top of page
Darkened Version.jpg


report in my email last week

why would you even think


Is she okay?

c'mon Kelsey

is she—

well, maybe feed her better

is that not enough?

Kelsey, no

One of those parents

don't say it

don't trust your own daughter

dammit, Kelsey

what the hell


that's my fear

take her from me

please, Kelsey

let me back in

the hell did she say?

screwed this up




this is his subject

she didn't even listen to the question

ingrateful little

Mr. Eckles is gonna kill me

gonna be late

where's that damn office

who the hell names these streets

you better buy something

where was she last night

answer your damn phone

fax that memo

I need tums

gonna fire me

can't make the meeting

I don't know who told her that but

and I puked all over her shoes

but if he doesn't return this call

is the store gonna be open

fucking cell service

you hear it, too?

body ody ody ody ody ody

okay buddy

but it was a banana

seventeen times last week

and all I heard was

she wouldn't answer

for all that I know

can't even explain to him

Author's notes: 1. This story centers around a child who experiences some emotionally traumatic events, including mild violence and emotional neglect/manipulation, etc. If this could be triggering for you, please skip this one. There's also some profanity. 2. Some of this child's traits/experiences might bear some resemblance to those of people with various mental health conditions. This is a work of speculative fiction, and is in no way intended to be taken as a depiction of, or commentary on, mental health.

I must have been about twelve at the time.

   I'm in the kitchen, five a.m. on a Saturday morning, thinking the rest of the world is hours away from stirring out of sleep. The crickety step-stool wobbles underfoot as I lug myself onto the countertop. I slowly open the cabinet door, hoping to avoid the ear-piercing squeaks its hinges tend to emit. A bag of rolls suddenly squirms its way out of the pile overhead and boops me on the face before it tumbles over the edge of the counter and lands on the floor with a near-silent smack. I inch my hand into the bread pile and search, sightlessly, for my prize. I finally feel the wrapper crinkle under my fingertips—

What was that?
   I turn to see Dad standing in the dining room to my right. His arms are folded over his chest and he has that kind, but disappointed, look on his face. I hop down to the floor and grab the rolls as he steps into the kitchen and kneels at my side.
   "I'm so sorry, I heard you say—"
   "I didn't say a word, sweetheart. It's okay, why are you up so early?"
   "I'm hungry."
   "Cookies are not breakfast, you know this."
   "But they're so good."
   "Well yeah, but cavities, not so much. Go get ready, I'll cook you something. And brush, today, please."

The following Monday was the big debate meet.

   I hate debate. All my life spent being told not to talk back, not to argue, now I'm supposed to sit on stage in front of a hundred parents and pretend I'm an expert at it. It always makes Dad proud, though. I'm sitting in the front seat next to him, we're about five minutes from the high school. The entire car rattles as we turn onto the gravel road that cuts between Third Street and St. Ewes. The radio in Dad's crappy old car jolts to life in the middle of that Waterfalls song; I can't help but nod along.
shitty song
   "What?" I ask as I look over to see Dad frowning.
   "I didn't say a thing."
   "I thought you liked this song? It's my favorite."
   "Of course I do; you know I love anything that makes you happy."
so bad
   "I'll just—" I stutter as I press in the dial. We ride the rest of the way in silence.
   The auditorium is packed, the low hum of families packed shoulder-to-shoulder chatting about their days fills the air. I follow Dad to his seat—I want to know where to look when onstage—before I walk backstage to join my team and the instructors. I cross the practice room to take a seat between Cassie and Ryan. Mrs. Jones is already standing behind her desk, pointing to a list of debate tips projected on the screen before us. I don't see Seth. He's been sick all week, must have had to skip out; he's never late. With only three of our team to our opponents' four, this is gonna be a challenge. I was stressed enough before this, I don't know how I'm gonna hold it together.    

   "Yeah, I'm fine." I say.
   "I'm sorry, what?" Mrs. Jones answers.
   "Uh—sorry, I don't see Seth, are we gonna be okay without him?"
   "Of course," she says with a face mismatched to her words, "you three are a great team."
   We're standing just off stage right fifteen minutes later as the announcer calls our school's name. I follow Ryan a third of the way across the stage, maintaining eye contact with Dad the whole way. A joke is told to Dad's left, he laughs and looks over, breaking my safety net. I can't help but glance around the crowd; there were a hundred pairs of eyes that felt like a hundred thousand. I feel the hairs on my arms stand on end and a bead of sweat roll down my temple as I stand behind my seat waving at the audience. We're finally told we can sit, we bow and I take my place.
   The competition starts off well enough—Cassie and Ryan are great debaters and carry most of the weight for the team—until the solo round. I feel my teeth start to clatter as the judges read off questions for each team member one-by-one. First Ryan's opponent; I can't even focus on his answer, but the judges are impressed and proceed to Ryan. He handles it perfectly, almost as if he'd rehearsed. Cassie's opponent: the judges are all smiles. Cassie: she trips on her own words but recovers, even getting a thumbs up from the lead judge. My opponent. She sneers at me as the judge nudges the conversation her way. She stares at me—I think she only blinks twice in the five minute limit—as she talks me into a hole she seems certain I can't get out of. The timer dings three seconds after she throws out her final words.
   "Very well said, Jade," the lead judge nods, then turns to me. "And what about you, Kelsey? What impact do you think a proposal such as this could have on our local environment?”

I freeze.
she's got nothing                                                      

   "I can repeat the question one more time, please listen closely."
Too easy

   I hear bits and pieces of the judge repeating the question as the room starts to spin. As they finish speaking I feel the room focusing on me in anticipation. The room suddenly feels one hundred degrees as my vision starts to fade.

   Two weeks later was the first of the many appointments.

   I sit atop the examination table as dad takes the chair on the right wall, making small talk to comfort me. The thin paper below my thighs hardly shields me from the cold of the sterile metal. I sit here, aimlessly sketching in my notebook, for what feels like hours before the doctor finally enters the room. His lukewarm expression conveys a genuine sense of care, but doesn't mask the impression that he'd rather be dealing with more pressing issues. He walks over to the corner of the room and grabs his chair, rolling it across the room and bringing it to a stop in front of me before he takes a seat. He's sitting a good two feet lower than me, I feel a strange sense of power looking down upon him—and then he speaks.
   "So, what's been going on?"
   "She's been having fainting spells," Dad interrupts before I can speak, "and hearing things."

I chuckle and they both stare me down.
   "What?" Dad asks. "Is there something else?"
   "No, sorry, I just remembered something from class."
   "Okay, well, any other symptoms?"        

   "It's not just 'things,'" I cut in.

   "He wasn't sure I should tell you—"
   "It's not that, Kelsey," Dad interrupts, his tone suddenly harsh. "We just need to be careful how we talk about this."

   "Listen, you're safe here," the doctor assures me as he pats me on the knee. "If I'm going to help you, I need to know exactly what's been going on."
   "Tell him," Dad sighs.
   I tell him everything as he frantically takes notes. I start from the beginning: the clipped sounds that started inching their way into my mind a year earlier. Half-syllables uttered in a voice unlike my mind's. Growing into full words here and there, little intrusions breaking my thoughts like the skip of a record. A barrage of thoughts that often left me with the feeling of fainting. I reach the point of explaining to him about the debate meet and Dad clears his throat; subtle but telling.

   "And you," the doctor says as he glances over at Dad, "you can confirm all of this?"
   "Well, the fainting," Dad stumbles on his words as his eyes dart about the room. "I'm not sure about the voices."

   "I swear, I hear them more and more, I blacked out at my debate meet a couple of weeks ago from them."

   "He didn't want me to tell you—"
   "Kelsey, it's not that. You don't understand how this all sounds."
   "Blacked out?" The doctor's tone shifts, he's suspicious. "Have you ever had alcohol?"
   "Not—" I start to speak but Dad interrupts.
   "Never in her life." The doctor shoots him a glare and continues.
   "Let her speak, please. Substances of any kind?"

   "She's twelve! What are you getting at?"
   "Sir, I need you to step into the hall for a minute."
   "She's my daughter, I have every right to be here."
   "If I'm going to help her, I need her to speak openly. You're not letting that happen. It'll just be a minute, you're not in any trouble"

   "Dad, it's fine. I got this."

   He nods hesitantly and stands—I see tears swelling in his eyes—and leaves the room, shutting the door behind himself. I hear his footsteps as he paces just outside. The doctor lowers his voice to ask me a series of questions, I'm not sure how they relate to my health.
   "Is everything good at home?"
   "Yes, sir."
what's he asking
   "You can be honest, it's okay. Your dad treats you well?"

   "Always. Well, I mean—" I pause.
   "Go on, you can tell me."
not my fault
   "He gets a little angry sometimes. Since Mom left."
   "What do you mean, 'angry?'

   "He yells sometimes, gets really frustrated. He's never laid a hand on me, if that's what you're asking."
   "But his anger, it affects you."
   "Yes, sir. I just don't want to disappoint him."
this was a mistake
   "Do you ever think his anger has anything to do with what's going on?

   "I'm not sure. I never told him what was going on until the debate."
   "I see. Last question: you said your mom left, do you know why?"
   "She never really told me. Said she just wanted to live her life elsewhere."
   "I see," he says as he stands to walk towards the door and open it. "You can come back in," he says into the hall.
   "So, what's the verdict?" Dad asks as he pulls the door to. He's sweating.
   "Unfortunately, this sort of thing is outside of my scope of practice."
   "What does that mean?"
   "I'm going to have the receptionist give you a number for a specialist. I want you to call as soon as you can, set up an appointment." I watch as he locks eyes with Dad, staring intensely as he continues, "go easy on her. This is difficult for people of any age, moreso for children."


He ordered in pizza that night, I knew something was up; he'd cooked every single night for as long as I could remember.

   He walks across the kitchen with a pizza box in one hand and a plate in the other as I take my seat at the table. He slams the box on the table then, seeing me jerk away out of reflex, regrets his slip-up. He places the plate more delicately, takes a seat across from me and opens the box. He grimaces and apologizes for acting out before pulling out two pieces, setting them on a plate and sliding it across the table to me. I pick at a slice of pepperoni and watch as he scarfs down a whole slice before picking up a second.

   "Dad, is everything okay?"
   "You tell me," he growls as he drops his slice.
   "What do you mean?"
   "What did you tell him in there?"
   "I told him the truth."
   "What truth?" He's shouting now.
   "He asked about mom, about how things are around here."

   "Kelsey tell me what you said."
   "Dad, why are you shouting?"
   "You don't get it. Those things he asked—he gave me the number for a psychiatrist."

   "They specialize in trauma and psychotic disorders, Kelsey," he shouts as he stands to his feet. "They're gonna try and take you from me. Probably try and lock me up or something."
   "You're worried about that? What about me?"
   His eyes widen and, out of reflex, he swings his arm. Halfway across the table, I see him recoil, regretting the act before it happens. He pulls back, almost in time to stop himself, but I feel a slight sting as his fingertips grace my cheek.

In the morning, he told me I was gonna miss school. Said I would be staying with grandma for a while, he needed to decide where I would be safest.

   Grandma keeps to herself most of the time. I see her in the mornings on the way to school, and then just long enough for her to heat up frozen meals for us each night, before she returns to her room to work on her knitting—seems she's always got plenty of orders. I don't think I spent more than an hour with her until debate practice—the second Friday after I moved in with her. She takes me to dinner beforehand—Patti's Diner; she orders a melt, I get the chicken tenders. We have our first real conversation; she asks me all about school, debate club and my "situation." Neither of us dares to bring up Dad. We ride to the school silently as she listens to her oldies. She parks the car and turns it off and we sit quietly for a moment. I finally open my door and place my foot on the ground as she speaks.
   "Your dad would be proud, you know."
I wish he were doing this
   "I hope so."

   We walk into the gym and Grandma finds a spot in the front row of the bleachers. She has her knitting needles out before I can even take my seat. She's so disinterested, could have just dropped me off—I assume Dad told her not to let me out of her sight. I cross the floor and take my place between Cassie and Ryan. I wish Seth were here; I always look so stupid in front of these two. Mrs. Jones stands behind her podium and shuffles through pages of questions; I hope she picks anything but Government.

   "We'll kick things off with a few questions about government."
please pick Ryan
   "Cassie, you first."

   "It was recently announced that—"
why's she even here
   "How do you think this might affect the economy?"
   "Well I think that—"

   "What it comes down to is overspending."

   Cassie carries on answering for what feels like hours, I don't hear a word of it, the thoughts feel like a thunderstorm rolling in, starting with short bursts and building until I can barely power through. Ryan's speaking now, Mrs. Jones perks up; he always nails the government stuff, but it seems like he's outdoing even himself right now. I feel sweat saturating the sleeves of my shirt and swear the room is flooding with white light. Mrs. Jones nods excitedly at one of Ryan's points and he rambles on. I can't help but scan the gym, hoping somehow Dad decided to show—I need an anchor. Grandma doesn't even look up from her knitting as the room starts to spin. I feel the faintness growing and I see your face in the corner.

She booked the appointment the next morning—two weeks out in the city.

"I hate crowds, too—"

"this was the only time they had available."

   Rain trickles over the brim of my hat, blocking my view of the street. I shrink into my coat, holding Grandma's hand tightly as her slow strides guide me down the sidewalk. Hurried pedestrians nudge us from all directions as the whole world seems in a rush to return to work from lunch break.
Bread, milk, eggs                                            
We walk straight down the road—                                            

for about three blocks and she pauses at an intersection. I'm pushed up against a streetlight pole as people flood into the crosswalk.
move, old lady

She makes a right, abruptly doubles back and heads in the opposite direction.

As we cross the road I notice her directions—written in ink on a scrap piece of notebook paper—are now a wash of indigo on the page.

She finally decides to stop and ask for directions at a newsstand just before the subway. I hear the squeal of a train coming to a stop.
   "Sir I'm looking for—"

   "can you give us directions?"
   "Left," he points to the next intersection, "Seventh Street is three blocks down. Take a left and the building's on the right."

She thanks him and we set off. I freeze in place as I see a wave of people emerging from the underground subway platform.
stocks are in the shitter
   "Kelsey, c'mon—"
   "We're gonna be late—"
I’m done 
   "It's pouring, move."                                    



























I stayed with her five years. Five years with no contact from either of you, and suddenly you call?

   She couldn't handle me, either. Seventy-five years old and told she'd have to care for her granddaughter, she did what she could. When I passed out on that street, she called for help and tended to me until it arrived, disregarding the piercing eyes of every passerby. That psychiatrist—hell, him and a dozen others—had no answers, didn't believe a word either of us said. "All her scans are perfectly normal," "are you sure you're not making any of this up?" "we all have an inner monologue." I've spent years fighting this, looking for answers without you. What makes you think this is the time?
   "Is this why you left?"
   I can't count how many mornings I've sat in this grass, basking in my own company as the dew tickled my thighs. It feels different with you here; as if somehow the cold tingles are a little more inviting, I feel compelled to relax, my body willful to sink into the earth. Not comfort, per se, more like release. I have more questions than ever before, but there's a strange relief in numbers, in shared experience. We look for answers in every room we enter, but for some of us the walls don't even need to speak—

the cat's out of the bag

can't be bothered to check

so many times that we fell over

and the whole thing collapsed

after the accident she liked to

will you let me know some time next week

after the accident she liked to

can't even explain to him

she wouldn't answer

why would you even think

for all that I know

the cat's out of the bag

body ody ody ody ody ody

so many times that we fell over

after the accident she liked to

but if the funds don't come through

yet they do it, anyway

bottom of page