As I walked along the railroad tracks with an old friend on a Wednesday evening in late June two summers ago, I kept telling him that I was sorry that we lost touch. I repeated my apology with sincerity, hoping that he would realize that I missed the way he used to finger-pick his guitar at such a fast pace that it almost made me hungry. Then there were the nights when we would run a mile together and afterward catch our breath by lying on the football field, waiting for the stars to come out of their hiding places in the sky. Sometimes he would ask me questions, and not the simple how-many-fingers-am-I-holding-up kind; he would want me to name my biggest fears and count how many times I had thought about people with phobias.
Ever since I saw a lady on an episode of Maury detailing her phobia, I have thought about her more than I could ever keep count. With shaking hands, the lady explained that before she could place her right foot on her car’s gas pedal, she had to plan her trip using a map because she had a phobia of making left turns. Her options were to go straight, right, or in reverse. I pitied that woman on the TV screen and the countless routes she had to plan, including the very route she needed to take in order to even participate in the show.
Before I met my ex-boyfriend, he slept with the lights on and claimed it was because he read himself to sleep. I found Mark Twain books by his bedside. I began to wonder what parts of speech made him sleepy: adjectives? verbs? nouns? and what sentence in “A Tramp Abroad” was read with fluttering eyes. Suddenly, his room was dark and I heard him sigh before wishing me goodnight. He has slept with the lights off ever since.
One night, I dreamt that I was waiting for someone at the airport. Waiting and waiting. I was holding a cardboard sign that didn’t list the person’s name, but rather my favorite color: turquoise. I suppose I was looking for a passenger on the plane who liked oceans and books and pillows of that color. Perhaps I was looking for my cousin, who always wants me to add salt to the water she’s preparing boil; she seeks fast steam, and she wants her romantic woes drained, diced and disappeared. I tell her that all she needs to do is follow her heart; if she doesn’t get butterflies when she sees her boyfriend, then there are caterpillars crawling around her stomach that may need just a little more time. But as for me? I have moths in my stomach--luna moths--and they remind me that love never deserves to be hidden in forests or ceramic sculptures or in between playing cards.
When I was little, I wanted to be a magician. My favorite trick was to ask one of my family members to pick a card, memorize it, and put it back in my card stack. I would open the stack (picture an open-faced turkey sandwich) and slyly place a finger in the stack to bookmark where the card was placed. Then I would go about pretending to shuffle the cards, keeping an eye on the card that was memorized just a moment earlier. I’m not sure if I impressed anyone when I successfully revealed their chosen card, but I never learned to levitate and eventually decided to leave the magic up to David Blaine anyway.
Perhaps my most devastating abandoned dream was that of becoming a dancer. When I was younger, I was enrolled in a dance class; I wanted to be a ballerina. I don’t remember that class or that dream, but I realize it now, and I want it back. I want to be back in a dance studio, learning how to tap dance and make music with my feet. While most people want to make music with their mouths, their acoustic guitars and their hollow drums, my instrument of choice has always been my heels and my toes.
But mostly I just use my feet to walk from place to place, just like I did today when I went to the bank. I swear that one of the bank tellers looked like Mrs. Doubtfire, and for a second I had secretly imagined her peeling off her face and taking off her clothes to reveal Robin Williams underneath. It’s Robin Williams who, at least to me, is the most attractive man in Hollywood. I find a certain charm and comfort in Robin William’s voice, looks, and personality. Perhaps this has something to do with watching his movies while growing up: Mrs. Doubtfire, Jumanji, and Flubber were among my favorites. I also associate Robin Williams with my godfather, Gary, who died of a brain tumor when I was in the fourth grade. I think they looked alike, and from what I remember about my Uncle Gary, he enjoyed smiling and laughing as much as Robin Williams does. And that’s exactly what should happen when someone has nice teeth.
My grandfather keeps his teeth on his living room table. He puts them in only when his children and grandchildren visit him or when he goes to the local bar for a drink. Occasionally, when I glance at his dentures and all their whiteness that complements those glossy pink gums, I think about the teeth that used to be in my grandfather’s mouth and the words that passed through them. I wonder if he ever whispered anything in my ear when I was little: perhaps an encouraging and loving and brilliant phrase that I have unknowingly carried with me all my life.
When I was little, my favorite meal was rice cereal. The Gerber kind, made specifically for babies. It was soft, warm, and sugary. I can remember trying to reach the box in the cupboard, going as far as attempting to climb on the counter to get closer to it. I made some stupid decisions when I was little, and that might’ve been one of them. The other one that immediately comes to mind is choking on a butterscotch hard candy two times
in a row. I was playing Barbies with my cousin April that night. I found a butterscotch candy and tried to eat it but accidentally swallowed it instead. My mom performed the Heimlich and all was well, at least until I tried to give the butterscotch candy a second chance. My mom wrapped her arms around my stomach yet again, and once the candy was expelled past my teeth and onto the floor, she took the bag away and hid it in the cupboard. Those damn cupboards.
There is a clubhouse in my backyard, and I look at it from time to time when I want to remind myself how much I miss my childhood. The ladder leading up to the triangle-shaped room seemed scary to climb, but I have since counted and the ladder is only four steps high. My sister and I decorated that room with little white curtains and drawings. The door had a single lock on it and I feared that using it would mean that we would be trapped in there forever, sitting on the hardwood floor and looking through the single window into the woods. Back in those woods, the birds sang polkas and pop songs. And back in those days, my nickname used to be Sunny, like the Shawn Colvin song.
My life is a conglomeration of songs strung together . . . name a song in my music collection and I can recall when it became a part of my life and who or what I associate with it. If I could write one memoir to leave behind, it would list all the songs in my music
collection and detail what each song means to me. It would be my hope that people would acquaint themselves with those songs and they would mean something to them, too. It may not become a bestseller, but it would be the best gift I could leave behind--that little elbow nudge that could remind people that we need to embrace art and use it to define our lives and the moments within in it that are worthy of being framed and hung on a wall made of plaster and paint.
I don’t need to live in a house with fancy furniture, but going furniture shopping sometimes convinces me otherwise. My eyes are attracted to brown and turquoise. When mixed together, they have a pleasant appeal to me. They always have. I’m not the kind of girl who has planned her wedding day since she was a teenager, nor have I grown up to be a woman who is sketching the design of her house as we speak. For example, I really don’t know how many stairs are going to separate the downstairs living room from the upstairs bedroom. I would reckon that there would be more than five, and that’s good enough for me (especially because five is one of my favorite numbers).
Years ago, my cousins went on a summer vacation to Cancun, Mexico, and in the middle of the night, they awoke to my cousin Johna screaming; she claimed that there were bugs in her hair. Listening to my cousins recall her terror made me frightened for her. But Johna has since given birth to twin baby girls, and I’d like to think that those twins will not awake in the middle of the night with any fears. I want them to sleep soundly and have happy dreams, and maybe once in awhile, matching dreams if indeed that is possible. I’d like to think that it is.
I once met a girl who admitted that she dreamed only in black and white. It made me wonder if I did the same, but I soon decided that I didn’t. But I do dream in waves because—scenes roll in and out, spreading people around my mind like wet sand. I am content with the pace and the peace of it all.
I fall in love with the beach every single summer. The entire ocean is my message in a bottle, politely carrying away all my parts of speech and “sincerelys.” Besides, who couldn’t love a place where every wave gets its turn?
It makes me laugh when I hear clowns say that they are “professionals.” It sounds hypocritical. But perhaps that is what we all are: hypocrites. People who complain and then do whatever it is anyway. People who curse love, yet fall in love and begin to make promises using that irresistible little word named “forever.”
I’m still not sure how I feel about the word “forever.” I think it is a nice form of optimism, as if it's okay to pretend that there is no end to the way things are and continue to be. But even this essay--in all its lost glory--has got to end somewhere, and I have chosen to end it here.
My mouth is a house and you are my favorite guest. May I get you something to drink?
Take a seat on any of the white chairs that are my teeth or sit on the pink carpet that is my tongue. Make yourself comfortable. Tell me a story. Tell me about the first time you heard one of the songs in your record collection. Tell me about the second time you took a road trip to Ohio. Tell me about the last time you used the word “rubbish” in a sentence.
Remember the time you told me that clowns are the same people who start forest fires?
“They’ll paint a flame on your cheek, if you let them,” you said. But I tried to defend them. I tried to tell you that the animal balloons they create contain helium, one of the safest gases on our planet.
Remember the time you told me that it’s not always a good thing, to wake up thinking? Well, today I woke up thinking, and I was thinking about all of the musicians who have
changed their names. Bono was once Paul Hewson. Bob Dylan, Robert Allen Zimmerman. Elton John, Reginald Kenneth Dwight. And Anna Mae Bullock changed her name to Tina Turner. I’m not sure what I would change my name to, but I am hoping that someday I can change my last name and say that the change was inspired by you.
If you’d like a change of scenery, I suggest that we swing on the tireswing in the back of my throat. It is there in the backyard that we will find some fresh air that we can
“What do you say to the couple who shared their first kiss on April Fool’s Day?” I ask.
“Would you say that it’s possible to get the silent treatment from your dog?” you ask.
I laugh. Then I laugh at all the different ways we can describe how we laugh: giggle, cackle, snicker, chuckle. All the words that describe laughter are funny words.
Anyway, have you ever tried cutting your steak with a spoon? Have you ever tried pasting your heart into a Microsoft Word document? I’m sorry. I’m just trying to make conversation here.
We can climb atop the roof of my mouth now. Go ahead. Look down.
Fiction, poetry, and all that good stuff . . .