did you know :

by dori saltzman

"Did you know that all over the world, people are squeezing their toothpaste tubes the same way? From the bottom?" I asked her. As usual she didn't respond to my question, didn't even acknowledge that I had spoken. "And that if you happen to squeeze your toothpaste tube in the middle, someone, sooner or later, is bound to point out to you that you should be squeezing from the bottom, in order to get the most toothpaste out of the tube?" Still no response. "All over the world. In all different languages, mothers teach their children to squeeze from the bottom." I wanted to demonstrate what I meant to her. To show her with my hands, and not my voice, the difference between squeezing from the middle and squeezing from the bottom, but my arms were tightly bound to my chest so that I was forever hugging myself. I was unable to use my hands for anything but scratching my sides.
"Or did you know...Did you know there are some species of frogs, where the eggs gestate in the male and he gives birth to the babies through his mouth?" Just for a second she looked up at me, blinked and then continued writing in that notebook she was always writing in. The same notebook she always showed Dr. Canon, when he came to see me every Thursday. Although, I hated Dr. Canon, hated his phony attempts at conversation with my mother and hated his probing questions, I always looked forward to his Thursday visits. It was the only time during the week when she spoke to me; the only time we held actual conversations. It was only in Dr. Canon's presence that she treated me like her daughter. It was also the only time during the week that I had free use of my arms. She would never want the Doctor to know that she made me wear the jacket all the time, so she removed it an hour before he was scheduled to arrive. He stayed for an hour and so I had two hours out of every week during which I could move my arms. After a week of inactivity, they were usually very sore and it always took me a half hour of stretching before I could pick something up, feed myself, or paint (the only creative activity I was allowed to engage in). The one thing I loved the most about these two hours was being able to use the bathroom without my mother standing over me, waiting to clean me up after I had finished. As soon as my arms were usable, I would go to the bathroom and right before Dr. Canon left I would go again. If Dr. Canon knew about the jacket, he would take it away from her, since he had given it to her only to be used during my Episodes. I longed to tell him the truth, about the jacket and about the Episodes, but I knew she would just deny it and ask him who he believed; Her, "the poor, struggling, lonely mother" or me, "the crazy, violent girl who had almost killed her last boyfriend". I knew he would believe her, and later after he left I knew I would feel the effects of having a loose tongue. I'd felt the effects before; I wasn't eager to feel them again.
"Did you know that the people who played the band The Mosquitoes on that one episode of Gilligan's Island were actually the real band who sang the Gilligan's Island theme song?" When I was little and my father was still alive, she used to sit with me and watch Gilligan's Island. I thought, maybe, she would remember, but she didn't seem to.
"Did...did...," I couldn't think of anything she might not know. "Did you know that in the original version of Peter Pan, Peter was barely older than a baby, who wore almost nothing, had tiny horns on his head and rode a goat?" She paused in her writing and her eyes moved towards the left hand drawer of her desk. I shut up. Sometimes, when she thought I was talking too much she would put her special muzzle on me. It was homemade from two belts and a bandanna that she had managed to sew together, in such a way, that when attached to my head, it buckled under my chin and over my mouth, I could only make low guttural noises. She seemed to prefer these noises to my talking. After a few moments of silence on my part, during which I could see her holding her breath in order better hear any noise I might make, she went back to writing. For a few minutes more, I sat silently, scratching my sides and letting random thoughts enter and leave my mind at will. When I could no longer handle the silence, I began to hum the theme to MASH, letting the only words I knew tumble through my brain over and over again. "Suicide is painless, it brings on many changes. And I can choose to make them if I please." She didn't seem to mind my humming and I continued for awhile until I bored of MASH and moved onto the theme from Cheers. When I'd hummed my way to the end for the third time I whispered, "where everybody knows your name".
The silence was growing too heavy for me, I wanted to hear her voice. Hesitantly, I coughed softly, "Umm, uhh what time is it?"
At first I didn't think she would answer me, but then her pen slowed. She rotated her head towards the clock, "11:45". That was all she said and then turned back to her writing. I have always wondered what it was she managed to write about all day. It couldn't have all been about me, I never got a chance to do anything, except lie down or sit up and occasionally go to the bathroom. Sometimes, I thought, maybe, she was making things up. I thought that when Dr. Canon read that notebook every, Thursday, he was reading about curses I never uttered, threats I never made, and Episodes I never went through. I think, probobly, she wrote mostly about herself. I think Dr. Canon came more to see her than to check up on me, at least in her mind he did. 11:45, it was almost time for lunch. I dreaded lunch time. At 12:30, on the dot, she put her pen down, stood up slowly, and without looking at me walked into the kitchen. From where I sat on the couch, I could see her take out a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, which she had made the Sunday before, along with six other sandwiches. She then took out a plastic cup, decorated with fading butterflies. She filled the cup with luke warm water from the sink and carefully emptied, into her palm, the contents of a small yellow container marked with the day of the week. Putting the sandwich, cup, pills, and a napkin on a light green hospital tray, she came back into the room, and sat down on the couch next to me.
She never asked me if I would take the pills willingly; she always assumed that I would fight her even though I never had. "I'll..." I started to tell her that I would take the pills willingly but she grabbed my hair roughly with her left hand, pulled my head back and with her right hand forced the pills down my throat. Then, picking up the cup she poured the water into my mouth until I swallowed. Letting go of my hair, and patting my head she would usually say "Good girl". The worst part of lunch time was over. I could relax now and was even, occasionally, able to engage her in one-or-two-word dialogues.
She sat next to me, breaking the sandwich into small pieces and placing them in my mouth at intervals of one minute apart. She switched on the T.V. Jenny Jones was speaking to a woman who, according to the caption under her face, was a victim of abuse by her adopted parents who had belonged to some cult. I thought how excited Jenny would be if she found out about me and my story. I could almost hear her introduction. As the camera slowly panned its way across my mother's face, Dr. Canon's face and finally my face, Jenny would be recounting briefly the details, of my life. My brief, but happy childhood, my father's tragic death, my mother's slow descent into severe paranoia, my abuse at the hands of her many boyfriends, the last of whom I had tried to kill with an electric steak knife. She would tell the audience how my mother had convinced the doctors that I was violent and unpredictable, and then had me committed to an asylum for a year. Jenny was just beginning to describe my return home and the sudden appearance of my "Episodes", when my mother turned the TV off.
"Did you know that the first inter-racial kiss on T.V. was on an old Star Trek episode? It was between Captain Kirk and Uhura and that in real life, their lips never actually touched?"
I asked her.
Sometimes, when she wasn't in such a bad mood, she would grace me with her feeble attempt at a smile. On this occasion, she even said "No, Aurelia, I didn't know that." She placed the last piece of sandwich in my mouth before I could ask her another question. She got up and took the tray into the kitchen. I could hear the water running as she washed it. I saw her take a plate out of the refrigerator and return to her desk. As she ate, she wrote.
I had an urge to get up and go look over her shoulder to see what she was writing, but I was only allowed to stand when I had to go to the bathroom. I had once been an avid reader; reading at least three or four books a week. I'd read any book I could get my hands on, no matter what the subject matter. I wondered if I had the chance, would I even be able to read anymore? It had been a little under a year since I'd held a magazine, or turned the pages of a book. She had taken them all away, shortly after my return from the asylum, after I'd thrown them at her during one of our fights. A fight which she would later refer to, while talking to Dr. Canon, as an "Episode". Not long afterwards, she'd convinced Dr. Canon that she needed to have a straight-jacket on hand just in case I became violent again. I wanted to ask Dr. Canon if I could be allowed to read a book again. I didn't think he would object, but I was too afraid of what she would do after he left. I thought, maybe, if he told her to let me read again, she would. I promised myself I would say something to Dr. Canon the next time I saw him.
"Did you know..." Her head moved slightly, looking in the direction of the left drawer. I halted in mid-question. I occupied myself for awhile trying to reach an itch on my leg by rhythmically rubbing it against the arm of the couch, but I couldn't reach it. I rubbed harder and harder until I could feel my skin begin to chafe and burn. To make up for my inability to scratch my leg, I began to scratch viciously at my sides. My heart began to pound and my breathing became labored. Afraid of what she would do if I started to have a fit, I determined to calm myself down. Reciting Robert Frost, my favorite poet, slowly, enunciating each word carefully, "Whose woods these are I think I know, his house is in the village though." I began to feel my pulse slow. "Between the woods and frozen lake, the darkest evening of the year." By the time I reached "And miles to go before I sleep and miles to go before I sleep.", my breathing and pulse rate were back to normal. I glanced over at her to see if she had noticed anything. She was still writing and once again seemed oblivious to my presence. Softly I sighed in relief.
I began to count the seconds in between breaths. How long did it take me to inhale? How long to exhale? As always, after counting for the first few seconds, I found that I was overly conscious of my breathing and couldn't seem to follow any natural pattern. I knew I had to start thinking about something else. I scratched my sides, and thought of nothing. I began to wonder what it means to think about nothing. I once saw an episode of The Greatest American Hero, where Ralph learns to make himself invisible by clearing his mind, and thinking of nothing. After he has succeeded he tells someone that in order to think of nothing he had to think about a blank piece of paper. I have always thought this was strange. Isn't he really thinking about something, if he's thinking about paper. How is that emptying his mind? I have often tried to think about nothing and have come to the conclusion that it can't be done. At least you can't do it if you're trying. Sometimes, we just think of nothing naturally, but the minute we become aware that we are thinking of nothing, we're thinking of something. I heard her switch on the lamp on her desk and I knew I had managed to get through a few more hours.
The silence again began to overwhelm me. I risked her anger and asked, "Did you know that Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein because of..." She stopped writing and lifted her head. For a second she reminded me of a dog sniffing the air for the scent of its pray. I didn't finish my question. Instead, I began to sing quietly to myself. Without realizing it, I began to sing the song my father always sang to me when he tucked me into bed. "If I could save time in a bottle, the first thing that I'd like to do, is to save everyday 'til eternity passes away, just to spend them with you."
I felt her movement even before I saw it. She jumped out of her chair and was standing over me. Her lips quivered in rage and her fists were clenched at her sides. "How dare you! It was you who killed him. If it weren't for you he wouldn't have gone out that night. He wouldn't have been in that convenience store getting you a slurpee. You were the one who tempted him, you little whore." In her anger, she always began to confuse situations; facts relating to past boyfriends mingled with the facts about my father. "It was you who drove him out there. You who invited his caresses. You who stole him from my bed, from my heart. And then you killed him. You plunged that knife right into his heart. You killed him." She screamed, and began slapping me, punching me. I wanted to defend myself, I wanted to lift my arms and protect my face, my body. She had mixed up my attack on her boyfriend with the murder of my father by gunmen. She had always thought my father loved me more than her. She believed that I stole all the men in her life away from her. She never believed me when I told her that I didn't want to have anything to do with her boyfriends. She didn't listen when I tried to tell her about their late night invasions of my childhood. She had never protected me from pain inflicted by others; now she didn't even let me protect myself from pain inflicted by her.
Curled up in a tight, fetal ball on the floor, I looked up at the woman who was my mother. Tasting the blood in my mouth, I asked her, just before another blow descended on my head "Did you know tomorrow was Thursday?"