A million years ago, I was in an airplane with my seventh and eighth grade classmates, flying back to California from Italy. We were unbelievably lucky private school children who had just spent a week in one of the oldest cities of Western Civilization doing what eighth graders do–having fun but missing the full gravity of the experience. Still, it mattered to all of us. If I remember one thing about eighth grade, it was that we loved each other. There were six of us in eighth grade, around that number in seventh grade, and one person in ninth grade (it wasn’t a high school but this person loved our school so much they decided to let him stay for his first year of high school.)
I was sitting next to Ilya. I had a cup of soda, Mountain Dew, in my lap. I drank a lot of it and then put it between my legs, and fell asleep with the airline playlist in my ears. I woke up. “100 Years” by Five for Fighting was playing. The soda was cold between my legs. Ilya looked over at me and asked something I forgot. I went back to sleep. Somewhere during the flight, the soda tipped over. My lap was wet, but I didn’t care. I went on sleeping. Every time I came to, that song was playing: “I’m fifteen for a moment, time for just another moment and I, I’m just dreaming…” And Ilya, Ilya was always next to me. They didn’t have enough songs on that playlist, was all I thought.
Sleep on a plane is always light. Sleep on a plane as an eighth grader, with Mountain Dew in your system, next to a nervous boy is lighter. On the flight to Italy, I wanted to be awake. Now, all I could think was “sleep.”
Again, that song. I was fourteen, and in that moment, the moment with the soda between my legs, I knew: I would never be flying home from Rome next to Ilya, at age fourteen, again.
I love Michael. He is the sweetest unavailable man I have ever met. He has eyes like a golden retriever. He is spiritual. He is a therapist. He is young, but old enough to feel older than me. His long straight hair reminds me of mine. I tell him I have never been to see Amma the Hugging Saint. He tells me we must go.
As my friend, he gives me a relatively satisfying back massage. I swear, it is a back massage, nothing else. We are sitting in the chairs waiting for our turn for a hug from Amma, and he reaches over and starts touching random places on my shoulder blade with one hand. He is pretty good at it. I think we might have good chemistry, of that sort, you know. I have been asking him to hang out with me over and over for a long time. Usually he is available, eventually, to me. He never asks me first. That’s how I know he’s not really interested. Still he is kind. He is also handsome. Those things, when paired together, make for a good time. For me.
We are watching the never-ending line of people go up to this old lady with a similar energy to my maternal grandmother (like she has seen EVERYTHING and you know it) and receive what looks more like an embrace than a hug. Here, an embrace is different than a hug, even though she is known as the “Hugging” saint.
We have never slept together, Michael and I. I am very glad about this, though if he were to ask I might have trouble saying no. It feels like a wedding ring when you’re as alone as me, sleeping with someone. It never turns out to be but each time the proposition (so much like proposal!) is an honor. Lucky for me, he never asks. He never even kisses me, and I am still so glad. He is my wedding date and still he won’t kiss me. At Amma’s convention, he is my handsome, experienced friend, someone who I will never really know, or own, the two ways to be in relationship that I know at this point in time.
Then, we wait in line. We got our tickets hours ago, at 10, and it is 2 before we are receiving our embraces from this cherished lady. Someone tosses rose petals as I approach the altar. I sit in front of her. She is leathery, old. She mutters something. It doesn’t feel ethereal enough, but before I know it, she is holding me, rather mechanically but still meaningfully. She touches my head and pulls me away. She actually looks at my eyes. I wonder what it would feel like to look at that many eyes seeking a mother’s love in one day. She looks like she knows, and is over it. She understands seeking a mother’s love better than anyone.
That night I go home to Bob’s house. I live with an old man named Bob, and he is the chillest landlord I have ever had. He is 75 and takes his cat, named Gatito, on road trips. He drinks cheap scotch and seems like the kind of person who has never yelled in his life.
I am pacing on the tiles in the kitchen, telling my mother about Amma, the Mother. She says, “I have to tell you something hard.”
“What is it?”
“Ilya was killed in a car accident.”
“Oh. Okay. Well.”
“Yeah. His girlfriend was also killed. Her baby survived.”
Two people I didn’t want to know about, his girlfriend and her baby. But I knew, they mattered too.
Ilya had a kid. He is going to live with his grandma. I am glad that his baby will have a family.
I am pacing in circles in my room. It has been two days, almost, since I ate, and definitely that long since I slept. I have wondered if I am schizophrenic but I am too scared to think about that. Meanwhile, the walls are talking to me. They are turning into men I have loved. The paint on my canvases turns into blood on the walls. That is when I remember: I promised to housesit. It is July 4th.
I pack a bag, the spirits and things whispering and talking and shouting. I am drowning in air, the ether speckled with faces. I have never felt so strange.
I walk toward Maria’s, and as I do, knowing it is six o’clock, a kind of witching hour for bad men, my mother told me, I call upon Maya Angelou. She takes my hand as I walk up St Francis Drive. Emma Watson asks to join us, and takes my other hand. And there is Belle, holding Maya’s. We are so alone, we women, but not when we are together. Maya knows that. Whenever I imagined the Great Mother, unconsciously, I thought of her. Emma was the girl I always thought I should be. And Belle, Belle was what I loved when I was little. They all know I need them.
I reach Maria’s. I open the door with my key to find she is still home. She hasn’t left for her camping trip. “So sorry Alma, I was trying to tell you, I decided not to go. I texted you.”
And I forgot to pay my phone bill.
Maria serves me soup and watches while I push bits of it into my mouth sporadically, barely hearing what she says. She knows I am dissociated. She asks me a question and I answer two minutes later, if at all. I ask if I can stay over that night and she says yes.
I lay on the couch bed thing in her spare room as the pink walls begin to dance. Or are they yellow? All I know is I see my grandparents dancing. I see Adriana, the mother of my friends, the woman who died of an aneurysm when I was eight, and she is standing behind me with her hands on my shoulders as the branches knock on the bathroom window, pretending to be those guys again. I see my grandmother’s shy angel face as I mention my mother, ask if she loved her and she says, “Yes.”
My grandfather’s face appears in the grain on the walls. He looks Jewish. I have long suspected that he was. He also looks angry. He tells me, “We are all loved in this world. Why do you doubt it?” The nightlights look like faces, my mother’s specifically. Everything changes so that my fingernails resemble me. The cats on Maria’s shower curtain lick themselves and stretch. When I look directly at them, they are still.
I go to the hospital the next day, and stay for six days. Apparently, I am not schizophrenic.