John says it’s a long way out, and
has he made it out? As far as I know,
he doesn’t take meds anymore and
for that, I feel like a failure. He said,
“You don’t need them, nobody needs
them,” and I made the mistake of
replying, “They work for me.”
And the image of him in my head
will always be a chameleon burning
in the oven of our childhood home in
Tennessee, note stuck in the door
Mom wouldn’t let me read. Scent of
fresh-baked cookies candle mingling
with charred color-drained skin, him, hurrying away
down the hill, rusted-over bike he
hardly ever touched before, never again,
and I like to imagine it was red, but I can’t
remember and I don’t think it was;
it was probably blue.
Mother made me think escalators
would suck up my body
by a tattered shoelace, that I could disappear
into a Jacuzzi jet and into death.
She made me believe candy was
poisoned, beggars were liars, and
if I didn’t wear a seatbelt, well, then somebody
would be obliged to hit me and kill me and
make cheek meet window meet sky and tree.
Always, death. Because each mole could be
cancer; cancer, the wall you can’t jump over
or maneuver around any way. End game.
I became convinced cancer was hiding
inside me, just waiting, selfish and silent.
Loving him, I learned, would leave me alone
when I got sick and he saw it, the black ink
in my eyes, invading my veins, thinning my skin.
So I took the creaking stairs, I remembered to sit up straight,
I ate little, I helped the poor, the truly poor, I was a seatbelt-wearer
and a hypochondriac. I waited for the cancer. I held back from the one
I loved for a year long just to sleep, fuck around all my college days
because I was tired of waiting, Mom. (I won’t tell
Mom) Not everybody meets their husband in middle school.
I stood tiny in the city and I got asthma and allergies from the
cigarette smoke of other English majors who rolled their own
and pretended to like the grandmotherly smell of incense.
I hadn’t enough friends to worry of the word reputation, so I
spoke the truth and lost some, and I was a bit of a whore
but found happiness I hadn’t felt since before escalators.
Happiness, in a bottle of red wine passed around a hotel room.
Mom went to counselors and she ate odd herbs (ones I would’ve took
if it wasn’t for birth control) and she cried and cried and I just wish
we’d never been so damn afraid to climb on, to know we were too alive
for death, to not crash through the windshield, to never see,
oh, the sight of the shimmering, the tiny, thousands of glass-shard stars.
Lauren Krouse works as a curriculum writer and copywriter by day and creative writer by night. Her writing in various forms has appeared in publications such as College of Charleston Magazine, Gravel Literary Magazine, Sanctuary, Miscellany, A Narrow Fellow, and The Journal.
Illustrated by Meher Khan.