Paying in quarters makes it less painful. A step closer to actual bills than nickels and dimes. Heavier in the hand to remind me of what I’m giving up. The price of bread, milk, tea, dinner for three off the dollar menu at McDonald’s. It’s harder to spend quarters frivolously and easier to keep them clenched in my palm until the hash-marked edges leave dents along my lifeline that won’t fade for hours. I think I can still feel them days later. The ghost of change where it would be a gift to be able to think of anything except how it might be to afford to leave town and never come back.
I know a rich boy. This rich boy is older than me but he acts four years younger because his parents are a doctor and a hedge fund manager and when his hours are short at work he’s gleeful. He’s never counted quarters to figure whether he could afford to spend time outside with his friends in an overpriced coffee shop at the expense of bread.
His life’s goal is to make a million dollars. Mine is to pay my bills on time, own a greyhound named Tilda, and have a savings account with more than $5 in it.
Funnily enough I’m closer to achieving mine than he is. Guess which one of us is happier.
Thursdays are a liminal space. Obligation without motivation dragging on forever in the way nothing seems to stop stinging the cut on the back of my thigh. My garter did that. I don’t know how it managed; they’re supposed to be soft backed with rubber, kind to those tender places that never see sunlight. Some people have no sense of propriety.
Boundaries are weird. Cosmically weird. I’ve always had a problem with boundaries.
See, I walk around with my ribcage cracked open and my lungs on display for anyone who cares to watch me breathe; you’d think I would unlearn surprise at their love of this softness but my lungs are not my heart and I recoil from anyone who tries to reach out and touch. What if they take hold and squeeeze and get lung tissue under their nails? They can’t be trusted.
My sternum, unattached, sits a floating, ineffective guard against whatever may come my way while I navigate this strange grapple between crippling fear of intimacy and desperate starvation for the softness of the skin webbing between fingers and the soft spot beneath the ear and countless other places where it would be so nice to touch and be touched.
Evolution is not an inevitable march forward into perfection; it is an unending, unyielding, messy red. Like death, he visits us all. Like death, he is not cruel.
The current iteration of our world, our bodies, ourselves is the best it will ever be! The great bias of history.
We forget we are the next in the line of progression to be bumped off eventually and maybe we are the failed branch in the family tree. It is not for us to know. It will be those digging up the impressions of our bones on rock our names and dreams forgotten who decide.
Cremation is cheap but the laws stating that bones cannot be left whole appall me. I want those significant and alive to have my hair and teeth to make with them what they with and I know with certainty that I do not want to be embalmed and buried in steel and concrete. I prefer to go straight into the ground, in a shroud– some fabric that will rot but maybe embroidered with runes and blessings– but where? Bury me in the Sierras on the East side of Rose below the treeline. Bury me with flowers. Horsemint and melissa and columbine and sage. Burn dragonsblood graveside so my father will be welcome there. Pour wine over my stone marker. I’m weak and afraid and I want to be remembered.
Where does freedom begin?
With the absence of fear. Where, despite the void or because of it there is a river of potential heretofore unnavigable, unknown. The water rushes and sings grey-green off the mountain dragging down moss, old bones, bees, poison hemlock. You never learned how to swim but the best part about being free? No one will push you into the water. Come and sit on this boulder in the dappled sun and let your toes get a feel for the snowmelt water rushing past and let the cosmic radiation burn the rot of stagnation right off your back. It’ll hurt a little but you’ll be better for it. Sit a while and talk. Stretch and take up all the space you never could before. Take up all the space you need.
Only my mother would consider the postictal phase of a seizure melodramatic. Only my mother would take herself out for ice cream on my birthday. Alone. Only my mother could consider consider an aversion to peanut skins overwhelmingly depressing. Only my mother.
There’s a concept in learning and conditioning called variable-ratio scheduling wherein the number of responses required to obtain a reward changes at random. It’s used most-recognizably in slot machines. Coin-greasy fingers slipping against buttons and touch screens under flashing lights and C-major chords beneath mirrored ceilings. Generic galaxies spinning beneath their feet. Blacked out windows. Not a clock in sight. With variable-ratio scheduling there the gambler will stay, suspended in their own perception of time and space, until they run out of money or some stronger stimulus comes along to distract them. Casinos do their damnedest to ensure that there is no stronger stimulus; cocktail waitresses are beautiful but unobtrusive providing everything from liquor to food to ashtrays and would you look at that? The ledge between the slots is the perfect size to hold all of it and a cup for more change (in the few places that still pay out cash rather than vouchers).
My mother is on a variable-ratio schedule. Most interactions are neutral or they are postictal disasters. But once in a blue moon I’ll win something large or small and that is enough to keep me coming back– one more hand, one more penny, one more roll of the dice.
Your sweater is a beguiling shade of sage that makes light refract in your eyes just a little bit longer, seeming just that much greener, and you will never know how much this fact upsets me. The key you dropped into my climate-controlled-office-warm palm was cold, a reminder of the storm coming down off the mountain in the middle of May and I can’t help but wonder if your hands need to be held or if you simply need a better sweater. I don’t know if I could forgive myself for changing that shade of green. Perhaps it’s just that you need to keep your hands busy– idly rubbing, gripping the seams of your jeans, flicking the topmost left wheel of a skateboard while you wonder where your income will come from this June– they never quite gather warmth despite all that nervous energy. I couldn’t forgive myself for making them still.
Ink bruises in high enough concentration turning the backs of pages brown and green. Bruises unhealed become sores when the skin sloughs off and, undrained, left wet and unclean, they rot. This is why I refuse to leave the desert content to live on the river with her shifting shores. Rivers are supposed to have banks not shores but here– landlocked and lake-fed heading west for the lowlands where she will attempt to fill the unfillable– there is a memory of the sea. We were beneath it once. Primordial salt floating beasts the likes of which only whales and immortal jellyfish remember. Whales and jellyfish and the desert.
Everything smells like blood. I can’t tell if it’s my body or if everything actually smells like blood. I’ve been taking rat poison so long, walking the tight rope of “just enough to keep me from dying”.
I would like to stop taking it.
I would like to wake up without tasting iron.
I would like to finish a novel.
I would like to be left alone with a one-bedroom apartment, a good night’s sleep, broken eggshells with no remorse, no more thinking in fours.
I would like to shrug off shame with the same ease with which I curse the bad angle of a door swinging shut. “Shit. That’s fine. I didn’t need those knuckles anyway.”
If wishes were horses beggars would ride.
Fortunately for bitter English proverbs today my locus of control is more internal than external and I’ve got an idea.