Here’s the thing: continuous injections of Novocain keep the pain away, but you lose your tongue. It forgets how to form sounds. Fantasy owns reality and numb becomes a habit.
Ginny, age eight, 1968
Eyes squished shut. Pixie girl legs curled up Houdini-style. The closet is dark. Clothes, zippers, and “Game of Life” pink for girl and blue for boy pegs for people pieces digging into Ginny’s legs and back feel good, familiar. I do not feel. Say it and mean it loud enough, and, somewhere inside, something will happen and it will work. There will be nothing, just gone -- like the scientist in The Incredible Shrinking Man at the end of the movie, when he shrinks into nothingness, blending into the universe, mixing with the stars. Eyes squished shut. Think colors, purple, gold, blue. Think colors into reality and let them hug a thin body hard.
One huge breath. “I do not feel. I do not feel. I do not feel. I do not feel. I do not feel. I do not feel. I do not feel. I do not feel. I do not feel. I do not feel. I do not feel. I do not feel. I do not feel. I do not feel. I do not feel. I do not feel. I do not feel. I do not feel. I do not feel. I do not feel. I do not feel, I do not ...”
Ginny, age seven
Kyle is shaking Ginny awake in the bedroom she shares with her sister, Mary Sue, who is ten. A good two inches taller than her little sister, Mary Sue is sitting on the edge of her bed clad in her green pajamas with “the fly” printed in rainbow colors, identical short haircut and large blue eyes of her sister. Mary Sue’s poster of Las Vegas Elvis peered down at us.
“Hey, have a glass of champagne! The big black man is dead!” Kyle chuckles, gives Ginny’s ribs a poke.
She sits up and takes the glass, rubbing her eyes in the suddenly bright light of the bedroom. Mary Sue’s face is expressionless. It’s past midnight on April 5, 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee.
Time exits through the back door of the Borah Theater on the University of Idaho campus. It’s the F-Word Live! We are in Moscow, Idaho, on a frozen November night in 2013. I’ve lived here for seven years amid wheat fields and voluptuous hills rolling right through the border of Washington state. I returned to college 30 years after dropping out after a painful freshman year at Southwest Texas State University. I’d gone there from my home in Lake Tahoe, Nevada to be near the graves of my grandparents in San Marcos, where the college is.
Just think of the bones buried just six feet beneath yours as you walk among the stones. Momo and I used to weed and place flowers on the graves of her friends and brothers and sisters, always taking special care and spending extra time visiting Dudley’s grave, my great-grandmother Momo’s second husband, whom she married after Granddaddy Kyle, the one who became the ghost legend.
My father distinguished himself at Southwest Texas State. His name is on a plaque mounted in front of the Journalism School building, a century-old stone achievement with an impressive red roof and gorgeous clock tower. President Lyndon B. Johnson’s name is on the plaque too, since they both were editors of the school newspaper.
I met the former president on May 22, 1971 when I was 10. Mary Sue and our grandparents, Baba and Popo, and I, would always spent at least a week in their latest Lincoln on a summer car trip we’d take in search of the world’s mightiest ball of yarn or biggest miniatures museum or coolest inner space cavern. That time, though, we traveled all night long to Austin from the coast for the opening, passing, as always, never-ending highway signs throughout Texas alerting us to how many miles, yards and feet we were from the next Stuckey’s candy store.
I remember shaking Johnson’s hand on the steps, and how he met my eyes straight on with such warmth, his hand holding mine for a few seconds, how it felt solid and nice. I didn’t know about his presidency and all of his problematic decisions. I just knew him as a hero of Texas. I like to think my Texas stuff led me to dive back into school, a few lifetimes after I left. I earned my undergraduate degree in sociology and learned to grasp and appreciate a richness of this world I never imagined. Tonight I’m a semester away from a master’s degree in Organizational Learning & Leadership through our College of Education.
I did not envision this. Not any of it. Certainly not this stage, this night. I never speak for myself. Or for Ginny. Until now.
Yes, it’s the F-Word Live! I’m a slam poet. I walk on legs that aren’t mine, a scrap of paper with typed words and underlines and red scribbles all crumpled up in my hand.
I am insane.
I reach up on my toes so that my mouth reaches the mic. I am not going to risk trying to adjust it down to my five-foot height. Those sorts of attempts at grace in public tend not to end well for me. I’m the one who trips on the steps going toward the stage, breaks the volume knob trying to turn off the song I’m playing that just had the F-word in it on loudspeaker, spills the water on the laptop while trying to get the signal back for the interactive PowerPoint presentation.
How did I get on the stage? I am a puppet wearing a face, my boots on these wooden boards. Are they real wood? Did I hit send on that email? Did I turn off the coffee maker? I need to get cat food.
My mouth opens and closes. I can’t feel my heart. That’s good. ... Aren’t I supposed to?
Invisible sisters, invisible brothers, We have a voice.
We have words
Nobody wants to hear,
Bloody and raw and sometimes still screaming
Making no noise, no words for its bones.
Silence. Silence. That’s all I hear.
A tiny ball of wide-open mouth, deep, deep blind inside behind the teeth ... Scrunched up in your sheets pushed up against the wall.
Silence. Silence. Its words you fear. Not devils at night. They can’t reach me there. I’ll pretend I am real. Say you are here.
No one will hear me screaming inside myself still.
Who cares? No words? There’s no one to tell.
It isn’t real. It’s child’s hell.
Deep breath. “Ginny wrote this,” I tell the faces in the audience I can’t see because of the bright light.
“She is 13. It is called, `No Words.’”
Do not scratch or search for warm and soft things.
I lost them.
No words no space no place.
No sound. No reflection.
Just words I’ve heard.
Quiet. No breathing.
No place. No words.
We were there, Ginny and I. We left the stage in an instant: shot forward and backward and blasted out of time into a crazy space like Willy Wonka’s Wonka-vator elevator, beyond the physical world’s crystal ceiling, crashing through the glass brain of a shattered wanderer.