“How’s everything going?” Samantha asked.
We both sat in the same places. I held my journal like a shield.
“You like your new school?”
I shrugged again, looked around the room. An Easter bunny must’ve thrown up in here, it was so cheery. She had three tall bookcases against the opposite wall, crammed full of books and knickknacks; little stuffed animals and some intricately painted eggs, some photos in frames. Cozy, like the inside of an intestinal tract.
“Made any new friends?”
“Tons. They voted me Ms. Popularity.”
“Any friends, though? Kids you’ve met in some of your classes that seem interesting, on the same wavelength as you?”
“Nobody in that fucking school is on the same wavelength as me.”
“You might be surprised, if you’d give them a chance.”
“More like them giving me a chance.” She looked interested. I could’ve cut my tongue out.
“What do you mean?”
Silent a couple of beats, she nodded. “Did you keep the journal?”
I dipped my head in acknowledgement.
“Anything you want to share?”
She ran her hand through her hair, pulled it up off her neck, let it fall back down. She smiled. “Well, then, anything I can coerce you into telling?”
“Probably not. The only thing I want is to leave.”
“Oh. Well, not a huge bargaining chip for me, then, huh? Did you write about the day in the kitchen?”
I shrugged, nodded, looked down at my knees.
“Did you find anything out?”
I closed my eyes against it, whatever it was. The smell of burning flesh? It seemed foggy, viewed through goggles or a thick fog. What did I really remember? Mother cooking the chicken, mixing the teriyaki sauce. But after that? What could I remember? Or had I cooked the chicken and made the sauce?
It had been maybe five seconds, Mother’s face like the Sistine Chapel, high above me. Pain like the sun.
I let my face fall, so Samantha couldn’t see it. Had Mother wanted to hurt me like I’d hurt her?
I could see Samantha out of the corner of my eye. She leaned forward, her hand out to me. I pulled closer into myself and she let her hand drop, tucked a bit of hair behind her ear.
“Violet? Did you learn anything?”
I shrugged, willed myself not to cry. Why did my mother hate me so? What had I done?
“Do you like any of your teachers?”
I latched on to that, clung to it. “My painting teacher. I wish I’d had him all the way through high school.”
“What’s his name?”
“Shay Griffin. He’s young. I thought he was a student the first time I met him.”
“What do you like about him especially?”
“He listens. I mean, he treats us like we’re all artists, like he believes us, like he thinks we’re capable.” I wanted to fulfill his expectations of me.
“You talk about him differently.”
“Yes. What do you think of him, as a person? Do you feel safe around him?”
I shrugged. I liked him, respected him. He reminded me of Uncle Stephen a bit, and that’s all that it was. “I just think he’s a good teacher.”
“Did you like your father?”
“Don’t really remember him.”
“But what you do remember?”
I shifted, turned a little to the side. Mother and him beautiful together. He hadn’t liked Uncle Stephen. He’d been tense a lot, angry, silent.
I remembered one time, I didn’t know how old I was. Maybe six. I sat on the wool rug in the den, surrounded by stuffies, hidden behind the desk. He and Mother came in, shut the door. They couldn’t see me and I somehow knew to be quiet. He pushed her against the wall, slapped her face. Her face had been white, her lips tight. He said something, I don’t remember what. Her head dropped down and she pushed past him, left. He slumped against the wall, covered his face with his hand. He saw me as he straightened up. He said, “Violet! I didn’t see you. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” He came over and held me until I wiggled free. I wished I’d let him hold me longer.
I’d been five or six when he left. Mother never talked about it, he just stopped coming home. When I’d asked where he was she told me to shut up.
“He just never came home again.”
“Do you know if he’s alive, still?”
I tried to breathe, looked down. “No.”
“I’m sorry, Violet. Why do think he left?”
“Mother blames me.”
“Because I was born, I guess. Mother said I put strain on their relationship; I once heard Mother and Uncle Stephen talking. She told him it was my fault.”
“Mother’s brother. Died a couple years ago.”
“Do you miss him?”
“Yes.” More than I could say. He had loved me.
“What was he like?”
“He was a sculptor.” I closed my eyes, pictured him. He’d been ten years younger than Mother, tall and thin and so beautiful. He had a poet’s face, gaunt and angular, but full of life. He had a tattoo across his back of a stylized falcon. He was kind and passionate and so intelligent. He’d take me for long walks in the hills around Santa Fe. Once he drove me to Albuquerque, because I’d never been, just for the fun of it.
Samantha sat waiting, quiet.
I blinked at her. Did I say that out-loud? I felt like she saw me, then, and I wasn’t used to that. I closed my eyes.
Shrugged, shook my head, tried to pull myself from memory. “He loved me. I did things right around him.” Got sucked back in. Once I’d made sun-tea for him. I got up early, before Mother and him, before the sun had risen. I put the tea bags in the huge sun-tea jar with cold water like I’d watched him do, and set it out on the back porch just as the sun tipped over the horizon. I sat out there with the jar for hours, taking in the Joshua trees and the adobe houses around us. When he found me the tea was done and he swore it was the best he’d ever tasted. Mother said it was bitter.
“But you didn’t around your mother?”
“What was the difference between them?”
“I don’t know.”
“Do you think the difference could have been in them, not you? That you were doing the same things, each of them reacting differently?”
“Possibly.” That would mean that Mother.... I sat up straight, squared my shoulders. Took in a tiny breath. I couldn’t be sure what that would mean. That I wasn’t worthless? Not likely. Not my fault? Ha.
Quite suddenly, I had to leave, had to get away.” Is it time to go yet?”
She checked her watch, laughed. “Yeah. We went over.”
I jumped up.
“Not yet. I’ve got another assignment for you.”
I was interested, I’d really liked the journal, but I couldn’t sit back down.
“Keep up with your journal, okay? Did you like it?”
A lot. I shrugged, shifted.
“All right. I’d also like you to draw a picture for me. It doesn’t have to be a great work of art. I’d like you to draw a picture of your family.”
I raised my eyebrow. How transparent.
She smiled. “I’d like to be able to look at it but if you don’t feel comfortable with that, I’ll try to live with the disappointment.”
“You’re a real live artist. Never counseled an artist before.”
I laughed and was startled by the sound. How could I laugh?
Back at the Grants’ I sat on my bed, pulled out my journal. I thought about what Samantha had said, about the difference being in Mother and Uncle Stephen, not in me. I didn’t know what to think of that. Would that mean that I wasn’t what made Mother angry?
That it had been her?
I didn’t know.
How could I even think that?
It couldn’t be possible.
I was the only one she’d hated. I was the one that had to change. Wasn’t I at fault here? I was the one in therapy.
I pulled out my pen, started to write.
who is this violet-person, this husk, this shell?
she is scared of what might be around the corner. she is apologetic for being alive. she is uncertain. she is alone. she wants to stay that way but doesn’t really. she is afraid if people get to know her they will see how flawed and horrible and ugly she is. she is certain she will fail. she is certain things will be the same but knows everything will change. she is ugly. she feels stupid. she knows she is untalented and a bore. she wants
desperately for someone to save her. she wants to be in love without the bother of that other person. she wants to live forever but is terrified of eternity. she is so scared. she is
no one. she lies. she puts up invisible walls. she flinches when people make quick hand movements. she is skittish. she is frightened. she feels responsible for anything that goes wrong. she’s afraid to let any one close enough. she’s afraid to let anyone near her. she’s sure they will disappoint her. she’s sure everyone, if given the chance, will disappoint her. she’s sure everything will go wrong. she’s sure everyone hates her. she knows no one sees her. she is invisible. she is frightfully fragile. there is so thick a wall around her that she doesn’t know when it was begun. she doesn’t know how to tear it down. she’s afraid to. she doesn’t know if she even wants to.