Keeping You a Secret – by Rachael Ikins

She looked searchingly into my eyes as we hugged goodbye. That combination of fragrances that was uniquely “mom”, hair spray, Esteé Lauder and Scotch, though no more cigarette smoke, lingered.

We had been to dinner a last time before she and her husband went south for the winter. Her expression looked as if she expected me to say something or wanted to ask a question.
I disengaged from her bony arms and laughed. It had been a good time, a good meal. My partner Genevieve and I bundled up and dashed through the cold and snow. We had a long dark road ahead of us going home.

She said, “You ought to tell her. But it’s ok with me if you don’t.”

“It feels disrespectful to you, keeping you a secret,” I said.

“Not at all. You have that bad memory of the way she behaved after she was eavesdropping on you to contend with. Coming out is personal. I just think she is ok with it.”

Yes, I did. A college student living at home and working, I’d begun dating a woman I had a crush on. Late one night we had been talking on the phone with the kitchen door shut and my mother had burst in, yelling how disgusting I was, that she was going to go right upstairs and tell my father. The scar lingered, though I never did know if she told my dad. His behavior toward me did not change.

We crunched up our driveway. The dogs barked their exuberance making us smile. Soon they milled about our boots as we petted and told them to go pee.

We hung up snow-covered coats. Fed the cats. Banked the wood stove. Showered and before long were settled warm in our bed to read. It nagged at me, my mother’s inviting behavior at dinner. I stared into space, my book forgotten. Finally, Gen pushed her glasses down her nose and looked over the frames at me. She elbowed me gently in the side. “Go downstairs and call her.” She kissed my cheek.

I shrugged into bathrobe and slippers. Several dogs escorted me to the kitchen where a hopeful cat waited by an empty bowl. I postponed the phone call to pour Friskies.

My mom answered on the second ring.

“Hi.”

“Hi.”

I said, “We had a fun time.”

“Yes, it was.” said Mom.

“Umm, well, look.”I said. I was 52 years old.

Silence.

“Genevieve and I are in love and we want to make a life together.” The words tumbled out in a rush. Everyone in the family liked her already so I wasn’t sure what this confession would do.

Silence.

My heart pounded in my neck.

“So,” said Mom. “Does this mean you’re gay?”

Of all the responses I’d imagined, that was not among them.

I said, “Well, uh, Love is Love no matter what equipment a person has in their underwear so why does it matter?”

“Well, you were married to a man you loved for many years.”

She laughed. “I asked your brother if she was gay the first time you brought her here. He wouldn’t tell.

I knew it!” she chuckled.

What the hell, I thought.

Suddenly serious, “Do you love her? Are you happy?” she asked.

“Yes. I love her a lot. I am.”

“Then, that is all I care about. That my child is happy.”

We giggled together a bit more. I was sweat-soaked with relief and also bemused at the conversation.

I set the phone in its charger and flicked the light switch.

Once I was back in bed, dogs and cats piled around us. Genevieve looked at my smiling face over her glasses again, setting her book down on one thigh, “So?”

A few nights later we pulled in the driveway after a long day of work. I headed for the mailbox while she locked the car in the barn and let dogs out. They boiled down the driveway around me as I grabbed junk mail and letters. Halfway up the yard, in the light from the back door, I saw an envelope addressed to Genevieve with my mom’s distinctive back-slanted, leftie script.

My heart leapt into my mouth. I couldn’t help it. Dread. Panting, I dashed into the house, barely remembering to hold the door for the last dog. Gen was putting leftovers from our supper on the road in the fridge. Its light shone on her freckles.

“What is it? Your face is white as a sheet.” She straightened up.

I held the mail out to her.

“My mother,” I breathed. “She sent you something.”

She took the proffered envelope and examined the addressee, only Genevieve, and return label. It said it was from Mom and husband.

“Open it.”

I watched her read, standing so close we were breathing on each other. She held the card so I could see, too.

“Dear Genevieve,

I understand that you and my daughter are in love and you want to make a life together. My husband and I would like to welcome you to our family. We wish the two of you all the best.

Love, Rosie.”

Our eyes met, brimming with tears. We gripped each other in a bone-crushing hug, paused for a long kiss, lips still chilled from winter outside, and then laughed. Hugged again and re-read her note. I brought it upstairs into our study and thumb-tacked it to the wall over the desk.

Life is filled with surprises. An 82 year old woman who was by then married three times had spent time over the years, a few of them when we did not speak at all, thinking.

Proof, I thought; a person can grow for her entire life.

Though the card was lost some moves ago and Genevieve and my mom are both gone, the gift of my mother’s words will stay with me as long as I live.


Rachael Ikins is a 2016/18 Pushcart, 2013/18 CNY Book Award, 2018 Independent Book Award winner, prize-winning author/artist with 9 books. Syracuse University grad, member CNY branch NLAPW, and Associate Editor of Clare Songbirds Publishing House, Auburn, NY. Her new memoir Eating the Sun a love story narrative punctuated by poetry and garden recipes available 4/2019 at Clare Songbirds Publishing House.

Girl Interrupted – by Rachael Ikins

I was the 17 year old who didn’t want to leave home. Who loved working with her uncle as his “girl Friday” as I had been since age 2. Veterinarian, my future dream, as I held aside cows’ tails, twitched horses, stayed up late assisting him as we tried to save a pregnant dog. Even though he called me “the girl” he threw every job at me, gas-passer for surgeries, taught me injection, how to work the autoclave, to develop xrays.
I was fearless. Happy.
He saw me as equal.
He saw me.

My parents did not and so with nausea in the back of my throat I left that magical summer behind.
Going away to college. Period.
My mother often emphasized with that word.
Period.

A year and a half later, collapsed, a ‘nervous breakdown’ whatever that strange term means, home. Shuttled into the city 5 days a week to a psychiatrist, medicated, so much Thorazine I drooled, vision blurred. I started to cut myself.

My uncle said, “Come work for me again.” One day we went on barn calls together, me riding shotgun, stunned stupid, studying the baby photo of me he kept pinned to the visor.
As we pulled onto my street, he slowed the car, looked over at me and said, “Nothing wrong with you. You don’t need a psychiatrist.”
He saw me.

Over a decade after that lost, the shrinks, drugs that made me act crazy. Diagnoses as mixed as tossed salad. Hospitals, the stuff of nightmares, staff blasting in my room, locking the bathroom because I had used the toilet unsupervised. I checked myself out AMA after 3 days. One girl ran away; they called it “eloping.”

The final shrink, a poetry-lover
so many years later. Helped me off the chemical stew, stood by me for months as my brain and body continued thrashing in the residues. He said, “Your brain was marinated in chemicals.” Yes. It forgot how to sleep. I graduated therapy.
He said, “You were never mentally ill.”
He saw me.

We met for a year, once a month for coffee and poetry in a nearby Starbucks.

*******

I lost everything because I was a girl so interrupted that 25 years passed, a quarter of a century, my chance for children, my young womanhood vanished in bitter smoke.

I found my memories.
I found my poetry.
Body disabled by do-gooders and family too blind to see. Before the days of autism or Aspergers, before people talked about the spectrum. That’s all it was. I figured this out not that long ago. My doctor concurred.
Such a relief.

For years, I needed the anger to keep me moving through the wreckage,
but anger eats the holder just like fire. Nobody was going to pay. Nobody cared but me. After all it is my life.
Mine alone to make or break.

I stood up, shook off and gathered the threads. Knotting with care
so nothing unravels.

My uncle long gone, these Sundays
I watch a veterinarian on cable, quirky older man, and as the episodes pass, my heart slows. I relax. Feeling connected to that stolen girl
who has reclaimed herself.
Who wastes no bitterness
on what might’ve,
what should’ve been.

Maybe she needed to learn
to fight for herself.
Maybe she had to demand
to be who she is.
Before the story could continue.

And so I did.


Rachael Ikins is a 2016/18 Pushcart, 2013/18 CNY Book Award, 2018 Independent Book Award winner, prize-winning author/artist with 9 books. Syracuse University grad, member CNY branch NLAPW, and Associate Editor of Clare Songbirds Publishing House, Auburn, NY. Her new memoir Eating the Sun a love story narrative punctuated by poetry and garden recipes available 4/2019 at Clare Songbirds Publishing House.

That woman is me

The woman sat flaccid-bottomed on bath lip
squash of emotions beneath sturdy hips
pieces of her, no-one ever sees
water on full, hitting porcelain as drums beaten to recall
steam filling small room, obscuring
her grave emptying breasts as they urge to droop lower in hour
whisper of a nipple, against empty arms
when was the last time? She felt hands on her
lifting drummed grief within, recoiling of sadness for
blur and smooth music of touch?
Is she still a woman able to appeal?
or become the damp drying of paper walls
pealing and perishing with carved silence
and who would caress the broken parts of her
with equal ardor? Not minding
how her stomach rounded and slid
slightly sideways in its phantom gelatin mold
where the folds of her neck roosted
her opening legs a trust, erased
for she holds within herself an
eternity of scolds and loose threads
disliking the belch of flesh around her thighs
or the downward pull of stretched skin
marking its silver lines across her
like marauding seafarers
she is told she is beautiful
by those who over-use the word and
glut on dispelling fears like caged witches given
their freedom
but in her heart of hearts
where rosy trace of girlhood is long swept and vanquished
and mirrors are to be run past and shunned
the puckering of her forehead, and thin skinned clavical
knows the real scales of her drying self-hood curling inward
in its invariable regret
she is not the smooth melatonin
goddess of her dreams nor even young enough to stop
another heart with any part of her
physic movement or grace
yet she possesses still
a smile, pulled from depths, capable of
illuminating others darkness
and when she is not
angered by slouch of age and
hours spent hunched over making
worlds with words
withering in slow motion on the vine
of her choices and that stayed
moment she quit opening for sunlight
she remembers the fleet-footed
girl of yesterday, taken in the arms of those
who would give her ease from solitude
in their reverence of her youth
though, it is not now, now she is alone
the bath filling high and her wish
to step into hot water and be absorbed by fantasy
to be touched again in feelings now stored away
only taken out briefly when facing herself and
the strange quality of her diminishing reflection
a voice within
rarely permitted to verbalize
the absence and loneliness of her skin
for if it could speak
surely those words would, catch the damp of her
ardor and unsaid want and cry out
oh just once more! Let me feel the rounding
desire we take for granted in youth
a touch through time, relieving ache
of years spent sleeping, back to the wall
hands beneath pillows, unwanted in disappearing skin
the burning of such need
a fire beneath closed eyes
seeking refuge in other worlds
where you are as you were
and have always been
devoured by your passion
the feeling of you inside, reminding us both
of life abundant
without loathing nor reducing
that woman
reaching out
is me