"I look like Skeletron" I tell Coco. I am applying coverup to the dark, puffy circles under my eyes that I woke up with this morning. I haven't felt this unattractive when I look in the mirror since high school. I have lost something- too much weight, too much hair, too many brain cells, my common sense - I don't know. I dig around in my purse but Maybelline doesn't make a coverup for Grief.
"Do you mean Skeletor?" she asks.
"The one that lived in a castle shaped like a skull who rode a panther." I tell her. Now I am sifting through one of the many piles of clothes dispersed randomly through the tiny camping trailer I moved into two months ago. I am looking for a bra. Any bra. The black one, the strapless, the uncomfortable sexy one- it doesn't matter. I don't even care if it's clean. That's what the French invented perfume for.
To a Normal Person the equation goes like this-
Give away 90% of what you own
Move into a structure that is so tiny it can be towed behind an average sized truck =
It will be easier to keep your living space tidy.
But, even though I now own only two glasses, several plastic Hello Kitty plates, and a coffee cup; the sink is still full of unwashed dishes. And because everything is in miniature, even though the actual heap of dishes is much smaller, it looks exactly the same in the new doll-sized sink as it did in the normal sized sink back in my normal sized apartment.
So the piles of laundry that collect in corners and on top of surfaces throughout the trailer like drifts of sand pushed back and forth by the tide produce an even more disorienting and chaotic effect because the trailer is so small. I live this way, like an animal, until the day before Ruby comes home. Depending on my level of ambition on that day either everything gets washed and neatly put away or frantically stashed out of sight anywhere I can find. Which is why I found my glasses stored next to the Ziploc bags and aluminum foil in the EasyBake oven I have never used because I don't know how to turn on the propane. And why I am digging through clothes piled in the teacup sized bathtub right now looking for a bra.
I don't find it. I do find-
a giant 600$ switchblade my Dad gave me inscribed with it's name- "The Infidel"
the car charger for my old flip phone
and a half dozen palm sized videotapes from when Ruby was a baby.
Mental note- Clean out the bath tub before Ruby comes home from her dads house.
I had multiple reasons for moving from the beautiful, historic two bedroom stone house I loved into a home that has its own title, registration and wheels just like a vehicle but it's enough to say that it's because everything sucked.
The guy who sold it to me bought it from FEMA after the New Orleans thing. All of the FEMA trailers look exactly the same down to the upholstery so whenever I am watching anything about the aftermath of Katrina there are scenes that take place in my living room/kitchen/bedroom.
It comforts me to think of whoever found shelter in this trailer before I got here. The weekend after the hurricane my ex-husband Jeff and I were watching Saturday Night Live when a bulletin interrupted the monologue.
Refugees from Katrina are arriving in Austin by bus in one hour due to overflow in Houston. To volunteer report immediately at the front entrance of the Austin Convention Center.
We drove down there, speeding the whole way- because when something like that happens you watch it on TV and think "I am such an asshole! Why didn't I become a nurse and work for the Red Cross?" All you want to do is help, and all you can do is sit there.
The Convention Center has very high ceilings, and the mountain made of clothes, shoes, blankets and toys people had driven down there and donated reached the very top. It was the size of a two story house. Underneath it volunteers were running from one task to the next, hyperfocused, everyone doing what was needed intuitively without any supervision at all.
The bus pulled up then and people began to line up calmly in front of the pile of clothes. They had survived the storm, the flood, and losing everything they had only to endure days of being stranded inside the Superdome without enough food or water. When the Army or whatever finally came to get them they probably relaxed a little on the bus to Houston thinking about clean clothes, clean beds, and maybe a little medical attention. Then in Houston they were told they had to get back on the bus and drive another four hours to some other city in Texas that much further from home. They were tired.
No one told me what to do so I decided to do this job because I am a small person and I'm not afraid of heights-
1.Stand at the front of the line and ask the person in front of me what they need.
2. Go get it for them on top of that big mountain of crap
They waited their turn patiently. I think now that they were all in shock.
A very large woman was first. She was wearing a Snoopy T-shirt that billowed down just past her knees and one flip flop. Her hands were empty. It occurred to me that she had been wearing that T-shirt since the flood and, in addition to the flip flop, that might literally be all she had left.
"What do you need?" I asked her.
"Size 22 underpants and a Diet Coke." she said quietly.
"Is that it?" I asked. If i had just watched my neighbors get swallowed by a flood of black, crocodile infested waters then got stuck in some Mad-Max football stadium with no AC for four days I'd be asking for a back rub, a pepperoni pizza and a handful of Vicodin.
But she just nodded. So I climbed all over the mountain until I found underpants( size 22) and pulled a Diet Coke from a nearby cooler and sent her to the medical station.
"Are you sure you don't want another pair of flip flops?" I called out, but she just shrugged and limped on over there on the one remaining shoe.
It was like that all night, until Jeff and I finally succumbed to exhaustion as the sun was coming up. As each new person reached the front of the line I asked them
"What do you need?"
Whatever you tell me you need I'm going to fucking get it for you. No matter what. Those people could have told me they needed a live ferret, a pipe bomb and an autographed Jimi Hendrix guitar and no power on this earth could have prevented me from bringing those items back to them.
After the first few came and went I began to notice a similarity of expression, something in the eyes. Guarded-
"So much has hurt me that now I am afraid that everything and everyone will."
Underneath that was that thing in their eyes.
I am not this disheveled, dirty, poor black woman in a Snoopy T shirt acting crazy about a flip flop
I am a mother, I am a sister,
I am a Jazz fanatic, I am an amazing cook, I sing in the church choir,
I braid my daughters hair every morning
I take care of my elderly neighbor
I grow the best roses on the block
I am not this thing that has happened to me.
But all they ever asked me for were clean clothes and directions to the cots lined up by the hundreds in the big room. Despite the noise from hundreds of people running all over the place shouting across the room for more blankets and a forklift that beeped into the room dropping loads of heavy boxes- I watched each one of them instantly fall into a deep sleep the minute they reached their cot.
Towards the end I grasped the hand of an elderly white lady who asked me to help her get to her cot. She told me the story of how she met her husband as we walked. The house she had lived in with him for thirty years was underwater, their wedding photos were drifting out to sea, but all she wanted to tell me about was the day they moved in.
"It was our wedding day. He didn't want to carry me over the threshold but I made him. He was so stubborn then" she shook her head then smiled and looked me in the eye.
"I used to be so beautiful." she said, and fell asleep.
I have seen a similar sadness play out in my own eyes over the last several months when I looked into the mirror to apply coverup so that no one would know I had been crying. I've watched people and things and ideas about who I am that I thought I couldn't live without disappear until I stopped trying to save anything but just stepped back and watched it go.
While my Dad was fighting to get a liver
I was watching my hair go down the drain.
While I lay in the ER having a seizure that made me go blind
I thought of my Dad lying in the new bed that Hospice brought him to die in.
He got more sick as each day passed.
So did I.
I was looking for a job
knowing he was coughing up blood.
I sat in a courtroom losing most of the custodial rights over my daughter
He threw up his pain medicine alone in his apartment.
I got rid of all of my really cool stuff and moved into a trailer
while someone came from the Salvation Army and took everything he owned.
Everywhere I went, everything I did, the awareness of his suffering never completely left my mind.
And this thought-
I can't save my Dad.
The five year old in you thinks that is your job. You should be able to save your parents by loving them enough, being good enough or smart enough to make them okay.
I should be doing something. I should write to the Liver Board up there. I should find an obscure treatment from a foreign country and raise the money online to fly him over there. I should go up there again and make sure he really knows I love him and he's not alone. I should call him every day. I should call ten times a day.
Will it be today?
Is he dying right now?
It was like a giant black hole of pain sucking everything out and away from me towards the Pacific Northwest. Then he died.
Now it's gone.
What is left with me are the best parts of him.
Whenever I experienced any kind of defeat my Dad would always say
"What an adventure you're having! Now go do something else."
Now that he has died, the last thing I was trying not to lose has been lost and I can feel myself cut loose from it like when ET gets really sick and then Elliot gets sick too and their blood pressure drops at the same time because they love each other so much-
If you go down I go down
but then all of a sudden ET dies and all of Elliot's shit goes back to normal and he's okay.
Except that my Dad didn't wake up right after that and demand that me and my friends steal a science van so we can take him to the park to meet his friends. If he had I probably would have done it.
How come my Dad didn't come back with some dirt bikes and backpack full of Vitamin Water and take me on a magical flying bicycle ride through the sky?
(Here is a secret that no one tells you about losing everything-
You have nothing to lose anymore. And you're still here.
That is a sort of thrilling freedom once you get used to it.
You should try it)
So one of the people who came in on those buses that night ended up living in a trailer in Austin for a while then passed it along to this hippie who passed it to me when I needed it. I think I am just as grateful as they must have been.
I was certain it would be easier to stay organized- giving me less stress and more time to spend with my daughter.
The rent is 325$ a month.
So, while the Travel Trailer so organized and adorable it could be featured in "Dwell" magazine hasn't materialized yet, I am enjoying the second benefit.
I haven't unpacked any of my shoes except for a pair of flip flops, but I have found time to completely bedazzle the front door.
How come I can't live in a castle shaped like a giant skull and ride a panther to work? I thought, staring at the mess with what can only be described as "calm resignation".
I wonder about things like that a lot.
How come my friend Joanne can work a full time job, keep her house clean, go to something called "pilates" three times a week and hand carve tiny, decorative pumpkins for her Halloween themed bathroom display and I can't make it to the Post Office for weeks?
How come everyone else is still married?
How come the Japanese haven't perfected the design of a friendly humanoid robot that could be sent in my place to parent-teacher conferences? Shouldn't I be able to buy those at Target by now? What gives?
It's more of a mild curiosity than actually wanting whatever it is I'm puzzling over. Because if I really, really wanted to have the option of transport by panther or build a skull house it's certainly within my grasp.
How to Become Skeletor
1. Move to a country that has lax animal protection laws. Perhaps to a region where indigenous hunters still consider panthers a source of food. No one will hassle you about leash laws.
2. Employ, enslave or sweet talk said indigenous population to help you build your skull shaped castle.
Building a fortress isn't cheap though. Also, saddles for panthers have to be custom ordered. That sounds expensive too. I would probably have to work really hard and save up some money for that plan. But if that was my only goal in life and I was willing to devote the next 25 years to seeing it to fruition- it's doable.
I don't live at Castle Greyskull with a giant cat because I don't want to badly enough.
Same goes for the decorative pumpkins and being married.
I would like to have every option continuously available to me at all times like a 24 hour buffet should I suddenly decide this is what I have always wanted.
But having everything is the same as having nothing.
Maybe that's what it's about, figuring out what you want badly enough to forgo everything else to attain it-even your very own panther.
For the love of God, entertain me.
6 hours ago