- Madeline Moore
- Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, 29 September 2013
Bella, My Torment
But soft, the sound and touch and surround of another, intrigued me. Soft, the pillow of flesh upon which I was placed. A blubbery something coaxed my lips to close around it. A gentle touch on my cheek convinced me to suck, and a wet warm sweetness filled my mouth. I was mollified, lulled into contentment and so tricked to sleep.
Sleep! A darkness of the mind that made me, already so helpless, even more so. Anything could happen, around me or worse, to me, and I would not know. To lie limp and exposed, with not even my sharp cry or searching eyes to warn me of approaching danger. How terrible it is, that sleep can’t be banished! Another insult added to the many I endured every day. I would be handled, which I did not like. I would be put wherever this big one or that big one wanted to put me. Up and down at the whim of another. Not just very big ones, either.
There was a little big one. She moved like the rest of them, her legs effortlessly conveying her here, and there, and she made noises, as they did, and so established understanding in terms of what she liked and did not like.She seemed to like me.
She would sit on a little rocking chair and show me pictures in a book. 'Cat.' Turning the pages and talking. 'Doggie.' I don’t know what kept her in that chair, certainly not the straps that crossed my chest in every device they ever put me in. She could be moving, yet she chose to sit still. Perhaps it wasn’t her choice at all. The big one, the one who fed me from her pillows, and cuddled me against those pillows until I was fooled into slumber, over and over and over again, she probably made that little person sit still and talk to me. I noticed that she was always watching us.
The need to fly, I think, was always with me. I saw how these people moved, upright, balanced, somehow, on their feet, sometimes slow and sometimes fast. And I saw how little creatures called birds moved, first on their feet, same as ever, then suddenly lifting up into the air, above our heads, cavorting in the sky. In the sky!
I wanted that. I wanted to move, all right, and move I did. I would not be held still. I would not be content in this little chair with straps across my chest, or that little chair with straps across my chest, or even the bed on wheels, in which I lay, with straps across my chest, and watched the birds fly above me. I would move. Then I would fly.
'She crawled at six months and walked at nine.' That’s what my mother told everyone. I don’t think they all believed her, but they should have. It was true. I rocked on my little arms and little legs until the four of them obeyed me, and then I made them carry me from here to there. Fast. Then very fast. I ran into walls, head first, and cried and stopped crying and did it again. I didn’t care that much. I wanted to go. Go. GO!
Walking was good. Walking backwards was good. Tip toes, good. Tip toes backwards, very good. Running? Running was the beginning of flight, I was sure.
So running was the best.
I ran everywhere, and my mother did, too. She ran beside me and when the little big one, Ruth, was left behind, Ruth would cry. She cried a lot. She cried when I bit her and she cried when I ran away from her and mom and she cried when mom made her stay in her room so I could be tricked into sleep. In the middle of the day!
I cried a lot, too, but not for ninny reasons. I cried because I was little and had no power. I cried because I’d had enough of them. I was ready to join the mystical beasts of the heavens. I just didn’t know how. These earth bound people, not so much the man, who came and went and boomed about and drove and whistled and scooped us up, me and Ruth and sometimes even Mom, and carried us around, he was not exactly earth bound, but he was not exactly like me, either. He was the Dad and the rest of us, the ones who waited for him to wind up our day, we were not.
Mom was crying on the phone. I was crying because she had trapped me in my mesh prison and I could not, I could not escape.
'Stupid,' she sobbed into the mouthpiece. 'So stupid! I caught her just before she put it in her mouth. Dishwasher detergent! From the box which of course was under the sink where it should not be…I know…I know…'
I was always 'into things' and that day I’d gotten into something that had really caused a commotion. I loved commotion. So, after lunch, which came on a plate, now, with me strapped into a chair to receive it, I waited until Mom was distracted, and then I did it again. I tried to get that white crud into my mouth and again, I caused a commotion. Now she had me trapped and – did she dare to call me stupid? I shut off my screaming so I could hear what she was saying. She didn’t know I was listening and I liked that – when they didn’t know you could hear them and they spoke the unguarded truth. It didn’t happen much.
'Twice! Once before lunch and once after! How could I be so stupid!'
So it wasn’t me she was calling stupid, but herself. That made sense.
We had a tea party in the playroom closet, right before my third birthday. Just my mom and me. She looked happy. I'd heard people tell her that once I turned three the 'terrible twos' would end. I'd heard her tell them, quietly, that she didn't think so. That night, I poured imaginary tea for her and me. We drank it. It tasted like love.
I’m lying at the bottom of the stairs. My head hurts because when I landed it hit the closet door. The floor is hard under me. Not what I expected. My heart aches and my eyes stream liquid frustration. Wah!
Mom comes. She’s down on the floor, beside me. She’s the only adult I know who can, or is willing to, make herself small. She gathers me into her arms and pins me against her boobs. I squirm. I don’t like to be held down.
'What happened?' She kisses my cheeks, wiping away my tears with her lips. 'I saw you, standing at the top of the stairs. I thought you were coming down and then suddenly – you fell?'
'No.' I struggle to free myself from the prison of her arms. My nose is stuffed up and I can’t breathe with a facefull of boob. 'My wings didn’t open.'
'Oh baby Bella,' she coos. There is laughter in her voice. She laughs at my failure! I struggle to escape and she lets me go. Yeah, she’s heading for the phone. They will all hear of my terrible, disastrous, useless (that’s my Dad’s favourite word, the one he uses most when he’s mad at my mom) attempt at flight.
I try to escape out the bathroom window of our two-story house but as usual she's too quick for me. I know all I need is height to make my dream of flight come true.
But she won’t let me fly away. She wants to keep me stuck here, on the ground, with her and with Ruth. Two happily housebound girls. My contempt makes me crazy.
We went outside, the three of us, to the back of the acre we lived on. She yammered on about birds and stuff. Then there was a story about some guy with wings made of feathers and wax. His dad had them, too. This interested me, somewhat, although I was still sure my own wings would sprout from my back if I could just get properly launched.
Ruth listened, too. Ruth was very careful. She ran, but only on our flat, almost treeless property. She rode her bike, a two-wheeler with extra little wheels on the back, pink and teetery. She only rode on cement. She looked both ways before crossing the street and so on and so forth. Very, very boring. 'Listen to Mom,' she said. Ho hum.
'Look Mom.' Ruth pointed up. Mom looked up. I did too, thinking there might be an interesting bird up there. Sometimes we saw hawks. 'That cloud looks like an elephant.'
'It does, doesn’t it,' marvelled my mother. She gestured in the air, talking about the tusks and the floppy ears and the big trunk. Ruth was delighted. I saw my chance.
They’d built some fencing across the property when they figured out that I needed to cross the road. More confinement, but this was laughably inadequate. It hadn’t taken me long to see that if I ran beside our fence, on either side of the house, it disappeared into the trees of our neighbours. And ended. So all I had to do was run, run fast, alongside the fence to the trees, then through the cedars, not caring if the branches slapped my face or pulled at my clothes, and there I was, in the front yard. And there was the road.
I didn’t know what was on the other side that my mom was so intent on keeping me from. But I suspected it might be magic. She could be fanciful, my mother, if pressed. But she was most definitely not a magical being. Not like me.
I raced toward the road at top speed. I risked one glance, back. She was not in pursuit. Probably describing the elephant’s tail or toes or something. Ha ha.
There was a wind behind me. Maybe that was all I needed to do – cross that road with the wind at my back and once I was clear, free of houses and tearing through farmers’ fields, I might be lifted into the heavens.
And lifted I was! Scooped from the middle of the road! I writhed and screamed as my kidnapper carried me to his torture house. 'You put me down, you bad man!' I’d been told not to go with strangers and here he was, a big, burly stranger, taking me! I punched and kicked and bit but I was too goddammer small.
'Thank you Ian, thank you thank you,' gasped my mom. She took me from his arms.
He gave her a look that said, just as if he’d spoken the words out loud, 'Stupid woman.'
'I know,' she said, nodding in agreement. 'Ruth and I were distracted by the clouds for a moment and –'
'A moment is all it takes,' he said.
'I know,' she said. 'Ruth and I –'
Ruth caught up to us. She grabbed my foot. 'Are you okay?' I kicked free. 'I’m sorry, Mom,' she said.
The bad man, Ian, shrugged us off and retreated to his property.
Mom pinned me to her hip and took Ruth’s hand. She marched to the chairs on our front porch and sat.
'See that?' Mom pointed at an ant on the cement. I nodded. So? 'See how it moves? It’s alive.'
Her shoe hovered above the ant for a moment, then came down, hard. She lifted her foot. The ant was curled up. The ant was very still.
'Now it’s dead, Bella.' Mom’s voice was soft but her words were clipped. Piercing me to the heart. Dead?
'It will never move again. Ever. It’s dead and gone.'
I looked at Ruth for confirmation. She nodded. Her eyes were huge. 'Dead,' she whispered.
I began to scream.
Sleep, which I had always disliked, became something I feared and hated and attempted, always, to avoid at all costs. Night after night my mom would lie beside me in my bed, reading to me, making up stories with me, trying, I knew, to trick me into giving in to my weariness and closing my eyes. Even when they were closed, I’d pluck at them with my fingertips, willing them to open again because otherwise I would fall asleep and lie there, defenceless, as still and quiet as any dead thing.
I began to walk in my sleep, waking up only when my mother would come and lift me out of the bathtub, where I sat in my pyjamas, or from the top of the stairs, where I waited patiently for Ruth to join me, and take me back to bed.
Night terrors tortured me. The beasts of my dreams were so dreadful I could not imagine them in the daylight hours. It was only in the dark, the darkness behind my closed lids, that they came to tear me apart and make me die.
They got us each a kitten. Mine, black and white and named Oreo, turned into a rat at night. I screamed and screamed until they took the rat away.
I wasn’t the only noise maker in the family. My Dad screamed sometimes, too. Not at me, though. Sometimes at Ruth but mostly at my mom. He only screamed at me once.
Ruth and I were in the tub together. The door was open to the bathroom and the door to their room was open, too. We could hear them yakking on the bed.
Ruth and I practised holding our breaths under water. I was better at it than she was, of course. I was pretty much better at everything than she was. At this point, I could even read better than she could.
It was Ruth’s turn. She was underwater. I put my hands to the back of her head. She struggled, but she wasn’t even as strong as I was, though she was two and a half years older. It was easy to keep her down.
'What’s going on?' My mother ran into the bathroom, followed by my Dad. What alerted them? She hadn’t made any noise and neither had I. I released Ruth and she burst from the water, red-faced, gasping for air.
That night my Father screamed. Ruth and I shared a room at this point, though we were separated shortly afterwards. He screamed that I was a murderer. A killer. A psycho. He stood in the middle of the room while Ruth lay in her bed, shivering and white-faced, and I sat up in mine, red-faced and defiant. I was just trying to help Ruth, but I didn't have the words to say so.
My mother moved back and forth, from my bed to Ruth’s, comforting her and, to my surprise, offering comfort to me as well. Finally she went to my Father and put her hand on his shoulder. 'That’s enough,' she said firmly, and he went away.
'Why doesn’t she have any friends?' My mother, who’d seemed to accept Ruth’s friendless status as easily as Ruth did, would not do the same for me. She pursued the question, to my utter embarrassment.
'Because,' replied my teacher, my champion, the grey-haired and much feared by everyone but me Miss Mathers, 'she’s so far ahead of the rest of these kids she might as well be from Mars.'
My mother nodded, lips pursed, a confusion of pity and pride tugging at the corners of her eyes and the wrinkles on either side of her mouth.
Testing began. Sometimes Ruth and I were tested at the same time, in different rooms of course. Sometimes only Ruth had a test. Many times, only I would go, always with my mother, answering these questions and those, passing every test with flying colours.
When we left our acreage, much to my surprise, we went to different places. My Dad took us kids to a house to the east of the city. My mom stayed close to where we’d lived, in a town west of the city. She lived in an apartment.
Ruth went to live with my mother. Not me, though. By then I knew, of course, that I would never sprout wings, but I also knew that I would, could, only fly if I stayed with my Father.
As far as I’m concerned, now I live in the city where my University is located.
School is good. I’m going to be a big shot someday. Fly around in my own private plane.
I have my own dorm room; have to, apparently. It’s the only way I can relax, according to my shrink.
Fine with me. I’m not afraid to go to sleep, any more. After the night terrors and sleepwalking, I started to be conscious of my dream state. I told my mother. She said it was called ‘lucid dreaming’, that many people in her family were lucid dreamers, and so was she. So was Ruth.
She told me I could do anything I wanted in my dreams. Poof. Make it happen. Like magic. She said lucid dreamers love to fly. And the more they do it, the better they get at it.
This turned out to be true. I’m adept at the process. There are ways to encourage lucidity, and ways, in the dream state, to bring it on.
I can lift off from a standing position, now, and soar to the heavens. Or, and this is one of my favourite things to do, I can zoom just above the grass, so close I can feel it tickling my body, then out over vast oceans of water, dry as a bone, kissed by the phosphorescent tips of silver waves.
I’m nineteen, female, finally gorgeous and smart as a whip. Nobody holds me down.
Free at last, I don't look back.