I was born with a hole in my heart. I’ve always thought that would make a good first line for a story but in reality, it wasn’t that dramatic. It was a small hole and by the time I was 5, it had dutifully, reflexively, anticlimactically healed itself.
Kathy was my first friend. She wore princess costumes and when we played cowboys and Indians at recess she was always the one who got tied to the tree. To defend her from the cowboys, I’d hoot and shriek and stab the air with a sharp stick.
My first job was at an ice cream parlor when I was 12. I liked the free sample I’d get during break but afterwards, I had to practice scooping perfect 8 ounce dollops onto a scale before I could get back to work. The manager would watch over my shoulder until I could produce three perfect scoops in a row. I got fired for giving a friend 12 ounces and I never liked ice cream again.
For a year and a half I was an only child and when my little brother was born they say I pulled out all the hair on the right side of my head. My father remarried and had three more and by the time my little sister was born, I was 16. That was the year I had sex for the first time. I knew I wasn’t in love but he was nice and it seemed better that way.
The best way to lose a friend is to call them best. A best friend will move away or storm off or drift aside or metamorph into a chrysalis or die. I could count my best friends on one hand but they keep slipping through my fingers. They fall through the hole in my heart but I still hear them murmuring in my ears.
My friend Alice remains friendly with ex boyfriends. They come to visit her when they’re in town. They hang out together.
Oh, no, I tell her. I would never do that.
Why not? she asks. He was part of your life. You cared for him once. What happened to that feeling?
That’s the problem, I say. I’m afraid the feeling never goes away.
You’re not really juggling until you’ve got three balls in the air, until your hands start thinking for themselves: throw and catch, grip and release. I don’t know how to juggle but I can imagine.
In an old address book, I wrote a list of the names of everyone I’d ever slept with. I lost the book and now I can’t remember.
2 children have passed through me and there are 11 crows sitting on the telephone line across the street from our house. The homeless woman in the green knitted hat sways from one foot to the other exactly 14 times before she crosses the street and I’ve been married for 16 years to the man I’ve been kissing for 22. Our house has 2 trapdoors, 8 doors, and 31 windows. So far, this poem has 520 words: the word 520 is the 521st. Do numbers count? I got three parking tickets this month totaling $136 dollars. It takes me approximately 1968 steps to walk to work.
How many kisses does that make? How many times have I washed this plate?
They say rich people know exactly how much they have. With their eyes closed, they can describe the contents of their wallets. I wonder which comes first, the money or the desire to count. I wonder: if you don’t count, how do you know what matters, and I think that if I count, then at least I’ll have that number after the counted is gone.
Recurring dream: I’m in a room full of treasures, heaps of precious things, but the clock is ticking so I have to scramble to grab as much as I can. I spend all night frantically shoving stuff into my pockets and when I wake up, I’m spent.
My mother has the same dream. She says after years she just decided to stop, look around, and claim the whole damn pile. In her dream it’s all hers now, so she doesn’t have to grab or worry.
I practice owning the whole pile. I hold up my hand, squint, and hold it all, counting the gaps where the light gets in.
I thank Sherman Alexie for the inspiration for this almost-poem which I wrote after I read his poem Crazy Horse Boulevard in Tin House’s Summer Reading #52, Volume 13, Number 4.
What do you count?