Call Me Eliza


Are you somewhere comfortable and warm? Does someone love you? I hope so.

That is a lie. I hope no one loves you. In which case, maybe you want to be my friend?

I don’t get beat up at school or anything like that. No one really notices me at all. If they do, they think, “Ugh.” Even my dog. He stares at me with his eyebrows all pulled down, thinking, “Eliza, are you seriously existing? You are a pretty sad excuse for a human being.”

My therapist tells me, “Eliza, this is projection.” I’m 10, but guess what? I know what that means. It means I am imagining things. Which, obviously, is not what’s happening here.

Let me tell you about my therapist, who is pretty much the only human in the world I like. Still, sometimes I want to kill myself just to spite her. The other day, I’d come in straight from school looking like a dead rat on the street. I have this problem where I pull out my hair, which is why my parents sent me to this therapist—let me just call her by her name, which is Rachel Goodstein, I’m not sure if Dr. or not—in the first place. So on that day I’d pulled out almost one full eyebrow and there were little pricks of blood all along the spot. On the walk over a homeless man had made a face like I was a superdisgusting ghoul. Ghoul means ghost, did you know?

Anyway, I came into Rachel’s with my bloody strip of an eyebrow and expected her to look at me like I was her poor baby, maybe even to give me a hug, which, by the way, she has never done, ever. Obviously, she didn’t do it this time, either. She didn’t even look surprised, or have any sort of look on her face at all. It was like she was a painting of a therapist, not an actual person, even though obviously she was breathing and blinking her eyes from time to time. She just sat there, waiting for me to talk. Which I didn’t, to punish her. But clearly my punishment wasn’t working, because just picture trying to punish a painting. You get what I mean?

So finally she said, “What are you thinking?” This is the worst question ever. Like: “Hi, you know nothing about me, but I’m going to invade your brain and pull out all your thoughts and analyze them to death even though what you actually want is a giant hug.” So I said, “I hate when you ask that! I’ve told you a million times! I hate it and I hate you!”

Of course after that I screamed my way through the entire story of what had happened. You see what I mean? Wouldn’t that just make you want to commit suicide?

Okay, I’m going to tell you the story, too, but first let me describe Rachel. When I come into her office I sit on this couch that has nubby green cushions that are soft, but just the right amount of firm that you don’t get swallowed up. Rachel sits across from me in an armchair, always with a glass of water next to it, and she gets me one, too—ice water in a glass glass, so it clinks when I swirl it—plus tissues in case I want to cry. I never want, but sometimes I can’t help it. She always sits straight up, with usually one leg crossed over the other and her hands together in her lap, with this thick wavy brown hair in a bun. This hair of hers is beautiful, even tied back in the bun like it usually is, and sometimes I can’t focus on what I’m saying, I’m so distracted by how much I would rather have her hair than mine, which is this big frizzy cloud around my head that could poke someone in the eye if it wanted. It’s no wonder I pull my hair out, is what you’re thinking, right? I know.

Okay. So on that day, I woke up before my alarm with this feeling I get sometimes, like my whole body is made of ice. Not that I’m cold, but like if I breathe in too deeply my chest will crack into a million tiny pieces. If it was because of a dream, I’d already forgotten it—my brain slurps dreams up like quicksand—but the feeling was there.

What I really wanted was to stay home and watch “Blue’s Clues” all morning, which is what I do to pretend I’m still five years old and will be forever. I lay in bed thinking about maybe doing that for a long time, but finally I decided to get up, and went down to eat breakfast. Even though it was cereal, it tasted like rocks—that’s the kind of mood I was in. By the time I wake up in the mornings my parents have left for work, so I got dressed, packed up, and locked up the house to go wait for the bus.

I stood on the corner for a long time, waiting, until the bus came. I have my usual seat at the way-back, so I walked down, down, down the aisle thinking about everyone else looking at me and thinking “Ew.”

When I got to the back I sat down and just tried to look out the window and think things like, “Wow, how beautiful the world is today!” and “My, isn’t this landscape of ours a magical and blessed place!” even though in my head the voice speaking these things wasn’t my voice but that of an old lady, quivering up and down. We passed a little blue house with white shutters and old-lady-me said, “Well isn’t that a delightful and frankly classy color combination!” We passed a driveway with a basketball hoop and a bicycle and she said, “My goodness, what fun playtime options are available to today’s youth!” When we passed a large tree, she said, “Nature! Oh, glory!” And then, from in front of me, a not-very-soft whisper traveled back over the bus seat and into my earholes:
“The girl behind us smells like moldy yogurt.”
“The girl”?! She might as well have said “the thing”! By the way, I know both of those girls’ names—Allison James and Amanda Hopkiss. Hello, I’m a person! I have a name! We’ve all been going to school together for a decade, you Gemini Twins of Evil! In first grade, back when everybody’s parents made them invite the whole class to everything, I even went to Amanda Hopkiss’s birthday party, where we had a whole conversation (I passed her a paper plate of pizza, and she said “Thanks”). And “moldy yogurt”?! What does that even mean? I was so angry that without thinking or anything, I pulled my pants down, squatted on the seat of the bus, and took a poop.

As soon as the poop left my butt, I started to panic, obviously. What did I just do? Can I rewind this? Can I stuff this poop back inside? No, stupid! Think! Think! Think!

I realized I had the lunch I made myself, with a tuna salad-lettuce-tomato sandwich in a plastic baggie. I took the sandwich out and put it back in the lunchbag and turned the plastic baggie inside out so I could pick up the poop like I do with my dog’s. As I was doing this, I heard again, in front of me, but this time not in a whisper:

“Ew, WHAT is that smell?”

I snatched the poop up in the sandwich bag and threw it on the ground. Which was the worst idea ever. Now it was literally underneath Allison James and Amanda Hopkiss. I stuck my foot under the seat in front and tried to slide the poop back toward me, but I’d thrown it kind of far and all I could manage to do was kind of smush it a little with my toe. Stretch, stretch, stretch—but then the bus stopped short in front of the school and the poop baggie shot toward the front under all the seats and someone up there yelled, “IT’S POOOOOOOP!”

A little while later, I stood outside the principal’s office, looking at kids’ art pinned up on the wall and waiting for his door to open. There was a pretty nice drawing of a lake, but old-lady-me was shriveled up and had nothing to say about it. Mr. Bankman, the principal, swung open the door and said, “Come in.” We sat down, him behind his desk and me looking at his big bald head, which was tilted to the side. Shiny.
“Why did you do this?” he asked.
“Do what?” I said, to make him say it.
“Why did you go to the bathroom on the bus seat?”
I had wanted him to feel grossed out and embarrassed, but actually what happened was that my own eyes got really hot because some tears were squeezing out the corners.
“I couldn’t hold it,” I said. It’s not terrible as far as excuse-lies go, but it is also super-duper horribly embarrassing to have to say.
“You couldn’t hold it?”
“Has this happened to you before?”
“Usually only in private. Never in front of people before.” Which was a lie, because this has never happened to me before. Really. Never.
“Eliza,” he said, looking me in the eyes like he was sad about what he had to say, “I am going to need to call your parents.”
This was bad. My parents wouldn’t like this at all.
“Um, they don’t know I have this problem,” I said.
“Which is why I need to call them.”
“The thing is, I already go to a therapist, and I tell her about things like this instead. She really knows me better than my parents, and anyway, what’s the point of telling my parents if all you want is for them to send me to a therapist, which I already go to?” The words were coming out very quickly because I was very nervous and a little bit desperate.

“It’s probably something you should talk to your therapist about, yes. But I need to call your parents, too.” My hands were on the desk and he put one of his on top. “I don’t have a choice.”

The rest of the day was dumb. People avoided me more than usual, giving me a wide space in the hall and making sour-lemon mouths at each other, but no one yelled things like “Nanny-nanny-poo-poo” or threw things at me or pinched their noses when I walked by or anything they might have done in a TV show. No “Poop Girl,” no “Polly Wanna Pooper?,” no “She’s gonna blow!” or “Crap Queen” or “Doody Dunce” or “The Leaky Poop-Sack.” All day I was anxious waiting for the names—which is why I pulled out my eyebrow with my fingers.

After school, at Rachel’s, when I told her about all this, she said, “You think it was being nervous about the possibility of being called names that caused you to pull out your eyebrows?”
“Um, yes, obviously,” I said. “That’s what I just told you.”
“Do you think maybe a part of you wanted to be called a name?”
“Ugh. That is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard! What kind of a sicko do you think I am?” I said. “I’m leaving.” I stayed.
“Tell me why you pooped on the bus in the first place,” she said.
“I told you—those girls in front of me,” I said.
“What about them?”
“They said I smelled.”
“They called me girl.”
“How did you feel when they said that?”
“I’m a person. With a name.”
“Right. So?”
“So you’re saying I pooped on the bus so they would give me a name.”
“I’m suggesting that might be part of it.”
“That’s the dumbest thing I ever heard.”
“Why is that?”
“You think I’d rather have a name like ‘Feces Machine’ over people not knowing my name?”
“Would you?”

Right then, I said no, and that she was crazy, and that I hated her. But thinking about it at night—after Mom had stood with her arms crossed while hot words poured out of Dad’s mouth—I wondered a little. Was a bad name better than no name? And what would it take to get a good name? Or my real one?

Can you call me it? It’s Eliza.

Jessica Gross

About Jessica Gross

Jessica Gross is a New York-based writer of fiction, essays, and interviews. She contributes to The Los Angeles Review of Books, The New York Times Magazine, and The Paris Review Daily, among other places. Jessica is a fellow in fiction at LABA: A Laboratory for Jewish Culture and teaches creative nonfiction for the Sackett Street Writers Workshop.

Jessica Gross is a New York-based writer of fiction, essays, and interviews. She contributes to The Los Angeles Review of Books, The New York Times Magazine, and The Paris Review Daily, among other places. Jessica is a fellow in fiction at LABA: A Laboratory for Jewish Culture and teaches creative nonfiction for the Sackett Street Writers Workshop.

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