Judy was making great progress with her new method of organization. She was using stickies to take control of her life. Not only were her pockets full of stuck and unstuck stickies scribbled with every kind of thing to act upon or think about, but she’d also started deconstructing piles of stuff and repiling them with stickie labels, according to category. The piles were necessarily neater and tidier, closer together and arranged according to size. And the multicolored coding system she’d worked out made a festive flag effect. You could pretend you were driving a closed course in a fast car. Vroom.
She stopped, whipped out a stickie pad and the pen from a chain on her neck, and wrote down the image. She’d been doing that a lot, lately. What she wrote down was just the barest description, something to jar her memory later. She was coming up with the most amazing stories, the most amazing characters doing the most interesting things. Like whole novels revealed in a moment’s absentmindedness. She was scrambling to keep up with the thoughts. She was searching for a big empty notebook that was at the bottom of some stack somewhere.
It must be the act of writing that stimulates the brain to produce more things to write. If you make a habit of it, as she’d been doing with the stickies, then floodgates opened and the waters of creation flowed out over the barren landscape. She wrote that down and stuck it in her pocket. It felt so good to think about what if this and that, and to follow the chain of history as it unfolded, actual or made-up. Like a worm on a weighted hook, watching the water pass by, waiting for the fish. She wrote that down, too.
She’d been stopping for drinks and joints much less often since she’d become interested in organization, jumping up and leaving them on the table to go move something else. The idea that there was a place for everything, and that place was out of the way, was a new concept for her, and she was running with it. The living room was looking good. She felt like tackling the hall closet next.
As things got straighter around her house, Judy began to sort out some of the issues of her childhood. She thought a lot about her mother. Not all of it unkind. She began to see how a lot of her problems hadn’t really been visited upon her by her mother, but had been her own problems, right from birth. She’d always been like that. Poor Mom did her best, but Judy was always going to turn out like Judy. God love her.
It didn’t do anything for her various addictions, because Judy was still Judy, but it relieved the pressure to change, a little, and she relaxed some. Judy could live with everything staying nice and unchanging. Anything for peace.
As her head got a little clearer and better organized, and she started feeling more mammalian and less fish-like, she began to see things differently. Instead of her life as a long straight line, she saw it as a series of cycles. She could immediately see that because she never worked out her issues with Mom, all she ever met with were Mom clones. All of her life was projection and reaction, with more to come. A spiral. Judy was getting tired of looking into the mirror and seeing Mom.
While Gordon always acted like nothing bothered him, and Cindy always held on tightly to her sense of injustice and the many examples that called for revenge, and Rick aggressively rooted out whatever stood in his way, Judy tended to fold up defensively and numb herself to the injury and wait for the bad things to stop by themselves.
She’d always blamed their mother for making them that way, turning them into twisted reflections of her own issues. But now she was starting to see how her brothers and sisters had taken the same situation and made their own traumas out of it. Especially after having raised kids of her own. She felt as if she should be calling Mom weekly and apologizing for her wicked childhood.
So she stopped by Mom’s house on her way to buy weed. Mom looked surprised to see her, but seemed pleased enough. The hugs were genuine. They really did love each other, despite all the painful memories. The hug went on. It got awkward.
Mom thought Judy looked homeless. Her eldest daughter was dressed in dusty shapeless clothes covered in stains and grit. She was dripping with paper squares full of the most alarming handwriting. Her hair looked haglike, and she smelled. Mom wanted to make her take those clothes off and get in the bath that instant.
“Mom,” Judy said, breaking contact and standing with her arms crossed. “Did I have an invisible friend when I was a kid?” She remembered long conversations with someone wonderful, but it wasn’t anybody she could name.
Mom stared at her. How in the world would she know? After all this time. She couldn’t remember which of the kids had an invisible friend. They were quite worried about one of them at some point. But who cared? Wasn’t today hard enough without trying to figure out the past? She made a noncommittal answer.
“Well, when did I start to make up stories?” Judy wanted more. To find out how long she’d been having story lines and plot twists go thru her head. To find out how long she’d been suppressing this little voice that was becoming insistent.
Mom was confused. Why did she want to know? “You mean tell lies?”
“No. I mean fairy tales, and drawings of princesses and castles and things.”
“Oh, God, that. You were quite the artist in those days. I guess you must have been six or seven, eight, I don’t know. You made me a book once, I remember. It had a dragon.”
An emblem of her creative achievement. That was the best dragon she’d ever done “Where is it?” It was getting framed.
“Oh, it got milk spilled all over it years ago, and I guess I threw it out.”
“Oh. I guess it ran.” She felt deflated.
“And it got moldy.” It was a real mess.
“Yeah.” They could have kept it.
Mom saw her frown. “You made plenty of other things, and they all got put up on the fridge. Higher than anyone else’s pictures.”
It wasn’t the kind of answer Judy wanted, but she came over to find out about her past. She’d forgotten lots of it, things she should remember. That missing time thing. She needed to hear the adult version of events that shaped her childhood and compare it to her own memories. It was urgent.
She had begun to recall that she’d had a keen interest in making drawings and paintings, years ago, something she’d put aside so she could concentrate on growing up, but that she still felt drawn to. “Do you still have anything I did back then?” She could remember doing nothing else but drawings in second grade.
“There might be something in the attic,” Mom said, not certain. “You could look…”
Whole parts of her life were gone. She longed to sit at the counter while Mom made dinner, and pump her for how it really was when they were growing up. She only remembered some things, and it was obvious it was distorted. She wanted real insightful answers from her mother, who was after all the oldest remaining source of family history.
They parted with genuine affection and a promise to come over for dinner. Judy was excited about what she’d learned. She realized she’d been kind of numb, emotionally, for many years. She’d buried things that had happened to her and her siblings, and had really badly fragmented memories or just big holes around certain periods. And now that she was noticing the holes and the numb spots and the scar tissue, she had all sorts of questions and a sense of panic. If she could only understand it, she could do something about it.
* * *
Judy wanted to tell Allen about this revelation. For the first time in ages he was at his rat-hole of an apartment. There was a young guy hanging out with him, nice looking, smart, cute, nice eyes. She told them about all her mom-clone relationships and how she was trying to change history. They got high and grooved to the inscrutable ways of fate.
“I don’t have a problem with my mom,” Allen reflected. “I love her to death. Mom’s are a national treasure. As a matter of fact, I’m staying with this old lady now who’s a real joy.”
“Well, my mom’s okay, too, from the outside” she responded. “All my friends in high school used to love her. But if she was your mom, you’d know that she was the devil incarnate.”
The cute guy was fiddling with some kind of remote. “Did you fix it?” Allen asked.
The guy flipped it over in his hand. “Yeah, it was easy. Now it’ll signal whenever he’s a quarter mile from here, and it’ll get stronger at he gets closer.”
Allen chuckled. “Bastard thought he could spy on me,” he told Judy. “But Ben here reverse-engineered his own device and now we’re tracking him. Good one, buddy.”
The conversation turned to hypoxia, Judy having turned red and coughed up lung jelly on her next hit. The talked about how maybe part of the high was from holding your breath until you were lightheaded. They reminisced about fainting on purpose back in grade school. They talked about how many brain cells they had left, and did a very inept verbal calculation of just how many brain cells they’d killed off already. Judy was particularly fond of the feeling she got in her fingers and toes as the last of the oxygen was sucked out of her capillaries.
“So, what do you do?” Judy asked the cute guy. Ben. She wouldn’t know how to answer if she’d been asked the same question. And she didn’t think she wanted to ask Allen what he did. But Ben looked like he had a real job, and she was curious where he worked because she wanted to started driving by and seeing if she could spot him.
“Uh,” he began to answer.
“Old Ben here is working for the FBI.” Allen said proudly.
Judy was intrigued. Ben was embarrassed. “No. No, I don’t. I’m a security guy, just a corporate droid. I stare at cameras and make reports. It’s just that I did a little consulting for them once, a corruption matter involving a local legislator.” He’d sharpened up a rather grainy low-light picture to show certain details that were originally vague and shadowed, but probably there.
“A certain slick motherfucker who is now in prison for extortion,” Allen added.
“It’s not all that exciting,” Ben admitted to Judy. “It’s all very technical.” Judy had a vision of a cutting room floor and jotted herself a note. “And it’s really boring,” he continued. “Imagine scenes that never change, for hours on end. Where the most exciting thing is watching the dog pee on the rug in someone’s house.”
Judy looked around. The place was trashed. “So, where are you staying now?” she asked Allen.
“I told you,” Allen said, accepting the joint and inhaling raggedly. “(Pause) There’s this nice old lady that I’m kind of looking after for a friend.” He took another hit and passed it on. “(Pause) She’s kind of strict and old fashioned, and she doesn’t like me drinking and smoking. But I got this secret bedroom she don’t know about, and I’m keeping my beers in the vegetable keeper because she never looks in there.”
Judy didn’t believe it. “How do you know?” Personally, she never looked in her vegetable keeper.
“She told me. ‘If I can’t see it, it’ll go bad.’ So I know she won’t catch me. It’s like a dream come true,” he said, “living there.”
“You don’t look so much like an ax murderer any more,” Judy observed.
“And you’re starting to gain weight,” Ben added. “You should marry the girl.”
“Oh yeah. I pulled these out of her trashcan.” Allen reached under the coffee table and dragged out a plastic box of chocolates. Ben didn’t like chocolates, but Judy took a handful and squirreled them away in her pocketbook. She was eyeing the container. A box!
Then Allen’s remote started beeping. “Holy shit, he’s coming.” Allen said, sweeping up all the paraphernalia and heading for the door. “Everybody out.” Judy and Ben were right behind him. Judy grabbed the container and the roach as she left. Allen’s yell led the way. “Let’s cut thru the bushes and go out the back way.”
As she drove home with her bag of weed and her box, she felt happy for the first time in ages. She lit the roach and drove along slowly, smoking and thinking about her life. Real peace was at hand.
The cars had slowed to a crawl. Judy passed construction cones, and had to wait for the signal guy to wave her thru a big hole in the road. She timed her passage so she’d be exhaling out the window right next to the workers. She felt it was her duty to ease their labor and remind them of what was waiting when they finished for the day. And if they didn’t smoke, it would be good for them. And if they were against smoking, then they needed to know how many others weren’t. It was a statement.
* * *