Cat Dixon

“WRESTLE WITH YOUR OWN DEMONS”

Greg says I shouldn’t write
in persona—write about your own life.
I’d prefer not. To write
is an escape from the shadows,
and without an escape,
I hide in my closet behind
those long dresses
that hide my legs. I’ve hid
in basements for days
and no one searched for me.

But if he wants the truth,
I sat in a chair in Betty’s house
for fourteen hours a day, seven
days a week. The walls and books
stained by cigarette smoke,
the grandfather clock chiming
every hour—its ticking ate
my minutes. Betty snored
in her recliner so loudly
Barbara Walters’ on 20/20—
blond hair, sharp suit—was
voiceless. I tried to read her lips.
Mark always in the corner,
rocking and whispering, crawled
over, made eye contact for the first time—
how blue—and he pulled my hair.
Betty said the lamb on my hair tie
tempted his hands. At naptime,
I lay next to Ashley who smelled
like some kind of plastic; her hair like pulled weeds.
Betty didn’t bathe children,
but she did change Mark and Ashley’s diapers.
She changed the other boy, 11 or 12,
—I’ve forgotten his name—
who laid on the couch, never moving, 
who had his feeding tube waiting
there like a vase open for water and roses.
Ashley, with her balding brown hair,
lowered ears, wide-set eyes, grabbed
my hand as we sat watching TV.
I jerked away and saw her wrist
was bruised—blue and green—
like a flower corsage given to a date
at prom or homecoming.

See, I’m fishing and the wind
picks up and the sky’s dark green.
This fish, detached from the hook,
wiggles and jerks. The scales slice
my fingers, and I let go. His body slaps
the wooden dock—
                        he flips
over     and     over.
He plunges back into the lake.
Just let that one go.

When the doctor washed his hands,
the hairs on the back of my neck
stood at attention—soldiers marching
the room into shock. The jolts sent
me into spasms, but I was strapped
down—the man refused
to let me leave. A flame tunneled
down my spine seeking the earth,
and like a charred tree, all
that remained was bark
and burnt leaves on the dirt.

Lightening pock-marks my vision
and mutes any meaning. See, I bite
my fingernails, drink too much wine,
vape on this nicotine stick,
email unattainable men, obsess over Cohens,
baseball legends, a boy my son’s age, Larry David,
the space program, Bonheoffer, Seinfeld trivia,
French cuisine, Medea, and Margaret Atwood
to avoid the tornado siren that blares.

If he wants the truth, I don’t
go to the dentist. I claim
I have no time for chairs, waiting,
flossing, x-rays, but it’s truth
decay that I know the hygienist can
never clear away. My teeth
rot so I turn my head when
the boy pulls me close
to kiss my lips. Tongue black—
I spit oil into the sink. Every time
I brush my teeth, the blood runs
down the side of my hand. I rinse
it away—all clean. I’ve taken
a new name—cutting off
the last syllable. Now I’m
playing the game.

The truth is I never learned
how to ride a bike, how to skate,
how to jump rope, or swim. My sky
has always been the ceiling. The fan
that rotates there, the sun, and it spins
in place like a globe. While standing
on a kitchen chair, I jammed my finger up
hoping to cut off a digit—instead a mouthful
of dust and spider web. Home
was salt and pepper shakers from every state,
miniature houses with tiny inviting
doors and windows, an unused
treadmill that was a coat rack,
and the never-silent TV. Tom Brokaw,
my father. Or maybe Regis Philbin.
My mother, Erica Kane,
a soap opera character that I watched
religiously in the summer. The bar
Tommy took me to after All My Children
was over, basted in overdone smoke,
but I liked the way the old stool spun
and the never-ending supply
of salty pretzels. Weekends
meant Tommy’s grandchildren
visiting and holding me down
to tear off my pants while
she disappeared to smoke
and drink in the kitchen.

The truth is I found a book—
in Tommy or Betty’s house,
not sure which—printed in 1923,
and its binding was worn, pages brittle,
and I brought it home, tucked in my pants,
and hid it beneath my bed. When my friend
Sheila spent the night, she lost a sock,
and found the book. I demanded she
drop it, but she held her side of the book
and would not let go. I grabbed and pulled.
Eventually it ripped. We each held half. 
I read the even-numbered pages—she the odd,
and we reconstructed the plot,
the character development
separately, but somehow we were
both wrong. We read
the story in the order that was meant,
and snacked on popcorn and candy
I stole from the kitchen when my mother slept.

The truth is when the tornado warning
was announced—I was in the library,
my second year of college, those
campus sirens screaming,
and the people, nameless and white,
all hollered       stay here          stay here
—I exited the front doors into the rain
and wind. I knew I couldn’t die
for I had survived nights
filled with infanticide, and later,
male rage. What could hailing
gales do to me that I hadn’t already
weathered? What did it even matter?

Now, when the aging beast invites me
to dinner, I know I’m on the menu.
I put off the meeting with excuses—
my daughter’s softball game,
my son’s band concert,
the evening work phone call,
the POS car’s in the shop—
eventually I run
out of delays—the bait is money—
I can’t resist. I drag my babies,
cowering and yawning,
to the table in a poorly lit room
so the beast may snap their necks, and leave
me with their flesh.

See, the swaddling was too tight,
the arm of the rocking chair
too hard, the volcano
on the neighboring island—
a laboring cancerous lung—
polluted the air and dusted
my dark dresser and bed.
When she moved us to Nebraska,
the furniture traveled along
with gritty Pacific salt embedded
in its grain. The lava spilled
from her mouth and I was
“idiot” “dipshit” “bitch”
and I carried those words
in my head until I discovered
releasing them by blood
felt better. And better still,
the vodka on ice, a whole
glass filled to the brim. Black
out. That’s where I’ve been.

The truth is I’ve chosen not
to wrestle what I know I can never
defeat. Better to believe
the myth, live a lie, die
thousands of times, than
to waste tears on the demons—
for they always return to the door,
always slip under the sheet,
always have the last word. 

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