blackbirdonline journalFall 2016  Vol. 15 No. 2
an online journal of literature and the arts
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Bright White Blur

My mother says it’s a miracle—the fact that “we are both alive and sitting together on this beautiful summer morning”—so she doesn’t have to answer when I ask if my father raped her. I only think to ask this after she tells me how my father, who died two years ago, actually proposed. My mother and I are watching her friend’s grandson jump into her pool when she tells me he proposed on Christmas Eve of 1984. They’d been together for three months; he was living in a one-bedroom apartment in Queens. She sat on his futon and watched as he stood by his tripod and set the camera’s timer. He reminded her, “I know where you live.” That he knew where her parents lived. That he knew people who were capable of killing her and her parents if she didn’t give the right answer to the question he was about to ask. He walked toward her and knelt down. He reached into his pocket and folded back the black jewelry box. He whispered again for her to smile — “show the camera that pretty little face,” he said—so she smiled and the camera flashed and he said, “Vita, will you marry me?”


Why didn’t you call the police? Why didn’t you tell your parents? You married him because you were afraid? Does this mean you were raped? These are the questions I ask because her story makes a part of me feel like my eight-year-old self again, always misdirecting my anger: My father looms over me still dressed in his long white surgeon’s jacket and calls me a dumb piece of shit. Or he burns me with his cigarette. Or he shoves my chest so hard that I fall back and slam my head against a kitchen cabinet. He becomes a bright white blur. He tells me to get the fuck up, and it isn’t so much the pain as it is the fear of what might happen if I do get up that makes me stay down. When I’m alone in my room and the house has gone quiet, I take two toy cars and pretend to be God. Holding my father in one hand and my mother in the other, I smash them together over and over and make the high-pitched sounds of the ambulance coming to collect their pieces.


By the time I apologize for asking these questions it is too late. My mother’s eyes are fixed on her friend’s grandson, Michael, as though she doesn’t hear me, as though she is at once her present self and the person she was twenty-eight years ago. She says, more to herself than me, that maybe a stronger person would’ve left him. Maybe she did have a choice. Maybe the police would’ve believed her. “But I felt like a doormat,” she says. “And, so, no. He didn’t rape me because you can’t force a doormat to have sex with you.”

I imagine that when my mother conceives me, she looks like a person asleep with her eyes open. Dreaming, maybe, that I would be a gift from God growing inside her. She says she thought having children would make things better. “And I know that sounds crazy,” she says as Michael splashes in the pool. “But I remember when God spoke to me.”

“I had just woken up. I was looking down at my slippers and I couldn’t figure out which slipper went on which foot. But I knew I had to get up. You were crying down the hall and my love for you forced me out of bed, and when I got to your crib, it was like God was working through you because you were reaching out to me with those little hands, and those bright green eyes like my mother’s, and I thought, I can go on for them; my children are miracles.

I don’t remind her that I’m her first child, or that my eyes are brown, like hers, or that it’s Sophia, my sister, born six years after me, whose eyes are green, like my father’s. It would be like reminding her that I don’t believe in God, or that by her logic, God was working through my father. We are quiet in returning to our own casts, and anyway Michael has scraped his leg against the pool’s edge and is running toward us with his arms outstretched, crying for his own mother. Mine takes him into her arms and rocks him, twisting her body back and forth.

“Shh, it’s okay,” she whispers, soothing him, smiling at him, as though our own blood is nothing to be afraid of.  

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