In 1981, I desperately want a Sea Wee doll. In the commercials, a delicate girl plays in a bubble filled bathtub while her mom kneels alongside her. I want that. I want to be in a bathtub and feel the safety of the water and the tickle of bubbles while my mermaid dolls floats in a sponge lily pad, and my mom lovingly hovers. I’m eight years old. I want my nudity to stop being the dirty thing it has become. I want to be safe.
“What would you do if you got one?” mom asks.
“I’d kiss that person and give them a big hug,” I say. This is unusual for me. I don’t like to be touched.
“Really?” she says. Her voice is creeping.
“Are you sure?” she says.
Her words are like a sharp grab and I feel unsteady.
“Yes,” I say.
On Christmas Eve, I open a gift with the doll in it. It’s from my father’s youngest brother whose persistent stare terrifies me. I don’t touch him or thank him. Instead, I’m overwhelmed with the feeling that I just bartered something. It feels sickening.
My dad’s youngest brother hates me into my twenties.
Standing on the church steps for wedding photos, I see the angry veins on his face. I’m a bridesmaid at my brother’s wedding. I’m wearing a red strapless dress that makes me feel vulnerable and naked. Over the dress, I’m wearing old shame like a threadbare coat.
He’s a pastor and has just married my brother to his new bride.
I hear the photographer tell us to smile. He’s posed us while the pastor watches. The happy couple are at the center while the bridesmaids flank from above and the sides.
“Mireya,” the pastor’s voice booms over the shuffle of dresses.
“You’re up high right now. I bet you really like that,” he says, “But don’t for one second think you are better than anyone here.”
I’ve cried throughout the ceremony. It feels like I’m losing my brother. I turn to the pastor’s voice but I keep my gaze at his shoes. I imagine the robes flapping, his teeth long and perspiring—the froth forming at the corners of his mouth. I look up and he is simply glaring at me. But in my imagination, he’s trying to consume me.
He is arrested in 2006. To evade police he drives from his home in Sunland to his mother’s house in El Monte—next door to the house where I grew up. The newspaper headlines read “Pastor and Son Arrested on Charges of Child Molestation”.
After the arrest I realize that in his mind, I somehow twisted his lust. I was a 2 year old or a 6 year old or a 10 year old with the power to move him away from god. He’d molested the girls in his church. He’d molested the girls in our family into their teens.
As an adult, when I wake up from nightmares, I take quick stock of my surroundings. My biggest fear at that moment of wakeful confusion is that I will open my eyes and see the beige door to my room at my mother’s house. I look for the windows and sense the tightness of the air. It always takes me a moment to realize I’m safe. I reach for my husband. If I’m able to touch him, my alarm diffuses. If he’s not there, I listen for the sounds of his feet upstairs.
That moment, when I am stuck between awareness and the pull of the dream, I’m terrified. I wouldn’t relive my childhood for anything in the world. My creativity is born in the imagination, a space that is so much like hynagogia, it’s likely the two are married. I am working to accept this space in my mind where ideas both good and bad float like butterflies. I don’t own that space. It’s where all artists go. It’s where girls sit in bathtubs with mermaid dolls imagining safety and a mother who watches over her.
That moment between the creations of the imagination and the awakeness of reality, that’s where I’m stuck for him as well. That’s where I live. I’m not alone there. It’s also a place for pastors.
Mireya Vela is a recent graduate from Antioch University’s MFA writing program. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, children and animals. “Hypnagogia” is soon to be published in “Vestiges of Courage” published by The Nasiona.
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