It was not abnormal for taxidermy to be around the apartment, but it had been a long time since Ruth had last seen it. Not since her mom died, she thought, and she brought a few to a consignment shop, the type of shop that loved to decorate itself like a hunting lodge. But there the bird sat on the askew toilet lid, statuesque. The kestrel’s body was firm, heavier than it could have been when it was alive. Ruth gently lifted the taxidermy creature off the toilet, its beak unaligned appeared to be mid-joke.
The first time I was 15. He had blonde curls, deep blue eyes and an American drawl from his mother that cut deep through suburban London. I told a friend how beautiful I thought he was but did nothing else. It surfaced again from time to time but never with the same simplicity, the shy urge to be close to someone, to touch skin and graze lips.
Decades later it has finally begun to materialise but not as I expected. Last year I realised how at home I feel in female clothing – slithers of lace and silk, straps I can pull taught between my fingers and a metallic necklace that jolts me with confidence each time I touch it. What started as a memory of how beautiful I thought a boy at school was has morphed into a preoccupation with ceding control: degradation by older women, an occasionally urgent desire to give head and presenting feminine all seem to be ways of escaping the pressure of a conventionally male role, of taking the lead.
When he arrived, quite by chance, and assisted Suzy with a roadside emergency, he impressed her as the ultimate good Samaritan: a kindly man, considerate, good-humored, gentle in tone, so ready to be helpful. Yes, he was a bit remarkable in appearance—large in every dimension, every feature. He had untamed curly black hair, bushy eyebrows, and long hairs that escaped his nostrils.
Despite his size he deftly slipped through the cracks that had been left by the dissolution of her marriage, the virtual abandonment of her son and daughter by their father. He quickly became the constant friend—call me if you have any more car trouble; let me pick that up for you, I have to swing by the grocery anyway; allow me to try my hand at fixing that wobbly step.
Why do we forget? There is no proven scientific reason for why we forget.1 Our brain has the ability to store the equivalent of 2.5 million gigabytes 2 of digital memory whereas my M1 Mac has only 250 GB. Why is our brain designed to delete memories when it has so much space? The ability to recall a memory is often associated with how well it’s stored and it always differs from one person to another. My childhood memories are compartmentalized in two ways. First, is according to the two different schools I studied in, St. Joseph’s Convent till my fifth standard and Montfort School till my tenth standard. Second, is my house. Pre-renovation and post. Before narrating any of my leftover childhood memories, I have to do some mental calculations to figure out the exact age I was in by identifying how I looked (I had different physical phases in different schools) and the setting. If the parking space at my home was spacious and bright, if the staircase was part of the veranda, if the backyard still existed, then the memory is most likely to be pre-renovation. Once the memory is successfully identified, then my brain starts counting the age. I know I was five in my first standard. That being my focal point I work my age to the memory. This is the mental prep that I have to do before beginning to narrate a memory as ‘I was five/seven/eight.’
I’m afraid our 12-year-old son is a budding psychopath. As in he isn’t yet, but I’m scared to death. Hurting animals is a sign, right? I won’t say what he did because it’s too upsetting. Ruth doesn’t want to believe me until I show her what I found in the small lake in the grip of our subdivision. We agree Jacob should see a counselor.
I take Jake by myself to his first session with Dr. Penser because Ruth has a late meeting with her boss. Again. After my son and I sit with Penser together, the doctor asks for some time alone with Jake. The shrink brings Jake out to the waiting room about 30 minutes later. I give the doc a look that says “Well?”
We spent the anniversary of our son’s suicide tending a fire deep in the wild of the North Cascades, the sound of the Skagit River rushing by a constant reminder of the persistent truth of impermanence.
My husband’s boy scout training emerged in the form of confidence and a methodical approach to fire-making. We stacked logs in formation, two at a time. Poked the burning cuts of wood with a charred stick. Taming the coals and teasing out their heat.
I grew up believing we lived in the mountains, surrounded by fir trees. When the tops of the trees began to flutter, I hid inside a cupboard, afraid that the hills would fall in on us.
In the evenings, my father built the nightly fire outside in the garden. The smoke came through the window. Inside, my mother sat in the brown chair smoking her last cigarette of the evening as she drank the next drink, watching the night fall softly and regretfully around her. They did not speak.
Rhonda downed the convenience store espresso and tossed the can in the backseat as the dashboard clock blinked over to 6:03pm. It clanged and rattled when it joined the others piled on the floor. She popped open the glove box, snatched a handful of yellow Wendy’s napkins and wiped the windshield, which was now covered with a thick nicotine film. The haze might be considered dangerous to most people. To Rhonda, it was an inconvenience. A chore. Another thing she had to do to maintain and upkeep.
Cleaning. Showering. Keeping toenails trimmed. Being alive was a lot of work and it never let up.
“Your father nearly broke his back trying to carry your sister upstairs”.
“I swear to god -”
“We just can’t understand her, she was doing so well”.
Kay almost laughed.
“If you could come over, try to talk to her, she listens to you…maybe if you were here?”
“You’re too hard on her”