Mental Illnest


You cruised by today, feathers articulated, insides spread out and pinned like a lab specimen.

Free as a bird.

I’d thought.

Long ago.

Once, I picked you up from nursery school in Mom’s Dasher—car of the terminally uncool and the Catholic—a scowl as my armor.

Your teacher sidled up to the car with the fake friendliness of women of conformity and agenda, as you opened the door to climb in. She didn’t help you. She zeroed in on me.

“Do you all have bird names?” she asked with a pasted on smile, stealing a glance at a teacher friend by the next classroom.

The question was hardly original.

“Yes, we do,” I answered, diffident, checking my fury, wanting to choke her, the one you loved who you were sure loved you just as much.

“I know the youngest is Robin….” Mrs. Busywhatsit was trying to be conversational, leaning in the window, an alliance that would end as soon as she was done with me.

I thought about Robin. Her hair had been growing so well. She’s better, I’d hoped, until she’d woken up one morning a few days earlier, a large clump of hair pressed to her big bird pillowcase, a new bald patch catching the light from the louvered blinds. The safety pins I’d used to pin the socks over her hands had opened somehow.

“Yes. My other sisters are crow and heron.”

She looked confused and didn’t know what to say.

“And my name is albatross.”

“Bye, bye Mrs…,” you piped from the backseat.

I drove slowly around the circular driveway. That school was quaint, set up like a little village with individual buildings and white picketed gardens for each class, charming in the way of village-of-the-damned places and uniform blonde children with pageboy haircuts, my mental brick wall dividing us and our fecal colored car from the mainstreamers.

About to make the right turn on Grant Road, a challenge with eyes brimming with tears, you said.

“I didn’t know your name was albatross.”

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