I used to practice leaving my body. Closing my eyes in the shower, letting the spray beat on my forehead, forcing my pulse to drop. Id breathe in the steam as slowly as possible. Id pretend to drift out of my flesh and over the top of the shower curtain, slip out the open window.
The first day that it actually worked, it lasted only a few seconds. I was in bed, in the dark, too restless to sleep. I imagined I was a shooting star falling backwards away from earth, and the next moment I wasnt under the covers anymore. I opened my eyes to find myself cocooned between silver foil and cotton-candy-pink insulation, planted halfway in my bedroom wall. I could lean down and look out through the wallpaper. At first it felt normal. My body lay below like a crash dummy, pale and too stupid to save itself. Is that what a dead body looks like? Then the idea of being dead made my spirit zip into my flesh again so fast, the mattress shook.
But the second time, when it really worked, I wasnt thinking about leaving my body at all. I didnt even realize what was happening until it was too late. Some part of me decided to escape without needing permission from my brain.
For the first fifteen years of my life, I had survived lots of bad days and never once ran away from home. Like the afternoon my parents discovered the photos Id taken of myselfI never saw that camera again. I should have stashed the pictures in a better place. I thought Id been more clever about hiding my diary. Still, on the day I left my body, I came home from school and found my father was holding it in his hands.
For such a small book it held an enormous weightthe most disturbing things my father could imagine, I guess: my true thoughts and feelings, things about me he had no control over.
My parents had been giving me a hard time that week because I didnt get straight-As on my midterms. They couldnt understand that I wasnt slacking offI was sick. I couldnt sleep for more than ten minutes at a time. Light bothered my eyes. Sudden sounds made me jump and want to cry.
According to my father, the problem was that I was failing to live up to my potential. He reminded me that the devil tempts us with idle distractions.
I was in trouble so often, Id gotten in the habit of pretending not to understand that my faults were sins, then acting grateful when my parents taught me the right way to behave. That worked for the little stuff: failing to excuse myself from a sex education lecture at school, talking to a strange man in the grocery store parking lot who wanted directions, walking to the park without asking permission. But this was serious, worse than the photos of myself that my father fed into the shredder.
Now, with my secret writing in his hands, my father looked victorious. I knew you were wicked, his eyes told me. And youve proven me right with your own words.
The Prayer Corner, at one end of our family room, was just three chairs used for family Bible study, prayer, and punishment. My mother and I sat down in our usual seats, but my father wouldnt sit.
Is this a true reflection of your soul? he asked me.
Why hadnt I kept it in my school locker?
You may answer, he said, as if I was waiting for permission to speak.
I dont know. In my mind I ran through what Id recorded on those pages. What was the worst thing?
Your mother and I live our lives before you as daily examples of walking with Christ, he said, but it seems weve been giving you too many freedoms.
He set the diary on his chair and slipped a shiny black square from his pocket. As he unfolded it, I saw that it was an extra-large garbage bag. I felt like a kitten about to be sacked and drowned.
He didnt command us to come, but when he walked out into the hall, my mother followed, so I did too. She glanced back at me, and I thought her face would be stiff and angry, but she looked afraid. Maybe I wasnt the only one who had a secret diary tucked away.
When we got to my bedroom, my father was already sliding around hangers in the closet, examining my clothes. He studied my skirts and sweaters, dresses front and back, leaving some items on their padded hangers and slipping others off, letting those drop into the sucking black hole of the garbage bag.
I knew why he took away my blue tank top and the cotton camisole; the necks were a little low, the straps narrow. But I could only imagine why other items were unacceptable. My black jersey jacket. Was the cut too rock-and-roll for him? And my brown knit skirt. It was expensive, from Nordstroms, one my mother picked out. She gasped as he unclipped it from the hanger, but when my father paused, not even looking at her, she put a finger to her lips and said nothing. Was it because that skirt came more than an inch above my knees?
He opened my dresser drawers and began to rifle through my underwear. I felt dizzy. Not because my father was touching my panties and bras, but because I was afraid that when he got to the lowest drawer hed discover the false bottom and the secret compartment below. I stepped back and sat on my bed, breathing slowly, in through my nose, out through my mouth, trying not to throw up. That bottom drawer might seem too shallow to him. He might rap on the bottom, knock the cardboard loose, and find those few black-and-white photographs that hed missed before. And the Polaroid camera I could use without getting the pictures developed at the store or downloading them on the computer. I felt my knees shaking and clamped my hands over them.
Both my demi-cup bras and the black cotton one went in the garbage bag. I could feel my mother longing to object, seeing as how neither of my parents would want a white bra showing through under a black dress. But Mom held her tongue and the black bra, perhaps a sign of goth tendencies, disappeared into the plastic bag.
My father hesitated in earnest about the pantyhose. My mom stiffened, folded her arms, afraid he would make a mistake and I would be caught in Sunday School with naked legs like some pantheist. But he left the stockings and moved on to the pajamas. He passed over the long-sleeved flannel nightie, but banished the thin white cotton one. He felt the jersey pajamas between his fingers perhaps to test how flimsy they might be. Did he imagine I would answer the door in them some Saturday morning and seduce a Mormon missionary?
He left the pajamas, an innocent color of pale yellow, and moved to the bottom drawer. I held my breath. But all he did, when we saw the mass of mittens, gloves, knit hats and mufflers, was to pull out a black lace shawl. He slid the bottom drawer closed without disturbing the secret chamber.
I was sure it was over, but he stepped to my dressing table and started picking things up. He stole my violet perfume and lifted the lid of my jewelry box. I didnt have pierced ears, so there wasnt a lot to choose from. Still, he took a silver bracelet formed from a row of running figures holding hands, a cheap mood ring, a plain gold anklet chain, a pendant of a pewter feather. He left the crosses and the birthstone hair clip from when I was ten.
I already missed my tank tops, my soft black jacket, but more heartbreaking, he went to my bedside table and unplugged my CD player. I had already learned to check out books I wanted to read from the school library and to leave them in my locker until I returned them. My parents ...