‘I can’t believe your hair is like this. Don’t you even care about looking pretty?’

it’s morning again, a school day. mirror shows us, angled against each other. her hands tangle in my hair. i am hands braced into the counter, head on fire. i am not crying.

i am not crying.

‘You’re just like an animal, filthy. Look at your hair. People will think I don’t take care of you.’

instead of breakfast, she is trying to make me pretty.

‘I’ll teach you to care about your appearance.’

lark’s hair lays smooth and careful, nice neat waves against her cheeks. she’s looking down. alder’s hair lays nicely back away from her smile. they are so pretty, and i am learning my lesson.

scissors flash, snip snip, one two three. all my thoughts rain down, dark and turned inside out. she says g-d sees our thoughts, and knows our secrets. mine are filled with shadows. i hope no one reads them. i always hope g-d won’t be looking, but i know he sees.

and now they’re falling all around me.

‘There, now your hair won’t be tangled anymore. Say ‘Thank you, Mom’.’

i stare back at mirror, there are two faces staring back. her hands press me into being. we are still, reflected truths and secrets.

‘Mirrors never lie,’ she says that all the time too.

and it’s not lying now, all the curling wild mess around my head is gone. no more secrets, no more lying. now everyone will know what i am.

‘thank you, mom.’

‘You look like a grim little dog. I wish you’d smile more.’

air is cool on my neck, maybe now my prayers will be clean. maybe now they’ll fly up to heaven. maybe now g-d will make me happy.

‘Stop crying. Smile.’

nicki merrill

nicki merrill – guest post
it’s becoming more and more obvious that there are two choices in this, silence and speaking. i choose the speaking, because i cannot be silent anymore. this was wrong, it was all wrong.
nicki is a survivor, and a friend. this is her account of how she survived a christian boarding school and their abuse. what happened there should never have been allowed to happen. things like this are still happening. i hope that as we all tell our stories, our survivings, that the dark corners where abuse hides will be exposed.
burn it all down.


‘What are you, Shade?’

‘a sinner’

‘Louder, I can’t hear you.’

‘i’m a sinner’

‘And what does a sinner deserve?’


‘Hebrews 12:6, tell me what it says.’

door holds his shadow, house is hushed. everyone else sleeps. he says that g-d gives good dreams to those whose consciences are clear. mine is never clear, dark hunts me every night.

i wish i were a better person.

‘Say it. Are you listening to me? I asked you to say the verse. Tell me what you deserve. Tell me what G-d says about you.’

the words are new-writ into my heart, it was our verse today.

we write and write, we say and say them until they are the truest of all. until blue and sky are welded into brightness. g-d is everywhere, listening, knowing, seeing.

this is why we learn g-d’s word, so that all the reasons and the being will be understood. the verses never tell stars from sun, they never have shown bird and tree, only a measure of how evil i am.

and so the words begin:

‘for whom the l-rd loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every one who he receiveth.’

lamp gives away the dark, piece by piece.

he is hand to door, we are alone.

‘G-d says I must discipline you. You wouldn’t want me to disobey G-d, would you?’

there are no more words, only waiting.

‘We are going to do this until you repent. I hope it doesn’t take long this time, I’m growing tired of your attitude.’

hand to belt, buckle reports, skin folds.

1, 2, 3, 4, i count. i count for the thunder, for the rain. because he holds the lightning, quick and bright, it’s tracing lines along the dark.

but the lightning does not stop.

‘Have you repented? Why won’t you see that this is for the best?’

5, 6, 7, air is cold against fire. and fire is what sings from his hand. up, down, up again, buckle’s grounding power marks my numbers.

there are no windows, no blackbirds, no tree-leaf triangles to divide the world.

12, 13, 14, 15. i am divisible, divisible, by dark and by voice, i am divisible.

‘Stop crying, you brought this on yourself. You chose to sin, you chose this. Your tears will not soften my heart.’

20, 21, salt runs warm into the ground.

night stretches, covers, shatters around my ears.

‘Stand up, your sin has made you weak. Stand up straight. And keep counting, We’re not finished here.’

31, 31, 31, 31, 31.

‘If you can’t remember the next number, you can just start over. I can keep this going all night long, until you repent. I will see this spirit of rebellion broken once and for all.’

1, 2, 3.

i’m counting for the thunder, hoping for dawn.


i’ve been stringing, peter,
peter and paul, they’ve
lain out the lines, cut
between my grace and hope.

i’m still, sin-shaped,
unclean, between g-d and hell
small, smaller, smallest,
sanctify me now.

i, girl-child, inside
your kingdom come,
angels profaned, hell-named,
redeemed again, i die.


[continued from I cor 13. the shepherd’s gospel]

1. i am your shepherd; i made you want.

2. i forced you down into the grass: i led you to the stagnant waters. i made you drink.

3. i will choose to restore your soul: i make you obey, for my good name.

4. i made you walk through pain, you feared me. i am with you, always. my rod, my staff, they break your will.

5. then i prepared a table for myself, in your presence. show me love, anoint me. my cup overflows. do you thirst?

6. goodness and mercy follow me, for i am your shepherd. and i will dwell in safety forever.


‘I think you probably don’t know what it’s like to be without fear. I think, Shade, that you walk around afraid all the time.’

he folds back authoritatively into a chair. hands all folded, pleased smiles dripping from the edges. i may have fired this therapist, but the truth of it lingers.

he is right, i am afraid.

fear is the thing that walks inside my skin, along the shadows’ edges. it’s fear, fear that makes me jump, and fear that keeps me silent. it’s fear that drives my words, my breathing.

he is right.

lately i think about what to write, and i stop. before words can tangle my fingers, before they walk from letters into being, i stop.  and so words have piled behind my skin. teeth and tongue, they freeze.

they stalk the night.

there is no running that brings me farther from skin and truth. unshakable, it lingers. i could wish for another life, for a braver life. i could wish for the unmaking of every scar, but it would be a lie. there is only left the honesty of fear.

the truth is, that there was never any way for me to escape this world without having fear written into my bones. it’s the tattoo of knowing underneath every word, it’s the awareness of motion. fear was the language, the air i breathed. to survive, i learned fear.

fear taught me hiding, it taught silence, it taught the sorry of being. fear was ocean’s heaviest current, dragging under my light, my hopes, my dreams. fear taught the difference between a raised hand, and a fist.

i know the exits to a room, and i know where the wall is most solid. i can find the hiding spots with no effort, and i keep an open spot just in the back of a closet. fear syntaxes the world into brief verbs relating to nouns.

i hate myself for fearing.

i will never forget his words, the truths he gave. they are nails, rusted truths to cut through the scars.

‘Perfect love casts out fear, you know. So I don’t think you know how to love. If you did, you would not be afraid.’

maybe he’s right, and i can breathe these truths, until air is gone.

but i think i will defy him, i will sandcastle myself into the world, delicate structures of air, countering these currents.

i will ride this riptide until i am free.

I cor 13

[growing up, i heard about the shepherd and how he loved me so much. if i would only obey more, i would be safe. here is part of the shepherd’s gospel]

1. listen, i speak with the tongues of men and angels. i do not need love, you are the sounding brass, the tinkling cymbal. be silent, and bow before me.

2. i have the gift of prophecy, and i understand all the mysteries of g-d. i have all knowledge. i have all faith, i can move the mountains. i will have your love, i am everything.

3. i have bestowed all your goods to feed myself, not the poor. and then i gave your body to be burned, because you love me. it profited me everything. i do not need your love.

4. love suffers, love submits, love is sweet. love does not try to puff itself up. love does not try to exalt itself. love knows its place.

5. love does not behave badly, it is quiet and meek. love does not seek her own, and it does not get angry. love thinks no evil of me.

love submits.

6. love does not rejoice in my failings, i have none. it rejoices in the truth of my power.

7. love bears all things that i do. love believes all things that i say. love endures all the pain that i give to you. love always forgives.

8. love never fails. where there are prophecies, where there is hope of change, these will fail. i am powerful. i will always own you. because i love you.

9. you think that you know, but i know everything. you know nothing.

10. i am perfect, you are not. love me, and i will teach you that your knowledge can never compete. you need me.

11. you are a child, and speak as a child. but i am a man. i will take care of the child as i see fit. you are not a person. be grateful that i take care of you; love me.

12. you see everything through the glass darkly, you can’t understand the world without me. but i will always be there face to face. i will know you, i will know all your secrets.

i will own you.

13. now i have taught you the three things, faith, hope, and love. have faith in me, and hope that you learn to do better.
then i will love you.

the greatest is me, love me.


it is sunday, g-d’s day, and i am unholy.

sun falls red against closed eyes. i string no prayers here. all this time, everyone said they were the tiniest lights against dark. but i was so full of dark, they never did more than lay broken-hearted on the floor.

i am feet to water, stone for ground.

river roars itself dry about my ears, and it gasps cool against fear-shrunken skin. sky comes blue, and sun is tag-tag-tag, you’re it. i am light on water, light and shadow.

there is no more night.

i have laid to rest one more demon. we worship not at the altar of pain and fear, there is no giving plate, no songs to sing.

because i remember:

‘Look you, my brothers and sisters, you will know their g-d,’ and he shapes the air with little tick marks, hands neatly cuffed by his suit.

‘You will know their little g g-d by what they spend their Sundays on. Do they wash their cars? Do they mow their lawns? Are they…. drinking alcohol? Are they spending time with their children?’

nodding voices lift their amen from the pews. 

 ‘They will tell you that they love their children, their families. That Sunday is their only day to rest. I tell you this,’ and he shaped out fists into the pulpit’s edge.

‘I tell you this. Better were it that they died now, and faced the loving and holy anger of G-d. That they stand now before they commit one more sin on the Sabbath. The Bible says ‘remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.’ And they are not keeping it holy. They have profaned it. They have no love in them for their children.’

amen’s and thunder sound the same, but thunder only brings the rain.

amen’s come before death.

and he pauses.

‘Surely, surely you can see this. Surely you can see, my brothers, my sisters, if you loved your children, if you wanted them to live, you would be here. Here on Sundays, teaching them about G-d.’

he is handkerchief to eyes, soft words, small smiles.

the aisle fills with prayers.

i have killed this g-d. today, this g-d lays down face-first in the stream of bright love. she is wild-footed in the stream next to me. we catch frogs, and count the clouds. there are faeries hiding under rocks. her hands hold mine, without fear. there are mountains, and i have held the psalms at bay. not one has echoed strongly enough to steal my breath.

this sunday, there has been no praying.


i am winning.

i have hallowed no moments, and been no debtor coming before the g-d of heaven, hoping for one more moment in light’s grand warmth. i needed no bread, no stones. dark lays down, studded with sun’s red red warmth.

we are sacred, we are love.


sun settles, half pink, behind city buildings.

ash-wing, come the clouds. tipped in night, wreathed with coming dreams, wind sifts through branches. down, down, to my waiting face, cool air tangles helmet and words. he turns, helmet in hand.

this, this version i know. i know him best in this world. helmet to chin, i know his face. so many places, so many ways, i do not recognize him. but here, here at the rock, his silhouette, his smile, his face, i know so well. we have done this a hundred hundred times. we will do it a hundred hundred more, before the end of knowing.

we are habitual safety, familiar friendship.

rope is in, loop, loop, out. around, under, over, out. rope whispers through my hands. it has been too long, since we were tangled with gravity, leaning against rock, tasting sky.

i am fingers to rope, hand to side, eyes to sky.

it has been so long since i needed to look while tying my knots. we are both here, lost in an economy of being. small words, short-hand, we telegraph our knowing. he knows the curve of me against the harness.

we check the knots, we check the harnesses.

there are no hugs, no kisses. we never learned the language of scripted romance. we only know this, open air, sky hopes, and rock-faced peace. i fit against his shoulder, we lean together, move in and out of the bag for our gear.

we are figure-eighted to each other, a line of safety runs from me to him, him to me. we are. we are together. i finger the surface, fake rock, impressive texture. feet bared to ground, he forgot our shoes.

we will climb anyway.

‘i remember when i finally figured out how to tie this knot’

he looks up from coiling the rope, a small nod, a smile. i know he’s there.

‘i’m so glad you took over teaching me to climb. i think i would have quit.’

and we’re ready.

he used to lead, he used to climb first. he placed all the first pro, and clipped our ropes to rock. he led, i followed.

today i lead.

‘on belay?’

‘belay on.’


‘climb on.’

i fit myself to rock, fingers chalked with peace. sky calls.

we are still, still, against night’s promise.

we never managed to knit our selves, our bones, our hearts, with the g-d of making and being. we never managed to acquire that worship and study time together, or the proper roles. we slid along the edges, stone and snake for bread. we came, we tried, we listened, we prayed. but g-d never found his way into the us of our togetherness.

i have left g-d, i leave every day.

he has not, and yet we are still the us we have been. a little more solid, a little less afraid, a little more belonging, they all twist up into the rope. from me to him, from he to me, we have braided up the light.

he holds my rope, and i climb.


clock’s hands push towards lunch.

we rustle, settle, rustle, settle, restless for the bell. everyone’s lunch stays in the kitchen, so there’s no stealing. lunch is earned, one verse, one right answer at a time.

so everyday, we are a polite line of  ‘good morning, ma’am’, lunch to basket, coat to hook, feet to chair. it is bible-open time, pledge-saying time, learning-time. we memorize the chalk lines across the board. there are no questions, no asking, only memorizing. for every right answer, clock moves farther away from morning.

lunch is coming.

last night, dinner smelled so good. and i cleaned and cleaned, each plate lined up against the sink. food muddied and cold, i know better than to steal. frijoles and tortillas, sour cream, lettuce, and tomatoes. all is accounted for.

but there is lunch.

clock keeps ticking, we recite our prayers. each word hoping, sifting, sighing towards light. 11 o’clock, light brings yellow hope into our basement room. mrs. teacher begins to smile.

‘Class, line up for lunch.’

‘The last shall be first, and the first shall be last,’ i hear his words.

they are everyone’s words. somehow the first are always first.  the last, are last.

i know my place.

table’s set with food, we line up, we pray again. there is never enough of g-d blessing our food, never enough of confessing.

‘Give us this day our daily bread, forgive our debts as we forgive our debtors.’

we owe so much to g-d, it is unending.

i hope lunch is not cold.

‘What is that? What is that you’re eating?’

white bread and bologna, american cheese, her hands are layered with normal. nice squares divided into triangles. everyone knows that triangle sandwiches taste better than anything. she has potato chips.

i wish we had store bought bread.

‘it’s tortillas and frijoles.’

‘You mean it’s dog poop, that’s what you mean. You’re so gross.’

‘no, it’s not.’

‘It is, and you know it. Your mom is a n*****. That makes you one too. You can’t pretend. Your hair is n***** hair. You’re so ugly.’

‘that is not true! it is not! we are mexican.’

‘Shade, if you can’t be quiet, you will have to visit the principal’s office for correction. Please remember, ‘Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child…’

‘but the rod of correction will drive it far from him.’

‘That’s right. I’m glad to see it’s finally sinking in. Now eat your lunch.’

mrs. teacher walks away.

i wish we had white bread and bologna.