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Rebecca Carroll

I woke up that morning bleeding from my head. No, I really did. The pillow was soaked almost all the way through, with my blood. It was a shocking sight I have to say. I couldn't understand how it was possible to bleed that much from my head without dying. Maybe I had died already, I thought, and was sitting up in my bed looking at a blood-soaked pillow in a scene from a skit up in Heaven. Or Hell. I'm not going to fight anyone on where I end up. I figure they know what they're doing. Who they're damning and who they're absolving.

I hadn't died. My hair was matted in the back, and my fingers returned with red, glassy goo on their tips. I smelled them, my fingers, which I think is just a natural human instinct, although I'm not sure why. The blood smelled all right. Like mine. I don't know what someone else's might smell like, and if I did, and it did smell like someone else's, then what? I got up and went into the bathroom, knelt down in front of the tub and turned the water on. Let it run for a bit to get the temperature right. I suddenly had no idea how an open wound would respond to cold or hot water. Or water at all. I couldn't remember the last time I'd had an open wound, much less on my head. In fact, I don't think I ever had.

I let the water run over the back of my head, leaning far enough over so that none of it would dribble down my back. I didn't want to touch the place again, where the wound was, and so I just let the water run over it, my hands gripped onto the side of the tub. My eyes were closed at first, and when I opened them after a few minutes the entire tub was filled with brick red, soapy, dark water. It filled up fast since the drain was clogged. Was always clogged, no matter how much Liquid Plumber or Drano I put down there. Soon there was about an inch of the stuff, a combination of my blood, my leave-in conditioner, and the smoke and dirt from last night.

It was hard to tell if I'd rinsed it all out, but I was tired of leaning over and my head hurt, so I turned the water off and grabbed a towel from behind me. Careful not to press too tightly on the wound, and not really having any idea just how big or deep or serious it was, I wrapped the towel loosely around my head, still leaning over. When I stood up it felt like I might throw up, and it occurred to me at that point how angry my mother would be if I went ahead and died without telling her. I could call her, I thought, but the clock over the stove on my way back to the bedroom said 4:30 AM. She would be asleep, and dying or not, who makes phone calls, or answers them for that matter, at 4:30 in the morning other than cops and firefighters?

I sat back down on my bed, breathing in and out. I knew it was important to do that. The blood-soaked pillow was still there. I peeled off the slipcover and the bare pillow itself looked like a little chubby rutabaga, with a gunshot wound. Ruined. I gathered up both the bare pillow and its failed sheathe and brought them into the kitchen, where I pulled a plastic garbage bag from underneath the refrigerator in which to dispose them. On the way back to my room this time I noticed the arm of my favorite shirt sticking out from beneath the couch. As I bent over to reach for it, the lower part of my abdomen coiled in alarming pain. Even lower than my abdomen. Again I breathed in and out, because I knew that was important to do, and then went down for the shirt again.

The towel unraveled and fell down damp and gracelessly onto my shoulders as I took the shirt arm up into my hands. The area around the neck was completely soaked with blood. Mostly, I was disappointed that my favorite shirt was ruined, but then I reached up to feel my neck, which I'd been careful not to get wet when leaning over in the tub, and again my fingertips came back red. I had not discerned a wound on my neck. The blood must've just run from the main head wound, the one I still hadn't directly touched to survey the damage.

I put the shirt in the same garbage bag with the pillow and its cover, and continued back into my room, again sitting on the bed, only this time looking around me, looking for more evidence, spots, splashes, weapons. I thought about watching some TV, but then remembered the time and couldn't bear to subject myself to whatever might be on at that hour. Nearly satisfied that I wasn't dying just then, I fluffed up the remaining pillow like a long-benched rookie, and lay down.

Seemed like days before I woke again, but only an hour had passed. It wasn't my idea to wake up, either. Streaks of white light, hands, legs, lips, anger and force flashing like an atom bomb made it impossible for me to keep my eyes shut, much less for me to sleep. I didn't sit up this time, although I did check to see if the back of my head was still bleeding, without actually touching where, at this point I could only assume, the wound was. No blood. I stared at the ceiling for a while, wondering why I was meant to end this way. Who decided this? And, anyway, who cared?

I never sleep on my back. Always on one side or the other, although I preferred my left. Now on my back, every part of me ached, but it seemed like the only tolerable position. Slowly, contemplatively, I brought one hand up to rest on my belly, leaving the other stretched down around the outside of my thigh. It couldn't hurt to explore, right? My fingers stretched toward the coarse crinkle of the hair at my pubic line, and then on deeper toward the familiar softening, fleshy want between my legs. My middle finger pulled while the others held fast, and I was startled by how quickly my muscles convulsed. Inside the dark, behind my eyelids, I saw him. His hard hand tearing through my hair, grabbing at the roots, jerking my head back up against something sharp, dull, unforgiving. It didn't knock me out, because I remember him then lifting me off or away from whatever it was that had driven itself dogged and maddeningly in toward my skull, and then putting me somewhere else, for better positioning I can only assume.

He didn't rip anything. Apart from the blood-soaked favorite shirt, the pants I'd had on were hastily removed, crumpled and intact--that is to say, the legs, the zipper, and button were where they'd been when I bought them--on the floor next to my bed. But my bra was missing. He must have been very good. Very skilled. To do his business without tearing any of my clothes, while making off with my bra. Unless it was over near the couch, where I'd found my shirt. I went back in to look.

No bra. I figured since I was up, I'd sit on the couch for a while. See how that felt. Still a little nauseous, and rubbery in the thighs, I curled up and hoped for a miracle. That being, that I hadn't drank so much that I'd let some guy rape me, that I could somehow account for the gash in the back of my head to people who love me without telling them how it really got there, and that I'd be able to replace my favorite shirt.


Rebecca Carroll is the author of three books of narrative nonfiction, including Sugar in the Raw: Voices of Young Black Girls in America (Crown, 1997). She is a former segment producer for the "Charlie Rose" show on PBS, and has served as director of the board of contributing editors at the now defunct, and as senior editor at She has written two screenplays, as well as nonfiction articles and personal essays for various national publications. She is a contributing editor to the Public Radio International program This American Life, a guest host to the WNET/Thirteen series New York Voices, and is currently working on her first collection of short stories. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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