Every time I take off my belt I remember every time he took off his belt.
Every act of oral sex is tinged with his anger and violence (which did not end when he stopped beating me with his belt).
No matter how carefully or gratefully or expertly we go down on each other, the hurt is never not there.
Yet the dream of healing is a seed buried deep inside my tongue that this one time - this one use - the belt will neither appear nor interfere.
I do not pray well on my knees.
I prefer those Tuesday evening circles I visited years ago at Saint Mary's, the women earnestly praying on rosaries, welcoming me in a non-sexually-companionate way.
Yet which I left.
I remember driving home from Cape Cod many years ago, emotionally shredded by a family collectively unable to acknowledge shredding anyone, let alone their son and brother. I prayed the rosary all the way.
The rosary I pray when I pray a rosary is the rosary owned by my mother's father. I never saw him pray a rosary. Indeed, he used to mock arriving early to church as "time to pray the rosary."
I don't know why I rather than anyone else have his rosary. I must have grabbed it once. I must have insisted.
One does become an expert at being punished: slapped, belted, sent away without eating. Mouth washed out with soap. Told over and over, with varying degrees of intensity and publicity, how bad one is and what happens to bad boys.
One does become an expert at hoping God is love and secretly knowing God is not, not at all.
Held up to the sky, the rosary is a kind of noose. It is a kind of opening one can see through.
Damaged boys limp into their adult bodies intent on not hurting anybody, which is nice but rarely works as planned.
My grandmother asserted that my grandfather beat her and that once, when her leg was broken, he refused to take her to the hospital. Nobody talks about this, or acknowledges it was ever said, even though we were all in the room.
What didn't happen cannot have any effect so you can understand the impulse to wash it out.
But nothing washes out perfectly.
Every one who has ever washed any laundry ever knows this.
Damaged boys limp into their adult bodies and try out its voice. It's scary to believe you're little but can make a big sound. The temptation is to whisper, or only talk where everyone agrees you can talk, and only ever about what they agree you can talk about.
Sometimes you climb trees deep in the forest and shout that you're not afraid to fall and then let go and see if you're right. Sometimes you practice seducing people who are too far away to touch.
The violence in me knows itself but not as violence. It wants a new name. Or it wants me to remember its actual name. It says, "hey you - you're a poet. Tell us what our name is."
"I'm waiting," I say.
It's a good question, one I decline to answer. But why?
I'm scared if I use my voice, Gretel won't find me because she isn't attuned to that kind of asking for help.
I'm scared that Gretel will find me but won't be who I remember and so I won't be saved at all.
But really because a woman is telling this story now.
You see how I balance between sentences? Give my body wordlessly to holding itself in uncertainty?
That's how quiet she is, letting what comes next come next.