The Fiction Issue

I had the dream again last night. The one where the baby’s leg gets caught in the crib rail and when she yanks it there’s a pop sound. Her scream wakes my husband too, but I reach her first. She is in such pain. I remove her leg from between the rails as gently as I can and we rush her to the hospital. Immediately the doctors are suspicious that I’ve hurt my baby on purpose. They call Child Protective Services and say she has to go into foster care while they investigate. We call my parents, saying the baby can stay with family, but for some reason the CPS lady keeps saying she’s seen it all before. Young parents, tired, on the outs, working. They take it out on the kid. When I wake up it’s always at the same point: I’m choking the woman, security is grabbing me, and now I’ve given them reason to take my baby. Because now of course I’ve proven that I could have hurt her.

My new psychiatrist’s office is on Capitol Hill. I have to laugh because calling 15th Street Capitol Hill is funny. Potomac Avenue never had it so good.

“I’m not here to judge you.”

“I know, but it’s still hard to actually put certain things into words.”

“Everything you say will be held in the strictest confidence.”

“Yes, I know. That’s not the problem. I am more concerned with how I’m going to actually say some of the things I know I need to say. There are some things in one’s life that are supposed to be left unsaid to outsiders.”

“‘Supposed to’? Says who?”

“Says anyone who’s ever aired their familial laundry out in public or in private. Some stuff you just keep to yourself. You feel like you’re violating confidences or stepping over boundaries. Like, nobody outside the family is supposed to know Mama beat us with a wooden paddle with our names engraved on it that had holes in it.”


“Yeah, in the summer the holes helped it stick to your skin better, to leave a mark so you’d remember what you’d gotten for whatever it was you did to get what you got.” I can’t help but smile.

“You’re smiling but do you not realize how detrimental that is, how utterly traumatic for a child?”

“Um, yeah, actually, I do. That’s partly why I’m here to talk to you.”

See, I’m disliking her already. The hell she mean, don’t you realize how detrimental that is? Bitch, if I hadn’t realized it was detrimental to me I wouldn’t be sitting in your outdated, too-cold office sipping nasty, lukewarm tea. Calming, soothing, whatever the hell it’s supposed to be, it’s nasty.

See, I’m cussing, that’s how I know I’m irritated and I have to be making the This Heifer Here face. I need to get back to this discussion because there’s no way I want to deal with Blue Cross trying to change doctors again. Do you have any idea how hard it was to find a black, female psychiatrist (and not sound racist or sexist when you call and want to search by black and female)? Well, let me tell you, they are few and far between in D.C. so I settled on this one.

My cell phone is ringing in my purse across the room. “I’m sorry, I have to get that.” She nodded as if to say she understood. Shit, I don’t. This had better be a real emergency, I’m losing paid therapy minutes. I dug to the bottom of my purse and snatched out the phone to look at the caller ID. Dammit.

“Hello? What’s wrong?”

“Where’re you?” Is that irritation in his voice? Again?

“At my therapy session, remember, I told you—”

“You told me it was Friday, not today. I’ve been sitting at the subway for 20 minutes waiting for you. You could have called.”

“I told you this morning.” I’m trying to lower my voice, unsuccessfully.

“No, you didn’t. I’m tired of you throwing things in on me at the last minute then lying saying you said something you never said, or changing it like I’m crazy. I don’t know how long you think I’m going to deal with this type of shit.”

I am actually beginning to question whether I told him today or not. Then I have to snap out it. I know what I said. And I’m no liar; he knows that’s the way to get me really riled up. I have hated being called a liar since I was a teenager and my mother used to accuse me of having sex when I wasn’t, then telling me I was lying when I denied it. OK, but wait, I’m in my head again.

“I apologize for not reminding you and I’m sorry you’ve been waiting on me. Will you still be able to pick me up later?”

“Do I have a choice?” He hangs up. Motherfucker. Bastard ass motherfucking bastard. That feels better.

Now I have to face this educated, successful black woman and tell her this is where I’d like to start. This, right here, with my husband, needs to be talked about before he or I kill the other, in which case I don’t know what I’ll do if I end up being the murderer—you know, if I go through with my visions of repeatedly stabbing him in the throat with a rusty screwdriver—because CSI has shown me it’s much more difficult than I thought to get rid of traces of blood.

“Is everything OK?”

“No. No, it’s not.”

I leave her office with a new prescription for finding my inner happy. I’ll fill it later. Maybe.

Every now and then the desire to step off of the Metro platform hits me so hard I have to force myself to step back. Maybe I’ll lean slightly forward, just enough for the front of the train to smack me in the forehead. Does this sound alarming? I don’t mean to sound frightening; I’m not going to kill myself. I just—sometimes I think about killing myself. It’s not always by train; usually I remember that everyone who rides Metro would probably hate me, dead or not, for fucking up rush hour. Sometimes it’s a flash of driving my car into the expanse of trees that borders Fort Dupont Park. Sometimes it’s turning into oncoming traffic on Rock Creek Parkway. Or better, going the wrong way in the park at the wrong time of day. Pisses the Park Police off.

After leaving the doctor’s office and walking aimlessly a few blocks, I decided to go to work. Yay for them; they get to see me unmedicated. I’ve been off my meds for a few weeks now. This is probably why I haven’t been to work in four days. It’s also probably why I have baked everything bakeable in the house, why my thoughts keep flitting from this to that, why I can’t stand still long enough to finish the dishes, sit still long enough to help with my kids’ homework, or find any interest in humping my husband.

There was a note on my chair when I got in: Gray wants you ASAP. I hate the use of ASAP. Just say the minute you get in or at 2 p.m. “As soon as possible,” to me, means whenever the fuck I feel like getting up and walking to your office which is probably never going to happen. And Gray. His nickname is surely in full effect: same gray pinstriped suit, gray office furniture, gray skies. “Put on a Happy Face” starts playing in my head and I force myself not to sing it out loud.

I know it before Gray says anything, before he pushed the too-crisp, officially worded paper toward me. I looked at his hairy knuckles. I imagined smashing them individually with a rusty hammer. The vision made me smile. “Like now, you aren’t listening. Look, I tried to keep this from happening, especially so close to the holidays and you havin’ kids an’ all, but your attitude here lately doesn’t give me much choice.”

I missed the majority of what he was saying. I wasn’t listening. I’ve always liked this office, always liked looking at the bustle of K Street at lunchtime many stories below. I come in here when Gray isn’t here and just watch the people walk. It amazes me sometimes how the world continues. I told my husband to kiss my ass this morning because he drank the last of the orange juice.

Back at my desk, I slipped the one photo of my kids into my purse and walked out. I knew this was coming. I saved, then deleted my personal files weeks ago. There’s nothing else to do. The sadness doesn’t descend upon my brain until I’m on the train platform at Farragut North.

The lights are blinking. This is it. Do not bitch out. Do this. Help everyone. Save them from you. Do it. Do it.

The force of the collision is less than what I thought it’d be. I realize I’m on the platform, though, not being mangled under the train. There is a crowd around me and my phone has fallen, shattering its screen, eerily turned on and glowing with a picture of my children. There is a teen boy kneeling beside me, my hand in his. He looks concerned, iPod ear buds dangling around his neck. “Aw, man, my bad! I ain’t even see you. You OK? You almost fell!”

I stared at the picture and whispered, “Yeah. Almost.”

He dropped my hand and muttered, “Stay off the grated edge, dummy.”

Arnebya is a native Washingtonian, former DCCAH Larry Neal Writer’s Award recipient (adult fiction), and 2012 BlogHer Voice of the Year. She blogs at What Now and Why.