It is much easier to point to the exact moment of her birth than it has been to realize the moment of her conception. That moment that is the last secret I’ve held to. The one scab I haven’t yet stripped from the flesh of the wild child who whispers in my ear and lives behind my eyes. People ask me how I survived half a lifetime of shooting drugs and running wild through the night, and I tell them about her.
The wild child who had no memories of loving or being loved to make her weak or dull her instincts. There’s a reaper hanging over the head of every child on the streets just waiting for a display of weakness, and she could do the things I couldn’t bring myself to do. She could do anything necessary for her survival.
She’s never minded in the past when I’ve used her lived experience to create context for my own. She’s not ashamed of the prostitution. Fifteen minutes in the back seat of a strangers car frightened her less than the endless hours of blackness between dusk and dawn, and the money she earned in those 15 minutes put a roof over her head for 12 hours. Nor does she have any regrets about the years of addiction—the drugs were the only buffer between her and suicide.
She can rationally explain those things, if not to everyone else, at least to she and I. Street justice dictated those choices, but nothing so simple can create sanity from the insanity lodged within the dead cells of that remaining scab. A monster whose actions can only be defined as insane lives under that scab, and although she doesn’t care if the world calls her a junkie or a whore, she is just as terrified as I am of being condemned as mad. And of course the fact that she is me and I am her and we often become confused within our single self constantly fuels that fear. The secret is almost 15 years old now and if I really wanted to know the date, to perhaps some day observe the occasion of her birth as I observe the occasion of my own, it’s a matter of public record. The Contra CostaTimes recorded the event and even included a picture. They got the story wrong because, of course, they didn’t know the secret behind the photograph. They didn’t know what insanity created the devastation in the black and white image of a life gone up in flames. Given the 11 years that have passed since I quit shooting drugs, I should have learned to stop being frightened that I’m half-crazy—but I still haven’t convinced myself that the fear is unfounded.
My mother always claimed that I have a dichotomy at work within me. I think maybe that’s a nice way of telling me I’m schizophrenic. And my mother would certainly have been in a good position to make that call: Even if from a considerable distance most of the time, she has known us both all our lives—me, and the wild child who looked so much like me but called herself by a different name and answered to a different truth.
She called herself Mickey back then—that hot summer of smoke and ash when she was 24. It’s not the name my mother gave me, but she didn’t care about anything that came from my mother. She’d even—by the end of that season of wire and wind—stopped caring about what my mother had taken from her.
What she took was Mickey’s 5-year-old daughter, and although Mickey knew that Mother claimed she was doing it for the sake of the child, it almost killed her. In the end, the pain of that loss evolved into a kind of madness, and from the madness came the monster.
In the last 11 years I’ve been gifted with another child and a university education. Both have helped me understand the division of my mind, and both have helped me create the intersection that now exists between the previously separate spheres of my world.
And now I understand what’s hiding under that scab. I understand what happened to Mickey on the night she was born. The infliction of the wound that delivered her. And, oddly enough, I was led to that understanding through the words of a 19-year-old woman written in the 18th century. I discovered within the text of Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” a sympathy and an understanding for the monster that grew inside me that summer—the monster who was part me and part Mickey until that night when her actions represented such a steep descent into insanity that I no longer recognized the difference between us. Only the monster remained.
Mary Shelley, however, has convinced me that even monsters have voices, and although I know what’s under that scab, this is Mickey’s secret and my hope is that if she can find the words to tell it, neither of us will ever have to fear the monster again.
Well at least now you know I got a name. I understand why she calls me a wild child, but I’m not a kid anymore. Just like the years I spent out there twisted the way she looks at her world—the 11 years she’s spent here have changed me. To keep calling me a wild child makes it sound like I haven’t changed. Like I never grew up—and that’s not so.
I can see the world in color now. My eyes are Wedgwood blue but back then no one had blue eyes. No one’s eyes had any color at all because there wasn’t any light at all. The only color that ever forced its way through the matrix of black and gray was red. The blood that whirled daintily up into the syringe when I hit a vein was red. The ambulance lights and the endless sirens painted crimson streaks against the dark landscape as they sped past. When I pulled out the screwdriver that an angry trick stuck in my belly, my insides were red. The few times that I remembered I was alive, something red reminded me of it. Rape is red. Death is red. The fire I lit that summer was red.
Even if Jennie hadn’t taken my daughter, I don’t think my life would have gone a whole lot differently. I knew that. I knew I couldn’t keep Gillian. I stayed clean almost all the years since I had her but I knew the world I was trying to force myself on didn’t want me and I knew I couldn’t keep her.
It’s not real complicated—if you start shooting drugs at 13 you never learn how to be an adult person. You don’t go through any of the rituals that initiate you into the society of grown-ups. We would have called that experience earning your colors—and I did. But she didn’t. She never got through junior high. Had no stable circle of friends to help her move across the teen-age years that separate big people from little people. At 17, when she should have been thinking about graduation and wondering what university she’d go to, I was turning tricks at the Kit-Kat Ranch outside Reno and giving the money to a pimp half again my age.
And it’s not that leaving drugs is so hard. It’s trying to build a bridge between the reality of their lived experiences and the nice orderly world of middle America that keeps most junkies in the spoon. I always felt like a Martian when I tried to go about in the real world. From the way I spoke to the strange ways I reacted to straight folks, I felt like an alien. And we’re not kind to aliens in this country. The one thing you don’t want to be in this country is different. There’s this whole part of society whose only reason for existing is to make sure no aliens slip through the cracks in the walls or across the bends in the rivers. They live in fear of being infiltrated and that’s how I felt. The infiltrator. You need a real strong sense of who you are to fight that battle.
When I got pregnant with Gillian, I possessed all the emotional maturity of the girl who’d left home at 13, so it’s hardly surprising that within five years of her birth someone else was raising her and I went back to the spoon where I felt safe and secure knowing that I fit in. Where I could stop being scared all the time that I’d do the wrong thing. Make the wrong choice. There wasn’t any danger of that happening in the spoon that welcomed me back and hadn’t ever stopped loving me.
I thought I knew everything there was to know about the kinda people who shoot dope, but nothing prepared me for the crankster-gangsters I let into my life that summer. Crank’s a wicked drug and it creates wicked people of its users, but when Rodney Arnold walked in my front door with his bag of crank, the emptiness that was poisoning my life went away. Just because I knew I couldn’t keep my kid didn’t make it any easier to let her go and I wasn’t even allowed to visit her. Least not until: “She’s settled in and used to the idea that we’re going to be raising her. You must give her time to get over you.” Rodney was a quick-fix, and I probably knew that. But the kind of pain I felt didn’t care how it got fixed, just so long as it got that way.
His homeboys called him Rod-dog and at 26 he reminded me a lot of Richard Gere. It was a general impression—same height, same coloring, same stance. Taken one at a time, their features didn’t really have much in common, but Rod-dog was handsome in that same sculptured way. His eyes didn’t dip at the corners like Gere’s. They formed perfect, shiny, twin almonds and his nose was straight and sharp just like the angle of his jaw with a mustache as soft as baby’s eyelashes that grew above dark, seductive lips. A pretty face and a bag of drugs were the only tools he needed to begin dismantling what little remained of my sanity.
He took over my house—him and his crankster-gangster homies. He brought me drugs and when my veins got so damaged that the years of healing were like they’d never happened, he found them hidden in places I didn’t have the balls to try—my neck, my ankles, the tiny feather veins in the back of my hand. Sometimes I’d sit for hours jabbing needles in myself—never stopping to clean away the blood that ran from a hundred puncture wounds and dried on my toneless, white skin. If anyone outside the chemical culture saw that image they’d have thought some bizarre ritual or sacrifice was taking place. The hair I kept pulled tightly back from my face and twisted into two French plaits combined with the blood decorating my body like the brushstrokes of a palsied painter always reminded me of an image you might see on a ritual mask or a cave wall. He kept me fixed. He kept me from looking like that.
If I hadn’t been so arrogant, I wouldn’t have gone down so hard. I kept thinking I still had one foot in the real world. I kept thinking I could do this and get away with it—that no matter how close I got to the reality of gangs and drugs, I could still get out when I wanted to. No matter how much dope I shot, I never thought I was like him. He wasn’t human, and I still thought I was. There was still enough of Megan left to make me think I had some kinda magic entree back to reality.
I didn’t stick people with knives. I didn’t take their stuff at gunpoint. I didn’t live in the backseat of a car or an abandoned building. I stayed behind the closed blinds of my own home shooting my own dope and minding my own business. I didn’t think, in those moments when I comforted myself by pretending, that I was still somehow more human than Rod-dog and his gang, that the $5,000 Jennie gave me when she took Gillian was all that really separated our realities— and it was almost gone.
I had less than $1,000 left when I first met him, but the two-bedroom house I’d lived in with my husband was still full of valuables. A single female with those kind of assets is nothing but a commodity in that subculture and the rules pretty much say that it’s OK to take her for just as much as she’s stupid enough to lose.
Most of them had street names—Rod-dog, Pit Bull, Little Man, Crazy-Horse, Savage,Junkyard—and they all had Co Co (short for Contra-Costa) County tattooed in a half-circle on their bellies in large green gothic-style letters. Their clothes were like a uniform— Pendletons buttoned up to the neck with the tails hanging out of the super bell Levi’s that almost completely covered combat-type boots. Some of them wore bandannas. Some didn’t—but they all wore their baseball hats backwards and never went outside without their thin black shades—even at 2 in the morning. Always struck me as real ignorant. Might as well wear a sign saying bust me—I’m a tweak.
The power structure in the gang was based almost entirely on the types of crimes committed by its members, with Little Man at the top cause at 26 he’d already ridden out a manslaughter beef at San Q. I don’t remember exactly how long it took me to figure out that I was into something I couldn’t handle. I just remember coming out of the bathroom on the fifth morning of a nine-day mission and realizing for the first time that my house was full of gangsters on a mission of their own and they were running my life.
The whole point of a crank mission is to stay up as long as you can. Every crankster’s looking for the ultimate mission—to shoot dope until so many days have gone by without rest or food that your ability to stay awake for the next shot runs out before the crank. Shooting wire is a better rush than coke and a good shot can keep you spun for six to eight hours. People get to tweaking on some pretty weird shit on the stuff and Rod-dog’s specialty was dismantling small appliances. A cardboard box in my living room became the final resting place for clocks, toasters and anything in the house with more than two moving pieces and a screw. And never, never tell a crankster that your tape deck doesn’t work. I’ve seen car interiors stripped down to bare metal because a speaker didn’t work.
For the first couple days of a mission, cranksters are pretty benign. But then the system really starts getting poisoned. The brain starts tweaking along with the hands and then they’re sitting in trees with binoculars because they think Feds are chasing them, or making weapons out of everything in the silverware drawer cause they just traded their piece for a bag.
The ones that made it to seven and eight days were fiends and everybody was a potential victim. The smart ones did the commodity thing—they found a cook or a dealer who wanted something particular and then went out and snagged it. They did inventory in every home they ever gained access to and filed it away for future reference. It was a game, and in a really sick way they reminded me of Peter Pan and his gang—they had no homes, they had no parents, they just roamed the county taking what they wanted, eternally waging war on the adult world that abandoned most of them to institutions before they hit the age of 10, and I felt sorry for them until I realized they were coldblooded killers. Little Man’s philosophy on life was what I want I take, and what I don’t break and I still got the scars that prove he lived up to it.
Even through the high-pitch of the wire ringing in my ears, reality had started to filter through before that morning. The first real warning had come when Rod-dog tried to talk me into having sex with Little Man and I told him no. He got all pissed off and for the first time it occurred to me that I had become the commodity. I walked from my bedroom into Gillian’s room—the room that still contained her bed covered by the Strawberry Shortcake spread and the little chest of drawers and her toybox—both filled with things she’d left behind and no one had ever asked for. I walked in there after Rod-dog asked me that and felt so trapped between the two realities that I decided not to deal with either of them and shot more dope instead. There was definitely a them against me feeling hanging in the air after that, but I managed to avoid dealing with it until that morning.
Little Man and Pit Bull were sitting on the couch, Rod-dog was crouched in front of his box taking apart a popcorn-maker, and Savage was standing between the front door and the window to its left peeping between the blinds for some imaginary enemy. Little Man’s name perfectly described his size. Short and squat, with almost no neck, his oily black hair dripped in stringy curls onto his shoulders and his face was as round and pitted as a full moon. Pit Bull was about the same height—5 foot 7 or 5 foot 8—but weighed much less. He had short, wavy blonde hair that he brushed straight back from a fully bearded face, and he never ever did anything but take orders from Little Man. Savage towered over all of them. He’d gotten out of the pen just buffed as hell, but after four or five missions he only carried 150 or 160 pounds on his 6-foot-2-inch frame. He would have been drop-dead gorgeous with his blonde hair and high cheekbones but someone carved his face up in a fight and the left corner of his mouth twisted down into a scar so red you could still see where the stitches had been. He wore a knee-length trench coat to hide the sawed-off shotgun he carried everywhere he went. When I walked into my living room that morning he aimed it in slow motion at my chest, imitated firing and said, “Boom bitch, you’re dead.” I felt completely terrified for at least three seconds and then shot back.
“I’m going to the store and I want everybody outta here when I get back,” I said in as low a voice as I could manage and then grabbed an old flannel shirt from the coat tree beside the fireplace and started to walk out the door. Rod-dog grabbed my left ankle in mid-step. He didn’t say a word—just looked at Little Man on the couch with a question in his eyes. Little Man had both feet up on the large square coffee table that had a base crafted out of bamboo and was topped with a thick sheet of beveled glass. He was scraping the dirt from beneath his fingernails with the tip of a switchblade. He always thought that intimidated the shit out of everybody but only made me think how much he needed a bath. He cocked an eyebrow at Rod-dog and said, “Let her go.” And like the trained puppy he was, Rod-dog did what he was told.
The sun hadn’t come all the way up yet but the temperature had already got to be over 50. I walked in my bare feet and my cut-offs with just the flannel to keep me warm for hours. I hadn’t seen the sun for days, and when I stopped in front of a gas station window and looked at my reflection it stunned me. For the first time I noticed that everything in the world existed somewhere in the spectrum between the polar opposites of black and white. There wasn’t any color. Jennie tells me that I looked like a refugee from a concentration camp by the end of that summer but the image I remember looked like Mary Shelley’s description of Frankenstein’s monster and I felt at least as horrified by my first clear look at my own creation as Victor Frankenstein felt when he first looked at his.
How can I describe my emotions at this catastrophe, or how delineate the wretch whom with such infinite pains and care I had endeavored to form? His limbs were in proportion, and I had selected his features as beautiful. Beautiful? Great God! His yellow skin scarcely covered the work of muscles and arteries beneath; his hair was of a lustrous black, and flowing; his teeth of a pearly whiteness; but these luxuriances only formed a more horrid contrast with his watery eyes, that seemed almost of the same colour as the dun white sockets in which they were set, his shrivelled complexion and straight black lips.
I didn’t know I was making a monster. I’d gone looking for an anesthetic and ended up putting my humanity in a coma it couldn’t wake up from. For a long time I wished I’d killed it. Comatose, it stayed inside and nursed on my life like an unborn child until the relationship became almost symbiotic and I couldn’t make myself let it go.
When Megan writes about me, she can only write from her side of memory and the memories she has of those years are all viewed from the outside looking in. She always assumed that she got out alive because I had her locked up in some remote attic in my psyche. That I kept her up there so she wouldn’t have to live with my memories. And that part’s true. She’s also always figured it was a two-way barrier—and that’s not true. I always remembered that her mother once loved her very much. I had her Christmas memories and her first day of school memories. I had all the vulnerability of her ability to feel pain and it made me crazy. Like Frankenstein’s creation, knowing I was hideous and grotesque and had somehow been growing a monster inside for all those years didn’t take away my ability to feel pain— if anything it sharpened it.
Of what a strange nature is knowledge! It clings to the mind, when it has once seized on it, like a lichen on the rock. I wished sometimes to shake off all thought and feeling; but I learned that there was but one means to overcome the sensation of pain, and that was death—a state which I feared yet did not understand.
I stared at my reflection in the Texaco window, and for the longest time kept thinking about Dorothy tapping her ruby heels together and saying, “There’s no place like home.” It seemed in that moment like I’d been trying to get back home since I was 11 years old—since before I ever left—and it finally hit me. You can’t go back home if there’s nobody there. I never managed to get rid of all her memories. To pretend or deny that her past was a part of me. And of course I didn’t know then that it was her past and not mine that had left the seeds for disaster hidden inside waiting for the right kind of pain or evil—the right kind of electric jolt to give life to those seeds and cause me to grow and grow and grow. Waiting to be complete. To be delivered. I hadn’t fully entered the monster’s world, but without the ability to hope, labor had begun.
The sun had risen to the noon position by the time I got home and amazingly, my house was empty. They’d left. They took the TV, an antique mirror and a tiny diamond ring Jennie gave me the day I gave birth to Gillian, and they left. I stayed alone all that day and that night. I didn’t care that I didn’t have any drugs. Too exhausted to sleep and too much wire still in my system to relax. I sat in my living room with the blinds open late into the night. I packed up the books that lined the shelves built into the living room wall on each side of the fireplace and then lined the wall with the boxes. Then I got out a notebook I used for a journal and sat on my living room floor in front of the coffee table and wrote a bizarre poem that ran three and half pages—all in rhyme and meter.
The poem and I were still sitting there when Little Man and Pit Bull pulled up in their old Pontiac the next morning. I watched them through the window as they walked down the three steps that led into the yard—and I was watching them from an entirely new point of view. They were the enemy and nobody needed to try and hide that anymore. But they walked right into my house like nothing had changed.
“Where’s the TV?” were the first words out of Little Man’s mouth—almost, it seemed, before he looked in the empty corner where it used to stand.
“Go away,” I told him tonelessly.
“Why ya wanna be like that?” he said, pretending offense at my words.
“Just leave me alone.”
Pit Bull jumped in at that point: “What the hell’s the matter with you? Where’s the TV?”
“Like ya don’t already know,” I told him, picking up my pen and notebook and folding it closed before I took it into the kitchen and put it in a drawer. When I got back to the living room they’d both made themselves comfortable on my couch. I leaned against the doorway that separated the living room from the kitchen and crossed my arms over my chest.
“Is there something I can do for you?” I asked Little Man sarcastically. His eyes narrowed at the nasty note in my voice, but he didn’t say a word for quite a while. He just sat there staring at me and when he finally spoke he asked me a question. “Did ya call the cops?”
“No,” I told him, “But I’m gonna. If it turns up in a bust somewhere maybe I’ll get it back. Ya think?”
He got up from the couch and crossed the room until he stood right in my face. “Didn’t Rod-dog teach ya better than to ever call a cop? Never call a cop,” he hissed through teeth mottled by decay and grabbed my jaws and squeezed them so hard I felt the tissue on the inside of my mouth tear as my cheeks were pressed into my teeth.
It shocked the shit out of him when I spoke. “Why not?” I managed to say clear enough for him to understand and he looked at me like I’d lost my mind.
“You’re a smart bitch, aren’t ya,” he said and squeezed even harder until I could taste blood dripping down between my teeth. “Lemme tell ya why not. The first thing the cops are gonna wanna do is take fingerprints and mine are all over this place and since I just got outta the pen, they’ll come hassle me about it and I don’t want the grief. Ya don’t want people thinking you’re a rat do ya?”
We had a real contest of wills going there. He wanted to put me on my knees and prove that he could terrify me into doing whatever he wanted me to do and I wasn’t bending. I’d had enough.
“Get your fucking hands off me,” I told him, and grabbed his forearms with my hands to pull them loose from my face. Obviously I couldn’t win a physical contest, which of course he would ultimately prove, but right then I just wanted to make sure he knew I’d fight back if he pushed any harder. He chose to drop his hands. He tossed his nasty black hair back and cackled like an old witch.
“Check this shit out Pit Bull. She think she bad,” he said when he got done laughing at me. He wanted me to cry, and when laughing at me didn’t work he switched tactics. “You’re a worthless bitch, ya know that. Look in a mirror if ya don’t believe me. What kinda mother are ya—ya lost your kid. You’re family don’t want ya, Rod-dog don’t want ya. Look at your veins, man what kinda woman are ya? You’re fucking worthless.”
The part about my kid just about killed me, but right then I learned to hold my tears in the face of absolutely anything. I stood there for a second and then I cracked a smile.
“I say something funny?” Little Man snapped at me.
“Nah,” I replied. “I was just thinking how many times I’ve been told that. Ya ain’t getting any cherry—people been telling me I was worthless since way before you turned up. Gonna have to do better than that.”
It still seems like I saw him swing after I felt his fist crashing into my jaw—like I was falling before I heard the bone crack and his voice saying, “How’s that?”
I ended up on the stone tile in front of the fireplace with my shoulder wedged between the upended screen and the white bricks. “Why ya doing this?” I screamed at him, wiping away the blood from my lips. “What did I ever do but treat ya good? I been nothing but nice. I let ya in my home. I shared my food with ya. When ya didn’t have anywhere else to go I let ya sleep here. Ya shoot my dope and ya steal from me and then when I call ya on it ya try to knock my teeth out.” I paused and took a breath.
“Whadda ya want from me?” I demanded. “Is there something ya forgot to take yesterday?” I didn’t get up. I didn’t want to end up back on my ass on the floor and I had no idea what he planned on doing next.
He didn’t do anything. He stared at me for a minute and then said, “Yeah—you. But I’ll be back for that.” Then he turned and waved Pit Bull up from the couch. “Let’s get outa here,” he told him and headed for the door. Pit Bull pushed himself up from the couch and walked around so that when he went to the door he had to go right past me and he paused to spit in my face.
There were moments in the years that followed when I felt that isolated, but not very damn many. Little Man had just completely reinforced my image of myself as a monster, and after they left I finally allowed myself the luxury of releasing the tears behind my eyes. I felt them sting, and I could taste the salt on my fingers after I’d wiped them away, but no pain accompanied them. No racking sobs, just the relief of physical pressure behind my eyes. They weren’t real tears, they weren’t even warm, and in my under-nourished, nearly-psychotic state, I took it as one more sign that my transformation into something nonhuman was continuing.
I spent that day and well into the night alone in my house. Like Mary’s monster, every time I saw my image in a reflective surface, I felt further alienated from the world of people.
Increase of knowledge only discovered to me more clearly what a wretched outcast I was. I cherished hope, it is true; but it vanished when I beheld my person reflected in water, or my shadow in the moonshine, even as that frail image and that inconstant shade.
My house hadn’t been cleaned in weeks and I thought if I scrubbed it from top to bottom I might find some remaining scrap of the life I’d once lived in it. I beat the cottons from a half-dozen quarter-gram shots and managed to fix myself without poking too many holes. It wasn’t a great shot but it had enough of a kick to keep me up until I could carry out the plan I’d decided on while I wrote the poem.
Even if it hadn’t been for Little Man, I couldn’t have stayed there. I couldn’t go to the police, I couldn’t go to my parents, and I couldn’t stay there. My landlord had served me with an eviction notice two months earlier when he found out my husband moved out, so I simply stopped paying the rent and squatted the place. By the time Little Man started terrorizing me, my time had already just about run out. With no where else to go and more afraid that I was going mad than any other time in my life, I decided to try treatment.
I can’t remember who, but somebody told me once that I could check myself onto J Ward at the county hospital for a psychiatric eval and they’d find me a drug program. I found out later—after it was too late anyway—that there weren’t any programs for women. Not then. There were only a few places in three counties back then and every-time I talked to one of them, they told me the same thing. They weren’t equipped to house women. There were places that were making plans for it at some nebulous point in the future but even at that they had mass people on the waiting list. Putting a drug addict on a waiting list is kinda like getting on a waiting list for a bone marrow transplant. Most of the patients die before they find a donor.
But I didn’t know that then, so I spent that day and most of the night trying to get what remained of my belongings ready for storage. If my dad thought I was safely locked up in a drug program somewhere I was pretty sure he’d be willing to store the stuff I wanted to save. The things I didn’t pack in boxes were things I didn’t want, didn’t care about. I couldn’t see beyond the sun coming up the next morning, much less at some point in the future when I might need half the crap in that house. I just wanted to save the few things that still seemed important to me—my books, the china Jennie had given me, photographs and pieces from another life.
I scrubbed and waxed the kitchen and bathroom floors and shampooed the carpet in my bedroom and the living room. I had every intention of leaving the house in the same condition it had been in when we first moved in there two years earlier. The owners pissed me off when they told me I had to move because they didn’t feel a single woman raising a kid could keep up the rent without even giving me a chance to prove I could do it. But they’d lost two months rent over that decision and I knew a lot of stuff was gonna get left in that house when I took off, so I felt like I kinda owed it to them to at least clean it.
By a little after midnight I had everything done but Gillian’s room, so I stopped and made myself a cup of tea and sat down on a stool at the kitchen counter to brace myself for going in there. Her room was behind the living room and beside the kitchen. The house was long and narrow, with the two bedrooms and the bathroom occupying the east side of the house, and the kitchen, dining room and laundry room running the length of the west side behind the living room.
Gillian’s room had hardwood floors. You could tell that at one time the living room and both bedrooms had those floors, but carpet had since been laid everywhere but her room. The little round table and two small chairs that Jennie bought for her second birthday still stood between the tall narrow windows covered with curtains that matched the bedspread. The toybox was painted white with a white quilted top dotted with small dark rosebuds. All the toys that weren’t what she called her everyday toys were still inside of it. The special toys were gone. Those were the ones that stayed with her wherever she went—the ones that gave her the stability her mother didn’t. Above the toybox, the things that were less for play than decoration sat on shelves. The ceramic baby bootie vase that someone had sent on the day she was born. The porcelain birthday girls Jennie bought her on every birthday—each wearing a party gown and balancing in front of her a large number indicating the birthday being celebrated. A stuffed frog from the Beatrix Potter tales, and a dozen other things I can’t remember. I wrapped the glass pieces in paper and carefully placed them in boxes. I filled the toybox with the remaining stuffed animals and her bedding.
Opening her chest of drawers, I realized that everything in it would be too small for her to wear by then so I put it all in a large green garbage bag and placed it by the toybox. Then I sat down in the middle of all that emptiness and struggled with myself over my emotions. I had to not have any. I had to finish the job and go to the hospital. If I sat there and thought about what I’d done, I knew I’d never get there.
Women who lose their kids and their lives to drug habits are probably more despised by society than any other group of females. To give a child up so you can go party seems monstrous, but it’s not like you just wake up one morning and say Hey—life’s boring, think I’ll be a drug addict—and it isn’t about a party It’s about a slow road to suicide and if we treated the disease rather than punishing the symptoms, we’d probably have a lot fewer kids in foster-homes. Something nobody in the system seems to get is that if you can’t save the mother, the kid hasn’t got much of a chance. But the world, especially then, crucified women like me. If I looked at myself through their eyes, there would have been no point in trying to save myself at all. So I didn’t think a lot that night about what I’d done to my life. I just sat there and waited for it to get light so I could go to the hospital.
I didn’t have a watch, but I think it was a little past 2 a. m. when I heard the car door outside and footsteps approaching the house. As quietly as possible, I got up and turned out the light in the bedroom.
I could hear someone moving around outside and I pushed myself hard up against the wall between the two windows so if anyone passed by they couldn’t see me. Six months hanging with these guys had taught me all the essential elements of bona fide paranoia. I didn’t turn my silverware into knives that could kill because I could just never see myself having the balls to actually rip through flesh, but I’d taken to keeping an axe handle within arm’s reach all the time. They way they’re weighted makes them great weapons.
I hadn’t had a phone for over a month so I couldn’t call for help, but I’d locked all the doors and windows so unless my prowler intended to break in, I knew I was safe. Then I heard the key in the lock. It never dawned on me, but it should have. Those guys had a free run of my house for a long time and I left my keys out where anybody could take and copy them. I knew before I saw him that it was Little Man because he had a slight limp from a car accident the year before and as soon as he walked across the living room I recognized his step. My house had a back door off the laundry room, but that was behind the kitchen and on the other side of the house. Gillian’s room had an entry off the living room, but it also had a door on the south wall that opened into a hall with the bathroom on the right and a door to my bedroom straight ahead. My room had another door leading into the dining room, and from there I thought I might get to the laundry room and out the back door. I thought about staying put and betting on the axe handle. But for all the comfort it gave me just knowing that I had something that I could use as a weapon, there was a big difference between thinking about using it and actually cracking someone’s head open with it. And I knew this one was going to be a fight for life.
He’d been up for a good six days shooting crank and I didn’t wanna hang there and play cat and mouse with him cause I knew I couldn’t hide for very long. When I heard his boots on the linoleum floor of the kitchen I bolted for the hallway. I made it into the dining room before he figured out which direction my pounding footsteps were headed, and I might have actually made it out the back door if the light hadn’t been on in the laundry room. But that light immediately gave away my position and he tackled me in the doorway of the laundry room. He cut my chin before I realized he had his knife out, and I instantly went limp and just waited for it to end.
I can’t really describe the rape or fill in every minute of the two hours that he kept me cornered in that room. I know that it scarred me for life. Inside and out. There are pale white scars on the inside of my thigh that I still recognize as his initials but they’ve faded over the years and you’d have to know what to look for to read that particular text. But the worst damage was inside because before he finished, he almost completely convinced me that I deserved it all.
If it hadn’t been for all the blood, I would have laid there and willed myself to die—and I could have done it too. But the blood called at the monster. The blood reminded me that I was alive— whatever kind of monster I’d become, I was alive and if I wanted to stay that way, I had to learn to be a better monster. Getting help didn’t even cross my mind. Some scrap of humanity has to stay intact for treatment to have any chance of success and I buried what remained of mine that night, because like Victor’s demon, I had nothing left to focus on but revenge.
I had feelings of affection, and they were requited by detestation and scorn. Man! you may hate; but beware! your hours will pass in dread and misery, and soon the bolt will fall which must ravish from you your happiness for ever. Are you happy while I grovel in the intensity of my wretchedness? You can blast my other passions; but revenge remains—revenge, henceforth dearer than light or food! I may die: but first you, my tyrant and tormentor, shall curse the sun that gazes on your misery. Beware; for I am fearless, and therefore powerful. I will watch you with the wiliness of a snake, that I may sting with its venom. Man, you shall repent of the injuries you inflict.
No shit. When he left me alone in that room, I sat there with my knees pulled up against my chest for a long time in what seemed like way more blood than the wound on my thigh should have let. Afterbirth.
I finally got a towel and wiped as much of the sticky red fluid off myself as I could see in the half-light. I couldn’t put on the same cutoffs because they’d been underneath me part of the time and had blood all over them. I found another pair in the laundry and put them on with an old grey sweatshirt and went to the kitchen to get a glass of water. When I passed the bathroom I saw him standing at the counter with his pants still unbuttoned mixing up dope in a spoon he’d gotten out of the kitchen. He looked up at me and said: “Hey, I’m gonna do this and then take a shower. Don’t go anywhere.” I guess he didn’t like the look on my face cause he closed the bathroom door then.
It was looking at the bathroom door that gave me the idea. I stood in the kitchen and waited until I heard the shower water running. The radio in the kitchen had just started Willie Nelson and Ray Charles singing “Seven Spanish Angels” when I turned it up nearly as loud as it would go and walked into the hall and stared at that door. It was a good solid door that closed from the inside of the bathroom, and we’d put a slide-bolt on the outside of it when we’d moved in to keep Gillian from going in there and playing in the water. Very quietly I slid the bolt into the locked position and went and got my cash, my cigarettes and my lighter. Padding lightly on bare feet, I went into Gillian’s room and turned on the light. Nothing looked familiar. I felt no tenderness for any of the material things in it. It all belonged to a world I could never be a part of. I asked myself one last time the same question Mary’s monster asked following his complete rejection by mankind—Why did I live . . . I know not; despair had not yet taken possession of me; my feelings were those of rage and revenge, and ultimately my mind turned to precisely the same sort of revenge—/ could with pleasure have destroyed the cottage and its inhabitants, and have glutted myself with their shrieks and misery. I looked at the room one more time, lit a cigarette, lit the curtains and went outside to watch.
I walked up two blocks to the small neighborhood park and watched from the second branch of an old tree. The flames came through the roof over the bedroom first and then spread into the kitchen and dining room, blowing out a couple windows in the process. I’d removed the battery from the smoke alarm before I lit the fire so there’d be no warning for the bastard until he felt the heat or smelled the smoke, and I figured under the shower it’d take him a while to catch on. I didn’t quite feel like I’d sentenced him to death because there was a window above the tub just big enough for him to crawl through. It was nailed shut, but if he got really desperate to survive he could break it and wiggle his fat ass out through the shards of busted glass. It didn’t really matter to me whether he lived or died. I just wanted to make sure that no matter what happened, he’d never fuck with me again. I’d made up my mind to stay there in the darkness of the drugs because there was no where else to take a monster, but I needed to make sure everybody understood that I’d kill to protect myself if necessary.
With each passing moment the monster’s skin sealed itself around me and I watched, like that other monster, the moon hanging by a thread in the distant night while the flames of my fire stretched up to meet it. As soon as I was convinced that no assistance could save any part of the habitation, I quitted the scene and sought refuge in the woods.
He didn’t die and that wasn’t the end of it, but that was the night I was born. Jolted into life by a current of ego and madness that rivalled Frankenstein. And with my birth came less confusion. Came the loss of fear and the creation of a moral center for my monster.
With the fire came an understanding of what it meant to possess a monster’s heart, but it also brought a strange sense of peace. I learned to stop hating myself just because the people who made me—the people who should have loved me—had stopped wanting me somewhere in my childhood for reasons that had little, if anything, to do with me.
The biggest problem Megan has dealing with dragging me around inside her is that she can’t find a way to love the monster. She respects the fight I fought, and she always acknowledges my contributions to her life. My strength. My survival instincts. How incredibly driven I am. But she doesn’t love the monster. She has to live entirely in this world, and in this world we don’t love monsters. But only a monster would have traces of a gangster’s name carved into her thigh. Only a monster would feel no shame at the years of prostitution and addiction. Only a monster would have chosen, even when it was all over, to leave her child to be raised by the same people who raised her. Megan has to deal with how her world reacts to those facts every time she introduces me to people and she’s paid a hell of a price for it over the years.
This wasn’t my secret. She didn’t keep this secret to protect me— frankly, I’m pretty proud of it. She didn’t yank off that particular scab because she was afraid she’d let the monster out and she hates to see people turn away from her in disgust. As long as she kept me wrapped up in this wild child personae, it was easier to evoke some degree of sympathy from her audience—to make at least part of the world accept me.
But I don’t want any sympathy, and that’s not who I am. Who I am is Mickey Masters, and if I’m part monster, the world needs to deal with that because I’m not going anywhere. After all these years here amongst the straight people, I’m not at all sure that the world on this side of my tracks is that much different than the other. I find the longer I stay here the more I prefer the moral center of my monster to the moral center of Megan’s society. I don’t think folks have gotten a whole lot kinder in the last two centuries, and I still don’t think they see that if Frankenstein had found a humane way to deal with his monster, it wouldn’t have wreaked the havoc that destroyed his life. And if Mary Shelley created that monster to warn the world about where its inhumanity would ultimately lead it, then I’m in good company.
Megan’s education has taught me a lot, but the most important lesson came from Mary Shelley. Clearly I’m not the first woman with a monster in her heart, and equally clearly, I’m not the first woman to shout it out loud. Maybe, by letting me tell the story, Megan will find something familiar in my voice—will realize that the monster is just as much a part of her as me, that no woman is all angel or all monster, and that if I did drag her into the darkest corners of hell with my monstrous ways, it was the monster who possessed the heart and the strength to bring her back. Maybe she’ll stop fearing for her sanity and see that a world of difference exists between being nuts and being a survivor. I’m not nuts, but I’m one hell of a survivor and she never has to fear for anything again because the monster that I am would kill to protect her or her child. Maybe she’ll see that she has a gift, not a curse, and maybe we’ll both go forward with less fear of one another as we struggle to coexist within our single self.