Friday, December 26, 2008

Panic Room

Hi readers! Thanks again for all well wishes. I'm still recovering as I will be for a LONG time. But for now, I'm going to keep posting the essay. Thanks for reading!

A few years after the rape, I bought a pistol and loaded it with hollow-tipped bullets. My then-husband sewed a purse for it, and I
kept it under my bed, safety off. We lived in an apartment named
after a tree and the walls were so thin at The Maple you could feel
the wind blow through them. From time to time, a roach would
drop from the ceiling onto my head, sending me into a panic. Once
a cop broke down a locked door with a mere push of his hip. When
my husband was gone, I carried the gun around with me in the
apartment, all two rooms of it, and laid it on the back of the toilet
whenever I took a bath. Showers, for all intents and purposes,
were out. Shower people don’t understand this preference for lying
around in your own filth. They think you can wash everything off of
yourself if you scrub hard enough.

I started seeing a therapist at the college who gave me to her supervisor. I’m a little out of my league, she said. I mostly just help students who can’t manage time. Her supervisor said things like, I don’t see taking your gun to the bathroom as a problem. I looked at him with a get real expression as my mind flashed ahead to years and years ofrelaxing bubble baths with a loaded pistol in plain view. Do you have any Valium? I asked. I can’t prescribe anything, he said. I’m not that kind of doctor.

So what was your childhood like? he asked. He was, unfortunately, that kind of a doctor. What could I do? I’d already paid for the session. When I was a child, I used to play a game with my stuffed animals, the same ones for which I would write the occasional suicide notes, notes that said things like Chatty Cathy has grown tired of life, or Mr. Teddy Bear no longer wishes to live on this earth. The game consisted of you pretending you were paralyzed and on a Stryker frame, a torturous device used in the ’70s to stabilize injured patients and prevent bedsores. If this was your fate, you’d be sandwiched between strips of canvas and flipped every few hours. The only choice in this gamewas whether you’d want to look at the ceiling or the floor. The stuffed animal was my nurse. I’d pretend to think hard about my decision -- after all, I’d be there for a long time. But I knew what I would choose. The floor. Always.

For years after the rape, the world became my own personal Tailhook, a never-ending gauntlet like the one that some of the female Naval officers experienced during an annual conference where they were thrown down, stripped, and attacked in one particular hallway of the Las Vegas Hilton. Warnings that I had ignored for years rang in my head, all the tips to fend off attackers, too little, too late, but still, I tried. I carried mace, carried handfuls of gravel to throw, carried lemon juice to squirt in their eyes. All the books said to aim for the weak spots, the windows to the soul. I suppose the idea is that you can’t hurt what you can’t see. All my energy went into not being alone. I never was, of course. I had a little bit of death around my eyes from all the anxiety and bloody red circles under them from rubbing them so hard. That drew men to me, all that brokenness. My godmother used to say, You’ll have to beat the men off with sticks when you get older. I’m sure this wasn’t exactly what she had in mind. I lived in a loft apartment in my mind, a high rise where no one could touch me, the perfect panic room, no windows, no doors. No matter where I was, I was loathe to part with a loft, any loft, my loft.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"My recipe for life is not being afraid of myself, afraid of what I think or of my opinions." Eartha Kitt

Drinking novel suggestion: The Abstinence Teacher Tom Perotta

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Friday!


Scott said...


I hope your Christmas was good. Thanks for the essay excerpts. Please keep 'em coming!

Take care and keep healing...get better soon!

Heff said...

Hell, I'm not gonna lie. I come back for the sexy pictures.

How much thought do you put into those before the flash actually goes off ?

tui said...

Wow Michelle, you're tough. I'm so glad you fought your way through to recovery. I'm praying for you.

Is your essay based on a real experience? It's beautifully written, and chilling. I hope to god it is just fiction.

Take good care,


the walking man said...

Sitting for months on end in a military hospital it was up to us, the patients, to rotate the broken neck sailor in the Stryker. The corpsmen who were supposed to do it, generally would rather pass out pain meds to aid our addictions.

Me, left arm in a cast and two or three others in varying dilemma's of disrepair putting the brace board in place, removing the pins, and trying not to flip the platform to fast. Although we wondered what it would be like to just grab it at one end and roll it, have our patient doing five minutes worth of flips encased in his metal and canvas sandwich. We were children still, and the thought was funnier than the reality would ever have been. Prudence saved the patient, who eventually rose from his bed to fight another day.

Anonymous said...

It must've been great to have a husband who could sew.--Charles Nelson Reilly

Anonymous said...

Proper stitching is a lost art.--Michael DeBakey, md.

Charles Gramlich said...

What a deep wound! Compelling essay, Michelle.

As for the pic, you do realize there's snow on the ground and you're swimming? This is not a good thing to do.

jodi said...

Darling Girl, hasn't reality tortured you enough without curling iron burns, fallin' off your heels, and now, bikinis and SNOW??? I prefer bikinis and martinis!!!! xo