Being Twelve (Or: How I Met My Husband)
When I was in the sixth grade, my parents enrolled me in an after-school-math-help-type program called Kumon. I have absolutely no idea why it’s called Kumon, it sounds more like a martial art than a math class, and I never thought to look it up, but after a quick google search I’ve learned that Kumon is the “world’s largest after-school math & reading program” so, maybe you’ve heard of it. I’d attend class for two hours twice a week, completed after-school math homework in hand. I’ve referred to it as a “class”, but there weren’t any lessons per se, and to be honest there really wasn’t much interaction as I recall. I wasn’t there long, maybe two years tops, and like everyone enrolled in after-school math help (except for a group of Chinese siblings who I assume enrolled to humiliate me), I hated math and was terrible at it, so I didn’t progress very far. The main focus was on speed, which I could never understand. Why do I have to do math equations really fast? You’d fill out each booklet with your name, the date, and your start and finish times. Some people in the class speculated it was to motivate, but for most of us the time thing just made us anxious. I mean, a bunch of kids who sucked at math, sucking more at math due to the pressure of beating your personal best time in double-digit multiplication.
The class was held every Monday and Wednesday from five o’clock to seven o’clock at the local curling club. It smelled like you’d think it might; arena ice, old people and stale beer. Speaking of old people, there was one man in the class who was around eighty, grey, frail, a limp when he walked. I want to say he’d been in an accident or suffered some type of brain injury or ailment where he needed to re-learn his basic math skills, and I imagined Kumon class was merely the tip of the iceberg, that he’d not only lost his basic math skills but the memory of everything else about his life too. I imagined him struggling with adding two and four as he called the teacher over, and my heart ached for him until I walked past his table one day and didn’t even recognize what was on his paper as math. He was levels and levels ahead of me, he just wanted to brush up and re-learn some skills, confirmed by one of the volunteer booklet-markers. I felt a little relieved and a lot ashamed.
The teacher was a silver-haired woman named Delia*, heavy-set and pretty, though obviously-tired, and upbeat in a way that seemed forced. I knew my parents were sort-of friends with her, in a mutual-friendly-small-town type of way. Her nephew was a friend of my father’s, and I knew that her husband and (another) nephew had died in a plane crash some years before. I knew she’d experienced that tragedy going into the class, and six months into my enrolment my mother informed me her (grown) son had died, too. I watched one Monday night as my mom asked Delia how she was doing, and I distinctly remember being in awe that one, my mom could even ask this question, I’d wanted to but wasn’t sure if she wanted to know her students knew, at least, that was the excuse I was using for not asking. I was awestruck that she found it so easy, like she was asking how her soup tasted at lunch. Two, perhaps more obviously, that Delia could answer that question without crying, merely showing the tiniest fraction of grief, that she could even find the strength to get out of bed ever again, let alone a few days after it happened only to teach some dip-shit kids how to do their timetables. A real seasoned griever. My cat had died two years before and I still wasn’t over it. In the car ride home that night I asked my mom how Delia’s son died.
"He… he was in an accident."
"Like a car accident?"
"Sort of. He was riding his bike and he was hit by a car."
"Oh my god. I’m not ever riding my bike again."
"Don’t worry, he wasn’t wearing a helmet," she reached over to the passenger seat and rested her hand on top of mine. "Just make sure you always wear your helmet, and you’ll be fine."
It wasn’t until years later that I found out her son had actually shot himself in the face with a hunting rifle in his mother’s bathroom. It was my father who’d told me, evidently unaware of my mom’s bicycle-accident story or simply okay with my knowing. Right after he told me the bathroom was “covered in blood, not a single spec untouched”, he turned to me and said, “Please, sweetie. Don’t ever do anything like that.”
There was another boy in the class, an obvious class-clown, a “bad-egg”, I would later hear Delia describe him. His name was Alex, and I considered him my own worst nightmare. I was a painfully shy, anxious kid and embarrassed that I sucked at math. I had two fears at that age, my period soaking through my pants and loud boys who made fun of shy girls.
"Hey, what’s your name?" He said to a goth-girl who passed by his table. She was shy like me, I could tell. She ignored him the first time and he asked again, "WHAT’S YOUR NAME?" He wasn’t bullying, he was just distracted, he wanted to be doing anything other than his math homework, and he wanted everyone else to agree how stupid the math homework was.
"Nöel," she finally said, nay, whispered.
"HAHAAHA, NÖEL?! Nope! It’s ‘Christmas’. Are you French? Your name is actually Christmas, I dont know why your parents didn’t just call you Christmas, because that’s obviously--“
"ENOUGH, Alex, please," Delia begged.
"I’m just saying, her name is Christmas."
"Please have some respect for the other students, other people are here to work."
“NOBODY wants to be here, I bet. Except that old guy, probably,” he said, “Like, do YOU even want to be here?”
I kept my head down, I didn’t know if he was talking to me, but I didn’t want to look up just in case.
I was nervous going to class after that. I was afraid he’d be there and talk to me and I’d say something stupid and he’d think I was dumb even though I was pretty sure I didn’t like him. I wanted everyone to think I was The Coolest Person Ever and the only way that was possible was if nobody ever heard me speak.
But he never came back. Alex got kicked out of Kumon class. He was the only one, probably ever, and I’m sure Delia just got fed up with his shit and was sick of telling him to shut up. I didn’t blame her and I was totally relieved he was gone.
Nine years later I meet this guy from my home town. He’s beautiful and I can already tell I have a huge crush on him. We’re having a beer and he starts telling me about this Kumon class he took at the curling club and his instructor, Delia, who had experienced a lot of tragedy in her life. Realizing this gorgeous creature before me, one I had imagined kissing and touching and hopefully falling in love with that night, was no other than Alex, from Kumon. The Alex I’d feared. The disruptive Alex, the only one who ever got kicked out of paid math help. I could see similarities, obviously, he was still a firecracker and he sure was loud. But he was smart, smarter than me, and he was hurt, too. He seemed delicate and introverted, just like I felt, and I felt safe with him and more understood than I ever felt in my life. We laughed about Kumon class, and I informed him that I went to school with “Christmas” but she changed her name to Caitlyn and that it was probably his fault. I don’t think I kissed him or even touched him that night like I wanted to, but I did eventually.
And, eight years after that, I married him.
*Names have been changed.
Philtrums & Diastemas
1. I’ve always been drawn to strange areas. When I was seven that meant exploring the abandoned motel in my neighbourhood where a chained up Bengal Tiger basked in the sun, but now that I’m older— nearing thirty— “all woman” I am told, my god, I just can’t get enough of his philtrum. His diastema. His bottom row of overlapped teeth. The smell of the space behind his ear and the way my teeth ache when I breathe it in. The way his index finger curves outwards. His kinked right lashes. When he won’t let me touch him because he needs to touch me. The way his eyes look when he knows he’s hurt me (and that they look that way because he knows I like it).
2. Stephen Malkmus is side one of the soundtrack of my summer two thousand and six. Eight years later Pig Lib still plays and I’m still smoking the pot I fell in love with then, and the same hands still roll it each weekend (when I ask nicely, at least). There probably is a pretty obvious reason I haven’t branched off from the songs that played then, the ones he introduced me to, and then, the ones I found as a result, the ones that moved me for the first time. At least the first time that it mattered. I thought for sure in eight years I’d be alone, because I’d never find someone who piqued me enough, someone who loved me as much as they hated me, someone who had me tearing my hair out, someone who made sure I got home safely. A voice that soothed and irritated.
I knew we’d both change, and those things didn’t, but holy fuck, I can’t believe we’re still here.
3. I would have told every woman to run. No one deserves to feel unwanted. I didn’t though, and if I had, I wouldn’t have this. Somewhere in me I knew that you needed me, or I knew I needed you, under the former’s guise. A love that replenishes daily, one I want to work on. One that finds me sucking your bottom lip and never letting go.
Flies & Mice
A house fly just landed on my computer screen and I flicked it off, only to discover one of its wings stuck to my finger tip. I screamed, and then saw its twitching body on the floor suddenly render lifeless. I haven’t removed it yet. This fly has been bothering me for days, and yet I feel kind of sad. Instead of picking up its body, I’ve left it on the floor, making sure not to step on it when I walk past the coffee table.
I once saw a fruit fly get stick in a pool of paint. He struggled to fly away but his feet were stuck— literally glued down. He was pulling and pulling, I could almost hear him strain himself. He eventually died from what I imagine was exhaustion. We were having a problem with fruit flies, and even set little traps* for them, but I tried endlessly to save this little guy trapped in the paint.
Once we had a mouse in our house. It was hiding out underneath the organ. My cat stalked it for days. Waited it out. Finally, one day, it emerged and my cat swiped it, knocking it at least five feet into the air. It retreated to it’s haven under the organ, until I scooped it up to take it outside. I became side tracked with its laboured breathing. “Look!” I said to my husband, “Look at its little chest going in and out!”
"Uh, yeah, it’s probably about to have a heart attack, and you’re just going to let it die in a tupperware container. Take it outside." He was right. I took it outside and placed it in the garden of the park across the street, and watched until it took its final breath. Its body was gone in the morning.
*Wine in a cup, saran wrap with holes in it - just make sure not to use a paper cup, or you’ll end up with even more fruit flies. Trust me.
Strands of Ass
Poised and munching on
lower lips for breakfast
And snacking on the skin
around the moons
In between meals
No hairballs like my cat
and no need for assistance
in pulling strands of grass
out of my ass
like my dog
is one of those days
that feels like
Privileged aboriginals are barely aboriginal
And I am one.
I won a $20,000 grant for my project.
I was walking home after hearing the news, curiously wondering why I don’t feel elated, wondering if I deserve it because I look very white. I have a band-card that proves my identity, but I am so very white. I wondered how I’d feel about answering that question if ever faced with it, wondered if I’d ever reconcile the guilt, because despite that my actions are so very far from fraudulent, I know that it is my whiteness that’s allowed me the opportunity to do this project, and thus to apply for this grant in the first place.
And as I thought this, I walked past a woman in her car, stuck in a snow bank, and I didn’t stop to help.
Sitting in pockets
Sopped in anonymity so I can say things like:
I think I look best when I am hung over
I wish I was a bit thinner
He is annoying me a bit today
(He is not).
Turns out I don’t say those things
I don’t say anything
Even my secrets are afraid
Of sounding narcissistic
We always end up here
And I’m trapped under water
Breathing in your convictions and
We always end up here
And I’m such a good swimmer
But I can’t seem to find my
The worst part about doing something
You love is
How much it hurts you when you fall
And Swallowing your pride down deep with
The only beer you can seem to afford
And the onions you battered with flour
And ate down even though
It was hard
I’ve never cut myself too deep but
My nails indent my arms often
Not unlike myself at five and
The numbers that filled my
Anxious little mind
From the same tap spout the digging
And the counting
Voices of a higher decibel
And Hell— While we are at it
Compliments and Smiles and
Those who seem to enjoy
At least what I do
When i am not feeling such suck
Such a paradox leaves me to wonder
What the hell is the fucking point
Or the story in the water
Like the way he
drags his cigarette and
How the cat tiptoes around
the table’s tops
Or the mourning’s drop
And the way she drowns
Once the light
Or the way
His breath seems to seep out
How the smoke did
Just a few hours earlier
It’d been five years since I’d seen you.
I said goodbye to you with our cat.
She sees another as her own now,
and your face faded when you told me
it was all wasted
You said that I wasted
Always bewildered when
I hear one’d rather forget,
I find my bests are ones that I’ve loved.
And looking in their eyes still
let’s me breathe in the way
that it always used to.
I knew That when I left you and
you were kind to me for awhile.
I knew then what Was but hoped I’d differ,
We all do,
I had stolen your
I wondered aloud to my current,
(and let’s face it: my forever)
when it’d be that i’d see you again
I’d heard he joined us in the smoke.
And then in a place so familiar,
So un-fleeting and so my own,
Ten steps away from the place
that I seemingly create my own reality,
(Such a far cry from
The heart-and-gun drawn
And that time for your birthday,
when I drew our sprawling legs,
I was so desperately thriving
Who I Am Now)
I saw you.
And you saw me.
And I swear
For even just a moment
At some point there was decision
And I’m not exactly sure who made it;
It could have been me,
But if I hadn’t
It would have been you.
I sometimes wish
I still knew the person
Who knew the person
Or at least thank you
for helping me
(And maybe I need
to get over it
It still hurts to know
I’m not liked).