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Violent Nothings

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Maybe we all want to burn off across the horizon, into space, perhaps, to take off into some unknown territory and meet ourselves out there. Perhaps we’re all stars burning out, peaking at a complete and utter brilliance, and then collapsing in ourselves when faced with total destruction. We all are born like rainbow children, vivid oranges and golden yellows, deep sea blues and royal violets that scream out. The color that we are the most, however, is green. We’re new and green and fresh to the world. We open our eyes with eagerness that can never be replicated after years of wear tear down our bodies. We shrivel and die in cocoons of loneliness, despair. The journey in between is something we like to call living.

The tap was leaky. It dripped continually and endlessly, stretching on for infinity. The water drops were perfectly round and released from the faucet like tiny birds leaping from the nest for the first time. Drop after drop resounded on the stainless steel bottom of the sink. The ashtray was placed on the counter next to the sink; it had been emptied early yesterday morning. A pack of Marlboros sat contentedly near the tray, like a pet curled up in the corner of the room underneath a window with the sunshine warming its back. Then again, a carton of Marlboros was never far away.

A salt and pepper shaker set was on the kitchen table. They were made out of cheap molded plastic, purchased on sale from the drug store about a year ago. I turned over the salt shaker and made a tiny mountain of salt grains on the wooden surface of the table. I pressed my finger into the mound, flattened it. I licked my finger and tasted the distinct flavor of salt.

A grape juice box had been set out for me. I stuck the straw in the corner of my mouth and chewed on it. The combination of the salt taste and plastic made my stomach turn. A wave of dread washed over me first, collapsing and rolling in me like dice in a gambler’s hands; then, nausea. I sprinted to the blue porcelain toilet and slammed the fuzzily-covered lid up. My body convulsed and heaved, my spine arching and caving. I squeezed my eyelids tightly, but not before seeing the embroidered wall hanging above the toilet depicting a kitten playing with a pink ball of yarn. A blue ribbon was tied around the kitten’s neck and the animal somehow possessed cutesy eyelashes. I had never before, in real life, seen a cat with large black eyelashes. The entire decoration was hideous and tacky. My eyes closed and I leaned over the bowl.

It was an afterthought, really. It was something to do once our seatbelts were unbuckled and my feet weren’t yet out of the van. The upholstery smelled of pot and cigarette smoke while the van, overall, smelled like a box of week-old donuts. The air was thick and greasy. The back end was stuffed full of cardboard boxes and dirty old couch cushions, vinyl records and Reese’s candy wrappers. He had this look in his eyes, not one of lust or even want. His eyes implored me and searched me, expressing a great need. I need you, he whispered. The words still ring in my ears and make me dizzy like a carnival ride would, turning me upside down and throwing me into space. I need you.

I had drunk an entire gallon of Hawaiian Punch and sat on our mustard yellow couch in the living room, waiting. Waiting. Hawaii Five-O reruns were on, but I stared past the television, my blank gazed fixed somewhere outside the front window among the shriveled rose bushes that never grew.

The box was the same size as a tooth paste box. I wished that what was inside was only an innocent tube of spearmint toothpaste. It had the same red, rectangular label on the front and white font. It was a wonder people didn’t confuse their toothpaste with the box more often, really.

I took it out of the box and closed the door to the bathroom. The kitten with the blue ribbon around its neck looked more like its eyes were wide open in surprise rather than playfulness, its baby blue ribbon tied like a noose.

I looked at it once. Shook it in my hand. Threw it away.

He always played odd jazz music in his van. It bordered between catchy and disturbing, its lyrics woven between blaring trumpets and heavy bass thundering in the background. His pale fingers would absentmindedly twiddle with the volume knob, twisting it back and forth, back and forth, so the sound would blast and fade, blast and fade. It was like bobbing underneath water, the sound becoming mute and swollen. Then, as I would resurface, sound was restored and my ears were overloaded. His van was a gash in my memory. It was the underwater vehicle, floating somewhere along reality and fantasy.

The dripping faucet used to keep me up at night. In my cramped bedroom, with its tissue paper-thin walls and Madonna poster on the wall, the dripping faucet echoed. Each drop was a hollow alarm clock, keeping my eyelids opened wide until the blue-black hours of the morning when dark circles under my eyes would appear. Now, the feeling inside of my stomach keeps me awake.

It’s a dripping faucet of its own, a leaky tap that won’t cease to exist. I have something else inside of me, throbbing and thriving. I have another entity within me, a second heartbeat. My stomach feels heavy. I swallowed something too big to chew, something that I shouldn’t have attempted to eat. The scary thing is, it’s mine.

The thin blanket on my bed didn’t cover me tonight. My toes peeked out from the end of the fabric and as I whispered poetry to myself, my teeth chattered and my words stammered. Suddenly my body was shuddering and I was lying motionless and full of action at the same time. My limbs twitched from shivering while I struggled to control my own muscles in the freezing cold of the night. I was terrified. It only reminded me how little control I have over my own body.

I slept until noon the next day. I awoke lying on my back, my hands folded across my chest like a man with a death wish. Perhaps I wanted to die. The Hawaiian Punch had long ago left me but my stomach still churned with a sickly sweetness and my teeth felt like they needed to be brushed. The leaky faucet inside of me never turned off. Minute by minute, it was growing, swelling, taking more and more of my body away from me.

He would never lose his body. He could give and give and never have anything take from him. He was the reverse of selfishness, somehow much worse. He could sit in his van for eternity, driving down the freeway in a complete state of contentment, his bizarre jazz music calming him to the point of a catatonic state. Would the trumpets shrieking keep him awake?

I ate twelve pancakes at three in the afternoon today. After, I set down my fork with a tiny bell sound that came from metal contacting ceramic. I picked up the bottle of Aunt Jemima’s syrup and stared at the illustrated face on the front label. She smiled happily at her consumers, willingly drawing them in to buy her. I wondered if I had sold myself in the van that night. Had I already given up my body then? The thought made me whimper at the kitchen table. It caught in my throat like a bubble in a plastic wand that refused to blossom into the air. I choked and began to sob at the table, my head hanging so the ends of my hair swirled around in the puddles of syrup on my plate.

I remember how he had crowed to me with glee the afternoon he was hired at an indie rock music store. The pay was terrible, but he was paid to stand behind a counter and scan albums while bobbing his head profoundly and look at customers with half-closed eyelids. He picked me up each night smelling of incense and root beer. Once in a while a new album would be playing in his stereo and he would fiddle with the knobs again, back and forth, underwater and above the surface. With him, I was swimming and barely keeping up.

The leaky faucet would never have a father. It would never play baseball in the front yard or drive in the passenger seat of a shiny golden minivan to football practice. It would never have a father for the father and daughter dance in junior high and could never read their first book with a daddy on the loveseat in the living room.

The leaky faucet would only have me as a mother. The title smothered me and tied me down, down to a universe of strollers packed with every supply necessary to survive in Antarctica. Down to a universe with kindergarten meetings and volunteer sign up sheets, down to a universe of helping with math and cooking dinner instead of ordering Thai. My universe would become a small, protective bubble where every bad presence in the world was somehow eliminated. In reality, my universe would become a fantasy.

I locked myself in the bathroom and sat on the fuzzy toilet seat. The kitten stared holes through the back of my skull, but I ignored it. The bathroom was small enough that I could lean forward and rest my forehead on the door. When I was fifteen, I had punched a hole through the door with my fist. I had sat on the toilet seat and hated the world. In a fury of confusion, I had thrust my fist into the door. My knuckles had bled for hours, slashed with splinters of cheap wood. I felt like punching the door again, just to feel the pain, but decided against it. Instead, I simply sat and stared. I had never been more alone despite having someone so close.

I had never wanted something out of me so badly. I wanted tangible hands to hold, to feel the warmth of another body. I had never been the shoulder to cry on before, the ladder to support someone else climbing and growing. I was someone else’s support system now. I had to give and give until my back broke at the end of each day, until my heart hurt from loving and my hands were raw from holding others.

I took a deep, quaky breath. It opened up my lungs and filled out my chest. I stood and looked in the mirror on the door of the medicine cabinet above the sink. Jutted, indignant lips and large, guarded eyes.

I was no longer a child.

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