Creative Nonfiction: Self-Care
By Tammy Delatorre
Everyone craves a cure from past pain. Mine comes in the form of a martini glass. I’m sure it represents the birth canal or a mother’s breast. But forget the psychobabble for now—nobody wants to hear how my mommy left me when I was six. Let’s get down to brass tacks and talk cocktails. The double-oh-7 variety—vodka, shaken, lemon twist—simply won’t do. I’ve indulged in the Apple, Lemon Drop, and Cosmo, and finally come to roost on a Bombay Sapphire Gin Martini, straight up, with as many olives as can fit in the glass. I turn to my accomplice, a guy I picked up in the Chili’s parking lot. “I like my alcohol to taste like gasoline,” I say. He gives me a sheepish grin. A beer drinker at heart, he has no idea how to respond. It’s just nice not to be alone for a change. The waitress bellies up with her tray. Usually, I base my tip on the number of olives I’m served. Most manage two. Some three. This server has had the good sense to put four olives on a toothpick in my glass and another four of the same skewers on an accompanying plate. I palm her a Jackson and take a sip. Bless the bartender’s heart. He’s shaken with such vigor; the liquid is glacial.
I hide another hurt down the trapdoor of my trapezius. I shut the hatch and tried to forget how a man yanked my arm and tore me apart. That was in my twenties. It’s an old wound now, festering in the mesa between shoulder and neck. The soreness crinkles my brow, dries my throat, makes me want to weep among this audience of strangers. All eyes are on the emcee, so I place my hand on my chronic pain companion, massage the knotted muscle, and wrangle the tightness down to the blade. A new poet takes the podium. The twinge snaps back, sending a thousand BBs down to gnarled fingers. I rummage in my purse for the relief that I know is there. The rattle gives the bottle away. Two dark-salmon tablets, I toss them back and dry swallow. Then listen: The poet’s lines luminesce as if from the depths of a murky lake, and the little fry swim upstream to the source.
Molested at the age of six, perhaps that’s why I require special care and handling. In a recurring dream, I see the girl I once was. Except this time, I’m not the girl but the predator. Inhabiting the mind of my abuser, I think his thoughts: Look at this soft cake. Why would it be left out if not for me to taste? Roughly strew the fresh pastry, greedy fingers first, then the other fingers follow. Overwhelmed by the scent of alfalfa, the spongy texture of vanilla Bundt fresh from the oven, so warm it makes this man milk. I wake with the swallowed scream of my youth, returning as if to a penny always face down in the dirt, sorry it can’t be brought back to its original sheen. But now I have it: the gift of hypnagogic transformation. In my next REM cycle, I take the form of a she-wolf and gnaw his phalanges down to their dark and gritty marrows.
Tammy Delatorre grew up on the Big Island of Hawai’i and now lives in Los Angeles. She was a Steinbeck Fellow and received support from Barbara Deming Memorial Fund, Summer Literary Series in Tbilisi, Georgia, and Writing by Writers Mill House Residency. Author Cheryl Strayed selected her essay, “Out of the Swollen Sea,” as a Payton Prize winner. Her writing has appeared in Los Angeles Times, Good Housekeeping, Salon, Vice, The Rumpus, and other venues.