Catherine had her back to me when I entered the kitchen. I felt bad about the distance I imposed but I was trying to sort things out in my own sick way. Her dirty blonde hair hung below her shoulder blades. Our features are opposites, we couldn’t look less alike but that made no difference we are family. Catherine was my sister and I wanted to give her the world, if not the world than a least a better version of the one she lived in now. She wore a navy blue shirt that peeked out from underneath a gray sweater. Blau. Grau. I watched her washing a dish for a moment and I felt so sorry for being removed. I shouldn’t have alienated her as I have everyone else in my life. I hoped she knew how much she meant to me. We’re family, part of a fucked up one but one nevertheless. If I could just sort out my thoughts, what would happen then? Would I be the person I wanted to become? If I could just let go of the past could I be a normal functioning part of this world? Probably not. I’ve been troubled by the fact Catherine had to endure Hattie. She deserved much more than what she has been handed. A lot of people in this life get cheated, not just us. Catherine danced slowly to a song in her head while she washed a plate clean. Catherine has the worst taste in music, true story.
I thought of Edgar Allen Poe, we are the hopeless and the frail.
None of our dishes matched. We had tall glasses adorned with christmas trees, New York Ranger crests, Mets logos and others with vertical stripes. We had monstrous coffee mugs with horizontal rings of orange and black haunted by ghosts on some, illuminating by pumpkins on others. Orange. Schwartz. All the different sets of plates were handed down to us in various weird situations. My favorite one was the plate with ugly, horribly grotesque foliage pattern that grew beneath the meals. When I do dishes, I feel relaxed, I feel somewhat purposeful, but whenever I squeeze my hand into a glass to clean the inside I always expect the glass to explode. I stand in anticipation, waiting for the shards to fly into my face and cut my soapy hands. Let the blood flow like our surname. It hasn’t happened yet, but I’ll squint and turn my face anyway. I think I wanted them to burst. I think I want everything to burst.
“I’ll dry,” I said standing to the left of Catherine, grabbing a hand towel.
“ Thank you,” said Catherine.
“Cuts the grease in half,” I said deadpan.
I looked into Catherine’s nervous smile. I wondered if she could detect the worry in my eyes. What does that little girl carry around with her? Hattie’s rhetoric? Hattie’s main strategy was to use humiliation as means to control. To propagate a tight hold by diminishing any and all self worth within her children. It’s understood that Hattie would do anything to keep us from leaving her, Hattie’s only tactic, a strategy that eventually backfired. With us gone, Hattie had burned her last bridge down to the ground. The irony is that Catherine was the only one who took care of Hattie. Catherine and Hattie delved into role reversal. With children who have deficient parents, it is not uncommon for the kids to take on basic adult responsibilities, it could be anything such as cooking and cleaning, as well as emotional accountability. Catherine became the caretaker, tending to my mother’s failing mental and physical health as well as her addictions. It often leaves the kids frustrated and feelings of inadequacy begin to fester. Our guilt is birthed from this. We assumed our identities from the basic six. Catherine worried about me as if she was my mother. I worried about her and felt responsible for everything. She was a nurturer. Some family friends have made remarks about how much Catherine looks like Hattie but I don’t see it. That was never flattering for Catherine to hear. I was embarrassed to confide in Pangur how much I feared I was in many ways like my mother. Some also say I have the look of my mother. I see it a little, more so than Catherine. The funny thing was that I saw Hattie in the face of strangers constantly. It could have been the result of my guilt or the simple truth that I missed her badly. In the skeletal face of a cashier or in the sunken eyes of a woman who passed me in the street of New York City, I saw Hattie. Show me any face of a woman with a hint of ennui and I will recognize my mother in it. She haunts me.
“What are your plans for today? Anything special? I don’t feel like going to work today? And I have an essay on the Central Nervous system due.”
“I know the feeling. I’ll probably head into the city for a little while. I’m going to meet Sundeep for lunch in Flushing. Then I want to go somewhere and write a bit. Maybe grab a beer. Nothing crazy. I have to be up early,” I said while placing a chipped Chinese bowl with a cat on it, onto the dry rack.
“Why does Sundeep get a pass?”
“There is nothing to get a pass from.”
“Sure. Anyway. Moving on. That’s good that you’re writing. How is it going? You haven’t mentioned anything about it in a while. You haven’t mentioned much about anything lately. I thought that last poem you wrote was great.”
“Thank you. Well, the writing is not really going that well. To be honest it is going painfully slow. I’ve been nursing it to a point where it’s basically non existent. I know I want to write. I know what I want to write. I just don’t write. I’ve stopped talking about it because it seems like once you speak about it, it kind of deflates the drive. I don’t know. When you talk about something more than you actually do it, it becomes problematic. I am really tired of being full of shit. The worst is when I’m writing a paper for school and my mind wanders off and all I want to do is write but I can’t. I want to work on something, a new chapter of a shitty story no one wants to read anyway. I won’t ever finish anything. I just have to write despite fatigue or distractions. I need to learn to write something everyday, a paragraph, a run on sentence, anything. As long as it allows me to be creative. I need discipline.”
“Self control is more like it,” Catherine said jabbing me with tiny punches. “I want to read it. Whatever it may be. You’ll finish something. You’ll have ample time when you graduate to work on whatever you want. It’s up to you, no one else can do it for you. You just have to do it. I am so ready for school to be done. I’m over it. It doesn’t even matter, odds are I won’t find work anyway.”
“I mean, that’s very possible. Jobs are hard to come by. I hope you’re right though. Whenever I have a chance to write I’m so exhausted from everything else I wind up going to sleep instead. I stopped talking about it because I felt like a liar.”
“You’re not a liar. I know you’re a writer.”
“I guess. I have nothing to show for it. Just because you write doesn’t mean your a writer. Does it?”
“Well, Wilhelm, It’s not easy to write. I tried to write a short story. I was required to for a class. It was god awful but you can’t give up on something you love.” What if I could give up on the things I loved so dearly, I mean, we did.
“You’re a detective and a motivational speaker.”
Catherine was always much stronger than myself. Catherine had to endure more than I had to, due to her being younger. At twelve years old I would just walk out and leave, hang out at the park or stay at Ronald’s. I had no rules to obey, I disregarded anything Hattie told me to do and did whatever I wanted to do. Catherine couldn’t do that. I was unresponsive to Hattie’s demands. Curfew? What does that mean? I always felt like I abandoned Catherine all those nights I left her alone in the company of pugilistic drunks. There was no where for us to go, anywhere was better than home, I am sorry I couldn’t rescue her. I still couldn’t and I hated myself for it.
“How is going with that girl? The bartender. What’s her name?”
“Ooh, girls,” I nudged Catherine with my arm. “How junior high school of you. I mentioned her?”
“Yes. You did.”
“When?” my face reddened.
“You came home from who knows where. You were pretty boxed. As a matter of fact that might have been the last time we really spoke.”
“Sorry. I’m such a weirdo. Please, please, forget anything I might have said to you. I’ve never said a single word to her. I don’t even know her. The only communication we’ve had goes something like ‘Stella’ or ‘pale ale’ or, maybe ‘thank you’. Thank you is a good one, though.”
“Well, you seemed completely enamored with her. Is she pretty?”
“No, she’s gruesome. Come on! She is very pretty. I just don’t know her at all. I shouldn’t talk about her. It’s just she seems, I don’t know, just really interesting and intriguing. There is something about certain people that ignite curiosity, I want to know her. She does that to me. I don’t know a fucking thing about her other than where she works but I know, for some strange reason we would get on so well. Did I just say that out loud? So stupid. It’s all very childish. We shouldn’t even be having this conversation. I’m really good at making things up in my head. Disregard.”
“It’s not stupid. It’s normal. So why haven’t you asked her out? You’re not that shy. I understand what you feel about her, some people make you feel things, what’s a good word, beguiled. You feel compelled to look at them, to talk to them, to kiss them. It’s the principle of attraction.”
“I know what it is, thanks. I’m taking a breather from women. Maybe I’m more timid than you know. I think I need a time out from girls. I’m in the process of taking a break from everything.”
Honestly, I was embarrassed about discussing my feelings and women with Catherine. I felt so stupid that I spoke about Glory. How do you talk about someone you’ve never had a real encounter with? It was bad enough I kept going to the bar to see her. Straight up stalker shit. Creep mode. I could’ve revealed more of my thoughts but I think from that point on it was a conscious decision to shut the fuck up. I have always been frank with my feelings and the moment after I verbally vomit I feel ashamed. Is it because my feelings, like everything else, change? Or is it because I felt stupid for simply having feelings and being affected by life in the first place. It could also be I just don’t want anyone to know me.
“Do you want to kiss her? I bet you do!” Catherine poked me in my armpit.
“Alright, stop it. You know I hate that.”
“You do. You love her.”
“It is evident we are nowhere close to being grown up here. What do you want to me to say? I want to kiss her? I want to kiss her. I am not in love with anybody. I am no good for anyone.”
“I am not even going to comment on that. You should ask her out tonight. Go and see her and ask her out. Tonight.”
“If it’s supposed to happen it will.”
“No. Gross. Wash your mouth out! When did you become fatalistic? There is no such thing as fate. You have to make it happen. Sometimes I think you won’t allow yourself to be happy.”
“I think the same thing about you. Hey Cat, when you grow up what do you want to be?” I asked.
“How about a caterpillar? Cat the caterpillar sounds right. Or like a famous person’s assistant. How do you take your coffee? I could do that shit!”
“They both sound great.”
“You know you can always talk to me.” I know I could talk to Catherine but I just can’t.
– Sean Gabler