My grandmother’s things arrived at home today. I wonder if they’ll smell like they used to. Like the sharp cleaning solution she used around the house, perhaps, or garlic. Maybe my bones will rattle when I see myself in her mirror. What do I expect? My warped double, a shrewish adolescent, big eyes and knotted hair? Are there still sauce stains on the off-white seat-covers—or did she scrub them? With the bleach from the top shelf of the laundry room? Will it feel the same, sitting there? Will my mother smile? Will she cry? Is grief possible to experience, truly, before someone dies? Or am I simply being melodramatic? I do trend that way.
Wan pixie professor suggested something lovely this afternoon, in the guise of a Miltonian contemplation. “We cannot be alone,” she said, “when God put that many stars in the sky.” Someone walked over my grave, little bumps on my thighs, and I smiled. I didn’t quite feel like myself today. I think that’s all right. My neighborhood back home has a pool, and sometimes during the fall and wintertime they drain it. The faintest vestige of a water level kisses the sides of the tiles and wet leaves litter the bottom. It’s empty, but it shouldn’t be empty, but it’s empty, it’s empty, it’s empty. “Each time a man has sex, he’s a little closer to death.” She also said, but she was speaking for our Renaissance subspecies.
I dreamt of scowls and hushed tones and crinkled windpipes, but I woke up to a sunrise in rose-tinted lenses, so my terrarium was reupholstered in symmetry. My sinuses simmer, devoid, and today is the day I smile again, with my lips sheltering my teeth. I learn to catalogue myself. The air is crisp and it smells like opportunity. I am desperate for objectivity. I am desperate for the night, for release, for liberation, but I must sleep first. I must catch back up, lungs heaving. I must find a way to jump and be myself again. I wasn’t tired earlier, but I am now. It kisses my eyelids so very gently.
There are still whispers. There is still acid in writing this—still something revulsive in putting ink to these murmurs of inadequacy because I promise, I promise, I promise, reader, I know that there is glitter in my smile. I inherited my mother’s green eyes, you see, and my grandmother’s way of taking a room and shaking its hand. I look at the sky as it rains and blink and embrace the human notion that each soul is extraordinary. Certainly, my spirit is no exception! And yet I slip down the ladder, I can feel it, something in me is bittering and those around me take notice. They pay attention, and surely, I fall. Or, moreover, I am dropped. Tomorrow will be better, I swear it. I’ll regain control.
xxiv. Christ the King Sunday
Years ago I carried a little ruby mp3 player in my pocket everywhere I went, with a pair of thin black earbuds, one ear bedecked with a strip of red, the other blue. “Summerboy” I played, “Summerboy” as I rode on the train and “Summerboy” as I read and held characters so close to my heart. “Summerboy” as I dreamt. This evening, after so many years of dancing alone, I had two partners. “Summerboy” as we vibed poorly and “Summerboy” as we sang off-key, our mouths all shaping the same lovely words. What a sabbath it is to stop being alone. To feel known. I wish the little girl with the red mp3 player could see me now. It’s what she’s always wanted.
My immune system is a bitch. But my mind is healing. I relaxed in comfort today—or, in plain terms, I went to campus in pajamas and felt the peaks of a familiar self-destruction rearing its ugly head. But, ho! A victory, if brief! I rejected the demon. My wrenching throat was a reminder to relax, that pain is humanity, and I can treat myself well. Treat myself like a friend, perhaps. I shift in my sleep, put an extra pillow down, and tilt my face towards the blow of the fan. This, I suppose, is how you heal. My roommate asks if I want anything. I think. I hesitate. I say no. A moment later, I say yes.
Home at last. I looked myself in the eyes, in my grandmother’s mirror. I was startled to see me, eighteen, returning a reluctant gaze. In the car, I said, “It feels like I was just home.” My mother, with a smile so similar to my own, bore a somber reflection. “No, it doesn’t.” A quiet Thanksgiving approaches this year. The last guest we had was my grandfather three years before. I was never his favorite—that title went to my sharp, witty veteran cousin. But I still loved him. And he still loved me. When I was little, he held me on his lap and read to me for hours and hours. I don’t remember any of it. I do wonder, though, how much I retained. How much I felt. How much I missed. That’s not to say I wasn’t a favorite grandchild; I ranked at the top of my grandmother’s list.
I still can’t cook, the dominant family gene of naturally fantastic cuisine somehow managing to skip its way over my generation. This year, though, I’ve made leaps and bounds in the sous domain. I can peel like a maniac, I can dice, I can stir. Somehow, I’ve managed to accomplish the foundational cooking skills without the Italian glory that accompanies them. I could even chop apples today without thinking twice. It was almost peaceful. I didn’t even notice I was singing until I was halfway through the chorus. A character of chaos has, illogically, morphed into a creature of domestic contentment.
Life must be busy. We must be on our feet. We must be eating. We must be hedons. There are many habits to retain. What is it about my mother, what is it about me, and the importance of structure? What kind of stability are we clutching? It’s a retainment of systems long-forgotten, maybe, or people. We sat at my grandmother’s dining table and during the prayer (we nearly forgot it, famished), we glanced towards the empty chair. However, food was sublime. My mother and I locked eyes, and we smiled. We made this all ourselves. The food, sure, but the house of yellow walls, a family composed of two women: we made this all ourselves.
The beauty of love—of being in love—is that it manages to spread its small bits of joy towards every angle of life. The right song comes on, and suddenly there’s an elegance in unloading the dishwasher, in changing your pants, in looking at yourself in the mirror. Being in love with him is like being in love with the whole world at once. The lights are strung up on the tree, kisses of angels, real or otherwise, a reflection in the gleam of an eye. Warm brown irises. There are ebbs and flows, conversation in circles. There is loss, and there is love; its drawn in ink on my acromion.
The season of rebirth begins tomorrow, and here I ask myself: what will I be, in His glory, this year? Here, the swellings of hormones and the snarling of menstruation and the growling insecurities have written blatantly into my syntax; and yet, joy too, in mourning and in family and in a simplistic autumn daze. What transformations, more, do I have in store! I must look towards it with excitement. But my disposition is realistic. I am not naive. There will be trials. I will face them. I have a life behind me. My grandmother’s spirit is in my vertebrae and my mother’s softness is in my eyes. I have my words. I will do more than survive.