Trigger 3/25/2016

Under the grating fluorescence
Of the 18th floor bathroom,
You remove your jewelry slowly and deliberately:

First, the earrings.
Your hand rises to your left ear, and then your right.
They soundlessly glide onto the vanity

You admire them for a moment;
They are fossil ammonites
Impassive on the polished stone
Their reflection blurred, surreal
As if scoffing at the earth they were cut from.

You inspect the piercing you got
To commemorate your 30th year
It is still infected, but improving.

The inspection proceeds unabated:

You bring your attention to the back of your neck
Where you vie with a clasp for a few seconds
Until the pendant you made
From a melted bottle
Slides past your collarbones
Into your palm
Where you clutch it
Almost reverently
Before placing it in your pocket

Your jewelry doesn’t match
You note.
But you already knew that

When you ran out of the house
Way too late
And stepped into the office, somehow
Way too early, armor gleaming
Past servers whirring
And the faithful K-Cup, dutifully
Prescribing stimulants
To the orderly drones, blue
In the reflections
Of their LCDS
All humming
About weather, and babies, and the new RFP

Despite yourself.

You ran in here, just in time
For your head to crack
After that argument
that should never have happened
At work
But it did
And now you’re tumbling backward
A decade or two.


Because you were deluded by its tacit association with secrecy,
You would often run into the bathroom for safety
Especially when you were having nightmares
So vivid,
They dwarfed the terror of wakefulness
Even though
They’d threaten to lock you in there all night
But only
After they’d beat you
Even though, a few times
They did

Order you inside
Command you to lock the door
And say:

“don’t you dare move, or I’ll kill you”

So you’d stay in there
petrified in place
Two feet rooted to that
pink and black tile
Afraid, even, to  walk
Two feet to the sink
To inspect your red, puffy face.
Or have a drink of water.

Ordered you inside

Only to let you out
After an hour or so
When the dread had engulfed you
In an undecipherable din.
And you could barely breathe,
Sobbing as silently as possible
And you still hadn’t learned
How long a human could survive
Without food
Or love
So you’d try to guess
But you couldn’t tell time
So as far as you were concerned,

This was the end.

Ordered you inside
Only to let you out
After an hour or so
When you had,
from their perspective,
sufficiently repented

For being clumsy
Or, because someone said
You were misbehaving
And spoke out of turn
Or, spoke in turn
But, said the wrong things
Embarrassed them
Did everything they asked, but not well enough.
Didn’t listen

There was a lot of “talking”, growing up.
A lot of hearing, too,
But no listening
Of pleas, explanations, apologies and-
before they taught you to keep silent-
Of screams.

You knew
As soon as they said “let me talk to you”
That there would be pain.
You would say anything to keep their hands off you
But they wouldn’t listen.

Is it so surprising, then,
You still won’t listen to yourself?


Under the grating fluorescence
Of the 18th floor bathroom,
You smooth your hair,
undo it,
re-do it
And smooth it again.
You mouth the words, instead of speaking them
Just in case someone walks in
And begins to suspect
That something outside
a mundane bathroom ritual
is happening here.

All these years later
Unable to control the the shaking
The tears
Rebelliously welling up
To meet abject terror
Every time you look in that mirror
Barely able to command yourself,
As they always did
To “just shut up

You still stare down your reflection
You force yourself to say the words

“You’re gonna be okay.”
“They can’t hurt you now”

And like the frozen child behind that perverse bathroom door
Impenetrable, while locked from the inside

You just don’t believe it.

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