The question echoes down the years

And takes its stranglehold on me

once more.

I see her gray head and inquisitive eyes,

Like a bird on its perch,

Wondering and wondering

About quiet, awkward me.

So smart, she chirps, as though I am deaf and on display.

But, she doesn’t play with anyone.

She doesn’t cut straight

Or color neat.

She runs strangely,

Cannot climb the rope

Or catch a ball.

And, even when I know she knows, 

She doesn’t answer

When called on.

She holds her hands to her throat instead.

Why does she do that?

The rest I take on the chin

As I always do.

It’s my clumsy, fumbly little lot in life, after all.

My shame.

Oh, but that last!

I want to spring up and describe in detail

how the words

Rise up all a jumbled lump

And choke my throat.

How the wrong words at home

Bring a swift slap

And sometimes spittle on my cheek

When my nickname “Bitch” is snarled in my ear.

How I fear the twenty-three pairs of bemused eyes turning to me

As I gasp for air, let alone a coherent response.

Even if I know the answer,

Which I nearly always do.

But, I can’t.

I am quietly choking again.

And, soon,  my mother fills the silence, anyway,

As only her overcompensating,

Gabbling tongue can.

She acts bewildered

By my oddness,

Baffled by my depression.

She references her entire life story of being

Shy while simultaneously

Dismissing my own.

She explains her tiny brother died

So young, so tragic

And, therefore, of course, the bubble wrap

She kept me in.

Besides, that girl is clumsy and without balance.

Vulnerable and not a bit worldly wise.

And  there was once a kid that drowned.

Another who twisted her knee skating.

An aunt that slowly

went mad after incantations

Said at a sleepover.

The earth is an ugly place.

My husband is always on the road.

Money is always tight.

But I do try to buy her trinkets,

Even when she surprises me with her “smart mouth”.

And especially after we fight.

And then mother cries.

Teacher turns the bird eyes soft and tearful, too-

On her.

I am all but forgotten

In the litany of “life is so rough at home”.

Suicide notes get crumpled unread in her hand, to later be flushed-

To erase how I failed her.

I am looked upon with a near disdain.

A burden.

One who could be a credit if only

I could straighten up and fly right.

My grades are good,

But as a mama’s pride,

I stink.

I remember wishing desperately for change,

But finding only years layering over pain.

And, so, the memory is mostly not

So sharp anymore,

But more a dull twinge-

Something that resurfaces

When the query pops its head back in-

Why does she do that?

Because there are a thousand reasons

I could give,

But none I want to keep discussing.

I am so sick of choking on the justification of

What makes me me.

I don’t want to be told to change

Or even that I can!

I just want to be me,

no questions asked.