my head in her lap

shadowed by looming grey-green

mountain silhouettes

i lifted a finger to the azure sky

and swirled in the dream-cloud

i remember-

there was an ant on my shoe

and another

in the strawberry lemonade.

it was a strange summer.

we talked about god

like we were serious

On OCD, Mental Illness, and Womanhood

My family, collectively, is something I like to call batshit crazy. With a long history of depression, drug addiction, alcoholism, abuse in the family, and military service resulting in bad brain wiring, imagine my relief when I turned out to the be the only “normal” one in the family.

Except I’m not. Earlier this year, I was diagnosed with OCD, manic depression, and severe anxiety & panic disorder. Immediately I wanted to reject it. There was no way I could be crazier than my crazy dad (mental illness x2), or my crazy mom (mental illness x1), or my crazy older sister (mental illness x2), or my crazy uncle (mental illness x4). I was an outstanding kid for my entire childhood even if it was pretty lonely, with killer grades and a clean record as far as disobedience. I just read all the time.

Then 2009 happened. Arguably the worst year of my life. I had gone to the same TINY school my entire life, which went out of business in 2008. So I transferred to a newer, bigger school in 2009 at the age of 12 and immediately got in a girl fight within the first month of school. My parents divorced and I got my first period. I ate lunch alone every day.

Don’t worry, that period of my life is over, but man, did it suck. I was riddled with depression and anxiety without even realizing I had them. I had so-called “emotional breakdowns” in classes (later I recognized them as panic attacks). I pulled hair out of my head (later recognized as trichotillomania) to the point that I developed a huge bald spot. I soon joined the world of acne and would obsessively pick at any blemishes I had. I still do this.

My freshman year of high school I started to carry around a small bottle of lotion with me everywhere I went. Soon chapstick followed. Now I can’t leave the house without them. I haven’t slept well since I was 10 years old thanks to an obsessive fear of vampires, which was then replaced by an obsessive fear of being kidnapped and murdered, then replaced by an obsessive fear of being raped, then replaced by…do you see where I’m going with this?

My point is that mental illness is a long and ongoing struggle that I and my mother both pretended not to see. It took me six years to go and seek professional help. I was slapped on some medication, which made things a bit better, but not entirely. Because I didn’t believe myself, and when I told someone I thought I had a problem, they didn’t believe me, either.

So here’s my issue. As a raging mentally ill feminist, I find that when I “out” myself as somebody who struggles with mental illness, I’m written off or that people assume it’s not as bad as it really is. This really bothers me because my mental illness(es) pervade every single part of my life, because they’re in my brain and stuff. And the men I know who have mental illnesses don’t face this.

I’m told continually that because I am a woman, whether directly or indirectly, that all I need is to find a partner and have a baby to cure me. That I’m just making it up. That my period is making me moody rather than me having a legitimate medical concern. I don’t mean to say that men with mental illnesses don’t face discrimination, because they do. But when it intersects with sexism, it can be way more unbearable.

If I had a nickel for every time I’d been asked if I have tried yoga, I’d be a millionaire. I’ve never heard a man asked that question. As somebody who doesn’t want children and isn’t even sure if I want to get married, it is incredibly irritating to be told that all I need is a man to fix me. As a mentally ill woman who writes poetry as a way to cope, I’m constantly likened to Sylvia Plath. I love Sylvia Plath, but our writing styles aren’t very similar, and I don’t appreciate the odd simultaneous romanticization and demonization of mentally ill women that often goes along with Sylvia Plath.

Mental illness doesn’t mean I’m broken. It means I’m sick. I have an invisible disease that never goes away and it makes my life a living hell. My mental illness is not a good thing. It is not beautiful, it is not artistic. But that’s for me, not for you. It is mine the same way my womanhood is mine. Inseparable parts of me that I don’t necessarily like, but they’re there. I don’t want you to try to fix me. I want you to let me be flawed, let me be crazy. You have to understand that you don’t understand and you can’t understand. I’m a crazy woman. And it’s none of your damn business.

Room 14

Room 14

being in places like this

really gives me a headache

with all the fluorescent lights

and bright wristband.

like i could scan a patient

as if she were a grocery store item

smiling nurses that pry

behind condescending eyes

make their rounds handing out

thin paper cups and

small yellow pills like sick.

they’re only code for “i’m so

much better than YOU!”

every time is a flashback

and a sinus pain.

these familiar surroundings

are the closest to hell i’ve ever been.

i can no longer count on one hand

how many women i know

have changed to victims i know,

or how many room 14s i have seen.

i’m told they’ll release her when she’s stable,

but they’ll never release her whole.

not with these fluorescents.

Satan is Busy in Knoxville, Tennessee

They sat across from each other, bathed in the flickering fluorescents of an isolated Taco Bell, one of the old ones that hadn’t been remodeled and so still proudly bore its tacky 80s cubism. “Do you want sauce?” he asked. “It’s really spicy.”

“I’m ok,” she replied grimly.

“Aren’t you gonna eat?” He was on his fifth taco already.

“It’s almost midnight.”

“Yeah, but you should really do it on a full stomach. It’s complicated shit.”

She sighed and reached for a rather pathetic taco wrapped in thin, sickly yellow paper. He nodded with a stoic approval.

“How many times have you done this before?” she inquired as she bit into her taco.

He shrugged. “A few. Less people get enthusiastic about parting with their souls than you’d think. It’s a pretty big deal, I guess.”

“Oh.” She shrunk back in her seat slightly.

“Don’t let that you worry you,” he said with a wicked grin. “I’m pretty damn good at it.” He chuckled. “Haha, damn. Get it?”

“Hilarious,” she replied, without a trace of laughter.

He finished his twelfth and final taco, threw his napkin down dramatically, leaned back and folded his hands behind his head. He looked rather debonair and out of place in the fast-food restaurant. “Shall we?”

“I guess.”

He waited for her to stand first and put on her coat, then guided her out the door with his hand in the small of the back. He was very warm in the chilled February air, wearing only a t-shirt and blue jeans. They walked through the moonlit parking lot into the trees that lined the dirt between the old country road they had driven down and the highway.

“Got the stuff?”

“Yeah.” She produced a small jar of chalk, the kind they used on baseball fields, from her purse.

“Ok, listen,” he said, “I’m gonna walk you through this. I can’t touch the stuff you use, else it won’t work. Technically, you’re supposed to have summoned me. Until it’s time to consecrate, that is.”

“Ok, just tell me where to put it.”

He backed away and called instructions to her. She moved around the small, clear area carefully. When she was finished, a powder-white pentagram and some symbols she did not recognize lay before her. She turned to him expectantly, but he had already moved to her side.

“Your blood,” he said. A curved knife appeared in his hand from thin air. The sharp blade glistened with the cool light of the moon. He grabbed her arm and sliced her hand. She cried out in pain. He smiled at the sound.

“Now mine.” He took the knife and drew it slowly over his own hand while she sucked at her wound and attempted to ease the pain. He relished the severing of each nerve ending. His eyes rolled back in his head and his entire body seemed to shiver with a peculiar pleasure. The last cut was made and he grabbed her hand.

He held their dripping hands together and moved them over the pentagram until it was stained red. He let go. “Is it done?” she asked. He simply turned to her and shook his head. There was a new blackness to his eyes.

“Now,” he breathed hotly, “we consecrate.” He pushed her down and suddenly, she felt his lips on her skin, burning as if his entire being had been composed out of the center of the Earth. She didn’t fight him; she couldn’t fight him. She let him touch her but kept her eyes closed, frightened that if she opened them she would never be able to see again. She felt the cold ground against her bare skin, and he was on top of her and inside her and outside her all at once. It was like being burned alive, and he was no longer skin but teeth and claws and fur and scales, and she was devoured flame by flame.

When the climax came, it tore through her. She felt something deep inside of her break and knew that it would never be fixable. She felt so weak and hollow that she could not stand. All she could do was lay naked, with the wetness of their shared blood on her back, and cry with joy that he was no longer touching her. “Is it over? Is it done? Do you have it?” she whispered. She heard him gathering his clothes. Tears streamed out of her closed eyes with no stop. “Do I get my end of the bargain now?”

He answered her with a firm, hard kiss that felt like the burn of a smoldering iron.

She felt his hot breath in her ear, as he said, with a hushed, music-like quality, “I ain’t the devil, babe. Just devilish.”

But as she rolled over and opened her eyes weakly to watch him walk away, she could have sworn she saw him stop to slip something small and shimmering in his pocket, as he tuck ed a long red tail into the back of his blue jeans.

A Name for a Storm

Victoria Gilleland-Hendersen

Writing 31

Joe Modugno

20 April 2015

                            A Name for a Storm

  When Maia howled wildly from between her mother’s legs on the first day of her being, she nearly caused the world to end. Halfway through the birthing process, she had decided she wanted to go back in. When she crowned, and the top of her bald head felt the cold and the fluorescent lights of the Fresno hospital, it occurred to her that being born was a spectacularly bad idea.

        She had not meant to cause the earthquake. But she screamed and cried and shook with rage and her mother said tenderly, “Look at my beautiful baby.” And Maia thought, I do not want to be beautiful I want to be warm! Then the earth split, and San Francisco felt her wrath. Of course, Maia could not be blamed. She was only a baby.

        It never occurred to anyone that the two instances had anything in common. On birthday parties in the future, some would remark that Maia’s birthday fell on the same day as the San Francisco Earthquake of ’89. Then Maia’s mother would laugh, and say “She was born on that day! I guess the world couldn’t handle all those people and Maia at the same time.” Then all the parents would laugh, and they would look at the chubby girl with fat brown curls and privately they would think, If anyone could cause an earthquake, Maia could. But all they would say was “Maia is growing up to be so beautiful. Was she born with hair?”

        After Maia’s fifth birthday, the shock of the San Francisco Earthquake of ’89 had worn off. Maia had not been angry since then. She had been hungry and offended, and sometimes even sad, but never truly angry. She started school. The teachers found her difficult, but entertaining. She made friends with a little boy who had moved from Mexico. His name was Javi. Maia’s mother did not like Javi, because Javi was from Mexico and his family lived in the bad neighborhood. Maia’s mother found out that Javi lived in the bad neighborhood because Maia had begged her mother for a playdate. “Javi wants to show me how his titos play mariachi on the weekends,” she had repeated several times a day, until her mother finally gave in. So Maia’s mother called Javi’s mother, but Javi’s mother did not speak very good English. Maia’s mother found the house on a map and reluctantly drove Maia there. It was a white house with dying grass in the front lawn, and a metal screen over the front door. A hulking pitbull laid lazily in the beating sun. Maia’s mother turned the car right around and never went back to that part of town. Maia screamed “I want to hear the MARIACHI!” and screamed and raged and kicked her mother, who gave her a hard spanking.

        Later that day the evening news blared over the TV that vicious tornados had broken out in the Midwest and the South and that at least six people had died. Maia’s mother turned the TV off. “Why can’t they ever show happy news?” she asked no one in particular. Maia pushed her peas around the plate and refused to drink her milk.

        When Maia was eight years old, her mother met a tall, strong man named Mr. Frank. Mr. Frank was something called a real estate agent that Maia did not understand. He had grey hair and a moustache and he always smelled like cigarettes because he smoked inside. She tolerated him because whenever he came over he brought her a Barbie doll, and it was her goal to have a bigger Barbie doll collection than Greta Burling, who brought her dolls to recess to rub into the other girls’ faces. Soon Mr. Frank was in Maia’s house in the morning 4 times a week, and sometimes he drove her to school so she wouldn’t have to walk. Maia’s mother and Mr. Frank got married later that year. They moved into a big new house that had a swimming pool and a backyard. Maia’s mother kept talking about Mr. Frank’s real estate connections. Maia thought it was stupid that an estate had to be called real when it clearly existed right in front of everyone’s faces. Mr. Frank stopped buying her Barbie dolls.

        Maia’s mother had to start wearing dresses and bigger shirts a week after the wedding. She and Mr. Frank sat Maia down. They told her that she was going to have a little brother or sister, so she’d have to share her room soon. Maia did not want to share her room. She screamed and cried and kicked a hole in the wall of their new house. Mr. Frank got angry about the hole because his real estate connections wouldn’t like it and they rented this house. The Red River flooded in North Dakota that day.

In the hours before the big homecoming game Maia’s junior year of high school, she and Jenna Iliopoulos planed to sneak into the woods behind the school and get gloriously drunk with the two cutest boys from homeroom. At least, Jenna said they were cute, although Maia never could quite remember their faces or names. One of them had a brother who had recently turned twenty-one. They had stolen a half-empty bottle of vodka and another of whiskey from the brother’s room when he was at work. Maia had never been drunk before, but Jenna had. She urged Maia, “It’s fun! Come on, Maia, don’t be a snooze. You don’t even have to get drunk if you don’t want to; you can just sip.”

“I don’t know. What if my mom can smell it on my breath?”

“Don’t be a baby.”

“It’s getting dark. Shouldn’t they be here by now?” Maia shifted uncomfortably. She had worn her new denim jacket in hopes of impressing the boy whose face she couldn’t recall. The chilled October air made the metal cause goosebumps on her arms. She shivered and drew in closer to herself. “I’m getting kind of freaked out. The woods freak me out.”

“Chill. It’s just dark, you’re imagining things,” Jenna said. She inched closer to Maia. The girls turned sharply as they heard the resounding crack of a twig snap underfoot, but there was no one behind them. From the creek rang out a cry distant of “Ladies! Over here!”

Maia and Jenna exchanged glances. “They said they’d meet us by the edge,” Maia said. “This is the edge.”

Jenna tried to look calm. “Well, let’s just go see if they’re over there. They wouldn’t call us if they weren’t, right?”

Maia shrugged and followed Jenna into the thickening trees. A waning sunset cast a cool blue tone on the out of place woods. Maia knew they were meant to be destroyed at the end of the year so that the school could build a new gym. She felt an awful sense of helplessness at the fact. If only she could have saved them.

Jenna stopped in front of her suddenly. Maia crashed into her back. “God, Jenna!” she exclaimed.

Jenna made no effort to respond. “What the hell? Are they down there?” Maia asked frantically. Jenna simply stood, statuesque. Maia stepped around her to see what had transfixed her so. Down the leaf-covered hill in the impression where a small, polluted creek usually ran languidly, something else entirely was happening.

A group of people, tall and fiercely beautiful, walked silently in a straight line. Te only sound came from tiny bells which adorned their richly colored garments that seemed to float about their bodies. They wore white masks with vertical slits for their eyes. They walked with a grace and reverence unfamiliar to the world Maia knew. She felt that she had stumbled on something incredibly important. She turned her gaze to Jenna, who hadn’t moved so much as a hair. Maia knew that Jenna would remember none of this in the morning. She probably wouldn’t even remember Maia. Maia’s feet began to move towards the procession, independent from her brain.

A sad music began to flow through the air. Maia fell in line at the end of the procession. The masked people did not acknowledge her, but she knew that she belonged there. They walked slowly and meaningfully for what seemed like a thousand miles. They stopped when they meant to stop. Everyone turned and looked at Maia. Each alternate member stepped back, creating a path for her to walk through. As she walked, each member removed an article of clothing and cast it on her. They floated into place until Maia felt as tall and beautiful as the rest of them. She had a vague awareness of the world crashing down around her. Gargantuan ocean waves and a violently shaking Earth made no difference to her. How warm I feel, she thought, and walked into the sun.

Manifest Destiny

The sun beats down on the neck of her

faded pink cotton dress, dark with sweat.

She moves, and hangs

like a curtain in the doorway,

inviting weary travelers to come in.

She thinks of the mewling, gaping mouth

and small hands, now asleep

so quiet in the back room,

where no one will find him.

A fly lands lazily on her left eyebrow.

She doesn’t swat it away.

She can see the hazy shadows

crawling spider-like across

the yellow ocean,

kicking up soft clouds more deadly

in touch than in sight.

It’s a bad day for business, she thinks,

as a hot, sticky stream makes its slow

journey down her leg. I’d better go

and get one of the other girls.

She hopes the thief has come back.

She can see his eyes filled with hate

when she sleeps next to the brown ones

that should be so similar. But in those small

eyes she finds only the peace that

was stolen from her, time and time again.

She presses the knife,

warm in the sunshine,

into the folds of her skirts.

This time, after she’s finished,

he won’t be able to tell anyone.

What man would

confess to panicking

at the sight of a little blood?