The moment you feel the blow — the weight of his right shoe arc between your thighs and buttocks and strike your pubic bone — you are looking at a picture book of San Francisco. It leans against a high shelf in the garage. As you are sent inches above the concrete floor, you are thinking about the city’s hills and streets, as you have since you were 12, and about a feeling you believe you’ll never lose once you get there: the emancipation of womanhood.
The dream of San Francisco began a few years after a plate picturing a nobleman’s farm shattered against the brick fireplace, after starburst holes were kicked into hollow wood of a bedroom door. It was the summer your father’s rage turned its gaze from the house to your older sister, who is heavier, stronger, who fights back. Like a man, you considered, clutching your mother, the two of you watching them swing. The way he hit her, you could tell, was calculated. Math.
The moment you feel the blow is part of a spring day good for washing your mom’s car, unless you leave the hose out, distracted by Tom Petty on the stereo, by the neighbor’s new dog.
The moment you feel the blow marks the day the headaches return, is a hinge on which your father’s rages turn from the house, to your sister, then to you.
You haven’t yet sat with a chiropractor in Richmond, looking at x-rays of your neck. When was the car accident? he will ask. He’ll claim he is uncannily adept at reading x-rays. No accident, you’ll answer truthfully. Your neck is an uneven zag, a wonky post. Beside the x-ray of your neck is a picture of a healthy neck. Its arch resembles a dance notation for a ballroom move. Ask your parents, the chiropractor will advise. I bet you were in a car accident and don’t remember. Later, you will laugh to friends, My neck is a lightning bolt! Crookedest neck in the world.
But that comes later. Now, as you sail through air, awash in shock, in shame, it doesn’t occur to you, as it will not long from now, that if you make yourself small, he won’t get angry. You don’t consider that if he would talk to you, you wouldn’t even mention the headaches.
The moment you scramble up, head buzzing with alarm and already strategizing your own saving, you have no way of knowing one day you’ll be okay, because this day begins the years when nothing is.
You don’t know you’ll wade strange tidings of a house with holes in doors and gravy stains on walls, with chips in the dining room table from broken glass.
Right now, you only know the sound of a dog barking, of water gurgling over gravel from a garden hose, and that when your father’s shoe scuffs rising from the concrete, you are looking at a picture book of San Francisco.
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