“In my dreams I’m always wearing a short, black skirt. I don’t know why. Sometimes the skirt is so short you can see everything; sometimes longer. Other times it’s actually a dress. I never wear any underpants.”
We were sitting in a white room with Venetian blinds.
“Uh huh,” said the therapist.
“So I’m wearing this black dress and I’m walking down the street, I think it’s Sixth street. It’s dark and I’m in an alley. I’ve lost my friends.”
The therapist looked at me.
“It’s dark and I’ve lost my friends. Suddenly I realize there are cop cars circling around the alley. They’re chasing a girl who has committed a murder.”
“Look,” the therapist said to me, “there’s something I’ve been meaning to discuss with you. I feel I need to say this.”
My palms began to sweat. I stared down and kept talking,
“I’m afraid the cops will think I’m implicated in this murder, especially because of the pamphlets in my pockets. Hippie propaganda,” I said.
“Think of this as a challenge,” said the therapist, “I don’t want to analyze your dreams, though they’re very interesting. Now what I do want you to do–and this is the challenge–what I do want you to do is to try to match the state of your body to what you are telling me. Can you tell me what I just said?”
I looked straight ahead of me, away from her face.
“Do you know what I mean, Emma?”
“Well…” I said, “Well I know what you just said. You said I should try to match my body’s state to what I’m saying. But I’m not sure what you mean by that.”
“Okay,” she said, “well how about this”–here she looked pleased–”how about this. You came in here today and you leaned back on the couch and you said, ‘Well, you know, I broke up with so-and-so, and all of these crazy things are happening to me, so of course I’m a little stressed out.’”
Her impression of me made me wince. She had flopped herself down on the couch.
“Now that’s just not valid,” she said, “it isn’t. You talk vaguely about this stuff and then you giggle. Then you want to tell me about your dreams, which is fine. However, I can’t help but feel that you’re trying to make it easier for other people. And you don’t have to do that. If someone does not want to be brought into how you’re feeling, well, maybe you won’t have that kind of relationship with them. If you would tell me what you’re disillusioned about, if you would stop smiling all the time…”
“I feel as though I’ve been very lazy,” I said. Then I said, “I burned his sweatshirt. I think he’s insane.”
“What do you think about what I just said?” asked the therapist.
“I’m…glad you said what you just said,” I said, staring past her at the Japanese fountain on the shelf behind her head. I found this calming. “I’m glad you said it. It’s…hard, because I come in here and…and maybe I’m not in the same state as I was, say, Wednesday night. When I burned this sweatshirt,” I said, pointedly. “I tried to keep little notes this week, like you suggested.” I gestured toward my bag, which contained my notebook. “I also write down all of my dreams. Now at the point where the policemen are circling, I myself am walking up and down an intricate arrangement of wooden steps.”
The therapist sighed.
“They have caught the girl who committed the murder. They carry her down the stairs. Then I’m standing on a platform and I see a shady-looking man with a goatee smiling at me. He is the detective without whom the case would never have been solved. He spelled out the girl’s name in cassette tapes and flowers on the wooden stairs. I like him. He’s got an easel and a mirror on his platform.”
“Is he your ex-boyfriend?” asked the therapist.
“Well no,” I said, “he’s the detective. He asks me to go out with him and I say okay, but I don’t know what I’m going to wear because my dress has somehow gotten all wet. The detective pulls out a short purple silk dress and an orange cloak. ‘Would you like to wear this?’ he says. ‘I would love to wear that,’ I say.
“We both watch me changing my clothes in the mirror.”
“Emma,” says the therapist. I look at her.
“I’m disillusioned about sexual reproduction,” I say.
I’m wearing a black dress, like in my dreams. My legs are covered with light brown curly hairs; the skin is pale. Scattered freckles. I used to wish I could rub all the freckles together, make a tan. Instead I get sunburns that leave discolored patches when they peel, my skin trying to protect itself. At the beach this summer my face became so freckled I almost didn’t recognize it. My hair is growing now so that it starts to separate over my shoulders. It also separates from itself, in dreadlocks. One lock is bigger than all the rest and stands out on the left side of my head. My shoulders slope so that dress-straps and bra-straps are always slipping off of them. I think this is a feminine characteristic.
I’ve got big, round breasts. The rest of my body is small. Flat ass, less chin. When I was younger I weighed more, and my chin nearly disappeared altogether. My eyes appear blue, green, grey, like an approaching wave. I’ve got a small nose. Long eyelashes.
My hair is brown or red. One summer it turned completely blonde. There are pictures of this. It was long, and not dreadlocks, but waves with little curls at the ends. That summer I had no chin: I was young, pubescent, round. I went to a summer camp, to ride horses. Competitively. The girls I rode with were all older than me–they wore bras and talked about things like boys and curse-words in the bunk beds at night. I nodded and smiled and rode a horse called River. It was a nice name.
Lana was one of the girls I rode with. Everyone said she and her sister were insane. They yelled at each other all the time, and one day Lana’s sister called her “Thunder Thighs” and Lana cried. Then she said, “Our brother died today a year ago,” and I nodded silently, sweeping a stall clean. I wondered how he’d died, but I didn’t want to ask.
That day I was brushing River, carefully, because he always tried to bite me. I leaned down to lift one of his feet, when suddenly his head swung around, eyes rolling out of control and his mouth clamped down around my left breast, hard. I shrieked and dropped my brush. I had tears in my eyes. Lana came running over.
“What happened?” she asked.
“He bit me!” I yelled, “he bit…my boob!”
“Well, that will stunt your growth!” Lana announced. Then she led me to the office where the camp counselor was sitting. He wanted to see the damage. I lifted my shirt. I didn’t wear a bra. Lana was surprised. We saw two rows of red, black, and blue toothmarks.
The camp counselor said I’d be fine. He said it did look nasty.
We left the office and ran into Lana’s sister, who was always looking for the camp counselor.
“What happened?” she asked.
We told her.
“That’ll stunt your growth for sure!” she said. She looked triumphant.
Later that night I was sitting outside by myself when Lana came over and sat down beside me.
“You’re lucky you’re so young,” she said.
“Why’s that?” I asked.
“People think I’m bad,” she said, “I smoke cigarettes sometimes. I say, ‘fuck.’ I’ve been to third base.”
“I hate baseball,” I said, even though I knew what she meant.
“I’ve even got a crush on Brett,” she whispered. Brett was the camp counselor. “Maybe I’ll go see him tonight.”
“Maybe you will,” I said. Then I turned on my flashlight. “I’ve got to go back now. But I don’t mind if you say, ‘fuck.’”
“Okay,” said Lana.
When my mother came to pick me up from camp, she heard about my bitten breast. The wounds were still ugly.
“She never stopped smiling!” The camp counselor told my mother proudly. “Emma is such a pleasant person to be around. Always cheerful. Especially compared with some of the other girls. Some of them have…well, you know, problems.”
My mother beamed.
She drove me home. At home, she wanted to take a photograph of the bite. I don’t know why. So again I lifted up my shirt. And that’s why there’s this photograph of me, with uncharacteristically blonde hair, smiling and showing my prepubescent left breast, with its two distinct rows of tooth marks, one row on either side.
Posted July 12th, 2011