I started watering the houseplants on a regular basis—this
after watching the dead multiply for the years I spent watering them
on an irregular schedule. As you can imagine, the sense
of accomplishment I derived from this was not overwhelming,
more of something I got to feel good about because it’s the sort of thing
that people ought to do: maintain a life that is not your own life,
provide yourself with a routine that supports the life you want to lead:
a set of reliable behaviors that serve as an accurate representation
of the person you are and not just the person you imagine yourself to be.
Basically, all that stuff the therapist says, but of course, I got pretty
bored with all that after a while. Sort of just decided, What’s the point?,
and so I did what people do when they become bored of doing things like
watering their plants and, over the course of several months, I went ahead
and created a new version of myself, using a complex procedure I found
somewhere on the Internet, involving a bathtub and no small amount
of exfoliated skin & hair & shaved whiskers & clipped toenails, and so on,
as well as several bottles of nearly expired ginger Kombucha. (Ginger!)
And then suddenly, another me: Someone to water the plants! Someone who knows
which plants require greater or lesser amounts of water; which plants
benefit from a more syncopated watering schedule as opposed to an especially
predictable one; which plants have succulent leaves in need of spritzing
and which have waxy leaves in need of having mayonnaise rubbed into them
monthly. (That, if you did not know, is in fact a thing that people do
with their plants.) Someone who will not go on superfluous drives at night
for hours at a time or smoke cigarettes in the backyard or lie down
on the couch and listen to the sound of his heart beating in his skull.
Someone who will engage in the good work of supporting my yucca—
a plant I did not even know I had. Hey, where did you come from, little Yucca?
No answer. OK. Anyway, so it went for a while: I’d tend to the plants
while reading a book in my bedroom or tenderly making love to my wife
or sitting outside on the porch and smoking a top secret cigarette or two,
always returning to our common space in the living room. Always to find him
leaving. All for the better, I’d thought frequently. Really there probably is only
enough room for the one of us, I’d also thought/imagined he’d thought.
On the rare occasion that we were in the same room together for more
than a few seconds, we’d respectfully avert eye contact, thinking it
only proper to give the other his space, allow him the illusion of aloneness.
The poor fellow was, after all, just a recycled version of another version
of himself. Time went on like this. The plants thrived, and so did I, in a way:
each time I caught a glimpse of myself, I’d note that my body
had somehow grown into itself—that’s the only way I can put it:
my arms looked like my arms, legs, legs, torso, torso, and so on,
but there was also something different about them: a sense that they
held their own weight in a way they hadn’t quite done before. I felt
like how Pinocchio probably felt pre-lying about a bunch of stuff,
post-becoming a real boy.
One day, it must have been winter, because my trips to the porch had become less
regular, and it was very cold out, we found ourselves eating
breakfast together, which was strange as I’d never quite seen him
eat before, which made sense, because he and I were on different schedules:
his, a plant watering schedule, mine a real-life schedule. But it also
did not make sense because don’t you think I would’ve seen him at least
once before then, eat something? Anything? Weird, right? Anyway,
I must not have found it to be too weird because that soon became our routine:
breakfast every morning with myself.
An orange usually, and a cup of coffee. Some mornings we ended up
with a bigger than usual orange, in which case we’d split it. Toast
some mornings, not toast on other mornings. Casual stuff. Not
a lot of talking, really. No talking at all, really. More of an unstrained
exchange of thoughts. Effortless. Just, probably, what you’re imagining.
Still, we were most comfortable inside of the other’s silences,
the quiet that we let extend from one to the other: like a conversation, but not.
Then, one day I decided to get healthy again. I said, I’m gonna try to get healthy again.
Kicked cigarettes, cut booze, paid special attention to my digestive tract.
The whole shebang. And for me, Kombucha is weirdly a part of the whole
shebang given its high retail cost and its various probiotic mysteries.
This interested other me, and after reading the label, he had for me
a question. What is a mother? This is what he wanted to know. This,
his question. A good question. What is a mother? And sure, I had some answers,
but they were the kind that make for even more questions, and this line
of conversation, I could see was sure to get sensitive, and so I read to him
from the label about how the drink was fermented, how the yeast
and the bacteria at the top, which looked like a weird jellyfish, was called,
of all things, Mother. And so, it was around this time that he stopped eating.
What’s the point? I’m sure he wondered. Daily he could be found not watering or spritzing
or mayonnaising the plants. Nightly, he’d sleep a light and disturbed sleep,
fascinated by how, no matter how many times he’d gone and watered
and taken care of them previously, without him now the plants were starting
to turn: their leaves cupping into themselves, their edges crisping up like little
pepperonis. I made for him food to eat. Some of his favorites. Caleb, I would say,
eat for me this smoked pork posole topped with a beautifully poached egg, this seared
grouper cheek in a reduced yellow curry sauce served on a bed of saffron rice. Caleb,
eat for me this pepperoni pizza that I ordered from your favorite pizza place. Caleb,
do not waste away anymore like the plants have begun to waste away: even
the mysterious yucca looks like it will surely die. Caleb, do not die. Caleb.
Force feeding did not work. You have probably tried to force feed someone
something before, no? You know, then, how it is not the sort of thing
that really works out too well in a scenario like this. Moreover, you know
the ways in which you are powerless, even against your own will,
much less the will of another. And so that is what I came to expect,
or rather, allow: the slow degradation of the body, my body, a body
I’d eventually come to hold in my hands and carry with me to bed at night,
a body I would bathe with, walk with, hold with me for days and days,
for days on end, I am telling you, for days until the day I thought
he had died, and then even longer until the day that I heard him whispering.
Dead, or alive, he was mumbling, pleading with me, and no, not for food.
Not for water, but pleading nonetheless, pleading, Caleb. Eat me, Caleb.
Can you hear me? Is that you, Caleb? It is time. The time has come, Caleb.
The time has come for you to eat me. Eat me, Caleb. Eat me. Eat me. Eat me,
Caleb. Eat me. Caleb, even that mysterious Yucca is now dead, you can eat me now,
Caleb. Eat me. Eat me. Eat me. Caleb, you are a god, eat me. Eat me. Eat me, you
are a god. Eat me.
And so I did.