HOME AT LAST
by Julia Chaves-Shaw
(translated by Jonathan Shaw)
It all started on a strange Tuesday. A grey strange day, one of those days that feels like a Sunday, even though it isn’t. Raining out and me trapped inside with my mother in an apartment the size of a oversized walk-in closet. Shit. Her and her little daughter, me, grumbling inwardly like a trapped beast. No way out in the rain. I longed for a beer, anything to help me feel okay, anything to get the hell out of there and not have to listen to her load of bible crap.
Tuesday’s Church Day. Bible Day. Here’s the deal: you can do whatever fucked up shit you want to between Wednesday and Saturday. You get forgiven on Sunday, then party like a Roman on Monday to get forgiven again on Tuesday. That’s all I ever really got about those Bible People. Empty little creatures waiting for Jesus to come down from the sky and carry them away or whatever. Personally, I preferred Gin. Hard liquor would carry me away just fine, thank you.
A whole day. Rain. What the hell is she even doing home on a work day? Only Jesus Saves. I always thought Jesus would make a great name for a brand of Gin. Jesus Gin. A fantastic tongue-twister. Try saying it real fast three times in a row after a few shots. I could never really figure out what was up with my mother. Perfect on the outside, but totally broken inside. What was wrong with her? Why couldn’t she ever teach me anything useful, like tongue-twisters? She could really clean that little apartment though. Boy oh boy! It was like she was exorcising demons or something, just like the Bible People at her little storefront church, the way she scrubbed away at the mold on the bathroom floor. And I always made a point of smoking and dropping my ashes on the floor while she cleaned. If she wanted demons, I’d give her some.
Mother. Strange, disgruntled, submissive being, always running around cleaning up after me. I could never really get what was up with her. Or with me. ‘Hereditary Curse’, that’s what her Bible People call it. Yep, I must’ve inherited it. I’m not one of the Bible People, not even any good at cleaning, but my head’s about the same as hers. Well, not really, I guess.
She always kept her precious collection of little porcelain animals all lined up like soldiers on a shelf by the television. Sometimes I’d sneak up to them and put a few out of line, just to fuck with her head. And as if to add some excitement to her life, my mother would sometimes actually manage to leave them out of order like that for a day or two, like was the most audacious act she’d ever committed. No friends. No fun. She only left the house to go to work or ‘Praise the Lord’ with her Bible People. Then she’d come home and line up her little porcelain animals again, all in a neat little row.
Anyway, there she was doing what she does best, cleaning up the apartment, maybe in hopes of organizing her insides. And there I was doing what I do best, messing it all up so she’d have something to organize, when suddenly it hit me. Panic! A strange powerful paranoid certainty that, unless I did something very different, that would be me in 40 years, scrubbing away at a fucking bathroom floor somewhere with a daughter who hates me. I’d always been sure I’d give birth to a girl, just like my mother. And I always knew my own daughter would be a troublemaker, just like me.
Shit. Just another day. Fucking disgusting rain! And then it was getting dark. Night. Almost over. The sound of her cleaning away in the only other room of that cramped little apartment always gave me the chills — and not the good kind. I didn’t want to see that woman anymore, didn’t want to see anything, feel anything. I vaguely sensed the television in front of me, so I turned up the volume till my head hurt. But I couldn’t drown out the sound of scrubbing, the sound of failure. Mother, where have your dreams gone? Did you turn them over to the Bible People along with 10% of your miserable wages this month? Mother, were you ever really happy? What example did you ever show me? What good will you leave behind? Help me to understand! That’s what I would’ve asked her, but the desperate screams got stuck in my throat.
Suddenly I realized she knew even less than me. So why have kids? Mother, I wanna kill you… isn’t that the Doors? Did Jim Morrison have a fucked up mother like this? I dunno, maybe I was still buzzed from whatever shit I took the day before. The noise from the television was working on my brain like some kind of crazy drug. My ears were humming like I was in a trance or something. Mother? I suddenly wondered what it would be like to have a fireplace in there. I wasn’t even cold but I wanted fire! Throw all those fucking magazines she spent her life collecting and watch them all burn real slow. Or douse the whole place with gasoline and watch the flames purify that well-organized little hive. Funny how everything she ever did was to look so good on the outside. Inside? Nothing.
It started like that. Jim Morrison singing with the noises in my head. Mother, I wanna kill yoo-ooo! I really got that one. Me too. The sound of failure coming from in there, scrubbing away at the bathroom floor. Angry noises in my head. And bubbling up from my gut, an overwhelming desire to scream forever.
Then I heard the sound of the shower. She was getting ready to go out and brave the rain, the least she could do for her Lord and Savior. What was up with her? Was that crappy little church the only place she could find this Jesus character? From the corner of my eye I saw a shadow pass. A fat old lady who, once upon a time, had been a pretty girl, like me. She was moving around now, a frenzy of colorful shapes and forms, like some weird new drug I hadn’t tried yet, hurrying into her Bible Clothes, grabbing an umbrella, going out, slamming the door behind her. On her way out, she spat three meaningless words behind her, “I love you,” and then she was gone, leaving me alone in that cluttered little cage, wondering what the hell she meant.
After she left, the scream that was stuck in my throat found its way to my mouth. I yelled, I cried, I cursed, I kicked and screamed until my voice was gone. The fuck you love me! If you loved me you woulda taught me something about life instead of just reciting a fucking Psalm whenever I did something you couldn’t understand! If you loved me you woulda told me something, anything besides that old ‘do as I say, not as I do’ crap! All I ever wanted was to want to be like you, instead of wanting to be anything BUT like you!
When I couldn’t scream anymore I just started breaking stuff. First, the goddamn television. I really loved the sparks! Next, I opened a bible and tore the pages out, weeping and sighing. Jesus is not here! Jesus is not there! He’s not in this fucking book! You’re supposed to LIVE a spiritual life, you ignorant cow, not read about it in this stupid book! Then it was a lampshade. A bottle of mustard. The radio. Her little porcelain animals. All of them! How did she fit so much useless crap in a little space like that?
There I was, spitting, raging, red in the face, breaking everything in sight, all the neighbors out in the hallway beating on the door. I was working on breaking the second or third Gospel CD when I sliced my left wrist open. When I saw all the blood, I realized my heart was beating faster than a hummingbird’s wings. The next thing I remember was waking up in here with this pretty view from the window.
I spend most of my days in here sitting on this bed, reading, writing and remembering. Sometimes I just sit looking out the window, watching the leaves of that big old tree out there, thinking how beautiful a ballet they make dancing in the wind. My mother? Once in a while she sends me a note or a box of colored pencils, I guess because somebody must have told her I like to draw. But she’s never set foot in this place. Not once. I think she’s kind of ashamed of me, and maybe a little scared to come to a nut-house. But I like it here. It feels like I finally got out of the real nut-house when I got to come live here. The people are much more sincere in this place; sincere in their pain and sincere in their joy. I think some of them might have even found that Jesus guy, the one she’s been looking for so hard.
I feel safe here. I don’t hear the noises in my head anymore. And I’ve never had to listen to anyone scrubbing a floor again.