Sunday, November 6, 2011

Only a Door

Strange, perhaps, that when I think of that house, 2613, the first image that appears in my head is a door. A door probably wouldn't cause very much anxiety for most people, but a door and a door alone hid the truth about us from people. All anyone would have to do was open that door, and the burden would be lifted from us. But no one opened the door. No one asked why they couldn't. No one questioned anything, and I still don't quite understand that.


When my mom picks us up from the neighbor next door, my anxiety rises as we cross into our yard and walk toward our front door. I don't want to go in. As she opens the glass door and fumbles to unlock the wooden door with her key, we can hear our two mixed chihuahua/dachshund dogs fumble through the trash in the foyer. I wonder if people can hear that when they knock on our door. The dogs bark and make such a fuss. I wonder if people are curious as to all the calamity. I don't know anyone who keeps a bunch of trash in their foyer, so I don't know how people don't suspect something. Mom can only narrowly open the door as we squeeze through. The trash bags are even behind the door, so it only opens enough for us to push our way through. Brandi and Misty, our mixed mutts, greet us happily with tails wagging. Our friends. As I squeeze through the door I notice the mouse hole to the right wall right above the baseboard. It's getting bigger as the mice have chewed through the sheet rock. I imagine one of the dogs could slide in there if they wanted. I step over piles of laundry and trash dispersed over the floor trying to balance and lug my red book bag. 

I turn to the right toward the side of our house that has the three bedrooms. If I turn to the left I would walk toward the kitchen and the living area which we never use. The trash is piled so high in both rooms that it is impossible to navigate anywhere. There is nowhere to sit any longer. The mice have taken over both couches. They have chewed through the tapestry and made their nests inside the frames of the couches. Not to mention the dogs now use that one corner in the house... the corner where we use to set up the Christmas tree... as their preferred "bathroom." That doesn't get disposed of either. None of this trash leaves the home.

There is a back door in the living room that leads out of the house to the back yard. However, the trash is piled especially tall there, taller than myself, and that door never gets used.

The kitchen is full of worthless appliances. The stove does not work. We don't have gas or heat. The refrigerator does not work. It stinks, has dead bugs and has food several years old inside. We don't dare open it. It is not cold, so I'm unsure if it is unplugged or just out of service. I have not used the sink in the kitchen in years or sat at the kitchen table. Dishes and trash cover the table my dad crafted himself. Excess food cakes the wood - mostly ketchup. I can not remember the last time my mom cooked dinner in the kitchen. I know she use to. We use to sit at the table, too. The counters are covered in filth, dead overturned roaches, mouse droppings, and dishes that haven't been washed in years. If I go disturb anything on that counter dozens of bugs scatter from their hiding places, and mice dart to new hang outs. The cabinets are open but mostly bare.

I never enter either room any longer but only follow the path to our room. My brother first departs to his, and then we split from our mother at the end of the hall because our room faced hers.

Watching her from my room, I see Mom slip off her high heal shoes leaving on her dress and pantyhose. She plops on her queen sized bed that sits opposite side of her bedroom door. She always has to sleep on the right side as you face the bed. The other side is piled with clothes and trash. Mom lights a cigarette and I admire her beautiful long nails. She lifts her chin, closes her eyes, and inhales deeply. I have her mannerisms memorized. I imagine I could mimic her perfectly if I ever chose to smoke. I know how to hold my hand, inhale and flick the ashes. She picks up the phone. I'm not sure who she calls, but Mom will be on the phone the rest of the evening. She still makes us go to bed at 8, even though I'm in junior high. She will sit on her bed until bed time. I don't know what my mom sleeps in. I have never seen her in pajamas.

My sister and I go and sit on our bed. It's the only place we can sit. I pull out my algebra book and start working on my homework. I don't understand and feel like crying. I'm too proud to say I should not be in advanced algebra. I have been advanced to all honors classes, and I'm acing everything but algebra. I don't want to be in regular classes and my classmates notice that I have been "demoted" to regular math. I am struggling and know I won't do well on Mr. G's mini quiz tomorrow. For the rest of my junior high career I will spend my entire evenings working on my algebra homework. I am nothing if not a good student and don't want to accept this failure. I do not want to be regular.

I wish I had a desk to do homework on. My neck begins to hurt as I bend over my algebra book. I readjust and try to maneuver myself somehow so that I can be covered by the electric blanket and do my homework. It is so cold, and I just can't understand the equations. I am anxious and sad.

The doorbell rings. The dogs bark and chase toward the front door. I am sick at my stomach and Jessica and I panic. We know to be very quiet and pretend not to be home. I tiptoe to the foyer as the dogs bark at whoever is behind the door. I can't go near the door because it would be possible for the person to hear me as I crush the trash below my feet. 

The doorbell rings again. Someone is persistent, and we get more paranoid. No one can see the inside of the house. I finally make my way to the peephole and see the top of a child's head. The peephole acts as a fisheye lens, but I can make out that it is a neighbor kid wanting to ask if we can come out and play. If I were to open the door he could see the trash in the foyer, smell the stink of the house, or see the hole in the sheet rock. So I watch as the neighbor gives up and leaves.

I am too old to play with neighborhood kids anyway. But that's all I can do. I can't go on dates. I can't have my friends over. I can't go hang out with kids my age. 

I become more and more withdrawn, more anxious, and even more sad. People have begun to comment on how shy I have become. They don't ask why, though. No one asks me if anything is wrong. I stare through the peephole wishing I could open the door to this kid who is five years younger than me. I would be happy to go outside and play. But, today, I can't even do that. 

I hate this door.

Cold Linoleum

My eyes were wide open, but all that surrounded me was darkness. The smell in the air was horrid. It was a mixture of death and defecation. I cloaked myself under my worn and abused blanket. It’s smell was almost equally as rank, but at least it provided some warmth from the cold. It was the only warmth that I was provided with on this cold night in January. If my head poked out for even an instant, the air would bite at the skin on my small face and would leave it stinging. My nose would be left with that burn one gets when she is out in the cold. In fact, that is where you would think I would be... outside. But no, I was indoors.

I heard them scamper again. Another wonderful use for this pink deteriorating blanket.... It provided a semi false sense of security. It separated me from the same space they were in, even though they were right below me. They being the mice. Every night they were a nuisance to me.

I could hear them rummaging through piles of clothes and trash on the floor. In vain, I had tried to stack my clothes on a small shelf so the mice couldn’t reach them. I was already ashamed of my hand me down clothes that fit me awkwardly. Kids were even more cruel when I would wear clothes with holes. I’m sure they thought they were due to carelessness on my part. It was the mice though. They would chew on them to help build their nests. Many times they would urinate on them. I could never get those stains out. I would have to wear the clothes regardless, though.

Night after night they scurried about. Their numbers only increased. One would think I would get use to them, but they still terrified me. I couldn’t see them through the darkness. I could only hear them and sense them getting braver as they would get on the bed. They had become fearless and would even crawl on my pillow. Sometimes I wouldn’t notice if I was fortunate to fall asleep at night. The evidence would be there in the morning. I would find small little black pellets that I now recognized as mouse droppings. They were all over the place, so it didn’t bother me to dust them away with my bare hands. I didn’t ever get much sleep. It may seem silly for me to have been afraid of something so small, but I hated them.

I would have been overwrought with fear in that dark room had I not shared it with my little sister. I was three years her senior, but it was a small reassurance to have another person so close to me in that room. We shared a small full sized bed. We each covered ourselves separately with blankets crocheted from our great grandmother, but we shared the electric blanket. It smelled wretched, but we were so grateful for it. Every breath I took in that house was polluted with some toxic stench, but if I left my face uncovered I would freeze. I had no choice.

I squirmed in discomfort. I felt a familiar burning from refraining to urinate. “Please... please... go away.” I curled in a ball and crossed my legs. Sometimes I would fall asleep, and the urge would go away until morning. In the morning it would be light. If I tried to make it to the bathroom now I would have to wander in darkness across the room to the light switch. I might step on a mouse or the things I hated more than the mice... the roaches. They were fast and didn’t always run from my steps but instead would quickly scurry over my feet. I hated that feeling.

I started to think about the day I would be a teacher. I often thought about who I wanted to be to comfort myself. I could envision myself in front of a classroom of preschoolers. I pictured myself as a twenty something year old woman dressed as a sort of female version of Mr. Rogers in a khaki straight skirt, a tucked in ruffled top, and a blue cardigan.  I wasn’t wearing glasses and had a clear complexion. I was beautiful. The kids loved me, and I loved them. I knew that would be my future. It comforted me.

The ache, however, did not go away. I wasn’t falling asleep even though my mind had wandered far away from this place. I was going to have to make a trip to the bathroom.

“Jessica... Jessica... I have to go to the bathroom.”

Jessica grumbled from me waking her up and reluctantly got up with me. I always woke her up to go with me. I wouldn’t go by myself. We threw back our covers and dived into the darkness feet first. Depending on who was in front, and I imagine I usually had her in front, the other would cling to the back of her sister’s tshirt and slowly creep toward the hallway. We didn’t dare turn our bedroom light or hall light on. That would wake up our mom who would yell from her bed, “What are you kids doing? Turn that damn light off, and go to bed!” I would have to make it safely to the bathroom in order to close the door before turning on the light.

We fumbled through and attempted not to step on anything that would make too much noise. We had small trails dug into the mass of trash, but sometimes we would lose our footing and land on a black trashbag full of styrofoam boxes and cups. The crackle would wake up our mother, so we stepped carefully. Even through the trails one would not be able to see the carpet. It had been a long time since I had seen the carpet, but I knew it was brown.

Finally we made it to the bathroom. This was the scariest room for me. The floor was so cold. It was white linoleum. The pattern on each square was a large “x” framed in with a box. It had crazy textures cut into it which over the years and gotten dingy. I flipped on the switch and shut the door. Jessica waited dutifully in the hallway. The only light she had was from the crack under the door.

Even if I hadn’t been as modest as I was, the two of us couldn’t have fit in the bathroom. The only reason one could see the floor was because the trash and clothes in that room and been piled over enough to be able to shut that door. Privacy, after all, was a priority. As soon as the light came on, I saw them scatter. Big black roaches flew from the tile into the clutter that surrounded the small half moon of clearing. I saw smaller bugs run, although not as quickly, toward the edges. I didn’t know if those small brown bugs were roaches, but I despised them just as much. I waited until all was clear, and then I stepped toward the toilet.

To my right was the bathroom sink. It was surrounded with makeup and coke cans. My mom drank a lot of coke. Every evening she would stop at the Pak A Sak and buy a twelve pack. She would sit in her room all evening smoking cigarettes and drinking coke. The entire time she would be on the phone. I never knew who she spoke to so much. It was probably a variety of people. The coke cans, though... they were stacked in every room towered high. The ones on the top were covered in ash from her cigarettes as they made the most convenient ashtrays.

I looked past the cans to the mirror. I had my glasses on. I always slept with my glasses on because I was scared to take them off. They were huge red framed glasses. Ugly. I hated them. On my mom’s tight budget, however, it was all she could afford. My skin was broken out, and I wished I could tear it apart. My long dark hair hung around my face. It was ratted and oily. Couldn’t I be someone else? Couldn’t I be somewhere else? I started to cry but quickly stopped. Plugged in to the wall of the bathroom was the only thing I liked about the room. I bent down to turn the space heater onto high and let it heat up the back of my legs for a bit. It was the one room that had any heat. Mom hadn't paid the gas bill, so it had been turned off. She couldn't very well have anyone come back in the house to turn it back on, now could she? That tiny black box that was only about ten inches tall was the most highly coveted item in the house.  We’d often lock ourselves in the bathroom sitting in front of it until mom yelled for us to stop playing in the bathroom. I knew I would get in trouble for turning it on high if I forgot to lower it again before I left the bathroom. That was the only way I could ensure that it would be on when I came in before it would shut itself off.

I looked at the toilet. It was grungy, caked in brown. I didn’t want to sit on it. I hovered over it, not letting my bottom touch and finally peed. I kept a close eye on the bugs wandering around me and tried to keep my feet distant from them. I got done and flushed the toilet. The toilet would back up, so in order to flush it we had to plunge it as we did so. The handle didn’t even flush the toilet. I had to pull the wire inside the tank to flush it. I yanked the chain careful not to break it, and the water swirled down. I wondered if that would wake Mom. I grabbed the pink plunger and began plunging as the tissue broke up into small pieces. Finally all of the water and tissue left the toilet briefly, and all you could see was the brown stains on the porcelain. Then new water replaced it.

I glanced over at the tub. A bloated dead mouse had fallen in and met his doom in the bathtub. I was a little sad, but I could do nothing about it. As scared as I was of them, I didn’t want anything to happen to them. Mom always got up earlier than us so that she could be done in the bathroom. She could deal with the dead mouse.

I made my way back to the sink and turned the water on gently. Cold. The water was so terribly cold. I quickly rinsed my hands and dried them on my tshirt. I forgot to turn the heater on low, and I made it back to my sister. She then went inside the bathroom and closed the door.

I was left standing in the dark with no light, except from the crack under the door.