It all comes back so quickly, not just when you step off a plane, but when you simply crack an egg incorrectly. Someone might be eating that shell later and they won’t even know it. Someone’s jacket smells like cigarettes and the glass spins and tips, beer dripping off the table and onto the tip of your toes. The sound of phones with cords that drag from room to room, all around the house and back again. The taste of foods you were never allowed to eat before. Somewhere, deep under my skin, I am still sixteen and I have to look into at least three different mirrors to see the differences between her and me.
Someone somewhere has compiled a list of all the things you’re not supposed to do. You’re not supposed to pick favorites. You’re not supposed to get drunk and call your children. Don’t make a fool of yourself. Don’t cheat or lie. Don’t steal from anybody, especially yourself. You really shouldn’t leave the Christmas lights hung around the house until Spring. The chair goes there. Fold the towels like this. Put the socks behind the couch.
Then, there is the incessant list of objects to fix that will never get fixed. Parts missing. Broken, irreparable things. Unrealistic lists of damages that do not even exist.
But maybe when they were lying in bed, picturing stars on the ceiling, they decided what I would be like. Maybe my hair was lighter and my eyes were green. I would be tall and thin and tap dance around the house and not just in the basement. If I stepped on glass, I would never bleed. My teeth would be white and straight. I would win prizes and cure diseases. We would all have too much money and buy each other fast cars and silk pajamas.
I won a prize in the third grade. It was a book about a moose with mood swings. This was the only time I have won anything in my entire life. At school, I always raised my hand. I always knew answers. I sang louder than anyone else and laughed at all my own jokes. At home, I was nervous to let words fall out of my mouth. I could not be alone without throwing up. I sang in the closet, behind the umbrellas and the box of winter gloves.
So when I am disappointed, I remember that maybe they are disappointed too. The banging of pots and pans in the morning is her first husband. An untied shoe is the first time he tasted whiskey on his lips. Maybe she has to look into six mirrors to understand that she is not the same person who said the words she used to say. That her feelings don’t have to stay the same, no matter what other people feel and no matter how much it hurts someone else to see that people are not at all what they are supposed to be. Maybe he cries when he parks in the parking lot. Maybe he fears that asking questions will be more embarrassing than the answers he refuses to hear anyway.
Disappointment is not the worst feeling. The worst feeling is not letting go. The worst feeling is building up ideas and frantically holding onto those ideas; using all your strength to hold it together, when you could just use it to swim to the other side.
What we have expected in each other is impossible to attain. If I tried their path, my pants would be too small and my lips and teeth would be purple from drinking too much wine. If they understood me better, then I wouldn’t exist.
Bitter resentment. Never apologizing. Saying you can’t do something because no one ever taught you how. Pretending that you know the answer.
We could all be strangers, but we’re not. Maybe none of us had a say. When I don’t know where I am, I ask for directions. If my car gets too dirty, I wash it. I use an electric toothbrush. I don’t go to church. I find the matching socks immediately. I eat ice cream behind your back. I wear sandals in the rain. I make eggs that are not scrambled. Sometimes, I put sugar in my coffee. I cry when I am hurt. I shave my legs above the knee. When I tell a lie, I admit the truth within minutes. When I need help, I make a phone call. I walk alone in the dark in safe neighborhoods.
And I swim and I swim and I swim.
Katie McMahon is a lady who lives in the North Hollywood area. She has a bachelor's degree that she keeps on her bookcase and looks at sometimes. She is getting a master's degree to put on her nightstand. Sometimes she takes pictures which you can look at here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/katiemcmahon/sets, but you don't have to if you're busy right now.