I’m staying in my college roommate’s stepmother’s house– I’m finding leftover things in drawers from a lifetime earlier with her own mother. I’m trying on clothes and jewelery for the party, and nothing is right– my reflection is bloated and off— every necklace I put on somehow makes me look gouty and gladular. I wander the halls of the old house, rooms done up for children long grown– at the back of the house is an old nursery room with a big bed for three children– it all looks a little cheap and threadbare and makeshift, and I know in no time the stepmother will have it done up properly, all remnants of this past family erased.
I’m playing with a bunch of girlfriends in an outdoor wilderness, an expanse of emptiness, scooped-out and rugged in the midst of the city, sand-floored and vast. there’s a big pile of fallen branches, deadwood, and that’s where we’re playing, bouncing on them balanced like teeter-totters. then we decide to go away, walk across the wasteland and through little camps peope have set up with ragged blankets– there’s a man tucked into one of these makeshift tents, speaking tender spanish to a threadbare dog– and I feel a kick in my gut, shame for our privilege, for playing so blythley in this place while others are homeless and destitute– and then we walk on into the mall. I follow the other girls around for awhile until I’m struck by how much I’m just following– one of them stops to get some snack item and so we all stop, crowded along the counter, and it strikes me that I never would have done that, just stopping without a glance or comment to the others, automatically assuming everyone would stop– I imagine the roles reversed and the others continuing on, oblivious. so I set off on my own, trying to find my way out of the mall– but it seems to go on and on, ingeniously engineered to keep us inside, forever shopping– finally, after first appropriating a book I find lying around, I make my getaway with a bunch of people who are stealing fast cars.
I’m late for a flight, having walked a friend to her gate, so I’m trying to use the automatic check-in machine for the wrong airline, hoping that, like an atm, it’ll be somehow wired in to the rest of the system– but I run into technical difficulties with the machine, which is like a big flatbed scanner– I keep scanning my documents in wrong, and time is slipping away.
I’m hanging out with the girlfriends again in a big bed or row of beds like a slumber party, and we’re all busy filling out college applications– there’s a kind of unstated competition to see who can be most casual about it, and I’m filling out the first part just to establish the file, planning to do the essays later, when I see somebody else’s envelopes all stacked up ready to go and fat with documents– I ask, did you do the whole thing? and she barely looks up, watching tv and doing her nails to say, what? oh, yeah. and I panic, feeling completely behind– and I ask, so did you handwrite the essays? and she says, yup. and then I’m scrambling, shuffling through my documents, looking at all the essay questions and realizing how much work I have to do, how unprepared I am to do it, and how I’ll never mange to get it done here, easily and casually– and how surely she has put in some serious work ahead of time despite trying to make it seem otherwise, as if she barely cares.
I’m driving through a reseidential neighborhood late at night when I see a flash of white and movement, and there is a horse! running along the road through the front yards, weaving between parked cars– so I hurriedly pull over and park all cockeyed and scramble out and click my tongue for it– it’s shy and skittish, but it also wants someone, needs someone, so it comes to me eventually– I gather up the ends of its frayed lead rope and guide it around the houses, looking for where it may have come from. I go into a building with an inner courtyard and apartments winding up off of it through several storeys– somehow I know the horse has come from here– I call out, and for awhile no one answers– then finally a man leans over the banister and sees me below with his horse and comes down– he says, that’s so-and-so, but doesn’t seem to want it back– I ask him, to make sure, and he says, no, take it away with you, please. and there’s a long pause while I digest this, and then I say, divorce is hard, I know. I’ve been through it, too. and he begins to cry– he says, they just left today— and I know he means his wife and daughter and that the horse was hers. I reach out and take his hand and say, it does get better, I promise. and he looks at me with a kind of bleak hope, not quite believing– and then he clears his throat and stands up, and I take the little horse away– it’s just small enough to fit in the back of my hatchback– really the size of a golden retriever and just as soft and friendly. and it just so happens I have a barn standing empty and ready out behind my house. I think, I’ll figure out later what to do with it when I move out in june.
there’s a little woolly black dog I rescue, scooping it up and loading it into my car, saying to some other people who want it, too, it’s so cute– well, you may get it yet if I can’t figure out how to make george get along with it— but in my head I’m thinking, I’ll figure it out.
I go shopping with all the girlfriends, and we’re getting a bunch of stuff cheap by weight, going in on it together– and even though there are only a couple little things I want, I overpay, typically. then one friend says, hey, wait– that’s too much– and I say, oh, don’t worry about it– but in my head I’m keeping track and kind of mad at myself for doing it again.
then there’s a series of delays– one thing after another comes up to hold up the group– there’s an episode in the food court with a nearby table of guys, one of the girlfriends instigating it but on my behalf, the single one– and I’m embarassed and resistant, but in the end I’m glad because one of the guys is very cute and seems interested– meanwhile the rest of the group is getting tired of waiting out by the car, and when I finally get out there, they’ve loaded up with a stranger and are heading off– I both feel bad and am annoyed that they wouldn’t wait– and I realize they’ve taken all my stuff with them as well. the same friend who called me on the split amount makes sure we all end up on my front porch to divide it up– I arrive late and find them there– I’m happy and start poking through the bags, looking for my stuff– and then I realize and say, yknow, the only thing I really want is a pear– and then instantly regret saying it when I find the bag of cores and see their faces fall. I hurry to say, oh, never mind, but there doesn’t seem to be a way to fix it.
I’m driving a bunch of people around in my brand new safety-yellow SUV, and things keep going wrong– I’m driving erratically, then I pull out into a busy road and in avoiding one car going in the same direction, I end up in the oncoming lane and think I just have time to execute a tricky move– but suddenly I have no power or pickup and realize all the cars’ healights have gone out all around– then the accident happens in slow motion, kind of grinding and horrible, though no one’s hurt– once the mysterious power loss comes back on, my car’s still drivable– though my passenger notes there’s no radiator fluid– so I’m trying to pull across traffic to get into a service station, only they all seem to be full– and then I’m heading for one someone’s told me should be open– only I end up in the wrong lane, heading onto a bridge into downtown, where I really don’t know that I want to go. at some point I climb into the back seat of my own car and realize how uncomfortable and badly, flashily designed it is and begin to regret buying it and wonder what in the world possessed me to give up my nice green forester.
I’ve gone to bali or thailand with a friend who ends up going off, and I’m on my own in a strange place, which is scary at first– then I start paying attention to the place– there’s water everywhere, running even under the street, and beaches in the not too far distance– there are manholes in the cobbled street you can climb through into the ocean– I lean down over one and watch the creatures swimming, bright corals on the ocean floor, large manatee bodies passing by– when they see me, they surface to investigate and snuffle affectionately like big dogs at my face, and I laugh out loud.
then I wander across the street and into a house and ask the woman who lives there if there’s any chance I can pay her to crash on her floor– she says, no problem, and gets me situated in a kind of hallway alcove where the floor is soft as a featherbed– I’m worried about being in the way, but she reassures and welcomes me, and everything is beautiful and simple and clean and bright. I lie down, so tired, and slip into semiconsciousness, and her housemates or friends arrive– I can hear them and am paying somewhat attention, though I’m far away– and then one of them, a woman, comes and lays her hands gently on my back, and there is an intense warmth and a surge of sadness, and I shudder and sob– she says to the others, she’s carrying a lot of pain, and then she keeps laying her hands differently on me and releasing that heat and stretches of sadness, releasing it out of me.
later I get up and want nothing so much as to be enveloped in water, and I ask if I might to plunge in somwhere– even one of those sewers right outside— and they give me kind of odd looks, and I realize how bad and self-hating it sounds– but I was only thinking of the manatees and the corals.
we go on a kind of slow roller coaster– the whole place is very buddhist, with everyday holy men and monks all around– and while on it, I have another episode of losing consciousness, and then there are shudders that verge on seizures– I keep holding back and rousing myself out of it– and the same woman asks me if I’ve ever considered just going through it, just giving myself over to those seizures to see where they take me– and it’s an interesting idea, but I’m unable to do it– she seems to be suggesting the episodes are not so much an illness but instead some kind of mystical birthright I’ve got to fully embrace. I hadn’t even really been aware I had them in me.
I’m in an institutional bathroom, and there’s a big window back into the hallway where the others are standing– they can see me as I check the chairs and stools which all look upholstered and not like commodes, though I know one of them must be, somehow– but I desperately don’t want to do something humiliating and disgusting, and lift the lid on a stool and see a hole and am unsure whether it’s an ashtray or a toilet– so I sniff it, and the people in the hallway see me, the other girls all go, oh, gross. and I don’t know how to explain to them what I was doing and how I’m not really pervy and disgusting.
later– the bell for classes is about to ring, and all the bathrooms are crowded, and I’m trying to find one that’s free and, if possible, empty– and I end up in one in the teachers’ wing, and it’s really late, class is starting, but I don’t care– it’s just french class, and I can never seem to catch up anyway. so I’m pulling down my tights– or maybe I’ve managed to pee and am pulling them back up again– when the door swings open and three of my phd program professors come in– and they’re chatting like peers, girlfriends– I am caught with my pants down– finally I get the tights yanked pretty well up and go to the sink to wash my hands– and they’re standing there, talking about one’s planned weekend at the hospital for voluntary surgery– she’s saying she missed out on the variable painkillers, so she’s signed up for the “full constant,” demonstrating the device they gave her with looks like a big, heavy-handled spoon.
I’m hanging with a friend who’s recently gotten divorced– sometimes it’s the wife, sometimes the husband, but never both, it flips– and I’m petting their dog who is the spitting image of the husband– when my rocking chair pushes up against the wall and marks it, and I say, oh! I’m so sorry– I’ll fix it– and I can see by the wife’s face that she’s totally irritated and says, yeah, that would be good, and goes to get the paint– as I paint over the spots and try to spackle the holes I’ve created, I think about how it must be that her landlord is going to show the place and that’s why she needs to keep it nice.
my friend is talking on the phone with the boys, and I’m jealous of her easy banter and flirtatiousness– she’s talking about the house where the former sf rocker I adored now lives, and how small and dingey it is, but how they like it, how he says he loves living there, in sf– and my friend’s being snarky ohso cool, saying how he’s ballooned out in recent years– and all I can feel is, not relieved that I’m over it, but rather envy and more envy that she knows him at all.
I can see it whipping across the landscape, and I’m looking for a secure place to hunker down– somewhere with deep-rooted trees– I find a funny little sort of decorative tree corral and climb between the fence posts– at first I’m not sure I’ll fit and start to panic– but I wedge myself into the tight space created by the trees and the enclosing fence and wait, watching the horizon for the funnel cloud, willing it to come for me. it’s meandering around the landscape, and I’m ready for it. I don’t know if my spot is secure, but I know there’s only one way to find out. others are fleeing in cars, but I just wait and know that it will eventually come, sweeping everything up in a cloud of black dust. and then it’s upon me. and for one sickening instant I can’t be sure but I seem to be lifting… and then, no, I’m just sticking, enclosed in a surbrisingly bright and quiet vacuum– and I hear a single pop or click and then it’s over. I realize afterward that it was the tick of a clock.
I discover an entire wing in my grandmother’s cabin that I didn’t know was there– it seems to be occupied, but I can tell whether it’s currently occupied by cousins I don’t really know or if it was left like that, midstride, years before. I’m examining the objects lying around, trying to determine if they’re very old or not, and I can’t seem to tell. I’m nervous about getting caught snooping.
I end up at the funeral of a thrash rocker by accident– I’d meant to go to an event in a different part of the same building– and it’s a strange and sad ceremony: all kinds of hype and perfomant, a kind of tribute to the life of the guy, but from my outsider perspective it all seems to pointless and kind of pathetic– and I feel bad for judging them, and I’m trying to sneak away when I run into the organizers who are promoting the event and are trying to ensure everone attending gets into it– finally I slip away, grateful for the escape.
I’m at a clinic along with bonnie and other women academics when I just slip down– I’m fading away– the feeling is intense: partly the lethargy of sleep combined with a sense of inevitability.
I’m in my parents’ house, when I realize I’m being slowly poisoned by nerve gas– when I figure out what’s happening, I struggle to take care of it myself without bothering my father because I just don’t have the energy to spare– it’s about survival at this point. I dial 911 on my cell phone and gather up what I’ll need, keys, wallet, and make my way downstairs– I’m struggling to stay on my feet, reeling and fighting unconsciousness, headed for the front door to wait for the ambulance. my dad’s downstairs, and I reassure him as lightly as I can that everything’s fine and that I’ll be back soon.
karen’s driving me through her old neighborhood, taking me to see where she lived before—we’ve got a photograph of a big white house and her stories of all the people who lived there, but now there’s only an empty lot and I find it hard to believe that whole house fit there.
when I get into the driver’s seat, I have to reset all the adjustments she’s made.
I lose my car in a parking ramp.
I look into the eyes of an ill-shorn guy and say, wow.
I show up at a party everyone’s been planning, and it turns out it’s for me, and I’m ashamed and embarrassed and start backing out of the room. I say to sue ann, you really should write a book of comedic essays, and she gives me a funny look and pulls out her book which has just been published earlier in the year and which I should have known about.
I dig a little ways into the hillside behind my house and open up a whole underground system of tunnels and dirt-carved paths—a rabbit warren, I think at first, but it quickly becomes clear that george has been going down the tunnels and making use of it—first I notice the size of the dug paths, george-sized rather than rabbit-sized—and then I start to notice the corruption—it’s full of piles of dog shit, just everywhere, and worse, the stink and moisture have collected and compounded, and an evil-looking red mold has begun to grow and spread—so at first what looks like a cool, mysterious underground world to explore becomes something I loathe the very idea of stepping into, a problem to solve, a mess to clean up, which I hadn’t even realized was there, somehow.
the pair of mean ex-friends have decided to become hairdressers and go to spy on the competition—they’re hip and fancy, and I tag along, drag along—they get seated in the window in their matching smocks, and I’m chatting with the woman next to me when she makes some comment about people’s nasty cattiness—I point over at one of the two in the window say, I’m sure that’s going on there. then I decide to get my hair cut, since I’m there, and go slick it down and sign in as a walk-in—the haughty guy seats my unfashionable ass in the back room out of sight from the street—I’m irritated about different treatment, even though I know it’s all poser bullshit, so I walk into the front room and take myself a seat near the windows—and suddenly she’s sitting down near me, looking me in the eye, saying something conciliatory after all this time, maybe even I’m sorry—and I explode. I bend down over her, my hands on the arms of her chair and am yelling in her face, I hate you! I hate you! – and then stop. and collect myself and back up—and say, sadly, and I love you, too.
I’m on the roof of one of the pine river boathouses calling down to tiff, who’s in the river below—possibly in a boat, but I think swimming in that glorious clear water—and I call down and realize my voice is too loud, I’m shouting, and sound carries here like crystal—so I call out again more quietly.
I’m standing inside a wooden structure and talking with an older woman whom I admire a great deal—she’s an artist and very solid and kind—also fond of me, too—that is, until her son shows up, who’s only 20, and falls in love with me—and I think it’ll be okay—she likes me, right?—only when I look over at her, I realize she’s tight-lipped and ask, is this okay? and she sort of bursts out, definitely not!—and I hightail it out of there, angry and embarrassed and feeling confused and betrayed and generally disappointed.