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It’s Sunday and I’m in the kitchen with my dad, cutting up carrots. He leans back on the countertop and gazes intently in the general direction of the fridge, though I doubt he’s concerned about that. Just staring. I chop a quarter cup of onion and pour oil into a saucepan. Without warning, he asks,

“How would you feel about me seeing Amy again?”

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The numbers resurface in my mind and I try not to analyze the square pattern on the linoleum floor.

My brain is calm—Amy?—then it hits me like a belly flop into a 30- foot deep pool in front of hundreds of people. Oh, right, my brain finds her name, catalogued alphabetically, of course. Former stepmom (instinctively I flinch), mid-forties, favorite color was (is) purple...it goes on. The tectonic plates of my memory slide apart where the ocean floor was once seamless and smooth.

The displaced thoughts churn, the inklings of a tempest. Intuitively I fight back, I must negate, shove them deep back underground, numbness overcome, feel the ironic rush of the sedative of logic flowing through my veins. But they will not be quelled and the waves beat an incessant rhythm against my frontal lobes.

I feel my eyebrows crease; I feel my forehead tighten. I can’t look at my dad without wanting to go running back to my mother’s home. He’s still waiting for an answer. Mentally I compose a slightly sane rebuttal, and then it is lost, caught up in the murderous current. Did you seriously just ask me that how dare you suggest to repeat the past how I would feel how do you expect me to answer that?

I would feel miserable, helpless, and inexpressibly angry. And how exactly, could you expect me to feel? If I were to eat dinner promptly at five p.m. again—Amy’s had a long day. If I were to be called fat again—it looks like your daughter gained ten pounds! If my mom—that selfish b****, you know she’s screwing you on child support—were to be talked about like that to my face again. If I were to sit in a church again—pray for us sinners—after I had chosen to leave and after she had demanded the annulment between my mom and dad that caused years of needless tension. If I were to look up again to the woman who could never accept me as a daughter and then complain that I walked through her house as if it were a hotel—we don’t have maids, you know, to replace the toilet paper (I’m sorry, I just forgot). If I were to lose my voice again—shut up, missy, no one asked you.

If my clothes were to be Abercrombie & Fitch again, because Amy is the epitome of cool. If I were to regress into the labyrinth of obsessive compulsive disorder again and be uncompromisingly superstitious, convinced that when something didn’t go my way it was as if the universe was messing with my head, messing up my count. 1234

If I were to walk on eggshells around the precious and omnipotent Amy, for fear of offending the woman who dictated every detail of our lives. If I had a headache and were to take two of the ibuprofen from a bottle of a hundred and think of how incredibly small the remaining ninety-eight seemed. If my sister were to cry again every night before she fell asleep and I could hear her in our shared room and was powerless to stop it?

Ask me how I’d feel. Go ahead, ask it again. And I will leave this house and never look back.

You do not touch this mental barrier between me and Amy; this is an unspoken rule, a rule I had stupidly, stupidly thought my dad would respect.

It’s been mere seconds, but I’ve relived nine tortuous years. Do not ask to put me through that again. I sigh and collect my thoughts, sandbagging until I think I’ve got the emotional flooding under control. But there’s a leak and in one spot the water pours through, faster than ever, pushed by the enormous pressure behind it. The water is clear as jagged glass and just as painful when dragged across the skin. For once, the words don’t stick in my throat.

“You’ve got to be kidding me.”



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