Adolescence from The Riots by Danielle Cadena Deulen

Oxford Writers' HousePersonal Essay2017SeptemberAdolescence from The Riots by Danielle Cadena Deulen

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Adolescence from The Riots by Danielle Cadena Deulen

Blood clots like stars. Stars like courtesans. Mouth bruised from kissing. The humid vellum of summer air. In the new field, rows of soft earth and the seeds we disturb with the weight of our bodies. Half eclipse. My little sister steals my diary, asks if it hurts. Our father smashes the coffee table into splinters. I sleep in a slanted room and shake all through December. We listen to The Dandy Warhols. The bus is late. Boys whose names we say like psalms. Lake water scent of mud and rinsed fish. I begin to dream of the apocalypse. None of the fathers want anything to do with their children. No money for a dress for the dance. Pine needles stick through my sweater. His eyes are hazel and the most beautiful in the city. We take off our clothes and wade in. We listen to Super Deluxe. My little sister runs away with the boy down the block. Our father snaps the remote control in half. Richard says he plans to rape me. The weathermen talk of northern fronts and high pressure. The freeways arch up over the river, over the dim lights of sleeping buildings, and we're speeding over them, rushing music, his pretty mouth and right hand tense on my thigh. Stars like sisters. Sisters like trees on a faraway island. I have a cousin whose body grows slighter and slighter. He shifts down and we speed up. It was dangerous, but we wanted to anyway. Pile of wet leaves, the veins pressed together. Richard says he'll put a bag over my head so he won't have to see my ugly face while he does it and it'll hurt and he'll like that and he hopes that I'll cry; he'd like to hear me cry. The Willamette River floods again and school is cancelled. We listen to Pink Floyd with the lights out. A drive to someone's parents' cabin. Men with wedding rings and white sedans pull over to ask how much money I want to get into their cars. Monica shows up with an eyebrow ring and an addiction to anything that makes her go fast. My mother finds the box of condoms I keep beneath my bed. Waiting for the bus. Drinking stolen blush wine, watching The Basketball Diaries, Katie and I fall out of love with Leonardo DiCaprio. On the Fourth of July, he doesn't let go of the m-80 in time and breaks his arm in the blast. My mother wakes me, asks where my sister is. Until my cousin's arms were as thin as her hair, until the bones beneath her face. For the first time, I see myself naked because the boy I love has seen me naked and I want to know myself as he knows me. We get lost on the way to Lost Lake, and shiver all night as the tent trembles with rain. Smoke full of musk. Musk full of bodies. The airplanes that never take us anywhere. We listen to The Beatle's Revolver on repeat, high, uncertain of how long we've been kissing. Lace, taffeta, feathers--it doesn't matter because we can't afford a dress for the dance. Emma and I stay up, singing in rounds, sleeping as me and my sister once did. Brice breaks up with my sister when she becomes pregnant. Our father, still downing his vodka, throws his boot across the room. Instead of sleeping, I paint landscapes of open fields and skies I've never seen, dusty instruments, women asleep as they fall through the sky. Kissing among the mosquitoes. Kissing with by back against the steering wheel. I decide I want to be Catholic. Somehow my body is contaminated. Katie laughs her big laugh and I laugh my big laugh and we just can't stop laughing. List of songs for the mixed tape I'll make him. List of places I want to go. List of reasons to run away. My father finally leaves a week before Christmas, saying "You don't know how good you have it now. You'll get so hungry you'll beg me to come home." We listen to Muddy Waters, imagining an ancient and brutal Mississippi. Emma and I start charting the moon--we're looking for answers. Light as a feather, stiff as a board. I dream a line of dark tornados on my street, sit down on my bed and wait to die. Whenever I walk through the neighborhood, I carry a sharp stick in my hand, just in case I run into Richard. Her water doesn't break, so at his birth, my nephew pushes out with the caul across his face. Somehow my skin is sulfur, pitch, naphtha, quicklime and I want another body to ignite me, burn me clean. My cousin becomes so slight, she can't speak--her voice on some other frequency. Monica and I sneak out of her window to meet Jim at the playground but he's late and her father has followed us and Jesus Christ is he mad. Amy stops fighting and starts smoking opium. We listen to Nirvana, jumping around like maniacs. I don't bother to sweep away the confusion of dark hair across my face. I learn that it's not okay to say the right answer; it is only okay to say the wrong answer. No one white is ever arrested on the evening news. I dream that I sacrifice my body and drift up into the gray, wrecked sky. "I love you so fucking much," my lover says, "I fucking love you." Kissing until the windows are opaque with breath. Fireworks dying as they fall. Waiting for the bus again. Mom gets a job at the grocery store, arrives home each night around 1 a.m. and floats on her own exhaustion into the corner of the couch. We are hungry, but don't beg him to return, don't even ask him, don't even call to tell him we're fine. Rhododendrons are sticky in spring, cling to our hair, the backs of our knees. We listen to Makeup, which used to be The Nation of Ulysses, which used to be Cupid Car Club. Mom stays up by the blue curtains, pacing the room, shaking her head. When I tell Kari Joy I've lost my virginity, she cries into her palms, says, "How could you do this without me?" Under the corner willows and streetlights, Alison smokes her Camels. Vespers and hymns. I learn how to hold a rosary with my thumb over a round prayer. We follow the trail through unripe gooseberries and scrub brush straight to the top of Neahkahnie Mountain, look out over the Pacific, and I know that I love him but he doesn't love me. Somehow, I feel, the riots are my fault. I take the shapes in--let them become part of my body. Emma and I stay up late, holding hands and singing rounds. Richard disappears from school and for years I don't see him, but still think of him, of what he said. When I stay over at Amy's she doesn't want me to sleep so I pretend to sleep and she stays awake, leaning over me. Always waiting for the bus. I'm crowned homecoming queen. I don't tell my mom because what's the point? Myrrh and frankincense and Ecclesiastes. I learn how to fight, how to know when a fight is coming. We listen to U2. Purple thistles hide in the long, slender bodies of sweetgrass. In front of the whole church, I'm baptized, but feel nothing. I learn how to say fuck you without a wince of conscience. Katie and I feast on mangoes. After the dance, he takes me to the rose garden, but is too shy to try anything. The stink of sweat and uncertainty. My sister and I stop speaking, are suspicious of our new bodies, suspicious of one another. I stand there in my borrowed dress. So slight she can no longer hold the fluids of her body and begins to vomit bile. The bus goes by without stopping. I dream I awake naked in the neighbor's brambles. Rain warms on the hoods of cars. I don't want to kiss Amy, but I'm certain she wants to kiss me, and I'd probably let her if she wanted, but I'm certain she thinks that she doesn't. Someone touches my shoulder, and when I turn around to Richard's face I flinch back, my breath thrown, but he takes a step away, raises his hand, says he's found Jesus and "You were always a nice girl and didn't deserve what I said. I just want to say I'm sorry." My father shows up on the porch after he's smashed the headlights of Mom's car. In the kitchen, my lover can't articulate why he no longer loves me and I keep crying and throwing dry dishrags at his face. My cousin begins by sipping broth, then swallowing spoonfuls of rice; one day, she eats an apple. No money for presents, but I insist on a tree. Trees, like dark angels in the park at night, hover over us as he takes off his shirt. List of phone numbers. List of people I wish would die. We watch the multicolored lights flash and disappear in the thirsty pine. I hear he's kissing someone else now, a cheerleader. I sleep with a kitchen knife beneath my bed, just in case. "It's beautiful," Mom says after a long while. "I tried," I say. She says, "Me, too." I slip an arm out of the blankets and feel around the floor for an extra pillow. When I touch the edge of something soft, I pull it beneath, hold it tightly to my chest.

Danielle Cadena Deulen is the author of three books: The Riots (U. of Georgia Press, 2011), which won the AWP Prize in Creative Nonfiction and the GLCA New Writers Award; Lovely Asunder (U. of Arkansas Press, 2011), which won the Miller Williams Arkansas Poetry Prize and the Utah Book Award; and Our Emotions Get Carried Away Beyond Us (Barrow Street, 2015), which won the Barrow Street Book Contest. She has been the recipient of a U. of Wisconsin Creative Writing Fellowship, three Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Awards and an Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Award. Her poems and essays have appeared in many journals, including The Iowa Review, The Kenyon Review, The Utne Reader, and The Missouri Review, as well as several anthologies, including Best New Poets, and After Montaigne: Contemporary Essayists Cover the Essays. She is the poetry editor of Acre Books and lives in Salem, Oregon where she teaches for Willamette University. You can learn more about her at her author website:

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