Coasts

July 31, 2008

I am in New York and you are in California. We are boxed in our respective time zones, you in the Pacific and me in the Eastern. It’s 1:16 a.m. in New York. This makes it 10:16 p.m. where you are. What do you do at 10:16 p.m. in California on Saturday night? If I called you, which I would never do, I’m sure I would find you happily drunk, maybe with B.J., the guy you told me about last week who has a hairy chest like me, or with Annie, the girl you met at work who drives a Mercedes and gets in free at the club where you saw a fourteen-year-old doing coke in the bathroom. I hope you’re not with Annie, but I really hope you’re not with B.J. Annie’s a bad influence, but she’s not a threat to me. B.J. is who I’m worried about. Something in your voice told me I should be worried when you called to tell me about him. You called me. I never call you. I can’t take the chance of becoming dependent on you to be happy because my life is here.

This B.J. sounds too much like me. You said he likes basketball and tennis and parks and lying next to you in bed. You also said he laughs a lot, which does not sound like me, but everything else you told me does, like he wants to own an important company someday, but for now he just wants to travel and meet new people.

It was hard for me yesterday to hear you say you got shivers when B.J. held your hand on the third day you’d known him. Don’t you remember that I was the only one beside you when you left New York, when you told me not to worry, I would see you soon on my television screen because you were going to Hollywood and you had a face they couldn’t refuse? This B.J., what has he done? Told you you were beautiful? I’ve told you much more than that. I told you that I understood you and I meant it.

I am in New York and you are in California, but I don’t see how that’s relevant.

Analogy

July 30, 2008

I’m not supposed to be here. I was good friends with Ashley in middle school, friendly with her in high school, lost touch with her in college. There was no reason why I would have been invited to her wedding reception if I hadn’t spoken to her in four years. But when Julie, a mutual friend who I did talk to now and again, called and asked if I wanted to go with her, I said I did.

“I’m not invited,” I told her.

“That’s okay. Ashley won’t care,” she said.

It’s not that I thought she would care. It’s that I didn’t know if I could really crash a party on the most important day of someone’s life. In the end, Julie told me there would be a chocolate fountain and I knew that I could.

I walked in with Julie twenty minutes ago. The first face I saw was Ashley’s mom, a tiny, pale woman who I remember made Mickey Mouse ear-shaped blueberry pancakes for breakfast in the morning every time I spent the night at Ashley’s house. I didn’t like blueberries, but I liked those pancakes.

“Hi!” she said. She gave Julie a hug and smiled at me. She had no idea who I was.

“Hi,” I said, smiling. It was okay. I wasn’t offended. In fact, it made me more confident that I could navigate the party in relative anonymity.

Julie and I went to the backyard, where the guests were seated at tables with pink rose centerpieces. I recognized several people from high school that I had not seen for years, excluding perhaps the occasional awkward Christmas break run-in at Rite-Aid or TGI Fridays. Many faces looked the same as they had on graduation day. I wondered if I looked the same. I figured I probably did and I didn’t mind that.

“Ashley’s over there,” Julie now says. She points to the far end of the yard, where Ashley and presumably her new husband are talking with a group of adults. Ashley was always very pretty, but I’m struck with how strange she looks at this moment. Her normally stick-straight hair is curled into dozens of tiny ringlets and half of it is piled high on top of her head. If that isn’t bad enough, she has an indecent amount of makeup on. Basically, she doesn’t look like herself. I detest when brides insist on this kind of transformation for their wedding days.

We decide now is a good time to offer our congratulations and walk over to where Ashley and her husband are conversing with their guests. Ashley sees me and squeals. “Amanda!”

“Hi!” I squeal in return, hoping it sounds convincing.

“It’s so good to see you!” she says, wrapping me in a hug.

“You too,” I say. “Congratulations! You must be so happy!”

“Thank you,” she says, pulling away and embracing Julie. “I am!”

Her husband smiles and says hello to Julie. “Hi,” I say. “I’m Amanda.”

“Nice to meet you,” he says, and we shake hands. There is nothing uncomfortable about our exchange, but I think he must be wondering who I am and why I am here. He probably has never heard my name before in his life.

“Go and eat,” Ashley says. “There’s chocolate fountains!”

Julie and I grab croissant sandwiches and cheese cubes and sit down at an empty table. Mark, a guy I was vaguely acquainted with in high school by virtue of two shared Spanish classes, sits down next to me a few minutes later.

“Amanda, right?” he says. I nod. I irrationally expect everyone to know my name because I know theirs. My memory is sharp and in high school I liked putting names to faces in my classes, even though I only actually spoke to a quarter of those faces.

I take a bite of the sandwich, turkey and Swiss. It has tomatoes in it, which I didn’t notice at first, and I hate tomatoes. Now a piece is in my mouth and I want to spit it out, but feel it would be uncouth. I swallow it.

“What are you doing nowadays?” Mark asks, the question I hate to answer because it assumes that I am, in fact, doing something nowadays.

I clear my throat and say, “I’m living at home and tutoring at a Korean learning center.”

“Oh,” he says. “That’s cool.” He clearly expects me to reciprocate and ask him what he’s doing. I don’t. I’m more interested in the turkey and Swiss than his current state of existence.

Dutifully, Julie asks the question and he says, “I’m in grad school. Math.”

Now I am even more uninterested and feel the conversation, already lagging, can go no further. I’ve only met one math person in my life that I liked. The rest were too logical, too concerned with the order of things. I act on my emotions and rarely make rational choices. Fundamental differences in personality such as this make friendships – even conversations – between thinkers and feelers difficult, and I’m not in the mood to put forth effort. I’m in the mood to eat my sandwich, sans tomatoes, and dip Rice Krispie treats into the chocolate fountain.

“Excuse me,” I say, leaving Julie at the table with Mark. It is not very nice of me, I know, because I don’t think Julie will particularly enjoy talking with Mark either, but I do it anyway.

I finish the sandwich and go into the front yard. There is no one here and I dig in my purse for a cigarette. I find one, light it and stand in the driveway smoking. I have seen what I came to see. I wanted to see Ashley and her husband. Just see them, not interact with them at length. I wanted to see if the kids from high school looked the same. I wanted to see the chocolate fountain. Technically I wanted to eat from the chocolate fountain, but I could forgo that if it meant successfully persuading Julie to leave early.

I have a feeling that won’t happen. Julie is better friends with Ashley than I am and will want to stay for the whole party, the first dance, the bouquet toss. I suddenly feel silly. I am wearing a blue sundress and black heels. I look like I belong here, but I don’t. Why did I come? Was I such a voyeur that it wasn’t enough to simply hear about Ashley’s marriage?  Did I really have to inspect her new husband with my own eyes when I hadn’t even seen her since high school graduation?

I smoke another cigarette. I’m not going back there. I call Julie and she comes out to meet me.

“What’s the matter?” she says.

“Nothing,” I say. “I just feel weird.  I’m going to wait out here.”

She protests for a while, but then sees that I’m serious. She shrugs and tells me to call her if I need anything. Of course she drove, so I’m stuck until she wants to leave.

I sit down in the driveway, take my heels off and smoke. This is not unlike how I spend most of my nights.

Hope

July 29, 2008

I dreamed that you sent me a suitcase full of love letters. In them you said you were sorry, that you had made a mistake, that you wanted to live with me in Paris or Berlin, somewhere new, and we would be happy. You said you would never mention her name again. The letters smelled like cologne, but not one that I recognized you ever wearing. They were passionate, convincing. It was the best dream I’ve ever had. In the dream, I opened each envelope slowly, savoring the seconds before I read more declarations of fidelity.

This morning I woke up. I remembered the dream and I felt like crying, but didn’t have the energy. I wasn’t rested. Your side of the bed was still sunken in where you used to sleep, the result of your heavy frame and the poor quality of the mattress, and I hated waking up to that empty space. Especially today, after that dream.

You’ve been gone for five months and I understand you’re not coming back. Now I see why you never wanted to get married. “Why do we need a piece of paper to prove we love each other?” you would say. But really, not being married made it easier to discard me, to convince yourself that you had no obligations to me even though I had lived with you for eight years, I had folded your clothes and fed your cat, driven you to work every morning and picked you up every night.

You spent those eight years looking for a way out, I knew now. You told me on the phone, the last time I ever heard your voice, “This just feels right.” Had those eight years all felt wrong?

Belief

July 28, 2008

It’s not that it happened.  It’s not that at all.  I know that right now, everywhere, it is happening.  It has happened.  It will happen.  It’s that it happened to me.

Easy Out

July 26, 2008

“I had an easy out, but I didn’t take it,” I said. My daughter was lying in her bed reading an anthropology textbook. She looked up at me. “I guess it was my own fault,” I said.

“Don’t say that, Mom.”

“It’s true,” I said.

She closed the textbook, carefully marking the page with a photograph of the Bastille, her makeshift bookmark. My daughter does everything carefully.

“Don’t take it so personally,” she said. “He’s just like that.”

She was referring to my husband. Her father.

“’Just like that’?” I said. “You mean he’s an asshole.”

She thought for a moment. “Well, yeah.”

Talking to my daughter is the only thing keeping me from finishing the bottle of Bacardi hidden at the bottom of my hamper tonight. My husband had come home twenty minutes earlier. He had told me we’d been invited to play Bunco at Susie’s house at eight o’clock. Susie was our next-door neighbor. She had lost thirty pounds in the last year and, though she had recently turned forty-eight years old, had been wearing midriff-revealing tops to showcase her accomplishment all summer. She was tacky and I did not feel like playing Bunco tonight, even if I do win every time.

My husband had said, “Oh, come on. It’ll be fun.”

“I don’t want to talk to anyone,” I had said. “I’m not up to it.”

“Relax,” he had said.

Relax. The one thing I could not do. He knew it and he still told me to relax.

“Mom, he told me the same thing when I saw him,” my daughter said. “He says that to everyone.”

“Why?” I said. “He’s not relaxed. He’s the most uptight person I’ve ever met.” He wasn’t always, I wanted to say, but didn’t because I wanted my daughter on my side.

“I know,” she said, sighing. She ran her fingers across the cover of her book. I was interrupting her, but I didn’t care. I would leave in a few minutes and then she could study all night.

“Did I make a mistake?” I asked. I suddenly felt foolish. What could my twenty-one-year-old daughter know that I didn’t? How could she possibly have experienced anything in her life that granted her the knowledge to answer my question? I thought these things, but I still held my breath waiting for her response.

She closed her eyes. I did the same and listened.

She didn’t answer for a minute or two. I was afraid she was ignoring me.

Finally she said, “I think you think you made a mistake.”

I reached for her hand, turned it over in mine. I created that hand.

“Thank you,” I said.

The time has come to tell the story of the time the police came to my apartment and I was in the bathroom with no pants on. It is an important story for several reasons. First, it showcases the fact that my ex-boyfriend – we’ll call him Matt – brought out the absolute worst in me. Not a great foundation for a relationship. Second, it encapsulates the essence of my life in San Francisco with Matt. The other reasons are probably only interesting to me, so I won’t waste time.

Matt and I had been living in a one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco for a little over a year. When we made the decision to move in together, I knew it wasn’t a good idea. I knew that we weren’t compatible anymore, if we ever were to begin with. But I had to get away from my family. I had been being choked with responsibility for far too long. I wasn’t equipped to look at the situation rationally. In light of this, I told my family I was moving 400 miles away on a Monday and said goodbye to them four days later.

We won’t talk about how my car broke down on that Friday when I was only 100 miles out of Los Angeles or how, seeing that I strongly believe in signs and omens and don’t dismiss anything as a mere coincidence, I knew at that moment I was making a mistake. We won’t talk about that because this is the story about my second run-in with the SFPD (the first was for drinking in public on Mission Street. Which was not fair because I had only taken one sip of the beer I had bought from a liquor store literally two minutes before said run-in).

The incident in question occurred on a relatively good day. I say “relatively good” because it was a day in which Matt actually agreed to do something with me rather than staying home watching the Food Network or spending hours text messaging the hot girl from his Starbucks. We met some friends in Dolores Park, my favorite park in the city, and played travel Scrabble, drank sangria in thermoses and laughed at the ever present Speedo-wearing sunbathers who never seemed to get any darker despite their best efforts. After, I suggested (since we were already out, making it a perfect opportunity for such suggestions) that we get dinner at the deep-dish pizza place on Valencia that I had heard delicious things about. Matt agreed, on the condition that I buy. This was a condition he invoked infinitely more often that I would care to remember. I assented because the alternative would have been to go back to our apartment, where I knew I would be subjected to Iron Chef all night.

At the restaurant, we drank Pabst. Classy. I recall Matt going to the bathroom and not coming back to the table until right before the pizza came out. I was within view of the facilities and that is how I know that he spent that time chatting up each female in line for the women’s restroom. I’m not the jealous type, but manners seem to dictate that one should chat with one’s own dinner date for more time than strangers in line to pee. I was tipsy by the time the food arrived. I didn’t much care about Matt as we ate. The delectably deep-dish pizza, in those ten blissful minutes, had done more for me than he had in a year and four months.

I paid. It was cash-only. I was upset that I actually had enough cash in my wallet for once to cover our bill. I’m fairly sure that Matt was over the legal blood alcohol limit when he drove us home, but I can’t be positive. We should have used the breathalyzer in his glove compartment, a birthday gift from me, but I didn’t think about it at the time.

When we got home, I opened a bottle of wine. It was Tempranillo, a Spanish wine I had recently bought at Rainbow Grocery, the co-op that bans all meat products from its stock and sells sunflower seed oil by the ounce. An hour later, we finished the bottle and went to bed, but I was in a talkative mood. I asked Matt if he liked me. This was clearly a loaded question. For many, many months prior, I had lain awake at night waiting for my sleeping pills to do their job and one thought had persisted: Do I even like Matt, this person I’ve been sharing a bed with for a year, this person who hates books, orchestrates events entitled things like “The First Annual Beer Olympics” and tells me not be so serious all the time? I knew the answer. But it wasn’t enough to uproot my life again, admit defeat and hear my mom say, “I told you so.” I was too proud, too stubborn.

“Yeah, I like you,” Matt said. “When you’re buying me dinner.”

I was offended. And drunk. A potentially explosive combination.

“That’s a rude thing to say.” I felt my indignation rising. I’m a naturally non-combative person. That quality is how I survived living with my mother for so many years. However, Matt was the first boyfriend who ever hurt my feelings enough for me to actually get mad.

“All my friends say I should break up with you,” Matt said. “They think you’re a bitch.”

And that was all it took for me to snap. Fuck you, I thought. I’ve been wanting to leave for months and you’re the one talking about breaking up? On top of that, Matt knew that the bitch comment would get me. I’m usually painfully shy upon first meetings, a quality that many people misinterpret as either snobbery or bitchiness. Matt knew I worried about this constantly. Matt was a jerk.

I jumped out of bed and channeled my mother. While this should be the best part of the story, it can’t be because I cannot recall anything I said. What I do remember is Matt’s hand over my mouth trying to silence me. What instead happened is he covered my nose at the same time and I couldn’t breathe. This made me more upset, obviously.

I escaped from his grip and ran into the living room. We lived on a second floor apartment, but I wasn’t worried about the neighbors. They didn’t worry about me when they had horribly loud, obnoxious sex at six o’clock every morning.

“See, this is what they’re talking about,” Matt said. I hated him. So much that I located my mostly-full water bottle and heaved it at his head.

Unfortunately he has good reflexes and ducked in time for the water bottle to hit the window and break the blinds. It made an unexpected racket.

Now Matt was chasing me around the apartment. The tiny kitchen had two doors, one at either end, which I kept slamming to obstruct his route. It was 12:30 a.m.

Somewhere in this chase Matt caught hold of the gray pajama pants I was wearing and I fell face-first into the floor. I wriggled out of my pants, ran to the bathroom, locked myself in and promptly began crying, not so much at what had just occurred, but at the fact that I had so many chances to leave but didn’t because I was so lazy.

Looking back, I think I must have been in the bathroom for about fifteen minutes. I had stopped crying by the time the knock came.

“Police. Open up.”

I hoped Matt wouldn’t open the door. What would the police do if he didn’t? Knock the door down?

I heard the door open. Fuck, I thought.

“What’s going on here?” one of the cops asked.

“My girlfriend is out of control,” Matt said. “She was throwing things and slamming doors.”

I looked in the mirror. I already had bruises up and down my arms from when I had fallen.

“Where is she?” a cop asked.

“In the bathroom.”

Five seconds later, a rap at the bathroom door. “Police. Open up.”

More than anything else in the world, I did not want to exit the bathroom. This is not what should be happening to me, I thought. I should be listening to Jenny Lewis and arranging Gerber daisies in a vase. I should be at a dinner party. I should be with someone that loves me at this moment.

“I don’t have pants on,” I said. “I’m not coming out in my underwear.”

“Where are your pants?” the officer asked.

“I have no idea,” I said.

“Open the door,” he said.

“No.” There was no way I was coming out half naked. I didn’t even know how many police officers were in my apartment.

Another knock on the door. “Here,” said Matt.

I cracked the door open and grabbed my pants. I put them on and walked out of the bathroom.

There were four cops standing in the living room. Four. What had our fight sounded like? I wondered. A murder?

“Did you throw an object at this window?” an officer asked me, gesturing to the broken blinds.

“Yes,” I answered, deciding lying would be too draining. I was so tired.

“Did she physically hurt you?” the officer asked Matt.

Matt paused for a moment. He looked at me. I knew he wanted to say yes.

“No.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes.”

“Was there alcohol involved here?”

“A bottle of wine,” Matt said.

“Maybe that should tell you something,” the officer said.

“Yes, sir,” Matt said.

“Maybe,” I said.

“You both need to learn restraint,” the officer said, gesturing to his colleagues. “Especially in the middle of the night. Your neighbors aren’t happy.”

“I know,” I said.

The police officers left. I felt horrible. Matt went straight into our bedroom. I stayed in the living room packing my belongings into boxes.

I actually ended up moving out a week later. But the time the police came to my apartment and I was in the bathroom with no pants on definitely marked the day I couldn’t ignore things anymore.

Flowers

July 24, 2008

The question: Why did I lie to the checker at Trader Joe’s when I bought a bouquet of Gerber daisies yesterday?

The answer: Undetermined at this time.

I love flowers. All flowers. I love giving flowers. I love receiving flowers. I love buying myself flowers. Flowers in my room make me happy. I like knowing that my oxygen is being shared with another living thing.

So I buy a new bouquet every week. I lost my favorite vase in my move, one made of green ceramic with a chip on one of the sides. My new vase is actually a glass pitcher bearing etched floral designs. I have grown to love this arrangement.

The last bunch of flowers I bought lasted eleven days. This is a long time for flowers to stay alive with cut stems, especially because they were also presumably sitting in the grocery store for an indeterminable amount of time before I purchased them. I considered this a good omen of things to come. Near indestructible flowers; productive summer.

I went to Trader Joe’s when the eleven days were up. I wanted something bright. Leaning toward the purple and orange arrangements, I picked out a bunch that didn’t appear to be completely smashed. My favorite flowers, Gerber daisies. Satisfied, I went to check out.

For some inexplicable reason, the checkers at Trader Joe’s are the friendliest people on the planet. Either that or they are so bored that the only conceivable way for them to pass the time is for them to play a game I call “Make the Naturally Reticent Customers as Uncomfortable as Possible.” I am inclined to lean toward the latter explanation. And I speak from experience.

On this occasion, I waited behind a girl in a plain black T-shirt and yoga pants. I hate when people wear workout attire in public unless they happen to be at a public gym. It is utterly indecent. This is what I was thinking as the girl left and I handed my flowers to the cashier.

“Hi,” he said.

“Hi,” I said.

“These are beautiful, by the way,” he said. This struck me as an extremely strange comment, as I had nothing to do with the beauty of the flowers. True, I picked them out from dozens of other bunches, but that still didn’t make the comment relevant.

Equally strangely, I replied, “Thank you.”

“Whoever you’re giving these flowers to is going to be one happy camper,” the cashier said.

I swiped my credit card: $6.48. This is where I get off track. I didn’t even have to respond to the checker. I wasn’t obligated to say anything more. In fact, what he said was a statement, one that didn’t necessitate a reply. It’s not as if he asked me, “So who are these for?”

But I did answer him. “My mom,” I said.

Lying seems to be my default mode. Sometimes lying is born purely from the desire for strangers not to know my personal business. For example, when the teller at the bank with the cropped dark hair asks me, “What are your plans for this weekend?” it’s typical for me to respond not at all truthfully, perhaps with something like, “I’m going to a wedding in Burlingame on Saturday and on Sunday I’m teaching my three-year-old nephew how to swim.” Lies. But what business is it of his to know that Saturday I’m going to go jogging, finish Crime and Punishment, and then eat a cheese plate for dinner at Bodega?

Yet this is not why I lied to the checker at Trader Joe’s. I knew, as I gave my electronic signature and in turn was given my receipt, that it had something to do with embarrassment. I was embarrassed to be buying flowers for myself. But why? Generally I don’t care about the opinions of other people as far as my actions go. I’m pretty secure in the things that I do and how I do them. On the other hand, my vanity unreasonably dictates that I do care about what people think of my physical appearance.

But at Trader Joe’s yesterday, there was a reversal of this dynamic. I had taken a shower, went to my room to change and saw that the old flowers were finally dead. Rather than dry my hair, I wrapped it, sopping wet, in a messy ponytail. I had two irritating pimples on the right side of my chin that normally no one would ever know existed, so good have I gotten at the art of manipulating makeup, but I left my face untouched. My consultation for laser eye surgery was in two weeks, which meant, for purposes of correctly analyzing the thickness of my corneas, I had to exclusively wear my Coke-bottle glasses for that length of time. The point is that, very atypically, I didn’t care about what I looked like. I just wanted my flowers.

Which is why it’s troubling that I lied about who the flowers were for. Usually I would have said, “Yes, these are going to brighten up my house!” and that would be that. There’s nothing especially abnormal about a woman buying flowers for herself. Was it because the cashier was male and he would feel sorry for me because, as he would be thinking, “She’s clearly single if she’s buying flowers for herself”? Maybe. But that also is irrational because not once in four years did I receive flowers from my ex-boyfriend, even though I talked about them constantly. I even hinted one birthday that all I wanted as a gift was a bouquet of Oriental lilies. He got me a wardrobe instead. To store his slogan T-shirts in. Another story.

Even if the checker thought I was single, what did that have to do with anything? Did I not want him to think that because at the moment I absolutely did look like a girl no one would want to date, a four-eyes buying herself flowers, trying in vain to bring meaning to her pathetic existence?

It makes me mad that I’m still thinking about this, but it is also what I’ll be thinking about in two hours, after I’ve taken my sleep aid but before I finally fall asleep, why I lied to the checker and whether it really is normal to buy myself flowers.

Apathy

July 23, 2008

I heard metal scratching against metal, the turn of the key at the front door. My room was dark and I was awake. The two sleeping pills I took an hour earlier had not yet taken effect. I reached for my cell phone. My glasses were in the bathroom, I remembered, so I had to squint to make out the numbers: 2:30 a.m. Teenaged daughters should be sneaking into the house at 2:30 a.m., I thought, not 49-year-old mothers of five.

Footsteps up the stairs in the entrance hallway. It was definitely my mom. Everyone else in the family was home. I had made sure of this before lying down to wait for sleep. Three brothers in two bedrooms, one sister in another, Dad in the master. The only one missing was her.

Three hours earlier there had been an argument. My sister and I had been out together shopping for summer dresses. The weather in Southern California was sweltering and I was tired of the one pair of denim shorts and one sleeveless dress I owned. After spending a year living in New York, my wardrobe had been whittled down from tank tops and bathing suits to wool socks, thick sweaters and overcoats.

On our way home from the outing, my sister mentioned grabbing take-out from our favorite Japanese teppan restaurant. My recent change in state and climate had driven me to begin a stringent diet consisting daily of low-fat string cheese, nectarines and buttered popcorn flavored rice cakes, but I told her I would drive her by the restaurant to pick up some shrimp fried rice.

We arrived home. My brothers were in the living room, entranced by a pathetically simple Nickelodeon television show. My mother was in the kitchen checking on brownies in the oven.

We went into the kitchen, me to look for a can of Sunkist and my sister to eat her rice.

My mom saw the food and said, “Where is that from?”

“Sakai’s,” my sister said. The tone of my mother’s voice suggested that this was not going to be a pleasant exchange.

“Isn’t that nice,” she sneered. “Guess what we had for dinner.”

My sister had begun eating her food. Her mouth was full.

“What?” I asked reluctantly. I knew from experience that refusing to play her game was worse than going along with it.

“Bagel Bites,” she said. “Flipping Bagel Bites.” My mother never said the word “fucking.” It was always “flipping.” This, I guess, to prevent my brothers, all under the age of eleven, from developing dirty mouths. But this was fatuous logic. She never said “fuck,” but she said everything else. She even got creative, combining several cuss words and stringing them into long, run-on insults.

At the mention of Bagel Bites, frozen bite-sized pizzas on mini bagels, my stomach rumbled. It had already digested the string cheese, I thought, and is mad at me for starving.

“That sounds good,” I said, not joking.

“I bet it does.” This was typical. As her anger mounted, my mother spoke in short statements aimed at deriding the listener. “It’s great that you get to eat Sakai’s while everyone else had Bagel Bites.”

Though my brothers weren’t paying attention to anything but the T.V., my sister asked if any of them wanted some rice. They shook their heads. “See,” she said. “They don’t want it anyway.”

“Of course they do,” my mother said. “And so do I. You think I wanted to have frozen pizza for dinner?”

“I don’t know,” my sister said.

“For a college student, you don’t seem to know much,” said my mom. “No, I didn’t want flipping frozen pizza for dinner.”

“You can have some,” I offered, sure that my sister didn’t mind.

“You think you’re so much better than me,” my mom said. “Both of you.”

In fact, she was right. I did think I was better than her, at least at controlling my anger when it emerged and directing it at the correct source. I was sure that some fight had happened before my sister and I got home that precipitated this exchange, yet we were getting punished for it.

“Why don’t you go to hell,” said my mother. “I don’t need your stupid rice.”

“Okay,” I said.

“Do you know how hard it is to have a family?” she asked. “To have a mortgage bill? To spend your money buying shit for everyone else?”

“No,” my sister said.

“No is right,” said my mom, leaving the room.

She had left her glass on the counter. When she was out of the kitchen, I lifted it to my nose. She had been downing a vodka tonic like it was water.

My sister shrugged as if to say, “Well, what did we expect?” I nodded.

“I’m sick of this flipping life,” my mom said, coming back into the kitchen. She had her red patent leather purse from QVC over her shoulder, the one she invariably got complimented on by ladies over 60 whenever she left the house. She set the purse on the counter and began to dig through it. “Everything is shitty.”

Now I could tell that she was drunk. Before, I had only wondered. Her querulous nature made it impossible to know at any given time if she was truly upset over something or whether she was vodka-upset over something.

She found her keychain. “I hope you have a good time eating your fancy food,” she said. “I’m leaving.”

“No, you’re not,” I said. The second part of this sentence I did not voice went, “Because you’re drunk and can’t drive.”

My mom ignored me. She left the kitchen and I heard the front door open. “The brownies are probably burned,” she said, and then she was gone.

I don’t know where she went. I never know where she goes. My feeling is that she just drives. Hopefully she parks. Sober she’s a bad driver. I don’t want to think about how much worse she is under the influence.

What I do know is that she’s home now, at 2:30 a.m., treading lightly, as far as I can tell, up the staircase to her bedroom, where my dad is probably fast asleep, not worried about where she’s been, maybe even hoping that she never comes back.

I can’t say that thought hasn’t crossed my mind.

Resolutions

July 21, 2008

After reading this passage by Joan Didion, “Had he not warned me when I forgot my own notebook that the ability to make a note when something came to mind was the difference between being able to write and not being able to write?” I decided that I needed to find a journal-type book or notepad to keep with me at all times for when ideas strike me. A friend had recently given me many story ideas and interesting observations through the course of our several heart-to-hearts. I knew there were quite a few of them floating inside my head, but I was surprised to see when I wrote them out on paper that they filled three complete pages. Yes, I thought, this journal is a good idea.

The book I chose is a little snobby. It’s black leather on the outside, suede on the inside covers and snaps shut, as if my ideas were too important to be unsecured. I think that’s why I like it.

The book was a Christmas present from an ex-boyfriend’s mother. Besides this journal, she had given me about five other notebooks and twelve packs of pens supplemented with a card saying, “Live your dreams! Write every day! Dare to soar!” and other clichés. This because the ex told her I hadn’t written anything since I graduated from college three years ago. I was livid but pretended to like the condescending gift.

I had only used it once. When I opened the book yesterday, I was delighted to find the heading “2008 Resolutions.” We will go through my resolutions for 2008 one by one. This, I feel, is appropriate because 2008 is more than halfway over and one needs guidance to see how well one is doing with one’s plans for the year (even when one has no recollection of writing said resolutions).

1. Give into cravings once a week (i.e. burritos)

I am in love with this resolution for several reasons. I think it says multitudes about me and my personality. First, I cannot remember a time ever in life when I didn’t give into my food cravings. I love food. I love, love, love food. This means I have to be careful how much I eat, because looks are deceptive and I can fit many, many slices of pizza or chicken wings into my stomach and still feel comfortable. But being careful and giving into cravings are not mutually exclusive. I wrote this while living in San Francisco, a city that boasts so many taquerias that there are several web sites devoted specifically to solving the age-old question of “What taqueria truly makes the greatest burrito in SF?” The burritos could lure me back up north in a heartbeat. The fact that one of my best friends lives an hour from the city, not so much. This shows where my true loyalty lies.

In any case, this resolution doesn’t make sense.

2. Learn how football works

I am altogether baffled. Why did I want to learn how football works? Did I know someone obsessed with football? No. Was I trying to impress a guy with my seemingly innate knowledge of the game? No. Then what? Did I really, truly want to learn how football “works”? The answer is no, although I wouldn’t necessarily mind finding out what downs are. But to write this as a New Year’s resolution? Lame.

3. Blog more

Finally, one that makes sense. Blog more. Yes. What this really means is “write more,” but I think I was too scared to actually put that down on paper because then it would become more concrete and I would have to look at the word “write,” which would inevitably make me feel guilty and lazy. So “blog more” it is. That’s a good resolution, one I maybe meant to keep but haven’t really followed up on. But, if I’m thinking optimistically for once, there’s still five months left in 2008.

4. Read one book a month

This one makes me sad inside. Reading has always been my favorite thing ever. I blame my horrific eyesight on my love of reading. I’m sure that my need for glasses in second – yes, second – grade was due to the tiny print in the Baby-sitter’s Club series ravaging my tender young retinas. I hated the term “bookworm,” but didn’t know what else to describe myself as.

I stopped reading heavily when I graduated from college and started working a tiring full-time job. When I would get home at seven o’clock, it was easier to watch absurd reality television than concentrate on literature. It’s embarrassing to admit, but the decision whether to watch “The Hills” or read “Atlas Shrugged” was an easy one at that time. I didn’t have the energy to be enlightened. A little later when I started working from home, I read words on a computer screen all day and the thought of reading even more after that was finished just seemed like more work.

I forgot something fundamental in this time frame. I’m a writer. This means I need to read. Upon reflection, this may be why I lost the motivation to write for a long time – I forgot the beauty of words.

Now I’m reading at least one book a week. I feel incredibly fulfilled and I have so many new thoughts and ideas because of it. Making time for things you love is imperative.

5. Go to Europe and not get raped by gypsies

This is a joke. Kind of. I didn’t get raped by gypsies on my European excursion, but I did get raped by my sister, who botched so many of our travel plans that I wanted to push her off a cliff in Diamante by the end of the trip. That was a funny thing to say because Diamante, Italy is where we ended up due to my sister’s mild retardation. It is exhausting to explain more about it, but just know it is indeed funny.

These are apparently my 2008 resolutions. There’s a number six at the end of the list, but it’s blank. I can’t remember if I had something in mind to write down or if I was simply leaving the option open should anything else come to me. I don’t think it’s very traditional to fill in a New Year’s resolution in July, but really, I’m not such a traditional girl. I have my number six. And it’s personal.

Rebirth

July 21, 2008

“I’m sick of my life. I want to get rid of it.”

This is what my mother said to me as I walked through the living room where she sat and into the kitchen to refill my empty water bottle.

Dutifully, but not before getting the water (I knew this might take a while and I was already thirsty), I went and took a seat on the new camel-colored leather couch next to her.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“He burned the ribs.”

This referring to a fight she had with my father two hours earlier in which she presented a rack of baby-back ribs for him to grill, he had lost track of time checking baseball scores online upstairs while they cooked outside, and finally had come in defeated, holding a platter brimming with charred, utterly inconsumable meat. Her main contention, or what I derived it to be through her shouting, was that the ribs, bought through the home shopping channel, naturally, were very expensive and he had ruined them all. I could hear his unvoiced response: “Maybe if you bought food at the grocery store like everyone else these ribs would be cheap and you wouldn’t be going crazy right now over my little mistake.”

But he had said nothing but, “I’m sorry.” At times I thought my dad was a coward for not standing up to my mom, for expressing a logical, reasonable defense, but then I recalled the times he did. Those times had resulted, in no particular order, in a shattered hallway mirror, a broken television screen, a burning of a treasured college jersey and a near-murderous push down the stairs of husband by wife. And those are just the incidents that have happened since I moved back into my parents’ home two months ago.

“He can’t do anything right,” my mom said. “I hate him and I hate my life. I should have never married him.”

After the fight at dinner, my mom left the table, leaving me and my dad to eat the side dishes, rice pilaf and boiled corn on the cob, alone. At the time I hadn’t realized there was alcohol in her glass, but now I could smell vanilla vodka somewhere on her, not on her breath, maybe escaping from her pores, not wanting anything more to do with her, as if they realized how draining she was to be around.

“Yeah.” I didn’t say much to my mom when she talked to me. I imagined myself less of a daughter than a therapist. A therapist who just listened, hesitant to offer advice. A therapist who was a little bit afraid of the client.

“I just don’t know how I got here, you know?” she said. “Everything was fine and then it changed just like that.”

This was not true. Things had never been fine. My earliest memories are not of piñatas or plastic toy ponies or camping trips, but of my mother yelling at my father, my mother sobbing in the bathroom, my mother getting mad at me when my father wasn’t enough to satisfy her anger.

“I’m sorry,” I said.

“I love you,” she said. “I know you love me.”

“Yeah,” I said. “I love you.”

But you make it hard, I thought, unbearably hard.

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