the lepidopterist's collection
by TRACY HAACK
You help me use a net, adding them to the killing jar with cotton balls soaked in acetone. The fumes stop moths from panicking and damaging their wings. The flying ants don’t die right away, so I freeze them. An ant’s stinger twists to stop me from pinning her abdomen as she thaws. The grasshoppers are far worse. The ones I think about. The acetone makes them vomit yellow and brown onto white cotton. I sit next to our mother while she pins the bodies. I can’t do it. I lose points for biodiversity and neatness. My Boxelder Bug looks damaged, the blood orange wing crinkled, folded, ill.
In second grade, we sing about the muscle groups, the nervous system, the skeleton structure. I cover my ears. I want to unzip my purple boots, to take my thumping arteries out. I am too aware of the shoe pressing against the tip of each toe, grounding the pulse against me. The same is true of my fingers, my wrists. I shake my legs in order to distribute the pulse into a motion I can stand.
I’m in middle school when you become ill. This is the first time I know you want to die. The next morning, you wake, drowsy, sick, but not dead. Disappointment and the hardest morning. How long do you wait before telling mom? I have a memory of you, so drowsy, still drugged, laying on the floor in the basement family room. You are on a pile of moveable couch cushions. They are large flattened squares of maroon and 80’s charcoal pattern. You are loose and detached, watching me play Nintendo64. After one of these attempts, the police are called to commit you. At the station, the officer shows you to a cell. I wonder about these moment. If the cell is cinderblock and mint. Whether there are bars like in old westerns or if there is a metal door with a slot for meals. I wonder if you sat in a plastic chair or a bench and whether a medical officer looks at your wounds while the paperwork is processed.
I wake to a police radio multiple times in the coming years. Once, I hear it from the bedroom Stephany and I share. We lay still in the dark. The static pull follows a voice or sharp beep. All of this punctuates the officer trying to reassure our mother.
The other patients teach you the merits of slitting wrists vertically to increase blood flow. There was St. Elizabeth Hospital, Bellin Hospital, Brown County Hospital, and Winnebago Mental Health Institute. You moved from the short-term inpatient programs to long-term county hospitals. Only beginners and TV characters slit their wrists horizontally. You trace the veins in your arm when you tell me. Patients give you lessons in burning your skin with friction and flame. You model methods after each outpatient release. Your arms scar and scab in long burnt and sliced patches.
You weren’t always “ill.” One of my earliest memories is your curiosity. You and your plastic jar with the red lid. The lid has holes punctured around the edges. You catch irregular combinations of insects and arachnids. You want to see what a bee does to a spider. Does an ant make a good friend for a lady bug? Could a caterpillar marry a centipede? When it is time to release the bees, you open the jar and we run, shrieking, imagining a wild chase of angry bees for two laps around the house.
I’m trying to be David Copperfield. The hero of my story. I’m afraid to make your memories present if you want them behind. I should not make you live and relive, what you rejected. But, in my memory, you are always there.
I fail to erase bunkbeds and matching porcelain dolls. They have green velvet dresses, curled hair and matching bows. My doll is blonde like me. Your doll is brunette like you. I fail to erase your flapping arms when warming up for a swim meet, the way you yank the laces of your soccer cleats, and your love for Beauty and the Beast on VHS. You refuse to watch the movie now. You want to see it through the eyes of a child for the rest of your life. I fail to erase the way you eat the same meal for weeks at a time before switching to white rice to coffee cake to spaghetti to dehydrated mashed potatoes. The way you see freedom in paper Dalmatian kites. You plan our Halloween trick-or-treating path and eat spicy candy like a hero. Our dad teases you for eating too many hamburgers. I fail to erase you buying two used pink refrigerator magnets in the shape of Styrofoam Beta fish. You see art in pipe cleaners and sequins. I look for ways to protect you when you don’t need me to, even from Styrofoam fish. As your younger sister, I see how fragile and pure you are. I pity your lost 50 cents. Ashamed, you throw the fish away.
You’re my older sister, but it hasn’t been like that, has it? I’m supposed to be your guard against you. In middle school, I sleep next to your bed. I’m to wake if you get up to kill yourself. You resent me, making me sleep on the floor rather than next to you in your queen-sized bed. In my sleeping bag, I write in a mint diary with a gray kitten on the cover. I write about cutting as if I’m you. I write about cutting my legs with a broken shard of wood, with the one family Schick razor, with any sharp object mom hasn’t locked away. These are expressions of sadness I don’t know whether I actually experience. I enact you to understand or maybe just to own my own sadness, separate from you. I use purple and pink gel pens and store the diary beneath your bed. You sleep above the book each night.
When you’re in elementary school, mom shaves your head. Your hair is chlorine damaged from competitive swimming. You run from the room, from the house, and into the garage. I ask for the same haircut. This is the way hurt and empathy work, I think. I can have the same haircut. You will be less sad if I lose my hair too.
Most of my memories are like this. I’m not sure what is mine, and what is me empathizing with your neurological imbalance, a drive toward death. The same illness that makes our mother cry with the winter blues and that I face with each change of the season.
In the diary, I write about piercing my ears with a needle. The way the needle presses but does not puncture the final layer of skin for several hours. I pierce my ears four times. I write about sniffing glitter nail polish and wanting to die too. But hurt and empathy can’t be redistributed to decrease volume upon entering the body. I had the flu during the night once, and you didn’t wake up.
You skip school each Monday. Mom gives in to your begging, buys you Hard Lemonade each Sunday night. You come into my room, lay on the floor, will your television to me. I am in bed reading about dragons and trying to survive the seventh grade. My carpet is pink but not by choice. My dressers are painted with kitten scenes. I have a collaged tribute to The Lord of the Rings on my closet. I have a Samurai sword, but the blade is missing inside the scabbard. We are not allowed to have sharp objects. I have hand-me-downs, all of Nicole’s clothes that are passed to you and then to me. I pass what is left to Stephany. If you die, I don’t want your television set.
I wear pajamas to gym for a year. I get my first Adidas sweatpants and shirt, and girls rip the clothes through the vents of my locker. Cut and glue the fabric before pressing shirt and pants back into the locker. This is when I know: Middle school is possibly the worst idea of all. Hundreds of sweaty hormonal bodies without high school students as a point of reference for what comes next. Who thinks it is a good idea to put pubescent adolescents in an isolation chamber? I struggle to come through the other side. You did too. By high school, the lack of fieldtrip money, heat, or food make high school nearly impossible for you. The instability of eating onions, ranch, and bread sandwiches. You skip school each Monday.
What is the point of making a list of memories other than to say in the least number of words what happened? Is it to attribute mental illness to moments rather than neurology and purge it back out of our bodies? An incomplete list:
Fighting over who must pay for each item a child requires. Shelter, food, clothing, love.
And the man who touches our dolls and grooms me for his next. He assaults our mother and gives our dad a reason to leave. I don’t know how to say that assault is not infidelity, but it doesn’t matter now. A stranger leaves a painting of the Virgin Mary in this man’s white pick-up truck. He moves it to his darkened basement where I am when I see him standing at the top of the stairs, outlined in light.
And the pedophile that follows. Another one. Dad spits the word “co-dependent” at mom like a curse. At the risk of gaslighting: our mom needs to be needed. He spends eight years in our home, standing in my bedroom doorway, watching me sleep. He smokes outside the bathroom window and asks for hugs.
And then, Nicole runs away. During the divorce, she gets the winter blues in summer.
And the time I overhear mom say, “I wish I could walk out. Start over.” I listen from the stairwell, hang the Christmas stockings to make her remember the time of year when we bake and make garlands of popcorn for birds. She cries, knowing she can’t wrap anything to place inside.
When these things happen, you learn from a website that ranks method by pain and effectiveness. I remember the toaster’s ranking being high in pain and effectiveness. Did the website tell you about the others? The roof and the Draino that could eat your insides? The roof may not work. You may live. The chemicals can hurt. There is no escaping. This will hurt.
The bad time, when you take the pills, were you looking for the capsules mom hide under the bed? Or do you find them by accident? They are under the bed, a shoebox beneath the boxspring. Mom sleeps above them while I sleep next to you. You take the pills for mom’s degenerating spine, depression, and seasonal disorder. I think about you pouring them into your palm. You discover them in the length of time it takes to pick me and Stephany up from school. You begin seeing people, but it is never clear whether this happens because of the medications, the overdoses, or the imbalance in you. You will find the pills again. You will find the key to the safe when mom starts locking away the pills and steak knives. She keeps the key in her pocket. There is the time you found the safe key. Miles from home, you collapse in a farmer’s field.
Each attempt builds inside you. There are no cotton balls soaked in acetone, only activated charcoal and the EMT pumping your stomach.
The Angiology of the Vessels
You filter five senses into the body. The world eats you from the inside. It moves through your veins, makes you destructive, ill.
I say the world like it is a quantifiable entity which can be held and ingested.
I say the world like bodies are different than what is the world, what is other. But what if we don’t differentiate? What if your body is the other as it enters? You are the air as you breath. You are molecules the same as the chair you sit in, the same as me. I am you.
But then, you already know this. You told me, This is your story to tell.
As if it really is that easy to appropriate you.
Northern Hospital for the Insane*
I’m in the seventh grade, visiting Winnabago Mental Health Institute. The building is imposing brick, border walls, and visiting rooms. We visit you. Mom, her pedophile boyfriend, his creepy son, Stephany, and me. The creepy son offers a white pill in the darkened backseat of the car on the way home. He keeps them in his wallet. He asks to meet in his room later. He wants to show me how you got on the roof. When we get home, he takes my homemade sorcerers’ wand. I can have it back if I close my eyes. I break my toe purple kicking him after he prods me in the cunt.
At the hospital, we go through security. The hospital was founded in the 1800’s. There is a building for the criminally insane on the grounds. This hospital is one of two considered for Jeffrey Dahmer during his psychiatric evaluation. The man who attempted to assassinate Theodore Roosevelt stayed here for a time before dying in another hospital. I say this as a method of description. I say this to set the mood. Maybe I say this to show you what I know and that I am afraid. Maybe I am trying to shock someone. I hope I’m not trying to shock anyone.
The trees are gnarled, mature oaks over the hospital’s Asylum Point Cemetery. Each numbered cement rectangle is for a body, the bodies of family members never picked up. People considered dead when they are committed: inpatient. The gravestones are level with the ground, a number on each one to commemorate the body below the earth.
Pre 1908: Frank Bryant (40), Anna Strealka (34), Mrs. F. B. Halford (Removed), Franz Sankart (41), Charles Sodarassen (19), James Rolling (42), John Oldenburg (38), Almaratt? M. Dunn (35), Henry Beglinger (87), Chas Bealka (39), John Sosenski (100), C.C. Norman (101), John Pomand (103), Andrew Sohlissing (104), Martha Finch (106), Sopha Sodarassan (34), Martin Fattlina (105), Michael Sanen (113), Frank Graham (107), Andrew Snodty (110), Wm. Hyde (111), Julius Bathan (114), Fred W. Schroeder (114), John Schinnal (109), Julius Kogher (115), Lovina Hubbard/Hulbert (108), Pat Doyle (116), Ola Halvorson (120), Conrad Kellin (117), Maretta Handrich (119), Fred R. Thompson (121), John Geotsch (118), Otto Kraman (122), J.B. Hammond (123), Gustav Kreben (124), P.C. Angivina (125), Andrew Summitch (126), John Hiegel (127), Wm. Baxter (128), Emil Schroeder (129), Gabe? Jackson (130), Sam Rapp (131), John Engles (133), Mary Gram/Grans (132), Susan Keil (134), May DeGrace (135), Mary Slariutski? (136), John Finder (137), Wm. Bowman (138), Augusta Machholtz (139), Roger Sullivan (140), Richard S?adman (141) Joel Johnson (142), Chris Saul (143), Frank Miller (144), Baby Jurgersen (145), John Cavanaugh (146), Carl Haney (147), Otto Shultz (148), Jas Smith (149), Gustav Goetz (150), Carrie Kempke (151), Ernst Silen (152), Christian Raetz (153), Catherina Zwilike (154), Christopher Voss (155), Hans Johnson (156), Earnest Sautar (157), Mary Schlissing (158), Fred Rehbine (159), Jo Willis (160), Phillip Teal (161), Sophia Johnson (162), Joseph Schindlhotz (163), Pat Garvey (Buried Neenah), John Hoffert (164), John McCool (165), James Peckman (166), John Driscol (167), John Bergen (168), Baby Wandle/Mandle? (169), Charles Stanley (170), Howard Fraser (171), Ida Weisenhomer (172), Owen Loyd (173), Nick Feber (174), Emily Darling (175), August Hening (176), Patrick Moriarity (177), Willie Cox (178), Frank Reich (179), John Stranch (180), Mary Madagaski (181), Charles Sherman (182), Amy Avery (183), Mary Anderson (184), Paul Steinel (185), Henry Elmer (186), Ernestina Krueger (187), Mrs. Marion Pinney (188), Maggie Keating (189), Pat McHugh (190), Miss S.E. Prink (191), Elizah Rounds (192). 1908: Rose Zwickey (193), Chas Anderson (194), Geo Johnson (195), Susan Hefty (196), Tracy Hammer (197), Lena Baker (198), Carrie Ogle (199), Mary Church (200), Hans Monk (201), Chas Moore (202). 1909: Elmer Keggett (203), Chas Shupano (204), Fred Nitzel (205), Wm. Sherry (206). 1910: John Schultz (207), Arthur W. Matthews (208), Geo Allermann (209), M. Teske (210). 1911: W.H. Simond (211), Gustav Benneke (212), Pat Smith (213), John Redmond (214), Evelyn Reed (215), Eva Lennon (216), Mary Madson (217), Joseph Merkle (218), Wm. Enos (219), Jose Zemlock (220), Harry Bouck (221). 1912: Ernestine Henrich (222), Godfried Kiehl (223), Emelia Huiritz (224), Walter Bassett (225). 1913: Edw. Reschal (226), Albt. Rauun (227), Andrew Bohman (228), Simon Hoben (229), Joseph Jones(230), Fred Runkay (231), Peter Bavelt (232), Chas Hathaway (233), Henry Deobold (234), Amelia Abraham (235), Mahitable Kaine/Kaive (236), Wm. Walker (237), A.H. Miller (238). 1914: C.C. Pinney (239), Nick Ackerman (240), Irene Nuller (241), A.S. Wieworth (242), Emma Nelson (244), Albert Davies (245), Martin Jensen (246). 1915: Sarah Farry (247), Henry Lillman (248), Julius Freeman (249), John Shields (250), Augusta Stelter (Moved), August Yaeger (251), Chas M??shhausen (243), Frank Gross (252). 1916: Richard Quilty (253), Augusta Stagemann (254), Elizabeth Jones (255), Gusta Machollac (256), Hans Peterson (257), Nickolas Fritz (258), Henry Pistohl (259), Martin Machollac (260), Joe Nichels (261). 1917: Michael Nuller (262), Henry Kusch (263), John Weaver (264), Joseph Walters (265), Libbie Miller (266). 1918: John Helback (267), T. Wistrull (268), Wm. Beaisley (269), Albert Beilke (270), Elizabeth Steinholdt (271), Joseph Conley (272), Nickolena Ingrbretson (274), Herman Zibell (274), Harold Hanson (274). 1919: Gusta King (276), Roderick Sanies (277), Emma Meyers (278), Alden Crosby (279), Ellen Anderson (280), Anna Ward (281), Napoleon Thiebault (282). 1920: Mary Foster (283), Wm. Pistohls (284), Wm. Sampson (285), Herman Pair/Parr (286), Maggie Lake (287), Nels Peterson (288). 1921: Joseph Folzer (249), Eva Daggett (289). 1922: Catherine Fritz (290), Robert Roberts (291). 1923: Geo Liphite (292), Jacob Schwartz (293), August Madler (294), Henry Haskins (295). 1925: Wm. Diamond (296). 1926: John Abraham (297), Eva Zimmerman (298). 1927: Joseph Bondrovich (299), Joseph Johnson (300), Fred Busch (301). 1928: R.F. Johnson or Tom Ashton (302), Mary Hoffman (303), Thos. Pauliski (304), Wm. Wolff or Wm. Knaack (305), Elizabeth Dougherty (306), John Jones (307), Belle Horton (308), Ed Dougherty (309). 1929: Mrs. Herman Krueger (310), Leonard Skufe (311). 1930: Fred Brullow/Bruelow? (312), Israel Rawear (313), C.A. Jones (314), Carl Giersback (315), Ethel Norton (316), Peter Torigian (317). 1931: Chas Seger (318), Geo Modale/Wodole (319), Anna McCool (320), Tillie Hickey (321). 1932: Albert Amnunon? (322), Fred Paap (323). 1933: Susan Johnson (324), Ella Merry (325), Wm. Leach (326), Hattie Clark (327), Barney Nichols (328), Wm. Buhrow/Bubrow (329), Herbert Wilson (330), Hallie Blanchard (331). 1934: Christ Brauski/Branski (332), Henry Hiw?sar (334), Grace Rose (335), Mike Quinn (336), Thos. Clutcher (333), Horace Wm. Crane (337), Martin Wise (338), David B. Crow (339), Iram French (340), Wm. Clune? (341), Evaline Harvey (342), Emil Seling (343), Johanna Peterson (344). 1935: Albert Kleinschwidt (345), Andrew Walch/Malch (346), John Wagner (347), Emil Krueger (348), Paul Froehlich (349), John Potter (350), Martin Makowski (351), Joseph Erickson (353), Robert Delaney (352), Wm. Kryzaniak (354). 1936: Charles Bouck (355), Carl Korth (356), Eugene Reives/Rewes (357), Clarence Hull (358), Russell Marsh (359), J.H. Van Orden (360), Tilda Kreglow (361), Susan K. Peterson (362), Eli Chartrand (363), Albert Hanson (364), Wilhelmina Beilke (365), Arthur Dobr/Dohr (366). 1937: Melvin Hawley (354), Winifred Knapp (367), Edward Johus/Jabus (368), Florence Murphy (369), Mary Finney (370), Alex Price (his leg) (371), Fred Mason (372). 1938: Peter Lichtenberger (373), Wm. Sofranko (374), Herman Krisel (375), Arthur Nicholson (376), John E. Weeton/Waton (377), Elizabeth Remmuiger? (378), George Hardy (379), Alice Johnson (380). 1939: Minnie Springborn (381), Phillip Stieren (382), Jacob Koznia (383), Alfred Gallup (384), Henry Kaiser (385), Jas. Dilmore (386), Andrew Tolseth (his leg) (part way down 385). 1940: Amanda Kruse (387), Mrs. Gus Gruevwald (388), Maggie Kupp (389), Albert Hass (390), Wm. Leonhardt (391), Alex Price (371), Lillian Dodge (392), Louis Bruining/Brniung (393), Margaret McPhail (394), Chas. Springborn (395), Andrew Tolseth (396), Geo. Tuttle (397). 1941: Ole Henderson (398), Otto Hoferbecker (399), Carl Doerflinger (killed on hwy 45) (400), Peter Arenz? (401), Jens Therkildsen (402), John Anderson (403), Fred Schiller (404), Chris Peterson (405), Sarah Anna Vale (406), Francis Springer (407). 1942: Geo. Abbott (408), Revnand Spanbauer (409), Irving Ligvess (410), Joe Cotanche (411), Fred Vanderberg (412), Chas. Walts (413), Fred Burgett/Birgett (414), Jacob Roland (415), Michael Rutha (416), Mary Berg (417), Emerson Turney (418), Pat? Berrigan (?), Geo. Yagers (?), Mrs. Phippies (?), Ena? Burrows (?), Wm. Furney (?). 1943: Jos. Androshka (419), John Wallace (420), Wm. Morgan (421), Pitt Robinson (422), Chas. Silk (423), Wm. Smith (424), Wm. Cook (425), Alf Landwehr (426). 1944: Joseph Miller (427), Millie Thorn (428), Wm. Bartels (429), Chas. Gorschels (430), Fred Geise (431), Mary Johnson (432), Herbert H. Krueger (433), John Doe (434), John Mitchell (435), Kitty Hanson (436), Geo. B. Crowe (437), Sylvester Lewis (438), Joe Juensman (439). 1945: Wm. Fraunt (440), Richard Thoundel (441), Wm. Basing (442), Wm. Carley (443), Harry Wheeler (444). 1947: Blaz. Davich (445), Ernest Hills (446), John Novak (447). 1948: Carrie Cutler (448), Allan Folsom (449), John Eisner (450), Wm. Abbey (451), Gustav Baasch (452), Elizabeth Mielke (453). 1949: Frank Peterson (454), Aug. Maleisske (455), John Green (456), Silas Brown (457), Robert Smith (458), Wm. H. Vail (459), Herman Waspi (460). 1950: Lucius Wood (461), Nic Nammers (462). 1951: Maih Fitzpatrick (463), Michael Polus (464), Constance Manpole (465), Mary Polier (466), James Jungwirth (467). 1952: Chas. Ross (468), Tom Chapman (469), Hulda Cronquist (470), Irving Kaufman (471), Ernest Ripple (472). 1953: Conrad Rivens (473), Mattie Clemens (474), Cyril Van Sent (475). 1954: Wm. Golze/Dolze (476). 1956: Frank Loss (477), Lawrence Winkler (478), Margaret Fisher (479), James Thomas (480). 1957: Norma Anderson (481), Albert Brahmer (482), Samuel Gouch (483), Margaret Smith (484). 1958: Jessie Swantz (485).
Yellow florescent light washes the halls. This isn’t your first hospital stay. The last time we visit you here, you are too drugged to have a conversation. There are cots in the halls of your unit. Not enough rooms for the number of patients. You are being stabilized, they say. This time, we wait for the nurse to buzz us in. We listen to the child screaming. See the girl who stares. She was gang raped on a home visit, you say. Her body torn apart by the bodies of multiple men. We shouldn’t know this about her. You shouldn’t tell us. You need to tell us. I don’t think I’ve ever heard those words. I let those words into me. Draino in my stomach. I’m twelve. I’m starting to see empathy can’t be passed, distributed this way. The girl still feels her own private trauma in a way I can never understand. I avoid looking at anyone else, but I don’t know if my avoidance is out of respect for their dignity or my refusal to feel any more.
Years after Winnebago Mental Health Institute, you become stable. We met in a hospital again, but this time it is different. Your brain is well. It is the rest of your body that is ill. Your pancreas is swollen from a gallstone. I sit next to the guardrails while they break your veins and tap your knees. They medicate through a tube and wait for the right moment to cut out your gallbladder. It is only your gallbladder, as if this part of you is less you than your brain. They will cut it out. When this happens, I wonder if the rest of your body will know a piece of you is dead in a medical landfill. Will your liver miss your gallbladder? Will you have a version of phantom limb syndrome in your gut? A nagging pull? Or, is it only vital organs that are really alive in the way we know? I imagine a body composed of only the brain, heart, kidneys, lungs, and liver. This body hugs with the left pulmonary artery, tucks the common carotid artery in the crook of opposing superior vena cava. This body has no need of legs or feet which aren’t really alive anyway.
The named patients in the Asylum Point Cemetery are sometimes misspelled or unsure. There are unnamed bodies in the Asylum Point Cemetery too. They have only a number. Both named and unnamed graves are accompanied by patients’ Alex Price’s and Andrew Tolseth’s legs. They are buried separate from their body. Inexplicably detached. Unlike your gallbladder, the legs are buried with their own grave number. The pre-Socratic philosophers viewed matter, such as detached legs, as a living, although not sentient, being. Matter is alive, but it has no tendency toward striving, so is therefore not conscious. Their legs, your gallbladder, my feet, are not sentient. We can cut them out. Greek philosophers called this living without striving: Hylozoism. I listen to dictionary.com pronounce this word over and over. I tell my refrigerator magnets that they are hylozoic. This does not increase or diminish them.
Plants may have consciousness. An African Violet may understand her place in the yard. She may sense running footsteps and the growth of an adjacent dandelion. If an African Violet loses a petal, does it understand the death of a limb? Does the Violet differentiate between 88% alive and 89%? Is there celebration or mourning?
*Northern Hospital for the Insane is the official name of the hospital before it became Winnebago Mental Health Institute.
**Wisconsin State Genealogical Society. “Winnebago County Asylum Cemetery.” Wisconsin State Genealogical Society Newsletter, Vol. 27. Number 2. September 1980, Copied for Newsletter by the Asylum Office by Wayne and Alta Guyant in 1974. “Section 25, Oshkosh Township on County Trunk Y. This cemetery has no markers. There are no records of earlier burials. Grave number is given.