SET THE STAGE: the Drowning Children + me in a habitat of natural childhood: THE J PAUL GETTY MUSEUM, where models stand pinned in glitzy dead butterflies, wings spread, a graveyard of history. We are young, and the net age between us and the statues could cradle our grandparents in its palms. We are young, and our native language is not English or even Korean but something deeper and unilateral, like thought but something more, like understanding but something more. Each painting feels like love so strong all I want to do is lean forward and scrape my fingers against the canvas, feel the hate peel off under my nails like smooth acrylic. This is the how and where of our beginning, the Drowning Children and I:
OLDER BROTHER finds a labyrinth inside himself. Nothing but his own dark corridors have ever made so much sense to him. He finds the things my parents have managed to preserve inside stained formaldehyde glass: an itch against the carpal tunnels of his throat / nails bit to the quick / his skin peeling at his thumbs. In the museum he searches for a bull goring another bull in bronze, a la William Golding.
SISTER looks up at Aphrodite in 1.5 scale and thinks that’s where I’m supposed to be. She catches flower petals in a net of dark hair, scrubs her collarbone and tongue with moonshine, slips her hands off pieces of clay. She hasn’t learned the distinction between Korean and English yet, doesn’t realize that people don’t understand her when she says the word haraboji, but she’s beginning to comprehend that artists would sacrifice apple blossoms and dignity for her, bleed themselves out to paint her effigy in deepfuckingred.
MOTHER, who dreams in Korean, keeps LITTLE BROTHER glued to her hipbone for the first few years and has the ends of her hair cut so sharp they could slit. our. throats. There are security guards and art breathing open air so this is also where she teaches us to walk. with. your. hands. behind. your. back. children.
CUT TO: a few years and epiphanies later, the Getty’s alter ego, HOUSE KITCHEN & DINING ROOM. Between us four, we carry a monster virus that was one of my older brother’s first labyrinthine discoveries, a study in what he thinks is survival. We take turns:
New Years Eve, circa 2011, a car swatched in a sticky dark blue, all shadows and impressions of people, a girl with her head in her hands, and the apology– a single vein of pulsing white
Stockholm’s syndrome, circa 2015, a therapist’s office in gold, mother crying, there is nothing I wouldn’t do to make my mother stop crying, we have vantablack puddling so dark in our socks to acknowledge is to succumb
Dog playing in the grass, circa 2016, my little brother asks me the questions he doesn’t feel safe asking in the house, every one ugly-red– is Cilla flammable, how old is mom, where does suicide come from, why do you ask
Savior’s complex, unknown, I am told for the thousandth time that I am the one who is supposed to save my family–
i play russian roulette with yahoo answers, circa 2017, B&W, I-am-pushed-away-from-the-hospital-bed-but-please-you-don’t-understand. That’s my sister.
INTERMISSION: And I know I say it pretty here but we are not. Novel. We fight the way they don’t want you to know about on tv. We scream slipknot, bullshit! in the drivewaykitchenbedroom, but in public and evangelizing circles we shut up, shut down. It can’t be tragic until one of us is beautiful. Kids, say it with me: it can’t be tragic until one of us is beautiful.
FLASHBACK: but slow down, go back to your roots.
FATHER once told us that he found us all in a well, a story tribute to his last name, de Puy, to a French heritage I’ve never touched. Sometimes I like that. I can see it as a painting, as something serene and bluescale, four Drowning Children in a black puddle at the bottom of a stone well. Found together, four Virgin births circa 1287 or 2004, walled in at the Getty. Four fat cherubs with roses for skin. All of us: biblical, bright & shining, but I’m afraid we won’t be owned. At least, not by you.
Ollie Dupuy is a junior at Orange County School of the Arts in Southern California, where she studies Creative Writing and is an editor for Inkblot Literary Magazine. She enjoys history (America’s, the world’s, yours) and opportunities to overdress. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Fredericksburg Literary and Art Review, gravel. mag, and Cleaver Literary Magazine.