“what are you thinking?” my mother
used to ask me, whenever
we were alone and I was quiet
for more than ten minutes. I can
never remember now what I
actually was thinking, because
as soon as she said it, my mind
always went blank, wiped clean
like a blackboard, like a kill switch
on a computer, erasing all
the data instantly, just
so I could say “nothing”
and have it be true
in that moment, so that
part of me could believe it,
because that’s the only way
people with glass faces
can tell lies.

and when I’d done
something bad –
like bought myself a bagel
after school (because it was 4 pm
and I was hungry, and
it had been a long time
since lunch, with at least
five to six hours to wait
till dinner, depending on how
drunk or distracted she was,
and she did not believe
in snacks) with butter and
cream cheese, plus
a snack-sized bag
of Nacho Cheese Doritos,
and maybe a Twix or a Reese’s Cups,
eaten this supremely unhealthy yet
fucking delicious feast
surreptitiously in my room,
and failed to adequately hide
the evidence, thus undermining
all her attempts to keep me
from getting fat, and spoiling
my appetite for the meal
she was going to work so hard
on – maybe an overcooked
cheese soufflé that had
the exact flavor and texture
of a wet sponge, or a boneless,
sauceless chicken breast, so dry
it squeaked between
your teeth when you chewed it,
accompanied by half-cooked
spinach gritty with unwashed
sand, washed down with a big glass
of whole milk, healthy as
the day is long
but so unnecessarily
disgusting – she would say,
“don’t you dare try
to hide anything
from me. I can see right
through you. your
thoughts are written
all over your face.”

she was also intensely,
almost morbidly curious
about what she called
my “writings” – so pretentious,
as if she knew jack shit
about it, but I’ve read her copy
of The Stranger from college and
her questions (written in the margins
before she gave up twenty pages in)
were pretty damn elementary, indeed –
though I took great pains
not to let her see them. they
were my last bastion
of privacy, the one place
she couldn’t tread, the one thing
that was mine alone, the one
thing she couldn’t ruin. I made the
huge mistake once
of leaving a poem out
where she could see it
and she said, “I read your
poem. was I supposed
to understand it? I didn’t
understand it at all.” I was angry
at myself for being so
forgetful and dumb, but also
spitefully glad that she,
in turn, was too stupid
to get it, even as I vowed
to be even more obscurantist
in the future, to make sure
she never would.

and now I find myself
wanting to know
what’s on someone’s mind,
wanting to pry open
their brain-box with a
mental crowbar. now I know
what it feels like to be
on the outside
wanting in.

but the funny
thing is that if she had just
stopped asking, and reacting so
very badly to everything I said
and did, maybe one day I
could have told her
what I was thinking. maybe
I could now be allowed
to remember myself
without the instant amnesia
of that intrusive question.

Published by

R. Brookes McKenzie

what fresh hell is this

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