there are clothes in the kitchen. dental floss and a bottle of flat seltzer at the door. hardened grapefruit peels and chocolate wrappers under the pillows, and a shoe tangled with panties crushing q-tips on the bathroom countertop, sitting next to toothpaste and an old eviction notice.
that shoe has been all over sidewalks, kicking up dust and puddles. at night i throw my bag and my clothes down on the way to the chips and maybe the shower. the sole touches my carpet like i swore it wouldn’t when i first moved in, and pins down my underwear like it shouldn’t. once that happens, they’re not panties anymore. when i get out of the shower i just push it all to the side with a wet foot.
its nasty. but im not cleaning any of it up, or down. or at all. when my grandmother lost her mind it started with a similarly insidious neglect. although i’m decades from her point of departure, watching her battle reality showed me that i’m a just speck in time. pain is inevitable, suffering thrives on attention. living without the promise of a memory makes it hard to engage in life purposefully. boo hoo. i’m going to do it anyway and keep a written record.
to hell with the broom.
junior year of college i visited my grandmother on a saturday afternoon. we’d journeyed adolescence and retirement together as partners in crime, eating corned beef and cabbage during the peter jennings hour, kfc and taco bell before wednesday evening pageant rehearsal, and our words whenever we fought. she was tough enough to keep my mother’s hand off my ass, and i was cute enough to keep traffic cops from giving her tickets when she shopped long past the meter. much to my mother’s chagrin, she spoiled me ripe.
eventually the safety we’d built became complacency. years passed and i got too old for church, handwritten cards turned to calls, her knees became too weak for the five flight walk up to my apartment. but our friendship had trained my feet.
that saturday i let myself in and headed toward the fridge, she nodded hello and continued to stare at baseball. behind a few other food items, a cigarette was sitting smoking in its ashtray on the top shelf. a chuckle stumbled to death in my gut. it was clear we were growing oblivious of one another for a different reason these days. she was keeping a slow death fresh, and almost worse, a secret from me. i wanted that laugh so badly, because knew it might be the last for a very long time.
i realized the distance that had grown between us, in airline concession gifts, plastic cups, fig newtons, paper towels, bedbugs, decades of church programs, wrapping paper, roaches, unopened mail, and untouched liquor. some kind of thief had come in and snatched her mind like a purse, fled down Lenox avenue and left her grasping blankly, sputtering messes of words and possessions. desperation was in there somewhere, if she could only find it. then she would call for help. until she did, her daily search would be my inheritance.
once i accepted that her mind was gone and wasn’t coming back, i began to reach for the seams of my own judgment. tug. worry. repeat. if it happens to me at some point, i hope i’m grateful from one moment to the next. there could be a day when a hand i don’t recognize may have to feed me, and it may just be my own. maybe my dirty stubborn behavior today means i won’t have boyfriends, who won’t turn into a husband, and i won’t have grandchildren to prick and humble with my confusion. but i’ll be damned if i grow all the way old and out of my mind, just to not remember time spent trying to clean, fold and organize the person i became in order to survive.
i can’t be selective or precious with my heart, i want to crack it open on the sidewalk and scatter its million pieces.
i worry there’s not enough time in the day or a life. i'm self conscious, and pore over urges i can’t change into whole feelings or thoughts, and pray they become words or images one day.
fuck you panic, back in your box.