Tell me about a time when you felt safe, she says to me.
I rewind the VHS tape and pause on an image where I’m in the shower. No, it’s an image of a mirror seeing both the dark outline of a man with a camera and behind it, in the reflection, my back is pressed against the tile.
And pause. There I am on a snow day, white drifts several feet deep surround me. I have my thumbs up in eggplant purple gloves – they were so warm, waterproof too – but I’m not smiling. In another minute, he will yank at my arms, lift me, and throw me into the deep, deep snow. There was a railing there, but it was hidden under several layers of beautiful snow.
We’re at a Black-tie event, a Bar Mitzvah. I am a confection of iridescent and tulle. I sip a Shirley Temple, holding the straw to my lips with my red-tipped fingers. It was a special occasion and my grandmother had taken me to the nail salon with her. I can still smell the acetone. Even bitten down to the quick, I felt so grown with those shiny ruby nails. In the image, my father stands behind me his mouth open. In the stillness, it looks like he’s about to take my head in his mouth and chew and chew until I am no longer recognizable.
Static. Wait, I can see it. I can see what’s happening.
The cap gun at my head. Or was this the time it was real? Hard to say, frozen in time like that.
Here, have some ice cream. A bowl with a scoop of Rocky Road, a scoop of mint chocolate chip, gone a little melty like I like it. A serrated spoon. Laughter, not mine.
The whomp whomp of Korean War helicopters issue from the television. He rolls a vodka bottle under his foot. I stand in the corner; he beckons. I come to him. Why did I do that? Sit, he says, and pats his lap. Take a sip. This is daddy’s stuff, he says. He doesn’t look at me, just stares at the TV, watching his favorite show, while his hands do the busy work. I never hear a helicopter the same way again.
Darkness fills the impenetrable screen.
And then I’m at the beginning of the tape. I press eject and rip the cassette from the VCR. On the label I read the elegant cursive: Jenny, 1987-1988. A smiley face in pen beside the words. After that it reads: MASH reruns.
I tap the cassette against my knee, harder and harder and harder, until I feel the blossoming of a bruise. I flip the end of the tape open to see its insides, the entrails of my childhood. I yank on the black tape and feel the silkiness of it between my fingers. Like this, it just looks like a dark and shiny ribbon, nothing more.
But I pull and pull and pull until it all unspools around me and I’m tangled up in a serpent of evidence.
Maybe now? I say.
Story Image Credit: Flickr Creative Commons/Robert Couse-Baker