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differences

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June has curfews and cannot stay outside when it is dark or raining. She retreats to air-conditioned rooms in the summer and during fall through spring she goes to school most every weekday without thinking about why she must go, or who established such a rule. She rarely considers why she has to stand in line to get her lunch, or why there is only milk to drink. She plays small roles in class plays and blends in nicely to the background. One year, she plays a horse in Cinderella and is thankful she does not have a speaking role. (She is also thankful she does not have to wear a dress.) She enters science fairs and wins every year. She tacks her medals on a bulletin board in her room, but does not consider that she was recognized for creativity or innovation, only that she did something better than the other kids. June saves her nickels and quarters and buys candy and pop at the small corner store a few blocks away. As long as her parents do not see, she can eat as much candy as she wants. She rarely gets bellyaches and still does not quite understand why women use Kotex. June saw a cat get run over by a car once. For three days she watched people steer around its body. She and her friends poked it with sticks and mocked the cat for being so stupid as to cross the street in front of a car. She does not think about the fact that someone misses this cat and will for a long time.

On some days, Mattie works in the rain until her clothes are soaked through. If she stops working, she can retreat to a shelter, but she will not make as much money. In the late summer the sun beats down on her and reddens her neck, face and arms and her skin is hot to the touch. Her right arm is always darker than her left because she lets it hang out the window while her husband drives the car to their next camp or motel. When Mattie was 11, or maybe 12 or 13, she carved her name on the floorboard in her room. For fifteen years she has longed to go back and see those letters she carved with her grandfather’s penknife, but she heard that house no longer stands. She still has the letter from her mother that says the house burned to the ground two years after she left her hometown. Since she left, Mattie has been on the road, and in those first few years she felt as though she could stretch herself in every direction. Now her life is packed carefully in worn out suitcases and packed just so in a car that moves slowly from field to field, orchard to orchard. She gets headaches, and she tells herself it is because her world fits too tightly around her. Sometimes there is not enough money for aspirin, so she might slip a bottle in her pocket at the grocery store. She utters a small prayer each time she does this and she asks God—if he does exist—for forgiveness. But she has a hard time believing that there is a God. If there was one, surely her life would be different.

Living Dead Girl often forgets her own name. She figures she has spent at least five hundred and sixty hours of her life in hospitals, and only a couple of those hours where during a time when she herself needed treatment for a sprained ankle. She can quantify these things (x amount of hours in emergency rooms, x amount in ICUs, etc), but does not talk about the things that she witnessed. It is enough that she has to walk around with those memories. She has spent time in therapy trying to find ways to put those memories in imagined containers on imagined shelves in her brain. And she does not want to take them out and look at them any more than she has to. She has also added up the amount of money she has spent in therapy in the past six years and the total would be enough for a sizeable down payment on a house. Her therapist will retire in three years. Living Dead Girl will take advantage of that and will not look for another therapist. Instead she will set aside the money she spends on her copay and, will have a modest amount to put towards a house five years for now. In the meantime, her landlord continues to make almost $12,000 off of her every year. If she could find a way to wean herself off her meds she would have even more money to put towards a house, but this will likely be impossible.

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Author: Kim Sharp

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