(This awful series begins here.)
I was thinking about my mom dying so I missed the turn I was thinking about my mom dying so I didn’t do that errand I was thinking about my mom dying so I forgot I had therapy I was thinking about my mom dying and I forgot to put you in for the extra hour when you came in early that day I was thinking about my mom dying and I forgot to bring a sweater I was thinking about my mom dying so I couldn’t go to that meeting I was thinking about my mom dying and the cats ran out of litter I was thinking about my mom dying and the chocolate went out of temper I was thinking about my mom dying and I didn’t notice it was midnight and I needed to have done payroll by 11:59 I was thinking about my mom dying and the oven was on when I left the house I was thinking about my mom dying so I was in third gear when I should’ve been in fourth I was thinking about my mom dying so I wasn’t as nice as I could’ve been
My brother comes to the shop, eats two macarons, says to me:
“Are you hanging out here all day?”
“Not so much ‘hanging out’ as ‘running this business I run,’ but yeah, working.”
“Wish you could go bike riding with me.”
“After Mother’s Day I can.”
“You said that at Valentine’s.”
and of course my cheeks get hot.
“And I’m working less than I ever have in my entire life. Maresa—tell my brother that I’m working less than I ever have in the seven years we’ve worked together.”
“You think she’s working a lot? She’s working like half as much as she ever has.”
The story of us: he is endlessly bored, in the way of kids with ADD, or in his case, people in their mid-thirties with ADD with no job who literally do nothing all day, and I’m constantly overwhelmed with all the
shit I have to do
shit I love to do
shit I want to do more than I want to go bike riding with you.
We each are the way we are because of how the other one is, this I know and my guilt for it—I’m the worker he’s the drifter we play our parts so fully—stabs me at strange times. Other times it just makes me angry.
Maresa squeezes my shoulder after he leaves, rolls her eyes.
“I mean, it’s Mother’s Day. He’s got to learn these cycles.”
There is an insane woman who walks around up and down the street the shop is on a few times a week. She is known around the neighborhood for shouting obscenities loudly, unendingly. I like this insane woman. Craziness always seems so refreshing from afar, doesn’t it? Who doesn’t want to walk up and down the street shouting FUCK FUCKING SHIT FUCKING HELL FUCK all day long?
Last summer I started talking to her a bit. Like most insane people she is both as insane and not as insane as she appears. You can have a conversation with her, she remembers you—mostly she’s just very mad. Not violent though. My favorite kind of person. She told me as a kid she wasn’t allowed to swear but her parents are dead now, so. In the summertime mornings when I come to work early and alone and sit outside doing emails and eating fruit I often go out to the curb and talk to her. Once I had just cut my thumb and had a big bandage on it. She pulled her hand out of her pocket to show me that she had a bandage on the same thumb: “Cut myself. Why not. You?” “Cut myself chopping.” She nodded. Mostly she tells me everything that hurts on her and there are a lot of things. Mostly she tells me about how she stopped smoking one year and three months ago. I’ve been talking to her over a year now and she always stopped smoking one year and three months ago and she regrets smoking so much and she has an ulcer and last summer she got a new foot because of diabetes and she has asthma and her stomach hurts so much she can’t eat anything she likes, “like chocolate, I like chocolate but I can’t eat it, the dr. says, and I have to walk past THIS FUCKING PLACE IT SAYS CHOCOLATE ON THE WALL SO FUCKING BIG every day.” She is prone to starting to scream in the middle of sentences, so you want to stand back a little bit. She has not yet realized that I have a connection to the building that says CHOCOLATE on it.
I’m sure there are hundreds of mentally ill people in New Paltz, but it’s comparatively rare to see one roaming the streets. She lives in the apartments next door. As I write this she is walking down to Huguenot and I can hear her yelling FUCK once in a while and the yuppie families strolling around are crossing the street to avoid her.
I know the landscape of mentally ill people well, because I grew up around a lot of them. There was always some fucking crazy person (my terminology is textbook correct, I’m not being ablest here or anything—they were fucking crazy) lolling around in a drug-induced stupor in our driveway or our living room, yelling about his old lady or something. You needed to keep calm, because crazies & junkies & crazy junkies can smell fear. Sane people, people with houses in the suburbs or cohesive families, make me nervous as fuck but crazy people calm me down because around them I’m the sane one and that feels good because I like being the good one.
Today we’re talking about how she quit smoking one year and three months ago and how if she knew what it was going to do to her she never would have started smoking. “I walk five steps and I have to sit down. FUCK! Out of breath, you know.” “My mom’s the same way.” She looks at me clear-eyed in that way that only truly insane people can look at you. “What’s wrong with your mom?” “She has cancer.” “Cancer! My father had cancer. He died on New Year’s Eve. He suffered so much. I hated to see it. It was so horrible for him. He was just screaming in pain and agony, suffering so much. New Year’s Eve. It was terrible. New Year’s Eve.” “I’m so sorry. That’s so recently.” “New Year’s Eve, 1972. It was terrible. Suffered. FUCK.” “What kind of cancer?” My standard go-to question now.
“That’s what my mother has.”
“Oh honey. No.”
I go back to work and she shambles off down the street. SHIT FUCK FUCKING SHIT. FUCK.
Mother’s Day is successful.
In fact, May turns out to be one of our busiest months ever. Every year we grow a little more. I used to be weird about it but now that we have all these amazing women working at the shop I just wanna grow, to pay them better, give them more hours. I’m sliding into the capitalist trap. It doesn’t bother me.
As we’re driving to the doctor we talk about animal rights. I tell her how I can’t stand to go to vegan groups’ potlucks or things. For one thing I’m not in the market for friends and I don’t need support for my veganism practice, and for another they’re fucking horrible.
“Every potluck like that I’ve ever been to has dissolved into discussions of, like, what oils to cook with and things, you know?”
“Oils! Yes! Did you know about Chicago Vegetarian Society? They were a good group, but after a while they just shut down—people couldn’t stop fighting about oils!”
Every time we go to the doctor she gets coffee from the coffee machine and every time she’s overwhelmed by how quickly it flows into the cup. It’s programmed to stop automatically, but she wants so much creamer (which she carries around with her everywhere in a little jam jar) that she wants it to stop earlier, so every time she’s getting coffee I hear a lot of “Ahhhh the coffee is coming out so fast!….Well, it spilled. What do you expect when it comes out so fast!” kind of things.
The mechanical world—computers, can openers, automatically opening doors, car doors, most especially car doors and windows—is never her ally. Before she was sick it was only occasionally scary (the time she broke her leg because she didn’t realize “the curb had stopped” or gave herself a contusion by “hitting my head on a car doorknob,” a sequence of words I used to puzzle over until I watched her getting out of cars every day by bending over at the waist and pushing herself out instead of lifting up and out). It used to be one of her most endearing quirks— amusing and frustrating in about equal measure, every day the balance tilted slightly. Now it’s scary all the time.
When the car stops I jump out so I can casually buffer the hard edges of the car door for her head, which inevitably almost grazes it when I don’t take the time. Her scalding herself on boiling hot coffee wouldn’t be a small problem, but she won’t let me get the coffee. Her insolent and insistent need for independence is admirable but terrifies me. She won’t walk with a cane or walker even though she is wobbly and weak and has to sit down every 20 feet.
Similarly, because she doesn’t live in her body, she never owns her desires. We’re waiting for the doctor and she keeps taking small bites of her bagel, then hastily wrapping it up and shoving it back into the white bakery bag and handing it back to me.
“Oh that bagel is good!…Here, put it away I’ll eat the rest later.…Oh wait now I want a little more.…Oh nevermind it’s too much of a pain for you. Well, if it’s easy. Just a bite.” I’ve worked hard to advocate for myself and my wants, and this of course frustrates me. I’m so happy she’s hungry, I want her to pig out. I get quiet when she’s being like this.
And then she says,
“Did you know H. tells me almost every time she talks to me that she doesn’t like broccoli?”
When the doctor comes in we’re laughing so hard she looks concerned.
On the way home we spend the entire hour+ talking about books.
“Gone Girl changed my life—and not in a good way. Dreck!” Flannery O’Connor, Ruth Ozeki, Margaret Atwood, Jennifer Egan, Alice Munro. We talk about the New Yorker magazine short story style, she’s critiquing short stories for a competition and tells me how bad they all are. We remind each other to trade the book proposals we’re working on. With no one else in the car we’re free to be the big snobs we are so we spend some good time trashing people who read thrillers, mysteries, non-literary fiction, and, above all, our eternal nemesis: the e-reader. She tells me she’ll give me her collection of Flannery O’Connor short stories and I tell her I’ll give her the newest Jennifer Egan.
She tells me she has a screener for the new Kristen Wiig movie because she did an interview with the director (“Jewish, you know.”) and do I want to watch it tonight and I tell her I have a Planning Board meeting tonight. “Oh, well I guess I’ll watch you then!” She watches the PB meetings on public access and always texts me the same thing— “You looked very cute. It was very boring. Had to switch to Seinfeld!”
We’re walking to the end of her street, and one of her neighbors says how nice it is that I’m taking a walk with my grandmother.
After Mother’s Day, I am filled with incredible lightness.
At night, in bed, I tally up my happinesses:
Spring is the best time of the year
Work is calm
I have a mother.
I do some work in the mornings and pick her up in the afternoons to go on picnics in the park, eat lavish lunches, smell flowers, gorge on strawberries, watch movies. We go on little drives, stopping at every yard sale, every kid’s lemonade stand. It’s May. We’re living on the earth.
Jacob comes home from Southeast Asia with bags of food gifts, hundreds of photos and videos.
We’re good at settling back into a rhythm. We spend the next ten days before he’s back on tour feverishly racing through a to-do list maze, like we do. Use the time you have. He’s so focused that his body never bothers to have jet lag.
I’ve always loved wigglers, and since Kate does too we’re excited when our town finally gets one.
D., who owns the wine store—perennially tan, seemingly perennially tipsy in the way of people who are not actually tipsy but are just living their lives with a give-no-fucks attitude, perennially walking around town waving her arms around in an imitation of exercise I often participate in as well, periodically posting Facebook photos of her and her girlfriends at her villa in Puerto Rico drinking Mai Tais and being in Jacuzzis—gets a custom one with her shop’s logo on it. Kate and I thrill to this. The combination of a high end wine shop and a trashy air dancer whose stomach says “Let It Pour” wiggling like crazy fixes something in our collective mother-broken hearts. We watch it after taking shipping boxes to the PO, we drive by at night and watch the sun slip away past its magnificent elegant wild limbs.
It drives this bougie town crazy, of course. Within a few days there’s a post on the New Paltz Facebook page about its tackiness. D. texts me at 11:30 one night:
“Will you go to bat for the air man?”
I get busy Snapeeeing.
The air man (D. comes out one night while Kate and I are reverently watching him, squealing when his limbs reach perfect exultant straightness, and tells us his name is Gary) is the pink flamingo of our town, a nice fuck you to the city people with their summer houses and rock climbing tourists with their $300 hiking shoes and feverish desire to have a transformative weekend experience in nature before heading back to their earth-raping jobs. Kate and I are deeply in love with the whole thing. D. tells us about a neighbor who’s complaining he can see it from his deck “I don’t want to tell you his name in case he’s your friend…” “I have no friends in this town,” I tell her, and she bursts out laughing, telling me how I’m a younger version of herself, only vegan. “I love ya, doll! You want Gary at your place? Just say the word.” She marks her calendar to bring him by for our shop 4-year anniversary party on July 31.
One night we watch him from Kate’s car when the wine shop is closing. One of the cute wine snobs who works at the shop and has made his displeasure at D. cluttering up the shop with his presence comes to put him away. He turns off the fan and Gary instantly melts into nothingness. He shoves him into a tiny bag as we stare in horror.
Last week I learned that my mother does not like horoscopes. On Sunday Kate picked up the [local alt mag] and wanted me to read everyone’s horoscope while she was driving. The guy who does the horoscopes is a notorious Nice Guy & Kate and Maresa and every woman I know take great delight in disliking him. He’s oily and new agey and I fucking can’t stand him. But his horoscopes are spot on, even though I hate horoscopes too. I indulge for Kate. I don’t mind it as much as I used to.
Typically when my mother isn’t into something she pretends she is in a bright, half-hearted way until she can passive-aggressively drop hints that she’s unhappy. When I start to read Kate’s horoscope she sighs. Two sentences of the long paragraph in she says, “Oh, this is so long.” At the end, when we’re exclaiming how accurate it is, she bursts in and practically yells “Please, PLEASE don’t read mine. I HATE astrology.”
This feels to me like a secular-Jew thing. Mysticism is slightly embarrassing to us, in a Woody Allen type of way.
Today, on the drive to meet with the new radiation oncologist she’s going to be seeing, we talk about how many people in our respective Facebook feeds are whining about Mercury being in retrograde. “I mean, what does it even mean! That a PLANET could affect your life! Feh.”
I use the handicapped parking sticker to park right in front at the hospital. There’s a giant fish tank in the radiology office. We study the fish for signs of distress. We’re both in love with them, but sad for them. We do the thing animal rights people do of being enthralled by close contact with a member of another species while being stressed out that we shouldn’t be having the contact. Fish shouldn’t be a decoration, and the foot-long grey guy with the fascinatingly flattened head shouldn’t be in a six-foot tank making endless circuits.
“Look at his eyes. Wow, beautiful. That tank is definitely too small. Hmm. Maybe I’ll say something to them.”
The world of radiology beckons.
She steps into it thinking, as always, of everything but herself.