Sometimes, no matter what I do, I just cannot forget things I don’t want to remember. Even after fourteen months, you still barge your way in and stir up a whirlwind of confusion, leaving your trash behind for me to clean up. Always when I least expect it, and always hard, if not impossible to ignore. The other morning, in the early morning hours, in the most inconvenient of places, I was overtaken by a tidal wave of chaos completely invisible to those around me. I was desperate inside, wishing I could flee the rising waters by scaling the walls and escaping through the ceiling vents like some kind of freak mix of human – reptile – amphibian creature in a sci-fi movie.
Innocently standing at the counter waiting for my morning juciebox — I mean iced coffee — I happened to turn, and there she was standing beside me, staring intently, just waiting for me to notice she was there. When I made the connection, my heart sank. I felt a knot tangling wildly and anxiously about in my stomach. My breath caught in my chest, and I instinctively reached my hand up to waft the imagined stench away from nose. That pungent, sickly sweet yet singed odor swirled about me. Viscous. Opaque. Dense. Heavy. Nauseating. I was being visited by phantom vapor, mixed conspicuously in with the appealing aroma of java, and it punctuated the air as unpleasantly as a wave of sulfur.
She cocked her head to the side and gave me a glare, as if she was trying to threaten me for my response. What was she expecting from me? To be happy to see her, perhaps excited? Should I have screeched with delight and thrown my arms around her and hugged her as though I were happy to see her? Pretend, — no, lie — and act like she was someone I wanted to be connected with any further than I had already been forced to endure? Out of politeness, I mustered up a half-hearted hello and half smirk. I only gave her eye contact long enough for her to understand I acknowledged her out of respect. Because I’m not one of those people who treats others as though they are invisible. Unwanted. Worthless, as though their only purpose on this earth was for me to feverishly brush the dirt off my feet.
In that brief moment, a flood of images cycled through my mind. Images of arguments, beatings, phone calls about being arrested, crack pipes, pushers, seedy dealers, tired, unclean women worn from stampeding the streets in search of that one last hit that never seem to be placated. Desperation, endless barrages of phone calls from bill collectors, rent demand letters, evictions, packing up and unpacking apartments in their entirety on my own. My family cutting me off the rest of the way, leaving me at his mercy. The worst of them came when I remembered the time he came back to the hotel we were staying in and excitedly, proudly told me of how he managed to swallow a buck and a half in bagged rock while cuffed and laying across the seat of the police car. How I watched him drink a yellow mustard concoction he forced me to look up online so he could vomit it up before the bags split and then was forced to endure hours of him smoking and watching porn in front of me.
Followed by the time I lived in a car for two weeks because the person we were staying with threw him out after one of his all-night benders, and he literally dragged me out of the house with him. Two weeks in a car. Nowhere to go, sleeping at a truck stop because it was the least conspicuous place to park a car and sleep. This was the same truck stop he would bring one of the female addicts to exchange favors for money so he could get high again. During the day when I wasn’t at work, we would spend entire days in parks acting like we were there deliberately enjoying the weather. But the truth was I was homeless, my family decided to leave me to his devices, and I had no money to stay anywhere. No money to go anywhere and eat, only keeping a small stash of food in the trunk that we had amassed from food pantries. I remember having to sit there and listen to him talk about how he couldn’t believe he never thought of spending time like this before, and how angry I felt, how robbed I felt that his stupid stem, screen, and rock meant more to him than I did. How I had to force myself to not snap, to somehow retain the last traces of my sanity so I could spot any opportunity to make a break for it. How defeated and unappreciative I felt, because I was sitting surrounded by all this lush, green calmness by the water, and I was letting his grating, hissing, obnoxious voice steal my peace and draw my attention away from the serenity I was so urgently wishing for. But it was absent, and I felt like I was watching someone else’s life unfold before me, and I was powerless to stop it.
Then I thought about the grease marks and pieces of metal and drug residue and broken hangers and pens and pencils I was always cleaning up. Scrubbing up, crying all the while because that stupid grease line was still visible. Because no matter much I scrubbed, no matter how much bleach and cleaner and air freshener I used, that rotten, miserable smell was always there, clinging to everything. The people he was dragging in and out of the house all hours of the day and night just blazed away into the early morning hours, and I became infuriated at the memory of how that smell overtook the house like a tsunami…. and the desperation I felt inside to just find a way to vanish into the ether and be free.
And fourteen months later, there one of them was staring me in the face like we were friends, expecting happiness, recognition, conversation. I could feign none of these things, but I still kept my composure enough to be respectful to someone who was nasty, self-centered, and greedy in her actions toward everyone. I managed to hold in the vomitous words I wanted to spew at her with the motion of a hand gliding through the air, as though it would wave the memories away along with it.