Friday, December 23, 2005

Why I Love Dragons

This needs a third draft but I don't have a printer and I need a printer to see how it looks on paper and make corrections.
The title comes from a friend of mine. She constantly says that "I Love Dragons" which she only says because of how much I used to make fun of those books by Christopher Paolini, Eragon, et, etc.

Why I Love Dragons


"Do you want to hear it again?," the woman asked.
They sat together, just returned from combing the beach for smooth grey and white stones, and watched the waves come in.
He nodded.
"I'll tell you again," she said.
And she did.

When I was a little girl we lived in a big house on Alderson Row. Alderson was one of the nicest neighborhoods in town. The houses were not all the same, everyone was respectful to each other; and you could keep your door unlocked year 'round, and not be afraid that someone would enter and disabuse you of your property.
I used to imagine I was from another world.
I went into my closet and turned off the lights, imaging that when I turned them on I would be in the world where I came from.
I learned a trick when the closet was dark.
Inside my head, I heard conversations. At first I thought they were imaginary, and then I thought what I heard were ghosts, until I finally recognized the voice of my mother talking to my father, telling him what I'd done, in such a tone of voice that I sat in the dark closet imagining the tone of her voice skinning me, from head to toe, syllables jagged and sharp.
"That daughter of yours," beginning each sentence, that daughter of yours...before plunging ahead and listing the crimes she believed I had committed.
I grew so scared.
I knew I was hearing something bad. I had done something that had so affected my mother that she might as well have drawn out a police dossier and read off my crimes, how I treated her.
Frightened, I'd run from the closet, sneak down the stairs, and escape out the door in the kitchen. I hid behind a large stack of grey wood my father stacked for winter, in honor of the fireplace he had installed in the main dining room, for my mother. The pile would steadily decrease over the winter months but by the time it would have offered me no hiding place, I had discovered there was something to learn from what I heard in the closet.
My father bought me a very large and fat book about a dragon during this time. The book had a dragon on the cover, large, green, with one bright yellow eye and one blue eye, and a smirk.

"Stop it," he said.
"You don't want to hear it?"
"No...it isn't that."
"I'll go on," she said, determined.
He sighed, and settled back.

I was often punished when my father left for work. She wore a fake smile for his benefit until he left and then she'd open the bottle of her rage, and remove the face she'd kept hidden.
She cooked hot cereal. If I ate too slow she grabbed my spoon with my fingers around it, squeezed, dipped it, getting a spoon full of hot, steaming cereal and force-feeding the grains to me. My throat and my gums would burn, each time, and we would do this until my bowl was scraped clean.
My room was never clean enough.
She'd set me to work with bleach or glass-cleaner, and a white dish towel.
She never left marks on me, and she never told me not to tell. Like a mother knows a daughter, she knew I would not.
Instead, she just warned me that I wouldn't have it good for long.
"You think this," making a motion of my room, my precious animals, my books; "will last? Keep talking back to me, Jill, and you'll live in an empty room, or, even," tapping her foot on the floor," in the floor, between the second and first level." She often ended her tirades with a question. "You'd like that, wouldn't you?"

"You have dustbunnies under your bed, if you don't clean them up, you'll be sleeping with them in your bed, stuffed in your mouth. You'd like that, wouldn't you?"

"I am of half a mind to toss all this shit out on trash day. Everything's a waste of money with you, Jill. I don't know how I bore you out of my body, but sometimes you make me wish I had gotten an abortion, had someone suck you out of there," pointing to her stomach. "You'd like that, wouldn't you?"

"You damn girl, you are a waste of my time and if your father ever agrees, we're going to get rid of you, quick as it takes me to put a stray dog to sleep. You'd like that, wouldn't you?"

When I was in the second grade I came home from school, just before summer vacation and she was in her big apple-colored LazyBoy watching the news. She ate pretezels but standing in the kitchen, I could hear the tall shiny newscaster describe the crime, over the crunches my mother was making.
...According to neighbors..(crunch)...the three children seemed very happy..(crunch)...they were always playing around the neighborhood, polite to a fault...(crunch)...it is as much a mystery to them as it is to authorities...(crunch)...no one can explain why she thought her children were possessed or what drove her to...(crunch)...authorities are lifting the car from the lake right now...(crunch)...more details forthcoming on this terrible act of a mother's love...
My sneaker squeaked and my mother heard.
"You're home already?" She asked. She switched the television. She ordered me to sweep the front driveway.
"After you're done, and I will be inspecting --- you have a sink of dishes to rinse off before you put them in the dishwasher."
I turned to go.
"Jill," she said. "Wait."
I waited for her to get up from the Lazy-Boy, foot rest retracting.
"You're a good girl," she said. She touched my hair.
I was unused to such treatment from my mother.
A few weeks later she began covering my face with a tattered old blue pillow with frayed edges. She put it over my mouth and nose and hit it, so she did not make marks. She never washed the pillow, kept it in the shower closet on the top shelf above perfectly folded towels. The pillow soon became covered by my dried blood and mucus.

What I learned from the closet, was that I had the power to make divination. When I "overheard" the voice of my mother berating my father about me, by "forecasting" the crimes she listed I could elude punishment; by following the instructions on how to behave carefully coded in my mother's complaints, I was able to deduce what actions I should take, how my room should be presented, how I should present myself, to my mother, to avoid the blue pillow.
But some days there was no avoiding a "punishment"; days when it was not possible to do right by her. I never knew when those days would come, but come they did. On those days, even if I managed to do "right" by what I heard in the closet, correctly divining what would incite her to violence, by storing away my picture-books, by putting my stuffed animals in the corner of my closet (which was always to remain open), so that she might even show a sign of affection by stroking my hair, which she refused to let me get cut, or curl, or put into pony-tail, the day after, even if I did all the things I heard her voice complain about in the closet, it wasn't enough.
During those times she moved from one thing to the next, throwing my clothes and bedding, upending my dresser drawers, yanking my hair and screaming and whispering in my ear the things I had done wrong, the ways in which I had wronged her.
Then one day, when she was doing this and more, and had taken a pair of scissors to my sweaters to cut them up since "I didn't care enough to fold them properly" I saw something. In the furthest corner of my room, I saw a green dragon. It reminded me of the dragon from the book, one yellow eye, and one blue. It was floating: a tiny and perfectly formed dragon. As my mother screamed at me, as she stabbed a pair of cheap rubber-handled scissors through my sweaters and pulled and pushed to shred the wool, I could not take my eyes from it.
The tiny dragon only appeared on days when my mother's rage could not be satiated. I started looking forward to those days; even as she destroyed things in my room, and screamed incoherantly at me in rage, I watched for the tiny green dragon to appear. It was more important, I thought, that I should see it, than it was to evade my mother's fits of temper.

"I knew I wasn't crazy," she said.
He smiled.
His smile was boy-cool pretty, in many ways innocent.
"You are crazy," he laughed.
She grabbed one of the smooth rocks and made as if to throw it at him.
He put his arms up in surrender.
"Do you want me to tell the rest?" She asked, and pointed at the coming dark that was shading the horizon. The ocean tide was coming in, brushing back soaked branches.
"Why not?" He tossed a smooth stone into the water. It was a fluid throw and the stone skipped on top of the waves, briefly, before quietly sinking into the water.

The day after my eighth birthday she put a hot clothing iron on my neck and pressed it with her heel. The iron setting was for wool. I had not expected it, had just come home from school while she was ironing my father's dress shirts for work. She grabbed me by the hair and pushed me down to the carpeting. I could hear a game show on on the Television.
I did not struggle until I felt the heat.
I struggled, then.
It was like having someone light a lighter on your neck and keep it there, but much worse, as the iron was much bigger than a lighter's flame, and she was applying hideous pressure on it. I felt (and heard) my skin melt. It dribbled from the bottom of the iron while I screamed and thrashed. It smelled like the juice in a French Dip sandwich, the kind my father liked.
I think she meant to kill me, but I managed to slide away from the iron, leaving melted skin behind.
She saw what she had done.
She pleaded with me.
"Honey, Jill, don't tell," she pleaded, her cheeks puffy and red with sweat. I was crying too hard to answer her, which made her angry again, and she threatened me: "If you tell, I'll kill you and bury your heart in the backyard."
I fainted.
When I came to, I was in my bed and had a damp cloth pushed into the seeping burn on my neck. She told my father I was sick and kept him away from me. The only consolation was the dragon.
The tiny green dragon shone like a little green lightbulb, a little bigger than a dragonfly, and it was puffing little pipes of smoke. My dragon was beautiful. It landed on the tip of my nose and gazed into my eyes. My skin was hot, and I had never imagined that such pain existed, yet far more urgent was the sensation that I was experiencing something so wonderful, and awe-inspiring, being consoled by my dragon.

He touched her hand. "It's getting cold," he warned.
"Oh, I'm fine," she said.
He smiled.
"Let me finish," she said.
He shrugged. "I already know how it ends."

My dragon stayed with me throughout the night. I think I passed from consciousness many times, yet he was there, fluttering, one eye blue and the other yellow.
My mother dragged me out of bed immediately after my father left for work. She dragged me by my long hair to the staircase. It took her half a dozen tries but she finally succeeded in breaking my neck. As I lay paralyzed at the foot of the carpeted stairs, she knelt beside me and told me she was sorry, but she didn't say a word when she plugged in the iron. She did not say a word, nor did her eyes show any sign of sympathy when she tore the towel away from my neck and applied the warming iron.
During the several minutes it took for the iron to heat, I thought of the dragon who had watched over me in the night. As my mother muttered to herself, her coiffered hair bobbing, and I thought about my dragon, the world turned fuzzy.
I felt the heat of the iron.
This time she burned down to the white bone, so that I sizzled like a Television commercial for steak.
I was put in intensive care for burn trauma victims. Since I was also paralyzed, there was some confusion as to the proper place I should receive treatment. They finally decided on burn treatment, since there wasn't much they could do for my spine. The doctors were friendly, and so were the nurses, kind and pitying. They did everything gentle and soothing, and some nurses even took to coming in on their breaks and reading to me. I told them the ones I liked best were the stories about dragons.
A police detective was very skeptical about my "accident" and my mother's story. He was blonde and had a bristly mustache that looked like it was applied with rubber cement, hanging askew, the right edge curving along the edge of his upper lip.
"You fell down the stairs when you were bringing your mother a hot iron?"
The same incredulous tone, like I was performing a magic trick for him.
They brought someone from Child Protective Services, a woman who resembled my mother, though to her benefit she was much nicer. She withdrew, from a duffel bag, the dumbest looking dolls on the face of the Earth, poorly stitched, with featureless white faces and giant sexual organs. By my stage direction she reenacted my fall down the stairs.
"You fell down the stairs when you were bringing your mother a hot iron?" She asked, the same as the detective, so often that I thought they must be related.
I told her that was what happened.
"I was bringing the iron for my mother for my father's shirts," I croaked. "Can I get some water, please?"
When she called for the nurse, the woman from Child Protective Services could not hide her frustration.
My father sued both the Police Department and Child Protective Services. My mother had been held by the Police for 24 hours, and they interrogated her, due to the suspicious nature of my fall, they said in court. For pain and suffering the judge awarded my mother and father a sum that was not as large as my mother would have liked, but which assauged her feelings of having been falsely accused of crippling her daughter.

"Why didn't you tell them?" He asked.
"Because I saw my father's face," she answered.
He shook his head, puzzled.
"No," she put a hand up. "No matter what she was to me, he loved her. I loved my dad. It would have destroyed him."

When they moved me home, my father hired a private nurse using a portion of the money awarded for my mother's pain and suffering. He also hired a private tutor to tutor me. My father would often sit with me, and evidentally believed that someday I would go to college. My father was always reading books about opportunities, and to my mother's horror he spent their savings making me as comfortable as possible.
Because of all the company I had, my mother never had the opportunity to do anything but be gracious and loving. Each night, after I turned the television off, my dragon came fluttering out of the moonlight, blowing smoke rings, and flopping on my coverlet, wanting to play. He slept with his scaly head tucked into my belly.

"What happened then?" He asked.
"You know the rest," she replied.
She laughed. She had a young woman's laugh, innocent and joyful, shy and natural.
"How did I ever find you?" He asked.
She shrugged.
She watched as he stood and shrugged off his clothes, and ran to the foamy curling water, his body melting into that of a dragon with one blue eye and one yellow. She felt ocean spray on her cheeks as he flapped his great wings, and he lifted off, swinging his head around to look back at her.
She rose, marveling at her legs, and ran down the beach, past a clump of grass, reaching the tide and feeling the cold lather of water rise over her feet and she felt her own body change and soon she soared after him and she did not look back.

2 Comments:

Anonymous heather hydra said...

How the hell am I supposed to write something for this when you've set the bar so gd high with your story? Well done, dear. It is fucking excellent.

9:08 AM  
Blogger sb said...

I Like You.

6:04 AM  

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