i did not know until a few seconds ago that yesterday was my aunt’s birthday who died at 31 being run over multiple times w a car after drinking too much
“My other issue is that I assent to diplomacy, tact and relationships more than others. I feel like I hold more space and my kindness is taken advantage of.”
I’m still going. There may be a part of me on a walk somewhere but there’s another part of me that’s right here, still here, still processing, still in the mud.
“I’ve always been direct with you right?”
I’m fixated on something else: two memories and walking towards the bright white person that glows s a f e. There is no safety in malice and yet I try to set the example.
“I will continue being direct with you, blunt, if that’s ok. You seem not to mind it.”
I know two things about myself: you can pull anything from me eventually if you really want to know and I will always choose mercy. I pass another lantern fly and I record it walking. There is a part of me that wants to record myself stepping on it to prove that I am a killer but there is another part of me that is recording it to prove I can’t. I am squatting, hovering with phone to watch it. You’ll freeze. I am backing away without another though, passing the elderly woman, turning to see if she does what I couldn’t do. No one wants to kill something beautiful. Of course, I swat flies, have stepped on cockroaches and smash ants on my counter regularly but I say a prayer when I do. No, you’re not like me. Don’t pretend to be. I’m rubber, you’re glue and everything you and I both say, bounces back, sticks to you. I’m back at my therapist’s office.
“I’m assertive, I have boundaries, I just feel targeted, like people see my compassion the most and because of that I am always asked to do favors. I was also taught to do them by many communities I have been a part of,including the AA community, the woman community, the southern community. Plus my parents and my brother all being relatively sweet and docile people; explosive with each other but nice. I’m polite, considerate, I don’t know, all these years hating myself for being tricked. And not stupid, but my parent’s daughter, a bit rebellious and tantrum oriented but sweet. I did hit kids though sometimes; Leana and Ashley. Just those two.”
I look up unsure of how I got here and what I want to say. How do I feel about my own stifled violence? I’m on a street somewhere in South Philly where not a soul on that block has taken down their Halloween decorations. The houses glow orange even in the daylight. I’m always three places at once if I’m any less than nine.
“I also threw a can at a young boy’s face, surprised by my aim. I cut his cheek right below his eye. Had it been an inch higher, I could have blinded him.”
I’m back there again.
Nine years old and she was three, I think. I made eye contact with her. That wasn’t right. I was walking up the front walk and they were riding bikes, new, I didn’t know what to say to them. They were a little too young for me. We didn’t just look, we stared at each other and a very protective feeling swarmed me, swarmed her. It’s not that she looked like me when I was three, but she did, it’s that she looked my daughter. I wanted her to be my daughter. It couldn’t have been more than three days later that she suffocated to death in a closet, skin melted, body charred while I cooled in a community pool, unaware that luck doesn’t exist everywhere. My grandmother said you must have a guardian angel looking out for you as the sharp corner of the heavy wooden trash can lid almost hit my tiny left toe, but missed and hit the floor instead. Kids recover from fractures, and I sure did, but I brushed elbows with calamity far more often than my brother did.
“Your skin heals fast but you are clumsy; watch your bones,” a psychic said.
I can be everywhere at once. Looking at myself in the bath, seeing the tall man in the room next to me.
Your name is Dana.
I can come to conclusions with force, obsessive thought, waiting but it doesn’t mean any of them are right. I’m on a street in Philadelphia where it’s still Halloween night and I’m pulling up in the backseat of the Dyson’s car on my court seeing the black roof first, then the police tape, then the police and then her curious face blazes my eyelids. First, an olive grows dark by sun then dark as black. Black like roof. Black like smoke. Black like shutting eyes to touch the bottom of the deep end: 12 feet down, and I did it every day of summer just to prove I can hold my breath that long.
“Anyway, I have boundaries and you’re right,” she hadn’t said anything, “I won’t let people push them no matter how many times I have to say no. Kindness is one of my highest values. My kindness is a gift.”
She smiled, nodded, agreeing.
Winter is almost here again and I begin getting ready. There are good days and there are bad days. I believe it is important to highlight both. On a good day, I am up by 830 or earlier, sometimes 9:30 if my dreams were extremely vivid as they were the night before. Regardless, it is a good day if I hop out, kiss the cat’s head, jog down the steps. I have my routine: you always feed the cats first, then begin the hot water, then the litter, then sun lamp and dreams. I am trying to quit coffee so I only have two cups. I cherish those cups and then I do yoga and then I begin.
I cheat: check messages, reply, but I try not to until I have written my dream down. It is important for me to write my dreams down. It is the most steady unwavering habit I have held. Journaling, sure, you process how your breakup is related to the chocolate which spikes your mood which leads you to stifle your tears which leads you to lash out at Fed Ex for fucking up a delivery but I usually only write something like “I feel fine.” I don’t trust my journaling. I trust my sleep. Last night, as I clawed through the dirt to get away from the annex in the house where the man was hiding, I had the thought that this was it, the same dream. I climbed the tree and the voice said “it will be the scariest night of your life but if you stay in the tree, you will survive.” They were looking for me and I had to count on them thinking I tried to run to the street for help, not further in the backyard. People blame victims because they want a reason for violence so they don’t think it can happen to them at any given time. Whether you run deep into the woods to camouflage yourself from the bitter man hoping the crunch of the leaves won’t give you away or try to make a run for it in the streetlights is really incidental, not causal.
I like to complete my routine but switch it up. If it’s a writing day, as today is, yoga can come in the afternoon as a welcome break. Morning sun envelops me instead. The walks are important. I take vitamin D and use a sun lamp but depression hits when the sky changes earlier than usual. Darkness is both navigator and enemy force. So I skip yoga, set my mind on my to do list and plan to use the time later. Now I have to remember to eat.
It is the first cold day so I wrap myself in my brother’s sweatshirt and my big black coat, bright scarf and whatever hat I have been wearing for days. My head is always cold. My neck always needs protecting. The coat is functional: warm, black to match everything, polyester and slick so rain and snow fall off of it. I walk in snow and drizzle and often get caught in rain due to poor planning, frenzy, sudden obsession with rain. This is a need, a real need. I wear sneakers or combat boots only. I wear heels for show and resent anyone who demands them. I say the same thing, “I’ll wear stilettos if you walk around in them for ten straight minutes first.” Same with anal. You show me you can take a dick and I’ll show you how much being a woman hurts.
I had to buy a new coat and I wanted one that resembled the old one because I am quiet in appearance, lightly hushed, plain. I had to get a new one because it had developed holes in the lining so my keys would get lost which frustrates me. I hate losing things. In fact, I show temper with loss but that’s not it.
“I found this,” my friend held it up.
I was in need actually.
“I’m sure you can wash it. It was in the psych unit.”
“I like it,” I said taking it from her, touching it, squeezing it.
A new thing to cherish and live by: luck. Black with plaid lining, buttons only, pockets galore, can hide things. I can’t lie, can’t make things up so appreciate the strange as it happens. I loved telling people the story.
I didn’t think it was. I though it made me look ordinary but I was always receiving compliments about.
“My friend found it in a mental hospital.”
They usually nodded, unsure of how to now manage me.
I knew if it had been a library or store, they wouldn’t have had the same reaction. No one ever asked any follow up questions either, like why didn’t your friend return it or do you feel bad vibes, just wow. I’m incessantly needy. The coat was warm and dry.
But I did abandon it for a new shiny coat and today I could wear it. Smoked a tiny tiny bit, just enough to relax the neck, and began my walk around the neighborhood heading one particular way to avoid another. I had the same eleven dollars in my back pocket that I take with me every day. There is nothing to buy; nothing to consume. It is mere safety. My keys are in my front pocket. My phone is in my hand. I begin to practice.
“My name is Catarina Kacyrek. May I come in?”
I stopped carrying my backpack as it began to hurt my shoulder and back especially as I filled it throughout the day. Found myself having to stop at the store or go out of my way for a trip to justify the hours spent in reverie, in crypt. I liked purchasing holistic things, like Aloe Vera powder or probiotic gummies, or ice cream when I could have it. I liked makeup, but I liked stealing that more.
“You can never have enough chapstick,” I say to the attendant who ignores me.
Men never ignore me, I think leaving her there, not carrying on the conversation. I didn’t carry ID either. You can say I’m paranoid. My friends did. I can’t lie. I find it nauseating and am overcome with remorse after. The purge comes. I look for a man to confess to. I might as well not lie. To worsen things, it’s not that I don’t like committing crimes because I really, really do, it’s just the tale is hard. I don’t know, I’m clever. There’s guilt that’s leftover but then there’s the serial killer theory. They always go back, confess, get caught. You have to remove your ego to get away with things, but I wanted to be right, prove rightness and might and con. I wanted to be giant and the truth was bigger. The truth was captivating. I was traumatized.
You name it: car accidents, concussion, rape, fondling, molestation, arrests, witnessed deaths constantly since the age of seven. I was gifted never ending obituaries and souvenirs to hold people close, not flesh; family, friends, neighbors, clients, coworkers missed. My three neighbors died in a fire when I was nine, all children, under the age of seven and my other neighbor was found dead in her bed later. I believe they proved natural causes but it didn’t help the child to overhear they were investigating the husband for murder. Anyone can turn on you. A guy was murdered on my doorstep in Kensington. Shot to death on my doorstep. My uncle turned on himself, shot his brains out in his father’s old house over a woman. My aunt had a man turn on her once, when I was six or seven, this was the first. She was found run over several times somewhere in Texas. I was almost hit by several cars walking. Only once was it my fault;, I was usually following the green, or at least very careful. Yes, I am paranoid, vigilant, overwhelmed by the world so selfish and careless, I screamed the other night in the rain, my red parka partly covering my face but every single part of me could clearly be seen.
“Do you not see me? Do you really not fucking see me?”
His phone on the dash, I couldn’t make out his eyes but I knew just now was the first time he looked up. I can forgive and pull from a deep place of wounder, the harmer, the perp. Once, I cut a motorcyclist off with my mom in the car. I hadn’t seen them coming and it’s true about cyclist visibility–they were hard to see. I’m not justifying it, I’m telling you the story. I pulled into the lot and the two surrounded me to say the same thing, screaming.
“You almost killed us!”
I actually didn’t.
“What else can I say, I’m sorry?”
Petrified, I was also trembling. I’ve been in four car accidents now. I hate driving. I was in one bike accident. I hate biking. I was almost hit by, let’s say, fifteen different cars since I moved to Philly, plus a pick up truck in Virginia. My mom said they just needed to process it. They needed to yell at me because they were scared. My mom knew I wasn’t going to hit them either. And in the rain, his van two inches from my waist moving forward, I screamed too.
“Do you really not fucking see me?”
I pace cars, point at reds, am smarmy and alarming in height when you finally meet me. Today is a good day. I took my vitamins. I peered at the sun through my slightly scratched but still usable aviators. I smiled at strangers and pet their dogs when they’d have me. I stopped at crosswalks and waited. In no particular order, I recounted all the ways my body has been attacked since I was young because the only way out is through. The only way out is to see clearly and walk, crawl, run, jump or f r e e ze if that’s what survival requires.
This is the scariest night of your life, but if you stay in the tree, you will survive.
It’s true, I am waiting for something. I wait three extra seconds before stepping off of the curb after the bright white person flashes on the screen.
I never came here seeking us. It is death I’ve been chasing.
What I realize making soup one day, is that I didn’t want to light two burners at once as one has a tendency to burst upon lighting which is its own problem. Suddenly, wanting to add two together, I pause. I’ll make the tea later. It’s true my problems; what I am scared of and enraptured with, drawn towards and reaching for is flame. That if the place was to catch fire, I might be so engrossed by the violence of pure element, I would freeze, take no cover, almost plead with an embrace or hold the cat so close as I lose my breath in my sleep, suffocated without waking.
“I dreamt of a fire last night.”
I am writing this to myself because later I will remember something else so long as I tried to catch the imagery with more vivid detail the first time. In the morning, it was hard. Distraction immediately began. So many inquiries first thing in the morning. I wrote as much as I could and took my usual walk later. Sometimes things hit me unexpectedly.
“My neighbor’s house caught fire when I was nine.”
But I had told myself a story first on that walk. First the dream, then going back to remember the dream and then trying to make meaning.
- equivalent to the sum of one and two; one more than two; 3.
“her three children”
- a group or unit of three people or things.
noun: three; plural noun: threes
“students clustered in twos or threes”
- three years old.
- a group or unit of three people or things.
“Everyone has discounted how able I am at guessing.”
“Yes, my ability to predict or guess the correct answer when there is really no reason I should be able to know that.”
I was sitting in the big orange arm chair, coffee on the stand next to me, incense lit the room when I was there now. Trying not to take the appearance of incense personally, I did understand both myself and the absorption she has to face to do this job. I had done this job too. Facial micro gestures don’t bother me. When I mention a man’s name, I ignore the wrinkle of her nose, pleased with her dissatisfaction of him as it shows her commitment to my health, her loyalty to me.
“Even though,” I continue, “guessing games seem silly, if you win almost every time, you start to believe in the supernatural. I grew up playing these games with Leana and we would always guess the color or number the other one is thinking. Of course,” I stop myself realizing how naive I sound, “she could be lying but I just told you the story of the trams at Busch Gardens and the thing about the blackout on Halloween.”
I always gazed to the right when I was trying to figure out how to word something to my therapist. She never seemed worried or put off by me. I had told her about the way the titles seemed to talk to me, how music talked to me, and she listened to my corollations without interference. I found her encouraging, honest and trustworthy and was grounded. Open to collaboration with my spiritual practice but wouldn’t support theories that aliens live in the electricity and whisper things to you all day. I needed that. Whether I gave up the theory or not was inconsequential. She just reminded me to breathe, eat, come back to Earth and take care of myself. Delusions existed in all of us. We aren’t here to fight every delusion but become unmired from them. A practice of decoupling.
“There is nothing supernatural about your Spotify,” he said. “A music fast would do you good.”
“Oh for like a month?”
“Oh god no, like two or three days then listen to it for two or three days. There is nothing supernatural about your Spotify though. You did this in Boulder, I remember. Would walk for hours listening to music.”
“Yes, you know,” I sit across from him in my apartment.
He visits from time to time to let me borrow books, hang curtains, check shelves.
“I can’t believe you still have no one to help you with this,” he says, secretly pleased with my allowance of him in the second bedroom.
“I have friends but,” I am pleased that he made amends to me once, “I don’t ask them for things like this.”
I was trying to decouple songs from feelings, the beat from influence of mood, the aliens from the sounds, the eardrums from the soreness and seizure. Confusion arises from panic which begins with daily, frequent mundane worry. The catalyst is mania and for me, music propelled me into frenzy. Literally got my heart palpitating and my legs moving all over the city, almost on instinct like a hungry centipede, I would be suddenly on the ceiling, seeking. I needed help finding ground. I liked my therapist. We discussed self care often but we also let my imagination bloom. She let me borrow her tarot deck once and all she asked was that I show her how to use it. We sat on the carpet and I flipped a few cards to begin.
“Two means the coupling, or the coming together of something. Ace is the beginning so three is the triangle, kind of like the first part of completion. Ace is nascent, spark, begin. Two is come together, duality, choice. Three is the mark of spark as all fall in line. Let’s examine some for example. What’s on your mind?”
This was risky but she answered.
“I have been having a tough time with my mother. She’s sick,” she hesitated but she shared, “and I am taking care of her.”
“Oh nice the two of cups: love. Look at these swans in the water, swimming, connected.”
We both gazed at the card and she nodded. I always spoke like that in tangles and hoped the other person was reading my mind. When I was kid sometimes I would only share half a sentence or half a story and assumed the other person understood what I was saying. As I sit here recalling my superpower of winning card games, I am, before she even leans forward, asking myself if people really change.
“The consequence of guessing correctly for no reason,” I stick my thumb out to begin recounting, “thinking of things and then watching them happen, writing stories and watching them happen, reading tarot for myself and others and getting nothing but positive feedback and referrals, and sometimes having premonition in dreams, has led me to conclude that the most dangerous thing people have done to me is invalidate my intuition.”
She says nothing because we have been talking for almost four years. All five fingers are up and I am leaning forward in the chair, not gazing anywhere but suddenly extremely straightforward, mouth agape and I am not finished with my resentful tirade.
“Even though it sounds silly, this idea that I am able to guess trivial things like the color of a tram, or the thought in someone’s head or, in a different way, seeing storms or things approaching has discounted a huge valuable part of myself. Because of this I was unable to share it, unable to thrive in it and lost control in it when it became stronger three years ago. Gaslighting is everywhere. I knew something was wrong with my body years ago when I had a steady job and health insurance and went to the doctor for stomach issues. I knew then I drank too much coffee and the vitamin drink I took in the morning was contributing but I complained of sinus, mucus, etc. only to find out five years later, it is connected, it was solvable then and now I have a tumor. I went a year ago to the ER for dysphagia and they sent me home with a referral to a psychiatrist that didn’t take my insurance without even checking my throat even though I admitted to being confused, a tiny bit delusional. How can you justify not checking to make sure someone’s delusion isn’t correct if you’re there to help them? And in the most recent assault, my doctor said I have an ‘enlarged parathyroid’ when she meant tumor, benign and when I became overwhelmed by the dissonance, the inaccuracy of her diagnosis, I cried. That led her to tell me I should see a psychiatrist for my anxiety.”
Pause for impact, self, audience, understanding definitions, facts, the way words form a sentence like a barrel of a gun.
“Because of my anxiety, my admitted sensitivity that has been, I’d say, equal friend and foe, I’ve been dismissed as hypochondriac, psychosomatic, a frazzled danger to herself. Yet, I can feel the breeze change from indoors and I can feel my own body aging each day; reject itself, the mucus climbing up my throat and sitting there like a tiny bouncy ball on my larynx. I even wrote that.”
I was staring at my shoes.
“I wrote a poem about my voice box years ago, being stifled by something and later a story about an apparition squeezing my throat shut. The sensations. It’s just I don’t feel heard and it’s not confusing, it’s real. I’ve been dismissed as a woman with anxiety because of gaslighting. I’m anxious because I’m traumatized and everyone tells me everything I feel is psychosomatic. I have a tumor and the symbology is that I have a tumor because I’m unheard. I have to swallow my own words or yell. I feel like I’ve been yelling. I think I’m clear. Do you think I’m clear? Frank?”
This is where grief sits. Not in this office with my therapist but the repetition of a question that you already know the answer to because you’ve asked it so many times before and a bullet hits your heart when the trigger is released.
“Then why did you leave?”
Suddenly, I fix my attention on someone else.
It just started where it started, an ending. That’s how things usually spark: the motion of getting up from the table, lowered head so you only see the eyelid, the silencing of gesture and voice and argument. There’s nothing left to say. You remember that painted eyelid.
You remember the back of someone; black slicker, lined in polyester, practical, utilitarian, good for rain and snow and gray, cold days and you remember it because it represents the deepest part of them; their practicality and planning. Pragmatic even in display, they were fact-based, ruled by thought and precise in many ways. Always wearing sneakers. Always wearing layers. You remember the interminable door slamming shut as your hand flies off the knob and you leave her sitting there, not stunned or surprised but gently mourning in the capsize.
“Would you say I’m frank?” she asked me.
That uneven smile and eyebrow and posture. Her constant vacillation between sainthood and possession that she spit at me in fragments, expected me to consume it, volley back, hold it, remember, care.
.I’ll remember her inquisitiveness and quiet generosity where no one saw and with no explanation, I saw, a life she tried to save. She will remember me by my one-word answers and the canyon they tried to fill. But I didn’t expect to see her like that.
“Do you believe everything I say?”
The room was full when I walked in, quiet. Because I was late, she ushered me in and told me to keep my voice down. I had expected to be turned away but this was my second visit and I meant well, didn’t I? I had just started this treatment to help me with my insomnia, help me wind down in the evening, help me sleep. Life was ok. I had dreams and hidden feelings and pictures. Still had a pocket of violets and a row of soothsayers following me.
They were all women there and oddly, all had the same short hair, the same fall comfort clothes, just hoodies and jeans and sneakers but I saw her first. There was no need to scan. She wasn’t wearing a hat or anything to cover her hair and I realized it was the first time I really saw her; head twisted only slightly away from me but mostly straight and supported by the chair, needles sticking out of her jawline. Eucalyptus filled the room, hints of lavender, low light and is this what it always meant, the next time we are forced to face it there will be no defense between us. I read there will be light. I read the word befallen. Sometimes I practiced dictation too: moved by a carelessness but hoarding when the nymph is gone, still enraptured by the sight. She was long, lean, her collarbone jutted out from underneath a very thin striped sweater that favored her. It was kind of how I remembered: unembellished and ordinary but shining in its plainness. She wore no jewelry. She was taller than I expected, thinner too, and simple, not like a beige wallpaper or some other muted adornment but something bigger even in the background. Her cheekbones were high. Her clavicle jutted and she was paling but olive, not milk white, not quite tan, Her neck long as I imagined. Her breathing slow and she looked content to be there. It felt like I was suddenly invading.
Not plain, no, and not ordinary just a spectacle in its honesty. Maybe it’s brave that shows, triumph, skill survives like a Renaissance portrait that lasts decades in the museum for its representation of the time; the light the artist was able to paint into the picture peeking from the corner, dull blues and grays and a very fine wine-burgundy. It’s a dark painting but it lights up the room; no sun just that one light in the corner. You pass it and you pause every time. Analytics and video tapes demand it stays in that museum. Mostly black with a few people looking up, following the cloud. You’re admiring what they were– the vividness of the devil’s outline, black against black. It’s all you can see.
A smile began in the corner of her mouth and she stretched her fingers. I saw nothing in her hands. Her nails were long and red and her jeans had holes in them. She held nothing in her hands eyes shut, the mouth falling slightly open, relaxing. I didn’t look at her feet as I turned away. What an incredible yearning for loss we face. If only to stay there that day of passing her without a word, head down only to turn around to watch her turning around too and later demanding explanation. Leaving, if only to stay enveloped in the sight of her resting with needles poking out all over her face, her neck, her jaw, her wrists. To stay in winter, in our coats, watching the Earth break into a rift and separate cliffs so all you hear are echoes. A heavy yes falling to the bottom. The portrait of the townspeople hurried to the shadow, gawked at by millions a year, never removed for its classic parable. Not a glittering, but a dimness yet the center of the room. Beware of what you seek for it is seeking you.
Just say yes and step into the consequence.