March 23d 1962
A body. A mind. A coat. The coat is brown.
No, it’s not brown. It’s black. The coat is black.
I am on a beach. I am unsure of how I got here; everything is a trance. How did I get here? There are no people here, I am utterly alone. It feels wonderful, being alone. The wind from the trees, the salt from the water. It is saltwater, right? I run towards the water, and it’s difficult. The shoes are heavy, they are heavy with a need to pull my ankles off.
I am wearing my mothers’ boots. I am wearing her coat too. I now remember that she made me go outside for a “walk”. I’ve been inside for over a month. Haven’t eaten that much. I put my hands in the water. It’s cold, but it doesn’t hurt. I take one of my hands out and put it to my lips. It’s saltwater. My hair is starting to fall out. I haven’t been to school in fifty-seven days.
I am listening to the radio by the living room window; my mother is trying to ask me something that I cannot hear. The radio is talking and talking. I once talked back to the radio. I laugh as I think of it. “Will you shut the radio off please?” my mother says, and she shuts it off for me. “What?” I say. “Would you like some tea?” she asks. I turn the radio on again and shake my head. “I hate tea. Especially your tea”. John. F. Kennedy is getting ready to speak. “Turn him off please” my mother says. She voted for Nixon. I look at my mother, she is running all over the living room, tidying up. “Why are you cleaning?” I say over the sound of the radio, but she doesn’t answer. “Mother!” I shout and she twirls around. “Quit shouting in my house, Sylvia” she says and runs over to turn the radio off again. “Why are you tidying up?” I ask. “I’m not tidying up”, she answers and collects the records scattered around the coffee-table. “Yes, you are. Will there be people here?” My body is numb. My breathing speeds up. My mind goes through the plan of what to do if there will be people coming over:
I pinch my thigh and loosen my hair from the tight ponytail. “No, Sylvia, put your hair back up, you need to look nice”. I stand up. “Who’s coming?” I ask and my mother turns around to look right at me. I study her dress and her neck and her mouth. Her eyebrows rise and then she wrinkles them. “I invited Doctor Litbough here. He is a very good man.”. There is silence, I pick at my cuticle bands faster and faster until I feel something loosen. I look down at my fingers and it starts to bleed. I want to make sure I have control of my voice before I speak. “Is that a shrink?” I ask in a high-pitched voice. “He is a psychiatrist, Sylvia” she says calmly and tries to touch my hair. “Let me put your hair back in a nice ponytail. When was the last time you washed your hair?”, she asks, and I step back. My legs jerk for no reason. “I am not crazy, mother.” My mother sighs and comes closer. “Of course, you’re not, Sylvia. This man wants to help you. You need to go back to school. You need to eat. You need to be able to talk to people”
“No.” I say. “I am not a psychopath” I say.
The doorbell rings. We stand on the living room floor for a minute. The bell rings again. My mother looks at the door, she starts to slowly move towards it. I grab her arm and she jogs towards the door. Her small heels click and clack against the hardwood floor. “No!” I scream. “No!” I run after her, clinging on her arm.
I scream and bite her right before she opens the door. She screams back and peels me off of her. We stand in silence. Breathing. “Mrs. Tucker? Are you quite alright?” A strange, thin and manly voice comes from behind the door. My mother tucks a strand of hair behind her ear and puts on a smile. She opens the door.
“Why are you not in school, Sylvia?”.
There is a stranger in our living room. His name is Doctor Litbough. I think he is in his fifties. I don’t answer him. My mother puts her hand on my shoulder. I look at her arm and notice the bite mark from earlier. Doctor Litbough notices it too. He looks at me. I look away. “Where is your father?”, he asks me. “Not here”, I answer. Silence. “You are unwed?” Doctor Litbough asks my mother. “No. He is still my husband”, my mother says. “Very well.” Doctor Litbough says and leans back into the sofa. “Can I offer you some coffee, Doctor Litbough?” my mother says and stands up. Doctor Litbough looks at me, and then back at my mother. “Yes, please. That would be wonderful, thank you.” My mother clears her throat and straightens her skirt before she walks with slow steps towards the kitchen. She stops and looks at me for a second. She closes the door to the living room. I study Doctor Litbough’s face. He looks at me. I look at his notebook.
S Y L V I A – SIXTEEN YEARS OF AGE is written with blue ink on the top of the page.
Not going to school
Difficulties with speaking out/to people.
“I can put the notebook away if you want?” he asks. I shrug. He puts the notebook in his briefcase. “Do you have any questions for me?” he asks. I look at him. He has a beard.
“Did you listen to the radio today?” I ask. My voice is still high pitched. He nods and smiles. “Did the President speak?” I ask. He nods again. “Are you interested in politics?” Doctor Litbough asks. I shrug again. “Can you do a JFK impersonation?” I ask. He laughs.
“Your mother tells me that you’re afraid to … speak?” he asks, ignoring my question. I wish he would stop looking at my face. “Mother says a lot of things.” I reply. “Well, is she correct?” he asks. Silence. I hear my mother opening cabinets in the kitchen. I nod. “I can’t manage speak to people at school. I find it strange that I am speaking to you at all. No offence.” I say. I am unsure of where to put my hands. They can’t find the right place in my lap. “None taken” he says and smirks. “What happens when you try to speak to someone?”. I think of the last time I was at school. “I want to leave.” I say. “Did you have an uncomfortable episode with speaking at school?” he asks. I nod. “Is that why you’re not at school?” he asks. I nod. “I tell my mother that I have migraines, and that I can’t go to school because it hurts so much.” I say and continue: “I don’t think she believes that anymore, seeing that there’s a shrink here. And shrinks don’t cure migraines. I’m very afraid of the school”. I say and breathe sharply out. I pinch my thigh and Doctor Litbough notices. “Are you hurting yourself?” he asks. “No, I’m just pinching myself.”, I answer. “Did you bite your mother earlier?”, he asks. I nod. “Do you sometimes find that being violent is better than speaking?” he asks. I shrug.
“Can you tell me what your favorite food is, Sylvia?”, Doctor Litbough asks me. I close my eyes. He repeats the question. “I’m thinking”, I answer. I inhale, and a strong scent of peppermint and tobacco hits me. I can still hear my mother hiding in the kitchen. “Mashed potatoes”, I answer, and I tear up. Doctor Litbough nods. “Do you want to eat mashed potatoes now?”, he asks, and I ignore his question. “Can you do a JFK impersonation?”, I ask again. He sighs. We sit there for a minute. Doctor Litbough pulls his fingers through his beard. He stands up and clears his throat. I look up at the man standing in front of me. He opens his mouth and says with a deep, very posh-American voice: “We choose to go to the Moon! We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” He even puts his hand on his heart as he says it. I smile. Doctor Litbough smiles back. “Is that what he said on the radio earlier?” I ask. And I don’t think before I speak this time. I sit down. I feel dizzy. “Yes” Doctor Litbough says. “I would like to go to the moon” I say. Doctor Litbough sits down again, out of breath. “Sylvia, listen to me” he says and leans forward. He puts his hands together on the coffee table. “You will do so much more than go to the moon.” I shake my head, not understanding. He looks at me. Doctor Litbough nods and says, “You will do so much more than just go to the moon.” He stands up again. Sits down. Reaches for his briefcase and pulls out the notebook. “Do you know who Franklin Roosevelt was?” he asks me. I nod. “Do you know what he said once?”, he asks, and I shake my head. “He said: “The only thing to fear, is fear itself”. He starts eagerly writing something in his notebook. I watch him. He rips out the page and folds it. “I think our time is up, Sylvia.” he says and stands up. I nod. “Okay” I say. My mother comes into the living room. “We didn’t have any coffee beans left, Doctor.” she says and apologizes. “That’s quite alright, Mrs. Tucker”. He puts his coat on and gives the note to my mother. He gives me a nod before he walks out of the door.
“Have you taken your medicine?” my mother asks. I am getting ready to go to bed. I nod. “Okay, then. Good night, dear.”, she says and kisses me on the head. Before she walks out of the bedroom, she stops. “Oh. The Doctor asked me to give you this.”, she reaches her hand out and gives me the note that Doctor Litbough wrote. The bite mark is fading, I look at my mother’s face. I look at the note. My name is written on it. My mother leaves the room.
I read the note.
You will choose to speak out! You will choose to go to school in this decade, and you will eat mashed potatoes! Not because these things are easy, but because they are hard.
- Dr. Litbough