I started stamp collecting when my grandfather died and left me his collection. The lawyer’s name was Mr. Lud and he smelled like pineapples and every time he walked into the room my mom would bury her head in her purse and I’d hear her say, “Pineapple pansy,” which overall sounded very rude. I don’t think she liked Mr. Lud, mostly because she called him that and she didn’t get the house. Grandfather Lettuce left it to her sister, my aunt, Gladys Lorraine. In my mother’s opinion, Gladys Lorraine shouldn’t have gotten the house because, “She doesn’t have a family, she doesn’t need it like we do.” Gladys Lorraine is nicer than my mom, though, and that is why Grandfather Lettuce had to choose favorites. I hope I was his favorite grandchild. Maybe I was, because he really did love his stamps. I kept collecting them for a while after he died, but then one day a lady named Isabisa came around and threw a bunch of my papers away in what my mother called, “a creative space frenzy” and what my dad called, “a loony attack.” Oh well. I liked Isabisa. She brought the trash can lids.
Trash Can Lids
Isabisa didn’t have a last name, but she brought a huge suitcase that had chili stains all over the top of it and you know, I’ve always found last names to be rather overrated. My own didn’t do me much good, except to confuse my teachers in the first week of school. I’ve always liked chili, too, so I liked Isabisa nolastname and her suitcase. One day my mom walked into my room and she said, “We have a guest staying over in the downstairs room,” and I said alright and she told me to go say hello. Obviously I went, because no one gets away with saying no to my mother. I knew someone who tried. His name was My Dad and he said, “Marriane! I don’t want those curtains!” My mother squirted lemon into his eye (on accident apparently) at dinner and he didn’t argue about the curtains anymore. I didn’t want lemon in my eye at dinner so I went on down and said hey to Isabisa. She had yellow hair and green eyes and she smelled like dirt, but not in a bad way. My mom never called her a pineapple pansy. Isabisa ran away from home because her aunt didn’t like her friend Yvette. “Yvette,” Isabisa told me, “Is the best person I know.”
“Then why doesn’t your aunt like her?”
“Because Yvette told me about the trash can lids.”
I asked her about what the trash can lids were, and instead of telling me she went ahead and showed me. Grandfather was a guy who was always telling me stories. He told me a story for every stamp he had. Isabisa hopped over our basement couch and yanked over the huge suitcase. She unzipped it and grinned and I bit my lip so I wouldn’t tell her that she had a piece of food stuck in her two front teeth. They were gapped and very cute teeth, but not as pretty as the trash cans lids she pulled out of her suitcase.
“These are art. Do you like them?”
They were clang-y and bang-y and more colorful than my mother’s language on a late-to-school-day but yeah, I liked them plenty. I said, “I like them plenty,” out loud to Isabisa and she smiled. “What are they for?” I touched the lid that had a rainbow drawn out in thick Sharpie, smack in the middle of the metal.
Underneath the rainbow, in orange sharpie I could still smell if I focused hard enough now, Isabisa wrote, Yet we are the movers and shakers of the world for ever, it seems. I liked that quote. Isabisa liked it, too. “A very good poet wrote that, you know? We’re all artists, if we think we could be and if we have a story to tell.”
“And what’s your story, Isabisa?” I asked, and picked up another lid, this one with letters in scrawling black marker that made up acronyms I didn’t know the meaning of. They looked interesting, I just didn’t know why they meant anything.
“My story,” Isabisa said, “Isn’t anything but starting.”
I thought about that a lot, especially after Isabisa left for San Francisco with Yvette, the best person she knew. Isabisa left me one of the lids, though, and I kept it in my room on my wall with the three other lids I decorated myself. I missed Isabisa and so did my mother but my father thought it was alright that she’d left because he was tired of her sweeping through the house and throwing everything away in her “creative space frenzies.”
The summer after Isabisa left, I was thirteen years old and I met someone who made me want to take pictures. She was a statue that I found in the park one day, and her right arm had fallen clean off and into a ditchy pile of sludge leaves by the pedestal. I picked up her arm and tried my best to put it back, but once a statue’s snapped, it’s hard to piece back together. I think my mother was like that. One day she snapped and no one, all the king’s horses and all the king’s men included, couldn’t put her back together again. Anyway, the statue was of a girl holding a fish. The fish was crooked and silver and didn’t look very tasty, but the scales were nicely done. I ran to a lady who I knew from church, Miss Fiorella, and asked if I could use her phone camera to take a picture of the girl and the fish and, of course, the broken arm. That picture started the whole cycle and before I knew it, I had a camera of my own. Every weekend I was down at Walgreens and I had a stack of pictures bigger than my whole head. Then I broke my arm running down to the creek with a bunch of guys with Hayden variant names (all the jayden’s and braeden’s and kaeden’s and dayden’s had themselves a club and I think they let me in because I was the only girl who wanted to be within eighteen feet of them) because I slipped on a wet leaf and slid into a rock. Cracked my arm so clean down the middle it would have made a record for broken limbs being so clean cut but there was no such record and it would have been a lousy prize anyway. My mom said her insurance only covered so much and I should be glad that her and dad had good solid jobs to pay for my titchy human needs.
God forbid I have fun.
Heaven forbid I frolick.
Mother forbid I leave the house for the rest of the summer.
I did have a stack of pictures to keep me entertained somewhat, so I guess that was lucky, like my mom and dad and their dang as bang solid jobs.
I baked for a week straight after my dog Jimmy Campbell Soup got hit by a Porsche 911 Carrera that didn’t bother to call 911 at all. They drove straight through the garage door and Jimmy Campbell Soup flew up in the air and died of broken everything. Poor dog. Poor garage door. At least we got cupcakes and pie out of the whole fiasco. I stopped baking after that week because I hated doing the dishes and all I was allowed to cook with was Dead Jimmy’s old dog food.
“Here,” my mom barked, (to make up for the absence of my dog) and then she put a old rattling box down on the dining room table. I said thanks and gave her hand a good shake, then I opened the box and boy, was I delighted. A puzzle! Maybe with this I could finally piece together the mixed up shards of my life, like why my name was Gladys if my mom’s name was Marianne and she hated her sister, and why my dad always ran off to the bedroom when his phone played the bad guy by billie eilish ringtone. This puzzle could be the answer to other life questions, like why Isabisa never wrote letters to me from San Francisco or why I once had a tiny brother named Rimbaud who left with the mailman and didn’t come home.
The puzzle took me three hours. It made a picture of a skinny cat drinking milk. I looked at it one way and then the other and then I stood up on a chair and jumped into the air. But it all looked the same from up there, and I still had no idea why the lamp in my room resembled a clown; honking red nose, shiny black eyes, sixty eight teeth, and a chainsaw that turned on whenever you pulled the fan strings. I guess, if I closed my eyes and sucked my stomach in, I could imagine there was a soft breeze that came with the chainsaw’s incessant whirring.
I turned sixteen. My dad handed me a black box. I opened it. I said, “Aw, guys, you didn’t have to,” thinking the keys inside were car keys, but my parents laughed and laughed and one of the ceramic plates came crashing down and sliced my ear. Well, the keys were for a storage unit that had a small golf cart named Gozo Golfo, but on my way home from the ER I saw a guy under a bridge.
He looked at me and I smiled and he said, “Do you have any cash?”
“No,” I gave him the Gozo Golfo keys, “But you can have my golf cart.”
This guy, this guy. He was so darn thrilled he picked up a guitar and handed it to me through the window of my mom’s minivan. She was not impressed. She reverted back to her name-calling ways and screamed into the steering wheel, but I wasn’t paying attention to her. I had a guitar now. I had music.
I waved goodbye to the bridge guy and he yelled something that sounded like ha-ha suckers into the wind but as the wind often does, his words were carried off and into the blue skies above. When I got home, I showed my dad the guitar and my bandaged ear. He called me a regular little Picasso, but I didn’t have the heart to correct him and tell him Picasso wasn’t an artist, but a painter. I wrote a song called, Eat Me Whole, Love a Cheeseburger Who Wants You to Choke. I performed it for my mother and dad. They didn’t clap, just stared at each other. After a while I asked if they loved it so much they wanted another round, but mother jumped out of her seat and waved her arms in an angry X and hollered, “IF YOU LOVE ME, DON’T SING!”
I loved my mother.
I stopped singing and put the guitar in my closet, but I could never get the tune to my one hit out of my head.
I want you to choke
LOVE A CHEESEBURGER
I want you to die
LOVE A CHEESEBURGER
Go on and eat me whole
LOVE A CHEESEBURGER
Your breath is gonna smell bad
You can’t deny there was something there.
(Just kidding, I never did try yoga. I liked watching the videos because they reminded me of Isabisa and her trash can lids.)
I walked to the cemetery and I climbed up on a gravestone to read poetry to the ghosts, but then a beetle climbed up beside me and I tried to kill him, only to topple off of the gravestone. My head smashed into the corner of the cement block. I time traveled and met Elvis Presley. He said, “Gladys, I didn’t invent rock and roll. That was Chuck Berry and don’t you dare let anyone tell you otherwise.” So when I woke up I told the nurse this. She poked me with another needle and I promise you I time traveled again, to a place in the future where this nurse was wearing a wedding dress and running away in high heels. I told her that, too, and her eyes popped like boba on frozen yogurt when you stab it with the end of your pinky nail. Time travel was nice, but stressful.
My dad was tired of me lounging around on the sofa. Every day school got out and I’d do my homework and then lounge for the remaining daylight hours. He wanted to watch LA Wives, though, so he kicked me to the curb. The curb led me to the convention center. I met a kid named Sparky who had cool hair and another kid named Socks who had a shirt that said, kiss me, i cosplay. I asked what cosplay even was and they both got an evil glint in their eyes before shoving a cloak at me and demanding I throw it over my hoodie and jeans.
“You’re not Gladys anymore.”
“Who am I, then?”
“Biscuit Queen, Queen of the Biscuits.”
I would have gone back, but once I asked my parents if I could go out with Sparky and Socks the next weekend, they said no, because I gave away the keys to my golf cart.
I kicked an old man because he said girls should only wear skirts and he fell over into a box of unshelled peanuts at the grocery store.
The year I left for college
My dad was in a wreck
He flew through the front windshield
And almost broke his neck
My mom finally cried
I didn’t know she had a heart
But the one thing that got her
Was thinking they’d be apart.
She called me up
On her new phone
Asked how I was doing
Now that I was alone
I said fine
But I miss you too
And I said “I love you”
And she said “me too.”
My roommate’s name was Money Stacks. She was studying to be a business major, but had a soap hustle on the side. One day I was making spaghetti and I burnt down the wall between our dorm and the one next to us. She looked at me in disdain and said, “Gladys, let’s find you a new hobby.” She didn’t know about all the ones I had before, so in Money Stack’s head, this was a kind thing to say. A charitable thing, even. No one told me people wouldn’t buy soap if you advertised it as, “chernobyl mobile, the transportable soap guaranteed to make you glow.”
Looking for New Hobbies...