Red Man Red
A.B. Abbott


My eyes are open and I am every self I have ever been, will ever be. My eyes are open and I am undying and we are unliving. My eyes are open and I am.

I am awake.

My eyes are closed.

At 7:52 a.m., I put on a t-shirt and jeans after smell-checking both. My veined forearms are the color of pumpkin spice lattes. I wish I had invented that metaphor, but as usual I have to give credit to past girlfriends.

Lauren. Alyssa. Carrie. Rachel Mackey. Rachel Polanski. My memories are a wax museum of their imperfections.

Yesterday was my birthday. I turned seventeen, which is exactly old enough to do nothing interesting.

I am ten years old and I’ve already vomited from overeating, but my mouth feels pure now that I’ve washed the taste of bile and chocolate ice cream down the sink. Mom is letting me watch South Park for the first time, though she refuses to join me. Nobody has sat in the brown La-Z-Boy since Dad moved out, even though it’s the best seat in the room. My eyes are open and I walk over and sit down. I put up the footrest.

My hair is getting long. Every time I see the black curls straggling down the sides of my face, I remind myself where the scissors are. But if I put my fingers through the handle, the twin blades will start their siren song and I might not put them down again.

I am fifteen and the school counselor explains the regular ups and downs of most people’s happy-sad cycles. She draws a diagram with perfectly arched waves, cresting and receding with immaculate predictability. For some people, though, she explains, the ups never get as high as they should. My ups and downs squirm miserably along the lower half of the diagram.

My birthday present from Mom was a paperback book titled, Depression and the Native American Teen, plus twenty bucks. She’d ambushed me on the stairs and stood by with a failing smile as I tore open the funny papers concealing the gift. She likes to pretend she uses the comics as a sort of secondary gift (“That way they’ll have something extra if they don’t like what they got!”) but everyone knows she can’t afford real wrapping paper.

My eyes are open. I am the Buddha, the Messiah, Mickey Mouse, Donald Trump. I am the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria. I am the Eiffel Tower, I am the International Space Station. I am, I am, I am, I am.

She gave me her I’m Sorry Eyes, and I knew my only option was a hug and a smile. When I got to my car, Mom’s present landed with a crunch on the peer-edited papers and take home readings that carpet my floorboard.

My eyes are open and my English teacher from last year is reading a poem I wrote. Everyone knows it’s mine even though she withheld my name. My friends say it sounded exactly like me.

On the drive to school, as a birthday present to myself, I smoked a joint from my old candy cigarette tin. The edges went soft and my mind was clear again.

The itsy bitsy spider climbs up the waterspout…

I went to Dad’s when I was done hanging with friends at Dairy Queen after school.

Rachel P. gave me a sketch of a Celtic knot she’d drawn on notebook paper and detailed with different colors of gel pen. On the back, it said, “Happy Seventeenth. Doin anything this weekend? I’m not ;)”

I drove out to the fourth in a series of Dad’s apartments, each one closer than the last to the far side of town. My dad, with the wide, square Indian features that he passed on to me.

Nobody ever called me Redskin or Chief or even Apple. My eyes are open and I color myself peach with the other kids.

He gave me a dimpled smile and a Moser’s sack with a plaster mask inside. It was round with squinty eye holes and a circular painted mouth. The bottom half was turquoise and the top had all different colors splayed out like sun rays. “I thought it’d be cool to get in touch with our roots,” he explained, “Together, you know?”

I did rain dances with my friends. I hopped around and slapped my mouth and yelled, “HUY-yuy-yuy-yuy, HUY-yuy-yuy-yuy!” when I didn’t want to attend baseball practice, just like anyone else.

“Yeah, Dad. Cool.” Then we played Call of Duty and Dad let me drink a couple beers.

My dream returned last night.

When I got home, I locked myself in the bathroom and blew sicky-sweet smoke out the window so Mom wouldn’t smell it. I have this theory that the smell drifts through the vents into her bedroom anyway, but that she can’t say anything because she used to smoke weed, too.

In my dream, my eyes were open and my selves were all holding hands across timelessness and spacelessness.

Today I am back in the bathroom and wearing my Sun God mask. An untouched bowl of weed sits on the windowsill and I sit on the floor, my feet splayed out in front of me. I’m tipping the sink cabinet door open with the toe of my sneaker, and letting it bounce shut again. Thum-tum. Thum-tum. Thum-tum. Thum-tum.

Different mes, different points in my life so far. Their eyes were open.

Wikipedia says that the Sun God mask represents courage, passion, and life. Leaning against the blue wallpaper printed with yellow flowers, I stare at myself through the mask’s slit eyes in the long mirror on the door. Faded red towels hang over the top half of the mirror, but from the floor my view is unobscured.

In my dream, there were also many mes with their eyes closed.

The multicolored mask is perched on my grey AC/DC shirt with my gooey black hair dangling out from it. The plaster scrapes against my nose and Cro-Magnon brow. This thing should be put in a museum, not collecting fogged spit when I breathe.

These were older selves who have not lived yet.

I take the mask off and start inspecting it. After only a few seconds, I find the words “Made In China” printed along the rim. I put the mask back on and it fits much better.

I am in the Native American History room of the art museum. My friends watch to see how I react. My eyes are open and I make fun of the pointy tits on one of the fertility statues.

I set the mask on the toilet seat, then I stand up to grab my pipe. But instead of taking a hit, I look out the closed window.

My eyes are open and I pop my weed-smoking cherry. My mind unfolds like a new lily.

The vent belches heat over me but the cold still seeps through the glass to my fingertips.

I am twelve and my father asks me to run the soccer ball back to him. My eyes are open and I kick the ball as hard as I can in the opposite direction.

The mask watches from the fuzzy blue toilet cover.

I am in a parent-teacher conference in fourth grade. My eyes are open and I explain that I can’t do my homework because the fighting is always too loud.

I hide my lighter and the cold pipe in my room, then I take the Sun God mask out to the back porch. The sledgehammer is in the tool shed.

I am many selves and together we are one. Future becomes past, past leads to future.

The stars seem extra bright without the moon outshining them.

My eyes are open and the mask clatters to the ground.

The hammer crushes the painted plaster like fingers collapsing a cylinder of ash. I survey the turquoise-speckled pile of dust. A velvety wind coaxes our big pine tree into whispering. My eyes are open and I scuff the mask’s powdery remains with my shoe so it scatters in a white spray across the concrete.

I am awake.

My eyes are open.


A. B. Abbott is a Kansas City-based author with a BFA from Truman State University. Under the name Amanda Hamilton, she has had work published in half a dozen journals and anthologies, including Northwind Magazine, Menda City Review, and the Evansville Review, and is the Editor-in-Chief for Blue Monday Review.