I can take just about anything now.
Like how I returned from Christmas vacation to an inch of melted snow and a gaping hole above where I pee. Lake Effect, my landlord said, simply, squinting up at the evening sky, and it’s going to cost who-knows-how-much to fix, but we can’t do anything about it until it melts—those three feet of snow that sit above it. I’d been gone for three weeks, living in a remote cabin in the woods where I spent whole days not speaking, just building fires and reading, mostly foreign texts because lately I find pleasure in things I cannot understand, but my evenings were always reserved for walking around above the frozen lake. It makes an awful groan as I move, like a beast emerging from sleep, and sometimes, I’d go ahead and wish it: I’d think, I wish this ice would break. The scene would be dismal, maybe, since no one would be around to hear me and probably I wouldn’t bother to scream, anyway. But most likely, it’d just be simple—just fall through, just watch me go—and anyway that’s never what I pictured. Instead I only ever saw something like The Little Mermaid, like maybe there was a whole village down there full of people in little seaweed townhomes, dogs sleeping on lily pad beds, everyone dressed in neon green algae and sandy, beige silt jumpsuits. I’ll be honest with you: I would have traded in my life then if it meant joining them in a chorus, all of us clanging on conch shell drums, a hermit crab playing the bongos, but the ice never cracked, and so eventually, I just drove home. I missed my bed and car and office, which is how you know you’re an adult, but more than that, I couldn’t go any longer with just five pairs of cotton underwear, all of them printed with little black Scotty dogs wrapped in neon, hot pink bows, because I knew even when I packed I wouldn’t be getting any while I was up there. There wasn’t a single man around. Moose, yes, and bears, but three for every man. On the long drive home, I passed a bunch of maple trees and a handful of sugar shacks, and there were a few beat-up pick-ups along the shoulder, a four-door here and there, but the drivers were all invisible, hunting deep within the woods or else some swampy, green interior. I don’t know where men hunt. Still, I did my best to picture them: Hearty men, I decided. Men who walk with purpose. These were men who hunted animals until the animals at last gave in, and I couldn’t help but admire them: how they could be honest about that much. I came home to this giant hole—and it’s even bigger than you’d expect—and we haven’t a clue how long it was like that, but “long enough,” my landlord said, laughing, because it warped all the linoleum, making the floorboards slide around. The paint’s all bubbled back, peeling, doughy bubbles like pizza crust, and sometimes when I’m bored, I stand around and try to pop them. I figure we’ll have to scrape it off, anyway, and in the meantime, let’s have some fun. It’s like a carnival house each time I enter—I have to hold onto the countertop for support—which is a fun thing to tell strangers when I’m standing in line at the grocery store. I say, “My farmhouse is now a funhouse,” as I unload my bricks of cheese and all the toilet paper I buy in bulk.
I haven’t even told you about this town, which is lonely, even though everyone else finds it charming. They say I’m not open to the experience, that I have to let my perception expand, but I came from a place where I knew everyone, or I knew everyone by association. You’re the guy she fucked, or, I’ve never wanted to fuck you. I volunteered there and had a job and took pride in my cute apartment—I grew Thai basil on the windowsill—and somehow I traded it unknowingly for this desolate landscape and drywall squirrels. One weekend, I drove four hours just to feel like I belonged, like there was a place that needed me in it, and instead I met this man with an outstanding rape charge in the state of Texas. “It’s the South, after all,” he said, as if that made it any better, and he moved, he told me brashly, just “to get away from there.” Ten minutes later, I found myself sitting beside him at the bar, crying, drinking a beer despite the spinning room and the fact I knew that he was trouble. I was doing it because I was sad, which shouldn’t stand for an excuse for me anymore, because I’m always fucking sad and yet I oblige myself all the time. “You have a reservoir of sadness,” my ex-boyfriend told me once, and I hated him for that and everything, but still I will admit: I’m for sure my own worst enemy. “I just really fucking loved him,” I told this man by way of explanation, and he put his arms around me like he cared, like he was offering consolation, but instead only pulled me forward, trying to press his face right into mine. “I just want to make you feel better,” he said, lowering his hand until it touched my thigh, “and if you take these off right now, I’ll get started right away.” And you know what happened? I tried to push him off, except I was drunk—that’s the other thing—so instead we just walked to his place and I kicked stones and laughed a lot. I don’t know why I went with him—sometimes I just don’t want to be alone. Sometimes I think if I just keep looking, maybe eventually some good will come. In his apartment, he gave me a sweatshirt covered in spaghetti sauce and I tried to sleep on his fold-out futon, but of course I didn’t sleep—you don’t rest near a man like that. I just covered myself in his sweatshirt and thought, This is just what it is. This is how you become that woman: the one who hates most men and who used to be something that sparkled until her life got in the way. I swear, even my hair has lost its shine, and I feel flimsier than a cracker. Completely lacking substance, you know? That’s really how I feel.
Do you know who I used to want to be? A goddamn at-peace person. I once had all these fantasies where I only ever loved someone. That’s honestly what it was. We lived in a sunny home with hardwood floors and a breakfast nook, and I saw our children’s artwork hung up in frames that were colorful and real eclectic. He made me pancakes and I called him “sweetpea,” which at night I turned into, “sweepy.” But that was the wildest I ever imagined: just this image of something nice.
Instead I’m Ms. Shit For Brains lately and I have no idea how it got so bad. I used to be so responsible. I used to have it down. I used to go to the gym and take hikes and take pictures of all these twisting oak trees, these big gnarly, macabre things. I have whole albums of this ice-cream outing I once went on with a man I loved, and you wouldn’t believe how many sunsets I’ve captured from the vantage point of some distant mountain. But now I am This Person, a woman who’s bitter about goddamn everything, and so when finally I felt sober, I folded his sweatshirt and crept to the kitchen. I didn’t even bother to put my snow boots on—just tiptoed to his front door—and he didn’t wake and I was grateful, because who knows how that’d unfold. Or maybe I’m being unfair—maybe he’d offer to drive me home. But the fact is that I left, and on the way home, thought, Thank fucking god, but then at the only stop sign, I got pulled over by the town’s only cop. “You’re supposed to stop for four seconds,” he said, “and I only counted three,” but I still think that’s completely bonkers. I think that cop’s a goddamn ass. Three seconds is enough—I don’t care what some handbook says. A mile later, I hit a deer right in its goddamn neck, and I’d later learn it’d cost two thousand dollars and there’d still be a dent in the one back door, because that shit’s fucking expensive, but even still I cursed, screamed, and slammed the wheel with my soft, small hands. “Goddamn!” I said, “Goddamn!” because how bad can it really get?
You see what I mean? It’s kind of like Under The Tuscan Sun, only there’s no one here to sleep with but lord knows I just keep looking.
Yesterday, there came a knock at the farmhouse door, and for a moment I allowed it: I thought, Here is something good. I don’t know what I wanted, really, except sometimes I feel enough’s enough. No one is sick or dying, and no one has been diagnosed with anything terminal—there’s no cancer or lymphoma—but still it really sucks: how life can feel like a test I have no way of ever passing. It’s not my fucking fault, and yet things keep shitting on my everything.
“Someday you’ll write about this,” a good friend told me recently, and I laughed and said, “Okay—if I make it out of here in time.” Because the truth is I just don’t know. That’s my biggest concern lately: that maybe it’s not this place, but the way it’s made me change.
But the knock: that’s what really matters. That’s the point I’m trying to make. I heard it and then went downstairs to find these two really well-dressed, skinny people—a man with a short blond crew cut and this really tall, stoic lady—and they both held up their Bibles, small brown leather with gold embossing. Could they share a passage from the Lord, they asked, and what I should have said was Yes.
Please, anything you think will help.
Can I make you a cup of coffee?
Can I get you a plate of cheese?
Instead I said, “No, thank you, unless it will do something about these squirrels, or the ghosts living in the upstairs attic, this pesky ladybug infestation, or the draft that blows in from the living room window. How my front door is almost always open and I come home to shattered glass. How things disappear and then reappear. How it’s been five months since I last felt love. Do you know what I miss the most? How a man just held me against his body. It was like he thought I was something good, or pure, and he needed to just breathe me in. He’d kiss me soft then harder. That spot just beneath my ear. That spot along my neck. Now I wake each night at three and I hold myself and I just pretend. I look out at all these acres and think, I would prefer the water world. Some nights, there comes a sound deeper than a coyote, but that’s not what I fear the most. What I fear—when I’m being honest—is that what I want just does not exist.”
Lately, I’m an asshole. I don’t know what else to say. I’m in need of some salvation, someone to take my hand in his, say, I’ve been watching you all this time, say, it’s a test I knew you’d pass.
I’ve been waiting for just this moment to finally tell you how I feel.
Instead there was just this chill, some snow sifting slowly from the bathroom ceiling, and I watched and tried not to care as their blue minivan pulled away.