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NEW-CUE, Inc. is a non-profit, environmental education organization founded primarily to assist writers and educators who are dedicated to enhancing the public's awareness of environmental issues.
Hi. My name is Autumn. I like the color blue. And the color pink. I like cooking, but I hate washing dishes. I like drawing and panting, but I've never been a big fan of oil paints. I think I just like the expressiveness of water colors better-they mix together the way I wish I could with Leonardo Di Caprio...
My shrink told me I should write this. The story of how I came to be. The path I've left behind. However I want to think of it, he said, as long as I tell the truth. So it's time for my journal. But before we begin, I want you to know that I am successful and happy-I started seeing a shrink because it was the in thing to do (and I wouldn't be making half this paycheck if I didn't conform-all you original, creative people, eating Ramen soup for the third day running-try to be a little less creative, and watch the digits appear!). Then I got lazy, and stopped acting, and actually let a few things slip, and the shrink figured out that I did have hidden issues, and that they weren't the usual kinds of hidden issues. It wasn't, "Oh my daddy spanked me once when I was a kid," or "My little brother died when I was six and I think it was my fault waaaaaaaah!"
None of that. This was real. This was momentous. This was like The Boy Called It, David Pelzer and myself kicking it in the VIP room of the Severely Unloved Children's Club. Not that I was abused as a kid or anything. Not really. I think I was treated like a walking, talking, punishment. I was not a kid; I was a hair shirt that must be worn close to the skin. And here I go, doctor; here's my story; here's the truth as I remember it.
I was named Autumn because my parents first thought I was a girl. They gazed lovingly at the ultrasound and whispered shyly of pink trim in the bedroom, pink balloons gracing my birthday parties, pastel pink Easter dresses. My mother sighed with contented satisfaction, hands proudly on her looming belly.
"Autumn. Her name is Autumn."
My father probably sighed happily too, resting gentle fingers on my kicking bulge. Little did he know the misery I would later cause-but I maintain, in my defense, that most of his wrecked hopes and dreams were unintentional stumbling on my part. A brick reality falling from Loki and landing directly on a painfully spun, lacy candy castle sailing placidly through the sky. Mayday! Mayday! My daughter is a son!
He and my mother would often joke, Dad told me, about being two polar seasons. I can picture my Mom, slowly rubbing Dad's five o'clock shadow with the tips of her fingers.
"You're my winter," she always told him. "You're the beautiful, icy, delicate winter. Your blanket of chill becomes warmer and warmer, wrapped around me."
And they were oh-so-proud to have me, their baby girl, on the way, ready to be the middle point, the best of both their worlds. Dad was cold-through and through, many of his acquaintances murmured. Even as a teen Dad was methodical, precise but in a imprecise and almost clumsy way, as if his fingers had lost their circulation and were very slowly working through task by task. Mom was passionate, warm and toasty, a fire with a bearskin rug and a mug of hot chocolate. She was the daughter, girlfriend, lover, and mother that everyone wanted-her love just poured through her skin like dusky waves of licking flame. She was the reason that the gossip about Dad began to slowly die away-one look at his face, walking into her presence, and everyone could see the snow melting, the crocuses blooming, the robin chirping happily. She was so perfect.
If Mom were still alive, she and Dad would both love me.
November 17 th, 1981, deep breathing in the hospital. Mom resting calmly between Lamaze sessions and contractions. Dad's knuckles are white. He's hyper-ventilating. He's been asked to leave the room twice already, and returns to the glaring lights over Mom, after pacing alone in the hallway. UP down UP down UP and charge back to bedside. I can hear him gasping for every breath, even from the womb.
"Winter," Mom whispers quietly, her contractions coming harder and faster, but obviously still in the take-care-of-incompetent-husband mode. "Did you bring your inhaler?"
"What, Penelope?" he pants between involuntary inhalations of worry. She reaches for his hand, and bears down hard. I can almost pretend that I was there, really there, watching the drama, the vivid pain of Dad's face, jaw dropping, eyes bugging. Mom's really pulverizing him as she pushes me into the world.
"We should have named her Spring or Summer," Mom continues, in a rush now, words spilling out and falling over on each other. "Autumn. I love you. Take care of my Autumn."
And she died. Right there in the hospital room as doctors were distractedly fussing over my drippy skin and mucus-covered eyes. Dad said that I didn't cry, even when they slapped my butt, upside down and curiously craning my head to look at the shiny forehead and drenched gown of my late mother. I didn't cry when they wrapped me in a pink blankie, nor when they began to lay me in the still-warm arms of the corpse, nor when they noticed the lack of pulse and the whistles and bells ripped into the air, nor when I was laid hastily in my father's arms and they almost restarted my mother's heart with throbs of metal electricity and her body thrashed and rose up impossibly curved belly-first towards the sky. A violent, red-hot spirit leaving the only way it can-that's what I see when I remember her. I can hear the breaking of her spine with volt after volt bucking her again and again.
My father slowly lost feeling in his arms, circulation clenching in close to his heart to protect it, my cozy nest inching apart until I slid off his palms onto the floor. The blankie fell off somewhere and I still lacked the motor coordination to do anything about it, so I just sat there and shivered. The cold tile shocked me so strongly that to this day I get goose bumps on my ass just thinking about it. (I refuse to rent condos today for the simple fact that they all have tile in their bathrooms, and it makes me shudder.)
Dad stared blankly at the tortured frame of his late wife, feeling the last rays of the setting sun, feeling his summer fall. And his glazed eyes still loved the thought of pink.
Dad told me, back when he still admitted I was his child, that he almost screamed at the doctor filling out the birth certificate.
"Autumn?" the doctor said, "Isn't that a girl's name?"
I think now that I still have it harder than a Boy Called Sue. Even if his father never tried to explain anything to him. At least Sue had a reason for his existence, for his name and for his abandoning father. If I were to track my darling daddy to the florid beaches of San Jose, a Glock in one hand and a knife specially designed to spill guts in another, an arsenic-filled tooth in case I get imprisoned for murder or coke dealing, and a damned bottle of Jack-he could not and he would not explain a thing to me.
I would still be very proud of myself, however, because I finally managed to prove to him that I am capable of buying a gun and a hunting knife and arsenic and booze, and somehow getting it onto the plane. See, Dad, I am a real man after all, I would say. But he always thought I was capable of doing all those things-all the things that involved killing. Every day when I walked to school, I knew that he was uttering a quick prayer that today was not the day that I would go Columbine. I would tell him that he had no idea what he was talking about, because I wasn't masculine enough to do those things, remember? And he would sigh, and make a cross, and go off to mutter Hail Marys or yell Hallelujah! or something equally religious. Then I would say loudly after him, "It's too late to be forgiven, Dad, you already have me."
But what I said does not, in the end, matter. It was I, the speaker, who mattered. Or mattered so little, if you will, that I was, and still am, invisible in the daylight but a theme of his nightmares.
I can picture his dreams of me. It may even be one dream, over and over again, one dream in which I am the triumphant one. In which I do the casting out, the disowning, the name calling, the screaming, the You are going straight to hell!-ing. Or maybe asking is all it takes to make him shudder in his sleep. Perhaps I am so a son of the Devil that my very breath in his ear is an unforgivable sin. But still, I will ask. He has condemned me to hell on Earth, has he not? The least I can do is return the favor and insure that his eternity has some heat in it. So I ask.
"Why are roses red? Why is the sky blue? Why don't you love me?" And then off my dream self would walk, flaunting pink shoes, pink socks, pink pants, a pink shirt with a picture of Cheer Bear decadently adorning the front. He always bought me feminine toys while I was growing up, and that was the only Care Bear he avoided. Perhaps he was scared I'd get ideas.
In my dreams, my daydreams, I picture fulfilling his nightmare. Personally, I would prefer to wear the brighter shade of Love-A-Lot Bear, the generous smile and hearts-a-plenty. And just to prove that I am not the stereotype, I will mismatch a single item: a pastel baby pink hat, with a matching feather that wafts long behind me. Just imagining, I'm cringing inside at the looks passersbys give me, and just imagining, I'm gloating inside with the single tear traveling down my father's cheek. Every naked slut in the world, even my stepmother, can't distract him from the memories of pink. Each tinge flashes him helplessly back into the days of a beautiful-soulmate-hopelessly-in-love wife, and her contented pride with the Autumn of her life, and the evidence that belies the ultrasound, and the evidence that belies the life-long beliefs of my father.
I can picture the first doctor, the one my father wanted to scream at, wanted to slam in the jaw with a rock. He was the one filling out the birth certificate, and he asked, pen poised over the paper, "Boy or girl?"
"What?" my father dazedly answered, bringing the room, and me, back into focus.
"Do you want a boy or a girl? We can cut that off, you know, if you want a girl? The procedure is very safe."
Dad looks more closely at my complicated features, moving the pink blanket aside to peer at my newly born equipment. A silence.
"We'll leave him just the way he is," Dad said, his voice catching. "But I want to name him Autumn."
If you were to ask my father where I am, he will say, "Who?"
If you were to say off-handedly, "Charles, tell your son hello for me," he will say, "I have no son."
If you were there twenty-three years ago and helped pick out the pink baby booties and then left to take a long tour around the world, and you have just now returned to say, "How's your daughter doing?" his friends will shush you, and escort you politely out of the room, and he will curl up into a ball on the polished wooden floor of his third vacation home.
And he will whisper, over and over again, "Autumn. I love you. Take care of my Autumn. Autumn. I love you."
There you are, doctor. I've let out all the memories that I store in my faulty, complicated brain; re-lived them just for you. And before you try to tell me: yes, some of my memories are fakes. I know. In fact, my best memories are ones I just made up. But I am still alive. I survived my childhood. I hold a successful, ordinary job with successful, ordinary people that don't realize that I'm only successful, and not ordinary. I have a loved one in my life that I didn't imagine up-my partner is real, and so is our love.
And my work is done, as I promised, doctor. Am I normal now?
Caro Williams currently lives in Fort Kent, Maine, working at UMFK as the Assistant Director of Residential Life and Wellness. She plans on attending graduate school in the near future, aiming for a Ph.D in math education. Regardless of where life takes her, Caro will always write and read as if it?s going out of style.