Oh, Be Careful

Liz Howard

Careful Little Eyes

 

You knew there was something else, you knew there was something else, & so you waited…until I confessed that he had pressured me into sending a nude photo & then you shattered each of my DVDs in your hands, twisting, snapping, one at a time, in front of me, & kept going until everything I cared about was in pieces on the floor between us & then: you smiled.

 

Careful Little Ears 

 

We had been pressing our ears against the vents in our bedroom to hear you argue ever since I was old enough to crawl over the side of the guard on my bed & that’s how I learned: You smoked. That’s how I learned: He accused you of sleeping with your sister’s husband on the day of her funeral. That’s how I learned: He raped you. 

 

Careful Little Tongue 

 

Maybe there was never a time when I did not understand malice. I remember feeling the intensity of it swelling in my tiny body, tiny fingernails digging into tiny palms, tiny heart slamming against tiny ribs. I remember quivering with it long before I should have known what it was to have a reason to feel it. I remember that I sat, pretzel-style, seven years old, rage spilling out of me, and I spat, “I hate you.” You said, “No you don’t. Hate means you never want to see that person again. Hate means you wish they were dead.” I replied quickly, flatly, “I know.” 

 

Careful Little Hands

 

The old flimsy knives in the utensil drawer downstairs are useless. The old flimsy knives in the utensil drawer downstairs have begun to rust and their pulpy wooden handles have come loose so that they don’t hold firm. The old flimsy knives in the utensil drawer downstairs are blunt, too blunt, so that even when you lay them flat against your wrist and press and press and press pressure into them, they do not slice, they do not draw blood.

 

Careful Little Feet 

 

Once, finally, enough, I burst—burst out the door, dropping my bags, my keys, my phone as I went, not looking, not caring, not thinking, not feeling, just running. And then: nothing penetrating the cycle of just run, just run, just run in my head; nothing obstructing the comfort of my body’s repetition: foot to gravel, foot to gravel. Later, when I had collected the shriveling fragments of that burst, I walked back & tried to open the front door, only to push against a deadbolt. In the inch-gap, I could see our son. And you said, “I’ll let you in. When you’ve calmed down.”

 

Careful Little Heart 

 

: whom you trust, they say be careful whom you trust & I see: the little girl shielding her body, too young to name the nausea, the spinning & I see: the teenage daughter, curled into herself, hands tightly cupping her ears to muffle the blame directed at her for the violation that has broken her & I see: the pregnant wife cowering behind a locked bathroom door about to be thrown open & I wonder: whom?

 

 

 

Liz Howard is an adjunct instructor of English and a professional writing tutor at multiple colleges. She is in love with her two-year-old and the City of Philadelphia. Her writing is short and frantic, just like her. Find her on Twitter @Mother_Faulkner.