My heart always races when I hear a knock on the door. I always peek out through the screen to see who is standing there, and I was right to be terrified. My dad was speaking to the landlord. I went back to the living room and sat down watching MacGyver but not knowing what was happening. When at last I heard the door close and my dad entered the living room and sat down as if he'd just retrieved something from the kitchen, I asked, "What'd he say?"
"We have until the end of the month to move out." He said it so calmly and it didn't make sense to me at first, then I understood, and I was…petrified. Dad didn't say anything and I couldn't concentrate on the show, I couldn't think about anything except for we had to get out. I had lived in this house my entire life. I'd seen all the rainstorms, all the blood spilled, and the recent stains were still on the kitchen tile.
I brought my arms over my head and leaned back against the couch. I was sitting on the floor. Dad laughed and I veered, how could he laugh at such a dreadful moment in our lives? I watched the credits and listened to the MacGyver theme song. I couldn't remember how the show ended. The deep trenches on my arms were lined with the dots of stitch removal. Forty five stitches had lined my arms after mom had died. I wondered how many the doctors would put into my arms when I finally let this absorb into cognizance within me.
I would always blame myself for Mom dying. If I had just washed my own clothes, she'd still be here today.
"Here, Mom." I tossed a pile of clothes onto the washer. She grunted and lifted them into the hamper.
"Wait, until this load is done, Gioconda." She moved the basket across the room to the ironing board. "Oh," a handful of fabric slid out of the basket behind the washer against the wall.
"I'll get it," I offered. Mom put up her hand.
"Go make lunch, Gioconda," she blinked her fatigued eyes and extended her arms behind the washer. She bent down, her arthritic knees in a painful curve and her arm extending behind the metal cube. She kept reaching, I watched until I jumped forward silently offering my help again. She shook her head and pulled up the clothes. It was a sock, a pair of plaid boxers and my white cami. She tossed them over to the basket.
I left the room and entered the kitchen, Dad was making sandwiches. Everything was being done and I was a useless fifteen year old girl. "Gioconda, go get the place settings from the line." I ran out the house and went to the clothes line; the wind had blown them off the rope. There was a hot breeze stinging my face, the air was so humid it made me sick, salty remnants of chips came up into my throat. I had the four place settings on my arms and squinted from the faint sun above me. I opened the screen and I went inside. I pulled the silverware out of the dish rack and began setting the table. Lunch and dinner were always family affairs. I was the only one I knew who actually had meals with their family.
I had culinary arts before the end of my junior year. I was going to be able to graduate next semester. I had gotten a lot of my credits in junior high and I had skipped fourth and sixth grade. I had hated culinary arts because I was a fantabulous cook but they never let me be anything but dishwasher. There were five positions: cook, who cooked, assistant cook, who basically just handed things to the cook, supply person, who measured the ingredients and brought it over to the cook, dishwasher, which is pretty obvious, they fill the sink with soap and water and then put all the dishes inside it, and dish dryer who used the towel and dried them. I was always filling the sink. When I was sick I licked all the silverware.
Mom and Dad and I all sat at the table. We joined our hands and we thanked God for our meal. I thanked him for letting me be so creative this summer. God had given me all these ideas for jewelry and for these little poems. I got to share them at the arts center where I got to instruct all these little kids. I met this one little genius girl. She was so smart, she reminded me of when I was young, she wrote this poem for her mom. I thought it was adorable.
Just like a heart
I give you your wishes
That come true like kisses"
Everyone at the table was exhausted; we could barely lift up our spoons to place food in our mouths. Under the regular conditions we would be talking and spitting food across at the fruit bowl in the center of the table, but our minds were just mush wanting to be fed.
Mom began scratching at her left middle finger. I then noticed she reached into her pants pocket and pulled out her wedding ring. She attempted to place it on her finger. Her finger was too big. Dad wasn't looking as mom placed the ring back into her jeans.
Later that evening we were trudging around like mindless roaches. We all had duties to perform but I didn't want to serve the queen, I wanted to go my own way. Mom was lying on the couch; she usually never let her fatigue become apparent to Dad and me. She scratched at her ring finger; her hand was twice its normal size. There were these two little red dots. "Mom?" I shook her and her eyes flittered at me. I reached up to remove the loose strands around her face, my fingers brushed her skin which was scorching.
I grabbed the phone, "911, what's your emergency?"
"My mom has a fever and one of her hands is like swollen and red! There are like these marks, I think she got bit by something! I mean she's on fire, she's like comatose. She's sweating, she won't wake up!" It was not an exaggeration.
I got home; Dad began to throw dishes at the couch and the TV. I stood in front of the windows and I threw my arm through the glass. I felt this marvelous amount of pain; I switched my arms flinging it through the mountain shaped scraps that remained of the window. I moved my arms like I was banging on a drum, it was stabbing me and I took pleasure in the hurt it brought me.
Dad was yelling and then he heard the glass breaking. He entered the kitchen and bellowed out for me to stop. Blood plunged down in enormous droplets. The hems of my pants were spotted with the blood from my arms. The tile was washed in red, I felt light. My dad was grabbing paper towels and pressing them against my limbs. He pulled them back when enough time elapsed. I glimpsed maggoty amounts of fat peeking out from beneath my pink flesh. My ears began to ring. I began to see yellow spots around me and felt my dad grasping me in his arms. He was holding me. Later he told me that he had caught me as I was falling.
He carried my unconscious body to the hospital, returning to the scene in which my mother became displaced from this earth. I even passed the room being pushed in a gurney, my sheets not immaculate like everyone else's. They were soiled with blood; the red had seeped through the paper towels and my sweater. I was barely awake through any of it. I couldn't see anything but yellow blotches, like fireworks.
I placed my white cami inside the box. I had been wearing it the day my mom died. She had washed it the day before she died and I took it out of cardboard envelopment. I took it to the fireplace, lit a match, spread some oil and watched the flames burn my guilt.
Dad was in the other room, I could hear Purple's purring. He yelled at the cat and she trotted out the room irritated. The pure white cat swiped at the little Yorkshire dog. The dog snarled and attempted to nip at the cat. Usually I'd yell, but I didn't feel that anger I usually did when they fought. I didn't even have the energy to find my voice. I hadn't spoken in days.
The phone rang, nobody wanted to answer it, nobody wanted to use sounds, we just wanted to look at each other and say with our bodies that we didn't want to talk. I picked it up, "Yeah?" I asked. Why look at the caller ID, they'd say who they were.
"Gioconda, it's Lisa." See? "Listen; tell your dad that Pat can't help out. He can't." I wondered why.
"Is he in jail again?"
"No." She cleared her throat, her voice had that "ah" sound that mine did, so we knew we were related (distantly) but related.
I hung up and I went outside. The air was hot, but inside I was cold. I rubbed my empty stomach, I had not experienced hunger since the day the landlord came to the door. I sat in the driveway where the car used to be. Dad and I had to watch as they towed it off because he couldn't make the payments. Mom's medical bills had taken his savings, his job had fired him before Mom died, and everything was coming undone. His new job had started him back on minimum wage. I always had the theory that life was nothing but a strand of beads.
It was nothing but raveling cords that frayed whenever something bad happened; Dad and I's strings were ripping. There were like the ends of my dandruff infested hair, slit a thousand times. I put my hands on my face, pimples were erupting under the surface, blackheads invaded my pores, long white hairs sprouting on my chin and in my eyebrows, and my visage became atrocious.
The oily discolored dirt clung to my jeans; the dying grass resembled the insides where my feelings used to dwell. Where was I going to go? We were packing but Dad hadn't found a new place to live.
It was another night where my eyes were closed, my thoughts inhabited hours of numb questions. My skin was covered in oil; my back itched from sprouting whiteheads. My hair was yanked into a gross untidy bun. My lips peeled and ripped like my state of mind. I went into my room, I hadn't stared at my reflection in the mirror, and I didn't want to see anyone, including myself. I gazed around the room, and then I didn't hear the bubbling of my fish. I turned my head; on his side was my fish, Nickel.
"Oh," I glimpsed his corpse. I went back to the living room where I had been sleeping and sat down on the sleeping bag. I felt like the moment warranted sadness, but I could not experience it. Nickel had been in the family for three years, he was special, he was a gift, he was mine, and he was….dead.
I sat down on this cushion and thought about my fish being dead. I was so tired; the weary had spread over and inside my muscles, my limbs felt heavy like logs. I fell down and I tried to sleep, Nickel's body alive in my mind. He jumped and swam about in the tank, and then I opened an eye to see he was just floating there. I never imagined my room would be without the bubbling noise of the fish.
My throat burned as I woke up. The sun wasn't up yet. I was my birthday, it was here and yet I didn't feel as if I were getting any older. For some reason I felt as if I were getting younger. My head sort of felt empty and the morning nagged at me to get up but I didn't feel it. I was so tired. It was winter vacation, I felt as if I'd entered hibernation and was challenging it, trying to get out of it a little early because I woke up a few times just to be tired and want to go to sleep again. I slept eight hours and then went to sleep; I slept four hours and was still not satisfied with the rest I'd gotten. I was continuously tired, continuously sleepy, a burdened weight squashing me flat, I didn't want to get out of bed, and I didn't want to wake up.
I used to dream so much, I barely dreamed. I didn't think so much anymore. I wanted to scream out for someone to hear me, but my throat was so sore. I stepped down onto the floor which was layers of newspaper I had not picked up in a year. I heard balloons squealing with exiting air. I at last heard the noise of filling balloons cease and the door down the hall close. I then went past the decorations of the living room to the fridge and grabbed whatever leftovers to eat. Chicken wings, clumps of cake, old pizza crusts and moldy bread. I shoveled it down my throat and swallowed an entire liter of water. I could taste it all in my throat and I knew it was time to purge it from my system. I went to the bathroom, everyone was now asleep. I squatted in front of the toilet, lifted the seat and raised the back of a retired toothbrush to my mouth. I pressed it against my uvula and felt the vomit rising in my esophagus. My stomach heaved, but it couldn't extinguish the yearning for all the entering food to escape my gullet.
I recalled the first time I threw up how my stomach muscles felt as if I'd done an hour of Pilates, right now my stomach felt bloated with water. I drank another liter down until diluted bits of food splashed in the toilet. I used clumps of toilet paper to wipe down the bowl and then flushed. I stood up and examined my body in the mirror. I wasn't skinny, but I wasn't as fat as I used to be. I had been called a "fat ass" and they told me my stomach was so big I looked pregnant, but it wasn't because of those kids in my advanced classes that I was vomiting my meals. I did this because I wanted to be thin.
My mom called out and I began to cup my hands and filled my mouth with the liquid that had assisted me in irrigating my stomach contents. I attempted to rehydrate myself, but it wasn't working around my mouth. The skin around my mouth began to shred and tear, strips curled in white flakes, along with nice painful under-the-surface zits.
Mom banged on the bathroom door and I came out with water dripping from my face. She shoved a towel at me and I dabbed my countenance in the softness of the fluffy fabric. "Get ready for school, Gioconda." She patted my back
and I cried…why didn't I appreciate my mom when I had her? I treated her like a maid, when she was my mom. I didn't get to talk to her, I didn't get to ask her anything, I found all her pictures and I didn't know anything about the story behind them.
I packed a box, putting the album down underneath my childhood toys. I put it underneath the Christmas cards; I put it underneath every poem I ever wrote for her. I'd written her so many, the last Mother's day, just two months ago I'd written:
Mom, you had to let me
make my own mistakes
You had to let me get lost
So I could find my way through the fakes
You would let me suffer
You let me live
You were always there
With love and consistency to give
Only one day a year
They recognize who you are
But you're always with me
Because I'm your shining star
I didn't understand myself anymore. I looked at my watch and realized I was late for work. I reached for my cell phone and it rang, "Hello?" I moaned. There was quiet on the other line, "Helllloooo?"
"So they say?"
"Yeah, what do you want?" Gioconda asked.
"You haven't shown up for work in a week."
"I got issues, okay, I got to get stuff packed, I gotta do some stuff…." "You're fired."
There was an expletive Gioconda pronounced and closed her eyes about it tossing her cell phone inside the box. The only thing that was left was her mom's voice mail. It's only me. Wanted to know how school went, make sure you get that math done. Have a good day. She always cried when she heard her mom's words.
Hours passed, the room became vacant whilst belongings filled cardboard boxes all over the room. My cat nudged at my leg, I stepped over her in a large stride and went to the corner to grab my false flowers from the vases.
The cat meowed and I ignored her. I sat down on a drawer and stared off into the opposite corner. We needed money. I held the plastic stems between my shaky palms. No sleep.
Dad was of course disappointed I had no income now. He showed it by kicking the oven, I walked by the calendar of his work hours, it had gone down week by week.
The next morning I overheard him asking for an advance on his paycheck. The day after that, I found a receipt from a quick cash place. He wasn't finding money and he wasn't finding us a home either.
My French teacher handed me the little square yellow paper that signified a pass. Some kids moaned in jealousy. I un-flipped it and saw I had to go the front office. I was rarely called out of class for anything. I wandered out into the halls sauntering down the way until I found the Admin building. I was called into a conference room and immediately I felt as if I should have gone to the library and hid. A thin woman came in, "Hello, I'm Ms. Gutierrez," she extended her hand. "I'm from Child Services. We are here to talk because someone is concerned about you." I backed away. She lowered her hand. "Are you Gioconda Bunim-Murray?"
"Gioconda." She cleared her throat, "How is school?"
"Fine." I thought about my favorite French class I was missing.
"And at home?" These were odd questions.
"You live with your mom, is that right? And your father just moved back in with you?"
"Did your boyfriend move out of his wife's house or are you still holding on?" I snapped, her quaint smile curved in an irritated grin. "My parents are great. We love each other."
"How about the people at school?"
"I hate people."
She was writing things down in a mini legal pad, I had not noticed it previously. "Can I talk to your mom?"
"No, she works."
"He works, the only day he's off is Tuesday." Oh…. I knew I shouldn't have said that. She had it copied down. "Okay."
I skipped the rest of French to go find my friend on the balcony. I told her about what happened. When I got home I told my mom what happened and we almost cried. Warmth enveloping happiness in affection of seeing me, we embraced for the first time in a long while. There was an investigation, I told my culinary arts group: "If I ever find out who reported me, I will kill them."
In response when I'd asked who'd do this to me, screw up my life like this, the assistant cook said, "Some people are just dicks."
My eyes were warm, my face my hot, my jaw was tight, my skull was squeezing my brain. Dad came in, it was evening and I hadn't slept that night. The room stank like fish because I hadn't moved Nickel's corpse. Dad told me he had put the deposit on a house. I hadn't seen it but I believed him when he said it existed. I tried to listen to the new CD I had. I tried to watch TV. I tried to be sad or happy. I wasn't homeless after all.
That first night in the new house, which was smaller than our old house, there was only a can a Pringles crumbs. I licked the salty bits and sat in the empty living room. I wept and I didn't know why. I was alone. Registration for school was starting but I didn't want to go anywhere. I went back to the old house; we couldn't afford the animal deposit. I snuck in through the back door and looked around at my things. Behind the house there was this large trailer, like the ones for trash. I lit a match and threw it on the box. The first box I packed was the one that originated the flames. My mom's photo albums were in there. My childhood toys were in there. Our pictures were in there. I snuck back out of the house and I jumped over the back gate. I stood on the corner, gaping at the flames as they grew longer, extending their arms toward the night sky which glistened above. I thought about Purple, I thought about Yorkshire, I thought about Nickel. I had buried Nickel at the new house, his remains wrapped in the Garfield and Dilbert comics, funniest ever. Somewhere off in the distance, sirens rang. I watched as onlookers joined me in witnessing my action. Nobody would live in that house anymore. It was mine. The landlord took it from me and I took it from him.
I don't think about this anymore. If you saw Gioconda, you'd never know: She had a nervous breakdown and she survived.