It Was Once Like This Before

Kelly Sundberg


It was once like this before.   Not enough to mention.  Not enough to disregard. 

I thought—we are not of the same class; we could never marry—but I am already married to a man who writes of killing puppies with a stone. It is a mercy I do not understand because I have never personally seen him kill a puppy.

Now I am going to tell you a story of a girl who drank wine from a trash can in a plastic house (it was me).  This story is true, (or maybe not).  I appropriate often.  The wine was homemade apple; the glass was a measuring cup.  One cup was generous.  One-half cup was lonely.

This house: it was made to look like wood.  Lovely home, I said (but I didn't mean it).

Now I am going to tell you a story of a man named Lyle.  He was kicked in the head by a horse.  This story is true.  He shook when he spoke, or spooked, or stuttered.  He told me about Jesus (or Judas) who was only fulfilling his destiny.  God betrayed him.  It was not the other way around.

He also told me I had lovely teeth.  Like snow.  Or frost.  People are so predictable, I said.

Now I am going to tell you a story of a pregnant stripper in a boat.  This story is true. No appropriations.  She told me about a woman who held an apple in her mouth while her lover kissed the backs of her thighs.  It made her so sick.            

I stared at the pregnant stripper.  That is not my child, I said.  Of course not (she told me), you already have a child.  You tell him how special he is, too often.  He will grow up with narcissistic tendencies.  You will love him interminably, but he will have little regard for you.

Still, that is not what we are talking about now.

We are talking about a little girl who stepped onto a dark balcony (it was me).  Foot landed on softness.  Squishy.  Such a childish word for dying—for a kitten.

She asked me (that pregnant stripper), what is it that you want to write about?  I told her that I want to write about sadness or poverty.  

But you can't (she told me); because the absolute value of sadness is sadness, and the absolute value of poverty is sadness.  They are the same distance from zero on the number line.          

I held that tiny kitten in my hand—its heart exposed—beating rapidly—and I cried and cried and cried. No.  I won’t, I said.  I won’t hold this heart in my hand.