This story explores themes of Mental Illness and Self Harm. Reader discretion is advised.
Everything is pink. And soft. And offensive. Large too, yes. Everything is massive in this room and I hate it. How did she get them in here?
“Shoe box,” has been used to described rooms like this, but this pales. This is a matchbox. Half, half of a match box and just as packed.
“Sarah! Are you still in there?” mother calls.
My breath catches and I kill the light, snuffing out my presence like a damp pinch to a flame. A sudden craving for s’mores takes hold and my mouth waters. I hear my thick boned mother boom out my name again. She calls three more times and I stifle a cough on a spare trickle of saliva that has itched down my wanting throat.
“I’ve got to get out of here,” I mutter under my breath before slapping a hand to my mouth. I bite my lip. The crack of noise emitted when I palmed my face in the darkness was louder than my whisper and heavy footsteps now tremble on the floor planks behind the door. Trembles and bones. That is what every footstep mother takes sounds like, what each moment spent standing reaps on her body. Shells in a can, shaken.
“Sarah, I know you’re in there,” mother states with a hint of doubt in her crackle pop voice.
“No, I’m not,” I wheeze through my nose. My hand is cemented in place, the relief my thumb pressed up against my nostrils affords me is too precious to spare. I wonder how I missed the sheer weight of the smell. Its chemical heaviness is too much for my olfactory centers to huff up another direct wisp of it and I resign to open the door with my face partially covered. I still want s’mores.
“Now what are you doing in here child, are you hiding from me?” my mother erupts from the depths of her foreclosed womb. She turns to me and I do not meet her eyes, though I can feel them land on my hand. “Child, you best be putting that hand in your pocket before you gets a right kick in.’”
I blink slow and shake my head. I start to fabricate something to say and weave together an explanation for my hazmat hand. “Uh, what? Oh no, mother. This here is because my nose started to bleed in there. You know, I am allergic to dust and there’s –
“No such thing,” she cuts me off. “Let me see what’s goin’ on with you.”
Thick fingers likes grilled Italian sausage make a grab for my hand and I duck and back away. Two steps and I am pinned against the unsanded edge of a thin wooden plank. And that’s when hysterics reach me.
Tracks of bubblegum synthetic fibers bound in 42-inch bolts line this shelf like all the others climbing from floor to pop-corn peeled ceiling. I shiver. My scalps feels tight and the lingering wish of s’mores sours with the scent of the air on my tongue. Mothers brows are furrowed and I try to summon all the smizing – “smile with your eyes, Sarah! Dazzle! – lessons she drilled into me for pageants as a child.
“Awe my pretty Pink Sarah, what’s wrong child?”
Tears betray my dismissive nod and restless knee. “Oh, nothing. I just need a tissue. Excuse me.”
I try to step out but Mother walks in, crowding the narrows space even more and I am forced to remain. I swallow down bile.
“Honey, what’s wrong?”
I hesitate to say . . well, anything. Do I even know how the rounds of plasticky fake hair my mother sews painstakingly, with those grubby wide fingers holding on to coin thin needles and plowing them into lace caps for child wigs makes me feel? Can I elaborate on the illogical since of dread that drowns me whenever I visit, and merely glance at this closet? Or why I have had to busy myself at the wellness center down on John, to the point of solipsism, because I am so buried in an insatiable need to stay busy that I can no longer find time to make myself ready for company, much less any that would could be accused of being the respectable kind? Because I cannot not be bothered to confront Mothers failing health, let alone her ridiculous hoarding and worsening Pica.
My spare hand, brought to the back of my neck, feels like its rubbing against the rough rubber surface of a turkey’s neck and I let the bile go. Before I have time to remove my hand. Now, it’s all over me. Down my shirt and on the tops of my pants.
I can hear in the distance corners of memories long buried, the hushed voices of a doctor explaining to the nurse why they were removing a golf sized ball of – “good lord, she’s eating her hair?” – that had to be surgically removed from my stomach when I was twelve because one little strand for dinner had become Mother and my preferred meal since I was nine.
“Gotta stay in shape, don’t end up like mama or you will never beat Sunshine Sun. What a dumb fucking name, am I right?” Mother would say with all the callousness of a Star Unborn over our sacred Thursday suppers.
I got help, after that.
It’s impossible for a teenager, even a prepubescent one, to not to feel the shame in stares from medical staff who had children of their own, children they could never imagine feeding synthetic pink hair to, not even if it meant winning Little Miss Georgia State. To not bare the weight of ever social workers indignation of what a child could do to themselves when a single mother was trying so hard to keep her alive. Because they didn’t know she plated my demise for me and unlike her, I didn’t know a thing about moderation and would take two strands instead of one. Sandwich between gram cracker and pillow soft marshmallow and chocolate sauce.
“That’s it. I can’t be here Mother. Please step aside.”
Mother tilts her head, as if listening to the fibers surrounding us, eyes not quite focused anywhere.
“Okay,” she says, as if in a daze. “Okay.”
She backs away slowly. And I follow.