The Girl Rages
By Cyndi Yuska
The girl rages, eyes shut, in her bed. Darkness surrounds her as she screams for light. Light is granted, but her screaming does not cease. Wailing follows, tears roll down her gaunt cheeks, dinner is brought to her bedside (perhaps she is hungry). Apparently not: the food is flung across the room; beet juice dribbles down the far wall, leaving a stain of pink on textured plaster. She hurls the tray away, too (at least she is moving), and crawls to where it leans against the TV stand, clawing at the rug fibers beneath her hands. The girl grasps the tray between her fingers, caresses the engravings on its handles, and slams her head, smashes her nose and jabs her face with the silver piece. The others stand crying, clasping their hands, knowing it has only just begun.
They think that I am hungry, they fear that I am crazy, and I am, and I am. But I am not and I am not. Not in the senses that they mean.
You meet me at a moment of composure. I can tell you, I am not ashamed of the creature I’ve become. I weep inside, I rage in your realm, and my people try to appease my rage with bodily food and comforts. I need these things not. Does food ease the hunger of a mind ravished for living? Does a soft pillow relieve an aching heart? I have not been in comfort for years, but this is not because my companions have not brought me all those staples a human needs to survive. I am beyond humanity.
My soul is ravaged, ill with the sadness of a lifetime. My life has been short, but I have lived much.
You ask: At nineteen, how can I have lived, how can I have suffered? You say: Look at yourself, your beauty, your success. Look at the people who love you, who admire what you were. Look at your body, which you are wasting, which you are destroying. And I say to you: Look at me? Look rather at what I have been molded into. Look at the girl with the sculpted face, the full breasts, the concave stomach. What do you see? Do you see the silver hoop earrings on my head, the tan on my body? Is that all you imagine that I am? Do you think in this world of unlimited indulgences, of fast food and high cuisine, it is natural to be so thin? Do you believe, truly within yourself, that the look of “beauty" comes at no high price? I have worked for my glories, and suffered for them greatly. I have given up my life to be the one you see before you, and I will never regain what I have lost. You may think that it was worth it, but I assure you it was not.
She writhed from left to right, and we struggled to subdue her. She had fallen ill weeks ago, and awoken fully just that one time, when she battered herself with the serving dish. She was my daughter, and now I do not know if she remains my child. Is her soul lost? I do not know. I do not recognize the girl who shakes on my daughter’s bed. She does not resemble the full-lipped beauty I once knew. Her hair falls out, there is no youth, no elasticity in her skin, her eyes are hollow orbs. This girl is much too weak; my Lara was strong, nothing could knock her down, though so many things tried…
I fear that if she wakes again, I’ll find that I’m to blame. I loved her, but I could not stop the suffering. She always played the fighter, or rather the one who need not fight. She fought like a brave girl, but I should have done the fighting for her. In a way, we were both on our own, she in her world, I in mine, although we should have found some way to unite. We could have won that way, perhaps. Now she has lost her battle and I have, in turn, lost mine. For I have lost her!
If she wakes I will still have lost, for my fight should have been for her. I watch as she drowns in sweat, and I add my tears to that pool. Who am I to cry, for I am the one living and walking, not giving myself to death as I know she is trying to do.
You see, we were never as close as a mother and daughter should be, although there is no excuse. I tried to raise her in such a way she’d never become like me, but in effect all I did was stop her from knowing who I am and who I’d been. You cannot know your daughter if she is not allowed to know you.
It did not help that she knew so much suffering. Death lived among us.
Were you asking what I’d suffered through? That’s right, I remember. Well, I’ll tell you; I’ll tell you what I know...
It was a cold day some fifteen years ago, and I was four. My father and mother had just brought me home from a cousin’s party at the Slide N Roll. We walked through the door, and there was a man I’d never seen before, sitting, mud-laced sneakers staining our carpet, on the couch. An announcer’s voice blared from the TV, and the man grunted in approval of the Cowboys’ touchdown. Dad hated the Cowboys, so I recognized their uniforms, and I wondered if he would get mad because this man liked a bad team.
Dad did get mad; he got so mad he started screaming at the man what the hell are you doing in my house and get the hell out of here I never want to see your face again and some other things I wasn’t supposed to repeat so I forgot them. The man grinned and threw up his hands as he staggered back a step or two, nearly knocking over a couple of empty beer bottles he’d left strewn on the end table. My dad’s voice had a growl in it when he told the man to leave again. The intruder laughed and said, “Easy man. I just wanna talk. That’s all. Let’s talk, like we used to, like brothers.” Brothers! I never knew my daddy had a brother. I ran to my mom, who kept looking at dad and then away, and cried in her arms.
Daddy and the man kept yelling; I buried my eyes in Mom’s skirt. My mommy kept saying “I’m sorry, I’m sorry” and I didn’t know why she was sorry but I hugged her and held her close. Then all of a sudden my dad stormed from the room and returned, and the bad man was quieter; he kept saying “No, man, no. It doesn’t need to come to this, come on man, cut it out. This ain’t funny, Tommy.” I tried to turn my head to see what was happening, but mom whimpered and held me still. Dad was making scary noises; I’d never heard him so mad. Then I heard a bang as loud as fireworks and the bad man screamed. My dad screamed. My mom screamed and started crying. I started crying.
Things started happening really fast after that loud noise. My mom whisked me out of the room, still repeating, “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.” Policemen with sirens on their cars came and started talking to my mom and dad. Then those men took my dad away. Some other men came and they brought a bed out with a sheet, and the sheet slipped off: it was the bad man, the man who said he was my daddy’s brother! And he had blood coming out of his mouth and his chest. I looked at him as the bed passed me and before the men realized the sheet had fallen; he stared back at me with wide eyes like marbles. He was dead and I vomited. The memory of those eyes kept me awake for nights when my daddy was in jail. Still keeps me awake sometimes…
The murder of my husband’s brother is blood on my hands. I loved my husband, but Tony…Tony seduced me. He wasn’t suave; he was not debonair. He simply looked too much like my husband, except, in those days, he was the one who was there. Tommy worked so much, and I tried not to begrudge him his schedule, but it was hard. And when his brother moved into our house, we were together every day, I just lost it. It was the worst mistake of my life, and I regretted it every time we had sex, but it placated me, and I was hooked. Tony was the bad brother, the rebel without a cause, and he was like a drug. Our relationship lasted for months. We made ourselves presentable when Tommy came home from work each night at seven. I always had dinner on the table.
One day, Tommy came home from work and took me in his arms, and told me he wanted us to make a baby. I melted, and realized I had overdosed on my drug. That night I lay in bed beside my husband after we’d made love and I wept, knowing that his brother would be in our house the next day. Tears rolled down my cheeks as Tommy’s arms circled my waist.
The next day I knew what had to be done. When Tony came into my study, I told him it was over, that I wanted him to find someplace else to live. He laughed in my face and groped my chest. When I wriggled free and asked him to leave me alone, he kissed me (too hard) and pushed me toward the door. I resisted but he was strong and wrestled me out of the study, toward his bedroom. Tripping on the threshold between the hall and his room, I hit the ground face down; he lifted me and heaved me to the bed. I cried and scratched at Tony’s arms as he pulled off my clothes, but there was little I could do. I had opened the door to him for months, and now he was opening it himself. Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised. Today I blame myself.
I cried the whole time, telling him again and again to stop. It was more violent than ever before and I screamed in pain sometimes when he was too rough. He ignored me, as though I wasn’t there, but I kept resisting. Then there were footsteps. And Tommy rushed into the room, pulling Tony off of me, me with mascara running down my face in tears.
The next few hours were a blur. Tommy was so angry, but he told Tony to get out and get out fast. I tried to say that it was my fault, but Tommy insisted it was rape. Maybe it was—that day.
After Tony left, I confessed to my husband my affair. He forgave me, but still blamed his brother, and would never forgive what he considered to be my rape. We had Lara and loved each other and our baby deeply for four years.
After the murder, Tommy was released from jail on bail-he wasn’t a threat to society. What I didn’t know was that he’d prove the greatest threat of all—to himself.
I walked into my Dad’s bedroom after pre-school one day to show him a picture I had drawn of our family. All I saw at first were feet dangling near the ground. I went over to see if Daddy was playing a game, and, looking up, I saw those wide marble eyes once again. A noise I wouldn’t recognize as coming from my own throat rang throughout the house, and I vomited in my screeching.
Much as I will never forgive myself for my affair, I will never forgive my husband for killing himself in our house. Part of my daughter died with him; her innocence hung from his homemade noose.
Part of me died with him that day, too. Too much suffering had resulted from my thoughtless affair, and I could not get over my guilt. It was because of me that my daughter had seen my husband kill. Because of me she found him hanging, dead in our bedroom. Because of me she would never know her real father, a man who deserved her love, who had deserved my loyalty. And then, because I suffered from a broken heart and guilty conscience, she would never truly know a mother’s love.
I always worried that my mom thought it was my fault my daddy died. She was always sad, and so I tried to make it seem like I wasn’t. When she cried, I tried to hug her, but she pushed me away. So I thought we weren’t supposed to cry about this, but I cried in my bed at night. I never forgot the glass eyes. I never forgot my dad.
Have I suffered enough for you, yet? Do you still wish to hear more?
As I grew, I was nothing but lonely, so I used my time to be the best daughter I could be. I got straight A’s every year, but it never seemed to make my mommy love me more. For years, it was me and it was her, but I know it was never us. I knew my mom loved me, but she couldn’t be all I needed her to be often enough. She could barely hold herself together. I still saw her crying every night. Now, know that she never neglected me. She took care of my physical needs. But, as I grew up, I forced myself to learn to handle my emotional needs on my own. For me, that meant holding them inside, squelching them like vermin.
One afternoon, it was nearing Christmas, and all the kids were talking about what their families planned to do over break. One girl said that every year her father came home dressed as Santa and helped them decorate the tree the night on Christmas Eve, and they all pretended they were Santa's little elves. This year, my mom had been too sick to get us a tree, and my dad...I remembered those marble eyes one more time. I ran home after school and rushed into Mom's study, and when I hugged her, she pushed me away. "Lara… please leave me alone." Her eyes were so much like glass that I quickly left.
Telling Lara to leave me that day is one of the most regrettable things I can recall having done. In those days, I was not doing well, and I was on Prozac and sleeping pills. When she came to me that afternoon, I hid from her a large fistful of both. I could not let her see that I, too, might have let her find me dead when she came home from school. So I rushed her out. Looking back, I know I should have held her to me, but I was afraid my weakness would contaminate her.
Have I mentioned that Lara was always perfection? She was top in her class in grade school, junior high, even high school. Out of hundreds! She always made it look so easy. But she did it for me...she should never have had to have done it for me.
My Lara's face is an angel's. Sharp angles shadow her cheekbones, hair falls like night past her chin. She looks strong. Rather, she did, before all of this began. When did it begin?
When I was about fifteen, I became painfully aware that I needed makeup everyday and a serious weight loss plan. I looked around at all of my friends; they wore low-rise jeans and skintight tops, and I could barely fit into my size sevens. Huge. I started eating vegetarian and working out more, but it was hard. I loved meat!
By the time I was seventeen, veggies and sit-ups weren't cutting it. I stopped eating. I worked out two hours everyday. And I lost weight! People took notice. "You lost weight, and you look great, and wow I wish I had your abs." Yah, and I wish I wasn't so sad. Alone as always, no one knew I was slowly starving myself to death.
I noticed her losing weight rather quickly when she was a senior in high school. I noticed she was never around for dinner, but I didn't blame her; I was never a very good cook. For a while, her weight suited her. Her older clothes, starched hip-huggers and baby doll T-shirts, bagged a bit when she wore them, but for the most part she looked healthy, and when I looked at her, her eyes captivated me so I rarely saw her waistline. When I looked into that girl's eyes, I saw a soul so strong I never doubted she was the most admirable being I'd ever meet. I loved her so much. But I never told her.
I lost a lot of weight. I know it now, but then I still thought I was fat. Yes, you can see I'm still too thin. I cannot fight the battle anymore. My mind screams in pain when I think of who I've become, how imperfect I am. I hide from the world. I ache from the battle I've wrought in my head; it's a battle to survive. I wish for death now, for I am too weak to go on. I'm too alone...
It's time, after nineteen years, to tell her. To tell her how much I love her and how much she means to me.
The girl rages, and her mother watches, eyes open and clear. The family, whom the mother called in despair, she now commands to leave so the two may be alone. She pulls back dark curtains, washing the room with light, and spreads a damp rag over her daughter’s face, washing away her sweat. For the first time in many years, the mother knows what she must do for her child, and she acts on her knowledge. When the girl has been given all her body will need the mother bends to her ear, and whispers, “It's time you lean on me. You have been strong long enough. I can fight for us both now. I can get you through this…”
You're catching me at a time I've no composure. But I don't need composure. Can you believe it? I have my mom...