The Sandbox

Amnesia, Art, Healing




It’s a war these days. Me against them, the mean voices screaming in my head. 

I give in, give up trying to sleep. I get out of bed, make a cup of coffee then write them down like they demand.

They’ve taken to calling me an ugly desperate dyke. I face them and say that it’s true, that Pete is completely lost to me and that I want only Sandra now. 

I plead with them, tell them that I did love Pete. I tell them that I found him a decade ago in a room inside me I never knew existed until he turned the lights on. 

Mean voices say not anymore, asshole. 

And it’s true. 

I loved Pete for ten years, authentically, deep down and into my bones, every cell inside lit up and said yes. But in less than a minute, in January, a tsunami came and washed him away. 

My mind demands that I go back and find him. But my heart has other plans. 




Months now, these voices getting me up early. 

Today it’s the boy. 

I felt him in Eileen’s office too last week. 

He lives for women, he tells me. 

For Sandra. 

He is self-deprecating, loyal, funny, non-threatening. He is here with me now as I type in the dark before the sun rises. He is shy, doesn’t want to speak aloud, but whispers to me. He tells me wants to follow Sandra back east, where we are from and where she will going for her fellowship in August. He says he wants nothing more than to watch the snow fall from bed, the sun setting before five o’clock. He likes where we are from, how the winter porch lights turn on early, how the sky is streaked with dark purple bruises right before darkness sets in. 

I try and find the boy later at the pool. In the locker room I stare at my body after showering but I see nothing male, not one inch in my reflection. 

I note that my stomach is crying non stop. I see a ball of grief, feel it but do not understand it. How it hurts and how there is nothing I can do to make it go away. It’s been blaring like a siren gone off ever since meeting Sandra, a notch louder since I found out she’s leaving. 

My heart wants to chase her back east to the snow but my brain says to stay with Pete. My brain says do not destroy the life you’ve built. But my heart screams back that I do not know how it will survive, how it will get by, how it will fill each minute, each hour, each day Sandra is gone. 

I begin to consider the numbers, the three hundred sixty five days on the calendar and I think in ceramics class to make a beautiful curved spoon out of clay, one for each day she is gone, a spoon each day to pass and to mark the time. At the end of the year, I envision a collection, and oh, what a celebration we will have when she finally returns. 

I write to Eileen about the boy. And about the spoons I will make. About my stomach crying, the grief ball inside that hurts so much. She says she loves my writing and sends me back famous poetry in response. 

This is all so painful, so new, so overwhelming, like a balloon completely foreign to me inflating inside, making me bigger, shaping me into someone I do not know or understand. 

My days continue to pour out in words and Eileen reads me like a book. I am a volcano erupting in sentences and paragraphs, a novel nearly writing itself, four hundred pages since January 10th, the afternoon I switched inside and could not get back. 




Yesterday, Fourth of July, a long hot hike with Sandra. 

We stop to rest in the middle of a huge grove of trees. There are a few picnic tables, and we lie down on one of them. Stella is eating grass, keeping herself busy as she waits for us to resume our walk.  

It is as close, I think, to lying in bed with Sandra as I have gotten or may ever get, gazing up at the ceiling together, which, today, is a cloudless blue sky we see through a thick web of trees. 

I joke and tell Sandra I’ve read tales of things happening back east, bad things will happen, I tell her, if she goes. And I can feel that this is the boy inside of me talking, the one who worships her but will not declare his love directly.

I fear, I tell her, for her safety. 

She laughs. 

And for the longest time, we lie there listening to the birds.

It is July, the last month before she will leave. 

I stare at this new month on the calendar and it seems to be sending me a message back; it declares that I will not be going with Sandra. It tells me that my work will be in figuring out how to cope with her absence. 

And soon after this truth registers, I find another. 

That sleeping with her, if only just once, will ease the pain of her leaving—an unspoken agreement between us that she isn’t really going away, that we are something important and special and lasting to one another. 




Last night I leave the house without Pete, alone, out into the night unanchored. I drive to Sandra’s going-away party, park and walk up to the house. 

The party is well underway, busy, a swirl of people and music. I spot Sandra at the center of the crowd and she sees me but we don’t speak. 

I consider for a brief moment if I even register, if I matter at all to her. 

But later when I approach to ask if she’d like to take a walk, a test to see if she would leave her own party to be with me, she says yes.  

She is wearing a brightly colored silky dress, as if stolen from a dream I had about her months ago. How jealous I am of this dress, how it clings to her in the same places I’d like to. The things I’ve wished for since meeting her, to be the music she listens to floating in her ears, the hot summer air she breathes.

We duck into a small room where the coats are tossed on a bed. She smiles and asks if I like her dress…and I say I do…that I love her dress and I remember our hikes together where the boy inside me has joked and asked her to marry him. 

She has said maybe…but what about Pete.

We head outside where it is quiet. The sidewalks are lit up by the streetlights; they sparkle like it’s been snowing all night long. 

We walk together just as we’ve done for the past seven months. 

I admit, finally and directly, that I will miss her. 

And she says…she knows. 





I can’t , I can’t

I can’t let you go

Without erupting

Into all that I know

I can’t let you leave

You need to be knowing

That summer or fall

It’s always been snowing

It’s five o’clock

In the cold purple sky

And I’m here with you

Not saying goodbye

I can’t, I can’t

I can’t speak my heart

Can’t pick the daisy

Can’t pluck it apart

The petals are weapons

You’re loving me not

You’re teaching me things

I  can’t bear to be taught

Entangled together

From earth to eyes

I’m here with you

Not saying goodbye




Seven months after that first hike with Sandra, I realize finally that I must take a step. This mystery between us needs to be solved. I decide to face the daisies I’ve been fearing, the ones I saw on a walk with her months ago, the ones that tell me there is the chance she may love-me-not. I face these daisies because there is the slightest chance that I could land on the petal that says otherwise, that says she feels the same way I do. 

So I tap out a five word text: have felt chemistry between us

I sit by my phone, can hardly breathe. And wait. 


I wait longer. 


I decide to go for a swim. A long swim. A hundred laps. 

I shower and change. 

I check my phone when I get out. 

Nothing still. 

I arrive home. And there is an email.

I click then I read, and as I do, I am transported to a cold, blustery snowstorm, a storm of no’s pelting me. 

The first no is the hardest: I never felt anything for you. Then, no, I'm leaving in a week for a year, not a good time to explore a relationship. Then no, even if I weren't leaving, I'm not into women. 

I feel nauseated. I want to faint. I crawl into bed, howl and can’t get up. I am a mangy dog barking at a door that’s been locked, dead-bolted and plastered over by two-by-fours. 

I scream and cry out from some place that I can’t grasp but that feels like home. How I hate myself, all the pure ugliness that is me in this bed soaked in tears. 

I know Sandra won’t call. She won’t visit. And I won’t have the one thing, the only thing, I’ve ever wanted in my life which is her.  

I email Eileen. I tell her about the daisy I plucked, about the mangy dog, about not being able to get out of bed to walk Stella because my heart hurts too much. I know she thinks it’s about all the abuse stuffed away, the amnesia, all these dots and voices in my head that never connect. I know she thinks that Sandra is some kind of trigger I can’t stop pulling, a gun firing into my chest. 

But I don’t care about the analysis. It doesn’t matter and doesn’t help. 

I’m tired of this life. These rooms my heart ducks in and out of. Sick to death of it all. 

I just want to be healed. 

Or be gone. 




I wait for three days, cry myself to sleep each night and will not answer when Pete asks what is wrong. 

Then I finally reach out to Sandra.

We meet late at night, at the park where we have hiked what feels like every inch of trail together. And I confess to her that I’ve not been well. I tell her about my therapy, about suffering from amnesia due to abuse, about taking tests to see if I have a dissociative disorder. 

I tell her our connection has been triggering for me, that I’ve not been myself. 

I say that maybe when she comes back, I will be better. 

We never say goodbye formally, make vague plans to see each other before she leaves. 

But we don’t. 

The walk we take that night is our last.