“Did you know that more people jack off than pick their nose while driving?” Allie was running a flattened hanger through the side of a car window. It was a silver Volvo. It was dark. I held the flashlight pointed at the window but flashed it at Allie’s face momentarily.
He was concentrating, he stuck his tongue out the corner of his mouth, and he paused and blew air up to swoosh his brown curly bangs out of his eyes.
“Shut up, you don’t know that.”
“Yeah man when I was riding in my dad’s truck I saw it all the time.” He had the hanger inside and he was sliding it back and forth along the door. Allie’s dad was really Italian. It was hard for me to picture him driving a truck or doing anything other than saying, “Here eat this: it’s good for you,” as he slipped a clove of garlic in my mouth and then pulled me close to slow dance to no music at all. I walked over to the driver’s side of the car and pointed the flashlight through the window to the passenger door handle.
“That’s gross, guys are so nasty. You’re almost there.”
“I know. Shut up.”
“What do you know that guys are nasty or that you’re almost there?”
The curved portion of the hanger was perched around the handle he tugged gently and as if on cue the lock popped up. Allie winked.
Allie opened the passenger side to the Volvo and then unlocked the backseat door. We both hopped in and sat down. The seats were creamy gray leather. The car smelled not exactly new but a car that was kept pretty clean and like the owner never ate fast food in it or anything. There were no papers in it but a small indentation on the back floor where a briefcase usually sits.
The truth was the indentations were from a case that kept 12-Step literature. The owner of the car was in a 12-Step program for nicotine, Nicotine Anonymous, and she kept her car clean as part of her program. Her car was a real trigger for her. There were so many memories of driving down the street, singing at the top of her lungs, with a cigarette dangling from her fingers. Now she drove listening to pre-recorded meditations on Audible.
When they changed the smoking laws in California so you could no longer smoke inside, I thought I heard my heart break.
There was a coffee spill stain on the front passenger carpet. Allie reached into the pocket of his flannel shirt and took out two camel filters. I reached into my butt pocket and pulled out the lighter. I hated sitting on things. I lit his. He lit mine. Awww and that first inhale. Ohhh man sitting inside and watching the smoke swirl around it was so nice. When they changed the smoking laws in California so you could no longer smoke inside, I thought I heard my heart break. Then when it started happening other places. Places where you could get perfectly trashy artery clogging meals, well that was it. That was when Allie and I decided to take matters into our own hands.
On the little ledge behind the backseat that reached to the rearview window, there was a Kleenex box and stuffed animals-dogs with bouncy heads, and little round pillows.
“Hey I think the person that owns this car is Filipino.”
“Why do you think that?”
I pointed to the stuffed animals and Kleenex.
“I dunno Kleenex, my grandmother was a fan of Kleenex, but she also liked to hide her paper products with cute stuff.”
My grandmother had a Barbie doll with a large crocheted skirt billow over the extra roll of toilet paper. It was important to hide the toilet paper. Toilet paper was dirty and evil.
My grandmother was good at filling me with fear. She once explained that if you ate in the bed, cockroaches would come and eat the crumbs then crawl into your ear while you were sleeping. From that point on every time I had an earache I would regret that spoonful of chicken soup I had when I was home sick from school. I could see the small silver ladle swimming with perfect squishy orange squares and a sliver of shredded chicken. Distracted by Judge Wapner’s stern sentencing I missed my mouth once and some of the sodium juice slipped down on the comforter. My heart quaked. I tried to remain calm, carefully placed my bowl on a side table, and ran to the bathroom to get cleaning supplies. There was only toilet paper and Ajax. I took the tabo, a bowl or oftentimes a Big Gulp Slurpee cup we usually keep in the shower to wash after you do number two. Filipinos do not believe just wiping will do the trick you have to do a below the waist bath, which again if you fail to do imminent death and destruction will come your way. Even worse, you will be considered dirty and in possession of loose morals. So, I took the poop water bowl and the Ajax and scrubbed the comforter with it. To my dismay, the fluffy cream comforter with rose imprints started to wear thin. The Ajax began eating holes in it. The stuffing started to puff out as well. I panicked. There was only one escape in my family. Sickness. The only way you could be recused from church and school is if you were sick. Which was why I was feigning illness on this particular day. Sometimes when I was pretending I was sick I would make fake vomit out of bits of bread and corn and whatever was left in the rice cooker in the kitchen. I would leave it in the toilet (just a little) so my Lola could see evidence that I was in fact sick. Not just regular sick but miss-church sick. That was the answer! I would pretend I threw up on the comforter and then would put it in the washing machine and any damage done would be a consequence of the washer and dryer not me! You see I was very slick even then. This fear drug was working for me. It’s where I go in a pinch.
Allie pointed at a small house with a cracked mildewed white painted door. “Has that place always been there?”
I imagined the inside of the house. What went on behind that door? I could see the carpeting, a thick medley of blues, some of the knitted loops clumped together in places where there were spills. I could see one of those giant floor model television sets with wooden scrolling doors. Perched on top was a much more modern set of rabbit ears extended with hangers. I could see the microwave. I could smell the constant Raid, cigarette smoke, and dirty diaper smells. I even imagined the mattress. It didn’t have sheets on it. It wasn’t the shiny silky blue kind with the white flowers it was more cloth-like with grey and white strips and it sat atop a wire frame that folded in half and had wheels on it. I called it a cot. I wanted to go in. I wanted to give up. I wanted so bad for my outsides to match my insides. Hungry-Man dinners in front of black-and-white televisions where you constantly recalibrate for a reception; that’s my insides.
I entered foster care when I was thirteen. I was terrified when I entered my first group home. At home I could have complained about noise, or fighting, or too loud sex, or someone sitting in the corner stabbing at their skin with a staple. This place you could pull back the sheets to find a head sized bloodstain and not say anything. Which is exactly what happened to me. My first group home had head-sized bloodstains on the sheets, girls cut themselves with staples in the corners, I was forced to say the Serenity Prayer with a fifi, (something guys use to masturbate with in jail, a working man’s pocket pussy), in my mouth. I got used to showering and talking on the phone beside an egg timer. I got used to sharing, cooking, cleaning. My days were broken up into fragments. When I entered foster care is when I first developed an ache. The don’tgettooattachedcan’tfuckeatspendyourwayoutofit ache. I’ve dedicated my whole life to remedying this ache. Some people called what I did to rid myself of the ache “Attention Seeking.” There are those two words. The worst scarlet taste attached to them. “Oh she’s only attention seeking.” A former caseworker will say dismissively. But what are they saying? They really just want to know if it is a real emergency or not. There’s a huge stigma attached to it. Like that is the last thing on the planet we would want to be. We would rather be an ant than a wounded macaw calling attention to ourselves. Attention seeking has become synonymous with time-waster. But like suicide bombers, they’re still hurting themselves everywhere. That is how suicide bombers are born. Maybe it’s that first fetal kick. That first stretch or yawn. Maybe it’s when their skin feels air for the first time. For some of us achers our baby cheeks were met with newspaper remnants in a trash can, some of our cries were met with cold smacks in foster care, or a teenager’s dotting, or worse an alcohol soaked rag that begins alcohol drenched nightmares. I find the only thing that helps soothe the ache is breaking into cars and smoking in them.
Melissa Chadburn has had her work published in 52/50, 5923 Quarterly, Battered Suitcase, Khimaril Ink, Thunderclap Press, Dynamic Magazine, The Bohemian, The Examiner, Little Episodes, People’s Weekly World, Penn State Literary Magazine, The Fine Line, Political Affairs, Shelf Life, The Rumpus, and Splinter Generation. She is of African, Asian, Hispanic, Filipina, and Irish descent, and was raised by Dutch/Indonesian and British foster parents.
The Death of Bunny Munro by Nick Cave. This novel is delightfully raunchy. If you crave raunch that’s torn-open and fucked-up, this novel delivers. It has all the elements I love: surprises, pussy, and beautiful words. I love the tension. I first read it to escape, and wound up connecting very sadly with every character. It’s a very quick and easy read but you may feel perverted while your doing it (reading I mean).
Underworld by Don DeLillo. It’s not about baseball. Thank God it’s not about baseball, because it’s a tome. That’s to say it’s huge—eight hundred pages. I don’t particularly like baseball. It’s linked short stories. At least I treated the thing like linked shorts. I picked the book up and put it down a lot and it took a long time to read. It’s fucking brilliant and stunning, but the reader is often unsure if it’s brilliant or insane. As a writer, this novel proves to be a great example of dialogue and description. I can’t cite all the incredible dialogue in this novel, or I would bore you, even though it’s good. Really really good… There was a contest once: write an entire short story in dialogue, just dialogue. I think they allowed dialogue tags but that was it. Tags are like “she said” or “she howled”—I wish I read this novel before I’d entered that contest.
The Birdwisher by Anna Joy Springer. I have a slip of paper above my writing desk with these words from Franz Kafka: “I think we ought to read only books that bite and sting us. If the book we are reading doesn’t shake us awake like a blow to the skull, why bother reading it in the first place? So it can make us happy? Good God, we’d be just as happy if we had no books at all… A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us.” Springer’s The Birdwisher did just this.
Homepage photo via Flickr by Andrew Ratto