My life has always been a kind of greasy, shit sandwich. One good thing happens, followed by something unpalatable, then by something that makes it all feel a little better. With Mt. Dew for a chaser. I was born—my parents were happily married—then I had a baby brother. We grew up in Montana. I was fearless. Of everything except, perhaps, barbed wire (like a spider, there is just something about rusted barbed wire fences on neighbor’s pastures that is unnerving). I’ve been in college for two years now and approaching a third. I could be finished at 5 semesters (2.5 years) if I really wanted to cram everything in: a Science class (4 credits), my final Math class (3 credits), my dreaded Speech class (3 credits), my final English class (3 credits), and an elective (3 credits). 16 credits is full time (plus some) and the most I could personally handle.
My grandfather (my step-father’s father) passed away in November just before Thanksgiving.
I sat down with my favorite (and only) English teacher about two weeks ago. I wanted some advice on a Speech teacher, since he had paired me up with an Angel posing as a Math teacher and figured his advice was pretty solid. I always think it is funny when I compare people to Angels as an atheist. My English teacher got the last laugh though: my new and dreadfully kind Math teacher is unapologetically Christian.
My grandmother (my step-father’s mother) passed away a month ago in February.
When I spent time with my teacher—he did in fact give me the advice I sought, and then some. We talked about school, about my academic future. I was recently nominated for a writing award (and, I imagine, so was my entire Creative Writing Fiction and Non-Fiction class). I knew my English Teacher had nominated me, and he told me as such. So we talked about the writing award, that I should gather some work to be submitted, and that he would try and help me select my best writing.
I have $30 in my bank account until Friday. Mass Effect Andromeda comes out between now and Friday. My boyfriend has -$110. We’re waiting on tax returns, his paycheck, and depending on the grace of my parents. There is another word that is fun to use as an Atheist. Grace. My English Teacher loves it.
My English Teacher wants me to stay on and be an editor for our college literary magazine. That opportunity only happens in the Spring. It’s Fall Semester now. If I blaze through one, awful 16 credit semester, I’ll miss my chance. It is an opportunity for me to be “one of two” editors at the top of our tiny literary food chain. I was Fiction Editor this year and denied all submissions. I’m not overly proud of that fact, but we all perceive Fiction differently. I ended up soliciting two local authors for work. One did not respond to my email inquiry, the second did. I am a glorified mouthpiece for my English Teacher, but I feel that he is allowing me to do good work through him.
There is another weird Christian subtext that keeps seeping into my heathen, Godless life. Stop that. I have a reputation, you know.
So I’m choosing to split one semester into two, and throw in a Summer class because I hate myself, apparently. My Angel Math teacher just so happens to teach my Final Math class over the Summer. Sign me up. That leaves English 102, my last Science class and a very, very special class suggested by my English teacher (you’re about to find out why he’s my favorite and only).
An Independent Study class that puts me with my English Teacher to help me personally develop my craft. My teacher would argue it is also to teach me to read deeper, to write richer, and to learn how to revise, damn it. He says my first drafts are good, but he is always looking for “Where is draft three, four?” We’ll only have a few months, but he wants to have me read speculative fiction (which is the genre I’m hoping to eventually write), and we will personally work through a few projects of my own. I don’t know what those are yet: Earth Borne, InGifted, or some shorter pieces? Probably shorter, the thought of trying to tackle a full-length manuscript makes me shake in my boots.
I have Hepatitis C and was diagnosed sometime 2008. I suspect I received the stupid virus from a dirty tattoo shop’s unclean needle when I had my bellybutton pierced in 2006. That means, possibly, I’ve had this virus for 10 years. A third of my life. Lately, over the past few months, I’ve been aware of part of myself in the lower side pocket of my stomach. My imagination insists it is cancer; logic suggests that cancer would be doing a lot more than a simple “sensation” and to calm the fuck down. Logic also suggests I calmly make an appointment at an Apple Health (thank you for now, Washington State Government) clinic and have my liver panels checked. Fear keeps me from doing that.
Fall 2017 is looking to be one of the highest points in my life.
My life has always been a kind of greasy, shit sandwich. One good thing happens, followed by something unpalatable, then by something that makes it all feel a little better. With Mt. Dew for a chaser. I was born—my parents were happily married—then I had a baby brother. We grew up in Montana. I was fearless. Of everything except, perhaps, barbed wire. Like a spider, there is just something about rusted barbed wire fences on neighbor’s pastures that is unnerving.
Then my little brother was diagnosed with cancer. My mother went back and forth to doctor’s in rural Montana, insisting that something was wrong with her little boy. No one answered her—either they didn’t know (likely), didn’t want to know (also likely) or could not (just as likely). Who can look in the face of a mother and deliver that kind of death sentence? Someone did. Thankfully, someone did.
I want to say that the “good” part of that story happens somewhere between my brother’s sad, slow death and now. My mother says that after my brother died, I became afraid of everything. I know, deep down inside, I lost whatever faith may have biologically blossomed. It was as dead as my baby brother, and no amount of convincing could raise either from the grave.
I would try, certainly; I attended a private Christian school during the seventh grade and to this day I’ll insist it was my favorite year of school in my life. (And I wave virtually to Brianna, April and Jessica, and wish longingly I could find my dear lost-love-of-youth Richard William Smith and be his friend). But attending and claiming to be Christian is not the same as faith, and it just never stuck. I returned to school in Montana, back to my lonely, desolate public school.
First kiss, first boyfriend followed shortly after; and a period in my life that I like to remember as happy. Snickers bars, a Copper-colored Toyota Celica, Rockford Fosgate speakers, Playstation games and ICP are the biological markers of my youth and I apologize for none of it. I have a memory of my boyfriend inhaling gasoline on accident, and my dad submerging him in our pond to get him to breathe. Hands-on, no bullshit kind of love, that was.
I was sixteen when my dad passed away from lung/brain cancer. I can add scabies, a grown man screaming from pain, hallucinations that made him accuse my mother of stealing his money and an infection that had his eye removed prior to his death. Oh, and throw in a Near Death Experience to my atheist father to seriously confuse his atheist daughter on his deathbed.
A few years and a dozen mistakes later—and my step-dad arrived in our lives. And eventually, we were happy. Not at first, no. Never.
“You’ll never be my father!” I screamed at age 16.
“I’m proud you’re my father,” I can’t quite bring myself to tell him at age 32, but he knows it.
I call him Muskrat, instead. It means father. My blood, and heart, and all the things that really matter. He claimed my mother’s heart when it was broken and he stitched her back together. He brought her to his parents and said, “This is the woman I love.” And my grandparents smiled. And eventually, they were happy. Not at first, no. Never.
I watched my step-dad hold his mother’s hand; I watched my mom hold her mother-in-law’s hand. I held her hand. Cold as ice; frail, approaching death. I listened to her choke and gasp for breath and I heard my father’s breathing in her own. I saw my grandmother and my father at the same time, remembered them both, and said goodbye again.
I also had a non-fiction piece accepted for publication in that previously mentioned college literary magazine (but I had nothing to do with it since I’m editor of fiction, I had no control over it). That makes two pieces (one fiction, one non-fiction) published in two issues in two years.
I just got a 92% on my latest Math test. The day before that, I watched as my former roommate and lab partner dissected a fetal pig. I turned my head as she wielded a razor blade and cut the pig’s mouth all the way beneath its eyes. I played music from my cellphone to mask the sound of her breaking its jaw.
I have never broken a bone in my body or in any other living creature or dead creature to my knowledge. It wasn’t quite enough to make me a vegetarian, but fuck, did it hurt.
There are gaps in my story, gaps in my memory, or memories I simply don’t wish to include. I left out the part that my parents were here this weekend, that they rescued me--financially, emotionally--and turned my tears to laughter, my doubts into reaffirmations. I love them, I am thankful for them, I never feel as though I deserve them. They have done so much for me that I can never repay. A six-pack of Mt. Dew and a frozen pizza bought by my parents is some serious medicine for the soul. They took us out to a very, very nice lunch, and my mom chased me down when my temper hit the roof--and she stayed with me, and here I am. I get my strength from her.
I try very hard to spare myself memories of failed relationships (entire shit sandwiches within themselves), of the ones that were more like fetal pigs (killed before they could live), and the one that I will never believe I deserve.
The one I have now—I saved. I reached out to him when no one else was looking, dunked his head in a pond so he could breathe. Not a baptism; the man was choking on gasoline fumes and slowly dying.
His son, perhaps, hates me, believing his father left his mother for another woman and that woman is me. I know the truth, his father knows the truth, but it will be important to me that his son knows some version of the truth that reduces the guilt that rests upon his father’s shoulders. I am willing to take all of the blame—but I also accept some of the praise, as his father is alive to be his father. Divorce happens. People break up, families break apart, broken like the jaws of fetal pigs on a dissection table. There is a tangible crack in the air. I am the woman grasping snout and lower jaw and forcing the flesh to move beyond a breaking point. (Really I am the one watching, since I would vomit if I did it myself). I am thankful for Catherine for doing the dirty work while I take the notes; and Mason is thankful to me for helping him break the bones of his cage.
At least his father is alive to be angry at. We don’t all have that luxury.
And I hope, someday, we can all be happy. I accept it will not be at first, but I refuse to believe it will be “never.”
I have my Muskrat and my mother, and my grandparents, and Mason and I—the “good” parts of my life, to remind me that it isn’t all one big shit sandwich. Maybe if I ever publish a non-fiction novel I will name it that: Fetal Pig Dissections and Shit Sandwiches. It seems like a missed opportunity.