He Didn't Make the Greatest First Impression

My father doesn't dislike you because you're
Jewish. My father dislikes you because
you hurt me. Way back when I was a sophomore
still writing your name inside the cover of my
geometry book. In May, right after we first met
and I thought maybe you'd ask me to the junior
prom. My mom was already eyeing dresses and
trying out different kinds of braids in my hair. But she
was on some bus trip to Niagara Falls that weekend.
It was just me and my dad and he sat in the living
room with the newspaper while I was washing dishes
in the kitchen, on the phone with Paul Caldwell,
your friend, who later you'd argue was never
your friend, who told me I'm only telling you this
for your own good, but Dan told a bunch of us guys
that he thought you were too fat to take to the prom.
And that's when I bent over, holding on to the edge
of the kitchen sink, it hurt that badly and my father
came running in, convinced I had cut myself
on a steak knife or shattered a glass in my hand.
And I couldn't breathe enough to explain so he kept
prying my hands from my belly, checking my palms
and my shirt for blood. I'm sure he wished only
for one of my big sisters to glide in, but it was just my dad
and me that night and he did the best he could.
After I fell asleep doing sit-ups on the family room
floor, he carried me upstairs to bed and he must have been
cursing you the whole heavy trip up. And later
when they caught me hiding food, when my mom
would stand me on the scale and cry at the numbers —
Those mornings, when I would bundle up at five to run
he'd creep behind me in the station wagon in case I fell
and didn't get back up. Sometimes I'd make it
home just to faint in the shower and my dad had to
listen for that tumble and rush in to swing the faucet
from hot to cold. It didn't matter that you swore you never
said it, that instead of buying anyone a corsage, you hid
at your parents' beach house, burying empty bottles
in the sand. My dad couldn't have known that the mornings
he had to look at my naked body in the tub and anyway
he wouldn't have cared. By October, my spine was outlined
in bruises on my back with nothing to stop those bones
from rubbing against skin. Who else could he blame
for what I had done to myself? You were just a polite voice
on the telephone, always calling during supper, some snot-nosed
prep school punk. I was my father's littlest girl, his hell
on wheels, running away from him each morning,
just ahead of his headlights, around and around the block.

The Drama Club

The fourth night I sway
on stage in the school
play is the night before
I'll wait in the hospital
lobby while my parents
sign me over to the doctors.
It's also the final night of the
show, the cast party. It's at
your house and your parents
have it catered. Piles of
white plates are stacked
throughout the house.
It's hard to stand without
fainting and people keep
approaching me with
full and helpful plates.
We all know why
I have an early curfew
tonight. You're down
in the basement with your
drum set barricading you
from the rest of us.
When I finally get down
there, I can't talk to you
over the snare drum
tantrum. Before I tried out
for the play, you helped me
practice my lines, winked
while the curtain first rose.
You've sat on the library steps
for an hour watching me nibble
on a banana and when Tony
Morales called me a slut,
it was you who held
his face in the sink until he
took it back. I'm not used
to being afraid while in the same
room as you. So when my
right arm prickles and then
numbs and my chest all of a
sudden feels like it's
splintering, like inside
some man is throwing
his shoulder against a door
again and again, I stick
my hand out, across the face
of the drum, and say Please
don't tell anyone but
something's wrong
with me and you hustle
me into your father's office,
call my parents and wait
with your hand pressed
to my breast bone.
You promise to visit me in the
hospital and I'll be strapped
to the metal bed before I wonder
whether your mom will drive you
or you'll take the bus. Right now,
I sit in the swivel chair, watching
you summon my parents and
I'm thinking about how grown up
and wise you are, how much older
than me you are. You are six
months older. You're not even
old enough to drive.

She Remembers the Tearful Farewell Scene

For weeks now, my mother has been stacking linens
and sweaters in piles on the sofa. I've gained
eighteen pounds in the past two months and the small
square refrigerator already sits in the car's trunk,
smugly. But the surgeons have just reopened
your stitches and I don't know how to tell you
I'm leaving for college. If you had a bowl
of porridge cooling on the nightstand, I'd think
we were on the set of a play about the infirmary
of a boarding school. Cots of abandoned
boys and their terse and hurried nurses.

I miss your old room with the guitar
in the corner, the curtain I could tug
around us for privacy. They've shaved
the top of your head again and the staples
are back in place along your scalp.
And I tell you like it's no big deal. I'll just
see you on weekends and you grab
a hank of hair and yank my face closer,
then remember to be gentle and pet
me a little, sighing College Girl.

When I ask you for advice, I mean
I promise not to baffle my brain
with acid like you. I promise to come home
intact. Your whole mouth works to form
the words you want before you manage
to pronouce: egg crate. And then louder:
egg crate. Again, agitated — egg crate. It takes
the sternest nurse to settle you back against the sheets,
to explain you mean the orthopedic foam between
the mattress and your back. She says
You can pick one up at Caldors. Looks down
at you and adds He's been sleeping much better
with his. And you tug a few strands of my hair
again, nodding triumphantly. And I say Sure
thing. And I tell you Good-bye.