Join Us in Despair

You know when you were a kid and your diary was full of angst and woe-is-me-ness? That is what this blog is for. Lost your job, dog is sick, someone stole your parking spot, crashed your car, just generally glum? This is the place to put all that lovely grey and those long drawn out sighs.

Lists of sad songs. Depressing movie reviews. Top ten reason to stay in bed. All things not happy. Bring them here.

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Thursday, January 8, 2009

Little Girl Perfect - An Utterly Sad Short Story

When she returned Mommy didn’t say everything would be all right as Christa hoped she would. Instead she ordered Christa to bed while pulling crumpled bills from her purse to pay the sitter. After shutting the front door, Mommy turned and slumped against it. Then with a sigh she combed her fingers through her messy hair. Christa stood in the hallway silently watching. This small act of defiance, this not going immediately to bed when told, made her young heart beat uncomfortably hard. Christa always did exactly what she should and even this one tiny misdeed struck fear inside her. Day in and day out she worked hard at her self appointed task, for if she were good enough everything would be okay. If she could only make everyone happy, then her family would be all right. But it wasn’t working anymore. Something was wrong and no matter what Christa did she could not seem to make it right again. No matter how perfect her bed was made, how precisely each toy was lined up on her shelves, how many vegetables she ate, or how well-behaved she was, it wasn’t making a difference anymore.

Mommy noticed her still standing in the hallway. “Christa, I told you to go to bed.” She sounded so unhappy. Christa searched her mind for something she could do, just the right thing she could say to make everything perfect again.

“Mommy,” she said, chewing nervously on her chapped bottom lip. “Do you want some of the macaroni and cheese Suzy and me made. It is the kind from the box, but we put in extra cheese. I helped, Mommy. I could heat it up in the microwave. I know how. Would you like that?”

“No. Just please, go to bed.” Mommy said with hardly any feeling. She turned away from Christa and walked into the kitchen. Christa followed, cautiously, quietly. Mommy reached under the counter for one of the bottles she only ever took out for parties. The smelly stuff Christa was never allowed to have a sip of, like Daddy sometimes allowed with his beers. Christa was near terrified now at her own disregard for the direct order to go to bed, but she needed to try again to make everything all right. Mommy still had her back to Christa as she reached for a glass and began pouring from the bottle.

“Mommy, do you want to see my report card? It came in the mail today. I know Daddy doesn’t want me to open the mail, so I didn’t open it, but I think I did really good, Mommy.” Christa spoke quickly so she could get it all out before she lost the last bit of courage she still held on to.

Christa’s question startled her mother, causing the bottle to jerk in her hand and the liquor to spill out on the counter. Without turning around Mommy slammed down the bottle, then yelled at her, “Damn it, Christa. Just go to bed. Now!” Christa fled to her room.

Now, on top of her covers, Christa lay curled up as small as she could get. She never let anyone else see her do it, but Christa sucked on her thumb now. Her other hand rubbing the silky edge of her blanket. The steady rhythm of these actions soothed her. She thought about what she could have done different, or what she could have said so Mommy wouldn’t be mad at her now. Unwanted tears spilled from her eyes. ‘Stop crying Christa, stop crying Christa, she repeated over and over to herself, but she couldn’t will the tears away. Finally she fell asleep, her thumb still in her mouth, the blanket clutched tight in her other hand, and her cheeks wet with her despair.

That was how Ann found her when she checked on her later. Ann knew that her daughter tried to be strong and grown up, but eight-year-old Christa looked small and helpless lying there, curled in a tight little ball. Ann felt bad for yelling at her earlier. She covered Christa with a pink and yellow afghan from the bottom of the bed, then gently pulled Christa’s thumb from her mouth. She was such a good girl. Ann hadn’t seen her suck her thumb for four years. Four years since she had told Christa that only babies sucked their thumbs and that she was a big girl now; four years ago, when the three of them had been a happy family. Now, well now, everything was different. Now Ann had the proof she had avoided for so long. Tonight she had seen the truth of it; she could not lie to herself any more. Once truth is known, it can not be unknown; and the truth was bleached blond, with long legs and a piercing laugh that had ripped through Ann’s heart all the way across the dark, smoky bar.

Ann sat on the edge of the bed and smoothed Christa’s baby-fine hair away from her tear-swollen face. Ann’s own tears began to fall and sobs shook her body as she struggled to keep them inside and silent. Christa woke then and looked up at her mother with serious eyes, studying her for several heartbeats until she sat up and wound her arms about her mother’s neck. “Mommy, what can I do? Please don’t cry. I’ll be better. I’ll go to bed right away tomorrow. I promise.” Christa held on tight trying to take her mother’s pain into herself, trying to protect Mommy.

Ann gently pulled the little arms from around her. “Christa I know when I left tonight you thought I was mad at you, but I wasn’t sweetie. I truly wasn’t.” She kissed Christa’s cheek. “I was upset with your Daddy and I needed to talk to him. That’s why I went out.”

“But Daddy’s in Frisco for business. He is going to bring me a souvenir, he said he wouldn’t forget this time.”

“Christa, your Daddy isn’t in San Francisco like he told us.” Ann struggled to keep herself under control. “Sweetie, you know things haven’t been very good lately. So much fighting and yelling. Christa, your Daddy’s not coming home on Friday. It’s just going to be you and me now, baby.” Ann closed her eyes, her chin quivering as a fresh onslaught of tears threatened.

Christa was smart girl. She knew what the unspoken word was. She had listened to the other kids as they told their horrible tales of this speech and the result, the beginning of their torn apart lives. Each story was slightly different, but it all ended the same, the end of everything good, forever – divorce. Right then Christa heard it, felt it even, far down deep inside of her, a terrified scream, so deafening in her own mind Christa was startled her mother didn’t comment on it. Then Christa realized, the cry was trapped inside of her, no one, not even her Mommy, could; or would hear it.

After a long silent moment Christa said, “I’m kind of tired now,” her voice so dead that it frightened Ann. “I’m gonna go to sleep now, Mommy.”

“Are you sure, baby? Don’t you want to talk some more?”

“No,” Christa answered, turning her back on her mother for the first time in her life.

Ann sat there a while longer just listening and watching her daughter breath. Then quietly she left the utterly neat little room.

Hearing the door close, Christa got up from her bed. With only a moment’s hesitation, she went to her dresser, the one she and Mommy had painted white, with pink trim and little rosebuds. She opened the top drawer and stood there staring at the drawer’s contents. Every sock was matched with its mate and rolled into a ball; her little girl underwear was all folded exactly so. Christa suddenly pulled the drawer out farther, tugging it until it hung loose and heavy in her small hands. The sock balls spilled out, the underwear tumbled to the floor in a heap. When she shoved the draw back in she left it stuck at an odd crooked angle. She pulled open the next drawer, and dumped out all the T-shirts and shorts. Then the next, out came her long pants and sweatshirts. She kicked at the pile of clothes, sending them flying. The bottom drawer held her favorite art projects, and all the tests and papers from school with their circled bright-red A’s. It was the A’s that tormented her now. Christa held up one test with its taunting 100% and ripped it slowly, deliberately. The soft tearing noise was as soothing to her now, as sucking her thumb had been earlier. She ripped another, then another and then in a near frenzy, two and three at a time were shredded between her little girl hands. Finally she pulled out a picture she had drawn just last week; Mommy, Daddy and herself smiling, holding hands. Daddy had said it was a good picture, one of her best. Christa now ripped it once, then again, then again and again, until at last there was nothing left but tiny colored pieces of paper-dreams scattered across her floor.

Hours later Christa lay curled in the corner wrapped in the pink and yellow afghan. The soft glow of her night-light enough to see by. Her other blankets were cut to pieces, tossed around the room like so much confetti. She had ripped and slashed at them with her kid scissors, working hard until the job was complete. She scanned the rest of the destruction. Not one toy or doll was left standing on her shelves. Her small trophy from the spelling-bee lay on the floor, broken. Her favorite Disney posters; Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, all had ugly blue and black marker slashing across their centers. Finally, there were her once beloved books, all her fairy-tales now lying in a heap, their pages ripped from their bindings; no more happy endings. One last tear slipped down her cheek and Christa thought, nothing would ever be perfect again.


The Contessa said...

That was powerful, Laura. I felt Christa's emptiness.

sAm said...

whew...seeing it through a child's eyes is always painful, yet we as adults sometimes feel we are the ones shouldering the burdon. Very powerful piece - thank you.