Amanda Bramley earned her M.F.A. from Lindenwood University. She has been
previously published in Natural Bridge, The Lindenwood Review, and BlazeVox. She teaches high school English just outside of Saint Louis, Missouri. Her students know her as “the crazy pug lady.” Recently, her creative nonfiction essay won the "Write Outside Your Door" Contest with the Missouri Botanical Garden. A video of her reading will be on display later this summer (2022).
My feet say they’re sorry. All the miles I did not walk, lost for steps I took instead.
My mouth says “sorry” for words I should have said.
High school. Junior year. The day before my last day, my sister gave me a black eye.
She was thirteen. Even though I had her permission to borrow that white pair of shoes, I
did not have her approval to throw them over the loft’s railing, hitting her head like a
bullseye target. In response, she stomped up those pink-carpeted stairs, turned me around,
and punched me. I didn’t think it was apparent. My forehead’s pain. A feeling that
wouldn’t show. Until I drove, ice pack in hand, to the Blimpie Sub Shop to show my
friends. B.P. was working. He stepped out from behind the vegetable assembly line, and
said, “You better sit down.”
"C," Only One
I received one “C” in high school, but I never really tried or worked for my A’s and B’s.
They would just appear four times a year on a piece of paper in the mail. They had no
meaning. But that one average letter had many.
(See also Eichhorn)
Lessons I’ve learned from my dad: Be aware. Be open to perspectives other than your
own. Peripheral vision is essential. He, on the other hand, exists in a realm of his own
construction. How could he have lived so long and never have stepped outside to survey
the view? The crux of his unhappiness: He’s trying to make everyone fit into the rooms
of his understanding. When he lost his toe recently, I felt guilty for judging him. I
know that he’s lonely, but only as a result of his own craftsmanship, and I pity him: an
emotion a child should not have for a parent.
From a payphone in Creve Coeur Park, using my AT&T calling card, I told my mom that
the seniors in the Masterpieces course could take a senior trip (before spring break) to
London, to Paris, and to everywhere in between, including a cruise liner across the
channel. I wasn’t asking. I knew the answer. “Oh, you don’t have a choice,” she said.
“No, you have to go. We’ll find a way.”
Mrs. Eichhorn, my English Masterpieces teacher, and her family were our chaperones. As
long as we stayed in groups, we had freedom that wouldn’t be allowed this century. Poor
Eichhorn. We lost sight of Melanie at the Hippodrome. She took a ride with a stranger
back to our hotel at 3am. We were lucky. When we returned home, I stopped. Everything.
I quit the cheerleading squad and never opened a book. I remember lying on the carpeted
floor in her windowless classroom while Hamlet, starring Kenneth Branagh played. Poor
Eichhorn. She was so excited to have gotten a copy of the new release on VHS. But I fell
asleep on the floor, not worrying about whatever assignment accompanied the film.
Later, she pulled me in the hallway and said, “I know you’re done with high school. I
know you need this class to graduate. I just want to show you my gradebook, in case
anyone asks, you can corroborate the story.” She opened the green grid book. I wouldn’t
try to argue those zeros. I knew I had quit. But what I saw, the image that won’t leave
my memory, is a row of capital C’s.
(See also “C.”)
My mother’s false memory: I’ll give you the facts first: she was a single mother of two
teenage girls, in her thirties, working full time getting a college (a Wash. U.) education in
the evenings, trying to find time for herself too. She swears to this day, that from her
bathroom in our small apartment, I stole her new, super expensive, black, Neiman Marcus
bra. I don’t remember this. We laugh about it now. But Mom still gives me that face, the
one full of eyebrows, when the subject arises.
On September 9, 2015, my mom’s sixtieth birthday, I cried for eight and a half hours
straight. She came over, and we all ordered Imo’s. The lighting in our family room still
bothered me. Was it too blue? Too white? Too something? Not how it should be. I told
Chris, between sobs and tissues, we would need to go to Home Depot the next day tofind
better bulbs. He agreed. He agreed the same way he let me claim the recliner that looked
out the front window. He agreed the way he picked up Mom’s birthday present from the
store (with the baby) so that I could sleep. He agreed because at that point, he knew not to
ask if I was okay. He learned just to ask what he could do to help.
(See also Postpartum Depression)
Amy Van Gels’s brother was known for bleaching chunks in her hair. Two stripes. They
framed the face. It was a very popular style in the mid 90’s. It was two nights before
prom. Somehow the foil stayed in place too long. The front half of my head had been
transformed into paper: white and stiff. Of course, the back half was still its natural dark
brown. Walking ying yang. Four hundred dollars and six hours at the salon later (Thanks,
Mom. I’m sorry), I appeared as close to the way I did before the failed experiment as
possible. What a waste. Lesson not learned. Thanks, Mom. I’m sorry.
(See also YouTube)
I’d gained too much weight for him to be attracted to me. I should have seen the red flag
when his last name rhymed with my first. But a year together didn’t keep these words
from escaping his mouth. Over the phone. What should I have said? I come up with
endless ideas of insults today. But at the time, I only said, “But do you still love me?” I
cringe at the echo of the memory.
It was a lie, of course. But I tried anyway. When I turned thirteen, I tried to convince
everyone that my name was Jasmine. That Amanda and Rose were the second and
third. I said I never knew my name before my parents’ divorce because my mother had
secretly added it to my birth certificate. I guess the idea formed from the picture I found
in an old collection, after we moved into Gram’s house. A little boy. A school picture.
On the back it read, “To Daddy. Love, Tommy.” I hadn’t known that my dad had been
married before or that he abandoned a family. So I tried to reinvent myself with a new
title. A few friends believed me, at least I think they did. Maybe they were talented liars
I drove my black Sunfire, following my mom, close behind, all of highway 70, across the
state line and Evening Star Road, into Lawrence. We passed the condo where, as a kid I
would stay with my grandparents when my grandad taught “for the Jayhawks.” I’d
roller skate on their back patio and into the church parking lot next door. As a college
freshman, I’d find new ways to spend my time. Mom and I unloaded my meager
belongings into the room I’d share with my closest friend. Naismith Hall offered Annie
the freedoms her parents never allowed her, but to me, those bare cement walls
restricted me from what, from who, I wanted. My mom drove back to St. Louis that
same night. I called her at midnight, the moment she arrived. “I’m coming home
tomorrow,” I said. “I have to.” “For Paul,” she said. I don’t think she ever argued.
Surely she complained, but I don’t remember. Her love for me included acceptance. What
remains in my moving picture memory is that when she returned, the next morning, at
eight, my car was already packed. We made two stops to unenroll me and to stop
payment. “What will you do now?” she asked at a rest stop somewhere in the middle of
Missouri. “I don’t know, but I’ll figure it out.”
Jill, Lisa, Amy LeGrand. Three sisters my age and older. Mother: Linda. Father: “Boots.”
Our families sojourned together at the Door County house the summer when a car hit me.
I was riding my bike down Highway 42, near the beach and The Pioneer Store, too far
ahead of my family. They yelled for me not to cross the street. I must have misheard, but
I’ll never remember it happening. Three days later, when I came back to our oddly
shaped home there, the back of my head felt like a water balloon. Fractured skull, but I’d
be fine. The worst part, to me, was that I couldn’t go under water for eight weeks. But
Jill, Lisa, Amy and their creative antics made sure I still enjoyed the vacation. In the
evening, with the windows open and flames growing in the stone fireplace, the girls
flipped upside down on the couch and made chin faces by drawing eyeballs on the top of
their necks. Hilarity ensued. I came to sit by Amy and dipped my head down to be a
reason for laughter. But Mom came running in, reminding me of my condition and that I
shouldn’t be upside down. We all giggled when she went back to the adults on the deck.
In my basement, packed in plastic tubs, I searched for memories. For almost eight years,
I kept a journal. Each day. Bulletting my events. Exactly what I did. Under a dusty lid, I
found 2002, the year I lived in both St. Louis and New York City. Back and forth.
Reading those pages, I realize how much I don’t remember. Who was Jeannette? Elijah?
I spent time with these people. They make appearances on numerous dates, yet I can’t
picture them. Who were they? I’m reading words written by someone else.
They occur at least once a week. I had one last night. I’m late for a class, math, I think. I
haven’t been in class all semester, and I’m far behind. I’ll fail this class. In our hallway, I
tell Mom, “I’m just waiting for the call.” She doesn’t say anything. My bookbag becomes
too heavy, and I can’t remember the combination to my locker. Before I fully enter the
classroom, all the faces turn to look at me. “I’m sorry,” I say, not sure if I’m talking to
my mom, the faceless teacher, or all of the ones staring at me. Then I wake up.
On the Seam
In 2011, I was Fort Zumwalt South’s Educator of the Year. I earned an interview at
District Office for the Zumwalt representative. It took place at 6am, before school.
Afterwards, at school, I taught first and second hours. Knowing that I had a principal
observation in third, and having consumed four large coffees, I used passing time to take
advantage of the restroom. As I passed the large wall mirror, the color white caught my
eye and caused me to stop. I wore black dress pants, half of a suit. At some point that
morning, the seam in my crotch had completely ripped open. From front to back. The
“white” contrast of my granny undergarments screamed against the black of my pants.
Another teacher, three actually, came to my rescue. One watched my class. Another
pulled me, half crying, half laughing, to the FACS hallway bathroom where I hid in a
student stall, stripped, and handed the burst slacks over the door. The last teacher, I’ll
never know which one, sewed them up. My principal later gave me an award for “Most
When the two of us returned from the hospital as three, it began. “The house looks
different,” I said when we pulled up. As sleepless days passed, it became more daunting
to breathe, to eat, to speak without crying. I knew what it was. My own doing. A fault.
Prescriptions and unconditional love helped the recovery.
(See also GG)
Sometimes, when I’m quiet, you think I’m mad. At you. I’m not. It’s just me.
I’ve been sunburned, poisoned by solar power, twice. After J.D. and I broke up, or after
he disappeared, Dad’s wedding (the third, no fourth, no third) one would be an escape,
so I agreed to go to Florida that March with my sister, dad, Sharon, and her two
daughters, for the destination wedding. Get it? Destin, Florida? After coming in from a
few hours on the beach, trying desperately to gain a warm, dark glow to show off at
school, I curled up on the couch. Rachel was talking to Mom on the phone. “Amanda,
she wants to say hi to you,” she said. I stood up too fast and fainted. The second time, no
surprise to any of my friends, was a result of a drunken day in the pool. Ryan and
Meredith’s wedding in Riviera Maya, Mexico. Both times, my stupidity.
The story is mine, but now third hand, picked up like a memory from the Goodwill bin.
I see it from an outsider’s perspective: a little girl, a kindergartener. She remembers the
words her parents told her, “Never walk out in front of a car.” The school bus pulls up to
her house, concluding her first day of school. When she needs to cross over Pepperwood
Drive to reach home, she walks in skirted steps behind the back of the bus.
The Princess Bride
I skipped school many times, twice–unsuccessfully.
Freshman year, I convinced my mom I was sick and needed to stay home. Brandon
Portell and I watched The Princess Bride on our family room couch. My mother
surprised us-- surprised herself too-- when she came home for lunch, to make me soup.
(See also Vacation)
There have been many times, and there will be more, when I don’t say the words. I’m
sorry. For that, too, I apologize.
By my sophomore year, you’d think I’d have learned. Ha ha. Friday, before spring
break, my boyfriend (J.D.) and all of his friends were getting signed out early (to do
what, exactly? I don’t remember. Probably nothing). His older sister would call, pretend
to be my mother, sign me out, too. I didn’t know how to wait, so I hid in the restroom
repeatedly popping my big head at the attendance window. Until finally, “Yes,” those
two old biddies told me. “Your mother is on the phone now.” I planned on feigning a
child’s voice when speaking to his sister, my “mother.” I didn’t have to though. “What
vacation are we going on, Amanda?” None for me, apparently, as I’d be grounded the
(See also The Princess Bride)
Halloween of 1999. Miss Piggy. I had the dress, a wig, perfect purple gloves with a ring,
the nose, the tail, curly and pink, ears, and the shoes to match. The party would be my
best memory of the year. I planned on winning the two-hundred-and-fifty dollars contest
prize. Paul wouldn’t go as Kermit. He had to be a vampire ninja, but I didn’t mind. I was
excited just the same. Until my mother told me that she had purchased a plane ticket for
me, to North Carolina, for Uncle Wayne’s wedding. Who gets married on Halloween? I
fought. I won. The non-refundable plane ticket would be wasted. I would miss the
wedding. I’d never be truly forgiven.
It’s one of the letters on the alpha dice. My son is playing what he calls “jackpot.”
“Mommy! Roll it and see what prize you get,” he says as I settle in, comfortable in the
recliner. “Mommy!” “Give me a second sweetie, I’m busy.” I shouldn’t have been.
My attention should have belonged to him.
I had watched a YouTube video, a “How to” on blow-drying hair with large round
brushes. The demonstrator simply used three large barrels, wrapped them up on each
side of the head with a section of hair. Simply direct the dryer on each, release, and
viola. Not so much. 5:45am. Alone in the house. Getting ready for work. It seemed so
simple. One portion above each ear and one in the back. Three brushes. The last one was
the mistake. The holes in its design were to help the air move through it, to dry faster.
But my hair became entangled in a complete knot. I tried pulling it out, knocking my
body into the walls hard enough to cause framed wedding photos crashing to the ground.
I drove to work with that brush in my hair. Crying and laughing. A neighbor up the
street attempted to save me. “I don’t know how you’re not going to have to cut this out,”
she said. No. I would not give up and be forced to chop twelve inches of my hair, grown
forever after a poor choice in layers and bangs. My coworker, a mother of four boys,
used a metal nail file to pull out each portion. After twenty minutes of tugging and
untangling, I was free. The fate of the brush is not to be discussed.
(See also Hair)
A rhetorical device. The official definition, as found by my students, reads, “a figure of
speech in which a word applies to two others in different senses (e.g., John and his
license expired last week) or to two others of which it semantically suits only one
(e.g.,with weeping eyes and hearts ). I am one, too. I make my bed and my apologies.