By Julie Gard
Click here to see content warnings
Mentions of (potential) previous suicide, mentions of health issues, familial issues
In my mind I have stored up secrets to save the world. They are everything I have learned in nineteen years of living, everything I know. I patch them together like you would a jumble of old circuits to make something electricity flows through. Disorder becomes order in the larger, in the endless scheme of things. Time moves in multiple directions, looping around and back onto itself until things fall together as well as fall apart. You might picture a video of a glass dropped and shattered played backwards so the glass becomes whole. You might think of my mother touching old pictures or calling after my father every time she hears the door slam. / The other students at the technical college think in concrete terms as if that is thinking. They can’t even sense their own blood moving beneath the skin. In Design 108 they make two-dimensional pictures, flat ads, not even conscious of what the program can do. The girls use the endless color set to paint big made-up eyes; the guys fit in cherry-tipped boobs for any kind of ad. They sell VW Bugs, Porsches, lipstick, embroidered jeans, fast food, Paris vacations, IMAC computers, candy bars, and Mountain Dew. My pictures aren’t human, they are shapes making up rooms. It's an ad class but I advertise only the meaning of things. I will let people traverse into cubes of dark and light and close and open doors. In infinity, chaos is order. I let my mind go there. Carl understands. His black hair hangs over sunglasses so that his face is indecipherable. He didn’t talk at all for the first two weeks. What the hell are you doing? he finally said to me. Take a look, I replied. We work next to each other now. I like his sketches of gaping black holes and the occasional, unexpected star. Carl, too, refuses to sell. / The alarm clock says 3:02 and I can see it from here on my computer if I squint. I woke up at 2:48 sweating through my T-shirt, a faded blue one from Valley Fair Amusement Park. I have this computer but it’s an old one, the internet glitches in and out, it’s all we could afford. Most importantly, I can write papers on it and things like this. As I type, dark letters march. In between these words that make sense I like to type capital letters that don’t spell and say anything and appear like tiny people, R’s falling and C’s sleeping. I delete the nonsense letters. I type them into existence and I erase them from it, though the screen holds their memory. I spend most of my life in this room. It is cold where we live so much of the year and I hate the cold. I would move away except for my mother who needs me, and the fact of money. Someday I may have enough money and perhaps I will take my mother with me southwest. Though she gets her health care here, her doctors are here, forget it, here I am. / I take another swig from my bottle of cheap cola. My body is tired and my brain too except for one corner, the attic of it that the caffeine keeps alive and the sugar too. I will keep bad dreams away by not going back to bed and thinking thoughts that curve and shift and loop around. It isn’t accurate how they fit on this screen in a long box. This is not how my brain works and it’s not how my thoughts work. Once I am brave enough and have the extra money I will buy poster board and start writing them that way, as diagrams that take over my room, in the cherry permanent marker that makes you feel drunk. MY MOTHER, I will write in red block capitals, then CARL, EVIE, THE PRESIDENT. Carl because it’s good to talk during graphic design and I almost consider him a friend. Evie because she went to the board to diagram a sentence yesterday in comp class and glowed in the light from our one window. The president I think of because of a talk with Carl where we saw eye to eye about the fool who is in charge but won’t be forever. The still-bare tree branches are throwing skinny moving shadows on my wall. I feel like I’m hiding in the trees and in the dark, like I’m in a jungle and not in a room. / This writing is the first draft of no assignment at all, the one where I say everything at once. Not organized as to the main idea and such. I know from my comp teacher that I have a wide vocabulary but don’t organize my thoughts well. If I wanted to, I could get online and write to a real person now instead of typing alone to myself in the dark like a wolf howling at a slice of moon. Now that is a sad cry. But I am trying to find something for myself in all of this writing. I dance around it, stomp around on it and beat it down. It is occurring to me that this writing is a letter, perhaps to someone I haven’t met yet or maybe to Evie, to the part of her that could fall in love with me. / My sweat is drying and my heartbeat feels more normal at my throat. I never can remember what was chasing me in my dreams though I know I’ve been running as fast as I can all night. In the middle of the night a passing car sounds like a tide pulled in and out by the moon. In the night my fingers are stubby and blurred through my tired eyes and green-tinged from the computer screen and red-infiltrated from my lamp the color of the human heart pumping blood. I know how it makes my window look from the outside, a warning and beacon. Someone out there will notice that I’m up, out there on the other side. A vampire would be drawn to this color, someone needy and violent. Now I’m thinking of my father, who took one clean dive into a lake that had a bottom. You can see it in the pictures of my mother and I, that we were not enough to keep him on earth. We are damp in August in our matching purple dresses. I was never meant for a dress. My mother thinks she disappointed my father and that’s a part of what makes her crazy, even after all these years. I know I will never disappoint a man like that because when I dream of my future life, an apartment and someone to share it, it’s a woman or no one else. There is no one to tell how I dream. / I can’t find my ideas to save the world, not in my head, not in old files. Some nights that’s all I think about. Tonight I can’t remember them at all. That requires compassion, to make big plans for saving people, and tonight I have to let them die. Because of sandwiches, bologna. Mom makes them for lunch, always more than she can eat. When I came home from school, bus, transfer, bus, she was there in the kitchen making sandwich after sandwich, a wobbly stack of bread and meat. For you too, she said, trying to cover that there were too many. For you. She is always still in her bathrobe. I am our only hope. / Evie looked at me today, in the eyes. She sat across from me in the atrium during lunch, I’m not saying on purpose, it probably just happened that way. She doesn’t seem to have all the trouble I do. Her spirit is lighter, not just her hair. She wanted to talk about what we’re writing our essays on. She wanted to talk about other things, too, but I honestly didn’t tell her that much. I wanted to, but my mouth froze around the bologna sandwich. The whole time, it was like she was talking and I wasn’t. It was like she left spaces for me to talk, but I left them empty. I’m the biggest fool. I can’t talk or hardly eat, not in front of Evie. She filled the space for a while with her plan for the nursing program, and what it’s like to draw blood. She is already a phlebotomist. She asked if she was making me woozy and laughed. When she laughs, she tosses her head back just a little. Then she let the air go silent for a while. “What are you thinking, Rae?” And her saying my name, the name my mother gave me and my father liked too, the name I’d never even told her, but of course we’re in class together. And I thought, someday soon I will say her name to her, not just think it here in my room. Her name is a string of vowels that is like a string of lights when I say it over and over. / Before bologna, it was toast with Safeway apricot jam. My mother ate neat squares of toast for breakfast all fall. Once the bread was buttered, jammed and eaten, she stepped out onto our balcony. She watched me get on the bus to college and I watched her stand there, hands clutching onto the rail, a stretch of pale skin where her robe had fallen open. / The typing, the click and clack of my fingers and the way the words extend down the page through my tiredness. I type harder and harder, as firmly as possible. At work I do not move my fingers only, but my whole body, moving boxes through a basement with no windows and florescent light and a temperature the same through all seasons, I have been there now through all seasons. I have been in college for just two seasons, fall turned into winter, and now it’s the start of spring. Hence my window is open, though it’s really too cold. If my mother’s window was open, I would shut it for her. It could make her sick, and I would tell her in a nice way, making sure she understood. I am stronger than the woman who bore me. And when I think that it overtakes me, this bad color of red, I am not calmed even by trees. Not by Jimi Hendrix and his best guitar riff, not even by the calm of my own things, see, here I am with myself. It is always about being in a world where there isn’t understanding. From a high school where there is no understanding to college with the same kind of people who wouldn’t even see a nuclear warhead coming at them through the clear sky of a morning commute, not even a meteorite, an unlucky fall from heaven. They are blind to portents. / This morning I went with my mother to her appointment on the bus. The doctor wrote a new prescription and we filled it on the way home. She clutched the bottle of pills in her coat pocket and our suburb rolled by. If my mother ever dies I’m not sure what I’ll do. I would have freedom, yes, I could go southwest, I could live on the edge of the desert and be filled with emptiness. But I don’t know if I could live with that freedom, without my mother. I just have to calm down. I have to breathe, because someone must hold things together. / Hi Evie, I said when I walked into comp class yesterday. Karl gave me a look when I sat down, and his smile looked like a smirk, but I knew what it was. I have to go back and replace letters because the R sticks. Karl is Kal the first time. Have to press hard, can’t go so fast, no spell check will be so much work if I want this presentable. My printer is broken. And so these words will be stuck in a green black world and my thoughts will be frozen in a tiny chip once I turn the computer off. Now I will go help with breakfast, which I can hear my mother starting in the kitchen at this ungodly hour of five a.m., the crash as she takes the frying pan out from under the sink and the soup pot falls to the floor. / Sometimes I look in the mirror and I know I’m going to crack. But I can’t be how my mom is or there’d be no one to see us through. And then sometimes the burden is lightened. It can happen when I stand at my window. When the branches move just a little in the wind, and I know it doesn’t matter if my father hit the bottom hard on purpose or not because for any of us it could happen either way. Then my mind goes right to imagining standing at this same window with Evie lying behind me on my bed, asleep in the morning. I think she is like I am, though far too beautiful to dream of me. / Today after getting home from the appointment, my mother and I fought. Then there was silence in our apartment and I walked quietly away from the fight and into my room, where the shade was up and so light fell blindingly on my unmade bed, and I noticed everything that had been going on outside while I’ve been in the dim corridors of school and the basement of work and here in our apartment at night, not hardly looking out at the trees in the dark. There they were in the light, that new baby green that always comes so late that you’re already aching because we’re so far north. There those trees are now, with their invisible-in-the-dark buds. You are my child, my mother said to me today. I am not your child. She said this when I suggested that she take a shower because she didn’t in the morning. We’re adults in this house, she said. Who pays the bills? I demanded. Who gets dressed in the morning? You are my child! she yelled. Go to your room. And so I did. And I haven’t come out, I’ve just been sleeping then waking up and writing, subsisting on warm pop and the chips at the bottom of the bag. / I didn’t want to stop working at the end of graphic design today. I want to keep working now. The rooms are in my head, leading into each other, this constant series of box into box, and as you move through what I am making click by click, you feel your own body passing through. I’m completely frustrated, red anger rising, that this is all I have, this helpless old piece of plastic that holds words and shapes and colors and not what is true. In the dark I am forgetting my secrets, but somehow they come back. It’s like they remember me. / You remind me of someone, Evie said at lunch. That’s how you are, she said. Familiar. You know what that means, I said, and she raised her eyebrows. I’m getting better at swallowing my sandwich. Milk helps. Past life, I said, and she laughed and then stopped. She looked down, which she never does. You should visit me at work sometime, when I’m on a break. Now as I type, I picture the big front window of the plasma center and leaning against the glass in the start of spring, next to Evie in her bright blue coat. There is so much daylight, and she’s at an angle next to me, like the world is turning. / When I think logically of what needs to happen the President is done away with harshly, to make room for something better, but in my dreams I take his hand. When the final explosion comes we go up together, and I know in my dream that when the smoke clears too much has been destroyed, things we need for starting over. He is in my rooms too, everyone is, when I move through them long enough I see everyone there. I see my mom on a good day, which was yesterday. She heated up chicken noodle soup and we ate it together. She had put those tiny first flowers, snowdrops, in a teacup vase on the table. I see you too, reading, and whoever you are, I know you know my name. Think of me the next time you can’t sleep, as that person across town, typing. No matter what you see in your dreams, reach for my hand. I will turn away from this weary computer and take it.
Julie Gard’s prose poetry collections include I Think I Know You (FutureCycle Press), Home Studies (New Rivers Press), Scrap: On Louise Nevelson (Ravenna Press), and two chapbooks. Her stories, essays, and poems have appeared in Gertrude, Clackamas Literary Review, Blackbox Manifold, and other journals and anthologies. She lives in Duluth, Minnesota and teaches writing at the University of Wisconsin-Superior. www.juliegard.com