July by Kristen MacKenzie

Editor Carrie Seitzinger, Editor's Choice, June 5th, 2017

"I open the gown reluctantly and brace for the ungentle probing I’ve come to expect."

Kristen MacKenzie Essay Nailed Magazine
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A personal essay by Kristen MacKenzie.

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It’s July and I don’t want to be touched.

Sun is coming in through the kitchen window. The wood floor under my bare feet is warm. Robins call from the neighbor’s yard.

I was here the day the family moved into this house, four July’s back, when the boy who’s just hit me was a baby, the same age as his brother in my arms.

Jacob has started to laugh, but it isn’t a happy laugh. It’s the sound he makes when he knows he’s doing something wrong and knows too that he won’t be punished.

I brace my hips against the sink and hold baby Henry tighter. From behind the closed door of the office across the kitchen, I can hear his mother on a conference call.

Jacob rounds the corner of the island and the laughter has gone up a notch, edging toward hysteria. Henry begins to cry as I squeeze him tighter, too tight.

I want to get in my car and drive home where no one can reach me. Jacob puts out his hand to grab but my foot slides across the floor as he passes me, tangles in his legs. There’s a moment of stillness after the sound of his weight crashing into the hardwoods, a moment long enough to hold the quiet like a gift, or an omen, and then both boys are screaming. I push the automatic words of comfort out loud enough to be heard over the noise, loud enough for their mother to hear.

He doesn’t touch me again the rest of the week.

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It’s May. I’m standing in a plastic surgeon’s lobby. This isn’t my first visit. I saw Dr. Wilk when I was 23, the same age my daughter is now. She was four then, and the happy, curious toddler had changed into a semi-feral preschooler following my split with her father. When being a mother had felt like the right choice, I’d taken the scars of it gracefully, but I wasn’t sure any more. I wanted my body back.

But nothing lasts forever, not even silicone.

I push the door open and step into the office.

When the surgeon enters the exam room he greets me briefly and then is silent, taking a seat in one of the chairs in a leisurely way and crossing his hands over his knees. He holds my eyes in unwavering look of appraisal. I hadn’t liked him when I was twenty-three, but something about the way he watched me made me feel wanted and I needed that; then. I feel sweat start to prickle in my armpits and begin a stuttering summary of my reason for coming.

He answers my questions and examines me briskly. I leave with a surgery date and ignore the feel of my stomach, heavy with the weight of something I won’t identify.

It’s late May. I am not healing well. The stitches have started to dissolve but one breast is hard to the touch. His nurses are soothing on the phone, but insistent; I need to go back in.

“Capsular contracture,” he pronounces. “I did warn you this might happen.”

I pull the edges of the gown to cover my chest.

“What‘s next?”

“Mostly just wait and see,” he answers, heading for the door. My body starts to wilt into the tabletop, letting go of the stiffness that seems to hold me up when he’s in the room.

But he turns around before reaching the door.

“Let me see something,” he says, crossing back to stand in front of me. I open the gown reluctantly and brace for the ungentle probing I’ve come to expect but he reaches with both hands and begins to squeeze. And keeps squeezing. The pressure forces my body hard against the table. I turn my head to the wall as pain blooms and suddenly I’m not in the room anymore. I’m ten, trying to explain to my mother that someone has hurt me “there,” pointing below the waist of my pajama bottoms, and she doesn’t understand. A ripping sound brings me back, a bright jolt in my chest as something breaks loose with the feeling of an ax-blow.

Dr. Wilk stands back, rubbing his hands in a motion of completion.

“Quite medieval but it does work,” he says and his voice sounds very different. Pleasure. He looks at me briefly and tells me to get dressed; he’s done.

I make the drive home and slowly remove my shirt. I can count the ten blue-red marks of his fingers imprinted on my skin, my breast beginning to turn the green-yellow of a madrona tree’s naked trunk. I am shaking; I haven’t stopped shaking since I left the office.

I want to throw something through the windows in front of me. I want to empty the bottle of pain pills left over from surgery and swallow them all. But I don’t. I scream so loud I feel like something in my throat has torn loose.

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July. The door of the office opens and Jacob’s mother comes out, looking first to the baby still crying in my arms and then at Jacob, huddled on the couch. She offers her arms to Henry, who has begun to chant “mama, mama.”

“I don’t know how you manage all day,” she says over the quieting sobs. My arms cross over my chest and I can feel the places where the bruises used to be, over the thump of my heart so loud I think I can hear it over the sound of the robins in the yard.

“Thank you for being so patient and gentle with them,” she says. Jacob holds the bruise on his leg and looks away.

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April. The baby in the stroller wears a pink bunting her mother picked out. We pass the flower market with its buckets of lilies and chrysanthemums, daisies and roses and her eyes go wide at the colors.

Jacob gave me tulips the day I left.

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Header image courtesy of Alison Antario. Visit her online, here.

Kristen MacKenzie Essay Nailed MagazineKristen MacKenzie lives on Vashon Island in a quiet cabin where the shelves are filled with herbs for medicine-making, the floor is open for dancing, and the table faces the ocean, waiting for a writer to pick up the pen. Her work has appeared in Brevity, Rawboned, GALA, Extract(s) Daily Dose of Lit, Maudlin House, Blank Fiction, Cease, Cows; Crack the Spine, Eckleburg, Referential, Bluestockings, NAILED, Knee-Jerk, Minerva Rising, Mondegreen, Prick of the Spindle, Crab Fat, Wilderness House, Poydras Review and Diversity Rules. Her short story, “Cold Comfort,” placed in Honorable Mention in The Women’s National Book Association’s annual writing contest.

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Carrie Seitzinger

Carrie Seitzinger is Editor-in-Cheif and Co-Publisher of NAILED. She is the author of the book, Fall Ill Medicine, which was named a 2013 Finalist for the Oregon Book Award. Seitzinger is also Co-Publisher of Small Doggies Press.
Learn more about her at her official site.