Fiction by Missy-Marie Montgomery
It turns out that the more attention I pay to the sadness inside me, in the
wrong way, the bigger it gets. When it seems I’m improving, it’s because
I am doing something properly. Then I can see it as something other than me,
or in addition to me, something I can hold up and observe. But this sounds
too easy; it suggests that I can discern the difference between the right and
wrong way of thinking. Much of the time I’m just guessing. Some of the
time the difference itself seems pointless. Made up.
And it’s often too hard to rise up over all of it, to stop sitting in the tub
(that is especially hard) or on the sofa, paralyzed with the difficulty of
navigating the move from sofa to sink for a glass of water.
Then there’s another big struggle, which is speaking of myself in first
person—something Dr. Gerthauer says I need to practice. She does not say
must practice; she is always very careful to avoid such words. Probably
because of my tendency to balk. So this week I am paying extra attention to
first person. I have not admitted to my doctor that I allow myself one day of
third person each week. Those days are so much easier, like a little vacation.
Feeling thirst is easy, but what stops her is how difficult the rest becomes:
all the decisions needed to negotiate movement. (What stops me.) How long
to run the cold water? What if there were tiny particles of sand in the pipes?
Once she had seen this happen, and now she notices that the water sometimes
tastes foul. Which cup to use? The smooth mug, with the pleasant heft to it?
Would that make the water taste faintly of coffee? Would that be too
complicated? Exactly how much water does she want to drink? And how
should she hold her body as she moves from the sofa to the sink?
Yesterday my friend Kim came to visit me in the early evening, while I
was in the tub. She let herself in because she knows where the key is hidden,
and then came right in to the bathroom, which was open since I thought I was
alone in the apartment. “I wonder how long you have been in here,” she said,
feeling the bathwater. She had brought me some gingersnaps, which are my
favorite because they are hard and soft at the same time, and they are not too
delicious. She sat down on the closed toilet seat and talked to me about her
day because she knows I like that. The small details. I do not like questions
because I don’t like to answer them. I dipped the cookies in the cool
bathwater before I ate them, and felt happier suddenly than I had in months.
I once watched a blue heron catch a mouse, and dip it four times in the pond
before swallowing it. I love thinking about that.
It’s usually good when Kim visits because she brings in my mail and
sometimes will sit with me when I go through it, which makes it easier. And
she can always find the coffee cups. In my old house this never gave me
trouble at all, but here in my small apartment I can’t seem to keep track of
them. She just gathers them up from where they are hiding, half-full of cold
coffee, and puts them in the sink, and sometimes even washes them. It’s so
lovely and friendly to have them back in one place.
The doctor says not to keep calling her Dr. Gerthauer. She says to
call her Katherine, but I can’t possibly call her Katherine because that sounds
ridiculous to me. She wants to know why it sounds ridiculous, so I tell her
about the astronaut named Katherine I once saw in a documentary, hovering
about her spacecraft in zero gravity, and that it disturbs me to think of Dr.
Gerthauer hovering about in zero gravity, that it seems like a bad sign. She
says that I can call her Bud, instead, which is the only evidence of humor that
I’ve ever really noticed from her. She also says that I should still refrain from
watching the news, and I can’t help but notice that certain news magazines are
no longer arriving in my mail.
The truth is, I really don’t think it’s acceptable for me to separate myself
from the tragedies outside of me. If they even are outside myself. Like those
Bosnian children, for example, crucified on the doors of their parents’ homes.
Like the mother feeding her own blood to her baby, who is starving, and who
will be killed anyway. Like the lost boy at the carnival who did not belong to
anyone. I can list these things all day long without repeating one. And then I
will not be able to stop crying, which is one of the things I am also trying to
stop, because it does not help anything and because it is selfish. Though I
suspect it is also selfish to feel anything other than horror.
The doctor is right now frowning a bit, possibly because she can tell
I am following this train of thought. She is asking how I got to my
appointment, and did I have any difficulty? (I have been awake for over 24
hours, because once I felt I was properly dressed, I was still a day early, so
I remained in the same clothes, not sleeping, for fear of changing my mind
when I woke. It is important to stay in the same frame of mind when I feel
myself improving. If I keep the exact same music playing or the same clothes
on, it is easier to sustain. But I think it’s best not to mention this, and so I
say, “No difficulty. Not much.”)
Dr. Gerthauer’s office is beautifully and tastefully decorated. Each time
I see her, there are fresh flowers on the coffee table between us. Sometimes
one of the paintings on the wall is moved slightly. Perhaps to test me. She
did not initially strike me as a person who would care about beauty, or be
able to create it. It delights me that I was wrong about that, though I have
never asked her. It might be that she hires someone else to be in charge of
Dr. Gerthauer says that trauma affects us all differently. She is always
digging around in me and holding up what she finds. She’s an archaeologist,
interested in every bit of pottery she unearths. She likes to piece the world
together in this manner. I can see how much she has invested in this way of
thinking, how cleverly she tries to get me interested in discussing a particular
shard. What I wonder about Bud now is how she can live with herself.
How any of us can.
Maybe it is all a choice. Like a simple switch. Acting as if. That’s
what Kim says. She says it’s not lying if we need to pretend certain things
in order to move through a day. That it’s like trying on clothes to find what
feels and looks right. Or like practicing the same musical piece over and
over. I like to hear her say this. Although I’m not sure I believe it, I am
happy that she does. I think her life must be easier in some ways because
of this. That she must get a lot more done.
On Sunday mornings I have begun walking in the park near my
apartment. This is what I plan to tell Bud today. Not just on the outskirts,
like usual, but in the actual park itself where the duck ponds and rose
gardens are, and where there is a playground. I don’t walk near the
playground yet, but I have begun to bring cornflakes to feed the ducks.
There is a sign that says not to feed bread to them. Every Sunday morning
at 9:00 there is a group of people who walk the dogs from the city animal
shelter. I know this because I can hear the people talking amongst
themselves about the dogs and their temperaments. And because the dogs
are wearing orange vests that read “Ask about adopting me.” This past
Sunday I stood very close to the entrance of the park, waiting for them to
arrive. There were eight dogs this week: six Pit Bull mixes, a Collie mix, and
a small one-eared dog I’d seen the week before. He had legs like pencils,
and he was tripping a little in his vest. I followed along with them on the way
to the duck pond, and one of the women—a very perky woman—asked me
if perhaps I’d like to walk one of the dogs. She held the leash up in the air,
gesturing for me to give it a try.
Missy-Marie Montgomery is a Humanities professor at Springfield
College, where she teaches environmental writing, creative writing, and
composition. Her work has appeared in literary magazines including
Rattle, Bellevue Literary Review, Connecticut Review, Passages
North, Poetry International, Cimarron Review, and Crab Orchard
Review. Her manuscript, Half-life of Passion, was recently a finalist
for the Zone 3 Press first book award, and a semi-finalist for the Kore
Press first book award, the Crab Orchard Review first book award,
and the Black Lawrence Press award.
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Apple Valley Review:
A Journal of
Volume 9, Number 2
Copyright © 2014
by Leah Browning, Editor.
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