Monday, May 31, 2010

My city of ruins


Epel says, "It is important to identify your own needs as a writer so that the writing process can serve a deep purpose inside you."

In the house where I grew up, we were encased. Our hedge was so tall that I had to use a step-ladder to trim its tops. That was my job, taking care of the yard. My father pawned it off on me when he got sick of paying Than, the lawn care “freelancer” who rang our doorbell when it snowed or the grass got patchy.

In the winter when we had snow days, my brother and I built forts, one on either side of the yard, and spent the day in unsupervised combat. There were no time outs. We threw icy snowballs. Cars inching along our side street so as not to skid got the ones we didn’t dare throw at each other.

One spring, we tried to plant a paltry cherry tree in the middle of the yard. A cousin mistook it for a stick and ripped it right out of the ground. We tried to plant a sunflower next to the hedge, but it got no sun.

Inside the yard, little girls and I (a little girl too) popped snails and ruined anthills. So many bugs displaced at our hands! We mashed my father’s irises into love potions. One of the rougher neighborhood girls taught me to write “FUCK YOU” in chalk on the sidewalk. My mother caught us and made me scrub it off alone with dish soap, while my accomplice wandered home without punishment. In winter, we covered the hedge in white lights.

When I was 21, my parents tried to cart my sister off to jail. Before the police arrived, she walked right out the front door. There in the yard, my father reached out to stop her. Hold on to her. She bit him. Like wild animals do.

By the time I got home, there were squad cars parked on the street. Front gate hanging half open, like a loose tooth. Neighbors with strollers craning their necks for a better look as they passed. So this is what we must have looked like from the outside.

I am terrible at small talk. It strikes me a trait women should be able to maneuver. When a new person talks to me I am so nervous my listening skills dissolve. I am thinking, what can I say next to endear this person to me, entice them into friendship? But how can one possibly know another, when they are too anxious over being liked to tune into the other’s frequency?

There are a few people I telephone. My brother, my mother. Rarely my father, who is just deaf enough to get irritable when he can’t see your lips moving. The thought of phoning others strikes me as exhausting.

We sold the house, to a family who didn’t move in right away. They left the Christmas lights up through June, didn’t cut the grass. Started to paint the window trim, changed their minds. No matter where I am, I often get the feeling that I am standing in the dark, pressing my nose to someone else’s window.

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