When I was eight, my parents’ fighting grew worse and everything changed. They were real original.
My father yelled, “What I’ve been through,” and, “Taken for granted.”
My mother said, “Your secretary,” and, “My friend.” I didn’t get her meaning.
My parents have since told me conflicting versions of what happened between them, and all the hearsay has muddled my memories. Thankfully, no one can alter what I remember of being alone. No one talked to me. I know that.
I stayed up and watched MTV and USA Up All Night. I liked Gilbert Gottfried, but his perfect teeth and disingenuousness made me uncomfortable. My favorite movie they played was Once Bitten. On the couch under the comforter with a pile of food-stained dishes in front of me, I went unnoticed. I felt best after eating Cap’n Crunch Berries and Kraft Mac and Cheese. I was inert, chubby.
I’m alone a lot lately, reverting to old habits. Up All Night has been cancelled, but there’s always something on.
I’m staying in my mother’s attic, between jobs, planning to move across the country for better opportunities. Big changes are coming.
My mother doesn’t come home after work, doesn’t call. It takes me a couple hours to give up waiting for her. Eating alone makes me feel invisible. Food pays attention. The TV knows I’m here.
My mother sits at restaurants alone and drinks vodka tonics, miming eating. She comes home drunk and emotes about one of the two men who have broken her heart: my father or his best friend. My father is hiding in the woods somewhere. Every year he goes deeper into the woods.
When I turn off the television to go to bed, with every intention of brushing my teeth, it’s almost like the television turns itself back on. The grilled cheese makes itself.
When my old friend Katie is coming to see me, it’s almost too close to her arrival for me to shower, deodorize, and put on jeans and a sweatshirt. I pose at the kitchen table with a crossword and a glass of water.
Katie looks like she did when we were in high school, but skeletal. She recognizes my wonder at her sunken cheeks. Her children take it out of her, she says, and I imagine them sucking yellow energy out of her stomach and into their mouths. In my head, they are little demons.
“Three weeks until I know you’re here,” she says. “You could’ve given me adult time. I need it.”
“I’m sorry,” I say. I sip water.
When I tell her I’m regressing, Katie says, “You’re not a child anymore.”
She would know.
“I’m sleeping in the bed I slept in when I was 10,” I say. “But I’m moving soon.”
“Come over, see the kids,” she says.
She leaves, wearing an empty baby sling as if it were an overcoat.
Later, on a walk to get some air, I trip over a curb and scrape my knee. No one sees me fall. The street is empty of people. The maple trees rustle in the wind dropping seeds that float like helicopters. For blocks and blocks, there is no one but a man running into his house from his car, as if he is afraid of the sun.
I’m leaving my mother’s house soon. Things will get better.
Late at night, a little girl sits down next to me on the couch and tells me to turn off the TV. I don’t.
“You already let the rabbit’s hair get matted. You already killed the goldfish, and remember the bird hanging upside down?” the little girl says. “I’m alone all the time.”
The little girl has a boy’s haircut. She wears dated clothes, high-waisted pink shorts and a patterned turquoise blouse. Looking at my legs next to her little girl legs, I see I’ve gotten chubby again.
“What will we do in a new place?” she says.
Her hair looks soft and I touch it.
“I have to try something,” I tell her, pulling at a curl, testing.
“We’ll take care of each other,” she says, and pats my hand as if I need comforting.
“I don’t think you should come,” I tell her.
“We’ll make sandwiches,” she says.
Laura Lampton Scott is a writer and editor. She lives in Seattle, WA.