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first, she did the dishes, washing each one and leaving it to dry in the wire rack. she took out the trash, and called her mother.
then, she picked up the debris – balled-up socks, half-finished books, candy wrappers, little tufts of cat hair – and smoothed the sheets on the bed.
she watched the coffee brew, refilled the sugar bowl, and chopped two onions and six cloves of garlic.
for dinner, she made potato curry and fish. they ate silently.
afterwards, she sat alone on the edge of the bathtub, smoked a joint, and thought,
it's time to start writing again.
So why do you think I invited you for breakfast?
I asked in my talk-to-me voice.
She glanced quickly at the cuts on her hand, ran her finger across the deepest one and answered
I'm not a bad person.
I salted my eggs, took a sip of coffee, reminded myself that silence works as well as any question I could ask. I waited.
I'm not doing it for attention. I just get, I dunno, frustrated.
I nodded, and waited, drowning the words crowding my mouth with another swallow of coffee.
And sad, I guess. Don't you ever just feel sad?
I feel split down the middle, a melon cleaved.
One half negotiating with mortgage brokers, adopting kittens, buying furniture and computers, planning flower and vegetable gardens for the backyard. Enjoying her work, pursuing another degree, laying awake and conjuring images of unborn children. Sundays at the lake. Christmas. Graduation parties.
The other half calculating how much money we could get if we sold it all, packed up and landed somewhere in Asia, wondering who would take the cats and for how long, imagining a life less hectic. Fresh fruit. Twilight conversations. Letters from home. Flat roofs overlooking crowded, unfamiliar cities.
Her wedding day still more than a year away, she is vexed.
She is trying on dresses and hairdos.
She is meditating on what songs the DJ should play.
She is creating spreadsheets titled Potential Guests and searching for a third bridesmaid.
Yes, she's searching for a third bridesmaid.
We both know it will not be me. In comfortable shoes, I will attend to her various needs that day: to find quiet corners where she might smoke; to bring her a cocktail if she desires; to shoo away well-intentioned relatives; to remind her that it's just a day after all.
I found myself at Kmart buying deep red Mums and a 40 cent extension cord yesterday. I hadn't even intended to go shopping. I had wanted to go for a walk, but it looked like rain, so I decided to drive to the open gym on campus. And then I decided to look at houses. And then I ended up at Kmart.
I wandered the aisles for awhile, secretly hoping I would get caught in a storm and could come home and Get My Martyr On. (
You see what I go through just to get some flowers for our table?
Books on my shelf that I haven't finished, and which occasionally cause me to wonder
Why did I bring that one home anyway?
In no particular order:
The Second Sex
– Simone de Beauvoir
The Winter of Our Discontent
– John Steinbeck
The Thief and the Dogs
– Naguib Mahfouz
If You Love This Planet
-- Helen Caldicott, MD
First They Killed My Fathe
r – Loung Ung
Bound for Glory
– Woody Guthrie
– Penelope Fitzgerald
The God of Small Things
– Arundhati Roy
– Paul Auster
– Barbara Kingsolver
-- Elmore Leonard
A Passage to India
– E.M. Forster
– Octavia Butler
I often sneak into the bedroom when he's half-asleep and ask him questions that require darkness and more time than a commercial break affords.
"Don't you think it's time to visit your mother?" Or, "What did you mean when you said [blahblah] at the grocery store this afternoon?" Or, "Do you want to add anything to the letter I'm writing your sister?"
He sometimes answers thoughtfully. He sometimes sighs and mutters something incomprehensible ("Uhhhgrrphlummmahhrakna!") and dismissive in Bangla.
he makes an inappropriate joke, and I bop him on the head and find a place to write about it.
We slept in today, and then piled into Mom's car and went to The Farm to visit her most reliable brother.
We rode dirt bikes past the cows grazing in the fields below. We ate snacks and told stories about the many glitches in the most recent family wedding.
We drank milk straight from the tank (OK, he did. I declined.). Each time I passed their beagle, Sadie, it took every ounce of self-restraint I possess not to sing
My aunt opened her antique case and explained her favorite pieces.
This one we dug up in the yard….
the mixed blessing of climate control
it is 57 degrees in my office today. when asked, our custodian said that the power plant was "shut down" for the week and that there's nothing we can do. i don't believe this excuse, but i'm sure that there's nothing we can do. what a giant waste of resources, turning offices across campus into meat lockers on such a cool and enjoyable day.
but i don't have to fight for space in the office refrigerator this morning; i can just leave my shit on my desk and it will stay nice and fresh.
these august days are so cool and windy that my annual October melancholy is threatening to move into the apartment with us early.
on the way home from the video store (where i left without renting anything – an undeniable sign), i found myself mindlessly turning up the street where i lived when i first met you.
cruising the store i used to frequent so i could maybe bump into you.
creeping past the bar we often went… where you (drunk) first said you loved me.
through the alley behind the apartment we once shared.
i could use a sunny day.
i'm done with this shit.
that's what i thought this morning when i found out that the band wasn't going to show, that there might not be enough money for another one.
that's what i thought when the volunteers went AWOL and left me licking 2000 envelopes alone late into the night, as my sweetsweet husband and the cats slept peacefully in the next room.
but then i follow the money from my paycheck to the pentagon, to israel, to men with guns & fucked up ideals. i hear another immigrant's blues, and know that i'm
I wonder how many donuts it takes – and I'm talking lifetime totals here – before Type II Diabetes is inevitable?
At my husband's workplace, the managers bring boxes and boxes of donuts into the break room, at least once a week. He comes home on those days holding his tummy, moaning, looking for something substantive to eat – meat, potato, anything with salt – and I can only laugh.
You don't have to eat them, just because they're there
, I plead, as I fix him a turkey sandwich (extra onion).
He looks at me as if I'm mad, and whines
But…. they're free.
as a requirement for his new job, s. had to get safety glasses. i had imagined giant, plastic goggles (think 10th grade chemistry experiments), but the folks at the optical center totally hooked him up with these retro-trendy black plastic glasses.
i think they look hot. s. called them , "70's professor sexy".
the best part was watching him experience the so-this-is-what-it's-like-to-see-detail-again adjustment, the joy of which those of us with vision impairments understand. he looked a lot like the kitten in those moments, contemplating ceiling fans and leaves on trees.
mouth agape (i taught him that!) , eyes wide.
he's getting really big
, he says, and picks the kitten up like grandma taught him – at the waist. he smiles, hugs his arms tight to his belly; the kitten squirms.
later that evening, we eat mini-pizzas and watch "jimmy neutron". i've never seen it before, but he knows every word to the theme song.
i remember sitting atop the monkey bars (at the school he now attends), singing commercial jingles with my friends Melissa and Karen, each of us trying to stump the others.
i wonder what he'll remember of this, and draw him a bath.
after a day of sincerely discussing the need for nonviolent conflict resolution, i come home, and (within two hours) get so upset with my husband that i thwap him on the head and stalk off to the bedroom to smoke a joint. alone. angrily.
occasionally, between meetings where i sit at a table and bemoan world corporatization, i stop at a convenience store or a fast food restaurant to grab a bite to eat.
i spend all day with teenagers (and sometimes their infants) and come home petrified that i'm not responsible enough for one of my own.
after work, we put on our suits and drove to the lake, stopping once for gas and giant sodas. in minutes, the cups were sweating; little pools of water formed wherever they rested. the seat. my knee. between his legs.
the water was perfect, and the only people around were two overweight teenagers with snorkels and splashbombs. when s. dived below the surface, i dared the younger one to throw a splashbomb at him when he resurfaced. he did, and they played catch for about an hour, while i floated in the deep end and watched the clouds roll by.
s. has decided to go home for the month of October. i'm happy for him, for his darling family, and for myself. loneliness aside, we could both use a break from the day-in, day-out of managing two cultures, two languages, two sets of smelly feet in the too-small bed.
i worry for him too. i know all too well how agonizing it is to go home again (you know, they might be right when they say
) and to find everything both same and not-same. to find your favorite foods tasting sour, your own language confusing your tongue.
I shouldn't be writing this. Not now, at least. I should be completing paperwork and calling the vet to check on the cat.
I should be sending a
Get Well Soon
card to myself since I've had a headache for the past three days.
I should be filing things away and making tidy little labels that say: "paperclips". "keychains". "business-sized envelopes".
I should be looking for a house. I should be checking airfares, and verifying visa requirements.
Instead, I write. I think of what to write, and I put it to the page. I wonder why I'm not more clever.
students, co-workers, strangers at the grocery store. they all look at my scratch marks and scabs, and wonder if everything is alright at home. they must imagine me curled on the bathroom floor with a safety pin, anxiously carving lines into my arms.
it's really more like this: in the morning hours before i rise, i lay in bed and twitch under the weight of the blanket and the heat of the sun streaming in the windows. from the foot of the bed, a 6 pound ball of black fluff (with claws!) waits for me to expose flesh, then attacks.
Heather, remember that crazy night? My last in Quebec City. You'd been in the car with my mom and her friend for two days, so we hopped a downtown bus to go exploring. I was telling you all about Oscar, the beautiful Mexican who'd been the center of my time there.
Oh, I wanted so badly for you to meet him and approve, and to see him before leaving. As we ambled up the street, we bumped into him and his cousin, ducked into an abandoned discotheque, spent the night downing pitchers of beer.
Once, we were young and unafraid.
I'm afraid the only way I'll get this reading done is by going to the coffee shop. Staying at home, I'm predictably distracted. By the dishes in the sink. By S. in the other room, laughing at a movie. By the ringing telephone. By the cats, and the soft pillows that say,
"Come here, you, and stay awhile."
So I'll pack it up and walk it downtown. I'll let the cool indifference of the people there propel me through these chapters. I'll act interested in the book, and hope some magnificent stranger approaches and says,
"Oh, you're reading that, too?"
The fire was smoky all afternoon. Our neighbors were gone swimming, but I had wanted to dry out my socks and toast a cheese sandwich without being covered in ash. It wasn't his fault, but I blamed him. It seemed that just when the fire would light, he'd smother it with damp wood and we'd be back where we began.
I guess I must've thought it was a metaphor for our relationship or something, because I got angrier than I should have about his inexperience.
I spit poison and banged sticks on the ground. I wished that I were alone.
I was 18 and I was living with my mother for the summer. A mutual friend introduced us, then quickly grew jealous of our shared sense of humor, our insomnia, our smoke-filled conversations over too-much coffee and pancakes at the truck stop outside of town.
He gave me my first Kurt Vonnegut, and… I can't remember much more of him now. He had short hair, drank his coffee black, was a drummer who filled the garage of his parents' split-level home with what we both thought was The Music Of The Future
I wonder if he went to the reunion.
stoned, awake long after everyone else had gone to sleep, she attempted to make a toasted mushroom and cheese sandwich in the fire.
she realized too late that she had forgotten a flashlight, dropped the steaming portabella in the grass. she could hear the gravel crunch as she picked it up.
she hurled it into the nearby woods, grumbled as she prepared another sandwich – only cheese this time. it'd almost finished cooking when she heard them in brush, discovering the sandwich.
they were big, their eyes glowed from the reflected campfire light. they moved closer to the picnic table.
We've found a house. Maybe.
I can't say that I'm in love with it, but it wouldn't be a bad place to hang my hat. The porch needs some help, and there's a slightly troublesome structural issue in the kitchen that makes my dad worry. But the yard has a lot of potential, and I like the idea of living in the same fledgling neighborhood where I grew up.
Still, I struggle with making a decision. (Nothing new.) Do I want this house, or do I just want to be done searching? Will the kitchen collapse, or just be bouncy?
When she was 57, she slipped on the ice – about a block from where we both work now – and knocked herself unconscious.
She lost her sense of smell entirely; now foods taste different, and cooking isn't as much fun. No more garlic and peppers frying sexily on the stove. No further need for cinnamon in her apple cider.
A benefit: the rest of us can fart (silently, people – she still has her hearing!) in the elevator with her. We can eat whole onions and whisper in her ears without worrying. We can burn toast in the break room.
Even though I was still mad at him, I bought him a book. It was called ‘
English as a Second Fucking Language'
, and it made me laugh so hard I might've peed a little.
There are grammar tips! And great examples of both acceptable and unacceptable cussing! And a test at the end! Multiple choice!
I know that when he's flustered, he'll still say things like, "
What the shit are you talking about?
" and "
I don't know what the hell-ass is going on,
" but I felt a certain pride when he appropriately dubbed a co-worker a fuck-up the other day.
Spent part of the afternoon setting up a new computer at work. I'd been putting it off for months.
In some ways, it was worse than I imagined. Phone calls to confused IT professionals, reconfiguring my e-mail. Twice. Months worth of (questionably valuable) messages and documents disappearing into the Great Unknown. Tears.
In other ways, what a blessing. A working sound card and speakers that sound
. And a superfast processor that can keep up with my borderline ADHD websurfing. (I want a new swimsuit – no, I want to read the paper – no, wait, shouldn't I check Heather's blog – no….)
To the coffee shop! A hot chocolate for him ("Extra whipped cream, please, " he croons to the teenage barista), a large cup of the toasted coconut for me.
Then to buy mums. He chooses the colors, and which of the front steps they'll inhabit. I stifle a laugh as he moves them around, scratching his chin ("No, I think I like the yellow on the first step the best.") He waters them with his supersoaker as I sweep up the leaves, already falling.
We bake a cake; he licks the bowl clean. We watch ‘Harriet the Spy' and snuggle.
Four of my father's eight siblings have died. In the order of their birth, and each before the age of 63.
Cancer. Stroke. Cancer (trumped by head-on collision). Cancer.
Of course Uncle Don believes he's next. His heavy-breathing paranoia paces the room, the uninvited guest at each family gathering. Even the illness of his beloved wife – a tragedy of her own -- seems to him a precursor of
But it is impossible to dissuade him without igniting other fears, like a string of firecrackers announcing our unique vulnerabilities. If
not next, who is? Grandma? Dad?
Write a little something every day
, she tells us. I decide immediately that this is how I will do it.
We spent the evening talking about the mental competency of teens who commit crimes, the ways that trauma stunts us. Like a careless hand on the remote, hitting
and not noticing. I felt good, like we were figuring some Very Important Things out.
Then I stopped at McDonalds for a cup of coffee (even though I know better), and heard the girl working drive-thru ask,
Would you like a ‘girl toy' or a ‘boy toy' with that happy meal?
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