“And you’re the only one
who knows the monster’s name . . .”
— Rae Spoon
I still hate doing my laundry around other people; the unmentionables, the noise, the children. I wrote to you from a laundromat before. Could you tell? Did it come out clean or littered with other people’s gossip and drama? Did I tell you about the girl from downstairs who asked me if you can reuse a condom that’s been through the washer and dryer?
I saw a photography show once on laundromats. Humans of New York sort of feel. Whenever I see art I think, I could do that. A friend once said that the point is not that there is talent in being able to do it but in thinking of doing it in the first place. I have been recording all of my ideas so that when someone does it I can tell her I did think of it too.
In university we had a program, “Letters for the Inside,” where prisoners would request information and we would do the research and write them back 1. My first request was for Kevlar (bulletproof shirts). I wasn’t sure if this was kosher or not. We were only given rough outlines of off-limit topics. I did it anyway. So I know a lot about Kevlar. We were warned we weren’t allowed to be pen pals, however. There was a separate bleeding-heart liberal program for that.
Anyway, maybe you get so much fan mail you’ve forgotten me. Don’t forget me—it’s not fair. You are the one who is supposed to be punished. You are the one with the faulty moral compass. I am the one trembling and moving and being asked about condoms as if it were an accusation in itself. I am the one in hiding. You don’t even have to cook. I am searching for your humanity. My sexuality is under lock and key. Wi-Fi has been cut off; mail returned to sender.
I wish I could reopen your case and light a match to it. I wish for all this and more and to forget the sound of you snoring. I could never sleep. And still don’t. I used to use the washers and dryers (two of each) in the apartment building but once I found kids having sex in there. Also, it is slightly more expensive and doesn’t have any extra large loads.
Do female prisoners get as much fan mail or more? Do they get any? Orange is the New Black is now all the rage; lesbian sex, prison bars, poor misplaced white girl—who wouldn’t want a bite? Am I tempting you? I hate when people say we’re all in prison, not because of its truth but its stupidity. You always get me going on things like this. They have driven me out of two neighbourhoods now. It isn’t legal what they did but who can argue with a sexual abuse victim? How ironic, I am automatically attached to your name, your fame, your crime, and yet you will not even write back. I just want to know why.
I saw you as I sat in the pub. Someone threw nuts at your head. It was a slow night. All my nights these days are slow. I’m tired of seeing your face. Maybe prison is like art. I could have done it, too, but I didn’t. People watch the prison shows, however, to see how different we are. For that escapist thrill and the charge of moral superiority. I have given up on such judicial language. We all have locks.
I believe the girl who asked about the condoms is dating the guy I found outside one night, lying on the small patch of grass. I couldn’t tell if he was dead or passed out. I asked someone to find out for me, for I didn’t want to be the one to stir him. He said he was fine, and gave me a nasty look. A look like—mind your own business, lady. The same attitude I was given when I called the cops because it sounded like a bad fight in the apartment next door. Now I don’t bother. I don’t even comment on the condoms or the lewd graffiti (street art—ha) or sidewalk chalk. When I was a kid I never would have thought of such things. But to react to it is just reinforcement. So I try to ignore the lewdness. Eventually you don’t even have to try to ignore it, you just do. When I’m really stuck I bring up you. You are the answer to every dinner party in the ’burbs and in this hole, this laundromat. So much so that I no longer think you’re real. They probably aren’t sure, either. They could Google you. They probably have. Do you remember Google?
Perhaps I’ve been watching too many prison documentaries. So many pages, so many words, and still no resolution. Just more pages and more words. More silence. In Al-Anon we are to make lists of all the people we have harmed, which seems to be everyone we have ever met, and I said I wasn’t going to apologize for a life no one should have had to live anyway. As if the verdict is always guilty for everyone involved. They tell us to pray, that God can redeem us. Foolish me thought we were there because our exes and fathers were behind bars and treated beer as a sport. Amends. I don’t believe I even believe in the word anymore. Sounds like a new brand of vodka—I’m putting that on my list.
I remember—suddenly—I was supposed to buy groceries. Milk and bread and such. I remember you telling me how you’d get milk from Starbucks, filling up an empty cup. I can no longer stand Starbucks, it feels like everyone there is a clone and every drink is named after Oprah. Maybe people have a point—we’re all in prison. Selfpity is so lazy. Why is it that I love the word loathe, I mean, what does that say about me?
Favourite word, no doubt. It fills me up, takes up the space.
It is 2:00 am again and I don’t know what to ramble on about. Too much, not enough. I want to sleep forever but not sleep at all. I want to find your other letters—the ones I buried. I want to collect keychains from other countries. I don’t want to be strip-searched ever again—not even by you. I stare at the lined paper and the lines form bars, keeping the words in.
Now it is 2:17 am and something hurts. I don’t know how to explain. I don’t want to explain, but it hurts. And I’m remembering standing outside the metro, waiting for you. Pacing. And all the people going on with their lives. It was spring, I believe, but sometimes it seems like it was spring in every memory I have.
No one talks about this stage. People only talk about being young or old, no in-between. The old ones pointing fingers, the young ones with middle fingers. Somewhere in the middle life is just too uneventful. After the broken heart, before the grey hairs, after the weddings, before the funerals, there are the divorces. Maybe this is enough for now, all that’s left is debating between coffee and tea. At least, it would seem that’s all that’s left. I’ve got to do laundry, still.
Have you made your amends? I assume not, for I haven’t heard from you. I’d rather you didn’t, to be honest. Do it with the priest. It is raining hard here. You can’t go for a walk without being baptized. Can’t step outside without being free. So I stay here with my Canucks heated blanket and my Paul Auster collected prose. I know, I know—Go Leafs!
Sometimes I like watching the dryer, it does form a sort of dissociative fugue. I feel as I imagine cats do—focused, in the moment, perplexed by the mechanical movements and colours—waiting for the attack—some people think that it’s crazy to talk to cats. For me it seems entirely natural; more natural than answering the girl about the condom or the street art or the hooligan or you on the tv and the beer and the salted nuts and the carrot cake in the fridge given to me by an old friend. I still don’t know why. She did it as one does after a tragedy—a real tragedy—or when one buys a house next door—she stood at the door and I stood at the door for what seemed like an extremely long period of time. All this considered, who wouldn’t talk to her cat? I’m not sure we’re supposed to have pets but I also don’t think anyone cares.
I imagine your cell like a shoebox, I imagine you inside. I imagine you sharing it with a mouse. And a string to connect my telephone to you through a peephole. I picture all of this and more because you say nothing. You just stand like a totem pole in the midst of my life. You know that in Native customs you aren’t allowed to resurrect a fallen totem pole?
And I imagine our therapist—And how does that make you feel? I imagine us. That’s all you’ve left me—I feel fucking fantastic, doc.
I remember writing this before and so many other times, too many times to remember and I remember ice cream and fall leaves and movies but sometimes I’m not sure if I’m remembering a movie or remembering my life. I am writing to you, I remember that; do I remember that or do I know that? Words are strange, like bunnies that run around and make smaller bunnies and claw at wires and I’m angry about the bunnies and breaking every rule about writing letters.
Instead I live in a place where rage is a currency and everyone owes somebody an apology. Sometimes it’s better still to forget. Yes, this is one of those times. And I’m getting some of that coffee now. Really, I don’t remember, not at all. I wish I could forget you but not forgive. This is how it’s done— the orchestral version of silence—a page turn.
I’m remembering the first time the silence overtook me. This time you were the teacher, you replace every character in every memory. I was eating SpaghettiOs as a child and a feeling of deep shame and no understanding of why, and this image keeps reappearing and I want to go save her, go step in, but instead I don’t move. Perhaps I have also been replaced. That image of the thermos remains; the tiny desk, though it wouldn’t have seemed tiny at the time. And how I ran to the sink to throw up during silent reading time. But nothing around it, not before or after, just the thermos and the sink.
Tell me about your cell again and I will tell you about the laundromat and the coffee. I will tell you about the condoms and the neighbours and the Al-Anon meetings. I will tell you because I’m not telling God; I’m not asking for anyone to remove my character defects, I’m not asking to be saved, I’m just wanting to write. Wanting someone to know. My laundry is dirty and my words are in bars. »
1. Letters for the Inside is run out of Simon Fraser Public Interest Research Group (sfpirg), SFU’s student-based social justice resource centre.From issue #72