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March 13, 2020 Nonfiction

Lower Lumbar Support

Micaela Walley

Lower Lumbar Support photo

At three years old, my parents legally separated, and my father got custody of me on the weekends. He had multiple girlfriends, a new one every couple of visits. I went to some of his girlfriends’ houses with him. He played video games while they cooked dinner for us. I stayed out of the way by hiding behind their leather couches. Bored, I pulled out my eyelashes to play with, to release into the ceiling fan breeze. I missed my mom. I wanted to go home. Pluck. I was home.

***

I am good at hiding what I need the most. When the remote control went missing in my childhood home, I was always the person charged with finding it. I’d plunge my hands into the depths of the couch cushions and feel around for the plastic rectangle. It was always there—too deep to have slipped down, though I never remembered pushing it while watching TV, further and further until completely out of reach. Pluck. Sorry about that.

***

At six years old, my father wanted to introduce me to his church friends. As a part-time pastor, it was crucial he make a good first impression. Already shy and unsure of strangers, I did not say hello to them when they entered his home. Instead, I pushed my face into his pant leg. He lifted me up. “Say hello.” I did not want to. He took me back to my bedroom. I was ruining the party. The party was better if I was not there. I was to stay in my room until everyone left. The dog that shit on the carpet was put in there with me. It crawled under the bed and growled at me as I searched around for wherever I’d hid my Barbies. Pluck. Time to play.  

***

At my mom’s house, I was responsible for helping my younger sister do her homework. At the time, we did not know she had a learning disability—and my mother believed that her poor grades were in response to my lack of effort with her homework. I cried and screamed and begged my sister to sit down and write out her spelling words. My sister cried and screamed and insisted she couldn’t do it. I’d call my mom— “She won’t focus. She won’t sit down.” My mother worked five minutes away from our home. One day, after calling her, she left work early to come home and separate us. “You have one job.” Our front door was chain locked, though she pushed her way in—knocking the chain off the wall and slamming the door shut. Pluck. Stay calm.

***

I am good at hiding what I need the most, except my tweezers. I tried to hide my tweezers in middle school, but I always found them. I shielded myself with makeup products, checking my appearance in a compact mirror underneath my desk every few minutes. Since discovering tweezers, noticeable bald patches began to form around my eyes. Nothing a little eyeliner couldn’t fix. I pushed the black smudge into my raw eyelid skin, rubbed it around until there was a thick black rim surrounding my eye. I told my mom what I did to myself. She told me to stop. I was the problem and I was the solution. From a distance, everything looked normal. As long as no one got too close, there was nothing to see but black smudge. Pluck. No big deal. 

***

In high school, I hid my hands. I wanted friends, but I did not want to get close to people. When people got too close, they saw the bald patches where my eyelashes should’ve been and began asking questions that I didn’t have the answers to. I endured endless awkward conversations with boys and other people who did not want to be my friend as badly as I wanted to be theirs. I was always taking two steps back, never returning enough eye contact to make a connection. My shirtsleeves stayed pulled over the tops of my hands. This was an act of mercy—my face and my neck and my legs and my feet all had to endure the embarrassment of being a mentally ill teenager. My hands, however, could look away. Pluck. No one saw that.

***

I am good at hiding what I need the most. As an adult, it’s always my car keys and it’s always under high stress. I grab my keys, run to the closet to grab my sweater, return to the door and my keys are gone. They are underneath my pile of sweatpants. They replace my coffee creamer in the fridge. They are just about anywhere except in my hands. I try not to touch them until I am 100% ready to go, or else I’ll be tossing couch cushions into the living room floor, and refolding all of my strewn sweatpants after work. Pluck. Found them. 

***

I take my first phone interview inside of a walk-in closet. The woman calls as I am rearranging my boyfriend’s shoes into something that resembles lower lumbar support. She asks me why I think I’m right for the job. I say that I’m a team player, I enjoy taking on new challenges, and I am outgoing too. She believes me and says I will hear back soon. When the call is over, I get up and exit the closet. Hours later, my boyfriend asks me why his shoes are in a pile, warped against the wall. Pluck. Nailed it. 

***

When my boyfriend and I fight, I lock myself inside the bathroom. He is not a violent man, and he rarely raises his voice, but I cannot face his anger. My body tells me that I need to build walls around it, so I do. I lock the door. I sit as far away from it as possible, even if that’s inside the bathtub. On our worst days, I leave. There are not enough walls in our apartment to separate myself from the problem. I am the problem and I am the solution. By removing myself from the house, the problem is resolved. The house is better when I am not in it. I do a sleeping tour of all of my friends’ spare bedrooms. I keep a pillow in my car. When walls are not enough, I build myself a new home. Pluck. Everything is okay.

***

I am good at hiding what I need the most. An eyelash is bothering me so I pull it out, a simple solution to a simple problem. I don’t want to feel bad about doing it, so I do it when no one else is around. When I am in our apartment, it is not socially acceptable to sit on the living room floor next to the window pulling out my hair while my boyfriend sits a few feet away on his laptop computer. Instead, I wait for him to leave so I can enjoy the ritual of removing eyelashes, one by one—placing them onto my handheld magnifying mirror, then blowing them as far away from me as possible.  Pluck. Free at last.

 

image: Aaron Burch


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