Someone said, “I’m looking for gum,” and I did not say anything, though I had gum in my purse. I don’t know why. I felt this tiny selfishness. I have to get going, I thought.
I carry boxes up the stairs, around the corner, and unpack them on my bed. The window has the sun, direct sun, which is a rare thing in New York City.
I drive, and I curse the car. I hate cars. I hate driving. I hate getting in a car to travel three blocks. It’s been snowy and icy, though, and wicked cold, so who could resist? I miss walking.
I remember all the places in Kansas City where I had panic attacks, or such severe anxiety that I went home and hid. My New York doctor liked to suggest The City made me anxious, but no.
My family treats me like I a fortunate 16-year-old: here’s a car you can drive, would you like dinner? I’m paying for her. Which is so so nice, I occasionally fret about if I deserve it, or if I am feeling grateful enough, or something.
I have some freelance work, which I do while wearing pajama bottoms, a good t-shirt, and socks. I sing to my parents’ dog.
I take the dog to the place where my aunt is living. She has dementia. I bring in the dog, which makes me extremely popular. My aunt says, “Yeah!” to almost everything. It’s a sign of her disease, obviously, but it’s also a very good example. She’s the only person I can talk to who isn’t worried about what’s going on with me, the person I don’t have to rebuild a relationship with, or worry about, am I asking too much of her? Am I pulling my weight the way an underemployed person can?
I just say, “Can I give you a hug?” and she says, “Yes, please!” I tell her who I am, and talk about her life, back to her. And we sing songs, and we color in coloring books. She chuckles.
Doing the women’s work, I think, the unpaid work of life, visiting the sick. It’s a pleasure to be able to do it.
My mom throws up, and I go get her pedialyte and saltines.
It’s sad, sometimes, when I leave. My aunt won’t ever tell stories about the family again. She was our family historian. She was a talker, always, would rattle on, talk your ear off. Now she is quiet. She pretends to understand what you are saying, though maybe sometimes she understands?
My dad comes upstairs and peers in my room. For a second, I think, like a teenager, this is my room! But then I remember I’m grown up, we are both grown up, and it’s fine.
“Is there any space left in here at all?” He keeps seeing me bring things in, that don’t come out, into the clown car of my childhood bedroom.
“Oh, yeah.” Their house is, like, nice. The closet doors are heavy wood. The windows are double insulated instead of drafty. Everywhere I have lived, it has, on some occasion, snowed inside.
“How is it, being back?” people say, and I’m like, “I don’t know.” There are new buildings that make me say, “Whoa, what’s that doing there?” Some of my friends’ lives are much the same; others are completely different. The cat who lived in the cathedral courtyard died. I became a person who knew I could do all the things I did: tolerate great upheaval, new people, new places, intense loneliness, build new relationships, go back to fretting about paying for the groceries, after many years of being financially stable.
Inside the closets, behind those heavy doors, on the back wall of the closet, are the marks where I measured my brother, as he grew. His name, the date. Up, and up, and up.