Encyclopedia of Rachel D. Litchman (1999 - ?)
R-A-C-H-E-L: This is how I spell my name. These are the letters I write on my dorm room white board. They are the letters doctors type in
a hospital admissions booklet. They are the letters I scrawl on bookstore receipts.
R: my mom writes this letter in red expo marker on our dry erase calendar. R: orthodontics apt. at 9:30 on Monday. R: comes home from school. R: leaves for school.
Raquel: My former babysitter, Esthela, calls me this. It is my Spanish name. When Esthela says it, she rolls the R. To English speakers, it sounds like rock hell.
Reach Rachel: On the first day of school, this is the name I call myself when we do around the class introductions. My math teacher asks us to give our names with an introductory adjective. Powerful Patrick, Elegant Ella, Great Gabriel, Energetic Emilio…
And me: Reach Rachel. Reach Rachel. Reach.
Hannah: twin sister
Mrs. V: math teacher
Mr. V: math teacher
Esthela: former babysitter
Birth (of a writer):
I tell stories. I used to tell them to my mom while flopping like a slinky down the stairs. I scribbled them in blue pen on college-ruled lined paper. I sobbed them over the phone in tears of and this happened and this happened and this happened. These are my stories:
Grade 1: The first story I ever wrote was a spin-off of The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Title: My Dog’s Name is Starving. Plot summary: Starving is a happy dog with a scribbly brown coat and big blue beady eyes. His stick-figure owners give him a bowl of dog food. Starving eats it. He’s still hungry. He eats his dog bowl. He’s still hungry. He eats the house. He’s still hungry. He eats his family. He’s still hungry. He has indigestion. He throws up. The family comes back to life. The End.
I mastered the art of imitation early.
Grade 4: Up until I was 7 years old, I was a mirror writer. This means I used to write from right to left instead of left to right. Before I knew of Babynames.com (adds on my computer are now targeted at pregnant women), I created my character names by mirror writing. On my nightstand, I had a CD player with the word “volume” above a dial. I turned it backward: Emulov. Mrs. Emulov became the teacher who didn’t like it when her students spoke loudly. When they did, she slapped them with a meter stick that she stored in the panels of the classroom ceiling.
Grade 6: An excerpt from a 6th grade story: Mrs. Deaton, the English teacher, sticks a spoon in her cup of canned peaches, grimaces as she swallows a spoonful, then pushes the can aside. “This is what they give me for working at weight watchers,” she grumbles, “Canned peaches that taste like they’ve been chewed, melted, then shoved in a can to rot for one hundred years.”
Grade 11: Poet’s Companion advises its readers to “catalogue your faults, your limitations, all the reasons you can’t write,” then talk back to that voice. I try this one evening: Dear Poet’s Companion, okay, fine. Dear Rachel, You are shit. You work so hard and still you are shit. You write. You try. You reach. You take the train to Davis every day and sit in Panera, the NU library, Panera again, the train again, the Glencoe Library. Your mom takes your brother to baseball practice. Your dad lives in his apartment. Your sister is at a friend’s house. Your house is empty. Empty. You make yourself dinner. You fill that emptiness. You go down to your room and write, you write, you write. You lie on the floor, think you work so hard but you’re not enough, this writing is shit, why can’t you get this story out, why do you write so much shit, where can you find kind words, why is it that your days are filled so much with trying to fill yourself, walking through busy streets, making conversation with the cashiers, talking to the homeless man and yet still everything feels so empty, so empty, this smile, this smile, is this me? You breathe. You relax. You hold your head straight and crawl off the floor. You look through your reminders. Your eighth grade teacher’s words written to you on the base of a wooden bird: “you have a powerful voice, trust it, use it, trumpet it.” Your friend’s words written to you in your yearbook: “Rachel: you’re the strongest person I know.” Another friend’s words: “I’m so proud of YOU.” You take a breath and curl up on the floor with these words, these good words, these good feelings, these Rachel, you are doing it, Rachel, this matters, you are enough. You know sometimes you feel so bad about yourself. You know sometimes every day, every foot forward, every step away from what is, what was—is excruciating. But you’re doing it. You’re finding your own way. You’re still; working, still breathing, still smiling at the lunch lady, making other people laugh, being a role model, a leader, a cheerleader. And Rachel, trust me, trust me, trust me you are enough, hear me say it, what you do—it matters.
In seventh grade, I had a math teacher, Mr. V, who introduced me to algebra. He handed me a piece of graph paper and showed me how when the x squares, a linear equation bends into a smile or a frown. In eleventh grade, I had a math teacher, Mrs. V, who taught me how to take the derivative of smiles or frowns. The derivative is the place on a graph where the slope reaches zero, where nothing goes up, where nothing goes down, where it’s just this valley we slide into.
My life as a polynomial equation:
In sixth grade, I had a teacher who told me “life is like mountains and valleys.” She meant that we had ups and downs, highs and lows. I understand what she was saying, but I disagree with her. Mountains and valleys have fixed heights. Parabolas stretch in infinitum. Also, you can change their direction. (QED)
When I am taking the SAT’s, there is a passage in the reading section about how learning a second language can enhance communication in our native languages. My native language is English. My second language is Spanish, taught to me by my babysitter. When I was in first grade, I sat in the backseat of the car while my mother drove. I pressed my finger against the car window. I pointed to the neighbor’s lawn. “Brujas! Brujas!” I said to my mom. “Blue Grass, blue grass? Is that what you mean?” she asked from the front seat. “Brujas! Brujas!” I said back in Spanish: witches, witches I was trying to tell her, propped up on the lawns for Halloween.
Smile Box (things that make me smile)*
Eighth grade (Me, sick, at home):
Girl in the shower. A girl huddled over on the floor of the shower, her hair dripping in front of her. Thin body. Thin voice.
A clang from downstairs, in the kitchen. Loud scream. Female voice: Get the Hell out of here!
Girl, humming in the shower, as she clutches her stomach and bends with her head toward the floor. The water beats over her, muffling her sounds.
Girl in shower: It will get better. It will get better. It will get better. Gets up from the floor. Turns off the water.
Camera cuts to girl in towel walking down stairs. Skin is slick with water. Bones jut out of shoulders.
My favorite hide-and-seek spot was behind doors left slightly ajar. Doing this used to be a favorite tactic of my sister and I until someone
realized that if you just kicked at the door really hard, the hider would let out a whimper of pain from behind it.
Dad: We need to talk.
Mom: How about we all sit down in the living room?
Sister: I have homework.
Dad: We’re divorcing
Sister: leaps off of couch and climbs out of window onto rooftop of house
Brother: I HATE YOU
Mom: Do you get it?
Dad: Do you get it?
When my dad walks, he drags his feet. I can sometimes here them slap against the ground, the pebbles he swings into motion from digging his heels into the gravel beneath his shoes. Over winter break, we walked back to the car after my doctor’s appointment. It was winter. He dragged his feet along the ground and slipped on the ice. He didn’t put his hands out. He rolled onto his shoulder. His doctors teach him the proper way to fall.
Lucky, Alice Sebold: “No one can pull anyone back from anywhere. You save yourself or you remain unsaved.”
The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath: “The silence depressed me. It wasn't the silence of silence. It was my own silence.”
Speak, Laurie Halse Anderson: My mom gave it to me to read when I was in fifth grade. It inspired me to write my own story.
Calculus of a Single Variable: Early Transcendental Functions, Larson: because math makes these lines, this thread, a fishing line cast out into the water, that pulls this story through until now.
A diminutive that a girl called me at overnight camp in Colorado. “Juney” comes from me being the shortest in my age group (Junior) and from the fact that the cabin for the youngest campers was called “Juniper” after the type of bush with spruce leaves. I don’t know where the “bug” part comes from.
When I take shifts at my Dad’s restaurant in Chicago, the Spanish employees give each other nicknames: Pollo: the name of the man who makes antennas out of tinfoil and places them on top of a computer to make a TV. Pancho: the name of the delivery boy who makes himself pizzas at the end of the workday. Gordita: the name of the manager’s sister who helps me chop three boxes of lettuce every morning. The summer before I go into tenth grade, Pollo, Pancho, and Gordita give me a baby lemon tree about the size of my palm.
“Raquelita, mi amor!” Esthela exclaims when I come home for Spring break. She works for my cousins in Chicago. When we’re at the park, she takes a photo of me pushing my two-year-old cousin on a swing set.
Rachel Danielle Litchman
“Rachel Danielle Litchman,” my mom says from outside the bedroom. “Open the door.” Her words are sharp, like nails being driven into me in all the wrong spots, splintering the wood, snapping it, breaking.
Eighth grade, the name my math teacher writes on my hall passes every time I come up to his room for help during recess. Instead of doing math, I draw snowmen on his whiteboard.
Number of word documents on desktop: 42
Number of folders on desktop: 33
Number of miscellaneous random screenshots on desktop: 4
Total number of word documents in folders: 3,904
Example names of word documents in folders: memoir_essay_Draft42.docx, This_is_the_FINAL_draft.docx, This_is_the_FINAL FINAL_draft.docx, In_the_Hospital_ poems.docx,
In the hospital, my head spins and my heart feels like there is a claw around it. My fingers tingle and toes are cold. I go to take a shower in the blue-tiled bathroom. The water splatters over me, and after a while, my legs shake. I want to sit down on the blue-tiled floor. I think about home and how my sister used to admit that she peed on the shower floor. So don’t sit down, she’d say. And I used to never sit down in the shower. I used to think it was gross to sit down in the shower. But at the same time, it was okay because at home we were all the same blood and I never felt guilty for being too weak to stand.
Silent Discontinuity: We pretend this doesn’t happen. We pretend this didn’t happen. To this day. I go over to my desk and stand in front of it. I knot my hands into fists. I seal my lips and breathe through my nose and grab a pencil. Then I spread out a white piece of paper on my desk. I ram the tip of the pencil into paper, watch as the lead snaps into dozens of little charcoal grains. It doesn’t satisfy me. I take another pencil. I do it again. And another. And do it again.
This is what silent discontinuity is.
Active ingredients (in each tablet) Purpose: Anti-depressant
15 mg ……………………………………………………Insert: Drug name
Uses: Temporarily relieves
-Do not wear black when using this product
-Do not buy black winter boots
-Do not even buy a black notebook
When using this product:
-Do not tell anyone you are using it
-Do not tell anyone why you are using it
-Do not wear black winter boots.
At a party, once, I didn’t want to be with anyone. I walked out of the living room and through the kitchen, down a hallway, into the quietness of a dusty little room by the front door. Inside of the room, there was an old upright piano against the wall. I sat down at its bench and pressed around at the keys one at a time, my hand pulled up by the strings of a puppeteer. Then down, ca-thunk, the puppeteer letting go. I lifted my hands up again. I paused. I brought them up to my face and rested my elbows on the keys, sending off a wave of hideous sound.
Some Sense of an Ending:
I’ve only played billiards once. I was at a friend’s house in her basement, hitting the balls across the table with my fingertips because we didn’t have any sticks. The balls clanged against each other: back, forth, back, forth. I like to think of my own life as a billiards game, a game I try to reach toward- Reach Rachel, with my two hands, to line up these balls in my own pattern of cause and effect.
But sometimes, the game doesn’t work that way. Sometimes, I reach with my own two hands, but there are these balls that fall off the table. And these are the balls we never find again. And these are the balls we don’t look for again, try not to look for, bury them away.
And these are the balls we keep burying:
And these are the canned peaches I’m eating:
And this is Moses parting the red sea:
And this is me:
RACHEL LITCHMAN is a high school senior at Interlochen Arts Academy. Her poetry and prose have been recognized by the Luminarts Cultural Foundation, The National Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, and The Glimmer Train Press Short Story Award for New Writers. Other work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Colorado Review, New South, The Mud Season Review, The Offbeat, and others. She is currently a poetry reader for the Adroit Journal.