Watch. Always watch. The day watch. The night watch. Never turn your gaze. There will be signs. This is how the mouth will curve. How the brow will bend. The eyes will have that look. That look.
Listen. Listen to the language of sighs. This is the sigh of disappointment. This one, frustration. Sighs of anger. Impatience. Best to shut your mouth.
Open. Open those ears. Those ears. Better yet, like the roaches in the kitchen, grow antennae. Pick up the sounds of quiet. This quiet means Mom’s gone to la-la land. This quiet means she’s planning something. This is the quiet before her storm.
Eat. Eat pudding when you feel like crying. Cookies when you’re confused. Hershey’s for fear. Save the ice-cream for terror. Stick your face in the bowl. Let the cool coat your throat, your stomach, your big, growing stomach. Soften the edges. Sharp corners everywhere.
Smile. Like this when you’re lying. Like this when you’re telling the truth, but she thinks you’re lying. Like this when you’re telling the truth, but she knows you’re lying. Like this when you give up.
Lie. Say you’re sick when you don’t want to see a friend. Say you’re sick when you want to skip school. Say anything when you want to get out of everything. When you want to disappear.
Build. Build a wall around you. Build it wide. Build it tall. Don’t let anyone in.
Study. Study people’s faces. Read their bodies. Take note of their smells. Become a social worker. Dream of saving all the sad children. Take their stories home. Volunteer at an animal shelter. One that kills the unwanted. Want them. Take them home before they get the needle. You’re the hero until you’re not. No one can save another. No one saved you.
Don’t. Never forget the don’ts. Don’t air your dirty laundry. (Let it stink up your home instead.) Don’t give yourself away. (She will think you have before you do, so you might as well.)
Don’t date a musician. Never date a musician. (But you can fuck a musician. Let him play all your strings.)
Don’t eat. Funny how those tables turn. Don’t eat breakfast. Don’t eat lunch. Don’t eat anything but string beans for dinner. Love your hunger.
Watch. Watch the eyes of boys around you. Watch the men.
Listen. How you make their breath quicken. How you make them spin. Make them spin. Make them spin.
Smile. Like this when they want you. Like this when you want them to think they have a chance. Like this when you leave. Leave before the thought of leaving even enters their mind.
Lie. On your back. On your belly. On the bed, the couch, floor. Lie. Lie. Lie.
Build. Build a dream, a world, an empty self.
Watch. As all the pieces tumble down.
Diane Gottlieb’s essays, stories, and reviews have appeared or are forthcoming in About Place Journal, The Longridge Review, 100 Word Story, The VIDA Review, The Rumpus, Hippocampus Magazine, and Entropy, among others. She has an MSW, an MEd, and received her MFA from Antioch University Los Angeles where she served as lead editor of creative nonfiction for Lunch Ticket. You can find her bi-weekly musings at https://dianegottlieb.com.
This piece was inspired by Jamaica Kincaid’s “Girl.”