my sister pivots, wordlessly, and leaves the room.
for another five or ten seconds, i don't move. a chill is spreading throughout my body, crouched on the off white rug of the so called piano room of my childhood home. wooden blocks of various shapes and sizes are spread out on the carpet before me, some of them stacked in the rudimentary beginnings of scaffolding, a few still occupying the burgundy lattice of the crate from which they all came. my stomach is a writhing eel at the center of my being that is sending out sickening vibrations, causing arms and legs and fingers and toes to tingle. later that eel will take up residence under my skull, become the symbol of fits dubbed by doctors and psychiatrists as petite mal focal seizures. for now they are nothing more than the pangs of fear.
i must be older than nine, since i was nine years old when we moved to this particular house, a sprawling, one story mansion set on two acres of land, complete with guest house, olympic sized swimming pool, tennis and basket ball court, and a bike path that i happen to know makes a loop measuring precisely one seventeenth of a mile around. i cannot be much older than this, because i do not remember sensing the presence of a certain scar i acquired around ten years of age inside my chest.
i know i have to move. i have a very brief window of time in which to get my side of the story across. i have to be there when my sister tattles on me, or else my mom will make up her mind about the incident that just occurred without waiting to hear my input. i leave my blocks and propel myself with numb, stiff muscles toward the classroom.
my mom is sitting in a grey fold up chair in front of her desk. that she is weary, and frustrated, and short of patience is visible mainly around her eyes. the tight, stern shape of her mouth is very familiar to me, but does not necessarily signal anger. it is something usually though not always present to warn me of the potential that can be triggered by any misdeed or even a careless word.
she is grading papers, sifting through the scrawls of my adopted brothers, less than perfect students to say the least, especially considering that they speak little english at this point in time, in their grammar and algebra and history and science textbooks. mainly the dreaded grammar pages. homeschooling in my family involved sometimes torturous and seemingly endless rounds of reworking and regrading the same exercises, since they had to be done again and again until they were completed correctly. it was well past three pm, when they aught to have been finished for the day, but my mom and brothers were still working away at it, because they wouldn't be released until they'd mastered their material.
at my mom's shoulder, my sister is standing. she is still holding whichever of my siblings it is that happens to be a baby at this time. i think the baby is a boy but am not sure. my sister is tattling on me. i try to interrupt her, desperately to explain myself.
"she got mad and threw a block at the cabinet." try as i might, to this day i cannot remember what actually happened. i run the scenario that i did throw the block at the cabinet through my head, and the thump sound of wood striking wood in my imagination doesn't sound convincing. but i cannot remember anything beyond my sister tormenting me by positioning the baby so that he/she/it knocked over the tower i was building with those blocks, other than holding a yellow block shaped like a aqueduct and deciding against incorporating it in my structure. i honestly do not know if i knew it or not. i looked for a dent later, as some evidence, to prove to myself that i must have committed the crime, but could not find one, not that its absence clears me of guilt.
me at the time: "i didn't!"
"are you saying your sister is lying?"
as soon as these words fall from my mom's lips i know i am beaten. "no," i murmur weakly, despite the contradiction i'm giving to my own previous statement. to accuse this sister, the golden child, of lying would be akin to blasphemy in my family. blasphemy was such a serious sin in my mom's household that i didn't even know what it was, really, other than that i was never supposed to say "gosh" because it kind of sounded like taking the lord's name in vain.
my sister doesn't smile when my mom orders me to her closet, telling me she will "show me what happens to the boys when they lie." she doesn't need to gloat over her victory. it's nothing special or unexpected because she always wins.
what is different, on this occasion, is that my mom beats me. she makes me lie face down on the carpet of her closet with my arms at my sides, nothing to hold onto for strength. my round white buttocks humiliatingly exposed to the old fashioned silvery blue metal tennis racket she wields. over the years of giving my brothers such treatment on a regular basis, my mom went through many different paddles trying to find one that could stand up to the abuse she put it, and us, through. i have no chance to say anything, and it's only retrospectively when i connect the incident to fantasy stories i've read like the wheel of time that i wish i could have gritted my and kept from crying out. on that day, my hands kept migrating downward to cover myself, despite the fact that this only made my mom pound me harder, warning me that she wouldn't stop until she got in enough good blows without even this flimsy shield i could procure for myself. an eternity later it's over but not all over, because she locks me outside for the remainder of what could have been an early fall or late spring or even a particularly hot winter day, until dusk falls and the shadows lengthen. i sit on a swing a rock slowly back and forth, my mind a blur, a wordless howl of hatred and disgust for myself and despair. every minute i spent alone in the blazingly hot, dry wonderland of our backyard drilled into my the knowledge of my own worthlessness.
when me mom allows me back inside the house, darkness has fallen. we sit on my bed in the room i share with, of all my many siblings, the very same sister who tattled on me in the first place, and my mom presents me with a book. the story of the life of saint rita, who married an absolute boar of a man and faithfully suffered and stayed with him until he cast her away and she finally got to be a nun like she always truly wanted. my mom tells me to be more like saint rita. who received from god the wound of one of the thorns from jesus' crown on her forehead, and called the worms that lived in it her little friends, lifting them back up to their ghastly fleshy home when they occasionally fell to the ground. i must be nicer to my siblings and value people more than objects. i am too selfish and antisocial.
it doesn't hurt to sit until the next day. i remember standing in the bathroom i shared with my sister, naked, contorting my body so that i could see my butt and upper thighs reflected back at me. i remember their dark color, black and blue and purple like plums, edged in a sickly yellow. i remember thinking to myself that, were i to call the police and reveal to them the image i admired in the privacy of my mirror, something would happen. i didn't know what, but something would have to happen. if only i had experienced these thoughts as more than an intangible romantic fantasy, which never had a hope of materializing into action.