False / Memory / Psychosis
What’s the difference between memory and imagination?
Synapses that fire at recall are responding to images and emotions (re)created in our brain. The same brain that is responsible for interpretation and response to all our imaginations and desires. And fears. Who is the gatekeeper of these manifestations? How do we tell the difference between what is real and imagined?
There was a period in my life when I feared I was experiencing False Memory Syndrome. The flashbacks I was getting, induced by present trauma triggering past trauma, were so real, so visceral, how could they not have happened to me?
I could feel the leather belt across my back, my bare buttocks. I could hear it whistle as it whipped through the air. The grunt of my father’s effort as he raised his hand to strike. Again. And again.
And then the moment of uncertainty, the glitch in the film, where the celluloid skips and stutters and you think you know what you saw, or rather felt, but can you be so sure?
You stand behind me, as I kneel on the floor, exposed from the waist down. The chill in my parents’ bedroom gives me goosebumps. The shiver of fear. You instruct me to kneel against the bed, my face buried into the heavy counterpane and its multiple blankets – this is the early ‘80s, the days before duvets, at least in our house. I stretch my arms out to grip the covers, something to hold on to, to give me support, some comfort.
Then from behind me, your presence looms like The Iron Man which we’ve been reading in school. I hear you unbuckle your belt, slip its leather skin out of its poorly-sewn
polyester hooks. Then a pause, as you grasp it tightly in your hands, your anger increasing from the subtle pain you like to inflict upon yourself as you press the brass buckle into your own hand. You will not use the spiked end against my unblemished skin. You’re not a monster.
And then, do I imagine this?
Did I imagine it then and what I recall is a memory of that feeling? Or am I projecting now my current fear, horror and experience of violation onto a young girls’ mind? My mind. My memory. Or imagination. My experience. My fear.
After the belt, the zip. I hear each of its metal teeth bared. Slowly. Your anticipation grows louder in the room. Bigger. Sucking up all the oxygen. I can’t breathe. Fear buzzes in my head, blotting out all other senses. Though I have a strange awareness of further exposure, a widening of shame. Are my mother and brother standing at the door watching? Waiting? Is it his turn next or am I being punished for both of our apparent sins this time? As the older one, the responsible one. The sin of being late home from walking with a friend after athletics club as his bike chain had broken and no one was able to fix it.
After the zip, the trousers. Loosened, lowered. The flesh of my bare behind shrivels and puckers in an attempt to escape, to be covered up again, safe and protected. Isn’t that what parents are meant to do, protect you? Make you feel safe?
Then, the moment I cannot be sure of, yet I feel it now, clear as day, thirty years later. Something soft and hard, something pushing against me, then inside me. Something painful. Was it before or after the leather belt slashed itself across my skin? Three, four, five times. I do not know.
I don’t recall the number, only the utter feeling of fear and shame, and a pain far beyond the physical. A pain buried so deep, it doesn’t dare to surface often, but when it does,
it floors me completely. I want to drop to my knees and cry into the bed covers like that little girl being punished so severely by her father for being late home after school one evening.
I wonder, are my current symptoms a manifestation of this buried pain? Is there an underlying stress fracture within me that triggers present tremors of fear and psychosis? A shifting of the tectonic plates that unleashes this hidden volcano.
My father would like that analogy, he was a geologist. Is.
He retired from teaching geology long after he retired from parenting.
Spin the Bottle
Spin the bottle spin it hard fast if you don’t look too close it don’t look so much you can kid yourself it’s just a glass it’s just a drop a nightcap a pick me up one for the road one for the lads one for the little girl who lived down the lane
Pick me up off the road i’ve been dancing with the cars again pick me up off the floor i’ve been propping up the bar again spin the bottle take your pick who’s going to take me home drunk tonight who is going to try their luck with an unconscious fuck tonight
Spin the bottle smash it hard slash the glass across your wrists again can you feel it yet? do you feel anything at all? it’s such a release to be finally numb
Spin the bottle watch it scatter the rats that skulk in the corners of your peripheral vision the spiders that crawl incessantly along your arms your fingers flicker before you forming strobe patterns on your face and you’re spinning and spinning inside the bottle drowning in its nullifying grace
Spin the bottle watch it fall as your hands shake your legs buckle and you struggle to form words to control bladder retain friends remain conscious regain sanity
JP Seabright is a queer writer living in London, who works in “information security”. They can’t say more than that, because then they’d have to kill you. Their work has been published in various print and online journals, much to everyone’s dismay. They are Assistant Editor for Full House Literary Magazine and their own work can be found cluttering up the internet at https://jpseabright.wordpress.com/ and on Twitter @errormessage