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For thousands of father's daughters, there is no Thanksgiving Day, only violent normalcy with the distant feeling that the third Thursday of every November should be different somehow. John Doe broke his booze bottle and carved "FUCK" in little Susie Doe's stomach fat, while Lawyer Extraordinaire Harry Bellefonte put a manicured hand down his curly-headed wonder's size 4T pants while taking a much-needed break from a case that couldn't wait. Thank God my dad only stood up for the poor rapist's anxious penis. Thank God I got to digest my once warm, now searing green bean casserole in physical peace.
Lying is a fascinating habit. I should trade in bottomless nail biting for a lifetime supply of tall tales, wherein my standard existence would take on the quality of dreams filled with morbid life and funny death. Babies in bellies and bags filled with stale water. I shared a tanning bed with a decaying corpse once, then married for the opposite of love and spent my honeymoon sobbing on the bathtub’s lip for the one I lost. I could open my mouth to see what comes out, wet nursing creative stimuli and never needing help from a daily Prozac cocktail.
She sleeps, my terror, as a pretty black shape painted with tan, white, and a coursing red only I can see. One minute a circle, the next a straight line, only always curved and slightly thicker in the middle. It’s dark in the space we take up together; the only light comes from a box in the corner, weak and always but never changing. She hides her eyes against it, but I stare, happily distracted from her alterations, though they correctly seem to be the answer. Eventually she wakes, warm and full of riddles, to keep me on my toes.
Do you mind if I use you to validate my love? When we’re lying in bed afterwards and I can do nothing but ache, I’ll know it’s real. His freckles will seem golden in the darkness of your bed; his hands like art compared to the lines of your face. I’ll compare the consistencies of the sex, based on smells, tastes, touches, and memories, and this experience will lose flavor to the briefest, most basic encounter with him. I need you, if only to need him more and more, until we’re the only option in an existence full of others.
The bottom is always closer than you think. Somewhere between the last time your laugh was genuine and complete substance decay is a cold corner in a Wal-Mart bathroom stall, the self-help aisle at a local bookstore, or despairing loneliness in a room full of people you’re supposed to love. The time and place are uniquely wrong for everyone, but that deafening sound never changes. Bones snap, organs burst, and will stops breathing. Climbing back into bed is no longer a safe remedy, but another hemorrhaging limb lying lost in the dark after that final, resounding smack when you hit.
The walk-in salon looked innocent enough – I only wanted a trim, after all. Since they were closing three hours earlier than the mall and thirty minutes later than the reading on my watch, I made sure the lone employee was up for it. She smiled painfully and told me to sit down, then began combing my thick, long hair with a thin comb without the aid of water or spray-on conditioner. “My ear is freshly pierced, so try to watch it,” I warned. She stayed silent and rushed through the procedure, snagging the tender hoop four times. I tipped well.
Doris loves telemarketers. They have never seen her swollen, angry face, nor heard her screeching obscenities, frightening small toddlers. They want her money, which means they think she has some. Doris spent her life savings on vibrating sex toys, though the noise only adds a massive migraine to her frustrating frigidity. The young, ambitious callers have never seen her sprawled on the bathroom floor, smothered with saliva and twitching from withdrawal, her emaciated weimeraner lying hopeless in the corner, waiting to be fed. They want her to answer, want to tack a pathetic Doris to their solid list of accomplishments.
That rotten spot between my heart and stomach – you wanted it there. But since you said you loved me, I imagine you on the other side of the door, listening to my confusion and despair. You’re crying, too, wishing you could take it back, be a better person, show me that I occupy space in your life and you wouldn’t have it any other way. I get out of bed, wipe my red face, and open the door, ready to forgive only three minutes after the fact. The doorway is empty, but I can hear you laughing down the hall.
Under the covers, we’re somewhere between children and teenagers, whispering secrets and playing What If, touching each other and shuddering with excitement. Let me run my fingers tightly through your hair while you sing the words to Captain Kangaroo, then we’ll pretend we’re hungry hippos and lick each other’s wounds. When adulthood creeps round with the promise of bills and 30-minute lunch breaks, promise to smile slyly and pull me into bed, leaving the dishes soaking and the phone ringing. Tuck me in like a baby, then stroke me like a green-eyed blossom, and we’ll grow old together playing games.
I don’t feel fat until I turn on the television, look out the window, surf the Web, read a magazine, listen to the radio, eat a piece of chocolate brownie cheesecake, browse the clothing racks at the mall, skim a bargain bin novel, attend a college film class, go to the dentist, head to the gym, talk to my dad or mom or sister or former best friend on the phone, check the mail, peruse the local newspaper, pick up my prescription, drink a glass of water, or glance at the back of a shampoo bottle while using the toilet.
This movie is bullshit. I didn’t pay ten bucks for a formulated plot guaranteed to make me cry alligator tears and lament the passing of semi-round characters. All I wanted was to eat salty popcorn in my stiff movie seat and weep from my soul for the death of humanity. Perhaps I should stick to watching people from park benches, forlorn women eating Choco Tacos and throwing wedding rings into deep ponds, shifty-eyed young boys holding hands and holding on. I don’t think my heart could take it, so I’ll keep relying on Steven Spielberg to shake my longing core.
This song reminds me of a time when my body needed no daily food or sleep, but only to be in your arms on a rough Berber couch full of needles. We woke up outside that morning, dawn welcoming the light rain, and fled to the back door with our makeshift bed dragging behind. Since our couch was so far away, we crashed on the floor. Like always, you fell asleep and I sat listening to rain on the roof. She sang from nowhere, somewhere inside my head, and I still can’t listen to that song without hearing you breathe.
I wasn’t there when my sister choked on a tiny green Gobstopper in the middle of our Suburban Kitchenette. Old Heimlich showed up and she flushed it down the toilet, her problem erased as quickly as it arrived. Now I’m on the brink of choking myself, scared to take a breath because the shape might be there this time, ready to lodge in my throat and stick. I would look for a toilet but there wouldn’t be one, no toilet in a country full of toilets, so I’d have no choice but to die, asphyxiated on a piece of imagination.
Forgive me, but sometimes I just want to run, push us away and bolt to his apartment like it’s a thick, underground room and I’m in the middle of a hurricane. I need to know I’m still alive, capable of feeling passion strong enough to make me wince, strong enough to let me forget marriage, children, bills, and leftover meatloaf on Tuesday nights. Do you remember when we never got out of bed, and every touch was new, every sigh loaded? I’m addicted to new lust and old love, two incompatible lifebloods and the constant vengeance of a lonely God.
Patience might be a virtue, but anxiety is my reality. I’ve counted the missed meals, discussions lost, and absent bedroom romps, totaling seven days we’ve been apart. A voice on the phone never counts a positive point, since I can’t touch its source or feel the stresses of each letter. I’m eager to smell your soap, and annoyed because the scent works against my modern annoyance. (Clean up your mess, silly ass, then put those hands where we like them.) I’m ready to settle in, dress down, let loose, and chill out, and the task becomes unbearable alone without you.
If home is where the heart is, my home is an August night spent on a friend’s foreign bathroom floor. I skipped the Bible study downstairs and lay with my face on the vent, praying the cool air would never stop. Abhorrence suddenly, unexpectedly, permanently replaced praise, forcing my self-diseased heart out through my eyes. The wretched thing flopped around like a fish in a pool of pus and tears then finally died, leaving me with my blessed breeze in peace. In its place eventually grew truth and love, so I’ll never need to go back where I came from.
If I were making a horrible mistake, surely my loyal body would let me know. Limbs would seize up and atrophy, organs would start working at a slower pace, and my stomach would refuse any incoming mail. My brain would start creating colors that don’t exist, memories that never happened, and chemicals not meant for normal human function. Life would shut down, scream at me to stop, for God’s sake, stop before you can never go back. I’ve been waiting for the sign, but it hasn’t come, so I can only assume my last move was right. Painful, but right.
At least the Greek cultures perceived powerful demons as female. These days, Satan and God are mighty males, and women are left to protect our vaginas from men who follow both. If only the Furies would avenge my emotional and sexual death, and Agave my constant disappointment and need for bloody repentance. Instead, we’re all Pandoras, created to eat forbidden apples and tempt soldiers with our supple fruits, stuck between motherly Madonnas and lip-licking whores with restrictions to boot. Even crusaders can’t get angry enough to move the world, but I suspect fear has always driven the stories of men.
It’s difficult to wander the medicine aisles at the grocery store without recalling a time when I wanted my body to look like a piece of commercial art, contemporary and self-fashioned. My palette was the toilet, my medium laxatives and ipecac syrup, and I spent nights sweaty and sad until my dinner floated on the water, a secret painting. When my work was finished, only the blind bought it and I began to see. Now, I’m content being a proper Venus de Milo, only with small breasts, a pensive face, and scars of regret that often ache when I create.
Jesus won’t mind if you fuck him. I used to be like you, willing to cry over some spilled spirit, convinced the stimulation of my tender clitoris was directly related to the Judgment Day curve. My love and I would rub crotches, say our prayers, sing a few hymns, and point at the floor accusingly. Masturbation was replaced with Sunday School, fantasies with gold-plated crosses, French kissing with Easter and Christmas services. If I could go back, I’d give myself permission to skip Bible study and fuck his brains out. Trust me, the truth would have been the ultimate praise.
As your maid of honor, I solemnly swear to scoff at your senseless marriage, provided you actually go through with it. I only ask that you not make me pay billions in change for some crap dress you’ll use as a polyester tissue when he inspires yet another daily sobbing. If you do decide to make the leap, I promise to occasionally pretend to listen intently as you rattle off the cute little woes of legally bound love (toilet seat up, only two concussions so far, etc.), while secretly compiling literary ammunition and holding my intelligence close like a lover.
My diploma lies discarded on the rug, protected by its patent pleather case, waiting to be hung on the wall next to my greatest accomplishments. I’d rather hang up four years of growth, perhaps a glass case with locks of hair snipped from every individual who made my life different. A strip of blonde, for the one I love. Four browns of different textures, for someone who embraces my flaws, someone who pretends not to care, someone who makes me laugh, and someone I had to forgive. I’d be content with giving thanks to chance meetings instead of assigned errands.
I'm planning to wait for your call, Prospective Employer. I'll sit by the phone watching the holidays pass through the slits in my blinds. My neighbor's festive blinking lights will serve as the background to my Life Transition and be enough to feed my year its annual Christmas. To pass the time, I have no problem worrying until my fingers are bloody and raw. I'll gladly sacrifice flesh to pay the bills, as well as my dreams and intellect. I promise to ignore the days screaming to be spent otherwise if you'll only pick up the phone and relieve me.
Christmas is about love and togetherness, but most importantly, it’s about reinforcing gender roles. I would have always been unsure had my aunt not asked me to give back the mislabeled gift, a cousin’s fascinating blue electric roadster, for my bright pink Girls Are Great doll. “The color of the object will quiet any doubts you may have in the future,” she advised. If not for her preventative social instruction, the confusion could permeate each and every holiday season, making forever unclear the difference between what lies quiet between my legs and what my vocal soul constantly sings.
You’re sitting on my couch, hot cup in hand. We’ve just returned from a bustling family party at my mother’s. You ask me to sit on your lap, putting the cup down carefully so you won’t burn me. I oblige, so you stroke my face with those deep blues and say you’ve spent all night wondering what our own babies would say while we put them to bed; what paradoxical wisdom and simple truths they’d reveal after a reading from a Dr. Seuss special. I’m mesmerized by the coincidence. We go to sleep afterwards, a little more satisfied than usual.
Daddy, lately you’re not my hero. Once, I believed you were the door to the bright side of my gene pool, a source of laughter and a tickled tummy. Instead of watching me grow with amazed eyes, you sulked in a corner when life became pebbly, then tacked on a pointless, convenient marriage to make it a mountain. Christmas Day is over, without a word. Doing laundry and taking a long, hot bath saved me from waiting by the phone, but not from wishing I were in your little red truck, those butterflies alive as you drive over our Hill.
If only my childhood memories smelled like baking cinnamon rolls and Christmas cookies, instead of household cleaners and Listerex Scrub. Mom became a single mother much too early, so cleaning and screaming became her constant release after comfortable innocence had passed away. She welcomed the passing years, hurrying her wedding day and our graduation vacations, rushing us off so she could begin her real life. Now, we speak on the phone of money and appointments, tight-lipped and reluctantly upbeat. Occasionally I cry, forgetting to hide and needing a warm teat, so she loudly picks up right where we left off.
The Gods of Productivity are frowning upon me while their spiritual opposition grins across the muddy clouds. My greasy hair, sweat-tinged skin, and couch-shaped spine win me brownie points in Low Energy Output Heaven, where white hazy production crews make B-grade television movies where libraries and universities once stood. Stacks of unread parchment burn to keep the glittering actors warm while literary geniuses lay dead in the gutters, starved to death but fat as hogs. I’m angry and guilty but helpless to change my direction, unless the Gods mercifully will me to pick up my pen and save my soul.
Grandma, I’d still like to go on a quest. We could take a tour of the land of Hyrule, slaying skeletons with swords and slow, black blobs, stealing their rupees to buy jewelry and meat on a stick. We’ll walk through the thick forest, burning suspicious trees and entering the secret rooms hidden beneath their gnarled trunks. Because the enemy is often too quick, we’ll visit the old woman who lives in the mountain and buy medicine to restore lost life. Sure, the princess is waiting, chained up in some damp dungeon somewhere, but we’ve got better dreams to fulfill.
Nobody promised me a moral for the end of my story, only a checked-off list of insane to-dos that barely matter in this silk-lined pine box. When I was younger, establishing a great career was number one, but I can’t remember why. Tonight I’m thinking of better things – nights spent around the fire with a tribe of intellectuals, great sex and greater love, smoking pot on the couch with the wise. I’ll miss adding and subtracting truths as they come to me with my pen and pencil, not picking up a paycheck only to put it down in the end.
Dear Sir or Madam: Passive inhalation simply will not do. With no dependent family, no suspicious probation officer, and no major surgery scheduled for the morning, rolling a white stick of pure pleasure is a vice I should be allowed. As you probably know, youthful indiscretions are the key to a happy adulthood spent sitting in a yellowed recliner wishing we’d taken more chances. My sister is waiting on the couch, billowing sweet smoke accenting her tempting, astute persuasions, so I’d like your permission to enjoy my life, in case I pass tomorrow. I look forward to your timely response.
The Tip Jar