Adriana Van Manen | Princeton Day School | Princeton, NJ
The emergency room doctor fainted at the sight of my lacerated shin. My mom caught him gently and screamed for someone to shoot me up with lidocaine and epinephrine.
To this day, I fear that I will start to spew blood or words that will make everyone swoon to the carpet.
As we drove back from the hospital, my dad turned. “We’ll have you back up and running soon, Locomotive.” I refused to answer to my actual name. I followed a track of endless light that no one else could see. At night, I stayed up just to hear the wail of distant trains.
My mom took a photograph right before the accident, before metal rakes or sharp fantasies of being a garden fairy could puncture my skin. The light is violet and furls into darkness. My little sister’s face is blurred, edging towards the camera as if to swallow it. My homemade dress is slightly too large and my head tilts to my shoulder like a lily of the valley. Although I always face the camera, I never quite look at it.
I crouched in the cherry tree as my mom leaned against it, smoking and talking on the phone with my grandmother, a hoarder who watched shows about hoarders and said: Oh, how sad.
I interrupted and asked her to take me to a junkyard.
“Why Locomotive?” she asked, tossing her cigarette up into the cherry tree.
“Because I’m done here. I don’t like strip malls.”
She tried to calm me down, tucking me into bed with my unicorn Beanie Baby. Then, she left to set up for a dinner party. I covered my body in fifty-five Post It notes that said ‘Kill me’ and hobbled downstairs like a martyr in a puritanical town square.
My grandpa was diagnosed with cancer. An Italian cigar burning, burning out, the memory of him scoffing at a magician on my sixth birthday. Then there was only the magic of morphine, his pain hidden like a trick. I had dreams in which my stitches unfurled and doctors stuffed the sky down my throat like endless silk Houdini scarves.
He was my mom’s daddy and we scattered his ashes in the park.
That night, I did my homework at the kitchen table. “I’m making eggs, Locomotive.” Then my mom turned toward the sizzling pan and slammed her palm down upon it, as if she was making one of those baby handprint keepsakes. My dad pulled her out of the kitchen, chugging: ItsokItsokItsokItsokItsokItsokItsok.
I had one friend. Her name was Olivia. I often looked at her and said, “You’re weird.” “No, you’re weird.” And then together, “We’re both weird.”
Olivia and I liked to break things in order to understand them.
We went into her parent’s room and found an alarm clock. For about an hour, we took turns hurling the clock against her wall until it cracked lovely and horrifying silver insides. I sat on the stairs of her loft with a metallic cog in my mouth, trying to feel the idea of breaking the clock run down from my brain into my hands.
Then, I jumped and it felt like a train was rushing through a tunnel in my stomach.
I did not break when I landed.
My stomach did not open like the glass belly of the clock. I could not reach into the slit on my shin and pull out timetable to understand why a shrill alarm had not yet rung for me.
How strange it was be alive when so much around me (my toys and pages of homework and light up sneakers) was dying.