Tower of Dead Wasps
I used to spend a lot of time lying in my bed and thinking about what would happen if I decided to tell people that I wanted to love them. This was my favorite summer activity, the one that kept me going until the days got cold and I reveled in being alone. I would count the dots in my popcorn ceiling and imagine that I was laying next to someone who loved me, then turn my head, rip the hair from my face, and move on.
The kind of moving on that feels like evenings made longer by a whole bottle of wine. Like taking the long way home to hear a song one more time. Like the duck foot–shaped hole ripped from my drywall.
That’s how it all feels.
I wish I could say it as it is instead of how it feels.
How it feels is never good enough.
When I was sixteen I ended up in this hot tub wearing someone else’s clothes. I had been taking shots of Patrón all night because that was my last name and everyone who heard that came up to me and said “Oh God, that’s so cool, that means you have to take shots with me” and they were right.
I think I was stuck drinking a bottle of peppermint schnapps. I think I drank it all.
I’d pieced together that night by reading the texts I’d sent my ex-girlfriend.
“Hey, thinking about you.”
“Hope ur good”
“Lol, is it raining where you are?”
Then a photo of my ass.
“There’s another girl here who makes me think of you.”
“She’s holding my hand.”
“I’m pissing on the grass outside.”
Another photo of my ass, bare this time.
“I lvoe u. may be see u another tim.”
When I got home from that weekend she still kissed me like she meant it. Like there was no space between the distance time made.
I slept on the couch in her basement that summer, the one that didn't have any blankets on it. The one that her dad found out that we were fucking on and told her that we were commiting crimes against sex. The one I fell out of love with her on, just as she was holding a bag of frozen peas against my ever-bleeding nose.
Then, I smoked cigarettes and put them in the ashtray out back, the one that her mother used. When her mom asked whose they were, I told her that her daughter just slept around too much.
I didn’t see her mom again until three years later when I was replacing my router at the Spectrum store. Apparently she had been banned from working at the women's shelter. She used to be the crisis coordinator. She had gotten a divorce.
She told me where to find the Wi-fi password on the sticker.
I said thanks.
And the next time I showed up at their house, I left after I saw how long my ex’s toenails had gotten.
“Where are you going?” she asked me, smelling like flat Pepsi.
“I just can’t be here anymore.”
And my next girlfriend, the one from college, used to make these fucked up sculptures from torn apart Barbie dolls.
She would glue the limbs into frames, onto other toys, on her walls. She said it meant something to her spirit, something about femininity. Something about God.
But I couldn’t see anything in these plastic bits except the remnants of a shared childhood experience. My mom always called her by her full name, Barbie, because she thought it made her more interesting, smarter. She taught me that I could be anything, both my mom and Barbie. Things like an astronaut, or a doctor, or an alcoholic.
Now Barbie was in pieces, just added on wherever the loose parts of her fit.
This was probably what she was actually telling us about what it meant to be a woman, what it took to survive.
That girlfriend, the college one, said that every other word out of my mouth was funny.
I would make these flat puns about dumb shit that didn’t even matter. If I could shove a word into another word, it made her laugh. Every time. We would lay on her carpet, head to head, and I would repeat myself.
It was just this formula I had:
Say something dumb.
Say something serious.
She laughs again.
And there was this one night, before I moved away, where my dad got really drunk. He swung at me. I ducked. He got my chin, a spot on my forehead. Eventually, while he wobbled, I got him onto the ground. I told my mom to call the cops. We moved into a trailer.
I told my girlfriend about this while we eavesdropped on the waitresses behind the Red Robin and she still laughed then, thought it was funny.
“It’s not,” I said.
And we didn’t really talk after that.
I saw her drinking coffee at a bar a few months later and thought about the kind of person who would drink coffee at six in the evening. If I wanted that in my life.
My grandfather came to visit me in my shitty college town apartment. I put him up in my bed for the week while I slept on the living room floor. On the last day, I woke up to pounding outside my door, and there he was, my grandfather, hanging up a bright green tower wasp trap.
“There’s a wasp nest somewhere out here,” he said. “There shouldn’t be.”
It was the middle of summer, there had always been wasps.
They didn’t really bother me much, they were just around. I think they smelled something on me that they didn’t want, something undesirable, and I was okay with that. My roommate had the problem. And my girlfriend. They would get stung once a month, maybe more, and come in crying for a remedy. I never had any, not really. I’d scrape the stingers out with the back of a credit card. I’d make a Mai Tai.
My grandfather brought his own french press with him when he came to stay, made his own coffee in the morning, didn’t like to share.
We would sit on my bed while he drank and he would tell me stories about my childhood.
“You used to put rocks in snowballs,” he said.
“I still do.”
My grandfather was the idea of a good man. He used to be a banker, made a career out of it. Supported a wife and three kids on it, mostly. We’ve all always known poor, like it was a curse rather than something escapable.
When I was little, like really small, he would pick me up by my armpits if I snuck into the garden to eat fresh snap peas.
He would say, “If you eat these now, there will be nothing for the winter.” Then pick one himself and wink.
Once, after this happened, he left me alone out there. He said to be good, said to be smart. But the garden could only satiate me for so long. I burrowed under the fence and walked into the small patch of forest behind their house.
There was a cougar out there, that I knew, but I thought there might be fairies too. Or a hole in the ground to take me somewhere else. Or a guardian angel.
Instead I found nothing but trees and an abandoned bathtub.
I spent hours out there, missed the call home for dinner.
When my mom got off of work, ready to pick me up, they couldn’t find me. I was still out there. I could hear her fighting with my grandparents in the distance so I hid behind the bathtub, not wanting to reap the consequences.
I spent that night in the woods, in the morning they came back with police.
When they found me I was still in tears, branches stuck in my hair.
My mom asked me, “Why did you hide?”
I said, “I was just scared”
The last thing my grandfather asked me before he left was, “When was the last time you loved someone like you meant it?”
And I said, “Today. You.”
And he shook his head, said, “You know what I mean.”
That was the last thing I ever said to him, we put him in the ground a few months later. I guess that was as good a goodbye as any.
My mother couldn’t read the eulogy, made her sister do it. I sat there in my little black dress and wondered what death meant in the long run, why it was so difficult. I thought that everyone should feel death so deeply that it spins them out.
I picked funeral potatoes out of my teeth as everyone expressed their condolences to me.
“You were his favorite,” they said.
“I know it's hard.”
But I just stood there in silence until one of my little cousins, she was maybe only six, brought a brownie in a napkin up to me and said, “I don’t know how to fix this, but these make me happy.”
I found myself drinking a pot of coffee alone in my apartment at three in the morning.
I didn’t have anything to do, I just didn’t want to be asleep.
There was this feeling always scratching at the back of my head that I had to do more, do something, but all I could do was drink coffee straight out of the pot on my kitchen floor.
That next summer came and I was alone.
My roommate was moving out. I was changing jobs. The air always felt still, but wet, the way that sticks to your skin in all the worst places.
This was something that was supposed to feel like change, like something that meant something. One of those small moments between moments when everything felt like it was just on the brink of happening.
But nothing was going to happen.
I thought a lot about the quote that goes “Wherever you go, there you are” and here I was. I used to think that if I went to different places maybe I could outrun me. If I loved different girls, saw different things, eavesdropped on different waitresses, that it would all suddenly feel different, that something suddenly would click.
But my mattress here, or in any basement, or on the side of the road, all felt the same. Like one memory made of a handful, a million.
And I would still lie there and think. About the tower of dead wasps above my door from years ago, how it never would fill because the live wasps would always eat the dead ones. And I would consider the difference between sound and noise.