chapter seven: grow up

I remember being small. Bits of it, at least. At five, I truly believed I had the whole of life understood, and perhaps I did. I told my mother that I had already learned everything I'd ever need to know, and perhaps I had. I told her grown-ups made everything too complicated and that kids were just as smart. I knew how to love. How to make my bed, pick out clean underwear, make toast and express my thoughts. I had it all figured out. From that point forward, life has been a process of forgetting everything I knew then and learning it again.

I had a pair of brown huarache sandals that I refused to accept growing beyond. I dragged a purple pleather bean bag under my favorite tree in the front yard, a maple I named Sally, and read storybooks to myself all afternoon. If I close my eyes, I can still hear the sound of ten thousand maple leaves rustling against each other, making sounds like waves - my landlocked ocean of fresh green and speckled light. My big toe looped under a worn strap of leather, I'd lazily swing the sandal back and forth as I passed hours alone in the shade. The shoes were broken in and required exactly zero effort to put on or remove, which is why I was reluctant to let them go. I hated the fuss of socks and the tying of shoelaces. I didn't want to be encumbered against choosing to be barefoot at any given impulse - blades of grass cold and damp underneath my toes on a whim. I'm still like that. I still wear the same pair of sandals every day, even when it's cold. I bought a pair of huaraches a year or two ago, just like my childhood ones, and my large feet filled and stretched them past sensible use in a week or so. Just as I intended. I still occasionally step on the brake in my car before I notice I'm barefoot.

I developed an odd ritual before I turned ten. I stored a piece of quartz in a small box my mother kept in her well edited collection of trinkets from Iran. She was never quite sentimental, but held onto a few things from her home - mostly gifts. It was wooden, footed, and had an embellished top with a tiny knob handle. It wasn't big enough to hold anything more than a bracelet or, in my case, a magical crystal. At sunset, I would remove my crystal and carry it ceremoniously to the front yard. Holding the quartz above my head, I would dance and twist in the fading light, paying homage to pink and orange clouds ablaze on the horizon. Once it started to get dark, I'd lie on my back in the grass and thank something unknown, someone unnamed, for the day and my life and the sun and the clouds and every color in the sky. I called this devotion "Cloudmania." I don't recall that I gave myself rules about the frequency of my ceremony or what had to be done to bring it to completion. There were no prayers, no penance. It was instinctual, genuine and fluid. It was my religion. At thirty-one, I have more pictures of the sunset on my phone than every face I recognize combined. I pull my car over for any sunset that warrants true reverence. I stand on the side of the road and stare upward, motionless, in awe. I have tried several religions in the past twenty years, but I am pious only to this one. 

My mother made most of my clothes through elementary school. She was incredibly gifted with a sewing machine, and having made her own clothes in Iran (out of curtains and spare fabric), she wasn't troubled by piecing together my brightly colored tops and soft cotton shorts. For special occasions, I would wake up to find a new dress on a hanger, displayed on my doorknob like a fairy had left it in the night. Looking back, I'm sure my mother finished them after dark, hours past my bedtime. Hours after she was done folding laundry, washing dishes and watching my father doze off to sleep. She loved me. English was her second language but eyelet and lace, ruffles and zippers were her first. One day of the fifth grade, I wore a yellow tank top and purple leggings from my handmade collection to school. A popular girl, Meghan, informed me that her clothes came from Limited Too. I didn't know about Limited Too. I hadn't noticed that some clothes were purchased and some were made, but Meghan had made a point to inform me. She knew my clothes weren't from the mall. In that moment, clothes became complicated. I unlearned things: having clean clothes is enough. Being comfortable is enough. My mother is devoted to me. I adopted new complexities: My clothes should be like everyone else's. My mother is withholding. Why doesn't she want me to be happy? Why does she want me to be different? I am now thirty-one years old, in therapy once a month, still trying to untangle these knots. If I follow the thread all the way back to the first time I rejected my mother's identity, it leads to Meghan. Thanks, Meghan. You owe me fifteen hundred dollars.

I've been told that traveling through life is a process of growing up. Life is supposed to be about burning away your downy baby feathers, searing your skin until tough and brown like a rotisserie chicken. Being skewered through the middle and roasted is, apparently, a good thing. I sincerely tried. It didn't work for me. Underneath all of my mature resolutions, practiced responses and professional emails, I still long to be the tender, overflowing person I was at five. My heart, my motivation is still the same, and losing awareness of my essential self has proved to waste the most time and cause the most pain in my "grown" life. I think I'd like to stop being grown-up-me. She is full of projections and excuses, reasons and reprimands. She can hardly admit what she wants, and I've realized that my desires are, at their core, simple. 

There are things I've resolved to never grow out of: 
I dedicate myself to very loud music. To licking cheese dust off my fingers after the chip bag is empty. I devote my future days to weaving weeds into fairy crowns, blowing the seeds off dandelions and always stopping on road trips for snacks. I want to feel loved and sense that I am invited to love. I vow to spend my nights out pretending to be occupied with the tiny straw in my drink, swirling liquid into a whirlpool while I meditate over the particulars of what it would be like to kiss the cute guy across the bar. I won't kiss the cute guy (too many problems follow), but I promise to never stop thinking about how it might feel. Why was I ever eager to forget the most delicious moments of life that amount to nothing but ignite everything? I pledge clear nights to stargazing and wet ones to drawing pictures in fogged windows, telling my secrets to whoever sits there with me. I consecrate myself to the tingle that runs across my shoulders when someone lightly plays with my hair, and I swear to play with other people's hair lovingly, unrushed. I promise to care for my friends (human, plant or animal) and care about being cared for in return. I will never denounce Sade or Mariah Carey, and I promise to get a lump in my throat every time I hear Killing Me Softly. 

I will try to lie in the bed I leave unmade. To find myself in the messes I can't clean. To lock my keys inside and break in through the back window. To ding and dash, truth or dare, kiss and tell. All literally and metaphorically. 

Growing up is not an emotional goal, but a biological inevitability. I am happy to watch my hair grey and creases form at the corners of my eyes if I remember to remain vivid on the inside. Staying open, curious, genuine and fluid is the goal.

don't forget it was real

You may find someone who orders your drink.
Who stands next to you in a crowd,
swaying to loud sounds,
yelling over the band,
a joke you won’t hear, but you laugh anyway.

You may find someone who agrees,
who voted for the same guy,
supports the same changes,
goes out on Friday nights and
chips in for the tab when someone else dips. 

You may find someone who invites you along,
even when you can’t come,
(even though they knew that),
and sends you pictures all night
so you know the jokes later, like you were there.

I don’t know if you’ll find someone,
who notices when you're too drunk,
waits at the bar to order you a water,
finds your jacket in the chair you were sitting in,
and picks up the phone you dropped. 

Who will ask follow up questions,
understand when you need a night in,
drive over during rush hour and
listen to you blame your mother
for problems she didn't create.

Who will act normal while you cry,
ignoring eye contact and scrolling
the internet for a meme that will make you laugh.
Who will lay on the floor ignoring the television,
and refuse to forgive your exes.

I understand why you want to replace me, 
but let me know if it doesn’t work.

chapter six: a song

If energy can't be
created or destroyed
then I must have bought or bartered for more of me
when you needed me

If people can't be
pressed to change
then I must have lost myself to find your way
when you asked me to stay.

It seemed to make sense
when I was yours and you were mine.
Oh, were you mine?
I was yours, I know for sure.
It seemed to make sense
when I could read your mind and that's how we got by.
Or I was just believing
my own the whole time.

If energy can't be
created or destroyed
then I must have been taking an advance
on what you'd take from me
when you left.
I had so much less
after you left.

It seemed to make sense
when I was yours and you were mine.
Oh, were you mine?
I was yours, I know for sure.
It seemed to make sense
when I could read your mind and that's how we got by.
Or I was just believing
maybe I was just believing
my heart, my heart, my heart
my own heart
the whole time.

chapter five: cravings

Rosie, age 8. Miriam, age 35. Glen, age 33. The three sit around the dinner table, large platters of home-cooked food in the center. It is not a formal dining room, rather the family table in the kitchen. 

ROSIE: (digging into her plate with abandon) MMMMMM. YUMMMM. (chomping) OOOOHHH MMMM.

MIRIAM: Calm down, baby.

ROSIE: What?

MIRIAM: You're making a lot of noise. Just eat.

ROSIE: I kept my mouth closed.

MIRIAM: I know, but you are moaning. Just slow it down.

ROSIE: (confused) OK mom. Sorry. (looks down at her plate, deflated).

GLEN: (picks up his plate, clean, and licks Italian dressing from the surface) Good food, honey. Thanks. 

Glen gets up from the table, makes a nondescript cough sound as he surveys the table and leaves the room. Rosie's stare is fixed on Glen's plate in a "we can do that?" way. Miriam stares straight forward, jaw clenched.

--

Rosie, age 17. Miriam, age 44. Glen, age 42. Midday, Miriam is cooking that night's dinner in the kitchen.

ROSIE: Mom, I'm hungry. When is this gonna be ready?

MIRIAM: It's four o'clock. It'll be ready by dinner. Six?

ROSIE: uggghhhhh

MIRIAM: I can put together the salad early if you want to eat some of that.

ROSIE: (rummaging through the pantry) Nah, it's fine.... I can wa-- 

Rosie finds a bag of nacho cheese Doritos in the pantry and Miriam tenses at the crunching sound of the bag before she even sees it. Rosie emerges from behind the cabinet door with one hand all the way inside the chip bag. She shuts the pantry with her elbow and walks to the refrigerator. 

MIRIAM: Don't eat that, baby. Wait two hours for dinner.

ROSIE: I'm not gonna eat a lot I just want like two.

MIRIAM: Then get a bowl and put two chips in it. And put the bag away.

ROSIE: MOM OH MY GOD. It's not a big deal! 

Rosie storms out of the kitchen, bag in hand. Miriam puts a lid on her bubbling pot and wipes her hands on a kitchen towel. Glen walks into the kitchen with a bag of cool ranch Doritos. He walks to the garbage can and steps on the pedal, the top flips up. He shakes the bag overhead, crumbs falling into his open mouth. When empty, he tosses the bag in the trash and wipes his hands on his jeans. On his way out of the kitchen he looks over Miriam's shoulder at the pot.

GLEN: Oo, looks good.

MIRIAM: I wish you wouldn't buy that shit. It's bad for both of you.

GLEN: I get them for everyone! You like chips too.

MIRIAM: No. I don't. I never eat any of that.

GLEN: (seems genuinely surprised) Huh. Exits.

-- 

Kitchen table, midday. Rosie is sitting in a chair with a book and a pad of paper. Miriam walks in and heads to the sink, pours a glass of water from the faucet. She notices dishes in the sink.

MIRIAM: Rosie, what are you working on.

ROSIE: I don't really feel like telling you.

MIRIAM: Excuse me?

ROSIE: I don't need your help with this.

MIRIAM: (stunned, angry) That's not what I asked you. What is that?

ROSIE: That's an invasion of my privacy.

MIRIAM: Do you want to watch my hand slap you in the face? That would be very invading. 

ROSIE: Moooooom, stop. Whatever. It's grandma's Weight Watchers book. 

MIRIAM: What?

ROSIE: I went to grandma's last night and she let me borrow her points book. I can have 18 points a day and I'm writing out what I can eat. So like, I can have a bagel for breakfast. And then I can have a dry package of Ramen and a Diet Coke at lunch. Diet Coke is zero points so I can have however many of those. Then I can get a cherry limeade and fries at Sonic before rehearsal. And then I'll have like six points for dinner when I get home.

MIRIAM: So this book is telling you to watch your weight by eating french fries and Diet Coke?

ROSIE: No, mom. It tells you how to lose weight no matter what you eat. That's just the stuff I'll probably want to eat.

MIRIAM: You don't need that book, baby. Let me cook dinner for you at night and you can take some leftovers for lunch to school. I don't know about points but I know you will be healthy if you eat what I make. 

ROSIE: Yea mom, I don't know how many points are in the food you cook. It's easier to just eat the brand name stuff they have in the book cause then you know. 

MIRIAM: I guess this is how they make their money. From telling you to eat junk. (starts to wash dishes) This stuff is just ridiculous to me. When I was a kid I didn't have bread to put in my mouth. I had to walk for twenty minutes to get it from the baker and after everyone else got their hands on it, I never tasted it. If I bit a piece of cucumber my mom was chopping for the salad I had a knife in my face.

ROSIE: I don't even understand what that means. This is why I didn't want to talk to you about it.

MIRIAM: Me and my sister would have one plate to share and I let her have everything because she was younger than me.

ROSIE: That doesn't make any sense. If she was younger than you she could probably eat less food and be okay.

MIRIAM: You don't understand what I mean. I'm saying that food is fuel. You put it in your body so you have energy to do things. If you eat soda and junk it's bad for you even if it's the right points.

ROSIE: I don't feel that way about food. I like to enjoy it.

MIRIAM: Let me show you how I cook the osh (farsi for soup) tonight and you can look up what's in it and come up with the points. 

ROSIE: Yea, um. That's a lot of work and I have to run lines with Will. He's gonna be here in a second.

MIRIAM: Why are you counting these points? To lose weight?

ROSIE: Yeah, before the show. I want to fit into this dress in the costume shop and the other one that fits is ugly.

MIRIAM: Bring the dress home and I'll fix it for you.

ROSIE: Yea, it doesn't really work like that. I have to go.

Rosie gets up from the table, collects her things and heads to the door. 

MIRIAM: If you think you're going to walk out of that door without giving me a hug and saying goodbye you are really stupid.

ROSIE: OKAY MOM I HAVE TO GO. 

Rosie gives Miriam an obligatory hug and walks out.

-- 

Rosie, 19. She is leaving a super store at what appears to be late night with a few friends. 

ROSIE: Oh my god guys. You wouldn't even understand the way I grew up. My mom wouldn't let me have any junk food. We never went out. She cooked every night. If I ate like one cookie she'd freak out.

KASEY: Dude I know. My mom is always telling me to lose weight.

ROSIE: Oh it wasn't really like that. She didn't care about how I looked, she just hates junk food. She's foreign so she thinks you have to cook everything.

ALYSSA: Sounds nice. My mom literally never cooked. I had cereal for dinner, like, every night. 

ROSIE: I'm gonna call her right now and tell her I just bought ice cream to eat at midnight!

Rosie gets out her cell phone and dials Miriam. Miriam picks up, we hear her voice.

MIRIAM: (groggy) Baby? Are you ok? I was asleep. What's wrong?

ROSIE: Oh, sorry. I was just calling to tell you that I'm leaving the store and I just bought a gallon of ice cream. And I'm gonna eat it as soon as I get back to my dorm.

MIRIAM: That's why you called me?

ROSIE: Yea! Cause I'm in college now and can do that if I want.

MIRIAM: Why did you need to tell me about it?

ROSIE: I just thought it was funny.

MIRIAM: You are an idiot. (hangs up)

KASEY: What did she say?

ROSIE: Hah, she was so pissed. 

Kasey and Alyssa walk ahead and Rosie lags a step or two behind. She looks at the grocery bag of ice cream and rolls her eyes at herself. 

-- 

Rosie, age 28. Miriam, age 55. They are in a new living room, smaller, like an apartment. Rosie shuffles around the kitchen while Miriam sits on the floor and mindlessly picks particles from the carpet and gathers them in a pile on the coffee table. Mark, Rosie's husband, sits on the sofa.

MIRIAM: There's a lot of shit on your carpet, baby. You need to vacuum. 

ROSIE: (quietly) Ok, cool, thanks mom. 

MIRIAM: (to Mark) I have to get you the vacuum cleaner I have. It works really good. It's not cheap, but it's much better than the other piece of crap I was using.

MARK: That would be awesome.

ROSIE: (yelling now, from kitchen) We have a vacuum mom, okay? I'll vacuum tonight after you leave if that makes you happy.

MIRIAM: I'm sure you vacuum. I'm just saying these ones they make now are just pieces of garbage. Don't suck worth a damn. I need to bring mine over so you can see.

ROSIE: Okay, guys. Dinner is ready. (she walks to the coffee table with two plates of food.)

MARK: Smells good, babe. Thanks for cooking.

MIRIAM: You're lucky, girl. Your dad never said a word about anything I cooked. One time I asked him if he liked his dinner and he said, "I ate it, didn't 1?"

MARK: (laughing) He didn't say that.

MIRIAM: Swear to god.

Rosie leaves two plates on the table and walks away with attitude when Miriam mentions her dad. She returns with a third plate for herself and sits on the floor opposite of Miriam and Mark to eat. The trio start working on dinner.

MIRIAM: This is very good. You were always very into food. Mark, even when she was really little she would make these loud noises when she ate. Moaning like sex noises.

MARK: Hah, really?

MIRIAM: I had to tell her to calm down before she passed out!

ROSIE: I like food. I like cooking. It's fun for me.

MIRIAM: You can pay so much attention to a recipe and I don't like to read them. I just make whatever I learned to cook from my mom and my aunts.

ROSIE: Well, you eat food for fuel, right?

MIRIAM: What?

ROSIE: You don't care how it tastes because it's just for energy to do things. You told me that more than once growing up.

MIRIAM: I don't know. I just don't like to read from a book when I'm cooking. But you are very good at it. This is great, baby.

MARK: I'm so lucky. She loves to cook so I get something great every night.

MIRIAM: Did your mom cook growing up?

MARK: Um, yea sometimes. We definitely did a lot of fast food. If she cooked it was usually one or two things like spaghetti or nachos. Easy stuff. She didn't like to cook very much.

MIRIAM: Well I cooked every night. That was just the only way I knew.

MARK: I guess that's where Rosie learned it!

ROSIE: (to Miriam) Can you please brush that pile of crumbs off the table?

MIRIAM: No, I just spent half an hour picking it up because your vacuum doesn't work.

ROSIE: Oh yea, I forgot.

chapter four: my cup

A cup. Honestly, it is very ordinary. Glass. Ten ounces, maybe. It feels good in my hand. It has weight. Sturdy. 

I find it chipped one morning. I open the cupboard and reach for it as always, for a glass of water. A glint of light scatters the wrong direction as I place it on the counter and only then I see the edge damaged so slightly. I look around but can't find the shard. I use it still, avoiding that side of the rim where it will cut my lip if I am not careful, but I am very careful. I can be careful with it from now on.

I step on the piece later. The piece from my cup that was broken and missing. It is small, translucent. It should be harmless, but it startles me as it digs in my heel. I grab my foot and lift it to watch a drop of blood run and fall. Just one drop. A single spot on the tile. I wipe it away but rust color stains the grout in one, tiny place. I feel embarrassed and stupid for loving this broken cup. For keeping a chipped cup when I have lots of cups, at least two dozen other cups in the cupboard. This one is my favorite.

Another day I wash the cup I still use out of habit or persistence. I want to tell you that I place it carefully in the sink. It's important to me that you know I am careful and that I keep my word. Tiny suds slide down the edges as I rinse off other dishes. I run the cup under the flow of water and as the bubbles wash away, I see a crack. A hairline fissure from midway to the chip, like a stream of refracted light opening up to the sea. I hold the cup very close to my face as if this investigation will solve a crime. "I was very careful." My testimony does not change the cup's condition. I hold the cup under the faucet until full and place it on the counter. A tiny pool gathers around the base and my cup does not hold water. I empty it all into the sink and wipe it gently with a cloth. I put it on the windowsill before me and watch the sunlight illuminate the injury. It lives here now, the cup, on the sill. I use it for a flower or two I cut from the garden, half an inch of water in the bottom under the crack. It's still good for that.

I come home to find the cup on the counter, fallen from its post due to a shudder of thunder from a storm, maybe. Or a knock at the window? It was not me, I am more cautious than that. The cup is split in three. The heavy disc of the base and two semi-circles. Two crescent moons rocking back and forth with jagged edges. I collect my cup and deliver it to the coffee table on a kitchen towel. I flip on the light and rummage through the junk drawer for the crusty tube of superglue I know I have and have had since the first day I had drawers. I don't remember if it's always been the same one, but there is always one there whether I buy two or lose four. It doesn't matter, one persists. I pry the end of a safety pin down the clogged nozzle until a rush of sticky liquid bubbles at the tip. I carry it to the cup and clumsily squeeze glue over every newly cracked edge. I press three pieces together to recreate the whole, the seams ooze liquid. New permanent drips harden down the side. It needs to dry and I stretch a rubber band around the circumference to hold my cup for an hour or two. When I return the cup is solid once again, but the rubber band is fixed as well. A new addition to the life of the cup that must persist, I guess, since it's stuck and holding everything together. I return it to the windowsill but it won't keep any water so it lives on to hold my vegetable peeler. I never kept my vegetable peeler on the windowsill before and suppose it is not important to do so, but the cup can handle it and I want the cup to serve a purpose. It was and still is my favorite cup.

I knock the cup over when I reach for the peeler. I pull it too quickly and the very end catches the rim of the cup and sends it crashing to the floor. I jump backward and survey a thousand tiny shards of glass. I think I see them all and when I kneel down closer I find more. Under the refrigerator. One has traveled to the living room - I spy it only when I rest my temple to the ground and view the whole room on a horizontal. I pick up several pieces and collect them in my palm. One pokes me a bit and there is blood. I drop the pieces in a pile and press a paper towel into my hand. I get a broom and sweep all the pieces together, but I step on several I could not and would not see and I leave half-footprints of blood in a trail map that leads to where I'm standing now.

This is a mess. This isn't worth one bit of the trouble. I have two dozen other cups. I could have thrown the cup away when it was chipped. I definitely should have thrown it away when it split in three. Now it is completely beyond repair and it's in more pieces than I can count and they're all cutting me or somewhere hidden, waiting to cut me. I am exhausted with this. I'm talking to myself.

I leave the blood and the glass exactly where it is and go to bed. I wake up the next morning and head straight out the door and order coffee at the shop around the corner and have lunch delivered to the office. I meet friends out for drinks after work and decide to eat bar food somewhere, I don't remember, late. I spend the night at a friend's house. I dress for work with the dry cleaning I had in my backseat. I order coffee again. I skip breakfast.

I come home a few days later and avoid the kitchen on my way upstairs. I order delivery on my phone. I watch a show on my laptop in bed.

No matter how long I wait, the cup is still on my kitchen floor in pieces. It doesn't disappear or clean itself. I know that won't happen, but still. 

Maybe a week passes? It could be almost two. I walk downstairs in the middle of the night and sleepily head to the cupboard to get a glass of water. I step on a shard. This glass is still here. All of it is still broken and lying on my floor. I rest my head on the countertop, my arms drape over cookbooks and a stack of unopened mail. "This could go on forever," I tell myself.

I flip on the light and find the dustpan under the sink. I sweep, then wet a rag and run it over the tile to catch any pieces too small to see in the dark with bleary eyes. I spray cleaner on my bloody footprints and scrub them away. I toss it all in the garbage and it's done. I take five steps away from the kitchen and turn around - I realize it could be even more done. I knot up the top of the trash bag, slide on my clogs and walk the bag to my bin on the street. As I walk back inside and lock the door behind me, it is actually done. 

"What a completely unnecessary pain in the ass," I scold myself as I lie in bed. I have dreams that night about the cup even though I'm just immeasurably sick of the cup and want to drink only from disposable paper cups for the rest of my life. I dream the cup is in my cupboard, chipless and ordinary. One cup, unremarkable amongst two dozen others. It blends in and it isn't my favorite. It's just a cup and I don't notice if it is different from the rest or have a preference toward it. It doesn't break and I wouldn't care if it did. 

That isn't what happened, but that's what I dream about.