SELF PORTRAIT AS INTAKE FORM

by Gabe Montesanti

ISSUE TWELVE | SPRING 2019

Q: Do you sometimes feel as if you are standing next to yourself, or see yourself as if you were looking at another person?

 

A: There must be something wrong with you, mama tells her. You aren’t my kid if you don’t like rides. Mama used to love Thunderhawk. Shivering Timbers. The spinning apples. You don’t even act like a kid anymore. Why can’t you just have fun? She practices her face in the mirror. What would fun look like if she could take a deep breath? What would fun look like to mama? In the house of mirrors, she slams into a little girl and nearly knocks herself silly. The second time, she starts to bleed.

 

Q: Do you sometimes find yourself in a place and have no idea how you got there?

 

A: She’s walking with mama on the railroad tracks. She’s pressing her ear to the rail. Do you hear it coming, mama asks? Tell me if you hear it coming. She’s being pulled into the ditch: mama’s hand, tight around her wrist; mama shielding her from the speed of the boxcars. The girl always returns to this place when she needs to prove to herself that mama once loved her.  

 

Q: Are you ever listening to someone talk and suddenly realize that you did not hear part or all of what was said?

 

A: She started talking late. Each word took effort to form and send off, like a bubble passing through a plastic wand. She thought that after one hundred words, she’d go mute. She only spoke when she was sure someone would listen. Her teacher insisted there’s no limit for words. Speak up, honey, she always said. You’re disgusting, mama said. You’re disgusting, the coach said, in mama’s voice. You’re disgusting, the choir teacher said, in mama’s voice. You’re disgusting, the other kids said, in mama’s voice.  

 

Q: Are you sometimes unaware of the passage of time?

 

A: Sometimes, she forgets where she lives. She pauses at the gas pump, unsure which zip code to punch. All maps lead back to that house; the one mama still lives in. Every morning, a jolt. A slow realization: you never have to go back there.  

 

Q: Do you sometimes look in a mirror and not recognize yourself?

 

A: It’s like this: she looks into the mirror and only sees mama. She sees mama in her breasts, in her patchy pubic hair. She sees mama in her thick torso, the extra weight. Baggage, mama called it. Of course you’re a dyke, dykes don’t mind baggage, mama said. Dykes don’t take care of themselves. But let me ask you this: what man will ever take you back after this? What man will look at you and think—I’ll take a woman who’s fucked other women? A woman with that much baggage?

 

Q: Do you sometimes remember the past so vividly that you feel you are reliving that event?

 

A: She read somewhere that some scientists don’t believe time is linear. What if the past isn’t a knot in a long skein of yarn, but an echo with arms?

 

Q: Are you sometimes unsure whether experiences are real or dreams?

A: In the hospital, the light began unspooling. In the cemetery, tombstones started splintering. Sane is a box drawn with pink chalk the girl hopscotches out of.   

 

Q: Do you find that you are able to ignore pain?

 

A: That’s the whole point, isn’t it? Her superpower. The beauty of her training. But “ignore,” isn’t right. “Ignore” is what she does when mama sends her postcards in the mail, pleading with her to come back. What she does with pain is like what she does with clay. Throw it. Shape it. Burn it and then use it, like a bowl, to eat from.

 

Q: Do you ever feel that your body does not belong to you?

 

A: If she died tonight, she’d return what she borrowed. Love handles to coach. Fingernails to the third grade bully who said blue polish is for losers. She’d give her waist to the seamstress. Knuckles to the boy who taught her how to punch. Everything else goes to mama, who once said I birthed you. You will always belong to me.  

Gabe Montesanti is at work on her first full-length memoir about the phenomenon of roller derby. She lives in St. Louis where she skates for the local team, Arch Rival, under the name Joan of Spark. Recent work has appeared in Sinister Wisdom, Devil’s Lake, Crab Creek Review, and The Offing. Gabe has an MFA in Creative Nonfiction from Washington University in St. Louis, where she is currently a teaching fellow.

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