Thursday, July 17, 2008

My Devastation

I am small, but not so small that I should be drinking out of bottles anymore. I am old enough to want a bottle because I appreciate it conceptually; I appreciate that it enables me to drink while lying down, which a tippy cup doesn’t do. A tippy cup leaks. I am old enough that my mother has put an exasperated moratorium on bottles, and I am old enough to have taken a bottle, half-filled with pineapple juice, and, with the future in mind, to have placed it behind the heavy brown folds of the living room drapes, which go all the way to the floor.

Or perhaps I give my small self too much credit; perhaps I had forgotten it there when I was caught, the week prior, behind the same drapes, my left fist full of crayons, my right hand adding red with the abandon of the late Abstract Expressionists to the mural I’ve been working on for days in cloistered silence, muffled in the warm folds of the drapes, their heavy woven stuff, brown with tan flecks, wooly, maybe even scratchy against my young skin.

I have a habit with warm spaces, dark spaces, spaces wrapped in fabric. When I am older, I will make “tents” out of blankets stretched over chairs, and I will stay inside all afternoon, with my books, with my snacks. When I am older, I will wrap the television in a baby blanket, blocking out the picture, but not the warmth or the light. I will sit and look at the glowing square of fabric, listening to the voices. But that is for another time. For now, I was discovered in the midst of the creative act, the curtain pulled aside, the room’s yellow light revealing my scrawls, red and yellow mostly, some green, on the smooth white wall.

My bohemian parents were not as forgiving as one might hope, and I had dropped the bottle and run away crying at their sharp words. Later, my mom will give me access to her attic studio, where I will decimate hundreds of sheets of expensive colored drawing paper and a four hundred dollar box of Prismacolor pencils in the electric pencil sharpener. But that is for another time. For now, I’ve rediscovered my bottle. It is yellow—a milky, pastel plastic—with white cap and pert brown nipple. The nipple is the brown of the drapes, and the early evening light that filters into them when I hide against the wall, tucked behind their warmth.

The living room is wide, low, avocado; the carpet is shag, mint with gold threads. My parents are doing something, who knows; I must not be so small that they know what I’m doing, because I’ve hidden myself behind my curtain, and I’ve found my bottle. I am excited, because I know that I am not supposed to have it. Taboo is as sweet for a small person as for any other. I don’t know that yet, but I know a thrill; there is a thrill in me when I see it, when I want it, when I know that I can have it, here, in this dim, warm space that is my secret again, that is all mine.

It is important to have space that is all mine, because the house is filled with strangers; downstairs, there is a family that does laundry and hangs it to dry in the backyard, where I will one day pedal my tricycle, with its plastic handlebar ribbons, in circles around and around the cracked and greenish cement. I do not play with the kids there because they do not speak English. Upstairs, there is a smoky room filled with plants that I’m not allowed inside, because someone else lives there. Here, I have my playroom, which has a Donald Duck record player, and dolls, and games, and toys, but the room is big, wide, bright; the carpet, minty shag with gold threads as wide as a field. There are no corners; there are no nooks.

Later, we will get a cat, and even she will be clever enough to open the accordion doors to my playroom, pushing her lithe body into the crack between them, and leaping up onto the dresser where my goldfish, Lolly and Bubbles, swim around and around in their little bowl. She will sit and stare, mesmerized, and then she will swipe, but she won’t ever catch them, because we will always catch her first; the fish will escape with a few scrapes, scabs that will heal. Later, the scratched fish, Bubbles, will develop a lump; it will be small, but it will grow, and she will die. But that is for another time. For now, I too have found something I oughtn’t have, and I am thrilled. It is my secret, in which to delight before I am caught.

When I was smaller, before I understood the efficiency of the bottle, and the ambrosial delight of pineapple juice, but had them all the time, I took my bottle into the kitchen, and dragged out the enamel basin my mother kept under the sink. I dragged the basin out into the middle of the room, removed my diaper and dropped it on the floor, opened the bottle and poured juice into the basin, and stepped in. My mother found me bathing in the sticky stuff, had to draw me a real bath. But today, though I am small, I am not so small that I will take this opportunity for granted. I see the bottle, the milky yellow plastic with its regulated ridges, the white cap, the brown rubber nipple, and I am thrilled.

I grab it; I grip it; I stick it in my mouth and suck, and I am swarming. My mouth is swarming. My hands—my skin—it tickles, it runs, it recoils, it repulses; my mouth—my tongue scraping my teeth, my roof, spitting, sputtering, spewing, ants, everywhere, ants, in mouth on my face my hands my skin everywhere, inside of me and out, moving! Crawling! Running! Scurrying! Ants! Ugh! Ew! Blech! Feuy! I spit, spastic; I rub my hands on my dress; I rub my tongue on my hand; I shake; I shiver; I shudder. I’ve thrown it down instantly; the milky plastic is spotted with them where it lies on the floor, sideways. Half of them are crushed, the rest, half-crushed, struggle. Never again.

Never again will I go behind the curtain, now that I see them, on their trail, from a crack in the plaster against the window frame, down the wall, to where my bottle had sat, singing its silent song of sugar, of golden sweetness, to them as well as to me. Never again, the warm brown light. Never again the safety. Never again, this nasty surprise. Never again.

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