— to my deceased father
There is a story I don’t want to remember, about two boys in seventh grade. I am older than they by a couple years. This story of them includes me as well. What they named me. How I awful I looked to them. Our tale actually starts at the end of a math class when the bell is about to ring. I watch myself as I would a stranger, catch her body’s slow release from a chair, skin so thin that light could pass through…. She can’t be me, I am now thinking. But I know things about her that only she can know. How her bones ache, for example. Especially the tailbone she’s been perched on; the coccyx sharp as pencil tips. I know she’s got on layers of clothes that hide her true shape: thermal underwear, woolly sweaters, baggy bellbottoms. There’s even a layer she wears beneath those layers. I’m talking about her low self-worth. I’m speaking of something so inwardly painful, it could never rise above her flesh. This is about your sudden brain damage, my father. I starved that year because of this.
And I have tried to remove myself from remembering how everything, just everything on the third floor of the school was perfectly timed. Beginning with the clocks pinned above each classroom door, the minute hands synchronized with the bell. That bell would ring and then everyone would shuffle into the hall. That hall would be so crowded, all a kid had to do is step right in and they were swept up. A crowd like that could easily whisk a frail girl along without collectively knowing they even have such a person within it. I liken it to waves of the sea thrusting swimmers to shore. The waves never know whom they carry.
The incident I don’t want to remember I remember because of those boys. I did not know them. I only knew what they were like. They stood at their lockers facing a sea of students. One would point to me, jabbing the air with his finger. He waited until I was in close range before breaking into a forced laugh. I still hear him some days. See them both cupping their hands to their mouths like megaphones: Here she comes, they’d say. Skeleton-face! Skeleton-face!
The boys would exaggerate their gestures. Fall against their lockers. Bang their bodies against the metal doors. They’d reposition themselves just as I drew near, then keel over with a god-awful laugh. They did not know I was starving because of your tragedy. They didn’t consider I was dwindling from their words.
Yes, I was forced along by a stream of students, all moving in the same direction like determined water, a current so strong one couldn’t turn back. What I headed towards were those two. They were small and spindly, skinny, but they were not hungry like me. When I look back I even see their little boy features. Peering into each face, I catch the shapes their lips made and what they mouthed. They were getting a lot of mileage from my looks — soon as the period ended, before the next class would start. They’d be waiting as I have said. As I have said: Skeleton-face! This is what they named me.
Like perpetual waves they called me this, every single time. Here she comes! And they would point and laugh and point. I’d get the feeling like being pulled into an undertow. A current so strong, one could not easily rise.
Therése Halscheid’s latest poetry collection, Frozen Latitudes (Press 53, 2014), received an Eric Hoffer Book Award. Her poetry and essays have appeared in numerous magazines, among them Longridge Review, Gettysburg Review, Tampa Review and Sou’wester. She is an itinerant writer through house-sitting. Her photography chronicles her journey, and has appeared in juried exhibitions. She teaches in varied settings, including remote locales such as an Eskimo tribe in northern Alaska, and a pedagogical institute in the Ural Mountains of Russia. Visit her website: ThereseHalscheid.com