You’re not here and I’m mad about it

You’re not here and I’m mad about it

She sends me a necklace I ordered from her along with a card. On the back of the envelope there’s a little stick figure with a speech bubble: “You’re not here and I’m mad about it!”

I want to tell her that I’m mad about it, too. I write her a little note, like I’m surprised that she sent me a package, and she just says, “It’s what you ordered, silly!” I don’t know where that joke went wrong, but it makes me miss everything even more.

Everybody’s off to Chicago and New York and Seattle and California. Some people make it down to Savannah and New Orleans. I stayed on in Ann Arbor an extra year, just because it felt like we had a year left. We milked, I tell you, we milked it. But one is too many and a thousand is never enough.

I’m mad about it, too. Some people stayed in Ann Arbor even after we all left. I wanted to be one of them, but my stupid ass hadn’t gotten up to look for an apartment. So I figured I’d move back to Jonesdale for a little while with my mom, save up some money, work on my record. And Ann Arbor was only an hour and a half away.

But my car was a smoky wreck by the time I got to Jonesdale. I drove with the heater on the whole way on an August day just so it wouldn’t overheat. I meant to buy extra coolant on my way out of town, but my car had an electrical problem, too, and I didn’t want to chance it by stopping once I got it started that morning. I was wearing a white cotton button-down shirt that probably hasn’t fit since that day, and when I got to my mom’s house, her youngest kids told me I stank. It was true. So I took a shower and then I got really, really fat.

I had to order new clothes, and even they didn’t fit. So I bought a secret three-month supply of diet pills. I took them for three days, but I stopped when I thought I could feel the outline of my heart making an imprint in my breastbone.

Really, it was the next town over from Jonesdale, or one of them. I remember going to summer camp and getting letters from home one day. We all made fun of the kid who said he was from Chicago but was really from some suburb. I told them I was from Jonesdale, and then they pointed out that I was lying, too – my envelope was from no such town. But really, the town my mom lived in was so small I don’t think you could really see yourself as being from there. It wasn’t a place to be from. It was a church and a post office and a computer repair shop and not much else, not even a stoplight. There used to be a restaurant up the road a ways, but now it’s just an empty angry blue muffin top of a building.

You had to drive to do anything. No grocery stores, even. There was a little convenience store, but I had to go all the way to town to get R&R. See, we even called it “going to town,” because the place we were simply was not a town.

I thought about renting a dingy house on one of the lakes. There was this one cranny in a road bending around a forested lake probably less than a mile from my mom’s house. Before I moved back to Jonesdale, I romanticized that cranny for some reason, but I’m glad I never moved in. I’ve never really been the type to step out onto the lawn at seven in the morning for a cup of Joe and cleaning my handguns.

The good news is that my alcohol tolerance was obliterated. Within a month I could get skunked on a tall Jack and Coke, where before I could lay down $50 at the bar and still be the one making the best decisions.

There are only alcoholics and teetotalers in Jonesdale, and only the town’s seven gay people will tell you otherwise. Sometimes I ate with them on Friday nights at a restaurant with really bad live music. We ate there on my birthday, and I figured out the guy I lost it to was dating this guy I used to crush really hard on from my old temple. I had nothing to lose, then, so I told stories about smoking real-live opium and arguing about Andy Warhol on mushrooms until six in the morning. It is really easy to be a badass in Jonesdale.

I told myself I would do some really good work while I was there, like volunteer with the shelter and shit. And I did teach the kids how to crochet, but mostly I felt lonely and ordered books and took baths. I wasn’t there, and I was mad about it.

I’d smoke alone in the frozen air of the garage at night and try not to step on toads. It was embarrassing when I was still awake when my mom and her husband woke up to drive 45 minutes to work. Sometimes my mom and I watched QVC or a psychological thriller together, while she was putting on her eye makeup and making her husband’s lunch. Sometimes he would catch me smoking in the garage if he went out to the fridge for some water or Pepsi. It wasn’t like he didn’t know I smoked, but it still felt like he was catching me.

A lot of nights I’d stay awake until everybody was out of the house so I could sing. I’d get out my guitar, or I’d just put on the record player and do the dishes. Because you have to do something else if it is your general intention to sing along with your record player. Nobody just sings in Jonesdale. Nobody. I don’t know, maybe some people from the Pentecostal church between the fairgrounds and the Stuttgart, but I wouldn’t want to know anything about that.

One night I made them dinner, this big chicken salsa stew that I couldn’t even eat, ‘cause I was a vegetarian. Everybody liked it a lot, and I knew I was going to miss them something fierce. Sometimes I still miss swinging the kids around while we were waiting for the school bus. Crazy enough, they had the same driver I had had when I was a kid. You can go home. You can’t stay home, though.

I hadn’t saved up enough money to pay my taxes yet, but getting on towards winter I couldn’t take it anymore. It was cruel of me to uproot myself like that, but it would have been cruel of me not to. I called up my best friend, still living in Ann Arbor, and told her I’d give her a hundred bucks to find me somewhere to live in A2. She found me a place, and I coaxed that smoky wreck into starting one more time. I found love and a cat name Roentgen, but that part of the story doesn’t take place in Jonesdale.

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