Fiction

There Was No Creek and I’m Still Alive

If my father could have had his way, he would have raised me in a box with a hole for air and food.

In 10th grade, I stopped padding my ass with stolen underwear, and instead I started to steal from high-end department stores. I hoarded satin and lace underwear that cost as much as an entire coat. Sometimes, I cut out circles in the back to show off my butt crack and took pictures of myself head-down, ass-up, and posted them in these forums for lonely people like me, but more so lonely men than lonely girls. The other girls who posted seemed fake in a way that I couldn’t put my finger on exactly, but I was real and because of it, men would send me messages like “Please babyyyy, I’ll do anything to have you right now,” or “I’m sending you a picture but don’t be scared to see me stroking myself. I just can’t help but touch it when I see your pretty face pop up in my inbox. I won’t send you more if you don’t like what you see.” The cautious ones always wrote, “R U REAL?” or “hunny you might be fooling those other guys, but this guy isn’t geetting arrested for a fake teenager, mmmmokay?”

Some guys sent me 30 messages in the span of a few minutes, like they were frantic for my response, like they were going to die without me. Sometimes they didn’t want to meet me in person, they just wanted to hear my voice. Sometimes they wanted me to say really normal things.

“What color is your room?” “Tell me sweetie, what are you going to wear to school tomorrow?” “Did you already take a bath today? Please tell me you like taking bubble baths.” And sometimes they were predictably dirty, like “Tell me you’re my hot slut and you’re going to take me in your dirty mouth.” And sometimes they wanted me to say I was Daddy’s little girl, or that I needed Daddy to spank me, and I would say it just to prove to myself that it was no big deal.

Some of the men had strange requests, like one who messaged me and asked me if he gave me $50, would I be willing to wear the same thong for three days straight without taking a shower and then stuff it into an airtight Ziploc bag and mail it to him in a padded, unmarked envelope. I wrote him back, “If you pay me 100 I’ll make sure it smells like my farts,” and to my surprise, he sent me a video of himself jerking off with a note that said, “you see what you make me do? so ok, 100. you are nasty and i like it!!!!!!!!!!”

I grabbed some dirty underwear from the laundry basket, sealed each one in a Ziploc, sent it to the address he gave me, scribbled out a note—“you can have them for free. have fun”—and closed my account.

No one came after me. No one tried to rape me. I’m OK and I feel like no one would believe me if I told them, I wrote in my journal. A few days later, I added, I should be scarred from this, but I’m fine. The next day, I drew an X over the whole thing and wrote beneath it:

I’m afraid someone will find my diary and think I don’t feel anything. I’m afraid that person will worry about me for the wrong reasons. They might think, This girl is crying out for attention, she’s acting out on some kind of repressed sadness.

I know I want to be loved by everyone, and I think that’s OK to want that. Take someone like my dad. He didn’t accept other people’s love. I loved him and he didn’t want that. My mom loved him and he didn’t want that. And you know what? To the hypothetical person reading my diary—what’s more disturbing? Someone who actively wants other people to love her? Or someone who won’t let anyone love him? You know my answer, anyway. I also want to state that it’s maybe OK to have a secret life. Doesn’t everyone have a secret life? I love my mom, but I know she has a life that doesn’t include me, just like I need to have a life that doesn’t include her. If I have my father’s genes then I might not have a lot of time before I fly off the handle, you know?

There’s so much I want to do. My mom says I can make my own timeline, but no other adult says that. I don’t care though. The only adult who matters is my mom. I love her always, and I wish sometimes we could live forever so that I would never have to miss her and she would never have to miss me, and if we got tired of each other, maybe one of us could take like a really long nap, like a 400-year nap, and then after waking, we’d have so much catching up to do, like so what happened these past 400 years anyway? Is it better to deal with the cards you’ve been dealt, or is better to be a dreamer? I want to be both, if possible. Love, Annalise.

***

Before my father was hospitalized, he went through this phase where he was afraid of everything. He felt that the world had become a trap and his paranoia took on the form of obsessively warning me against all the possible, infinite dangers that awaited me.

“Don’t run or you might fall. Don’t jump too high or you might hit your head. Don’t stick your elbow out the window when I’m driving because another car might come too close to us and give you the drive-by amputation you never wanted. Don’t laugh when you’re eating because you might choke and die. Don’t wear pants too tight because it might cut off your circulation and then you might lose all feeling in your right foot just as a rabid animal starts chewing on it, and meanwhile you’ve lost all feeling and don’t even realize what’s happening until the thing has chewed off half your toe, and you think I’m being ridiculous but this really happened to a cousin of mine, and know what else happened to that cousin? He followed a shiny bird down a creek and then drowned, so don’t get into bird watching because you might drown. Don’t talk to strangers because they might be rapists, and don’t talk to people that you see me talking to because I might have friends who are rapists and either I am fully aware of that and don’t want you to go near them or I have no idea and still don’t want you near them. Don’t kiss boys, they might have herpes. Don’t fall in love, it might destroy you. Don’t wipe back to front, you might get a vaginal infection. Don’t let boys holler at you, they might think you’re easy and try to corner you the next time you’re walking alone. Don’t help homeless people on the street, they might be secretly rich and lying. Don’t give money to charity, they might financing a covert drug business. Don’t vote when you turn 18 or write articles stating your political opinion, this country might suddenly be ruled by a totalitarian regime, and you might be sent to a Soviet-style gulag on account of your political record. Don’t listen to music, you might blow out your eardrums…” and it went on and on and on like that. If my father could have had his way, he would have raised me in a box with a hole for air and food.

“The ultimate protection,” he said when I asked him if he wished it were legal to raise children in cages. “If only,” he said. “If only sensible things were legalized in this country.”

When my father was no longer my father, there was suddenly no one in my life to warn me against trying anything. My mother told me I was my own person, capable of making my own decisions, and she trusted me with whatever I wanted to do, so I ran fast and didn’t fall, I listened to music and my ears were fine, I said that ratifying NAFTA was such a fuck-you to our neighbors down south in front of the whole class and the secret police didn’t come after me, I kissed boys I met on the Internet and no one gave me herpes, and no one tried to rape me in the parking lot when I walked across it in cut-off shorts and a tank top so thin you could see my nipples, I followed a bird with my eyes and I chased another with my legs, and there was no creek and I’m still alive, and I gave my sweater to a homeless woman who, for all I know, could have been my father’s friend or even girlfriend, and a thousand gold coins didn’t tumble out to reveal her secret wealth, I said yes to Mr. Myrtle when he asked me one day after school if I wanted to go over his house sometime to see his collection of first-edition books, including a signed copy of Ariel, and I got into his car one afternoon when the leaves outside were crunchy, and I stuck my arm out the window as he drove, and my arm was still there when we pulled into his driveway, it was still there when I was in the bathroom, splashing water on my face, it was still there when he knocked on the door, still there when I let him come in and place his hands over my ears like he didn’t want me to hear what he was going to say but instead of saying anything, he kissed me, and I was still OK, standing there on my tippy toes, leaned over the sink like I was going to vomit, and I was still OK when he pushed my head against the bathroom mirror and I had my eyes open the whole time because I wanted to see and know everything, like what did it look like when a man was inside you and liked it, and what did it look like when a man was about to come, and how about when it’s happening, and how about immediately after it’s happened, and we continued to see each other for the entire rest of the year, and I fell in love but it didn’t destroy me, we became consumed with each other, but we were also gentle and honest with each other, which is to say, at the end of my junior year, when I told him I wanted an actual boyfriend, someone I could have a real relationship with, he didn’t try to be valiant and promise me that he could be that person, and I didn’t try to be valiant and promise that I wanted him to one day be that person, and it ended like that, and no one was destroyed.

Where was my father after I did everything he told me not to do? At the end of all my experiments, I was still whole, I was still happy to curl up next to my mother and fall asleep by her feet while she knitted and watched the news. At the end of it all, I was still the girl who picked wildflowers for my mother on my way home from school and rushed to the door when she came in from work and held out my miniature bouquet to say, “Look, Mom, these are for you.” Where was my father?

I wanted him to know that for all the opportunities I had to fall or trip or drown or lose my hearing or a finger or a toe or something indivisible and numinous like the spirit that used to carry my mother through her 14-hour double shifts at C-Town, I never lost anything. And for all the chances I gave this world to prove itself to be as big and bad and scary as it was for my father, it never did, and in the end, I emerged unscathed, as whole and stable as a number.

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49 Comments

  • Laia September 30th, 2011 3:16 PM

    Oh Jenny, I do love your writing. And I’m really stoked that I can hear it in your voice in my head still. So wonderful.

  • Mariam September 30th, 2011 3:53 PM

    writing felt so real to me. I could picture everything so well. I just really really really really loved this.

  • Marguerite September 30th, 2011 4:06 PM

    That was BEAUTIFUL! – i wish i could write like that – although i was super upset when i realized halfway through reading this that it was fiction…

  • Marie September 30th, 2011 4:11 PM

    Wow Jenny, this one had some serious physical effects on me while I read it. I’m hot and cold, got the chills, on the verge of tears, smiling big and feel like someone poured something into my head all the way down to my toes. They saved the best for last!!!

    • Jenny September 30th, 2011 8:08 PM

      Oh, thank you so much, everyone. I’m so happy to read your comments! <3

  • Pashupati September 30th, 2011 4:12 PM

    I felt a light grip on my heart while reading the parts that are changes in her life.
    I hope we’ll see more of your writings!

  • obeykid September 30th, 2011 4:29 PM

    Excellent!

  • spacemadness September 30th, 2011 4:39 PM

    This is the best thing I’ve read in a long long time. I feel so incredibly moved

  • katycruel September 30th, 2011 4:50 PM

    Loved this! I’m glad I wanted to check the comments, because on the RSS feed, there’s no indication that there are 5 pages. It stops at the end of page 1.

  • moonmama September 30th, 2011 5:13 PM

    Ugh this was so good. Jenny is one of my favorite Rookie authors.

  • kellyann September 30th, 2011 5:14 PM

    jenny, i am a thirty year old aspiring editor and this is one of the most powerful short stories i have read in years. i touched something in me, deeply and viscerally. girl, you have GOT IT! with the utmost admiration, kelly coviello

  • Danbi September 30th, 2011 5:15 PM

    oh i was deeply touched. it’s amazing!i’m already looking foward to your another writing.

  • asleeptillnoon September 30th, 2011 5:30 PM

    god damn amazing! XD

  • annav September 30th, 2011 5:32 PM

    This is one of the most beautiful stories I’ve ever read, broke my heart a little I think but then reassembled it. You’re an amazing writer.

  • live_love_breath_dance September 30th, 2011 5:47 PM

    I love this. You are such a great a writer. Thank you. This gives me hope so much you wouldn’t believe.

  • Rita Unicornia September 30th, 2011 5:52 PM

    So freaking RRRRRRRRR AWESOME! best thing I’ve read since I’m alive!

    http://www.ritahasablog.blogspot.com

  • koolkat September 30th, 2011 6:35 PM

    This was amazing! I love your style of writing! Best thing I’ve read in ages. It was so powerful and sometimes I wanted to cry but at other times it made me see the point of it all. :D

  • Dayana September 30th, 2011 6:53 PM

    @Marguerite how do you know this is fiction? Either way this was beautiful and I would absolutely love this if it were a movie (I don’t know that was just my first thought).

  • Dayana September 30th, 2011 6:54 PM

    Ooooh it’s under the fiction section (durrr).

  • caro7 September 30th, 2011 7:08 PM

    I usually enjoy Jenny’s writing and I’m surprised because the story has some accurate and precise depictions detailing how a person must feel when dealing with mental illness. But… as someone who has a brother with schizophrenia, I have to make it clear that the majority of all schizophrenics are not violent or angry. I really hope that people don’t get the wrong idea. And that scene where the mother tells Annalise that they have to live the best life that they can but not their dad… I’m not sure what that means. Does that mean that the father can’t try to live the best life he can? Or that he should just kill himself? Hopefully not because that’s a really harmful message to have for people who are kind of ignorant about schizophrenia and how people and families deal with the illness. It’s not like people who are diagnosed with schizophrenia suddenly become unlovable or monstrous (I know that’s not what Jenny’s trying to say but it does come off that way).
    I can see that the story is focusing on Annalise’s perspective and the effect of schizophrenia on her upbringing and her family… but really the depth of the issue and the emotion doesn’t feel very true/real to me. Annalise is conflicted but the exploration of schizophrenia feels slightly empty. It makes the father seem like a monster rather than a human. Because of this I hope that readers and writers don’t treat mental illness in stories as a dark flourish to writing and recognize that it’s actually way more complicated and that it can be a far more positive (not so bleak) experience than what some might think.

    • Jenny October 1st, 2011 1:25 PM

      Hey Caro, I’m really glad you brought up these issues and shared your own experience of knowing someone with schizophrenia. I completely agree that it’s lazy and harmful to suggest that the truest and most valid depiction of mental illness is one of violence and monstrosity. I also agree that it’s equally ignorant to suggest that people with mental illness are essentially doomed and incapable of living well.

      The issue of how best to represent, include, and honor all the different and complex ways that a person can live with mental illness reminds me of discussions about women who wear the hijab. It’s really disturbing when only certain kinds of stories are privileged and publicized–and these stories are, of course, the ones that are the most sensational, or the ones that validate a very first world, Western-centric belief that women who choose to veil themselves are unquestionably oppressed. Every woman who wears a headscarf or veil has the right to be heard and the right to tell her own particular story. And the more we rely on this idea of a “single story” that represents the experiences of all women who wear a hijab, the less of a chance we have of subverting the dominant, stereotypical, simplistic narratives of Muslim women.

      You’re right to point out that my particular fictional short story cannot claim to represent the full range of possibilities and experiences when it comes to living with mental illness or living with someone who has mental illness. I wish I could say that my humble little story seeks to contribute to the very worthy goal of eradicating ableism and taking down cultural tropes of mental illness, but it does not. It’s just one story, and I know there is room for many more!

      I fear that I’m the least qualified person to analyze this story (even though I wrote it) but I’d really like to try and respond to the extremely thoughtful questions you’ve posed. The way I see it, the story is entirely from Annalise’s perspective, and it takes place at a time in her life when she is still quite young and inexperienced (in the beginning of the story, she’s only in elementary school.) Her attempts at understanding what is happening to her father are, at times, shallow and self-absorbed. She’s not able to empathize with her father’s illness, and rather than understand how her father lives with it, she wants to figure out how she can live with her father. She fears being held responsible for his anger, and in a lot of ways, she fears having a father who will always be unfit to take care of her and protect her, and even guide her. Then there’s also the issue of abuse–both Annalise and her mother have been physically and emotionally abused by the father.

      The scene when Annalise and her mother agree that they still have a chance to live a good life but not their father, is a moment when Annalise is testing out the idea of giving up on her father. It’s a moment when Annalise and her mother acknowledge that they don’t quite understand the struggles that lay ahead for Annalise’s father, and what’s more, they have their own struggles to overcome. I don’t think Annalise and her mother believe that the father should just kill himself, but rather they feel helpless when confronted with the question of how to look after Annalise’s father. Again, here I am trying to remain faithful to this fictional world, and in this fictional world, characters are self-motivated, selfish, vulnerable, needy, scared, brave, daring, traumatized, and banal. As for my own personal beliefs– I absolutely believe that people who live with mental illness can live well and all life is valuable, worthy life.

      The author Chimamanda Adichie gave a great talk on the “Danger of the Single Story,” (http://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story.html) where she says, “The single story creates stereotypes. And the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.” I stand in solidarity with you in hoping that no one will take my story and understand it to be the single, definitive story on mental illness. I know that the smart cookies here at Rookie have a lot more up their sleeves… and if you can give us some time, we will be coming back to this topic with a lot more to say!

  • ghastly September 30th, 2011 7:25 PM

    This made tears come to my eyes. It was really beautifully written.

    I rather liked the part about Mr. Myrtle, even if there was another article that encouraged us to leave crushes on teachers as crushes.

  • AineFey September 30th, 2011 8:16 PM

    Wonderful story. There are tears in my eyes.

  • jenjencm September 30th, 2011 10:08 PM

    Wow! I think this is the best online article I”ve ever read. I’m so glad you had your happy ending Jenny. :)

  • diny September 30th, 2011 10:09 PM

    i have daddy who is complicated. he seems doesn’t want me do anything that include risk on it. yeah, i am kind of devout. instead i got many A-s my daddy still thought that i am not the great kid ever. he expect so much on me.
    ‘Dad’ at your story scare me, Jenny. i wonder how if actually my daddy don’t want me. how if my dad gonna be ‘that dad’.
    ‘Mom’ at your story is kind of Ramona’s mom! yeah, i hope all parent do like ‘mom’. i can do everything that i want.
    but, i am a devout. ha!

  • cherryloop October 1st, 2011 12:02 AM

    That was a very well written story. It’s a difficult thing to capture emotion in a story, and to make the reader of the story relate to them. you can see Annalise’s inner conflict, and how she develops as a character throughout the story.

  • mirandab17 October 1st, 2011 2:15 AM

    That was incredible. I was so damn tired before I read it, like my eyes were actually soo heavy, but I literally could not pull myself away.

  • Bren October 1st, 2011 2:35 AM

    Beautiful.

  • MHAV October 1st, 2011 9:18 AM

    I generally don’t comment, but this was truly beautiful. Your writing is incredible, and the whole story felt so honest. You did what all writers should do, believe in what you are saying. Fantastic

  • jeanette October 1st, 2011 6:12 PM

    This was so honest and so powerful that it brought tears to my eyes.

  • Maca October 1st, 2011 6:39 PM

    This so beautifully written. It’s real yet it’s fantastical, I loved it.

  • Sophii October 2nd, 2011 10:36 AM

    When I realised it was five pages long I thought I might struggle getting past the first but it was so gripping that I did read the whole thing. This is so moving and inspirational. I hope that one day I can write as well as you do. I really believed all of it and it evoked such a range of emotions in me.
    Thank you
    Sophie
    http://thechicmuse000.blogspot.com/

  • Christie October 2nd, 2011 10:44 AM

    It’s really well-written and flows perfectly. Can’t wait for more!

  • Lumen Gratiae October 2nd, 2011 12:52 PM

    I was absolutely moved by this piece. I am growing up with an abusive father myself, and it makes it more manageable to know that I’m definitely not the only one.

  • Pashupati October 2nd, 2011 12:56 PM

    Diary of a schizophrene by Marguerite Sechehaye, is a great book from a first person POV, even if it’s quite old so maybe not accurate if you want to know how it is from the medical side.
    Although I don’t know anybody with schizophrenia so I can’t really say which of her experiences are widely shared. The thing is, I realize it’s just easy to see a representation of a schizophrene and think “so that’s how schizophrenia is like” (or how whatever is like, in fact with representation of people we don’t share the lives and with a characteristic, it’s so easy to fall in the so-that’s-how-it-is-and-that’s-how-”they”-are trap!), without taking individuality of a person into account… So the best would be having a wide variety of representations.
    (caro7 comment made me think about it, so I’d wanted to answer her, but the “Reply” link isn’t there while not connected and it seems I can’t connect myself without writing a comment!)

    • Pashupati October 2nd, 2011 12:58 PM

      Autobiography of a Schizophrenic Girl is the correct english title. Sorry, just translated and thought about checking after!

    • Jenny October 3rd, 2011 10:52 PM

      I think your idea of having a wide variety of representations is an astute one! And thank you for the book recommendation! <3

  • Luxe October 2nd, 2011 3:01 PM

    I’ve never commented before but this is so perfect. I can’t explain how much I love this piece. Your writing is perfect.

  • Jenn October 2nd, 2011 6:07 PM

    Incredible! I don’t know what to compliment most, the imagery, the emotion? Everything was truthful and touching and beautiful, thank you for that.

  • sallyjane October 3rd, 2011 5:19 PM

    oh my god. this honestly gave me chills. so beautiful.

  • Nomi October 3rd, 2011 9:03 PM

    WRITE MORE PLEASE I LOVED THIS.
    I must say, I am glad this is fiction, because I would hate to think you went through having a father like that. Still, please write more in the future!!

  • PoisonIvy October 3rd, 2011 10:45 PM

    this is amazing. i absolutely love your writing.

  • Lucidita October 3rd, 2011 11:44 PM

    This story will stay with me for a while.

  • heartcity October 4th, 2011 12:02 AM

    this is really really great. can’t wait to read more!

  • chilljill47 October 4th, 2011 7:37 PM

    i couldn’t stop reading this, it felt so real and tangible, if stories can be tangible

  • leraje October 9th, 2011 3:49 AM

    amazing, love this so much.

  • Livy October 11th, 2011 3:40 PM

    I’m blown away. Writing like this makes me want to run a marathon. Write a novel. Kiss a stranger. Scream. Cry. Laugh. Just amazing. ♥

  • Fronoan April 1st, 2013 4:53 PM

    Will there be a continuation? I hope so!!
    It had a sad subject but was ultimately happy. Thank you for this!^o^

  • blueolivia April 10th, 2013 10:09 AM

    jenny, this was beautiful. i don’t know what it is that you have, but girl, you have it. your voice is so clear in this and your metaphors were enlightening. i loved the themes carried throughout. i love it.