At a little creek, beside the woods, a three minute walk from my old childhood Park Ridge home, there’s an awkward stone bridge that someone made, the idea being that you could hop from one stone to the next to get to the other side, where the woods would give you enough cover to get high out of sight and smell of parentals. I didn’t want to get high, but my tiny self did want to get across, if only so I could say I did. But every time, every damn time, I’d come up short about halfway across and fall into the creek, soaking my Converse. I’d have to turn back and head home in my soggy shoes, leaving wet footprints behind.
There was a gaggle of kids that would give me shit at recess, follow me home and shout taunts till I reached the house with the pitbull that was always in its yard, the pitbull that gave me slobbery kisses but growled at the kids anytime they got near. One day, I decided to pick up some rocks and whip them at the kids’ heads. That got them off my back, until a couple days later when they told me I was adopted. This was before I found out that I actually was adopted. But anyway, that’s what they said. Because you know. Escalation.
When I asked my parents about it, I got a bowl of mint chocolate chip and an episode of Pokémon. I don’t know why I didn’t ask them again. Why I didn’t press it. But I didn’t.
There’s a thing you do when you’ve just found out something that huge about yourself and are trying to get to sleep that first night, or at least there was a thing I did. I clenched my pillow with all ten fingers till my knuckles went red, then white, till my fingertips hurt and beyond even that. I smothered an invisible person and yelled into the pillow till I thought I might go hoarse. I punched the pillow, then the mattress, then the bed frame. I snuck into the kitchen, scooted a chair up to the fridge so I could reach the freezer, and iced my bloody knuckles. I didn’t want the parentals to notice.
I remember sneaking into our partially finished basement, dirt floor in the farthest corner, the place where the light didn’t quite reach, and plopping myself down, not caring if I got my pajamas dirty. Listening to the sound of the furnace dying out and coming back to life: a coughing, wheezing resurrection. I don’t know why, but I started digging. It wasn’t long before I found what I hadn’t been looking for: an empty Jim Beam bottle. Jim Beam, what Dad had been drinking before he “quit.” What he’d given up after Mom started needing surgeries and four hours of sleep in the middle of the day.
Anyway, I took the bottle and smashed it against the wall. I hadn’t planned any further than that, so I picked up all the shards and put them back in the grave I’d robbed them from. All except one. It was a big piece of glass, narrowing out to an impossibly sharp tip. What I did was I brought it to my feet, bare, dirt clinging to the bottoms of them, and I started jabbing little pricks into my ankles. I was careful not to go above where my socks would be able to hide what I’d done. I don’t know how long I sat there, alone, in the dark, on the dirt, and poked little constellations and swirling galaxies into my ankles. All I know is it kept me from crying, and that’s all I really needed in that moment.
I hate myself for it, but I never really said anything to those kids after that. Took all of their taunts, their laughter, their following me home everyday. I didn’t throw any stones, didn’t yell back. Just took it. All the while here I was, in my room, unrolling my sock and adding a little bit more to my painting every day. I’d work in sections, letting one part heal before circling back. I always had something to work on.
I guess it all came back to that creek for me. I’d go there day after day, hopping from one stone to the next, taking those leaps of faith, and inevitably I’d fall in about halfway through. The water would soak my shoes, and I’d get home to see that the individual pinpricked bloodstains on my socks had bled together and faded to a light pink. I let the creek launder my socks, hiding them from the rest of the laundry so that the parentals would never find out.
Until this one day.
This one day, I walked straight from the school bus to the creek. I went without hesitating, jumped from one stone to the next as if I was born to do this. Reached the halfway point, the creek rushing a little faster that day, the water lapping the stone’s edges, turning it a darker color. All around me, things were moving even though I wasn’t. Things were carrying on. So I jumped. And when I reached one stone, I jumped to the next. And the next and the next, until I made it to the other side. When I got there, I plopped myself down on the grass, on my back, and watched the clouds slice through the sky, watched the planes slice through the clouds. And it was like that for who-knows-how-long. But eventually, I left. Eventually, I went home.