I’ve lost three best friends in my life. The first made me choose between her and a man who liked neither of us. The second had an aneurysm. I lost her for good. I am still in the process of losing the third, Emily. The last time we spoke she told me I was just jealous of her. “You’re nothing but a cocky bitch with a princess complex,” I said. And I was right. It’s been seventeen days since our fight. The Internet told me she booked a vacation with her boyfriend to Provence. She’s going to have a horrible time. Baguettes have too many carbs.
Emily and I met at my new job. My first job was at a chain restaurant attached to a mall. It was named after the worst day of the week. Every woman who worked there got pregnant in the span of four months. Except for me. I was a virgin. My second job was at a lingerie store. On my first day, my manager asked, “Are you a bitch? You got to be a bitch if you want to work here.” Then she asked me my name. My third job was in an office. My boss followed me with a hyper-focus. He tore the hair from his scalp to prove his unrequited love. Earlier in the summer, his wife stabbed him in the throat with a metal straw. He had me transferred to a sister office with a promotion. This new job is boring. Nobody has any scars.
I spend most days sitting in my mother’s rocking chair. The answering machine light blinks threats at me, but I’ve stopped listening to the doctor’s voicemails. He’s all business. I wish he’d be more doom and gloom. Then, I could respect him. Or even if he was all false positivity, “You never know! I’ve seen full recoveries before by people in much worse shape!” It’s the business I can’t stand. The “take this medication at this time.” The “call me in the morning.” The “I will be on vacation from the 10th through the 24th. In case of an emergency-”
The heater hisses like air passing through my mother’s teeth as I make an off-color anecdote on Christmas Eve. Tssssss – I’m brought back to the night I lay beside the last man who put in any effort, two winters ago now. My leg kicked out and my knee melded onto the radiator, branding me. My screaming woke him. He was displeased. He valued his sleep.
I’ve never had a boyfriend buy me a bus ticket to Dayton, never mind a flight to France. I wouldn’t want to go anyway. That’s what I keep telling myself. I know when she comes back it’s going to be all, “You wouldn’t understand. It’s a francophone thing.” I’ll ask her if she had trouble with the language barrier, not speaking French and all. “First of all,” she’ll say, “they speak Provençal.” And I’ll hate myself. It’s too hard to talk to her lately. Everything I say comes out wrong.
I wonder if Emily will get engaged on this trip. I almost got married once. I dated the same man for six years. Our relationship began with one sentence uttered when he wrongly assumed I was too gone to remember. “You’re going to hate me in the morning.” Some things are too ugly to look at head-on. You’re going to hate me in six years.
I pick up soiled paper towel on the floor in the living room. Mom can’t be bothered to clean up after herself anymore. I flush it down the toilet even though I know these things should be disposed of in the garbage can. Flushing isn’t good for the pipes, but I can’t risk seeing it again, not even on accident.
My boring job has insurance. I ask my dentist if he can tell a lot about a person by looking at their teeth. “You can tell a lot, more than you’d expect. But not everything,” he says. He looks directly into my eyes and a sharp piece of metal slices into raw nerve, freshly exposed gum line. I jolt forward and his hand grazes my breast. He coughs and tells me to stop grinding my teeth. Or else. Or else what? I think, but I’m done asking this man questions for today. Maybe I’ll find out in another six months.
The thing is I have reached out to Emily. I’ve called her and left voicemails and even resorted to a few emails. Maybe I called a few too many times, but she wasn’t answering, and I got nervous. What kind of a friend would I be if I didn’t check in?
Days of washing clothes and filling out forms and calling out of work. Emily leaves the country, and my mom leaves for the hospital. I drive her in the Jeep. I visit the next morning and get scolded by some nurse. “Put a gown on. There are dangerous bacteria in here.” I take the gown she hands me and throw it on a chair. “Aren’t you worried about contaminating your home? Spreading these germs to your husband? Your children?” She’s really in the mood to talk down. “I don’t have those things,” I say. She walks out, satisfied husbands and children aren’t at risk. I don’t put on the gown. I take off Mom’s socks. I brush her teeth. I stare at her and think about all the time wasted, not asking the important questions. Friday turns to Tuesday turns to salt-stained clothing and a scent of cabbage in the air. Nothing good ever happened on a Tuesday.
I can’t believe Mom wasted all those years, all her energy, all that money raising me. She should have just gone to Nice or something. In her last moments I hold her hand and tell her, “I’m sorry my birth stole so much of your life.” If only she’d never met my lowlife father. This is the unspoken honest to God truth; I’m 50% lowlife.
Emily isn’t comfortable with death, but I invite her to the funeral. She breaks her silent treatment to tell me she can’t make it. “We’ve been drifting apart, and I don’t know how I would feel being at such an emotional event. I really only met your mom a couple of times.” “I understand,” I say, but I don’t. I hang up the phone gripping the beige spiral cord of my mother’s landline between my fingers. I think about screaming, but to scream would be a performance and there is no one here but me.
Emily uploads her photos from the trip. Hashtag throwback Thursday. Emily and Brandon in fields of lavender. Emily and Brandon in some Roman ruins. Emily pretending to eat something. Brandon out of focus. I find a picture from three years ago of me and Emily and my mom sitting on the porch. I write a long paragraph about how guilty I feel for still being alive. Hashtag throwback Thursday. I tag Emily in it. Ten minutes go by. Nobody likes it. I delete the post and tear the cuticle from my thumb with the teeth I won’t stop, can’t stop grinding.
I’ve stopped calling out of work. Now, I just don’t go. Days pass and the cheese turns green and then grey. Weeks go by and the dust begins to rise off the couch like a fog. Particles of dust, remnants of my mother, swirl in the morning light. I start hallucinating. Not anything interesting, just scenes from my past. Emily and I at the photo copier. My mother holding me after my first heartbreak. Emily lending me a hair tie. My mother’s body disintegrating into soil and pus.
I attempt to re-enter society, mainly because I’ve run out of food. I start with people who have to talk to me because their livelihoods depend on it: waiters, clothing store clerks, receptionists. I enter my mom’s favorite coffee shop. The barista looks at me with sympathy. They liked Mom here. I wait in line. The couple ahead of me starts kissing and cooing. “Who told you that you deserve happiness?” I accidentally scream and stomp my feet, surprising even myself. I can’t keep trying. I’m not ready and it’s too much. I run out of the store and don’t leave my house again. I don’t dare.