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 County Fair

…The county fair smelled like funnel cake and horse manure. It sounded like carnies calling out as you walked by, yelling for you to play their games. My dad said all the games were rigged, but I was never good enough at them to be able to tell, and I wasn’t convinced he was either. Once I won a poster of the band 98 degrees. I don’t remember what game, only the prize. It was small, only 5×7 inches, but I loved that it was behind glass. Sometimes I’d run my finger along the edge just to feel how sharp it was.  I’m pretty sure I clumsily shattered it within the week. The fair was too warm, humid, and to me, came with a sense of danger or maybe just an inability to predict what was going to happen next. Screams were everywhere, coming from happy children riding the rides set up less than two days before by men I’m not sure I would now so quickly trust with my life. Sometimes I rode the cages. The cages were like a  ferris wheel if the placid, romantic benches were replaced with squirrel cages that twirled 360 degrees as the giant wheel whisked them up and over, over and over. I wouldn’t be surprised if I still had bruises from the safety belt cutting into my thick thighs. I also liked the ride that looked like a blue octopus wearing yellow space-ships on the bottom of its tentacles like roller-skates. I would load into one of the ships and feel the octopus’ arm lift me up and down as her body spun me faster and faster until I was nauseous; once I threw up a single pea. Eating at the fair was always more complicated than it needed to be. I remember standing in line for thirty minutes just to be served scorching hot french fries drenched in ketchup, so hot that you shoved them all in your mouth as fast as possible so they didn’t have the chance to burn your fingertips. The saving grace was the funnel cake, a delicacy my family waited for all year. Funnel cakes are little more than fried dough covered in powdered sugar…

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…

Offices

…An office is open, but not like a prairie. It’s open like sucking space that has no oxygen. An office smells like nothing if you could bottle up nothing and sell it, maybe as an app or a b2b service. The walls taste like lead paint even though you can be sure they’re perfectly safe. The people smile but it’s fake; when I smile, it’s fake. It’s quiet in the office, underneath the sounds of keyboards tapping, executives exec-ing, and that woman from legal who laughs too damned loud. I laugh too loud, but not at the office. Not intentionally, it’s just nothing is funny about failure. Before the layoffs when there was more than one layer of buffer between you and upper management, you could spin around in your spinny chair until you felt drunk, then stumble over to the snacks and free drinks and pig out like a teenage boy. The office tastes like organic power bars in Silicon Valley. In the midwest, they taste more like free diet soda and stealing the last stale cup of coffee out of the pot without making a new one, despite the passive aggressive sign that “Cindy” put there to deter such delinquent behavior. I don’t even drink coffee, but if I did, I’d be a coffee delinquent. Some offices are gray. You were in a building that was purple. Then you moved downstairs after the first round of layoffs and that office was a pale green. Now you’re under the highway with homeless people and their tents as your neighbors, but out here who isn’t, and your office is gray, like the color is positively correlated with morale.

My Anger

…My anger is sudden, but always lurking just below the surface. Up it comes at the most inopportune times. When I wake up, I can feel its tendrils already licking at my insides,  and if I let it, it would turn my heart into a charred piece of meat over the course of a day. Anger smells like a bonfire where the smoke chokes you but you’re cold so you just keep leaning in anyway. Anger promises the right to a wrong, whispers that you’ll feel better right after you give that clerk a piece of your mind. You could drown in anger’s promises before it fulfills one. Anger wears many masks, but its favorite is self-righteousness. Other times it will deign to appear as fear and self-protection. You’ll recognize it by the hot feeling in your stomach begging you to destroy something. I’ve heard anger is restorative, and I’m sure it can be since destruction is sometimes the first step to restoration. But anger is only a wrecking ball and you can hear it crashing around inside you. Anger is red, but it doesn’t sound like sirens, more like cannons. Inside, it burns while outside it punches. Its food is vitriol, the acid enhancing its potency like a tonic. The taste is like bile, but anger has no palette. Anger came here to take, and it doesn’t have any other motives. Anger is quick, swift, and sneaky, creeping up next to you without you ever having known it was coming, and if you don’t catch it…

Mom’s Car

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…When I was little, my mom drove a big Chevy Caprice, stubbornly, while all my other friends’ parents drove Nissans, SUVs, and other “regular” cars. When the gray one quit running, she got another, this one green like moss. The gray one had rust spots, patched over with orange putty by Dad’s capable hands. The car sat underneath two giant oak trees as well as a whole family of pines that were there since before I was born and if my last visit home is any indication, look to be on track to outlive me. The trees dripped sap onto the car, making the hood rough to the touch so that by the end of the warm seasons, the hood’s paint was rearranged into a mosaic. Inside the car, it was always cold because Mom couldn’t tolerate any heat. The seats were gray too, in both versions of this monstrosity, and very clean since Mom kept towels on them as a substitute for seat covers. I remember being young enough to use the towels to learn my colors. “Red, green, gray” I would pronounce, walking my fingers along each block of color. Most of the time, the car smelled like Mom, a mix of Red Door perfume, Irish Spring soap, and the subtle petrol smell of years of plastic grocery bags. The rattle of the bags in the back seat were noisy when we went to get groceries, which seemed to need to happen every other day. The bags were also fragile – touching them seemed to create holes. When I had to help haul in groceries from the chevy, I always tried to grab the lightest bags and to avoid the milk since it was a double whammy – frigid, on top of being heavy. Mom was always angry as she was hauling in groceries, or breathing, so in addition to being cold, sweaty, and physically exhausting, the whole experience was also emotionally taxing. I still remember the day we all went to the store – Mom…

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…

The Shower

…The shower is hot, wet, and smells clean even when there’s no soap. I wear glasses so the shower is also a blind place for me – everything shows up in blurred blobs – is that my shampoo? Where’s the damned body wash? Did he move it? I’m always feeling streaks of skin along my legs, if I bother to shave them, to check if I’m finished shaving. The feeling of a razor against my skin when I’m in such a vulnerable state always feels threatening, the glide of the sharpness against my wet, exposed skin, all while I’m too blind to tell if I’m ripping off a hunk of it until it’s too late. I don’t do quiet showers; I listen to country music almost every time, letting the twang of my childhood fill up and share the room with the steam. I don’t listen to it because it reminds me of home, quite the opposite. I listen to it in spite of it reminding me of home and because I know all the words. I love to sing. I was told I couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket, but I don’t believe it because in the shower, I sound just like Mary Chapin Carpenter, if only I strain my voice. And my ear. I let it rip when I belt out “I Take My Chances,” smearing the shampoo all over my scalp and defiantly refusing to worry about it seeping down into my eyes because I take my chances, duh. I like washing my hair. It’s dry, so I don’t do it very often, and when I do, the feeling of my fingers massaging the cool, gelatinous texture of my shampoo into my by-then oily scalp while almost-too-hot water pelts down on the crown of my head takes me away from myself. Getting out of the shower, on the other hand, sucks just as much as leaving the bed a second time. In a hot shower, I can almost sleep standing up…

Mom’s Kitchen

…When I was little, Mom’s kitchen was where I played in the evenings. As I crawled across the floor underneath the table, I remember small crumbs sticking to my hands and the always wary feeling of bumping my head on the table’s roof above me. Sometimes I could smell the warm scent of urine, a gift from my mother’s chihuahua, Trixie, who Mom tied to the chair leg every night to contain her mess. The chairs that sit behind the table, closest to the window that faced our front porch, were always covered by groceries, usually bread, sometimes moldy, and stacks of paper plates. There seemed to be layers and as an adult, I wonder how it helps her to have them there. From under the table, I can see the fridge, big and yellow. The linoleum in front is torn years later when we replace that fridge with a new one, white and boring. Every time I walked barefoot in the kitchen after that, I took special note of the transition my foot made from linoleum to hole, a section of exposed wooden beam, back to linoleum: “This shouldn’t be here.” Above the table, the kitchen always smelled like food: fried chicken, fried potatoes, homemade chili, “deer steak” that I wouldn’t learn some people called venison until I was in college.By then, I’ll have also learned that my mother’s southern comfort cooking taught me to eat like a baby bird – soft foods with rich flavors, ideally pre-chewed – My mother so badly hoped and expected to please in the kitchen that had I asked, she might have obliged. The kitchen was also loud. Its universe was filled with the banging of pots, the addling sound that was an iron container making contact with the metal sink, which had knobs that were incorrectly labeled hot and cold. Mom also threw fits in the kitchen, so it was a shrill place, not only loud because of the pans. I nearly tremble now hearing the sounds of the kitchen, even just in my mind, for they almost…

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What was your mom’s kitchen like? Or your dad’s? Or your grandma’s? Or your kitchen now? Tell me in the comments! (Or don’t! It’s your life!)

The Living Room

…My living room now smells heavy with incense, like someone deodorized all the oxygen in the room. The couch I’m sitting on is soft but too low to the ground, and my heaviness always gravitates to the middle so that the overused cushions seem to bend on either side and envelop me. The pills on the cushions bother me. They could be removed with a razor, but the effort required is too much. They’re little blue balls of fuzz all over the yellow cushions so that the cushions look like they have some sort of bizarre furniture pox. The floors are made of wood, but there’s a large rug that takes up most of the space and could be mistaken for carpet by someone not very observant like me. There’s a tightness in my chest now that’s coming from the fear that I’m not doing this right or often enough; Myrtle is squeezing my heart, that bitch. There’s a painting hanging above the 60″ television perched on a wooden entertainment center. I like to watch TV, okay? The painting has always looked out of place to me, like someone cropped out a section of an art museum and copy-pasted it over a picture of our real living room. The room is small and if we don’t open the door in the summers, it gets hot as balls. There’s a Christmas tree in front of the window. It’s June, but we just like it so much we don’t care. The red curtains behind it accidentally add to the festive flair. There’s a coffee table between the Christmas tree and the couch so that one has to contort their body to fit between the two of the three when coming or going. The coffee table is sleek with sharp edges, black, and stuffed with junk that pours out from the narrow storage section on the side…

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What’s your living room like? Take ten minutes and describe it using all your senses in the comments!