Illustration by Andres Garzon
Dear Mariella Goodman of the Counselling Office at Johnstown College,
I wish you hadn’t helped me last year. Now I am in a worse state than I was in before, or ever have been; worse even than in the third grade when I peed my pants during story time. For weeks—MONTHS—my identity was Pissy Chrissy. No! Now I am in a state worse even than the exact MOMENT following my accident, when my best friend Hannah shot away from me, laughing, and said, “You’re just like Jillo!”
Jillo was her daughter, her doll whose mouth she could pour things in if she had the urge to change a diaper. Jillo’s mouth was frozen in the shape of an O, but not in surprise. Her eyebrows were static and relaxed.
Hannah and I stopped being friends after I peed at school, but we were doomed anyway. Her mother forbade her from pouring anything but water into Jillo, and I was always whispering, “Do it with chocolate milk. I can get some from my house.” Her mother slit her eyes at me while plating after-school Oreos in their kitchen. Somehow . . .I don’t know how, but somehow, she knew I wanted exotic liquids to gush from Jillo’s stark plastic nub. I mean, I kept my voice down. It didn’t matter if it was chocolate milk or prune juice. I just wanted to experience something that didn’t flow freely from millions of faucets around the world.
But, actually, Jillo looked nothing like a baby! She looked like our teacher, Mrs. Ashford. They both had green eyes and blond hair down to their shoulders. During story time I’d extract reading rug lint from as close as I could to Mrs. Ashford without touching her black ankle boots. Once, on a Thursday in March, she said, “Christina, are you listening?” and I said, “Yes, but maybe he just put green food coloring in the eggs and ham, so it’s secretly pretty normal, but no one will believe him.” She didn’t ask me again. During the summer after the third grade, I unzipped my pencil case on a Ferris wheel in San Francisco and let all the lint out. The sky was more reading rug than it was air.
If you had not helped me leave my relationship last year, I would still be in that one rather than the one I am currently in. Jen wasn’t THAT bad. I realize that any opinion you formed of her is based on my whining about her in your office. I hope your office is still located on Fourth Street, but don’t mistake my hope as a wish that you and your peace lily still face West and get all that afternoon sunshine. I just hope you are there to receive this letter. I know you never met her, but I’m telling you now. Jen, she wasn’t that bad.
I used to blame Jen for the footprints on our hardwood entrance. Brown footprints from April to November, salty whites from November to April. The city was coming into my apartment with no invitation, and I had to tiptoe through that shitty city to reach the cleaning cupboard. Those footprints filled my head with heat, pulsing in my temples –Inescapable. “I need a drink,” I’d mutter to my soggy socks. Salt doesn’t wipe away as well as mud. While I filled the mop bucket, Jen would retrieve a Tupperware from the fridge and eat standing up, smirking with her dick nose and saying, “You can’t prove they’re mine.”
“No one else here wears size ten,” I would say, and she would laugh. Spraying couscous or granola everywhere. The next thing I knew, I’d be coaxing her crumbs out from between the cupboard cracks with a butter knife. Never her. God no. She’d probably chop her fingers off! Jen and her goddamn sausage fingers.
Before I started thinking her nose looked like a dick, I thought Jen resembled a young Goldie Hawn. I didn’t know what Goldie Hawn looked like, still don’t. I’m guessing she’s suave and a bit handsome. Two months into our relationship, I slipped at a curling match and broke my foot, and Jen drove around the block nine times because a bread delivery truck was idling in the spot closest to the Medi-clinic.
“I thought it would work, since nine’s your lucky number. But looks like I gotta take matters into my own hands.” She double-parked, trapping all that sourdough and gluten-free rye between the curb and her Jeep. I had never seen anyone double-park before. No one’s brave enough! She carried me up the clinic walkway and hummed the Bridal Chorus into my ponytail, every note punctuated with dejected beeps behind us. Pissed fists on flat black car horns. Her chest vibrated against my back when she hummed. Goddamn brave Jen! She placed me on a paisley waiting room chair. I was quick to grow cold – quick to complain. She covered me with her coat, even though all she had on was her Bon Jovi concert tee. Her forearm hairs stood at attention until the doctor saw me.
But as soon as we moved in together, the footprints started. She was just so BIG. Just so SORRY! She didn’t realize she was so annoying. You already know . . .you helped me feel less bad leaving her. Remember? “You shouldn’t have to live annoyed.” You had this amused smile. Something you should know is . . .well, you wear glasses. And you keep your desktop screen turned away from your client’s chair, but in the reflection of your glasses, I noticed you playing Solitaire while I spoke. I always see you making weird moves. You should hold off on moves that aren’t important.
The one I’m with now accidentally called me “Stace” on our second date, when we were in line for movie tickets. I said, “I think you mean Christina,” and she said, “What?” and I said, “Did you just call me Stace? My name’s Christina.” And she said, “Excuse me,” but not to me—she said it to the line gathering behind us, because we were stuck between those blood-red velvet ropes they try to fancy movie theaters up with. We were stuck in front of about thirty people, and she shoved backwards through them all jagged – like tearing cling wrap too fast against its own blunt razor.
As I followed her, more than one person leaned toward my face and made a tsking noise with their tongue. When we got outside it was frigid as hell, but I was relieved to have escaped that snake pit. I told her, “I was just reminding you what my name was. I thought you forgot.” The marquee was bright, and she glittered in dark contrast. Onyx. Just then, I realized that she was the most beautiful woman I’d ever known in my entire life. She must’ve realized my realization, the way she laughed. I turned away to read license plates or convenience store signs. Coronas, 2-for-1!
I heard her say, “Excuse me, do you have a cig? I’ll give you a dollar,” and when I looked, she was huddling over a garbage guy’s lighter. I wanted to touch the black stubble of her shaved head, which I had only gotten to do once so far—a week earlier, on the bridge after our first date. She had gripped the waist of my polyester peacoat, tripped me forward for a kiss. Our mouths had generated seamless humidity. My right palm had found the calmness at the back of her scalp. Come to think of it, it’s textured like a velvet rope.
But outside of the movie theater, tobacco smoke streamed from her nostrils. She said, “Don’t you dare ever. EVER! Embarrass me like that again.” I apologized with my eyes. Do you remember them? They’re dusty, like September footprints. We speed-walked downtown. Instead of watching a movie, we downed Jameson and sank balls at the decrepit university billiards place. I’m guessing you don’t know the place. It’s decrepit.
She sunk the eight-ball and said, “The only way to diminish your pain is to literally confront it head-on.” She’s one of those people who says “literally” for emphasis. Stacey’s her ex-girlfriend, and now the name means nothing because we literally include it in every conversation. Like, “What do you want for dinner, Stace?” “Oh, cheese and peas, Stace.” It’s like slapping a “Dykes Do it Best” sticker on your own locker in the tenth grade before anyone else can. Before they hear you missed class on Tuesday because you were writhing under Cherise Lopez from one to four p.m., destroying her bed with sweat and toe jam.
We had walked to Cherise and her dad’s apartment for lunch, and she had used the bacon that was specifically his to make my BLT. He was at work. Cherise had this way of paying attention to me, treating each of my words and actions as opportunities. When I mumbled, “thanks, it’s tasty,” she mumbled back, “tasty, huh? I know something tasty,” and her eyes took a season or two to investigate me, starting at my mismatched socks: purple hearts left, cooking kittens right. You heard me. Cooking kittens. That morning when I’d gotten dressed. . .well, if I had even dreamed of being someone’s lunch dessert, maybe I would have worn my mother’s lawyer-lady nylon socks.
Good thing was, Cherise wasn’t fickle when it came to me. She didn’t like her dad’s bacon, didn’t like salt. Didn’t even like cheese! Her own lunch was lettuce-mayo-bread. But with ME, I figured Cherise wasn’t fickle because of how she paused on her way up. I blushed and squeezed my thighs together, which made a shadowy v-crease in my jeans, which inflated her smile. Maybe it’s stupid, but. . .well, if I had died under her cautious chestnut gaze, right now I’d be a ghost, bragging about how my life was all pleasure, no pain. You’d say, “what about Jen, who filled you with guilt? And what about the new one, whose slightest facial grievance governs your thoughts, emotions, and actions?” and I’d say, “I don’t know Jen or the new one, because I died in high school when someone figured me as cunning as a piece of crystal, before I could discover reflexivity.”
The day after my time with Cherise (more specially, the day after Heaven found the stretch of skin between my thighs), I waved our afternoon around like an identity token. I wore a rainbow pin on my backpack and told all the kids from the Out and Proud Club, “Guess what I did yesterday!” I wonder if I would have started calling her Cherry if we had had more time together. I’d love to send her dad some bacon. Actually, well—what I’d actually love is to apologize to the entire Lopez family, if I knew how to reach them. But her dad moved away from Johnstown when she went to sleep in the river. I don’t dare dream of all the things I’d say. “I miss her, too,” is all I can muster without my ribs and collarbone clenching each other for support. The thing is, I don’t actually know if I miss her, or just the feelings she gave me. I feel hollow like a Jillo doll, thinking about all this. I wonder what her favorite movie was. Her favorite brand of car. I don’t care about cars the way she did. Cherise and the goddamn toy-car collection on her bedroom shelf. My bedroom shelves kept junk like concert glow sticks and dollar-store nail polish, dry, three shades too light to be current.
Blame is a vortex. I don’t know why anyone accepts it if they don’t have to, but sometimes you HAVE to, like when a dark circle spreads around you on a thin blue reading rug. I wish you hadn’t helped me with my problem. Jen? Really not a problem, Jen. She used to aim the hair dryer under the duvet when my feet were frozen – made me any goddamn thing but annoyed. Maybe I mistook her cold-pricked arm hairs as a visceral reaction to the cold. Maybe they were her only defense. “Spare me if you can.” She knew I’d put flames to whatever we created, someday, in some way or another.
P.S. I’ll feel bad if you’re not on Fourth Street anymore, and your offices have no windows, because if you’re like the majority of people, you threw your dead peace lily in your IKEA waste basket and its ceramic holder broke in pieces too soft to puncture a plastic bag. Did you know peace lilies grow back if they want? Just like that, on a whim? So, organic matter is in the landfill. Those brown fronds hear and smell misery without ever seeing it. Seagulls, goddamn creaking cranes and lost dogs.
HEATHER HUNT is a lesbian writer and video artist from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. She holds a BA Honours in English and Creative Writing from Concordia University in Montreal, Quebec, and has self-published two novels of LGBT2S+ content. Hunt conveys the emotional impacts of human relationships in her work by employing language reflecting the elements of nature and the human senses.
Copyright © 2019 by Heather Hunt. All rights reserved.