’s attention.” Scratched his chin. “My sister, Hope, was so perfect and smart and beautiful. She was their world. I couldn’t compete with that, so I turned into a jerk, just to get them to notice me, to talk to me. Didn’t matter that they were yelling. They were facing me. Pretty fucked up, huh?”
I thought of how I tried to be invisible and perfect, just so mother wouldn’t notice me, and I thought it was maybe not so fucked up.
“Not so fucked up.” I twisted away, back.
He leaned forward, arms along the tabletop, eyes fixed on his folded hands.
“Your mother,” he said, slowly. “She fucked you up pretty good.”
My brain kind of shut off.
I went cold and still.
I didn’t want to think of that at all.
Couldn’t think of it.
Had been why I’d stood there, listening to him talk.
Trying to forget.
I turned to go.
“Violet,” Ivan stopped me. “We’re all fucked up by something. Just don’t let it finish you.”
But that was just exactly what I thought it would do.
I couldn’t do it anymore.
I was ruined.
My own mother hated me.
My own mother.
What had I been doing, trying to live on in some shallow, stupid manner? Trying to suck off the Grant’s good graces.
But I just wasn’t worthy of it.
I wasn’t worthy of living.
Downstairs, in the bathroom, I stared at my face in the mirror, all angles and planes, gray skin stretched taught like a circus tent. Holding up, holding in.
And my eyes so dark, so unfathomable, looked in on nothing.
Nothing but oceans of pain and fear.
I turned away, leaned my butt against the sink, covered my mouth with my hand. To stop... something. I didn’t want to know what.
I tugged my sleeves down, stared at my wrists, the scars.
Death was the unthinkable, the unreachable, the unreadable. The nothing.
But I was nothing, too.
I couldn’t handle this anymore.
Persisting to paint stupid paintings that might or might not mean something wasn’t worth living for.
I went upstairs, to the kitchen. Ivan was gone. So I searched out and took back to the bathroom the smaller chef’s butcher knife, sharp and clean. The shape of a silvered sliver of hate. Laid it by the sink, on a towel pulled from the cabinet. Took off my black woolen sweater. Washed my face, avoided looking in the mirror.
I would not think.
I would not be.
Took the knife in my right hand, my painting hand, stretched out my left arm, bared in my white tank top. Set the knife against the skin of my wrist, clenched my hand into a fist. Wavered over whether or not I should trace the long white scar already there. Decided to pair it with a sister.
Pressed down. Harder. Did not gasp at the sudden engulfing pain.
Sliced quickly towards me, a quarter inch left of the previous scar.
Breath escaped me. I held it tight.
Sliced again, bit down on my lip. A half inch to the right the red bloomed.
Three marks of will. Three.
I let my arm fall, blood quickening.
I looked in the mirror, face ghostly pale, almost translucent.
“You’re dying,” I whispered to myself. “Dying. Are you happy now?”
But what was happiness? Something even attainable? Or something someone had made up, to taunt the masses? My own mother hadn’t wanted me to be happy, couldn’t be happy herself, when I was around. So we’d both be free. Finally. This was good.
I sagged to the floor, leaned against the wall, stared at my ruined left wrist, the blood everywhere. At the knife still in my right hand. Should I’ve done more?
I felt no pain, as if I floated above my body, disconnected.
Closed my eyes. I could feel my skin like paper, my heart racing. Burn scars cried out from being pressed against the wall. I felt as if I fell from some great height, like I’d been pulled down, a huge hard hand on the back of my neck.
“Violet? Are you in the bathroom?”
“Violet? I need you upstairs.”
Then the doorknob turning.
I tried to get away, but it was too late.
“Violet? Oh, god. Violet!”
Fell further and further away.
I woke slowly. Disoriented. Remembered a voice. Mother. I looked down at a cluster of faces. Couldn’t see them through the veil. Heard, “Look. Look, she’s awake.”
Waking infrequently. Seeing through cotton wool.
“What are you giving me?” I said.
A face neared mine. “What? What was that?”
It was like a coughing movie reel. Pictures in and out. Seeing without truly understanding. The smell was what I recognized, that antiseptic odor.
Wondered if Mother would be angry.
A nurse bustled next to the bed when I woke. She smiled at me, changed the bag of I.V. fluid, checked a machine.
“Morning, dearie. Beautiful day. How are you feeling?”
She laughed. “Tut, tut, dearie. Can’t bring me down. Grandson’s flying in tonight for the weekend.”
She bent over me, reached for my arm. I tried to pull away, flinched. She looked at my face, voice softening. “Got to check those dressings, dearie. Don’t want it to get infected.”
I stared down at the arm she reached for, at the white bandages swaddling my forearm.
The knife against my skin. Someone finding me. Not my mother. I tried to sit up, to get away, anywhere, but the nurse pressed me back and I was too weak to fight.
“Dearie, be still. You’ll do yourself harm.”
“I’m not dead,” I gasped. “Alive.” Like filth in my mouth. Covered my eyes with my right arm as I cried. I couldn’t help it. Weeping for what? Mother who hated me? Me, who hated me? Another failed attempt. Just another failure.
The nurse made soothing noises as she unwrapped and rewrapped my arm, and I fell asleep to the sound of her voice.
“It’s gonna be all right, dearie. It’s gonna be all right. Don’t you worry. We’ve got you now.”
The same walrusy doctor came in, started lecturing me about how stupid I’d been. How dreary. I watched a spot on the wall to the left of his head. To the left.
My left hand wouldn’t make a fist. Couldn’t really feel it, though they had enough drugs pumping into me that I might not feel it for another ten years.
He walked out without saying anything useful. Had I ruined my hand? The sound of his soft soled shoes made a squeaking, inane retreat. The buffoons’ exit.
Was my hand wrecked? Could it get better?
Did I want it to?
It was so disappointing to wake up after killing one’s self. Such a let down.
They had me on a suicide watch, so every fifteen minutes I got visited by some poor nurse. I found it intrusive and idiotic. If I could’ve thought of a way to kill myself, I simply would’ve waited until just after they’d gone. Fifteen minutes would surely be enough time to die. I could’ve hung myself, maybe. With the tubing from... I checked the ceiling, that aesthetically stunted public building metal grid thing with rectangular fiberglass panels. How life affirming was a ceiling that said, “I’m here to cover the ugly parts, the ducts and cable, the life of the building.”
Samantha had come in a couple of times but so far I’d pretty much refused to talk. I didn’t know what to say.
My stupid doctor came back in, Mrs. Grant and Samantha behind him. I turned my face to the wall.
“Violet,” Mrs. Grant whispered.
The doctor quietly spoke to the two women, left. They sat down, Mrs. Grant next to me, Samantha over against the wall.
Samantha said, “We have about five minutes. Anna wants to talk with you.”
I pretended to ignore them.
“Violet,” Mrs. Grant started. “I can’t...” Her voice trailed off. “I don’t...” Her voice faded and she began to cry.
I stared at her.
She managed, “Oh, Violet, you could’ve died. Violet. You might’ve died.”
“That was the point.”
She covered her face with her hands, shoulders bent down like wheat stalks in a strong wind. She seemed smaller than I remembered, softer. Compassion could kill a person. She’d lost her edge.
Or maybe she’d never had one.
I tried to explain. “Don’t you get it?”
She shook her head, looked up, unable to speak. Her face was red and puffy.
I said, “I don’t want to be saved.”
But it wasn’t true.
I wanted Mother to love me.
I wanted my whole past wiped away.
I wanted my Uncle to be alive again, waiting for me.
I wanted to not care so much.
I wanted so desperately to be saved from this stupid fucking life I’d found myself in.
But none of that was possible.
Mrs. Grant tried to smile. It came out more ironic than usual. “Violet.” She leaned forward, intent. “You might find this hard to believe, that I want you to be okay, that I want you to live, but it’s the truth. I want you to live. I want you to like yourself. I want you to be okay.”
“You found me, didn’t you?”
Her head bent down again, she leaned back. “Yes. I wanted you to come for dinner. I got pizza on the way home. It’s a tradition. Pizza on the day before Thanksgiving.”
I’d forgotten that it had been the day before Thanksgiving. I said, like an offering, “I’m sorry.”
She leaned forward, eyes on mine. “You’ll be free soon,” she said. “You’ll be eighteen in a little under a year, graduated from high school. You can leave us behind, Violet. Don’t carry your mother’s mistakes with you. Don’t let her ruin you or take away your future. You owe yourself that.”
Easy, easy, easy to say.
But Mother held me tight in her fist.
I didn’t know how to get out except to die.
But instead, I said, “Oh, yeah? A year. Just a year, and then what? I’m a new person? I forget everything? Suddenly I lose whatever part of me that makes me so horrible? What happens in a year? Huh? I’m free? What the fuck do you know? You’re happy. You’ve got a family that loves you. I’ve got nothing so don’t talk to me about being free. I’m less than nothing and I want this all to be over. I want this to end. Don’t you understand that? Can’t you see this is my only option?”
Mrs. Grant went dead white during my little tirade and Samantha stood up.
I felt cold all over. What had I done?
The doctor came back in, said time had run out.
Mrs. Grant slowly stood, collected herself. She stopped just before going out the door, turned back. “I’m glad I found you, even though I know you’re not. Violet,” she said. “I love you.”
She walked out, her shoes not making a sound.
I couldn’t breathe.
Couldn’t take it in.
Part of me wanted to change.
And part of me wanted to just disappear, to slouch through the door and out. Guess which one was winning.