I laid in bed staring at the shadows on my ceiling—distorted and shifting, my arm burning and swollen with an infection, but I was feeling okay. I was thinking about how nice it would be to share my bed with another and also thinking about how nice it was to get to sprawl out alone—my arms and legs extended to the corners of the mattress. And I felt those hot waves of anxiety that make my cheeks flush and I felt there was something wrong with my body. Surely there must be something really, truly wrong. Surely I will lose this limb. Surely I will not wake up tomorrow. I wanted to come to terms with the idea of my death. I’d come to terms with it before. I was going to die, if not tonight at some point, and that was fine. Death is good. Death is not losing the fight. Living is not a fight we’re winning. These shadows on the ceiling rose and fell as my mind danced. When I was young, while running wildly through the woods, I came up on a gully and saw a stark metal structure standing five-feet tall. The ground was covered in crisp leaves and I delighted in their crunching below my feet as I walked closer. The structure was square shaped and the hollow bars that stretched from side to side were covered in rust. It looked like it once stood in a schoolyard and below the corrosion I could see its blue and yellow paint. I’d found it. It was mine. A treasure. A relic from the forest. And I rolled it through the woods and down the trail to my house. It made heavy thudding sounds against the floor as it toppled over and over again. And my legs began to hurt. Began to burn. Began to sting! An excruciating sting!! And when I looked down wasps were flying out of the ground and stinging and biting my legs. It was an entire hive of them. I didn’t scream or yell. I was in shock and I sprinted the rest of the way and I couldn’t feel anything. I don’t remember finding my mom. I remember she was there and I remember she sat me in her lap and put toothpaste on the stings and bites. I remember how wonderful it was to get to sit in my mom’s lap but I don’t remember the pain.
My arm pulsed and burned. I took four ibuprofen and got up to make myself a pot of tea and while the electric kettle warmed up I sat down at the kitchen table and I wrote about all of the people I loved who’d gone away. I wrote to them and for them and for myself. I stared out the nighttime window at the red flashing lights of the cell towers on the west hills. I’d driven up to those before. I stared at the yellow and white flickering lights of the houses balancing on the side of the mountain’s face. What a brave place to build a home. The kettle clicked. I got up and poured the water over lose chamomile in a copper pot. The flowers swam in a circle together. Three broke loose to the center when the water stopped pouring. I put the lid on and reached up into the cupboard for my favorite mug. My left arm extended—heels coming off the ground. It’s the mug my roommate left behind when she moved out—dark teal, the same color as the keys on my typewriter. I didn’t wait for the tea to steep. I filled the mug and cupped it in my hands. I drink hot things when it’s hot outside. I run hot. I like cold showers. I produce steam. I often look like I’m wearing blush. My hands are usually shaking. I cannot wink my left eye—only my right. My left eye twitches. I put my glasses on. I don’t like to wear them, but lately I have to when I write. My right arm pulses, but does not burn. The ibuprofen is helping. My writing is helping.
My mom held me in her lap and ran her fingers through my hair. She didn’t say anything about my crying. She wasn’t upset by it. It felt right to cry. I wasn’t embarrassed. Why can’t I cry now? Why can’t I cry for this pain? Why can’t I cry for my friend? It feels right to cry now. My body wont let me. It’s trying to protect me. I tell people I’m okay. I’m trying to protect them. Though maybe it’s true. Maybe I’m okay. I’m trying to protect myself. At some point I left my mom’s lap or she had to go. I remember my legs in an oatmeal bath—staring at my appendages. Or was that chicken pox? I remember it looked like chicken pox—fiery red dots covering my limbs. I didn’t go to the hospital then. I didn’t need to. I was going to live forever.
I pour myself more tea. I hope the antibiotics take. I wonder if Judy’s family will have a funeral for her. Her daughters said they didn’t want to. The hospital wouldn’t take her body out of her house because it was heavier than reported six weeks ago. I sat in the house with her daughters that afternoon. They’d found another service to take her body away. Her bed was in the front room and her imprint was still there. I tried to eat lunch and have conversations. I drove home alone and cried on my floor. I begged her ghost to sit with me when I dreamed. It hasn’t yet. My right arm pulsed. My pot of tea was almost gone and I felt I could lie down again. My mind was steadier. The pain was duller. The lines in my curtains projected their shadows onto the wall—limbs reaching out together for nothing in particular. Could I still reach if I only had one arm? Maybe I don’t need to reach at all anymore. I think I can sleep now.
Some nights my mom would work late at the church and my siblings and I would be there with her. We’d run through the pews, eat communion hosts freely, and splash each other with holy water. We’d light too many prayer candles and make up prayers for everyone we knew. My first kiss was downstairs in Tony Rinella Hall where we’d have coffee and donuts after 10:30am Mass on Sundays. All of the lights were off and his name was Brendan Hagerty and we always used first and last names then and we had no idea what we were doing and after our lips touched we ran away from each other and I hid behind the statues of saints. Saint Francis was my favorite. I dreamt of him recently—I was being chased by a horse through the woods. I could hear its hooves getting closer. My lungs tightened up and I darted between tree trunks and over logs until I fell. I expected to be trampled but it didn’t come. I rolled onto my back and saw thousands of spiders floating down from the sky. They shielded me in their webs as the horse trotted slowly past. The statue’s shadows often played tricks on my anxiety. The bathrooms had a green hue and smelled like powdered soap. For a long time I could fit between the bars of the gate that divided the classrooms from the rest of the church. I went to daycare in those classrooms when I was three and four years old. They fed us dry Cheerios for snack and I would escape before nap time and slip between the bars of the gate to hide in my mom’s office underneath her desk. It’s my first recollection of separation anxiety. I thought she wouldn’t come back for me. I thought she didn’t want to. And I always cried when she did because it was such a relief. On the days I couldn’t escape I kept myself occupied writing stories and drawing pictures. On the days I could escape I’d get in trouble but I didn’t care. The water in the church always tasted like metal but I didn’t care about that either. At the time I liked praying to God. It felt similar to making a Christmas list. Gloria Steinem says if your God looks like the ruling class you know you’re fucked. I knew that was the case when I was 16. By that time I was getting paid to lead Mass in song as a cantor which made it trickier to leave the church. My mom working there and my dad playing drums in the church band also made it trickier to leave the church so I did things like staying seated instead of going up for communion and not saying the prayers with everyone else. I would sing and leave. I don’t think anyone noticed but I think I wanted them to. I still enjoy the lilies in the prayer garden during the Paschal Triduum and the candlelight Mass for Easter Vigil. They’re the sad songs of the Catholic album and I love sad songs. The candles come with a little paper donut to place above your hands so the wax doesn’t burn you. I always played with the wax and let it drip on my hands anyway. I still do.
Charlie Moses is a writer, performer, and visual artist from Portland where she owns and operates Kenilworth Coffeehouse. She has published creative nonfiction work in Knee-Jerk Magazine and Map Literary. Her upcoming collaborative album Feels Duo will be available mid August of 2017.