People keep giving me advice. It is useful and appreciated. (Well, maybe I exaggerate just a little, but I’m in a charitable mood.)
“Write another book,” suggests Dad.
“You didn’t like the last one,” I say.
“That’s not true,” he shouts. “It was all right.”
“Write about politics,” advises Mom. “On how Bill and Hilary ruined this country.”
“No,” says Aunt Jeanie. “I think Susan should write about Grandpop. He was a semi-professional boxer and baseball player. He collected frogs and turtles, and sent us to college. He was really quite amazing.”
“I didn’t know he was a boxer,” I say. “I only remember him sitting in a La-Z-Boy, yelling at Grandma.”
“Yes,” says Aunt Jeanie, “he was good at that, too. But he was also an excellent tennis player.”
“Finish your novel,” says Corey. “You know, the one you started five years ago. What was it about?”
“I can’t remember,” I lie. It was about me, disguised as an attractive blonde, successful at everything she does.
“Write about caregiving,” says Sonja. “I know you already wrote a book about it, but I mean a real book.”
I stare at her.
“You know what I mean. A resource book, one that gives solid information.”
I understand. She’s envisioning a manual filled with useful facts, not a memoir chronicling the good and bad times on Dover Street: the morning we dropped Ralph on the floor and couldn’t get him back into bed; the day Andrea and I figured out how to fix the broken pipe in the upstairs bathroom; the Thanksgiving when Jerry brought home two free turkeys, one frozen and one pre-cooked; the rainy days I drove Willy to his part-time job at the barbecue joint; the time Whiskers ran down to Mrs. Scott’s house and spent the night covered in homemade quilts, snuggled against her warm body; the day Harka saw an ATM machine for the first time; the quiet April afternoon when Leroy died in our back bedroom.
I think about those times and grow sad. Then I remember when Hans let a “friend” into our house and she stole my credit cards, cell phone, driver’s license, and passport.
I suddenly feel the way I did then, lost, without an identity. All the people who have populated my life and given it purpose for the past 12 years are gone and scattered: Jerry and Willie out on the streets; Andrea at her mother’s house; Hans living here and there; Harka married and happy in Los Gatos; Ralph, Mrs. Scott, Leroy, (and Whiskers), hopefully raising hell together somewhere nicer than here.
“Write about me,” says my housemate Jernee, when she finally gets up at the crack of noon. “Write about how I met you and my Dad when I was seven, and how now I’m almost 17, and we’re still friends, kinda.”
She opens the refrigerator door and stares at the contents inside. “How come we don’t have any food around here anymore? You don’t ever feed me and I think your public should know.”
“Not true,” I say. “Five dollars a day, everyday for lunch, plus late night runs to McDonalds and Jack In the Box. And look at the shelves, they’re filled with your favorite things: Frosted Flakes, Lucky Charms, microwave popcorn.”
“I’m talking real food,” she says. “Remember Mrs. Scott’s fried chicken and bread pudding? Remember Andrea’s collard greens, and how Harka blew up the microwave? And my Dad’s specialty, Eggs A La Jerry: bacon, fried potatoes, and eggs-over-easy.”
“Yes,” I say. “I remember.”
She sighs and closes the fridge door. “Those were the days. I kinda miss ‘em.”
“Me too,” I say.
“Well,” she says, as she opens a cabinet and scrutinizes its meager contents. “I’m still here. You can at least be thankful for that.”
“I am,” I say. I want to hug her, but I know she won’t like it, so I don’t.