I REMEMBER IT BEGINNING THIS WAY:
The summer I turned 22 was the summer of knives. Shopping always made me nauseated, thinking of all the plastic in the world, coupled with the bad fluorescent lighting. This one is good—for meat and bread, A. said.
Because it was cheaper, I bought the generic brand of anti-nausea liquid medicine, cherry flavored with a rainbow on the label. At work, I felt like a crack addict, taking swigs when no one was looking. It was an art supply store and I wasn’t an artist, but I would dream of being able to express myself that way: in watercolors despondent and dripping, in pastels crumbling and mixed with charcoal, in oils thick and embarrassing. I would spend money on brushes, paint, pencils, canvases, but the story never turned out to be the one I wanted to tell myself. The same thing would happen again later, with A’s guitar.
THIS MUST HAVE BEEN ABOUT MID-JUNE BECAUSE THE ENNUI HAD SET IN:
When A. wasn’t too heartbroken over some damsel who flocked to some far and foreign locale, he could whip up some interesting recipes. The night of the great fight, he made spinach and pasta. I can’t, I’m nauseated, I said. What I didn’t know then was that I wasn’t feeling nausea, but the feeling of dying. A few bites then? A. asked. A few bites, I said. And after, beer and pot and a game of chess. We had no idea what we were doing then, knew no reason to protect ourselves by castling or how to mate with a rook and queen.
We found a knife rack at the Goodwill, the one where I found the baseball shirt that I so loved. (It was red and the team was “Braves” and on the back was the number 2; the symbolic significance to me: I would have to learn to be brave on one side even though my heart was longing for union with another on the other.) The first thing A. did when we got home was stick knives into the slits; I never wanted sex again.
THIS IS WHERE THE GUITAR COMES IN:
I am sick and lonely. A’s guitar is there and I can’t paint anything and so I want to make songs. I know no chords, but I can strum and have it sound almost like music. Beth comes over. She’s a sex pot and I know she and A are still fucking, but I pretend not to know. She wants me to kiss her. No, I say, I don’t want to do that anymore. I play her my song. She sings, making up the words as we go along: somebody stole the kitchen and Boully’s oh-so-mad; she’s about to lose it, the past and what she had; the bathroom is moldy, the knives are dull; she waits for the milk to curdle; the firecracker wind blows the kitchen to its knees . . . Those are the parts I remember her singing about me and how I could have, but I didn’t kiss her. She shows me that her bra and panties are leopard print. I have almost no pubic hair, she says and lays on my futon.
When A. comes home, Beth and I play our song and he loves it. Beth and I go around everywhere and play our song and everyone loves it. I tell A. one night when he is sad and dreamy. I tell him, Beth and I go around everywhere and play our song and everyone loves it. He stares at me like a parent. You are imagining, he says, you are imagining this and everything to be the way you want it to be, the way you will want it to be when you write about it years from now.
BECAUSE I WRITE THIS YEARS LATER AND IT IS JUNE AGAIN:
What I didn’t know then that I know now is that I kept using the same knife for everything and this pissed A. off to no end. What I didn’t know then that I know now is that I wanted A. to love me so that I might love myself. Other things I have since come to realize: a.) those long dusks when A. and I would take mushrooms and stare off into the clouds, forever dispersing outwards, and I saw that they were actually drowned women who had been beached and I felt truly happy, it wasn’t that I was truly happy, but instead, truly lost; b.) when Beth told me, you’re withering away, what she meant was that I had become the vision of drugged-up, anorexic America; c.) the night I bought A. the drill and he broke shit up while I made beeswax candles and later he fucked me and said he loved me, it wasn’t him: his drill and candles had temporarily possessed him: I know that about men now.
HOROSCOPE FOR CANCER ON MY BIRTHDAY—JULY 8:
Play your cards close to your heart.
THIS WAS WHEN JULY WAS BECOMING TOO HOT:
I started caring for the hermit crab because A. came to resent it. It had a red shell and Beth named it Elgin before giving it to A. as a gift, to get him to “come out of his shell and stop being so damn mean all of the time.” I knew it was lonely because it kept burying itself in the sand, and so I got it a companion with a pale green shell. At night, they would touch and talk and their voices sounded like a violin when someone is new and shy with it. I could never tell Beth and A. how I loved these crabs, how I befriended them and even bathed them and let them roam in the summer grass, how I, like them, would rather be torn apart than lose the security of my shell.
ALTHOUGH I REMEMBER SUMMER ENDING THIS WAY, I THINK THIS WAS THE LAST DAY OF JULY:
I knew I looked beautiful in Misti’s swimsuit because I was only 108 pounds. I knew this because I weighed myself everyday. I knew I looked beautiful because A. and Misti both kept staring at me and debating as to whether we should skinny dip. I felt like shit because the night before, A. and I took mushrooms at one a.m. and I only got one hour of sleep before getting up for work. While Misti stripped down and A. went over to her, I floated on my back with my ears underwater and stared into the purple sky turning duskblue. They used to date and lived together for a while before Misti kicked him out because of his temper. I could feel little fish feeding on my feet. Misti swam closer to me, saying, You know, Jenny, I really want to fuck you—do you ever sweat?
SOMETIME IN AUGUST:
My best friend and college roommate of three years moved into an apartment about ten minutes away. I see her again there. Where is your Buddha?, she asks. She named my stomach Buddha once when I was high and laughing and rolling about the floor. Are you eating?, she asks. Yes, I say. She says, I’ll be back. When she returns, she lays a huge German chocolate cake on the table in front of me. Eat it all, she says. I can’t, I say, I’m nauseated. You’re nauseated because you don’t fucking eat, she says. I stare into the cake’s icing: a million anemones, waving in the sea, reaching out to me.
ALTHOUGH THIS SHOULD HAVE HAPPENED SOONER, THIS WAS TOWARDS THE END:
All these art books, they say that I need to keep, at all times, a tube of Payne’s Grey, why Payne’s Grey?, this sad customer is asking me. I dream of my answer: because it is the gray of ghosts, like something haunted, a memory mixed with the blue of dusk so as to invoke sadness and, as always when there is sadness in memory, regret; think of every vase you could paint that way—in Payne’s Grey—dreaming of flowers to fill it.