After I saw Mom kissing my Aunt on the mouth, I learned how to be careful.
But there were snakes in my bed, ghosts hanging in the hall, booby traps in the cereal. The mirrors snickered at me.
My Aunt liked me too much. She had grasshopper eyes and busy hands. Bath time was slippery Hide-N-Go-Seek and no fun at all.
“You can at least try a little,” my Aunt said.
I told her, “No,” but she didn’t care.
Mother had an arsenal—belts, chains, an egg beater. She left rocks scattered in the corner of the living room and if I blinked too fast my penance was kneeling on those rocks with my hands upraised for an hour. Failure to make it the whole sixty minutes meant Armageddon.
My Aunt liked to watch, tittering like a happy chipmunk. She liked to watch other times, too.
“Just pretend I’m a ghost,” she’d say while I was peeing or doing the other. Often she’d look between my legs, leer and say, “You’re just like your father down there.”
Dad was a ghost, too, not gossamer, but rather made up of a million tiny needles held together by cigarette smoke. Sometimes he shape-shifted, becoming one of the snakes in my bed.
At school, I asked the teacher if I could please make the classroom my bedroom and live there. She chuckled so hard and said, “I didn’t know you were funny.”
At home, I kept falling through trapdoors, kept getting mired in quicksand. Each time I did, Mom threw a slap and pointed out that Job had it much worse and he never bitched.
There are a lot of ways to realign your vision—lower your eyelids, close them, blink, go cross-eyed. I learned them all.