Childhood isn't the land where nobody dies. Anyone who dies there, dies twice, the second time in explanation. Holly, our neighbor, died of cancer. I didn't ask why. I remembered she had been mean to me when I complained my toe hurt, Mama had clipped my nails too close to the skin. I wrote on the white board with permanent marker. Mama found some solvent and erased it. So much we could not say just because we didn't know how to put it. I wanted to know how fast we were going in the car once, asked What's the speed limit?, got laughs instead of my answer. Childhood is the land no one comes back to. We leave and pretend we don't remember. We say we will write it, keep a record. But we look back and can't read it, our own language, our own hand we can't remember. Or else we became ashamed when our parents found and read it. We smashed the flash bulbs from back then. Childhood is the land we all go to die, become crushed by because I said so, by I'm the adult. Childhood is the place we learn, then unlearn our answers. Right and wrong never exist so clearly again; we'll never bruise so easily again. We are wrong because we have voice and skin. Childhood is the place we escape in imagination. Growing up is the only real way to run away.
Rock from the Past
I read a self-help article about letting go, and it said to imagine this part of the past that keeps you from moving forward as a boulder. It blocks your way, it crushes you beneath its weight. But if you can work on it, you can grind that boulder down to a smooth pebble and carry it in your pocket. The past will always be there, but it can be this tiny memory that doesn't keep you from the future.
I put a name to my boulder. I wrote to it. I pleaded with it. I asked it to roll over me, to become the present. Then I pushed my demands against it, and it shrank. Not to a smooth pebble but to a piece of gravel. I keep it in my throat. Little thing cuts each time I swallow. I feel it go up and down as I speak. Sometimes I scream, to try to force it out of me, but it sticks like concrete and always lands home.
I've never liked the word submit, the way Southern Baptist preachers claim it's what a wife should do to her husband, that submission is the mark of a good woman. I'll never be a good woman.
But God knows I've tried to be a good girl. And good girls defer.
They wait while the men go first. Let the men pick. Let the men start. And they may, if it suits, make a man wait. Because waiting is what all the good girls do. And if they wait long enough, maybe these good girls can be good women, too.
Good women submit, good girls defer. I've never been a very good girl.
Cayce Bat writes: I am a teacher at an inner city school in Columbia, South Carolina. I earned an undergraduate degree in journalism and mass communications from the University of South Carolina and a Master of Arts in Teaching in secondary English from Winthrop University. I am from Rock Hill, South Carolina, and currently reside in West Columbia. Three of my poems were published in the October issue of Shot Glass Journal.