When I Was Ten

Rebecca Fishow

When I was ten, Dad took me to the hospital, convinced there was something wrong with my head. I was nervous, but I trusted Dad knew what was best for me. “Little girls don’t have the kinds of fears you do, about hunger, the future, and death,” he said. “Be sure to answer truthfully when the doctor asks you questions.”


A nurse took my hand, led me from the waiting room to a kind of black box theater. This was a teaching hospital, and medical students filled the front row seats.  The nurse handed me a paper gown. I undressed, put it on, and climbed onto the examination table. The surgeon plunged a needle in my arm, and that’s when I passed out.


When I was eleven, I found a DVD of my operation hidden in the box where Dad kept his mistress’s love letters. Since I’d lost my sight in the operation, I could only listen to the surgeon as he spoke through the procedure for his medical students. “Now I am giving her an anesthetic. Now I am making the incision. Now I am carefully slicing around her head, easing free the upper cranium. Now I am placing the upper cranium on a sterile metal tray. Write this down. Nothing here but your average human brain.”  The last words he spoke, before the DVD ended, were, “Even surgeons make mistakes.”


When I was twelve, Mom took me for my annual checkup. The doctor asked a series of questions, which Mom answered for me, because I had no mouth. That surgeon had  put my upper cranium back on over my face, instead of on top of my head. It fit tight as a turtle’s shell around its fragile body. It covered my mouth and eyes. The doctor asked Mom, “Is she sexually active? Does she sleep well at night? How’s her mood?”


When I was thirteen, a boy from two grades ahead took me to his father’s woodshed. He held my hand and slithered his tongue around my brain. I imagined the boy looked a lot like he was licking an ice cream cone.  “Don’t be scared,” he said, and from the sound of his voice, I thought he must be handsome. The boy pressed my shoulders to sit me down, then said, “We’re just waiting for my friends.”


When I was fourteen, a punk rock kid said he’d seen my operation on YouTube, and I was the most punk rock girl he’d ever known. At the hardcore shows, he nudged me in the mosh pit. I kicked and punched and danced, and felt I might be free.  After one show, we were sweaty and tired. He led me to his car. I heard the doors click locked. “I want to try that tongue-to-brain thing you like to do,” he said. “How do you know about that?” I wrote to him on my little pad of paper.  “I saw it on YouTube,” he said. “You’re YouTube famous. Doesn’t it feel good?”


When I was fifteen I tried and tried to remove my upper cranium from my face. I pried with  pliers, and wedged a screw driver in. I tried cracking the bone with a hammer, but nothing made it budge. I tried placing my head on the bottom of the window, and slamming the pane down hard.


When I was sixteen Dad’s mistress posted a YouTube video, sent the link to Mom. Mom watched Dad bouncing up and down on top of this other woman. When it was over, I heard her pull a light fixture off the dining room wall, and chuck it at Dad’s head. “She isn’t even pretty,” Mom said. “She isn’t as pretty as me.”  Dad stumbled into the living room and collapsed onto the couch. He held his head between his legs. “I don’t love her for her looks,” he moaned. “I love her for her brain.”


When I was seventeen, to help Mom pay the bills after Dad moved out, I got a weekend job as a masseur’s apprentice, at a little parlor down the street. I cleaned the tables, washed towels, lit scented candles, made sure and the music was calm and quiet. Then one day, the masseur asked me to be her second set of hands. “But I can’t see,” I wrote to the masseur. “How will I know where to touch?” “Honey, women don’t need their eyes. All you need are your hands.


Now that I am eighteen, I am mostly home alone. Mom works day shifts and night shifts, at the nursing home. Tonight, the street is quiet, but I lock the front door anyways. I tuck myself into bed, and let my fingers massage my brain. I guide them around the soft mound of flesh and gently ease it out, then place my brain in the box where Dad’s love letters once lived. I carry the box to the yard. The hole I dig is three feet deep, and just wide enough for my brain.


In a couple months, I’ll be a high school graduate, and then it’s off to college. I’m supposed to know what I want to do with my life, but I really have no clue.  All I know is I’ll have to be an adult, and take care of myself. When I am ninety-eight I imagine I might dig my brain back up, and place it in my head where it belongs. But if I’m going to make it in the wide real world, I’ll keep it safe here until then.


Rebecca Fishow is the winner of the Holland Prize, and author of the forthcoming story collection, The Trouble With Language (Trnsfr Books). Her work has appeared in Quarterly West, Tin House, Joyland, Connotations Press, The Believer, Smokelong Quarterly, and other publications. Her chapbook, The Opposite of Entropy, was published by Proper Tales Press. She holds an MFA from Syracuse University. Find her at rebeccafishow.weebly.com.