When the thoughts start swarming, I just need to get writing.
Is this graphomania? Just if the results are less than desirable, right?
I don’t want to be like her, writing post-it notes into the void. Circumscribing my whole life with an elaborate set of rules so that nothing ever displeases me, until my whole life is just a water-damaged house crawling with worms and the disapprobation of my judgemental suburban neighbors.
She is a negative example. I am sad she got so under my skin. I am sorry I did not show more kindness to her. You could probably pay me to go back to that house, but it would have to be more than $100.
It’s not anyone’s fault they’re crazy. Some crazy should just stay away from other crazy, though. She was a constricting, binding force when I needed to blow away. She tried to wrap herself around me to experience the world. It made me sick and sad and mean, and I am real sorry about that.
Her graphomania is comfort-oriented. Notes prevent anything from ever going wrong. I wonder what she feels just before she writes another note.
For me, it starts like a felt-tipped awareness of dis-ease somewhere in my back. It’s a just slightly wrong feeling that grows and makes you wrench your body up. The things plush furniture does to our spines…
It is whatever is telling me I’ve had enough fun and now it’s time to work. That’s how I can just drift out of a real good picture on TV – because existential dread is right there to remind you that soon enough you will be dead.
Not soon. Soon enough.
Soon enough. Maybe the Neurontin is working.
I need to take initiative. I need to do things and then write about what it was like doing them. Not agonize about what it might be like. No one likes that icy claustrophilic feeling of walking around your brain, Schlomo.
You become a graphomaniac when you decide the people you need to talk to are just too scary. So you write it down, and you think it gives you relief, but it only gives you respite, fleeting respite. And only at first. By the second pass, you’re just loving the light show that pulls you apart.
I wonder what closed her off. Not that it’s any of my business. I bet it started with a wounded sense of resentment, though. The University did something to her. I bet an old lover did, too, or maybe there never were any. Absolutely fixated on the idea of finding a man, but only through the spammiest old people fake dating websites.
She insisted I guess how old she was one day. Said a man on the internet thought she was in her 40s. I thought I was being kind. I said 65. She looked like death had passed near a flame. I figured she was in her 80s, maybe even a very special kind of 90.
She was 60. 60 years old. She was visibly shaken that I had guessed so closely, and actually shot high.
Her hair was purest white. I think that’s probably part of it. Not any shade of white, the exact color white. She used silverizing shampoo, I noticed that. She didn’t want any off-tones in her hair, and there weren’t any, not a one.
And there was the walker. The infirmity. The falls. The wistful memories of the jazz era? I guess those were probably inherited if she really were 60. Maybe secondhand dances from her mom – no, her pop. Her father was the only parent she ever mentioned.
Near as I could gather, she had lived virtually her whole life in the house. That part is one tick in the plus column for her only being 60. The house didn’t seem that old, plausibly new when she would have been a child. The house didn’t seem old, but it seemed that an ancient person lived in it.
Nothing had ever been done to remediate major structural damage, such that the house was essentially out of doors. Rains flooded the basement, and everything stored there had to be raised off the eery damp concrete. Earthworms had claimed the back half of the house, and would often wriggle into your path in the shower. A baby earthworm is a frightening sight when you’re all alone and naked.
I hid my smoking from her until I caught on that she smoked, and so did the other tenant. In fact, he smoked inside all the time, which was not permitted, and I’d tattle on him if I ever found it useful, as she was wont to assume any smoke smell was from me. But I truly and genuinely never smoked inside, unless you count pot, and nobody does.
The oils in my skin cream gave her the vapors. I put my blueberries in the wrong place. There was too much fat in my cooking, and I used entirely too much garlic.
Yet somehow she also wanted to be me. Any new food I brought home, she’d have within a day or two. Kefir. Kimchi – even though she couldn’t handle spice. She went to the tobacconist where I get my aftershave to buy it for herself, but balked at the $20 price tag. I never told her you can get it online for $12 because I couldn’t abide the thought of her smelling like me.
It seemed she never formed a firm identity, apart from staying home. And this is the fear I find now echoed in myself. Taking on the tastes of people around me. But now there are no people around me. No guests after 7 pm somehow became no guests at all. I write and it gives me satisfaction, but I don’t want to live with my memories.
She had a binary rule for everything imaginable. There were eight post-it notes in the room upon my arrival, and countless more taped to every surface in the house. How to open this cabinet. What not to put in the garbage disposal. What setting to turn the fan to if you needed to do dishes before 11 am. Exactly how many times Meals on Wheels was supposed to knock on what door. If anyone ever came to the front door, you could expect her to go to pieces.
She used the right word for things, like torchiere, as often as possible. She incorrectly corrected my French, and always wanted to know my feelings on the works of Jewish artists. Or, wanted me to know her feelings on the works of Jewish artists.
She constructed a world in which all other persons were the opposition. Leaving mean notes for Meals on Wheels is basically the definition of fucking up. I wanted to tell her to be nice, but I’m half her age, and what do I know?
I wonder who would be there for her if she hadn’t built this fortified palace of earthworms. I wonder who she’d see if she didn’t listen to opera and jazz alone in the kitchen. I wonder what kind of man she’d find if she weren’t putting all her energy into chatbots that want her banking information.
One day she fell when I was home. I heard a thud and then a real cry of pain and fear through several walls. I knew what had happened, and ran to her part of the house.
I stopped at her door and called her real name, which was strange, because she always used an assumed name. I don’t know why I called her real name, but she uh’d me into the room. She was on her back. It wasn’t ok. I bent down all the way so that I could hug her into a vertical position. It was terrible and neither of us liked it. I left the house shaken. There is something fearful about coincidentally helping someone.
It is bad, but I didn’t want her to think she had found a nurse. It was implied when I moved in that I’d do some yardwork, but that is different from hugging a mean stranger when she’s fallen and can’t get up. Of course I did it – but it wasn’t something I wanted to keep doing.
Notes about the man coming to shave down the door, which was making terrible scraping noises. Notes about changing the furnace filter or putting things up on pallets. Notes about the moths that were eating all our grain products, and notes about which parts of the refrigerator were the purview of whom. Notes about films I might like, and reminders to lock my room on football Saturday, when strangers would park in the lawn and use our toilet.
She was not my enemy, we were just both down on our luck. I was overjoyed to leave there, but from a distance I can wish her all the best. But then, I wrote this story instead of ever talking to her, so we all have our limitations.
She kept texting me lies about the cable plan when I moved out to try and keep talking to me. I wrote back firmly what the cable company told me, and then I blocked her number. I really hope I’m never that lonely. I really hope I never shut everyone out.