Dismantling the Bench

Nestled under the pine tree was a rustic heavy duty five foot wooden bench. A sitting spot for kids waiting their turn on the diving board. For over ten years the bench fought against the elements. Snow, ice, hail, and summer sun grayed and pitted the wood. Year after year, the bench a fixture, just was. Cumbersome, awkward, and weighty, a few simple pieces of wood. A forgotten backdrop of many photos.

Engraved on the back of the bench in large letters was, In memory of George and Mary K Smith. When I became the recipient of this bench the letters were in front. I promptly turned the bench slats around. I didn’t need a constant visual reminder of my parents though I was pleased that I was the beneficiary of the bench instead of my siblings. I felt like I had pulled something over on someone. The fact was, no one wanted the bench or had a place for it. Heavy as it was.

Recently, our backyard was being landscaped. Pines removed. I yanked at the bench to drag it from its place. The bench complained and its right leg crumpled. Other joints also appeared ready to give way.

Would I miss the bench?

I tugged and jerked the bench to the side of the garage. Returned to retrieve its leg.

After a couple of weeks, I called the neighbor to see if he would use his chain saw to take apart the bench. That seemed to be the quickest and easiest way to discard it.

Wood shavings and a small pile of wood were in a corner of my driveway when I came home from work. I couldn’t believe that such a burden was reduced to so little.

Little by little, week by week, I fed the pieces into our waste container. I was careful not to overload the bin and have the waste be rejected. Now it is gone.

What I didn’t know was at this same time, our homestead was being sold. When I learned of this, I felt a punch in my chest. It’s finally done, I thought. It really happened. Our homestead is no more. Like the wooden bench the farm is gone.

I had no financial stake in the homestead. Only emotional. What I miss is in my heart already. Aunt Kate, the pond, a sledding hill, the smell of popcorn, ice cream bars in the freezer. Those memories I can always draw on.

If it was Aunt Kate’s name on the bench, I’m not sure I could have ever let it go.


“She’s staring again,” Juan Jose’ remarked to Crystel on Tuesday. The three of us were dining at Pizza Luce. The 19-year-olds sat across from me. I was looking past them, merely looking, not staring at all, at the people coming in the door, the servers rushing into the kitchen, dodging for silverware, the water pitcher, the food that was ordered.

Crystel shook her head back and forth, “She always does that, you know that.”

It could be a girl Crystel’s age that will pull me back to the horror of being raped. A toddler sitting on my lap, dozing, her limbs a rag doll. Trusting. Safe. No worries. What would she have to worry about? She’s 2 years old. At 4, adorned in colorful scarves, beads, and unmatched socks. A Jasmine Princess at 5. Loving Johnny Depp at 8. Being the first to jump in the pool, the first to ride her bike, the first…

“I’m writing stories,” I say in my defense.

I’m studying people. Their familial relationships. Body language. Emotional state. Piercings. Tattoos. Eye contact.

That morning I studied a photo of a 10-year-old Wisconsin girl. She had long brown hair, parted in the middle, smiling eyes, smooth face. She looked happy.

I pictured the 14-year-old who raped and killed her. How much bigger he would have been than her. His height, weight, and strength. My stomach tightened.

I was her.

8 years old

8 years old.

The young girl with a smooth face. Smiling.

I was no match for a 14-year-old.

My four older siblings just kept getting older. And I would always be the younger.

The running track already set. An oval that I would run round and round.

Never getting away.

I asked for help when I was 9. I was afraid. They were bigger. I needed help.

None was forthcoming. I became that 10-year-old. Only I didn’t die.

It lives within me. The assaults. The rapes.

The watching of others.