ReMeMoRyIng

“What do you want to be remembered for?”
“That’s a stupid question.”
“Not really. You know. Under the circumstances.”
“Sure, fucking whatever, but it’s not up to me, is it.”
“No, but that doesn’t mean I can’t ask. God, you’ve gotten to be such a dick.”
“Yeah, well, you know, that also shouldn’t surprise you, ‘under the circumstances.'”
“Look, you said I should be normal. I’m being normal. You made me promise. Like, months ago. Remember?”
“Yeah. I didn’t say I’d be okay about it now.”
“Fine. Well. Just as long as you remember that you asked for it.”
“…”
“…”
“Fine.”
“So what do you want to be remembered-“
“Oh come on.”
“Seriously, just think about it for a second. Like if you were asking me-“
“Yeah? What would YOU want me to be remembered for?”
“Really? Did you really just do an ‘enough about me, what do you think of me’ line just now?”
“You love me.”
“Whatever. Look, if you’d asked me, what like I wanted to be remembered for, yeah, like, it’d be a hard question. It is a hard question. But I mean, I can think of a couple things.”
“Like…?”
“Like I want to be remembered for things I did while I was around, not for things people find out about me after. Or like, I don’t know, mushy things, like I want to be remembered for being a good person, I guess, or for at least trying.”
“But that’s so fucking general. Everyone wants that. Or everyone says they do. It’s stupid. What’s the point anyway? No one’s going to say you’re mean after. Like what, we’re gathered here today to commemorate this awful fucking bitch? Nobody would say that about you.”
“I feel like you’re not done.”
“Even though it’s exactly what you are.”
“Shut uuup.”
“Anyway, it’s easy for you. You have people. Like lots. And family and shit.”
“So do you.”
“Not really. You know what they’re like.”
“Well, yeah, but-“
“But nothing. They’ll care. They’ll make the right noises. But then poof. That’s it. They already bought a place in Miami, did I tell you? For when they don’t have to spend winters here anymore.”
“Are you kidding.”
“It’s fine. It makes sense. You know. It’ll be good for Zach, he hates the winter here. He gets all seasonal affective disorder and shit.”
“Fuck that, he can buy a fucking SAD lamp. They don’t have to buy a house already.”
“It’s a condo. Like in an apartment building.”
“Whatever.”
“Look, don’t worry about it, it’s just how they are.”
“Insensitive morons? Assholes?”
“…”
“Sorry.”
“Nah, that’s pretty accurate.”
“Well, still, it’s not my place to-“
“As if you ever cared about shit like that. Gimme a break.”
“…”
“…”
“…”
“…”
“So anyway…”
“Yeah.”
“Want me to turn the TV on? See if Powerpuff Girls is on or something?”
“Yeah, sure, why not.”
“Cool. Want some water? I’ll go get some.”
“Yeah, sure. Thanks.”
“No problem.”
“Hey-“
“Yeah?”
“Nothing.”

Haytches

A list. This is what this piece of paper is called. You read it, carefully, before leaving the house. As you shop, you refer to it, often. You don’t get anything – anything – that isn’t on the list. The items on this list are the only ones you are supposed to, and allowed to, spend money on. This is the deal. This is what responsibility feels like. You asked for it. So here goes.
 
*Half-baked cookie-dough, found between the yogurts and the organic milk/yogurt/butter section. It’s in a little area of its own, because it’s a guilty pleasure that most people don’t allow themselves to eat. You’re not allowed to eat it either, so if I see the package open when you get home, or if I see you bought more of it than arrives on the kitchen table, adult privileges are over. 
*Herbal-mint-tea sheep’s yogurt. This is in the organic section, near the cookies. You are allowed to eat this, but not at the store. You wait until you get home. 
*Half-and-Half for your father, because he is spoiled and won’t drink his coffee any other way.
*Honey Bunches of Oats cereal, which you will find in the cereal aisle (you should also get milk, but wait until the end for that, because it’s heavy, and you know how your back gets when you carry something heavy for too long. Also, we, that is unspoiled people, drink 2% milk in this house, not whole, not skim, so look carefully.)
*Honey-nut cornflakes for your little sister, but make sure that it is the gluten free version. There should be a round button-shaped thing in red or blue or green or yellow that says GLUTEN FREE in big letters like that.
*Healthy granola bars – I’m trusting you here. Choose some kind of flavor you like that doesn’t have chocolate chips or drizzles of caramel all over it. You know what I mean. Something with fruit, or with almonds or apple or pear in it or something like that.
*Holly’s Oatmeal. You need to go to the organic section of the grocery store to find this if you don’t see it in the aisle where the rest of the cereals and granola bars are. It’s near the produce section, sort of near the meat section, but not near enough to the meat for you to be able to see anything. Don’t worry, I’m not sending you into anywhere dangerous for you.
 
Now that you have the list, you can go. Remember before you leave to bring: keys, cellphone, sunglasses, sunscreen, grocery list, pen (for crossing off items), wallet (for money), and the whistle your father and I gave you just in case. Also put on your necklace that lets people know you have an allergy to penicillin. If anything happens, I don’t want anyone injecting you with anything you’re not allowed to be injected with.
 
The minute you’re finished shopping, while you’re waiting in line at the registers, call me, and I’ll come in the car to pick you up. After you pay – ask them to bag everything in double bags because we need the plastic for the cat-box – head to the door to the left because that’s where they let cars stop. If you have to wait for me for a while, don’t worry, don’t freak out, it’ll be fine, I’ll be there in a jiffy.
 
Put your calming music on while you shop. Sometimes people are scary in the grocery store. They can be aggressive, or impatient. But if you take your time and do everything you need to do, you should be okay and nothing will happen to you. If anyone asks you to move, move. If anyone asks you about your stye, ignore them, because it’s none of their business. People are just rude sometimes, just like we talked about. Remember that if you get nervous, you can call me anytime, but also remember what doctor Ronaldo said about you taking some steps. You wanted to do this, so.
 
Love, xox, hugs and kisses,
Mom

Insurance

   Jarvis counts his fingers. He counts his toes. He gets to twenty-four and is pretty sure he’s made a mistake. He starts again. Mia is giggling in the corner. Her laughter makes him lose track. He forgot she was here. Now he remembers. She is pretty. So pretty. Grotesque. Noses are strange, bumptious organs, sticking out into the world, central to the face in that they can’t be ignored, can’t be gotten rid of. Jarvis has a sudden and itching desire to Google people without noses.
   “I need your computer.”
   Mia giggles at the wall.
   “Mia.”
   She lies on her back and giggles at the ceiling. 
   “Mia.”
   She turns her face and giggles at him.
   “I need your computer. Where is it?”
   “C’mere.” 
   Jarvis decides Google can wait. He crawls to Mia’s prone face, as it grows bigger in his sight, but the intensity of her separating features becomes too much to bear so he stops halfway across the complicatedly patterned rug. He flops on his stomach. Pancake-position, like the pandas in the Washington Zoo he read about. They don’t know how to have sex. Sex is very strange, if he tries to think about it. 
   “Let’s go to Washington and join the pandas, Mia.”
   “Okay.” She is serene now. Her voice is high and squeaky, Mickey Mouse in the old Disney cartoons when he looked creepy and long-legged, long-necked. Jarvis tries to remember what she normally sounds like, but there doesn’t seem to be a state other than this.
   Mia’s face is sharp-planed, her cheeks smooth runways, the line from her cleft chin up to the dip above her lip a perfect landing strip. Her eyes are luminous blue control towers, her forehead the arrivals hall of a thousand pock marks of adolescent zits, a once-chronic condition she hides with leafy bangs.
   Jarvis wants to fly away, somewhere. The yen for the journey hits him hardest in these moments, watching Mia. The only black girl in a small town, adopted by white-savior parents, she is beautifully innocent to him. He ruins her inch by inch, night after night, and she thanks him for it, making him feel more powerful than anything else could.
   He is an inner-city kid. He marched around, beat his chest, and proclaimed himself to be Trayvon just months ago. His father is in prison. His mother is on and off welfare. He is a stereotype he cannot stand. Going to college isn’t working. It isn’t escaping. His mom calls and makes him feel guilty. His father is no less in prison here than anywhere else. Mia is the one good thing.
   He sits up. It’s wearing off. He really wants to go see the pandas. Right now. “Mia, let’s go.”
   “Okay.” She’s still lying down. “But you have to get insurance. Travel insurance.” She rolls from her side onto her back and lifts her legs into the air. There is a scar on her left knee that was there when she was given to her folks. 
   “To get to Washington?” Jarvis starts to laugh and it honks out of him. So not entirely worn off. He can’t stop laughing. He can hear how silly he sounds, though. That’s something.
   “Mom always said to get travel insurance. Call-look-just-call.”
   Jarvis finds a number for a company on his smartphone – he realizes now he could have found people without noses right in his pocket but his phone is still new and he’s not used to it. He calls.
   “SmartFarm Insurance, this is Robbie speaking, how may I help you?”
   “Hi yeah, I want to go to Washington with my girlfriend to see the pandas and she says I need to call to get travel insurance? Like we’re going to just go in the car or something. Maybe take a train. A bus. A plane. A motherfucking canoe. I don’t know.”
   Robbie SmartFarm coughs. It’d been a long day. He knows that even with this kind of call, he is supposed to untangle what the customer wanted. But he doesn’t feel like it. His mother is ill, in the hospital, he doesn’t have a girlfriend to go to Washington with, and the vending machines are out of chocolate-covered pretzels. “Sorry, we can’t insure you for a journey like that.” He hangs up and waits for the next call to patch through.
   Jarvis looks at the red “call-terminated” bar on his phone’s screen. “The guy said we don’t need insurance,” he says. “Told you. Let’s go.”

Prompted: Explain Christmas to a young pine tree

I only know what they showed me on television. But you don’t know what that is either. It’s sort of like how you, one day, might want to feel what it’s like to fly. When you grow up, you’ll have bird families nesting on you. They’ll build their homes in your branches, and they’ll use the worms and caterpillars climbing down your spine to feed their young. And they’ll fly. They’ll fly around your topmost branches and even though you’ll be intimate with the wind, you won’t know what it will feel like to touch a cloud. But you’ll think about it sometimes. And maybe even wish for it. When you see the birds flying – that’s sort of how I think Christmas is. It’s a joyous thing that I’ve seen from far away. I’ve seen others stretch into it like it’s a habit, like it’s as easy as plunging off a branch and rising high into the blue. It’s not something they need to think about. But you and me, we have our roots in different places and no matter how hard we try to picture what it’s like up there in that space, we won’t be able to.

Someday, maybe you’ll learn the language of the birds. Maybe you’ll manage to talk to them. And you’ll ask them what it’s like to fly. That’s what I did. I asked what Christmas was really like. Not the pretend kind I saw from far away. But I don’t know if I ever asked the right question, not exactly. Because even if you’re speaking the same language as someone else, when your roots are in different places, can you be sure you mean the same thing when you say “always” and “regular” and “just”? Could you explain to the birds what it’s like to draw water from the earth?

Sugar-Coated

I was helpless. I couldn’t fight it anymore. I had tried, and I had failed. “Fine!” I yelled at last, opening my mouth wide and screwing my eyes tightly shut.

“Yes!” Paige giggled and placed half her chocolate bar in my mouth. I opened my eyes and grinned, biting into the bar. Paige’s face was a sight – she seemed to have dunked her whole lower jaw into a bath of chocolate rather than had a few squares. But it was mid-July and the stuff was melting in our fingers as we held it, sprawled on the grass in the public park.

I had vowed to stop eating junk-food at the beginning of the summer, but I had broken the resolve more than I cared to admit. It was almost always with Paige. She had such a motherly instinct, always wanting to feed her dolls. When they got boring, because they couldn’t actually eat, she tried to feed me. She would stretch out her pudgy little hand with such an air of generosity and real happiness in the act of sharing that I couldn’t turn her down.

“Fi, Fi, let’s go swing! Swing swing swing swing!” She was already off, shoving her last square of chocolate in her mouth as she ran, the repetition of the word echoing behind her as she ran to fulfill her immediate desire. I got up from the little blanket I’d spread out for us and followed her to the run-down little playground.

It was a beautiful day. I was happier than ever that I’d been offered the job of babysitting Paige. When I look back at that day, it seems like a dream, too good to be true. If I’d known that three months later I would be trudging through the ghostly streets of a ruined town with Paige clutching my hand and a rumbling belly, I wouldn’t have fought so hard against eating the chocolate.

Gertrude’s Conscience

“Gertrude?” the clerk at the DMV smirked involuntarily when he read the name. He stifled his sneer as best he could, but she’d already seen and noticed it, as she always did.

“Yes, um, so can I please renew my license?” she asked quickly. She wanted to get the whole thing over with. The clerk asked her to wait a moment and went to a back room to do whatever it is they did at the DMV that took so damn long.

Gertrude sat, unmoving, on the uncomfortable plastic chair and fumed quietly. She cursed her parents for the umpteenth time for giving her such an old-fashioned name. She’d learned to like it in her teens because she felt it gave her an air of fragile antiquity and maybe some sort of old-fashioned elegance. But now, in her mid-twenties, she was learning to hate it again. Her boyfriend always told her he loved it, but they’d been together for so long that she never took his compliments seriously anymore.

She looked up at the large clock and sighed. She’d been waiting in line for what felt like forever, and now the sneering clerk with his comb-over and his ugly, crooked teeth was chatting, quite audibly, with one of his coworkers while he waited for something to come out of the printer. Gertrude stared at him sullenly, but looked away quickly when she realized that he might look back and see her watching him.

Instead, she put her head down and examined her nails. They were too long again, and she was much too lazy to paint them. It just didn’t seem important anymore, this having nice nails business. She just wanted them short enough so as not to be in her way and damn appearances. But even as she thought that, Gertrude scoffed inwardly at herself. She still cared about her looks, much more than she ought to. She felt the nape of her neck tingle right now, in fact, and was sure that one of the fussy, mean old ladies who were in line was watching her and frowning at the tattoo that was clearly visible on that area.

Gertrude felt that everyone disapproved of her, no matter where she went. Whether she was buying books that were technically considered teen-novels or walking into a designer-clothing store, she felt as if people stared and watched her, thinking that she was strange and odd and altogether not quite right.

Being not quite right didn’t bother her when she was alone. In fact, within her circle of family and friends she enjoyed being the odd one out. She liked having unique tastes and being considered a bit of a strange bird. In fact, she took offense when she was told that she was too normal. She felt that being normal was boring, wrong even. Especially as she wanted to be a teacher. Teachers needed to be odd, special, or plain nuts in order to have an effect on their pupils. Gertrude was convinced of this because the only teachers she’d ever had who had any impact on her were the weird ones that people laughed at but listened to.

It was only when she was out and about on her own that Gertrude felt uncomfortable. She kept her head down as often as possible so as to hide the large birth-mark that covered half her cheek with a purple tinge. In those moments of honesty to herself, she knew that she was hiding herself more than the birth-mark and that it only gave her an excuse to do so.

“Excuse me, Miss?” the clerk was back and had apparently decided that he couldn’t say her name without laughing. His formal address to her was almost more insulting than her name said with a snicker.

“Yes?” she answered, raising her eyes and looking at him politely. Like most clerks, he didn’t meet her eyes. She always tried to meet everyone’s eyes when she spoke to them, almost defiantly, as if to prove something.

“I’m sorry but you didn’t fill out the proper forms online, so we can’t renew your license yet,” the clerk said without sympathy. He was already looking behind her, his hand hovering over the button that would make the screen flash and the next number called.

“I did fill them out,” Gertrude said quickly, before he could dismiss her. “Can you check again, please? If you don’t have them then I’ll fill them out right now,” she offered eagerly.

The clerk emitted a little noise of distaste and impatience and without a word got up and went back to the computers that for some inexplicable reason weren’t set on the clerks’ desks.

Gertrude hated him for a few moments before reminding herself not to be a mean, selfish and judgmental idiot. She looked down again and tried her best to imagine the clerk as a good person who had a family and friends and belonged to another life that didn’t consist of the DMV. It was hard to imagine, but she nevertheless tried, in order to stop feeling bad about herself for hating someone so fiercely that it hurt.

 

Face Down, In A Drawer

You may not comprehend my emotions. I admit it, I tend to be overly dramatic at times. That trait of mine is part of my charm, however. Or so it used to be. Now, it seems I’ve become so over-the-top that I just don’t fit anymore. For someone like me, there’s nothing worse.

I started out fine. Well, that’s not strictly true. I started out gleaming, perfect, utterly spotless. I was completely black-and-white then, no doubt whatsoever between the two. Then the change began. I was worn ragged, day after day. I saw the uglier side of the world, was trodden down upon, completely used up. But see, that’s what made me cool. That’s what made me fit in to the scene I’d always wanted to be part of. I was tattooed, grungy, dirty and scruffy. But I looked good. No one could dismiss the fact that I looked damn good.

Until the day it got to be too much. Until I started not being able to function properly. I’d been so worn down, that I wasn’t a comfort anymore. I started being ignored. Week by week, I was left alone more often than not, until one day I was simply finished. Capute. Finito. Face-down in a drawer in the closet, and a new clone occupying my place.

It’s a hard life, I tell ya, being a Converse high-top.

I Remember… (When I Was Really Little)

I remember the house we had in Los Angeles when I was really little.

I remember eating ice-cream in front of the television after nursery-school.

I remember begging my mom for cookies when she was on the phone, and bugging her until she’d give them to me just so I wouldn’t bother her.

I remember that I planned that strategy in order to get more cookies.

I remember my nursery-school teacher, Robin, and how I would get scared if I was parted with her.

I remember the red tricycle I had and the way I liked to stand on the back of it and move it forward with one leg, pretending it was a skateboard.

I remember my crib that I slept in until I was three years old.

I remember refusing to answer my father in Hebrew and only speaking to him in English until we moved to Israel and I had to speak Hebrew.

I remember rocking so hard on my little rocking chair that I unbalanced it and fell backwards, hitting my head hard.

I remember getting my first Barbie doll from my mother when she went on a vacation, and I remember that my brother got Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle action-figures.

I remember my friend, Ally, from nursery-school and my next-door neighbor, Gina, whose toys I was jealous of.

I remember a lot from before I turned three – I’m told it’s rather unusual. The memories are strange, though. They’re fuzzy and soft, all in pastel colors and moods and disconnected visions. Early memories are strange, but I’m glad I have them.

Writing Exercise: The Portal

It’s not every day that you see a portal. Actually, I don’t know about you, but I’ve never seen a portal in my life. Well, let me amend that; I’ve seen portals, but they were just regular doorways or windows, a portal from one normal space to another. This portal, the one I saw today, was different.

At first, I wasn’t sure that what I was seeing was a portal. It looked like a shimmer of air – like the sort of shimmering that happens above the flames of a bonfire in a hot and humid night. As I drew closer to the wavering patch of air, I realized that if I looked at it out of the corner of my eye, I could see something through it. What I should have seen through it was just the trees, tall and boring palm trees, on the other side of the park. Instead, what I saw through the patch of air was something exceedingly odd.

It looked like a kind of demonic vortex: a sort of whirlwind of dark colors, weaving through each other and around and around the spiral they made, tumbling over one another and creating frightening images if I tried to concentrate on them. Sweat poured down my face in the summer heat as I kept turning my head this way and that, trying to see where the moving tunnel inside that patch of air led to. It was no use, however. The spirals of color just kept on and on inside that portal, and the ending was so far away it just looked like a black dot at the end.

The portal drew me towards it. I took a step, and another. I wanted to enter it, get swept up in that endless darkness and see where it would lead me. Before I knew it, my hand was inches away, reaching towards the shimmering air through which I saw the tunnel.

My logic kicked in. I snapped my hand back. I shoved both hands in my jeans pockets, like unruly children who had gotten away from me and needed to take a time-out. With one last, involuntary yearning, glance at the portal, I turned away. I turned my back on the fate that would await me if I entered that darkness. Now, at day’s end, my curiosity burns for that knowledge and my logic must sooth my imagination. “There, there,” it says in my mind. “It couldn’t have been anything good. There, there. It’s alright.”