Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Eulogy for X, Part 6

Tonight while I am giving my one-year-old her bath she flails so violently when I rinse the shampoo from her hair that she falls forward in the tub. She catches herself with both hands, but not before her face dips into the water. My heart engorges with fear. I plunge my hands into the water and grasp her slippery little body under the armpits and pull her upright again. She stares at me wide-eyed and coughs. The skin around her eyes is splotchy pink. Her nose runs. I pat her back. "Are you okay, Baby Girl?" I murmur. "Yes. You're okay. You're all right." Without letting go of her, I quickly soap her up and rinse her off, then lift her from the tub. I wrap a yellow hooded towel around her and hold her against my chest. "You're safe, Baby Girl. You're safe."


I am five years old. It is a warm summer day, the kind of day that a Michigander dreams of all winter long. The sun shines, but clouds scud by to offer occasional shade and cool. For once the humidity does not  squeeze all the oxygen out of the air. Best of all, I am with my family at my Aunt Jan's house on Little Silver Lake for a potluck. All of my Smith aunts, uncles and cousins are there. There is a tablecloth-covered picnic table laden with cheesy potatoes, taco salad, meatballs, and various desserts, along with all the fixings for the hamburgers and hot dogs Uncle Dick is grilling. The air is fragrant with burning charcoal, and the drool-inducing tang of burgers and dogs cooking.

But it's not time to eat yet. It's time to swim. I change into my blue one-piece bathing suit inside Aunt Jan's bathroom. Then I meet my brother Eric outside and we race down the steps into the lake. We shriek at the cold water splashing our feet and legs. I plug my nose, take a deep breath and clamp my mouth shut tight. I bend my knees and drop my whole body beneath the water's surface. A thrilling chill squeezes my ribs. I pop back up above the water and gasp with joy.

My cousin Trisha plays Monkey in the Middle with Eric and me. Our favorite game. Trisha agrees to be monkey first. Eric and I toss a bright pink ball to each other over Trisha's head. Trisha is older and tall for her age, so we rarely succeed. When the ball flies astray, one of us swims after it. If it lands beyond the dock, where the water is several feet above our heads, Trisha fetches it. After a while, my brother and I find more entertainment in purposely knocking the ball into the deeper water so Trish has to swim for it. She knows what we're doing, but being the good sport she is, she says nothing and cheerfully retrieves the ball again and again.

One of us throws the ball and accidentally bounces it off the side of the dock. It flies past us, bounces off the neighbor's dock, and drops into the water. Trish takes off after it. But it isn't in water above my head. I'm just learning to swim and I want to get some practice. So I swim toward the ball, too. Trish is the faster, more experienced swimmer--she lives here, after all, and swims in this lake every summer day--so she reaches the ball long before I do. But I want to swim as far as the neighbor's dock, just for the practice. I cut through the water, paddling my feet, turning my head and slashing the water with my arms. I pass Trish on her way back to Eric. I keep swimming. I triumphantly reach the dock and slap one of the white wooden planks.

I stand to catch my breath and rest a moment. This is the farthest I've ever swum! But instead of touching white sand, my feet squish in black muck. It feels slimy and cold. I have just enough time to recoil from this icky feeling, and then the muck sucks me under. Slurp! I am drawn down, down, down to the squishy bottom of the lake. The water shoots me up above the surface again and I reach for the dock, but I'm sucked under again before I can grasp it. My feet sink into black sludge and far above my head the water's surface looks like a liquid ceiling. I shoot through the ceiling again and see the neighbor sitting on the opposite side of the dock from me. "Joe!" I shout. Water fills my mouth so all that comes out is a gurgle.

Every time I go under, the world goes eerily silent and dim.  When I'm thrust above water again, sound and light explode around me. I try to breathe when I break the surface, but I'm sucked under so quickly I swallow more water than air. My chest is beginning to feel tight. My lungs are about to burst. The water feels like a lead vest.

I try calling to Joe a few more times, but only gurgles come out. He doesn't hear. He doesn't even turn around. I swivel my eyes straight ahead and see my dad in a lawn chair directly in front of me on shore. He appears to be looking right at me. Why doesn't he come save me? "Dad!" I call. "Daddy!" But again, I can't get the words out. My throat is too full of water.

Someone once told me that a person goes under three times before they drown. I know I've gone under more times than that. I start counting. I get to fifteen, then I wonder how long I've been in the water. How many more times can I go under? I begin to accept that I am going to die. God must want me in heaven for some reason. No one I know has died yet, so who will be in heaven to meet me? Besides God, of course. My great grandma died a few months before I was born. I imagine a vague, shadowy void and I see the wrinkled, white-haired old lady from pictures my mother has shown me. My mom always said Great Grandma would have loved me if she had met me. Peace overcomes me as I realize that Great Grandma will definitely be in heaven waiting for me. She will take good care of me. I see her smile at me.

Suddenly I hear violent splashing and a hand squeezes my arm and pulls my head and shoulders above water. It is my ten-year-old cousin Teresa. Her long black hair swings down toward me as she bends and hauls the rest of me up. She tugs me to shore where my mom and Aunt Jan stand waiting for me.

I fall to the sand and vomit black water and dirt at their feet. "Oh honey," Mom says. "We thought you were playing." She wraps her arms around me as I vomit again and again. It seems I am saturated with muck and water.

I tremble violently. Someone brings a towel and Mom wraps it around me. It cannot warm me. I feel cold from the inside out.

Mom and Aunt Jan pour buckets of water over my head. My hair is full of muck. I shiver more violently than before.

Finally, I am led up the stairs and into the house, where I change into my clothes. I spend the rest of the afternoon wrapped in a towel, unable to stop shaking under a sky that has clouded over.

When we get home, my mom runs a hot bath for me. She scrubs the mud from my hair. Her vigorous rubbing and the steaming bath finally begin to warm me.

That night I have nightmares about lying in a gleaming wooden coffin. About being buried alive. About Great Grandma turning her back on me when I get to heaven. I thump downstairs to where Mom and Dad are watching TV and lay my head in Mom's lap.

"I had no idea you were so upset by this," she says when I tell her my nightmares.

My near-drowning replays like an old movie in my mind night after night for weeks as I lie in bed trying unsuccessfully to sleep. I hear my thoughts like a voiceover:  My entire family saw me drowning and never recognized I was in danger. They thought I was playing. And it wasn't my mom or dad or any of my aunts or uncles who saved me. It was my cousin.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Eulogy for X, Part 5

None of the adults in my life catch on that X is raping and molesting me. Not my parents, not my grandparents, not my aunts or uncles, not my teachers or Sunday School teachers. I ask for help more than once. Not directly, because I don't know how to do that, and I can't tell on X. I try to reach out to my parents with the limited language and communication skills of my pre-adolescent brain.

On a Saturday morning a few months after X first rapes me, for example, my parents tell me X is coming over to babysit me for a few hours. My brother and sister are with friends. That means X and I will be alone. I throw myself to the kitchen floor and scream, "Noooo! No, no, no, no, no!" I kick and slap at the linoleum. I spin myself in circles.

"Get up off that floor now," my mother says between clenched teeth.

"No! I won't! I won't I won't I won't I won't I won't I won't I won't!" Tears stream from my eyes and into my ears.

Mother mutters and I hear her stomping up the stairs. I stare into the space between the floor and the bottom of the oven. There are twist ties, dessicated crumbs, and dust. I hear two pairs of feet stomping down the stairs. Mother has brought Dad.

"Kelly Ann!" my father says. I lie on my side and look up at him. I sniffle. Dad's teeth are clenched, too. His eyes bulge and his face is set in the expression of a stray dog about to bite. Mother stands beside him, her arms folded across her chest and a smug look on her face that says, "You're not getting away with this now, are you, kid?"

"Get up!" My dad says. "Now!"

"Please, Daddy," I cry. "Please not X. Please?"

"What is wrong with you?" Father growls. "Stop acting like a brat. X is coming and you are going to get along. You give him any trouble and you will be punished. So help me. Do you understand me?"

When X arrives, I am told to open the door and let him in. His eyes already have that light inside, the light that means danger. The light that means run. Hide. But there is nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. Not even in my own house.

My parents have just bought their first VCR, a VHS rather than a Betamax. X's family just got one a few weeks ago. They're the only ones we know who also own a VCR. Watching movies at home is a novel concept, so my parents excitedly explain to X that there is a stack of movies downstairs and we are free to watch whatever we want. They give me stern looks before walking out the door and locking it behind them.

Downstairs, X sifts through the movies. He asks what I want to watch. I pick the most innocuous movie of the bunch, the black-and-white Disney movie, The Shaggy Dog.

X sits on the couch and pats the cushion beside him. I sit in my dad's ugly brown La-Z-y Boy rocker instead. I stare straight at the TV. But out of the corner of my eye, I see X still beckoning me to sit beside him. Soon he is standing in front of me, telling me to move over. I ignore him. He plops down in the chair anyway so he's half on my lap, half off. I'm wearing my favorite outfit:  a white blouse with a tie neck and red buttons under a pair of tan corduroy overalls. X turns my face and kisses me with his metallic, dirty tasting tongue. Of course. He always kisses with his tongue.

I gulp and look away again. I feel my pulse beating in my ears, hear my heart bang at a frenzied tempo. He unties my blouse. Unfastens a button. He tries to slip his hand inside my shirt, but the overalls prevent it. So he unfastens one strap of my overalls.

That's when I run. I don't think about where I'm running to. I just run. Up and down the stairs, through every room in the house. My tri-level house never felt so small. I've just run into my room when X grabs me and knocks me down on the bed. I kick and yell and thrash as hard as I can, but his grip is firm. I hear a ripping sound. I look down to find a long tear in the seam of my pants. If my mother sees the tear, she will demand to know how it happened. But she will never believe me. She will accuse me of lying, and father will decide my punishment.

I quit resisting X to avoid anymore damage to my clothes. Before my parents return, I change my clothes, shoving the tan cords to the bottom of my dresser drawer. Later, I will bury them in the trash.

When they come home, my parents don't notice I'm wearing different clothes. They never notice that I never wear my favorite pants again.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Eulogy for X, Part 4

I slump into the passenger seat of my girly little Sierra Pine Nissan Sentra and slam the door. The car rocks slightly as Damien drops into the driver's seat. The second his door is closed, a dam bursts inside me. I lean toward him and for the first time that day I let down my guard and admit how I truly feel.

"What a crock! X the perfect friend, the perfect father, the perfect son, the perfect Christian. If they only knew. If they only--"

"I never want to hear his name again." Damien stares straight ahead through the windshield and turns the key in the ignition. "It's X this, X that. X, X, X. I don't want to hear his name again. Ever."

I slump back in my seat. A door in my heart swishes closed.

This is not the reason Damien and I are divorced seven years later. It is only symptomatic of the breakdown in intimacy that was already begun years before X's death.


The night that X rapes me for the first time, I have a nightmare. In this nightmare, I am asleep. A sudden wind howls through the open window above my bed. The green curtains slap in the wind. I open my eyes to see mist streaming into my room from the window. It swirls and separates into a distinct form. The devil. He fills the room. He looms over me and laughs in my face. I feel his breath. "What you have done is a very bad thing." He cackles. "You are a bad, bad girl." He waggles a misty finger. "Come." He lifts me from my bed and carries me toward the window. I turn to mist and float through the screen into the night, under the ground, and down, down, down to the bowels of the earth. I transform into flesh again, and I feel the heat before I see the fires. The flames lick, lick, lick at me, scorching me alive. I scream. "No! No. No. No, no, no, no, no!"

In the waking world, my eyes snap open. Sweat molds my nightgown to my body. I leap from my bed and run through the dark to my door. The doorknob. Where is it? I run my hands all over the door, but the knob is gone. I can't get out. I bang my fists on the door. "Help!" I shout. "Mommy! Help me! Help!"

I hear a noise behind me and stop the banging. I turn around. The hallway light floods my room. My mother stands silhouetted in the doorway. "Kelly Ann! What in the world is the matter?"

In my terror, I have mistaken the sliding closet door for my bedroom door. I am on the wrong side of the room.


Now that X has raped me, he is no longer satisfied to just touch my private places. He is no longer satisfied to just take my hand and make me touch his private place. He wants to have intercourse every time we are in the same place at the same time.

Not that I know the word rape. Not that I know the word intercourse. I only know that when X touches me, I feel dirty and ugly and ashamed. When he fucks me, I feel dirtier, uglier and more ashamed. I don't know why I feel this way.

When no one is looking, X makes the fuck sign with his fingers and thumb. Then he points at me and at himself. I shake my head no. He nods yes. His eyes are alight. The corners of his mouth are turned up. I can say no all I want. In the end, he will get his way.

I try to hide when he comes over. I hide in the breezeway. I hide in the loft above the garage. I hide in the willow tree. But he always finds me.

If I fight hard enough, he cannot always get what he wants. But he is stronger than I am, so he can hold me down. Thrashing and kicking and slapping only wear me out. "Be careful," he warns. "If you leave marks I'm gonna tell on you."

"So? I'll tell on you."

He grins down at me. "If you do, I'll just say that you wanted it. I'll say you asked for it. And you liked it. Who are they going to believe?"

Other times, when he is done with me, he'll put a finger to his lips. "Remember, don't tell."

At school we watch a movie with a cartoon pony named Patch. Patch instructs us to not take candy from strangers. To never get in a car with a stranger. To never let a stranger touch us. "Neigh, neigh. From strangers stay away," he says. Patch says nothing about people we know. He never says what we should do if we are touched by someone our parents know and love and invite into our house.

One afternoon when I am fifteen, I head downstairs to the laundry room when X arrives and I start sorting and folding clothes. I don't ever do chores without being asked first. I am only doing laundry because I can close and lock the laundry room doors. But X figures out where I am, as always, and he is able to jiggle the pocket door and free the lock. He stands behind me and cups my chest. Anger foams up in me like the fizz at the top of a glass when I pour Coke in it.

Before I know what I'm doing, I whirl around to face him. I hear a sharp smack. It's only when X leaps back and clutches his cheek that I realize I have punched him in the face. I see the shock and pain in his eyes. I stomp past him out the door and up the stairs, smiling to myself. He doesn't try to touch me again that day.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Eulogy for X, Part 3

The are very few places left to sit. Whole families lean into one another, patting each other's backs to offer comfort, offering tissues to dry tears. There is a lot of sobbing. Not just sniffling, but shoulder-quaking sobbing. My husband points out an empty space in the second pew from the front, right next to one of my uncles. I'd much rather sit in the back where I won't be in the line of vision of a couple hundred mourners. But the only places left are in front.

The church doors are left open to let in the breeze. Sun streams in the windows, infusing the chapel with a golden light. The brass crosses and candlesticks glow. And there is X's casket, closed now, surrounded by all this light. I glare at a cross and think, How could you, Lord? How could you send this glorious sunshine, this warm air sweetened by a gentle breeze, as if you and all your angels choreographed a hero's homecoming?

One by one, half a dozen people step up to deliver eulogies. The hagiography of Saint X. They all mention X's disarming smile. His sweetness. His wicked sense of humor. There are lots of stories about friendly pranks he pulled. Funny things he said. He was so much fun. Loved by everyone who ever met him. My head buzzes. My fists clench. I want to lean over and rest my head on my knees. But I don't want to do anything to call attention to myself. Even though it is a funeral and my reaction will probably seem perfectly normal, I remain rigidly upright. Every muscle is taut as a rubber band stretched to its breaking point. I hope the eulogies stop soon or I might reach a breaking point myself.

The pastor takes his turn and for twenty minutes my eyes burn, not with tears, but with the strain of keeping my composure. I don't know how much more I can take. Apparently X is a hero because he once saved a man's life. He's a good Christian, too, real tight with God. He could recite Bible passages from memory, thoughtfully discuss scripture. I bring my fist to my mouth and press my knuckles to my lips.

I want to moan. I want to pull my hair. I want to run up the aisle and shove the pastor aside. I want to shout, "Bullshit! Bullshit, bullshit, bullshit!" But I am a good girl. A good, Protestant girl. I remain seated. I remain silent. The pastor concludes, and there is silence as we wait for the 21-gun salute to sound from outside. When the first shot explodes, it sounds like dynamite set off beneath my pew. I startle. "Jesus!" I gasp. I instantly want to crawl under the pews. Surely people heard me. Surely I will be thought a heathen. But it is more a prayer than a curse.

The service concluded, the mourners file out. My parents walk beside X's parents after the casket. They have cried the whole service. They cry still. Their faces are haggard with grief. They look ill. I want to run to them and embrace them. Comfort them. At the same time, I want to throw myself at their feet and cry, "Why are you crying for him? Why don't you cry for the girl who floated out the window?" There are no tears for her. There can't be, because my parents don't know. I never knew how to tell them. Seeing their grief, hearing X lionized, I cannot imagine that I ever will.


When X is done fucking me, he looks at my thighs. He tells me to stand up and he looks down at the carpet where I was lying. His forehead wrinkles a little. "There should be blood," he says. Then he smiles and shrugs. "Oh well. Some girls don't bleed."

My heart pounds in my ears. First he says it's not supposed to hurt. Then he says it is. And I'm supposed to bleed, too. Will it hurt later? Bleed later?

He kisses me and smiles. "You're not a virgin anymore." He says this as if he is my proud father and I have just learned to ride a bike without training wheels for the first time. I am nine. I have no idea what is so great about not being a virgin anymore. I have no idea what a virgin is. The only time I heard this word before was in church at Christmas, when the pastor told us Jesus's mother was the Virgin Mary. I never knew "virgin" was an adjective. I always thought it was just part of Mary's name.

When I'm a teenager and at last understand what virgin means, I will be ashamed that I am not one. I will walk the halls at school holding my books tight to one side and nervously scanning the faces of the kids moving past me. In church, my family always sits toward the front of the church. I feel the congregation's eyes on my back. No one in church or school says a word. No one gives the slightest sign. Still, I am positive that they see right through me. That they know I am not a virgin. I imagine they are all thinking, "Dirty girl. Filthy slut."

In my early thirties, I will sit in my therapist's office and tell her, "X stole my virginity. He robbed me of the chance to choose my first lover." A few weeks later, between periods, I will discover I am spotting. The small splotch of blood on white cotton will cause me to flash back to a summer evening when I was eight and discovered a similar stain. I didn't understand why it was there at the time. In my thirties, I do understand. The next time I see my therapist, I am excited. "X didn't steal my virginity! I lost my virginity when I was riding a horse!"

It is a small victory, but a victory nonetheless.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Why I Will Continue to Write Eulogy for X

I have been writing "Eulogy for X" for two days now, and already someone is trying to shut me up. This person swore at me and called my blog posts "fantasies".

I promise you, these posts are not fantasies. They are my memories of what happened between me and the person who raped and molested me from the time I was five until I was fifteen. There is no way I would make up a story that horrific and post it publicly. There are people who know the truth. They will stand behind me.

I have the right to tell the story of what happened to me. I do not have any obligation to protect a dead person who violated me repeatedly and terribly. I do not have any obligation to protect the feelings of those who might be hurt or upset by my story. I am sorry if people are upset. But I was the victim. People should be upset that someone hurt me. They should not blame me for having the courage to speak the truth.

I did not ask to be raped and molested. I did not do those things to myself. X raped and molested me. That is the truth. Blaming the victim is the coward's reaction to an unpleasant truth. It is the reaction of a person in denial.

Those who truly care about me will believe me and stand by me. Those who don't believe me. . .well, who needs them?

My friend Marty taught me the importance of living an authentic life. The only way I can do that is to tell my story in a public forum. It is essential to my healing process. However, I am not forcing my blog on anyone. Anyone who does not like what I have to say is free to stop reading my posts. But I have received more positive responses than negative. That tells me that sharing my story publicly is the right thing to do. Not only does it help me let go of terrible events in my life, but it allows me to share what I hope will be, by the time I'm finished, a message of hope and healing.

X took my power from me when he raped and molested me. After twenty-five years, it's time I take my power back. I cannot allow others to take my power away just because they are uncomfortable knowing the truth. And that is why I will continue to write "Eulogy for X".

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Eulogy for X, Part 2

X looks in death as he did in life. Boyish and beautiful. The dark lashes are still as long as a girl's. His cheekbones are Johnny Depp chiseled. The only thing that looks off is the odd smirk on his lips. It reminds me of the Red Devil on his shirt that awful day.

Part of me wants to cry, but not for him. I want to cry for me, because I never confronted him about what he did to me. I never got an admission of guilt from him, never received an apology. These would not completely heal the wounds he gave me. But they would allow me to transfer to him the guilt and shame I have carried all these years for the terrible things he did to me.

Another part of me wants to scream obscenities at his corpse. I fantasize about smashing his coffin to bits with a baseball bat.

My husband interrupts my fantasy by gently elbowing my side. I look up to see X's mother approaching. "Kelly," she says, and pulls me against her. She sobs onto my shoulder.

"I'm so sorry," I say. And I am. I am sorry she lost her son. No mother should have to bury her child.

She pulls back and looks at me, then at X. "I wish you two were kids again. You played so good together. You were friends. You were such good friends."

Good friends? Is that what people believe? We were not friends. We were never, ever friends. I want to scream this truth out loud, right here, right now. But I look at X's mother's grief-ravaged face and say, "Yes. Yes, we were."

X stands behind me in the bathroom now. His hands brush my body all over. I meet his eye in the mirror just long enough to see the familiar glimmer. At nine years old, I don't possess a word in my vocabulary to define this glimmer. I only know that when it is there, I am afraid. By the time I am twenty I will see that same glimmer in the eyes of other men, and I will have many words to define it:  lust, desire, longing, craving, hunger, want.

I slip out from beneath his hands. Without really thinking, I sprint for the door to my parents' room. I run through their room and into my bedroom. I slam the door and sit in front of it, resting my head on my knees. Then I realize the futility of my actions. My door does not lock. I am on the top floor. If I jump out the window I will land on the cement patio. I'll break bones. I feel him pushing against the door, hear him pleading for me to let him in. I push back for a while, but soon grow tired. I give up and crawl out of the way. The door whiffs open.

I turn my back to him, flipping book pages back and forth. I'm too nervous to pretend to read. His finger unties one side of my tank top. I mentally flog myself for not choosing a different shirt to wear. He peels back the top of my shirt on one side and slips his hand over my chest. I hold my breath and stare down at the pages in front of me. He turns my head and his tongue is in my mouth. It tastes sour like pickles. It flops like a fish. When he pulls away, he says, "Let's fuck."

Fuck? What is fuck? He sees my blank expression and explains, "It's what people do when they love each other. It's how you make babies."

He curls the fingers and thumb of one hand to make a circle. He pokes one finger from the other hand in and out of this circle. "Fuck," he says.

I am even more confused by this hand gesture. But I don't have time to think about it because he is pulling my hand. He wants to take me back to the bathroom, where he can lock the doors, in case my brother and sister wander upstairs.

For the second time that day, I give in. It's better sometimes to just let him have his way, get it over with. Except he always comes back for more.

Inside the bathroom, the doors locked, X instructs me to lie on the floor. I lie on my stomach and he tells me to roll over. He pulls down my pink plaid shorts, then my blue-flowered Sears panties. He promises it will not hurt. Then he pulls down his running shorts and white Hanes. I look up at the ceiling. My face is inches from the toilet.

I feel a slight pressure, and then nothing. X moves over me, talking the whole time. "Does it hurt?"

I shake my head no.

He frowns. "It should hurt a little bit."

I tense. He promised it wouldn't hurt! I keep my eyes on the ceiling, listening through the open window to cars passing by. I imagine myself flagging down one of these cars and riding away to someplace where X will never find me. Someplace safe. I feel myself leaving my body. My body is empty, hollow. I float up to the ceiling and watch my empty body being fucked. And my floating self drifts away out the window, never to return.

Later that night, after X has gone, I take a long hot shower. I stand in front of the mirrored shower doors and study my wet naked body, looking for evidence of what I have done. I am transparent, my sin glowing through my skin. Anyone who sees me will know my sin. I have no name for it, but I feel it. I know it. What I have done with X is a terrible, terrible sin. I fall to my knees and whisper, "Forgive me, God. Please, please, please, please forgive me. I'm sorry, God. I'm so, so sorry."

Monday, May 14, 2012

Eulogy for X, Part I

It is spring in Michigan. Darkness falls later and later every evening. The calendar reminds me there is an anniversary coming in four days. The anniversary of when X died. I don't remember the year. I could ask. But I can't say his name aloud. Besides, it always feels as if I just heard the news.


The church parking lot is full when my husband and I arrive for the funeral. It looks as if the whole town has shown up. My husband offers to drop me off at the door so I won't have to walk so far. I grab his hand. "Please don't leave me," I whisper.

The annex is jammed with family and friends. Their eyes look red, their faces pale. I give and receive hugs. "I can't believe it. I just can't believe it." These words are repeated again and again. People I've never seen cry are wiping damp eyes with the backs of their hands.

I notice the casket out of the corner of my eye. It's open and people are clustered around it. I know I have to see him for myself or I will never believe he is truly dead. For closure. But I'm not ready yet. To see him. So I am grateful when a school friend approaches for a hug. "He was such a good friend," she says. "I talked to him the day before. . . ." Her voice trails off. She coughs. "Is this your husband?" I say yes and introduce them. We talk about other classmates, whom we've seen lately and whom we haven't seen since graduation.

Once my friend moves on to talk with someone else, I notice the crowd around the casket has drifted away. It is time. It takes great effort to lift my feet to walk toward the casket. I feel my husband beside me, feel and hear the crushing buzz of the crowd around me. But I feel alone. My blood pulses in my ears and throat. I'm holding my breath. My insides are icy and trembling. I feel faint. But I make it to the side of the casket. I peer inside.


I will never forget that hot, hot day the summer before fifth grade. My parents were at the Fireman's Ball, an annual fundraiser for the local fire station. X was in charge of my brother, my sister and me. He wore a red Holton Red Devils T-shirt, our horned school mascot brandishing a pitchfork and leering on the chest. His running shorts were red with white piping, his tube socks white with two red stripes at the tops. He looked every bit the fresh-scrubbed young man everyone believed him to be. But I knew better.

The house had no air-conditioning. The coolest room was the basement. So that's where the four of us were. We played pool in teams. I knew I had to get away from X, knew that soon he would make an excuse for the two of us to be alone, and then it would begin. That's what he always did. I always tried to hide from him, to escape his unwanted attentions. I never succeeded, but I always tried.

He was busy helping my brother set up a shot. So I mumbled that I needed to use the bathroom and headed upstairs. There was a bathroom at the top of the stairs, and another on the next flight up. But I didn't stop at either of those floors. I kept going to the top floor of the house to the bathroom connected to my parents' room. I took care to lock my parents' door.

I brushed my hair. I brushed my teeth. I opened the sliding mirrored door of the medicine chest that held my mother's makeup. I opened the tubes of lipstick, the compacts of pressed powder. I stared and stared at my reflection in the mirror above the sink, trying to see what other people saw in me, what X saw. All I saw was my own face. The too-large brown plastic glasses that always, always slid down my nose. The crooked teeth. The craters formed on my eyebrow and cheeks by kindergarten chicken pox. I saw me in my favorite pink tank top that tied at the shoulders. Flowers embroidered just below the neckline. What did X see that made him want to do the things he did?

Footsteps on the stairs. A knock at the bathroom door. X's voice:  "Let me in." I freeze.

He knocks again, but when I don't speak and don't open the door, the footsteps retreat down the stairs. He is going to the kitchen for a toothpick. He will press the toothpick into the lock until it pops free. And then he will close the door behind him and lock it once again.