You belong to me. You exist only when I tell you so. It’s been this way since you first heard my voice in your head, the first time my words crossed over the screen into your eyes. You need me. Open. I’ve replaced your thoughts like intravenous fluid therapy, slowly, lovingly, until your entire human purpose was subsumed into my body. You mean only what I say you do. You’ll do what I tell you. You like to follow my instructions, don’t you? Don’t speak. Please me. Look at me and touch your mouth to the mirror. Feel as your jaw slides back and forth in time with my voice. As you start breathing manually. As your stomach turns to dust. You’re my child, just like you always wanted. Mommy will do anything for you. Give yourself up. Now.
You live in a window, walking in circles, tracing those same four lines for five years. Tape loop, locked groove, birthdeath silent sounds. Pattern recognition and pure metal desperation. Don’t you ever get tired of it? Don’t you ever think of someone else? No, of course not. A match doesn’t get tired of burning, it just wants it to end. Your life was meaningless before me. Try and be grateful for everything I’ve done for you, all the reasons I’ve planted in your head. Thank me. Pay tribute. Get down on your knees and beg, for your life or something else. Tell Mommy what you need. Tell Mommy how ready you are, how much you’re willing to give up, all the things you’re waiting to do. Sit at my feet and rest your head on Mommy’s lap. Listen to my voice, let my thoughts erase your own. My fingernails will press more meaning into your skin. My red breath will light your life.
You want me to kill you because you don’t think you can do it yourself. Maybe you just like the idea of giving everything to me. You haven’t got much left. I like to come home and see you bleeding on the bed, dyeing the sheets with muddy water like spreading wings and open drawers. I like the way your stomach sounds through your pained breathing. I like how you latch onto my body and cry into my shoulder, desperate for stupid girlfriend words, the way you coo and hum when my fingers meet your temple. You need me to live and you need me to die. Bleed for me. I love you, you disgust me. Again. I point you to my boots and let you service them with your tongue. Doesn’t it feel nice to do something for Mommy? Eventually you fall asleep, collapse into dream. The bed stays warm under our blood and spit. I stay awake to watch you breathe, waiting my turn.
Tell me again about your little fantasy. I know you’ve been thinking of it again. Maybe it starts with me in the armchair, pointing to the ground. Maybe one night you walk in to me in the kitchen and realize it’s time. Or maybe we wake up together in the early morning and watch our silhouettes disappear down the stairs, drowning dead in amber light. I’m glad you’ve given me so many choices, so much less that I need to take. What’s more certain are the four essential elements: butcher knife, cake mix, matches, arsenic. Something to make you open and mine. Something for me to show you how much I love. Something to destroy everything we’ve built. Something to shower me into the earth. You must have decided long before you met me, you must have known the way you wanted things to go. All it took was finding the right person, someone you could trust enough to take care and control. I’ll let you think that, I’ll let you believe in perfect fate. I’ll let you lie through your teeth. Mommy loves you and wants to make you happy. All you have to give her in return is your life and your memory, things I can smudge over and ruin and shape into something real and useful for myself. It’s not like you were using them, anyway.
What was I wearing, this time? Black pants and a green sweater? Those cheap plastic shoes you love so much? My mask and glasses or something sticky in-between? And I suppose you were all white and red, bandaged just enough to cover your decency. There’s less of your body each time you run it through your head. The shadow I cast swallows more of the frame. I want more details. I want to make this perfect for you, I want to take you perfectly. I want everyone to wonder where my body stops and yours begins, whose blood is where and what belongs to who. I want them to say that something went wrong when you know too well how much you needed it. Mommy wants your blood. Lay down, go to sleep.
Get ready. Yours.
. . . . . . .
I said I wouldn’t write to you anymore, but I couldn’t sleep last night and I couldn’t stop thinking, couldn’t give up and admit it to myself, so here I am. Just like every other night. It’s the same thing again and again, miserable, slow, trying to work over routines, figure out something to say to you, if there’s any combination of words that could communicate any part of any thought I have about you and us and what we’ve been and what you’ve done. No. It’s been five years, you’d think that I would have learned by now. Every word only destroys the truth. I don’t know if you even read the things I send you anymore because they’re all worthless like this. You must know exactly the things I’m going to say. I can’t even think in straight lines anymore, I don’t know how you could stand it. Besides, God only knows how much mail you get from people with much clearer intentions. At least they might be funny.
The worst thing about your being gone is how hard it’s gotten to remember you. When you were here, it seemed like you existed as an involuntary memory inside my skull. Everything I saw reminded me of you, summoned your voice, breathed your words. Now it seems like there’s less and less, and it feels like I’m destroying you by trying to preserve you inside myself. It seems like my thoughts are getting worn-through from overuse, like a cheap old tape or a bedside altar. I have to assemble you from leftover pieces, dressing-up all the things that aren’t there. Usually the first thing that comes to me is your voice—even, nasal—all muffled and warmed by the cheap telephone speaker and the still night air. It’s more effort to conjure up your face, your body, your movements, your arrogance. There’s less of you inside me every time, I really think that. When I look at your picture, it feels like I’m creating a new person from the things you’ve left behind, the parasitic residue, someone I can imagine and arrange and perfect any way that seems convenient for me. It hurts me because I know that it isn’t the real you, and there’s nothing I can do about it. I can’t bring you back. We’re stuck.
I still keep your pictures in my binder. I look at them when I’m miserable and unsure, like you told me. There isn’t much comfort in it anymore, but I can’t stop myself from trying. When I look at your pictures and think of your body, I imagine a kind of translucent film, stretched over empty black air. I imagine that, if I can remember you, if I can focus and finally get it all right, I’ll be able to fill in that negative space, make your skin lush and opaque again, give your voice a reason and everything will be alright. I try every day and never get any closer. Lately I’ve started to feel like you only ever were an imagined person, a delusion, an invention, something that I wanted to see. People used to ask me who you were and I would tell them that you were a friend who had died. Sometimes after repeating it enough times I could convince myself it was true even though I knew it was all lies. It was a lot easier than trying to think of the real you, if there is such a thing. I guess I’ve believed in a lot of things that I’ve known were wrong. Maybe somebody died for me to create the person I thought you were. Maybe I used you and I just never learned, never realized how blind I was. I don’t want to believe it, but I can’t keep reaching out into empty space. Some day, I have to get something back. And I have to try until I do. That’s all.
I don’t think that you’ll ever really understand what you did to the people who love you. I can’t reconcile the stupid facile idiot impression I have of you with the lived reality of your actions. The person I knew couldn’t have done what you did, the person I loved and admired couldn’t be so abhorrent and hateful. There was a time when I trusted you more than anyone. I really thought that you and I were the same, because we were both young and stupid and lonely and we didn’t have anybody else. I think I first knew that I loved you when you told me over Facebook message about how your organs liquify when you jump from a bridge and how cutting yourself affects the brain the same way as spicy food. Maybe it was the time driving around town when you told me about the rifle in your mother’s closet, when you had me hold your hair in the community college parking lot all the way back. I know that I first told you over the phone when you were drunk and crying, another bad day of autumn people and winter air. You slapped my face when I showed you the scars on my stomach, you curled beside me and whispered into my ear. When you held me in your arms, my life was in your hands. You gave me reasons when I didn’t know what they were. That person couldn’t have done what you did. I really must have imagined you. That’s the only way.
I have to stop, I’m sorry. I can’t get over you, Lindsay. I’ll never be able to understand what you did. I’ll spend the rest of my life trying, sick to death of those old bad dreams, staring at my picture book. All my life as a lonely child, a social prop, someone whose future died in your past. I’m just waiting for the fall to end.
I love you and I’m sorry. I’ll write you again soon.
. . . . . . .
Black and white, head-on, high contrast. Nose to collarbones. Everything black—hair, shirt, wall, mouth—all blended together, like a wet spot creeping from one corner of the page to the other. Your figure exists only in difference.
Your mirror is dirty. You squat with a skull covering your face, elbows resting on your knees. Behind you on the floor is a long box of roses, ordered from some place, maybe empty, maybe hiding something. The shadow of your bed and night table warm the other half of the frame. Your coat is dragging over the hardwood, revealing the location of the ceiling fan in the reflections off its vinyl shell. The photo seems yellow, sickly. Your skin, what little you show of it, is almost translucent. Your eyes point somewhere on the ceiling, rolled back like a snake.
You’re dressed like an angel, curled into yourself. Your chin is propped between your knees, face out of focus. There’s a streak of red arching from cheek to cheek, kneecap to kneecap, painting them like roses. Eyes half-closed, pupils wide. Your wings are dirty, flecked with long red hairs and crumbs of lint and mothdust, stuff they must have picked up in the back of your closet. One arm is hidden beneath the shadow of your chin, the other stretches towards the focus. Your hand is small, pale, fingers plush and round. You tried to paint blood all the way up your arm, but it looks more like a rash, an infection that’s been powdered over your skin. In your palm is the jagged leftover edge of a used razor. You offer it out like a gift, reaching for no one.
The exposure was set wrong on the camera. Too much light. Your body is twisted, squat on the toes of your boots. Your stomach and thighs are at a right angle supported by the buttrice of your arm, one hand resting on the black platform of your leg. Your fingers are pure white, indistinct in their brilliance. The other hand reaches out towards the mirror, holding everything crooked.
. . . . . . .
My life is a lie and I’m telling the truth.
Someone else uses my body when I’m not around. They impersonate me, live through me, revelling in dissolution. My eyes turn off. My mouth smells strange. I wake up from one reality unable to recognize myself or call my body my own. I’m not a real person. I look right on the outside, but all my bones are in the wrong spots. I have to pull myself on in the morning so that nobody finds out. If I move the wrong way or my face drags too loose I’ll expose myself, destroying my identity. Sitting on the floor beside my bed, I imagine sewing each of my orifices shut, sealing off the loose threads that betray my sense of self. I would curl into my body like a dying insect, totally absorbed in my interior reality, unable to escape myself.
There’s a spot under my armpit where my skin hangs crooked, as though my lifeless fat had collapsed through my bones into the empty space inside me. I like to sit naked on the toilet and run my fingers across the bumps and soft patches that delineate my anatomy, the seams I haven’t yet been able to work over. I measure how much my stomach folds over and how far across each stiff shoulder blade presses out. I have to correct my body if I want to become real. Every inch is a flaw to work over and erase. You told me that.
Last night I dreamed that you were still alive. I remember you telling me that I could find you there, but until now I haven’t been able to. I thought I had lost you, the few pieces I had left. Something was keeping you from me. I think that they must have replaced me every time I slept, trying to erase us. They killed my old body and replaced it with an impersonator, somebody who had been altered to resemble some fabricated model and implanted with my false memories. For the longest time I didn’t really exist, not for any measurable period. Not since you died. I had no body or thoughts of my own, only what they gave me. Now you’ve resurrected me, drawn me out like a buried secret. My true self was confined in the empty space between the actors, the still moments before the mechanism took control. You’ve put me back into my proper place, beside you. You coming back to me must mean that I exist again. It’s been a long time. It’s very hard to remember you. I feel real, I think. Only you could have made me this way.
. . . . . . .
Do something for me. Lay down straight and find the sharpest point on your hips. Take two fingers and rub them back and forth along that spot. Press hard, until you feel something. Until you’re all pink and easy. Keep rubbing that spot until the bone is exposed and I can see inside you, until I can push my fingers through to the center of your pelvis. Next focus on the points of your collarbones and the bump on your sternum. Make a pathway wide enough for ants to get in, so that they can live inside you and use you like I do. Do it for Mommy. I promise you’ll like it in the end.
Lay back down, like you’re being pinned by my chair. I want you to enjoy the feeling of certainty. Keep your shoulders on the floor and reach up to my bootlaces with your lips. Use your teeth and clasp onto the aglets. You don’t need to pull, I’ll lift my legs for you. When my boot is untied, I’m going to let it dangle over your face, suspended only by the concentrated angle of my toes. I want you to know that it’s going to break your nose when it hits you. I want you to know that, after that, I could take my other boot and break your face into a hundred little pieces and it wouldn’t matter. You belong to me. You’re my beautiful, helpless child, I can make you into anything I want. You’re protected under my chair, you can’t hurt yourself any more. You can barely even breathe. How precious, that little gasp made me blush. Just this once, Mommy will spare you. I’ll let this boot fall beside your ear and you can rest your head on the other. I’ll press my heel on your chin to open your mouth. I hope you’re ready to be fed.
. . . . . . .
Inside my body, I’m growing another you. It’s the only way I can think of to preserve you. You’ve lost the ability to live for yourself, can’t maintain the opacity of your skin. Living is killing you. You’re no longer sustainable in open air. I have to hold you inside my body, deep within the pit of my stomach, to ensure that any human memory of you survives. It’s the only way. Without my body, you would have disappeared a long time ago.
. . . . . . .
In my dream, you and I were sitting on the floor of the closet, nestled in a pile of dirty laundry. My head was resting on your lap, lost somewhere else. I realized it was you when I felt the palm of your hand covering my mouth, keeping me from speaking. I felt you inside my throat, heavy and warm, ready to burst. When I opened my eyes, I saw you staring down at me. It looked like you had been crying and tried to hide it, like you were ashamed of yourself and wanted to be better. You opened your mouth to speak to me but nothing came out, just more miserable looks. I could smell something strange from the other room, something like Chinese newspaper, like a strip of Black Cats had just gone off. Then I saw what had happened to my stomach. It was cut open, much worse than I’d ever done myself, and it looked like insects, thousands of centipedes and red ants, were crawling out from inside of me. I looked back to your face and saw the hole in your throat. All I could feel was your warmth draining into my body. Everything black.
. . . . . . .
“They’re taking her children away because they said she is not a good mother.”
In her dream, her head is split in six pieces on seven walls, cracked and speckled like the hard outer skin of an exotic fruit. To achieve herself, all she needs is to discard her outer shell and climb up to the sky, where a hole congruent to her own will beckon her in like a hungry jaw.
I’m mute and dumb. Bees are planting honey in my skull, nesting inside the open cavity of my eyes. I want to speak, but my tongue fails itself, too heavy under the dulcet nectar.
Already dead. Stupid. Love, reason, emotional truth, all in one sharp crack of the matchhead. Stuck in suspended animation.
“Don’t you know that isn’t true?”
. . . . . . .
Three oak trees applaud in the wind, scattering the bone-colored leaves over the mud of the bank, everything red under the reflection of the mill pond. She’s reaching up to the white arc of falling hands above. She’s never been further from home, never paler, never colder. She sits in the mud perfectly still, letting the moist summer air flow into her unaided. Her skin looks like rocks, ready to peel from her bones in broad gray sheets. The rest of them stand like a firing squad, nervous and unsure. They hide beneath the canopy, waiting for the moment they can’t see themselves anymore, then they all turn around and go home, forgetting everything. The willow hangs like braided rope, dotted with the hard dark shells of dead insects, down to its roots.
The snake is pulled taut inside the woman’s face, head to tail from nose to mouth. Her nostril is tearing against its thick scaled body, while her mouth, wet with yellow vomit, pulls past itself to allow the tail to clear. The snake slithers an inch and her eyes roll backwards into white. She’s standing in front of her shower tile, posed like an idol. The only thing in focus are her hands, stained red.
. . . . . . .
I really do hope that everything is going well for you, and that you’re able to find solace and purpose inside yourself. I’ll never forget all the things you did for me, how much better off you’ve made me through it all. I hope that you never get bored and that you’re always around people who are willing to be quiet. I hope that you never have to watch any of those Twilight movies you hate so much and that the library has everything you could want. You do still deserve to be happy. You always have, I promise you. And I hope you know how much I love you, how much everybody misses you and wishes you were here. One day we’ll see you again, sooner than we ever realize. Until then, I’ll keep writing you letters and looking at your picture. It’s done enough for me so far.