I wrote a letter to a woman who was mourning the death of the child of her sworn enemy.
In the letter I asked her a question about joy. I could not have known that the woman to
whom I wrote that letter was in mourning. She wrote back. Her letter contained only six
words: I do not believe in joy.
In the mail today was a letter from my mother—one of her weekly missives, her careful
words written on the thin paper she tears from notepads she buys at Safeway. She
included two of my baby teeth. The tiny bits of hard, yellowing enamel fell into the palm
of my hand. It made perfect sense.
My boyfriend uses the word gay as an adjective. When he does this, I calmly explain why
his language choice is unfortunate, why it is wrong. He pretends to understand. Ten
minutes later, he’ll say something like, “I love Michael Jackson even though that’s gay.”
When we go to bed and he falls asleep before me, I start kicking him. It’s transference.
I’m really kicking myself. Sometimes, he wakes up sore and bruised. He asks, “What
happened?” I tell him he should see a doctor.
I often go to the grocery store in the middle of the night when the aisles are crowded with
pallets stacked with shrink-wrapped cereal and frozen dinners because the shelves and
freezers are being restocked. I find dirty college students wandering the cookie/cracker
aisle in t-shirts and flannel pajama pants so they don’t have to procrastinate in their
overcrowded apartments and tiny dorm rooms and can instead spend money they don’t
have on food they don’t need but definitely want because they’re half drunk or high. I
wear short skirts and low cut shirts and high-heeled boots. I paint my face with a little too
much make up. I like to dance in the aisles. I look crazy. I can’t control it. The bland tones
of easy listening are inescapable. I throw my head back and twirl around on my heels,
staring up at the fluorescent lights. When I’m dizzy and breathless, I stalk the store for an
inappropriate man who I will consort with in the back seat of his car in a dark corner of the
parking lot. I will grip a door handle or a headrest and stare through the dirty window of a
Mustang or a minivan or a Mercedes at the store’s neon sign moving in and out of focus.
The heel of my boot will catch on a seat belt. I will be sweaty from dancing in the aisles.
The inappropriate man will take the credit. Country music will play on the radio, or classic
rock, or something with too much bass, and I will hate it. I will blame my boyfriend for this
predicament. If he were someone I could love, I wouldn’t be having terrible sex in the dirty
back seat of a dirty car in a dirty parking lot with a dirty man who calls me a dirty girl. I will
think about how I don’t believe in joy either. I won’t tell the inappropriate man my name nor
will he ask. When I get home, I will remember I had a list I wrote on the back of one of my
mother’s letters. I needed soft cheese and laundry detergent and a bottle of ginger ale. I will
send my boyfriend to the store with the list. He will say, “This is so gay.”