By Jacqueline Maria Pierro
It is the dead of winter yet my bedroom window is wide open to a black sky devoid of stars and compassion. Frigid. I’ve removed the screen and pulled back the curtains allowing full entry should Peter Pan find my house and fly me away, enveloped in fairy dust to the Never Land. As I watched the dawn creep upon the dark, my tears fell cold upon my cheek: Peter wasn’t coming. I have only one visitor that night; another visit in which I had to stare with empty eyes at the room’s hideous skin—my posters of innocence were obnoxious now, the cotton candy paint I’d picked out in Home Depot was ugly now. I guess I was ugly. Well, not to him. But I wished I was ugly to him, or plain, or just his kid—the kid that you play softball with in the front yard and read Grimm’s Fairy Tales to at night and maybe build stuff with, like clubhouses or go-carts. I wasn’t that kind of kid though; I am the one who he visits at night, who he makes keep his secrets and then they turn into my secrets.
As my reality becomes unlivable I start to read an endless amount of books. When Peter failed to find me I decide to read about Narnia. Soon I was crying silent tears and waiting for Aslan to roar in and let me bury my small face in his glorious fur. Then I read the Bible and prayed for Jesus, God, Mary, Joseph, any one of the Apostles to appear in a sort of diaphanous manner, speak in magnificent echoes and carry me away on a song to Heaven. Then I read Sybil and tried to convince my psyche to formulate new and stronger personalities to compensate for the frailty that I felt. I was shattered inside yet my skin stayed together holding it all in; I was both the captor and captive of the particles which bound me together. Stuck and lost within endless walls and secrets.
He brought me home presents in his briefcase. I ran down my long block on my skinny legs anticipating his arrival each day. Or I peered out the window and counted cars, trying to guess how many would pass before I would see him stroll down our street in his business suit. His briefcase always held some sort of treat: a cool pencil, stickers that smelled when you scratched your nail across them, a small set of magic tricks. One evening when I was twelve he came in my room after work and opened his briefcase to give me my treat. It was some sort of lacy red panty and bra set. He said I could wear it for him if I felt comfortable enough, like maybe when my mom wasn’t around or something. I took it and crumpled it into my drawer as far back as it would go and sometimes when I caught a glimpse of it I would feel sick, like I was going to pass out or like I couldn’t really breathe too well. I think I just hated that thing. On a Tuesday when no one was home I took it out of my drawer and tried it on and looked in the mirror. And then I felt like I hated myself.
As I walked home from school that day when I was 12 I felt this overwhelming urge to just be normal. And then I saw him standing at the end of our driveway with this smile on his face saying he was happy to see me. I wasn’t happy and I told him that I wanted to be normal and that I wanted him to just stop. To just leave me alone and to love me, but in some other way that doesn’t make me feel bad. He nodded his head slowly and said that he understood and he was sorry, he would never do things to me again, but that of course our relationship would change and he couldn’t be that nice to me anymore. He said he would have to treat me like shit because I obviously didn’t love him and that I better not say anything to my mother.. So I told him that he could treat me like shit then. I walked inside and that began the next few years of him not being nice to me. I guess I was just a disappointment so it was easier to call me names or hit me when he was angry.
When it was warmer out I started to find freedom in running away. I left my house with a backpack full of books rather than clothes. I ran to fields of broken glass whereupon I could escape into tales and legends and words and pages; the words danced and sang to me—they were my elixir, soporific and hypnotic—they gave me temporary amnesia. Some days it was raining and my clothes stuck to me in the most uncomfortable way and I just couldn’t go back to that house to change and maybe open my drawer and see that ugly lacy red thing that he wanted to see me in.
Home was just an illusion that I clung to but I wasn’t going to go there because he was there. Often I watched the night silently turn to day in some random house or another; I was almost 14, the secrets that I had inside had devoured my spirit. So I wandered. I played chess with those old guys in Washington Square Park and explored Manhattan; I could feel its pulse beating under my feet and I had to write the skyline in words, ascribe letters to each smell, to the cacophony of sounds that somehow made sense, and to the faces. I walked across the George Washington Bridge to the familiarity of New Jersey and was drawn to the walkways along the Hudson River where I would sit and write what I saw from afar. But I wanted to go home. To make microwave popcorn and sit in my cozy chair and watch TV shows and see my family. I knew he would be there; I had never told so I was the bad one—the black sheep, the runaway. The difficult child.
When I was 14, I told my mother. It just came out, my mouth was moving and I heard the words but I didn’t feel like I was actually telling her everything; it was more of an uncontrollable spewing of words. Oh, her face. In my wanderings my eyes had seen the unspeakable, things that a child really shouldn’t have seen (was I ever a child?) but her face—that is an image that I can never escape. Shattering (I knew how it worked) starts on the inside and sometimes it slowly permeates the skin so one can actually see the blood drain to make way for the anguish which takes up so much space. I have crushed my family with my truth and soon the cop cars and lights and the guilt and embarrassment in his eyes made it all real. I ate Frosted Flakes as they led him out in handcuffs. They had disgusted faces.
I never saw him again.
Author’s Note: Ironically, shortly after the completion of this essay, my father tried to contact me. Throughout my life I’ve felt this strange, little desire to communicate with him; however I’ve come to realize that I was actually craving to communicate with an “alternate version” of my father. But there is no alternate version—he is that man whom I’ve written about; he exists on these pages and not in between the lines. And so I don’t think I can pick up that phone call.
Jacqueline Pierro is a student at Columbia University in the City of NY and single mother to three amazing children. After graduating in May she will continue work on her novel in progress.