Dear Charlotte Perkins Gilman
Author photo via Wikipedia Commons, public domain. Overlay by Leeloo TheFirst
Dear Charlotte Perkins Gilman,
When they took me into the operating room, I asked them to strap down my arms, fearful I might be feral when the cutting started. They laughed at me—silly goose—and I wondered if I showed them my teeth if they might find me serious then.
I spent months preparing the nursey. Everything was in its place, organized by size, neatly folded and hung in the closet by color. When we came home, water poured from the ceiling, and I didn’t see her bedroom for three months. The house was wrapped in plastic, and I sank into the couch, my back sewn into the seams while my little girl slept curled on my chest.
The blackout came fast, fentanyl running through my veins. I remember my husband’s face, him reaching for her small body, but then there was nothing. The doctors handed him life, but then found darkness looming inside me, had to rip it out like spoiled chunks of meat. It took me months to learn to bend, to be able to do anything but sit. I stared at the walls and counted seconds in my head, thought about what it would feel like to make myself coffee, to stick the letter opener in my neck.
At night, I’d think about the women in the walls. I wondered if they ever crept onto the ceiling, upside down and panting, eyeing me as I slept. Could they see the ghosts beneath my eyes? Smell the tears and vomit on my chest? I wondered if they ever thought about crawling into my mouth, wearing my skin like a new dress. These thoughts should have kept me up at night, but I felt comforted by them, by this idea of being watched, and when I saw them standing in the corner of my room, draped in shadows, dripping with worry, I’d smile, nod my head.
When the sun eventually came out and everything turned yellow, I ate dandelion petals and drank lemon water in the shower. Blood slid out of me like sweat, a watercolor drip that sometimes stained the floor. My hair fell out in clumps only to be replaced by little tufts of white hair, those loose, thin strips of quiet hauntings I’d pluck out with tweezers when I could. My body was stitched together and scarred, stretched and snapped back together again. I rubbed shea butter on my stomach, rose quartz on my wounds. When I looked into the mirror, I saw a reflection, but she was older now, not the person I used to know.
My husband never saw the women, but he didn’t want me to talk about them, said they made him uncomfortable, that he was afraid our daughter might start seeing them, too. Sometimes I hear their voices: a collective sigh, an audible groan. They show up in the soft hours, all those in between moments of whispers and screams. They tell me to mind the stairs, to hide the knives, to keep the doors locked and the windows shut. On occasion they’ll shake me awake, the oven still on, the back door left open. One time, my eyes glassed over, my gaze somewhere far away, I found teeth marks on my wrist, a ribbon around my throat. I wonder if they know I salt my body, swallow eggshells to keep them at bay.
Did you know you were slipping when you held the rope? For me it was when I thought about sawing off my legs, slicing off bits of flesh from my arms like summer fillets. The hospital didn’t want me, the asylum never called me back. I rested and relaxed, a snow globe on a shelf, my world fraying at the edges while a small child called my name. It wasn’t until I peeled back my eyelids, shook the feathers from my lips that I understood.
We’re all trapped in that room.
Every one of us, the wallpaper.
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