If They Stayed: A Letter to Her by Kristin Ryan

for Mom

I’ve been writing a poem
about my mother’s new
yellow kitchen and fresh
flowers from the garden.

The wind blows the chimes
but I still hear the ghosts of
his fists crushing face and
our pleas to let her live.

Hidden away are the photos
of old injuries and sirens
she kept to remind herself
she could survive anything.

If They Stayed: A Letter to You by Kristin Ryan

I am still not ready to forgive. I am not that strong. I still wish for your ashes to swirl down the gutter. Demand you to be mixed with worms and shit and the vomit I kept returning to for ten years.

I will never forget the look on my husband’s face on our-on my, first date when he asked if he could put his arm around my waist, asked so I would not flinch and I still did. Did I scream witness of attempted murder? Because when you think about it, that is exactly what it was. My neck is heavy from wearing a medal I didn’t want. I am not a hero.

That night after hiding all the knives under my bed, the darts under my pillow, the cordless phone sleeping in the back of my jeans I was ready. But I am not ready to forgive you.

Your dying wish was for me to eat snacks with you as if it was something we always did. Once when I was seven, you shattered a glass table in the living room because I asked if we could
share a Reese’s cup. When you begged on your death bed I refused, the eating disorder raging like your alcoholism, your anger, your fists.

Thirteen years after the night I saved my mother, your wife, I confessed I had always hated her for staying with you. We were in the kitchen of her husband’s house, yellow walls and sunshine. I call him Dad, and he always kisses me on the forehead. The first four years he was in our lives he had to teach us we were deserving of love. Sometimes we still show up for remedial lessons on basic human needs.

Most of the time I don’t like being touched. Sometimes I still see your face. I can’t be in a room when someone drinks a beer. Sometimes I wake up in a panic and my husband has to calm me down, tell me that you’re dead and can’t hurt us.

In the kitchen with fresh flowers from the garden on the table, my mother told me she still has the photos from the police of what you did in the glovebox, to remember what she survived.

Once, I said I would bring you back to life just to kill you myself. So I could finally sleep, know that you were finally gone, that we were finally safe.

If They Stayed: A Letter to Myself by Kristin Ryan

After Jeanann Verlee

You must learn to forgive. When you lose sleep staying up keeping them safe, do not be bitter. When it is engrained in you to flinch when someone is angry, it is not your fault. When you read the charts of the children you take care of, swallow back the acid when you read, “witness of domestic violence”. You must learn to forgive. Stop saying, “It was my fault” when another bruise shows up or the neighbors call the cops for the third time that night. When you see your mother cry wish the asshole death. When you save her from being killed say, “Stay away from her”. Your voice will shake but this is okay. You must learn to forgive. You will be bitter for years. When your mother remarries after the asshole is dead, learn that not every person wants to hurt those you love. Do not be afraid to cry when you ask why they stayed. The bile will rise again when she says she kept photos of her injuries in the glove box thirteen years after that night to remember that she could survive anything. “I stayed to keep you kids safe.” You must learn to forgive. You must learn to forgive everyone.

Kristin Ryan is working on her MFA in Poetry at Ashland University. She was a 2013 Goldenrod poetry finalist at Western Kentucky University. Recently her poem “Stomach Acid” was included in the anthology Sweet Wolverine.