She was tired. I could tell by her drooping mouth and the careless slinging of shoes there was no love in the house tonight. It didn’t matter. It didn’t matter to me. I was strong, I was smart, I had my own room and my own radio and I didn’t need her to talk to me, to care, to smile. I didn’t need her. I didn’t need anyone.
The lighter cracked and a plume of stench wafted across the room; the smell of a burning leaf riding on her snort, “I see you didn’t get the dishes washed. And the living room is a mess. What did you do all day?” I muttered some inconsequential nothing and turned to go to my room. But it never was that simple. “Don’t turn your back on me when I’m talking to you!” Her voice already slurring under the weight of cheap scotch, she simmered in that special place between outright hatred and resentment. I always knew where I stood in her world, though she was careful never to actually say.
I remember feeling angry; that I couldn’t have her smile, that her eyes were always bleak and empty when she looked at me. I remember thinking I hated her, that I hated myself for not being someone she could love. I remember feeling grimly satisfied to walk through the mess that was our apartment rather than give her the satisfaction of hating me and having a clean home. I didn’t feel clean. I felt dirty. I felt trashy and unkempt; useless and moot. What good is a clean house when you’re all dirty on the inside?
The stranger on the bench in the kitchen looked distinctly uncomfortable. He didn’t know the ritual, wasn’t certain how he was supposed to respond. I remember stepping outside myself and not quite laughing to know this was her pitiful attempt to show how normal she was… to the faceless ‘him’ that was there for the night, to me, to the world. No one was ever fooled.
I turned back to the pair of faces peering from the bench and table, “I didn’t have a chance to clean up, Mom. By the time I got home from the grocery store, walked the laundry up and back, and put that away, I was tired.” I didn’t tell her that I was tired of living. It seemed to me that would have been some kind of victory for her. I didn’t tell her that Denise and Bobby, George and Cindy and Cathy were gone to see movies and I was stuck at home… again… as usual. I didn’t tell her that I was tired of trying to keep Teresa from tearing the house up. I didn’t tell her I was smoking the butts she left in the ashtrays. Let her think I cleaned them out. I didn’t care.
I didn’t care about anything. I was proud not to care; I stood harsh and angular and all screaming to the world, ‘See? I don’t care! Laugh if you want to… poke your fun, tell me how stupid I am, how ugly, how pointless and irrelevant. Tell me I’m nothing, no one, I don’t count, you wish I’d never been born. Tell me how pointless my existance is. Tell me how much trouble I am for you; you and all the men whose eyes slide over me when you’re not looking. Go ahead! Yell if you want. I don’t mind seeing the hate in your eyes because you can never hate me as much as I hate myself for not being someone who can make those eyes soften. I’m tougher than you. I’m tougher than you and I don’t care. See? I don’t care!’
“I’m sorry, Mom. I’ll do it now.” The little charade played out in the smoky room with its peeling papers, its rancid walls, and the dark, hooded eyes of that man sliding to and from me. She nodded and managed to look a little softer as she turned to him, “I can’t do anything with her. But she’s a good kid.” The man would nod and smile… and look out the window to wonder how long it would be until they could go to bed.
I knew my cue. Turning into the hallway, I go silently to my room and lock the door behind me. The last man came to visit me during the night. I often heard the door rattle, but the lock kept them out. I lit another butt from my stash near the windowpane and looked out to the stars… wondering how it would be to live in the sky; where everything was clean and there were no doors. No scotch. No men gently jiggling the handle during the night.
Later, when the creaks and moans were done… when the light bled under my doorway and the sink spat rust to make the slime go away…. later… after the handle would jangle ever so slightly and he would walk down the hallway and out the door…. later, I would lay in my bed and think great and terrible thoughts of nothingness until the curtain of sleep could fall.