“Blood is thicker than water.”
“Sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite!”
“Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.”
There are some words and images that float past us like fireflies; they turn heads with a quick, soft glow then disappear somewhere into darkness. Even with their presence we stay in sweet, undisturbed awareness. Some make our lips curl at the edges, quicken breath, evoke the deepest, purest happiness that escapes lungs in undulating melodies. Other times, the rose-tinted shades rush open and for solid moments we are caught in pockets of undesirable reality and that dull, grey rain of life we scramble to keep hidden.
“I love you, but I don’t like you.”
She was eight years old, built like a Popsicle stick when her father opened his mouth and snakes crawled out. She was new to nightmares, shaken by the way they squeezed out from her depths when she was sleeping, helpless. She’d just done something eight year old’s do – tracked mud in the house, dropped the milk carton, skinned her knee. If she had a nickel for every time she’d committed such crimes, that Barbie’s Dream House with two working elevators would have been at the foot of her bed already. She hugged her knees to her chest, thinking if only she could curl herself in tightly enough, she’d disappear and her father wouldn’t be standing over her with that familiar wild-eyed anger spread across his face. She hated that stare; it made him look old, much older than he was. When things were good and he smiled, laughed even, two perfect rows of teeth appeared, white as the pearls around her grandmother’s neck. When he really let go, really roared, she’d walk across the sound; for a moment the hot coals beneath her feet had disappeared.
So now there he was, draped over her like the Grim Reaper, teaching her what real life disappointment was like – its sounds, its touch – not something her head conjured up while her green eyes were closed. He didn’t need a blackboard or intricate diagrams to teach her – just silence, just gestures, a few words. A magician, her father. In just minutes he’d taught her that disappointment is a small child who does small, child-like things; she is not yet old enough to shave her legs, but old enough to know she is a burden. There was something about love in there, too, its many forms, its requirements and optional add-ons, another common phrase, another useful lesson she scribbled in a Pooh Bear diary and tucked into her non-existent chest when he wasn’t looking.
It was summer, late afternoon, when she was handed her first demon. She covered it in Elmer’s Glue and pink glitter and tucked it under her bed. She was exceptional, ahead of her time, already numb.