“Choking on Words”

Alexis Burnette


The doorbell chimed, and the billions of interconnected neurons made me myself shut down. For vital moments, I stood frozen, as my brain effectively blue screened. When I moved again, it was not Alexis Marie Burnette doing so. It was pure and thoughtless instinct. The adrenaline was slamming into my heart like a cat onto a canary, and I did what many children would do in my situation. I hid. Without even a whisper of noise, as any could spell disaster, I hurled myself into a small alcove that connected the front dining room to kitchen and pantry, clinging with sweat coated hands against the white wall. My whole body quivered minutely with tension. I waited and cried out into my mind.

Please. No.

I could hear the shuffling taps from my swollen footed grandmother against the tan tiles approaching the fake wood of the door. She paused at the door. With dread, I peered out of my hidey-hole and hoped, and my grandmother noticed me then.

My eyes were a frozen lake blue against the snowy white bloodless skin of my face. I was silent, but my body language screamed out. Every ounce of flesh begged her. Every quiver of my body argued to ignore the door and hide out of sight.

But no, she hissed at me in a low whisper. One that notably could not be heard through the fake wood grain of the door. Get over here. Answer the door. It’s him. Her pale blonde locks seemed to have puffed up in outraged tuffs like a dog’s hackles. Her right cheek was wet with saliva from her snack, a strange result of her increasing age on her body.  

As I shook my head, everything else also trembled.

Ignoring my overturn of her order, she opened the door and called out a greeting, and the man came in.

“Hey, Pumpkin! Don’t you want to give your old man a hug,” My father, Joel Burnette, said, when he saw me.

The phantom memory of the polyester weave of a seatbelt pressing down suddenly and forcefully against my windpipe rises, choking me. The last time I argued with him, he made sure to stop his car in a sharp jolt hard enough to leave a red angry mark around my neck.

Pulling and stretching the muscles in my face, I fabricate a perfect reconfiguration of a smile, as I went up and hugged him. I had to close my eyes to help crinkle the edges of them, when I wore my face like a mask. The act had to be perfect; otherwise, he would hurt me. Though “accidents” like the seatbelt would still happen every once and a while; father preferred seeping poisonous words over putting fist to defenseless flesh. He would drip word upon word into my ears like vile ichor, till I would believe them. During that time when I was little, I wished for he would use the latter. I would hope for his fists. Maybe then, people would notice. Maybe then, people would believe. Maybe then, I would have had an easier time seeing that I wasn’t the monster he said I was.

I hope one day Jesus will forgive you for being such a cruel person to me, Honey. He once said to me in a soft rumble, as I tried to breathe past stinging tears and the tense pressure of a seatbelt around my throat.

Non-fiction piece by Alexis Burnette