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1 essay

by Ariél M. Martinez

Ariél M. Martinez (she/her) is a queer femme writer from San Antonio, Texas. She is currently an MFA candidate at Bennington College, where she is studying creative nonfiction. She lives on the East Coast with her dog, Frida.

If I Kept a Diary

          My mother asks me if I want to come there. There being their house in the Bay with its skylights and big backyard and lemon trees. I’ve been squeezing a fifth of lemon into my tea every day, along with turmeric and ginger and cayenne and honey along with the 1000 mg of Vitamin C I’ve been swallowing while standing barefoot at the kitchen sink. I say I can’t. We both know this but she asks anyway.

*

          The plates that we eat off of every day are smooth and slate colored, like a stone rubbed smooth by a river. When I wash the plates in the sink, I feel like I’m scrubbing orbs, the green sponge removing the crumb or yolk residue to reveal again the perfect, untarnished circles.

*

          I take two walks in the span of fifteen minutes. One is to take my dog around the block. Next to the park, an ambulance is stopped, a block from our apartment. A man stretches his body into the shape of a C in the park. A woman talks on the phone, seated on a bench. Both are maskless. I bring my dog back to the apartment and hear another siren wail outside. I go across the street to buy toilet paper from the bodega. An old man gets it down for me with that claw thing that reminds me of my elderly lesbian aunts who are three neighborhoods away and both under five foot three. I pay for my toilet paper and the man and I make eye contact. He says be safe and I say you too as he hands me my blue credit card back with gloved hands. I mean it and I can tell that he does, too. I bring the toilet paper into the apartment and I pee and wash my hands and sit on the couch. Outside, a baby and another siren wail simultaneously, a perverse duet of life and death. Both noises echo into the quiet of Brooklyn, different sounds both fueled by lungs. I look out the window and see a man pacing on his roof. The air feels safer higher up.

*

          I find myself craving a thunderstorm. Whenever it starts to drizzle and I hear the pitter patter of water against my window I want to turn the volume up on it, twisting the knob to the right to amplify the sound, like I did with my record player back when it was working. Today, it finally happened. I sat on the couch, my left foot tucked under my right thigh in a pair of vintage jeans that I bought in Phoenix earlier this year, when I heard the airborne clap reverberating over the clay-like brick of brownstones visible from my window. The thunder tunneled down from my ear drums to my heart and I felt an aftershock of the huge sound in my rib cage and smiled. It felt like the first good news in weeks.

*

          My friend told me that they were going to start testing antibodies to see who could go back to work in Italy and I said hm, that’s good like that wasn’t fucking insane and straight out of a shitty science fiction novel that I’d never read.

*

          Every time one of us goes to the grocery store (usually not me), we always get eggs, avocados, kale, lemons and cookie dough. The cookie dough is almost never in stock. It seems that everyone in Brooklyn wants to put something sweet into their body, including me. I don’t even usually have a sweet tooth.

*

          The moon was as big as it will be this year and looked orange, like it was lit up by one of those mirrors with lights installed in it so that you can see exactly how big your pores are and just how many extra hairs live under your eyebrow arches. I tried to take a picture of her, the moon, as she hung against the purplish blue hue of the early evening sky but she looks so small in all of the photos I took. The moon, like many girls who spend hours in front of those mirrors that make you look your worst, doesn’t want her picture taken.

*

 

          My dog peed on the white fluffy rug from Ikea last night, even though it was folded in half to prevent this exact situation from occurring. I woke up to A shirtless and muttering what the fuck and I asked what and they said, understandably frustrated, she peed on the rug again! And I said was it folded? and they said yes! Before whisking off the rug to the sink. When they came back in the room, I said I think we need to replace the rug and they said no, she needs not to pee on it and I said then we need an enzyme cleaner and then they said what’s that. Once they stormed out of the room for the morning with their laptop, (after bringing me a cup of coffee), it was just me and my delinquent dog in the bed. She either didn’t know or didn’t care about the commotion she caused with her bladder and went right back to sleep. She laid on her side next to me and the tufts of her long black ear hair blew in the wind of the fan and I watched the bare mauve folds of her belly move in tiny waves with her breath. I put my mouth in the ruffled fur of her neck, feeling the softness of her hair against my lips. You’re a bad wombat, I tell her, authoritatively, in a whisper. But I love you.

*

          I went into the storage closet to get another roll of paper towels and saw a pair of red patent leather boots that I used to wear constantly. They’re shiny and in your face and have a chunky two-inch heel that thwacks against the sidewalk loudly. Or maybe that’s just how I walk(ed). I got them on sale online for $30. Looking at them hanging there, bright and radiant as ever, was like looking at a relic of myself. I smiled at them, like I smile at old photos sometimes and thought hm, I miss her before shutting the closet door and padding back to the kitchen in socks.

*

          A friend of mine who is younger than me texted me at 6:50 in the morning that her ex killed himself last weekend. (Ex isn’t quite accurate but some relationships and intimacies are outside of the language that we have to relate to one another.) He shot himself on a Friday night, hours after they got off the phone. His parents got in touch with her to let her know. I want to give her a hug and bring her food and wine and flowers but I can’t so I send her a digital gift card to Seamless instead. When she calls me back later that day, she tells me that she used it to order a loaf of sourdough, a flourless chocolate cake and a large iced coffee. When she tells me this, I laugh and she does too. Flourless chocolate cake. I wish I could break bread with her in her little perfectly decorated apartment with its vintage glassware and stacks of books and hung thrifted dresses but instead I’ll break my own heart thinking about how broken hers must be. No one should die of anything at 22.

*

          My father has sent me three texts and one email all with the same contents. The subject, or text, is “Super Mooon”, misspelled just like that, and is accompanied with a two second silent video of the huge, impossibly round moon against a blue sky that borders on violet. On some days, he is losing his mind as well as the function of his body. Within hours of the texts and email, my mother posts a photo on Instagram of the same moon with the caption “Goodnight Moon” and I send her a text poking fun at her for turning into my father. She replies that she took the photo while taking the trash out to get out of the house.

*

 

          Sometimes when the sun is out and the heat is coming through the windows, I take all of my clothes off and lie on top of the grey cotton duvet cover pretending I’m on the beach. If the neighbors can see me, I don’t care. Some of us need excitement just as much as we need sunlight. I’m not sure if I’m talking about myself or my neighbors.

*

          My friend asks me to send a voice memo of me telling a story that they love. It’s about the time in college when two friends and I signed up for a jazz vocal workshop class. The teacher was a very zany white woman named Peg who signed all of her emails “Peace, Peg”. We went to the first day of class anticipating that we’d just introduce ourselves, look at the syllabus and leave early. But Peg made us get in a circle. She put on instrumental jazz music and got in the middle of us and started be-bop-ing up a melodic storm with a lot of oomph and zest. At one point, her eyes were closed and she clutched her elbows, rocking back and forth, earnestly belting you ain’t nothin but a hound dog. The words vibrated through the air, carried on the shoulders of her wobbling soprano. She then opened her eyes, the spell broken, and cried your turn! And then each of us had to improv a verse about what we did that day. My friend Jane, who told me later that the sheer memory of the day made her want to evaporate, sang about making eggs that morning and I could tell by the look in her eyes that she’d left her body. Our other friend Helen counted down from four in hers and ended it with “wow!” which made me audibly laugh and then I had to go and I missed my cue. I truly don’t know what came out of my mouth, I just remember making eye contact with Peg and the intensity of her blue eyes locking into mine, like she was a wolf and her prey was my ability to boop and bop. Writing this out is making me sweat, eight years later. None of us returned.

*

          What’s the point of living in New York if you can’t even get a bagel?

*

          I get a message from the ‘isolation pod’ group text thread that consists of me, A and our roommate, Fran: do we need anything from the grocery store? I type back with my right thumb, polish chipping, if they’re out of cookie dough, oreos?? Then Oreos appear in the apartment. I wipe down all of the grocery items from the tote bags they ride home in with lemon scented 409 multi surface disinfecting spray and Fran tells me that it kind of looks like I might just be spreading the germs... around? which illuminates a whole new anxiety I never had considered. Regardless, I touch everything with a damp and bleachy paper towel. Later in the day, I open up the Oreos and eat many all at once. Eat is too polite, really. More accurately, while tossing them down the void of my gullet, I think I should make these then wonder wait, how the fuck do you even make oreos? I text my mother guess who is PMSing and just ate 4 oreos and she replies Lol. Guess who ate an entire box of cauliflower cheezits last night? And I say “Cauliflower cheezits” are very different than Oreos FYI.

*

          I washed my clothes in the bathtub today, something I’ve never done before. All of the laundromats nearby are closed and we don’t have a washer. I stomped on them with bare, sudsy feet like I was mashing grapes into what would eventually become wine. Then I wrung and wrung and wrung and wrung until no more water dripped from the porous cloth. I hung them (four T-shirts, one tank top, one sports bra, eight pairs of underwear and three pairs of leggings) on a white plastic drying rack that A just happened to have in the storage closet. I also washed my favorite cobalt blue wool blend sweater and then read the label after it was already sopping wet, which said to dry clean only. When I went to Seoul, I stayed in a friend’s apartment which had a washer but no dryer. After you washed your clothes, you’d lay them down flat on the floor to dry, which was heated. I guess I didn’t wring enough times because my poor sweater is still laying tiny egg droplets onto the cold, wooden floor.

*

          After we had sex, they fell asleep and I read a book of poetry. I realize that I am insufferable.

*

          Whenever I give my dog a bath, she stands completely still in the bathtub looking straight ahead, as if she cannot believe that this is happening to her. While the faucet is on, she remains immobile, her freckled Grinch paws planted on the porcelain, as I pour warm water over her tiny spine, down her neck, and across her tail, cooing to her that she’s such a good girl. I avoid her face and butterfly ears, even though behind them is where her fur gets so knotted that sometimes I have to snip her tangles away with scissors. Once the suds are rinsed off, I lift her 9.4-pound body out of the tub with an old towel, wrapping her up like a baby in a swaddle, her tiny olive nose giving her away. When I put her down, doing one last squeeze with the towel, she emerges rejuvenated. She runs throughout the apartment, tackling Fran’s kitty, her tiny nails tap dancing on the hardwood floor. When she starts to dry, her long hair puffs around her, making her look like a huge raccoon. She remains bushy for about six hours until her long, black hair starts to smooth back out. A friend told me once that my dog is so soft, she probably feels like what a Kardashian must feel like. But after the bath, she looks like a cheap Elvis wig that got stuffed in the back of a closet, sort of crimped and asymmetrical but jetblack and full. She is perfect.

*

          We basically lived together before this and most of the time, I feel grateful to be socially isolating with my partner but today their alarm went off six times on a Sunday, starting at 8:30 am.

*

          I call my father back and say hi Dad, you called? And he says hey kid. I don’t think he meant to call me. He does this sometimes, including at three in the morning. His thick thumbs must slip as he endlessly paws at his phone. Every time I see his name as a missed call on my phone in red, I feel my heart beat in fast forward, whirring like a VCR tape in my ribs. He sounds sleepy. What’re you up to? I ask him. Just deciding if I should get up, he replies. I quickly calculate the time difference; it’s almost noon in California. Tough decision, huh? I tease. We keep chatting, not quite small talk but close. Until: Dad. How are you feeling? He says he just feels tired all of the time, it’s hard for me to stay awake and watch TV even. I ask him if it feels any better or worse than it has before and he says hm. He pauses. I guess a bit worse because I’m so tired. I ask how his pain level is. He says it’s high. The current chemotherapy treatment that he’s doing causes his joints to stiffen which makes his arthritis worse. Well, would you consider stopping the treatment if it keeps elevating your pain level? I’m staring at my feet, sitting cross legged on my bed. Well, if I stop taking it I’ll die, he replies. We are both silent. That’s a pretty shitty choice, huh, I say. I try to make light of the situation. He chuckles. I want to say don’t you dare fucking die while I’m stuck here! He sounds so, so tired. I know that once we get off the phone, he’ll be back asleep in minutes, a taupe-colored pillow laying flat over his head.

*

          We realized, last night, that it might not be true that the cookie dough is always out of stock. It’s that A doesn’t know where to look for it.

*

          On Easter, my mother posts a photo on Instagram of her silver Great Dane, Baloo, looking worried in front of a human in an Easter bunny suit that looks like one of those college mascots. His eyes search beyond the frame frantically and his tongue hangs out in an anxious pant. The big bunny crouches above him, big white cartoon paws resting on Baloo’s haunches. I DM it to a close friend and say doesn’t it kinda look like Baloo is getting fucked from behind? My friend responds that he almost spits out his tea. Later, I say uh Mom that photo you posted of Baloo looks kind of sexual and we’re both laughing and laughing until she says oh, poor Baloo.

*

          When A makes pancakes, they whip the egg whites for so long that they turn into edible clouds contained in a plastic bowl. Isn’t it wild that eggs can do that? they say, dipping the bowl containing the marshmallow looking ingredients at me, so that I can see. It is. Once made, the pancakes are tan and fluffy, and stack on top of each other like they’re building a ladder towards the ceiling. We eat them with syrup from Vermont that my aunt bought me when I took the train to Wilmington to see her for her 80th birthday. We drove in her Subaru to a family-owned syrup store, more like a shack, really, where we took what we wanted, wrote it down with a Bic ballpoint pen and left the money in a locked box. My aunt was surprised by the new addition of the lock. I guess something bad must have happened! she exclaimed, shaking her wise, salt and pepper head.

*

          Every time I wash my hands, I sing the chorus of Jolene in my head because I saw on Twitter that the chorus is twenty seconds long, which is how long you’re supposed to do it for. When I saw Dolly Parton perform at an amphitheater in Philadelphia, I wore a pink silk dress that went down to my ankles. I went with my ex-girlfriend and her mother and the audience was almost entirely made up of people with AARP memberships or homosexuals. When Dolly came out on stage, I cried. She wore a bedazzled pantsuit that was completely covered in glittering rhinestones. There must have been thousands of reflecting stars, whole constellations really, covering her five-foot frame. Under the bright bulbs of the stage, she was so shimmery that she looked like an ethereal beam of white light, crooning into the microphone and giggling at her own jokes. In person, her soprano sounded like geraniums blooming on the side of a mountain in Tennessee. If there are angels on earth, I know I saw one that night in Pennsylvania.

 

*

          I talk to a good friend who is socially isolating alone in Portland and they ask how I’m doing and I say that I’m still healthy and have a paycheck, so I'm trying to stay positive. Not only have they just been laid off, but the windshield to their car broke and their carbon monoxide alarm went off in their apartment, all in the same week. They tell me that’s right girl, you’re getting laid and getting paid, can’t complain! Perspective.

*

          I rub off the chipping red polish and round my nails out to an oval shape with a file. I coat them in gold glittering nail polish that’s dense and shimmery, admiring how it glints in the sun. I like to tell time by the chips of the polish, the revealing of the moons underneath.

*

          There was a tornado warning for a few hours yesterday. Selfishly, I was thrilled that the sky sounded like it was cracking its back, huge vertebrae twisting one by one. The rain pounded against the window for an hour or so and then the sun came out and with it brought clouds so perfect they looked fake. They looked like the kinds of fluffy clouds that you usually only see from an airplane window, but there they were visible from the couch and I kept saying wow! Look at the clouds! But no one seemed as moved by them as me.

*

          My mother keeps calling me, frustrated that my father’s body is doing something that results in her having to do more laundry. I never anticipated his body to fail him in this particular way. How many ways must my father’s body break before he does?

*

          When Britney Spears said very casually that she accidentally burned her gym down (with two candles) on Instagram, it made me wonder what kind of thing I would be capable of confessing on social media. I used to post a lot more on there, about myself and my body and the dumb shit I was doing. I was also younger and drunker and used to being a mess. Now, I mostly post my dog.

*

          I miss sticky bars with watery cheap beers and pathetic, limp pieces of yellowing lime and shots that burn your throat and licking salt off your hands without washing them first and taking off your sweater cause you get hot and not even caring that you’re wearing a see through tank top that everyone can definitely see your tits through and running into people that you forgot about and yelping a greeting before making plans that you’ll never follow up with and crumbling in a taxi at 2 am or maybe 3 when you’re tipsy and your voice is hoarse from smoking a cigarette outside that you lit with a stranger’s lighter and eating a bagel from the 24-hour spot on the corner that you pay for with a $20 bill then stuff the change into your coat and the next day on the subway you feel something papery in your pocket and you reach in blindly and pull out some wads of ones and maybe a photo booth strip of you and your friends crammed into a tiny box laughing, making sublimely stupid faces captured, archived in gradiant chemicals on a tiny strip of paper that you forgot about and you look at it and smile and give a dollar to a teenager break dancing maybe or to the full Mariachi band that sometimes you see on the G; what I’m trying to say is that is I miss the recklessness, the joy, how time moves when you’ve been swept up by the beauty of a dive bar.

*

          The other night, I spent an hour and a half laboring over salted chocolate chunk shortbread cookies until they came out of the oven and I remembered that I don’t even like shortbread.

*

          I schedule an online interview for something a teaching opportunity that I really want on an ex-girlfriend’s birthday. When it’s time for the interview, my WiFi goes out, I try to enter the Google Hangout with the incorrect email and my phone doesn’t ring when they try to call me. I didn’t break up with her particularly kindly. Perhaps I deserved this.

*

          In the afternoon, I sifted through old photographs and found it alarming how much my father has physically transformed into his father. It’s like he has moved into the very same shell of a body that his father exited in 1998. Then, sometimes when I glance down at my hands, I see my mother’s jutting out from the ends of my wrists.

*

          Do we need anything from the grocery store?

          What should we watch?

          Wait, have you seen that already?

          I’ve heard that’s good

          How was your day?

          Are you hungry?

          What are we thinking for dinner?

          Do you want an egg?

          I opened a bottle of wine

          Can I have a beer?

          Are we out of beer?

          Are you making that tequila one?

          Can you make me one?

          Do we need anything else from the bodega?

          The mail came

          [yelling at one of the animals who did something bad]

          Do you want to play a round [of video games, of cards]?

          Does anyone need to use the bathroom before I shower?

          Are you on a call?

          Are you on video?

          How is [friend’s name] doing?

          I’ll venmo you for ________

          Will you venmo me for ________?

          Thank you

          Thank you

          Thank you

          Goodnight