I Shall Not Want
My life is rolling along at high speed without me, always just out of reach, like a tumbleweed somersaulting through the Painted Desert. Time is in a hurry to lose me, and I can’t keep up anymore. Tonight I stop running for good.
I can hear my mother in the hallway as I sit in my room of one’s own, planning to come to terms with my wayward self. Instead I find myself counting how many times the cursor on my laptop flashes in one minute, and then I start pondering the language of numbers. I conclude that math is trustworthy, dependable, stable. It lacks frailty, the passion of subjectivity. It lacks any flaws. Like my mother, math is always right.
Mom opens my bedroom door without knocking and chirps a goodnight-honey.
“Where were you all day?” she asks.
I did go cash my unemployment check, but there are hours I don’t account for. I don’t tell her where all my money went, and now my mother is jonesing. She needs a facts-fix so she can worry accordingly. I refuse to oblige her, though, because for God’s sake I’m a middle-aged woman. I don’t say a word because she hoards tidbits of information about my life and then uses them to concoct desperate stories about my doomed future. Sometimes it takes a week to deprogram her imagination.
Silently, I turn my attention to the muted TV, to CNN’s footage of the latest natural disaster.
“That’s another sign of Armageddon, you know,” she says. “Can’t you see that all these earthquakes and tsunamis and floods are the handiwork of Satan? Read your Bible!”
“Mom, I’m busy.”
“Yeah, doing what?”
“You better be praying that you don’t end up homeless after I’m gone.”
“Oh my god, please.” I sigh. I roll my eyes. I drop my shoulders in defeat. I hold my breath until she’s done staring me down, until she leaves the room, and I can shut the damn door. She’s got a point, but that’s another story.
Though it’s not, really.
I get back to what I was doing before she barged in, before I went off on a mental tangent. I turn my chair around so I’m facing my desk, and I look into a tiny video camera that I imagine is mounted on my laptop to document my imminent self-intervention. I don’t know how to begin, and my wired mind starts wandering again. I look around the room.
“Everything in here is blue,” I lament to the camera. “Blue carpet. Blue walls, blue bedspread, blue curtains. When I had to move back in here last year, I thought that the room needed more blue in order to finish me off once and for all. So I brought in the blue door.”
I get up and get a piece of 3-D artwork off the wall and carefully hold it in front of the camera. It’s one foot wide and two feet tall, and it’s heavy. The blue-painted plank is adorned with an antique doorknob and a rusty but functional hinge. The moon and stars glitter in the night sky over several smaller doors made of wood, metal, glass, and paper, each with a tiny window, welcome mat, and porch light. The main entrance of the piece is a front door flanked on one side by a miniature mailbox painted in Van Gogh colors and on the other by a tree of fishes. A tiny bejeweled key is waiting on the doorstep.
“It’s an interactive piece, see? Each little door opens to reveal whatever secret is inside.” I demonstrate by opening the main door. “It says, ‘Look for the way out before venturing in.’ Aesop.” I pause. “Should have paid attention to that one.” Then I pull a yellow scroll from the little mailbox and read the message from Picasso: “‘Art is not truth. Art is a lie that makes us realize the truth.’”
I made the Doors of Divine Options back when I stopped going to work. Before my husband abandoned me, before I was evicted and had to move into my mother’s spare bedroom. Now I spend my days hiding the illicit nature of my everyday life.
But tonight I’m going to stop all that. I am going to take the last step out of denial. I’m ready to say this is the last time for the last time. I am determined to talk myself into doing the right thing. By admitting my secret out loud I will make a gigantic cathartic leap and finally catch up with my fugitive former self without having to pay the dignity tax that a public confession entails. Otherwise I will never get to the point of redemption.
I can get straight on my own. In twenty-five words or less.
Right after I do my last hit.
“Okay. This is really The Last Time,” I say to the imaginary camera. I snort the rest of my coke, lick the baggie, and I’m immediately consumed by the overwhelming need to do more.
“No, no more! That was really the last time!”
An awful dread grips me. My head is noisy with ugly words competing for exposure, but I cannot bring myself to utter them, cannot bear to hear them.
I clamp my hands over my ears, holding in the words screaming in my head.
I try to swallow the hard lump of grief that’s growing in my throat so I can get the words out. But I just stare mutely at the camera, paralyzed, so great is the mounting pressure of what’s become a lonely, excruciating moment of shame. I’m losing it, like a director who is running out of light before filming the final, crucial scene.
My last bit of hope vanishes in a pathetic whimper.
But I know He’s not coming for me, not tonight.