My Bed.

…My bed is soft with more pillows than two people need. A few of the pillows are made of down, so sometimes there are stray feathers that get stuck in the blankets, on clothes, in my eyelids. Sometimes I mistake the feathers for bugs and freak out. When that happens, I can’t sleep for hours. I lie there listening to Frasier because I’m one of those infuriating people who can’t sleep without the TV on. I like the jazzy theme song that bookends each episode: “… Tossed salad and scrambled eggs…” When I press my face into my pillow, it smells like stale laundry – I rarely wash the comforter, and the sheets get washed just once a month when the cleaning lady comes. I’m not in the same tax bracket with the kind of people who have cleaning ladies, but I hate to clean so much that I don’t let that stop me. As I lie there face-down, I hear snoring, the soft, consistent kind that lets me know someone is there; sometimes it turns into the loud, disruptive kind that makes me wish they weren’t. In the mornings, I feel as though I could lie in bed forever while at night, I have to beat seven pillows into submission and face due north before my body will be tricked into sleep. I used to eat in bed. I can’t say I miss the crumbs, but I do miss that complete sense of rock bottom that accompanies such a habit…

Being Fat at the Mall

… The mall where I grew up was mostly space. I guess all malls are kind of like that – a big cube that houses other cubes where people can walk in and buy things that will clutter up the cubes they live in. The food court was my favorite part of the mall. The restaurant in the corner that all the other redneck kids avoided was my first experience with Chinese food – orange, syrupy chicken that taught me sweet with savory made just as much sense as my mom’s typical baked chicken. It was also the only place I’d ever been that had a giant sky light. There were tall, indoor plants, fake trees, that broke up a sea of tables, each of which held 2-4 mall people. The light from the hole in the ceiling shined on top the trees and created a rainforest canopy effect – exotic and fun to me at that age and not at all tacky. None of the clothes at the mall ever fit. It’ll be years before I hear of Torrid, one of the only plus-size stores that cater to my age group even now. Back then, I made due with hoodies from PacSun that covered my muffin top – a condition that was aggravated by chronically “low-rise” jeans from the Gap, which only carried up to a size 16 when I really needed an 18. I remember jumping up and down in the dressing room, yanking the denim over the widest part of my hips. Buttoning required a tedious, persistent concentration that left my index fingers stinging and indented. The mall always smelled like Claire’s – cheap perfume worn by little girls in big amounts – mixed with the Dunkin Donuts coffee kiosk directly outside their entrance. Many cubes down was the JC Penny where I wasted  most of my youth standing and waiting for Mom to find a dress for whoever’s funeral – someone was always dying and Mom always needed a dress; I guess she thought all her friends suddenly became picky about fashion in the afterlife. I remember the sound of her getting flustered by her own weight issues behind the white slates that made up each dressing room. Hangers clanged against the mirror followed by the cracking sound of a fabric tear as she jerked an ill-fitting top back over her head, then snapped her spandex undergarments in frustration. She had a credit card there that she insisted on paying in person once every month …

The Big Toy

The Burger King Big Toy was the most colorful place I’d ever visited. Three or four times a year, in lieu of a family vacation, my mother would load me and my niece into the car and drive the 45 minutes it took to get from our small town (population: 5,741) to a town with a burger king big enough to have the big toy – an indoor jungle gym where kids could climb around inside colorful plastic tubes after eating half a hamburger, no pickle. When we first arrived, we would stand in line with Mom in between gray ropes linking metal poles that allowed longer lines to form a snake in front of the register. I always wanted to touch the poles, yank down the ropes, or run away with one, but never did. My niece couldn’t help herself though and often ended up getting  tangled in the ropes when my mother wasn’t looking. Once we got to the register, I always ordered a chicken sandwich with fries. I then sat at the table wolfing it all down as quickly as possible because the more time spent eating, the less time available for playing. Our tongues sufficiently scalded from eating breaded food that had been in a commercial deep-fryer only seconds earlier, we showed Mom our trays were clean and ran toward the big toy. We removed our shoes and stuck them in the wall of cubes that held all the other children’s shoes. As I got older, it was harder to make my shoes fit, but I refused to take the hint and kept going back well into my days as an overly husky 9-year-old. Barefoot, we’d find the nearest brightly colored pipe entrance and climb into it, crawling either left or right depending on which way looked more fun. I feel claustrophobic now thinking about the diameter of the tunnels in proportion to the diameter of my body, but back then, the terrifying image of being stuck inside the big toy, the walls too close for me to breathe, never visited me. Instead, full of enthusiasm, I dragged myself from one side of the big toy to the other, bottom to top, the soft, colorful padding sliding along the length of my body and making a swishing noise against my clothes. Each of the tunnels emerged into special rooms such as giant pits filled with balls or open areas that looked like mission control for spaceships. In these rooms, there were windows where I could look out and take in the whole room, see my mother sitting quietly on the picnic tables below watching us play or balancing her checkbook. I could hear the shrieks and hollers of toddlers too young to join their older siblings, but wanting to be noticed or somehow participate in the fun anyway.

The Wal-Mart

The Wal-Mart was what everyone called the new superstore that opened up in our small town when I was 10.  When you first walked through the automated glass doors, there was a cardboard box full of drooping, I-forgot-our-anniversary flowers on the right – single, moist roses enclosed in dewy, stiff plastic that crackled, the noise almost as loud as the neon yellow packaging. To the left was the produce section, and it smelled like a humid refrigerator. The air was cool but not cool enough, and moist, tasting like your lawn after a fresh mow followed by rain. The next aisle down was my favorite: Bread. And Little Debbie Cakes. If I could’ve made a living out of eating Little Debbie Cakes, my family wouldn’t have been poor enough to need to buy them in the first place. My favorite were the Fancy Cakes, white icing and some kind of cream inside them derived from ambrosia and the gene that causes diabetes. Across from the bread aisle was the fat lady section whose condescending signs claimed they were “just my size;” they weren’t. Their jeans never fit me properly, usually stalling out as I tried to yank them over my ample hips, or bunching up at the top or bottom in an unflattering way that made me appear as a flood survivor who stashed muffins around her waist. Behind the ill-fitting women’s pants and blouses were the ill-fitting bras that bisected my large breasts into chunks that resembled children’s pizzas, cut into four pieces for easier consumption. This was also where they kept the swimsuits, all different colors but no variation in sizes. When I was 15, I attempted to have sex with my boyfriend in the women’s dressing room while trying on swimsuits. I probably just got the idea from a Judd Apatow film because I don’t remember being particularly aroused, and the experience only went downhill from there: Cramped. Noisy. Dry.

Our Neighborhood Church

…As a kid, church was a place where I got shushed. I remember walking through the doors every Sunday wearing an itchy, lacy dress with floral print and a decorative bib permanently affixed to the front. My shoes were small like me, black with straps, and they already made too much noise as I walked with Mom to our pew. Church smelled like dusty hymn books combined with the Wrigley’s peppermint gum my mom always brought with her to keep me distracted. Before the service officially started, the pews sounded like they were whispering as the women of the church quietly shared today’s neighborhood news with one another and speculated about tomorrow’s. Then the minister would go to the back of the church and pull a rope that hung from the ceiling. Each tug made the bell echo throughout the holler, letting the whole neighborhood know church was starting. Then the piano would start up with an unusually upbeat gospel hymn like “How Great His Glory.” I thought it was strange how the holy piano at church sounded just like the devil piano in the bars in my dad’s westerns. After the first song, everyone would pray, leaving their seats to get down on their knees, their face now inches from where their butt sat moments earlier. My mom didn’t do this part because she didn’t “profess” to be a christian which left me to wonder why we were there. After prayer, the preacher would preach – fire and brimstone if it was Brother Murray, a softer touch if I was older and we’d moved on to Brother Burden. His wife was rumored to have a severe mental illness, but we never talked about it…

The Lake in the Holler

I grew up in a holler next to a lake that looked just like a lake but was technically a reservoir since it was man-made. My dad would load 4-year-old me onto his motorcycle between him and the handlebars, and I would  try to cram my tiny legs further up my own ass with each of my dad’s warnings about the scalding, exposed tailpipe. Sometimes if Dad didn’t want Mom to know he was leaving, he would get the bike headed downhill without starting the engine. At the end of the driveway, he’d kick-start it, the noise as loud as a weed-eater, but at that point we were far enough away to pretend we didn’t hear Mom yelling at us to get back home from the porch. Once we got to the lake, the road turned into a mud path with large humps as if a flexible mud-being had been cursed solid while doing Pilates. We would zoom up the backs of the humps and then fly over the other side – my stomach went up and down so fast that it felt like it was in my throat one minute and in my feet the next. This was my favorite part of the lake when I was a kid. As I got older, I stopped fitting on the front of my dad’s motorcycle and had to move to the back. The tailpipe burned me multiple times back there, stinging like a wasp for hours afterward. Mom wouldn’t let me go to the lake to swim – she said it had AIDS. Mom thought everyone and everything had AIDS, but the real reason was because her friend Buddy had drowned when Mom was nine. Once I was 18, I moved away from the holler, but always came back for the lake. We would throw parties there, swimming in water as warm as dishwater all day, skinny-dipping at night, my large, pale backside reflecting almost as much light as the moon. Then we’d lay on the bank next to a bonfire and dry off until it was time to go crash at a nearby house…

The Bay Area Rapid Transit

…The BART station where I get on in the mornings is always crowded, so I grab one of the fabric handles dangling from the metal poles that run across the ceiling and try to balance my uncoordinated body parts for the 12 minutes it will take to get from here to the office. I can feel people against my back, a tall one literally breathing down my neck. Sometimes someone will have BO, and that bums out the whole train; the smell of underarms travels at warp speed on public transportation. Sometimes I stare at the people sitting who got on at earlier, less popular stations – they don’t have any elbows in their backs and nearly all of them are able to read peacefully all the way there. I hate those people and wish them ill every morning. The BART has a distinctive sound, shrill metal-on-metal as if the infrastructure is so worn down that its bones are missing cartilage and rubbing against one another. Sometimes if I can drown out the noise, I think about how amazing it is that we’re flying underneath the ocean between Oakland and San Francisco. Then it’s time for my stop and I see that actually nothing in this world is all that impressive because the escalator is out. I assume from the smell on my way up too many stairs that it’s because the gears are jammed with homeless piss and shit. I’m not a hand-washer – it dries me out and I guess I’m just gross – but touching any part of the BART station sends me running to the nearest bathroom to scrub off the public plague I imagine lurks on the banisters. Getting back on the train in the evenings is worse because now everyone has stress-sweat from their jobs in finance and tech. At my stop, we pack in like sardines, and just when you’re sure your fellow man wouldn’t be crazy enough to try and fit one more person-sized thing on this train, here comes some asshole with his bicycle…

My Basement

… The basement smells like standing water, and it’s dark, dim at its brightest. During Christmas time, Mom would have to move one of the two overstuffed la-z-boys out of our cluttered living room to the basement to make room for the Christmas tree. This made the basement my new favorite hideout during my teen years. Despite the dimness, I would sneak down the steep, creaky stairs just to get some alone-time in the rocker. I was in my James Patterson phase, so I would sit down there for hours reading about the grisly murders to which Detective Alex Cross was assigned. The loudest sound was the crackle of the furnace, which my dad came down to stuff with coal and wood seemingly at random, or whenever he was bored with the conversation upstairs. Besides the fire, I could hear the purr of my cat, Miss Kitty. She was a soft calico with a split face, one side orange and the other dark. I told myself she loved spending quiet time with me down in the warm basement, but really, she probably just enjoyed being safe from the winter air and the hunting dogs who liked to tree her. Between the furnace, the cat, and the rocker, I was always warm, bordering on too warm. I stayed because I loved to be alone and I felt proud to be a girl enjoying such a masculine space. It was dark, unkempt, and filled with the hunting trophies from the men in my family – deer antlers were strewn everywhere, and once, my oldest brother stored a dead bear in the deep freeze in the corner, just so my mother would be shocked when she came to re-stock her upstairs freezer. In the spring, the basement flooded multiple times so that the wet must lingered and mingled with the scent of the bone-dry carcasses. The air tasted like mildew and cobwebs abounded. Sometimes I could feel them on the back of my neck as I walked down the stairs and would quicken my pace…

The School Bus

…The school bus was a big behemoth that inhaled small children and exhaled diesel fumes. I remember the feeling of carrying my red Arthur backpack up the stairs,which were right behind the collapsible door that moved side to side like the elevator in Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. At that age, each stair was nearly as tall as I was. In the mornings, the bus was cold but still warmer than it was outside. It was quiet in the mornings too, and even though the whole experience of “bus” was overwhelming, there was still something comforting about sliding into one of the big brown seats. They hid me from the bus driver and the other kids. I would let my head rest against the frosty window and play Super Mario in my head across all the fences we passed, up the sides of buildings, across porches. Sometime we sped up, causing the platforms to blur, and I’d get a headache trying to keep up with imaginary Mario. Sitting there, hidden, drowsy, entertained, I felt safe, like what it might be like if the beast swallowed you whole and you found a cushy spot to nest just behind his spleen. Sometimes we’d hear the crackle of the bus driver picking up his radio followed by the polite tone of Frank the Bus Driver/Pastor saying, “Amber, please turn and around face forward… kushhhhhh …. Now, please …. kussssshhhh … Thank you.” click. Mornings were sedate. Evenings were rowdy. Evenings sounded exactly like 90 children who have been pent up in a red school house all day and then loaded into a crowded yellow clown car should sound: a dull roar…

My Coffee Table

…My living room coffee table is black, overly reflective, sleek like it should always have a gram of cocaine carelessly spilled across its surface. Its edges are rough, but it’s from IKEA so they probably aren’t going to take anyone’s eyes out. In the front closest to me is a drawer I have to push in before it will pull open; I’m delighted by mechanics like this. Inside the drawer is some birth control, a mild antidepressant, and a statin I’m too young to be taking. Underneath that is a bed of marijuana so thick that every time I open that drawer, the smell takes over the room. On top of the coffee table is a cup of coffee and a bottle of water. The coffee makes 10pm taste like morning and although I hate the feeling of almost-scalding liquid touching the roof of my mouth, I hate being tired more. Next to the coffee is a knitting project, a sock in its infancy. Very small needles cuddle a ball of yarn, purple with variegated streaks of bright orange. The sock will be gorgeous when it’s finished, but for now, it resembles a limp wristband, too large to fit anyone and too small to be anything but useless. When I clean, which is rare, the coffee table squeaks as I drag a paper towel across its wet surface. I hate cleaning, so we have coasters…