So now I'm here occupying my parents for the summer, and no matter how bad it gets, like me stumbling in some nights way later than I'm supposed to and getting lectured by my mom or the silent treatment from my dad, everything's cool within a couple of days just because I'm such a joy to have around. I entertain, amuse, help out, listen to my mother worry, laugh at my dad's jokes. It's no effort, really, it's all second nature now, comes with the territory: rent-free, meals provided, everything paid for. I hold up my part of the deal.

Like a few weeks ago when I had to help out at my mother's garden party there I am all shaky, serving drinks, desperately trying to make civil small talk with all the women from the neighborhood. They coo at me in their soft, high pitched voices, ask me where I go to school and what my major is and I try to answer, all the while sweating under my dress and praying I won't lose my breakfast on someone's shoes. Yeah, I felt like shit, but I knew I'd be okay. I've had enough practice that I can drag myself through anything, and I always pull through because it's just a matter of trusting myself and knowing enough not to think about it. All I know is that at a certain point, things can't get much worse. I simply went out to the back yard, took a deep breath, threw up in the bushes, then wiped my mouth and sailed back in smiling. I'm sure nobody noticed any difference, but it was such a relief. You can only appreciate being normal after feeling that lousy.


You know you've been drinking for awhile when alcohol becomes almost second nature to your body. It's like a sort of nutritional supplement that your system just processes. I used to cringe a little at the taste, but now I don't mind it at all; it's sort of appealing, and if I'm thirsty for it, the smell can even make my mouth water. I usually drink my first two beers slowly and after that it just slips down my throat and I can feel it solid in my stomach like some steadying weight, an anchor. I am buoyed on the pleasant buzz, and buffered by it.

I like to think that I can hold my alcohol, can drink seven or eight beers and be fucked up, yeah, but still be able to deal, I can carry on a conversation. Sure, there've been times I blacked out a little, couldn't remember how I got home, but I always wake up in my own bed. It's like I have some kind of auto pilot in my brain that kicks in when I need it. I don't mind not remembering. I imagine myself flying magically past darkened houses, zeroing in like a homing pigeon. I've had people warn me, I've been told that they pray for me; I've heard it all, believe me. They just don't understand that if you put enough faith in yourself on a gut level, on your own innate ability to survive, your body will take care of itself. Sure, I've been called stupid, but I believe in operating on pure instinct. I tell them, hell, if I've made it this far still alive I have nothing to worry about.


The only problem is dealing with my parents, with my curfew. I hate saying that -- curfew -- I feel like I'm in fucking junior high or something. I mean, I understand, I'm a girl, they're worried about my safety. And I know it's their house, they pay the bills and all that, and don't think I'm not grateful. I am. I feel really guilty about it sometimes, I try to do what I can to be the dutiful daughter--dress nice, run errands, be polite to the neighbors. Thing is, I can't keep that up for long or at least I have to get out nights. My father always asks me, bewildered, "But what do you do out there at night that you can't do during the day?" Even I don't have an answer. How can I explain what it is to be out on my bike navigating the dark streets alone, wind in my mouth? I go down to Five Points where there's bars and restaurants and stuff and maybe play pool with someone or drink forty ounce beers and watch all the freaks go by.

Like last night in Five Points; sitting for hours watching bands play and then getting up drunk, and just walking out of the room; night in front of me, pavement under my feet. I could go anywhere. Riding down hills everything moved past the corners of my eyes until I hit something and went flying. I lay on the warm pavement for a minute and it was like I could still feel myself going over the handlebars, sailing through the night air. I got up and there was blood all down my arm but I didn't feel anything.

Coming home didn't even matter. The parents were downstairs once they heard me come in, like I knew they would be; but this time I didn't care about even attempting excuses, I just said I'm very drunk leave me alone please I want to go to sleep now, and started up the stairs but they kept saying stuff until I turned around, almost at the top of the stairs, and told them I was sorry for whatever I'd done and whatever I would do and that this summer would be the last I'd ever spend under their roof and it all came out in a big rush and I remember it feeling liberating, in a ridiculous sort of way, and then I went to my room and passed out. I wake up this morning, late, and I'm glad no one's home. The house is deserted, and the only note my mom's left says to feed the neighbors' cats; nothing else, so I know they are pissed. Mornings after are like taking medicine -- something unpleasant you just have to endure for a little while until it's over. Usually my mom talks to me at length; asks me why I have to do stuff like that; how could anyone do stuff like that; starts asking more rhetorical questions; hands raised, beseeching the ceiling and I stand there and try to look like I'm not hungover and listen until she's worn herself out and I can leave the room. My dad usually doesn't say anything at first and we both avoid each other until after dinner-time when my mom's maybe in the kitchen and then he looks at me and says a few terse sentences; how drinking is bad and staying out all night is bad and how it worries my mother and how it kept them up all night and then he stops and turns away and we both sit there and watch the news or something.


I don't feel sick anymore, just a little light headed. Floating in the pool helped, but I still have an afternoon to kill so I may as well do some baking; at least the parents won't think I was in bed all day. The kitchen is flooded with the western sun and perspiration beads up between my shoulder blades as I sip iced tea and roll out dough for pie crusts. I've been cooking this summer, even though our kitchen doesn't get much air conditioning and with the stove on it's almost unbearable. My mom'll wander in sometimes and ask me how I can stand it but I tell her it's nothing. When I finish I'll go sit outside under the pecan trees where everything feels so much cooler.

Preheating the oven makes sweat form a pool in the small of my back, and the lemon and cherry fillings settled deep in the dough make me want to vomit. The bright lemon is some harsh, sickening sun and the gelled filling looks acrid, sour; bile in the back of my throat. Cherries glisten softly under limp chains of raw dough like a bad secret; clotting thickly dark like menstrual blood. A wave of heat hits the back of my knees, I throw open the refrigerator door and stick my head in the freezer, cool air rolling around heavy as smoke. I close my eyes, breath cold to my lungs, and feel better.

Back at the counter, I start whipping the egg whites into meringue. The mixer is broken and I have to do it by hand, forced to go slowly because of my arm, which is scraped up all along the soft skin from my wrist to the tip of my elbow.

It was lucky the parents were at church and I had time to clean up. It was enough of a hassle having to explain it to them; they got home and stared at me; long faces serious, concerned, suspicious, but eased off after I told them someone rushed into me outside of the 7-11; how they were really nice and picked me up and apologized and offered to get me help but instead I went to my friend's house nearby and got cleaned up. I figured this out when I was sticking my shirt into the washer along with a lot of bleach; practicing a few times, getting down the details. Details will give you away every time. You need specifics and you need to get them in the right order consistently; going over until you almost buy it yourself and then you can tell it with a straight face. Still, I had to go through it two and a half times, slowly, before they bought it and decided I was okay.

It's not that bad, really, the skin's just scraped off and I'll have a scab for a while, but I don't mind that. Even though it's swollen and still aches a little I don't care, because I know it's healing; skin knitting itself back together, secretly. It's like I can almost feel it. I guess most people hate wounds or getting scraped up, but initial pain doesn't bother me. Sure, it hurts, but there's something good in it; I know it can only get better. And every day I can feel myself; see myself heal in front of my eyes. I have no control over it; my body just mends itself; slowly, growing like magic until one day it's healed, my skin flawless and unbroken. It's better than any kind of faith.





 "Meringue" © 1993, 1995 by Caroline Linder

 Original graphics © 1995 by Jim Davis-Rosenthal and Canéla A. Jaramillo


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