Apples are hard to eat now.
Bread too and other things,
Apples are hard to eat now.
Bread too and other things,
“We are never prepared for what we expect.”
“Let’s start looking.”
“Anything,” I eyed a discarded straw and gunned for it like she may have seen it too.
I picked up the straw and examined it close to my face while she watched. I didn’t make eye contact and she took the hint and began to scrounge the ground for objects she can use.
“Are we building something, Catarina?”
“We are just playing.”
I was already satisfied and staring at the gas station,towards home, ready to go already. I had what I came for, a trinket to pass the time, an object to spin in my fingers and pretend were long locks. I was doing it again, spinning. Spinning, I looked up catching a glimpse of Adelmira’s hair. I would kill for her hair.
“Cat,” she said.
My brother called me Lion sometimes. I didn’t tell her that.
“What about this?”
She held up a shiny pocket knife.
I skipped over.
“Where’d you get that?”
“Right here, on the side, underneath a stryofoam cup.”
“What if someone comes back for it? A guy once ran through my yard running from the police. It was scary.”
She ignored me.
“I don’t think they will miss it.”
“What if it was used in a murder?”
She cocked her head and gave me the look. The look
I practiced and saw so much: the that is very unrealistic Ava look.
“Well,” my interest suddenly peaked. “What are we gonna do with it?”
And before she could answer I hopped up and down and spun around clutching the filthy straw in my fingers and almost singing, “I have an idea! I have an idea! I have an idea!”
Then I ran right up to her face, so close I could feel her breath smelled like Cinnamon Toast Crunch, and placed my hand gently on top of hers, on top of the knife, looking her in the eye.
“I know the perfect sacrifice for our magic ghost spell.”
I was so close I could feel her swallow without touching me.
“Do you trust me?”
We stared at each other and she let a little grin spread across her face. I could see the yellow of her teeth, the snaggle tooth, the remnants of her cereal. It didn’t bother me.
“Follow me,” and I grabbed her by the wrist and led her back towards the ditch.
“Love is what we were born with. Fear is what we learned here.”
“What do we find?”
“Whatever,” I said skipping. “Things that help us with our magic, help us fly and help people and animals, and rescue bugs like spiders when they fall into the bathtub but you don’t want to pick them out with your fingers.”
I was jogging slightly, excited and moving towards the bank to cross back the way we came. I could hear Adelmira crunching sticks behind me.
“We could use them for spells.”
“Yeah, spells,” I led the way.
I always take things too far: jokes, games, pranks. This is why I stopped doing them.
“We could use them to communicate with your dead cousins.”
I skipped over the big stick to get to the muddy bank on the other side and then tiptoed, testing the mud so as not to fall in without turning around to see her reaction. Moving up the hill, I didn’t stop and I didn’t apologize. I didn’t mean anything. I had dead relatives too. Dead pets. Dead feelings. She was only halfway across when I was at the top so I was forced to stand still and wait for her. Turning slowly, I kept my head down. It’s not shame, it’s assenting; figuring out what the other person thinks so you can say the right thing. I was attempting to agree, waiting, trying to figure her humor out.
She looked up at me and jumped onto the bank giving me a little smile when she landed.
“I’m a little tired today,” she gazed up at me. “My mom had a bad night.”
I headed down a bit almost as if to help her, just to bridge the gap, the length between us.
“I think we could do a fun spell with our magic wands,” she said and began the climb up to meet me.
I waited until she was close to me to begin walking. No skipping, I told myself.
“I feel haunted sometimes, Adelmira.”
“By your Nana?”
“By a little girl.”
We met at eleven like we said we would. She was there on time in the same outfit; pant legs muddied and still caked as if she hadn’t even attempted to wash them. Shoes filthy. I wondered if she was wearing the same socks.
“Did you hide your clothes?’
“Yeah, underneath my dresser.”
“What do you tell your mom when you’re leaving?”
Instinctively, we both began to walk towards the center of the ditch along the side nearest the church. There were only two places where we could easily traverse the ditch to get to the other side if we chose to take this path; a few rock paths to lead us over the water. If not, we had to walk in the water which I secretly enjoyed even though everyone said you could get ringworm or bacteria. The water was warm in summer and only ankle deep and I had never had ringworm so nothing scared me.We cut to the left to take the rock path.
“I just said I was going to church and rushed out before she could see my clothes.”
“You go to church?”
Adelmira stepped more carefully than I did and usually behind me. I took this path constantly. It felt like a video game: three quick steps, one bigger step, two quick ones and then a hop to the bank. Adelmira wasn’t rehearsed. I turned to see the bottom of her shoe dip a little into the water.
“Do you go to church?” she asked me
“I went to Mass on Easter once and Mass with my great grandmother once. She didn’t speak English well.”
I shrugged and ran to pick up a large leaf that had already been pulled. The perfect texture to twirl and length to use to play.
“I guess. My family is. They both went to Catholic school, raised that way.”
I began to twirl the leaf, watched it spin in my fingers.
“We have a picture of Jesus above our dining room table but we don’t say grace and we don’t go to Mass. I have my Nana’s rosary though. She’s dead.”
I glanced at her, still ahead, more curious if she was watching me interact with the plant than her reaction to anything I just said. She was nodding solemnly and looking at the ground.
“My cousins are dead.”
I didn’t care.
“How did they die?”
“In a fire. In an attic. They locked themselves in the attic and began lighting matches. The entire attic burned before anyone found them.”
My first instinct was to rebuke the children.
“I sometimes feel like they haunt me.”
We kept walking but with no direction or plan.
“Do you ever feel that way?” she asked.
“Like your cousins are haunting me?”
I tried to make light. Whenever someone died, I did this. Years later, I would crack jokes at my friends’ brothers funeral. It would be the second I attended in one week. Grief is a stranglehold.
“I don’t know, I guess, like being haunted or something. Like does your Nana ever come visit you or you feel like she is in the room?”
“My nana just died,” I said defensively.
I don’t know why. For some reason, it felt like it mattered to qualify that as if my Nana’s recent passing trumped her need to haunt me yet. Maybe later, she would visit my room and turn down the stereo when I am twelve; a maternal urge, a blessing of eardrums. Maybe later she would comfort me in bath with rosary and booty she knitted when I was unwell and never over how I lost the other booty. But now, unaffected, I had chosen to be and remain unaffected by these things.
“My aunt got run over by a car,” I added.
Adelmira didn’t say anything for awhile. We just kind of trudged. I would let the big leaf drop and graze the tops of blades of grass and then hop a little forgetting she was behind me. Lost in my own mind, I turned around at some point to make sure she was still there and she was, looking down.
“I’m sorry about your cousins,” I repeated, unsure.
“It’s not that, I just I don’t know.”
“What is it?”
We came to a full stop. First, she was being boring. Second, the leaf had lost it’s buoyancy and was falling flat and already browning so I would need to find something else and wanted to head towards the gas station to look for abandoned straws. I didn’t know how to tell her this or do this in front of her.
“Nothing,” she shrugged. “Let’s play a game.”
I began jumping up and down.
“Yes!” I clapped my hands. “I know a game. It’s called finding things. Like,” I dropped my leaf, “like finding magic wands.”
And I began to march towards the gas station to find the perfect straw, Adelmira, grown a tad brighter, right behind me.
Today was a bad day. It was the first day of change; the transition. I always make transitions in winter in baths, in rest, enshrined in heat lamps and needles and the guidance of ghosts lining my corridor. I’m encouraged by darkness, not stalled by it. Cold forces rest. Dreams become the torch the sun had provided.
“I’m going to kill myself,” I said.
I was writing a list of foods I can no longer have and activities that I felt were harmful. That list contained everything I liked and craved and maybe loved in isolation, secrecy. Jump off the bridge, Catarina. I was not going to kill myself. I was going to do the thing that I hear others do in Ted Talks–how they change their life, lose no weight but find God or some twist or some other roadblock becomes their wife, but more whimsical and narrated.
“I have a tumor and a growing mucus that is choking me,” I state calmly.
My fits of emotion are from my diet which is causing me anguish which is causing my mood swings. I am rational. Every day, I remind myself why we are doing this.
“I have a tumor. My mother had a tumor that grew to be so obstructive she couldn’t swallow and had trouble breathing. When she arrived at the hospital, the nurses were astonished at how large it was. She was 37. I am 34.”
I examine my list of no’s and begin the yeses, feigning enthusiasm for the chore. I liked making lists, being organized, having things clean to the point of being immaculate, and being right. If it were up to me, I’d do nothing but clean my house all day until you could eat every meal off the floor, you’d be assured of its sanitation. However, life demanded more of me than that.
It was like that. Three years ago, it started the same way. In bed by nine or ten, and up earlier and earlier as winter went on until we got to dawn. We etched our visions down. We dreamed lucidly, visited, invited guests. We had a plan then for now. I spit into a rag then as I do now. I complained of my stomach slightly changing but can’t explain it then as I do now. I felt my throat strangled by a ghost then but I don’t now. I don’t have time for that story. Today I am paranoid. I don’t want to think about the man’s voice, the fingers, my father’s voice, the things that I felt in that house that led me to fleeing, twice.
“How do I know that it’s haunted?” I push the asparagus around with my fork.
Retrospect is a cruel gift of the able, cognitively superior and of sound mind. I always thought my photographic memory was like cheating and now I pray it comes back. I’m unpretty now, exposed, this dirty secret; my venus in the 12th house full of affairs and hoarding, mostly things and food. So full in fact, our heroine, Veruca Salt, is spitting her dishes and lover’s hearts back up. I am wet like tides like ocean like flood. It comes pouring. Unpretty.
“How do we ditch them?” I asked Leana.
Become unpretty. Disgust them. Eat in front of them. Spit in front of them. Gain weight. I wanted an accident to leave a giant scar across my face. Wear dirt on your hands and knees. Dare him to watch you eat an entire chocolate cake with your hands while he touches his balls. It’s never over. They want more and you’re insatiable. I wanted something to ruin my face. Become unpretty. Swear at him. Poison your teeth with candy. Seethe. Hiss like the squirrel you cornered. Eat and hoard trash. Pick up straws. Become glued to your reflection. Have only affairs. Become mired in self elation, grasp at endings.
Spit up your food.
I’m laughing as the clock changes digits again. Mania is a one way street. Ground. Eat slowly, I repeat. Breathe. And I am fighting rhythym, cycles, no one has ever paid attention and that’s what I wanted. To be unseen, yet, privately adored. Every two years I have a giant episode of body fighting trauma.
I always meet them in winter.
I am reading old lines to remember.
When the only light is moon.
I am bathing in salt and taking activated charcoal.
Spit up your food.
You can attempt progress. I hate the old adage that people never change.
It’s the only thing they do.
I have added color to my bath: red tablets and the emptying of womb. I know the man is gone. His name was Dana.
“If we knew the bitch was going back for her sister, we would have started with the larynx,” I say out loud.
There is no one but me in the house. Three years ago my nerves caught fire and trampled this city with desire. I put a spell on this town.
What have you learned since then Catarina?
The fear of drowning propelled me, I spit into the tub. They feel the same.
“That I love gaaaaammmmeeeessss.”
I lean back in the water without fear of repercussion, palms out to show I’m serious.
There are bad days too. Winter means ardor to most, and especially to me. I can feel the wind cut right through my bones no matter how many layers I’m wearing. I have needs. The need to float through rooms and across town and into your room. The need to haunt. The need to prowl like lonely snow leopards do. I’d abandon my daughter the first time she became a threat too. What is it about that thought that is so unsettling? Reminiscing of the ways boys intruded, men intruded. I wore a leather jacket and had the reputation of being a bitch only to some men. Boys.
The more we developed crushes, dated, picked guys for the prom, picked guys to kiss for the bet, the more I realized what a plague they truly were. Our attention was divided. I was never jealous of the attention they gave my friends, but jealous of the attention they took from my friends. Once we noticed them, it was hard to look away. Literally, they inserted themselves into everything we did. Hunting us in the ditch. Asking us about our walks.
“But what do you guys talk about on your walks?”
“Omg, Johnny, everything. Just like everything. You’re always asking this.”
It was bigger than guys. It was us theorizing about the future of the world, our futures and everyone’s. What kind of house? Would I be a teacher or a writer? Where will we live? Do you believe in God? Do you believe in Santa Claus?
“One time I saw the Easter Bunny eating carrots at the table.”
“No, you didn’t, Catarina.”
“Yes, I really did!”
How will we steal more blow pops? Our plans for the summer at the pool, at the Dyson’s house. Our school outfits. Our school essays. What will we do at the beach? Grades on test. Should we take up smoking? The games. I couldn’t explain the games.
“Come back here and bring those back!” the old woman yelled from her front door step.
Leana, clearly in hysterics, always and me, holding the pretend oversized gifts in my hand, turning around and placing them back on Santa’s Sleigh without even an utterance of sorry. Once placed, just turning and running as fast as I could the other way. Leana shooting out of some dark hidden corner to follow me as we made it back to my court. Her hands on her knees, out of breath,
“Like, oh my god, she was pointing at YOU, yelling at YOU.”
“Shh, I don’t want my dad to hear,” I gestured to the glowing window, “he’s in the den watching TV.”
She was just laughing.
“I didn’t even see her! She must have seen us walking into her yard from the front window,” she is sort of whispering but also laughing too loudly to be quiet as we are hiding behind my dad’s van. “Watching us steal her Christmas decorations.”
We did it for no reason. We were supposed to be at the other’s house. The games. The time my dad pulled up on us walking the block when I was supposed to be watching TV at Leana’s. It was 7:30 pm and dark. Or the time we took things out of the back of a truck and placed them on the corner, then put them back out of some strange guilt. Kids are how I know the universe is chaos, not planned. We did it for no reason.
Then the boys came. It may be a dramatic place to stop but it was stopped for us like that with centrifugal force. We were content with chalk, house, Monopoly, Sonic the hedgehog, making up games. We were happy. Then the boys came. We weren’t unhappy; just suddenly divided. And I don’t mean growing up. We grew up fast in our houses, I mean growing up thwarted and smaller than we should have been. We didn’t have to play house. We didn’t have to obsess either. We could have had a different trajectory. We could have both been dancers. We could have both been writers. We could have all been interested in astronomy. You don’t see disease as the bacteria, you just feed. If I said this to your face, I would have added
“You fucking shit fuck dick for brains prick.”
Because you are the plague that I hate, the craving.
“the act of naming things”
“I voted you for best looking,” he sat down next to me.
I beamed at him and leaned in.
“I voted you for Most Studious,” Terry turned around to cut in sharply. “Cuz you’re always studying.”
She got up to place a handout on the teacher’s desk. I wasn’t ready to turn in my homework yet. I slid it to Claire sitting behind him. I knew she was telling the truth because someone else said that. I knew a lot of guys voted her for best looking.
“I hope I win Best Looking. You’re the second guy that told me that,” I winked.
I was seventeen years old and unafraid of anything. Terry eyed me on her way back but she got what she wanted. She won best looking, has two kids, has won several Iron Body championships and is one of the most physically fit women I have ever seen. Not just physically fit, but brutally cut like a Greek sculpture. As I gained weight from drinking and ignoring men’s ideals, it was inspiring to see her break a patriarchal mold with muscle And while marrying your high school sweetheart. I guess you really can have it all. Amy won Most Studious. Besides, kissing the most boys two summers in a row (well tying with Laura senior year), I won graduating with honors in the top 20% percent of my class–that’s 81% out of over five hundred students, the largest class of any graduating class my high school had ever seen. I also scored the highest on my AP Government and AP Psychology exam. I was disappointed for only scoring a four out of five on my AP Statistics exam. It is hard not to examine loss. I wished I had won best looking.
“I voted you for best legs,” another boy told me.
I can’t remember if that was a real category now, as it seems too salacious, but a boy did say that. One of my teachers told us the key to passing the AP exam was to be clever in the margins.
“Obviously, you want to do well and get the answers right but sometimes you will be stuck,” Mr. Fortune said.
That was his real name. He was beloved. I got up every Tuesday and Thursday senior year of high school at five forty five am to make study sessions for the exam. They started promptly at 7:15. My dad had gifted me a very old maroon Mercury Tracer so I did not have to rely on Miriam for transport. She was a pisces. She liked to sleep in. I had coffee in the morning and brought a mug of it into the classroom. I wore a leather jacket that smelled like cigarettes and eyeliner. I was severe in my presentation and competitive in spirit. I had four best friends and we were not exclusive in company, but exclusive in clique. That means, you can’t be a part of the clique just because we invited you to Miriam’s house the night her parents went away and some of us skinny dipped in the pool. It meant on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, Miriam gave me a ride to school and no one else. It meant that our senior summer trip to Ocean City was for us only, and it meant that despite all of our separate’s reputation: Irina winning valedictorian, me not winning anything but class slut, Miriam gaining the attention of men without sleeping with them, and Laura coming in a close second for class slut but beloved more than me and on the volleyball team, we were a group. Rebecca was there too but sort of outside, choosing church over getting fingered at house parties. Still, packs travel together and protect each other. Packs bite back.
I may have learned the value of tequila before others did, how to steal a cigarette a day from your parent’s carton so you rarely get caught, how to siphon beer the same way and the benefits of caffeine addiction, but I was never going to be seen as poor. I worked hard to earn money for that leather jacket and if I reeked of cigarette smoke, it was a consequence of being raised by smokers. Classism demands you can’t win Best Looking or Most Studious even if you qualify because once a rumor got started about you having an orgy with the baseball team and once you pissed a few girls off, that’s it. You have your pack: Merits, girls, prom coordination where they all wore pink except you, you wore black and white, or ring dance where they all wore teal, turquoise or another shade of blue, except you. You showed up hair slicked back in a classic floor length black evening gown that hugged every inch of your budding curves, shined red with sequins when you twirled breaking up with your partner in the middle of a slow song on the dance floor and hardly any eye makeup. You chose just a touch of red on the lips because you didn’t show up every day at 7:15, working three nights a week after school, to be fucking ignored.
“I will not grow up to be poor.”
I wrote in the margins of my AP Government exam that I was dying for a cigarette. My name was featured on the board for years to come next to only two other names. That year had the lowest scorers, but I was the highest. Perhaps, they didn’t know what to say in the margins to appeal to the humor of adults.
“But it’s techinally proficient,” I told Mr. Jacobson, my civics teacher.
I interjected. I wasn’t going to be late to chemistry for this.
“If it’s technically proficient, and technically correct, how can I get anything less than a 100 on it?”
Smarmy isn’t the word Mr. Jacobson would have used for me although Ms. Lancaster would have. He would have called me coquettish, maybe a little fiery, but erotic. I was sixteen, a year before heading into graduation, into enrolling back into all the AP classes I had been taken out of, and on my way to picking colleges. I had a part time job that paid for my clothes, heeled black boots and jewelry and I had no qualms about walking in front of the entire volleyball team, taller than God, with my coffee mug, the smell of smoke wafting around them. I wore mascara, eyeliner, chapstick, colored lip gloss or lipstick and rouge everyday. Girls called it blush.
“It’s rouge. I’m not wearing lip smackers to be Lolita. I’m wearing blood.”
I was after scholarship and sponsorship.
“And the lesson about acquiescing, or diplomacy to groups, don’t you find it ironic you’re arguing over two points?”
“Mr. Jacobson,” I always use men’s names when I am being curt, “I am arguing about technical proficiency and the ability to pull lessons from other classes into this one, as you said was more important to our futures than sticking to one subject. You said at the beginning of the year that being technically proficient, following instruction and being able to pull examples from other classwork or life events was the key to passing this class, and I did that in this essay.”
“Most of your essays receive hundreds.”
“And why is this one any different?”
He was right. That essay was changed from a 98 to a 100. I was three minutes late to chemistry, a class I barely understood as two of my friends sat next to me. Rebecca and I cheated off Irina the entire year to pass. It was the only time I did that. Oh, wait, I did that in AP Physics too.
“All of this is to say that I am a liar,” I practiced. “But I will not tell them my name.”
My name is Catarina Kocurek. I carry no ID in case I am stopped. I have five planned aliases that I have been memorizing for three years and depending on the strike, depends on my rebuttal. All three are so ingrained in me, I dare anyone call me a liar.
“My name is Catarina Kacyrek. I left my ID at home.”
I stood tall at graduation wearing the yellow Honors sash. I still have a picture of the five of us somewhere. i have a picture of me hugging Justin too. I don’t know where my yearbooks are or what anyone ever said. It is better to forget than pour over a book of first love poems that your best friend gave you. Or to pour over the other one, that Justin gave you, knowing you fast and writing on the cover page (it’s good luck! miriam exclaimed)
“I hope this gives you a better outlook on <3.”
When I squint like that, it’s me remembering everything.