wv

First time, then me

I was 15 when I lost my virginity. His nose was too large for his face and he had hungry hands that made their way up my shirt and between my thighs. He rolled on top of me and hovered there with his legs bowing together where his cargo shorts wrapped around his knees. He rocked toward me and I shook my head.

“Just a little bit?”

His nostrils widened as he smiled at me. I shook my head again.

“Just for a second.”

He moved forward and I inched my hips and shoulders back until my neck craned against his scratched headboard, stacked with fruit candy and video games. He kept moving forward. Candy wrappers crunched against my head and my hands became filled with static and weight. And, as they lay useless beside me, he pushed against me, a very motivated battering ram with no real target.

My breathing was fast, my cheeks were hot, and my face was wet. Drops fell to my chest and pooled between my barely-there breasts as I continued shaking my head, more frantically now.

He kept whispering, “Just a little bit.” I wish I had responded by using my fists and elbows and knees just a little bit. I wish I had made him bleed just a little bit. I wish I had broken his jaw and burned down his house. But I didn’t do any of those things. I just shook my head and stared at the laundry crumpled on his floor and the light blue curtains hanging by his window.

And, after all of 30 seconds, when his whispers became heavy breaths and grunts, I let my head roll all the way to the side. My eyes relaxed and the whole picture became a blurred mess of blue and light. When he finished, he straightened over me, and his body tightened and relaxed in all the places that make a boy moan. His tee shirt drooped onto my cheek and stuck to the wetness there. My eyes found his dusty blinds, pulled up on one side and sharply dropping on the other. He let his arms slide out and lowered his body on top of mine, his skin slick with sweat.

He rolled over, letting his feet dangle over the bed. I heard the padding of them drop onto the wooden floor. Then, he sank into the chair in front of his television and resumed the video game he had so romantically paused for the occasion.

The sounds of warriors fighting faded in my brain until it became white noise, sinking beneath the vibrations of my heart. I brought my fingertips to the swollen skin beneath my eyes. I tried wiping away the tears, but my fingers came away black, thick with mascara. I knew my eyes were red and my hair was sticking out. I knew my shirt was still hanging sideways, clinging to one bony shoulder. I knew I was not beautiful.

He stomped out of the room, slamming the door. His mother yelled his name. He returned with a large plastic bowl in his hands. The red-rimmed edges were faded and flattened. It was full of something thick and white. I lowered my nose to the mixture and breathed in sweetness and celebration. Vanilla cake batter.

He threw a spoon toward me and I heard it clank against the wall. I searched for it in his faded, stained sheets as he turned back to his game. The sound of clashing metal and monstrous growls made it difficult to hear him say, “Now, can you stop crying?”

I quieted my breathing, counting them as they left my lips. And I ate the entire bowl.

-Lu Terlikowski

Note: This is an excerpt from a larger piece entitled, “Then and Now and In Between”, which contains a series of essays exploring pain, place, understanding, and identity.

The In Between

At the age of 20, my closest cousin and neighbor became pregnant three months after meeting a boy. She announced this on a crisp day at the end of January— this and the fact that she would be marrying him two weeks later, on Valentines Day. Sitting in a dented plastic chair at the reception, the wind having blown my ears numb and deaf, I leaned to my left, asking my 60-year-old grandmother to repeat what she had just said.

“I said,” she began and then paused. Her eyes turned teary and lingered on my cousin sitting across the room, who looked beautiful and who had refused to have a first dance with her husband. “I said not to worry. This can happen to you, too.”

Growing up in Lincoln Country, West Virginia, I imagine, is like growing up anywhere else in the world. Except that when it’s you growing up there, it feels different. Just like everywhere else in the world. My family has been low-income as long as we’ve been alive. This was the same for my neighbors, and the neighbors of my neighbors, and the neighbors of everyone I knew. Most of the kids hated their families for it. They demanded nice clothes with bejeweled pockets to cover their asses and 100-dollar price tags. And their parents, somehow, made it happen. My parents knew those sparkling jeans were uncomfortable when sitting and refused, not that I ever asked. Instead, they sent me to school with lunches my mom packed the night before, complete with sandwiches stuffed with square, pale pink ham and chocolate puddings with plastic spoons. My ass was covered.

Like most people, I grew up resenting the place I called home. Everyone was racist, and publicly so. During a 4th of July parade, all of the American flags were replaced with Confederate ones. Everyone said “nigger”. And they said it hard, lingering on the “r”. Heaven was a place for Baptist, white, straight men and their wives, if the women were willing to hush up. We married early, had kids early, and died early (usually, it was the cancer). I can remember giving a speech during my graduation, looking out onto a field of sinking chairs in the mud, seeing all of the male, and some female, classmates spitting their chewing tobacco into empty water bottles they carried out with them.

I spoke about achievement and beginnings, pausing and smiling as my voice reverberated. And I told God, privately, that I would saw off both of my legs and never take a sip of alcohol if only he would let me die somewhere other than up a holler in Lincoln County.

I’ve been writing my whole life, but never about home. It seemed too easy and too boring, so I actively avoided it. I came to college and wrote about hitchhikers in Montana and city slickers and Mars and anywhere but a bumpy back road with two exploded meth houses. I used to think that seeing a place for what it is meant that I had to write it exactly how I remembered it. But I was not seeing. I was not looking for stories, I was looking for an exit. In doing so, I missed it. The point. The moments in between. The magic.

This November, I went back home for Thanksgiving— a three-and-a-half hour drive with nothing but exits. My cousin had her baby, a healthy boy. As did my brother and his girlfriend, a little girl with his face. We sat in plastic chairs and I watched the babies sleep, holding their fragile little hands attached to their fragile little fingers. I was with my people. Low-income people with low-income neighbors and low-income family— all of us knowing that we didn’t care. My grandfather blessed the food and my grandmother packed it away in red Tupperware containers for my three-and-a-half hour drive back up. My ass is covered.

“This can happen to you, too.”

For one terrible moment, I thought about answering, “I hope it doesn’t.” And for one, even more terrible moment, I thought about answering, “I hope it does.” But in the end, I only smiled. I was there. Right in the in between of things.

-Lu Terlikowski

A Contemporary Beauty

Show me something hard, round, and raw—

like thick thighs and lipstick lines

and voices quivering beneath the name of God

 

Faces aglow with neon lights, drawn

taught, terrible, and beautiful into floating smiles

that make the daisy people swing

 

Show me sequined skirts ripping holes in tights

drag queen walks that stomp, click, and flicker

long legs that glow and entangle in their like

Show me a beating heart against gentle breasts:

and you have shown me God.

-Lu Terlikowski

The Cycle

The water spills and maids have soaking knees.

You tie them up and let them bleed. So slow

do leaves come falling down. Is snow always

so harsh? Be killed or kill… I choose to die.

So hang me up and let me dry. So slow

the world can spin on pointed toes and crossed

fingers until they stop. No spinning, crossing,

pointing. Stopped. The maids are cleaning still,

you killers killing. She and he and I—

we hang, suspended bulbs for all to see.

So lift me up and let me breathe. So slow

do dying breaths go breaking through the fog.

 

Replaced with new and better maids. With new

and better killers, me’s, and you’s to hang.

-Lu Terlikowski

Baltimore

The air smells of fish

and the wind is whipping

hair into faces.

 

A performer holds six knives

and slings them into the air,

smiling, dodging, and catching them again.

 

Paddle boats shaped like dragons

line the dark harbor

with paint-chipped snarls.

 

A small rollercoaster

roars with bells and

rides in bent circles all night.

-Lu Terlikowski

Dead End Meet and Greets

Watch me give away my eyes to broken glass and painted street signs—

Two-cent lipstick on broken mothers whose sequined skirts

Rip their tights and scratch their bones.

 

To the businessmen in monochromatic suits sitting in spiked chairs

Chaining their wrists to plastic keys and dreaming of jumping off skyscrapers—

But broken elevators lend no hand to top floor flights.

 

To chain-link fences surrounding basketball courts—

Big dream Jason’s who learned how to strut and shoot

And shoot again.

 

To empty alleys with crushed crack pipes and graffiti signatures

Stray cats and things and people who left and lost—

Dead end meet and greets to pass the time.

 

Eyes plastered on every brick that beat the brains out

And fingers rising from the sewer drains ripping skin and souls—

Eyes always open, watching without looking, asking for the time.

-Lu Terlikowski

Five Ways to Look at Blinds

I

 

The blinds are always open in summer

like the kind gatekeeper

for Sun, and Light, and Good Things.

 

 

II

 

A man was killing and the blinds

were broken.

The whole house— we,

were exposed.

 

 

III

 

Things gather dust when left to be.

Blinds gather sunrises and sunsets.

 

 

IV

 

Close them, they said,

close them and mourn in peace.

And so I drew the blinds.

 

 

V

 

The shuffle of blinds folding into one another—

Winter is here

and it is dark again.

-Lu Terlikowski

Guts and Glory

I lived in a dizzy world where colors were brighter and everything sang

But me— the sporadic life of stunted daisies and crushed beetles

Whose guts spilled out onto the pavement like a blackened rainbow.

I thought of ripping myself up from the bottom of my roots

But a passing gentleman reminded me I would surely die.

Now there is a woman who kneels and hushes the songs of the world—

I imagine what it might be like to swing on her ribs or dance on her eyelashes.

The gentleman passes again and warns, but I let the woman twist me up—

There is light on me, and color on me, and I miss the ground— but cannot return.

Are you still there? I ask my beetle friend. Are you? Asks the gentleman.

-Lu Terlikowski

Foreshadowing

A woman was popping her gum when my mom died.

The hospital was nearly empty–

the air was taking up all of the space.

 

I sat outside, like people do,

when they’ve been sitting inside for a very long time.

and I shut my eyes to the sounds around me.

 

Then pop, pop, pop.

hard, fast, and true and backwards

and forwards in my brain like echoes.

 

The heart monitor held conversation—

everyone else had the secrets, hushed.

And the gum filled, busted, emptied.

 

To one another— beep, pop, beep, pop.

They don’t know hospital rituals.

 

Silence—

I guess they do.

-Lu Terlikowski