by Julia Chopelas
I should have called her (she doesn’t pick up) but I should have tried I should have called her harder or louder and maybe she would have picked up her phone. My hands are shaking I’m not really here I’m kind of gone I’m kind of sitting on the dirty balcony at our apartment looking over that parking garage in my pajamas without socks on and the air smells like weed and hot summer dust and Erik her ex is on the phone telling me everything, everything. It’s not real it’s not real. Why did they make this up to undo me with when they know it will undo me break me make me disappear. What they said last night couldn’t be true it wasn’t true. She’s missing? Nanny is lying she likes to be right and she’s not right this is my mom not some crackhead psycho why would she do that she didn’t do that. She didn’t do those things. She isn’t those things. A schizophrenic. A thief. A liar. A trespasser. She’s not. This can’t be real is she safe is she dead, dead somewhere no one knows where to look? Dave died this way he died no one wants to say it but they know it wasn’t natural wasn’t on purpose or suicide it was an episode he did it himself and he was sick like this.
I cut the pants.
I cut them right through where I was supposed to draw a neat chalk line then another neat chalk line, “never cut until there are two lines,” Roberto said, every tailor knows this. And I knew that, I did, but I cut through the pants. My first week at my dream job and I cut through those goddamn pants I can’t believe it they’re cut they’re raveling raw right where they’re meant to be folded and pressed and safe. I took those huge scissors the handle it’s so heavy why are they like this like a guillotine so final if you cut it’s cut why would anyone make scissors so final and heavy like death. Are these Hugo Boss pants? Maybe I don’t know probably worth $400 or more does this come out of my paycheck that’s a dumb question don’t be selfish forget it. Doesn’t matter if I’m fired anyway. Not right away but delicately fired you know—this is one strike and I probably only get one, I get one and the next one is something small and stupid but they’ll compare it to this and remind me of this and I’m out. What a liar I am I said I could do this now look I knew it I knewI wasn’t qualified and here’s the proof. I cut the pants, I cut those goddamn pants and I shouldn’t be swearing I shouldn’t be shaking I should be smiling I should be smart I should be charming I should be calm. Shit I cut the pants I’m still holding them tight to my chest walking in circles I’m swearing again just in my head but stop it—stop it. I have to do something I have to say something to someone, anyone. Roberto is gone, can I talk to HR? What would they even say? It doesn’t matter if I lose this job, it doesn’t matter because if I lose my mom what does it matter.
If she’s gone, I’m gone, too.
I talked to Alex, I talked to Erik, but I talked to my grandmother last night for the longest time. Her voice was as cold as ice, the kind of ice you taste when you pull a popsicle out of its crinkly plastic sleeve and try to taste it and your warm tongue just sticks. It paralyzes anything warm. Holds it hostage until it’s finished, holds you there until you warm up enough to wet yourself loose. My grandmother said that my mom had always hated her, even as a child. She always thought herself above the rest of her family and was incredibly selfish but always a little crazy, so this doesn’t surprise her. Why are we talking about her like this, after what’s happening? What does it matter now?
Let me loose, I can’t hear this.
“Well, just wait ‘till you hear this part,” she says. My mom has been driving to Erik’s property, night after night, wearing all black and sleeping in his bushes. She came home and with half-shut eyes slumped in a chair and told my grandmother that she and Erik were married the night before and that Jesus had performed the ceremony. She stole my grandfather’s car and my grandmother’s credit card and hasn’t been heard from in days. My head starts pounding and my ears are ringing and my fingers are turning into ice as her voice works its way through my phone, my fingers, frigid but clammy, clasped around the phone. What if she’s telling me the truth?
I’m still holding the pants tight against my chest, but then I had to let go.
I robotically folded them and laid them over my arm, like a valet waiting on an aristocrat. I walked down the hallway to the HR office to tell them I ruined the pants. A long hallway. It felt longer today. I’d only been here a week but it feels so long today. I couldn’t really feel the weight of my feet pressing into the carpet. I was on one of those conveyors at the airport, flat and long and black, pulling me slowly and unsentiently to my destination. My body moved but I wasn’t the one moving it. I wasn’t my body anymore, I was my mind and heart floating as two separate entities like helium balloons, existing somewhere far away, sending controls remotely to the body down below that these vital organs wanted no part in possessing anymore. I wished they would float far enough away to lose transmission with the body, maybe float high enough so that the atmospheric pressure would make them pop and explode.
What happens when the body loses transmission with the mind and heart? The organ balloons sent the necessary controls to my body for now at least: “Step forward—good— step again. Build a rhythm, right after left, there you go, just focus on the movements. Just reach the end of the hall. Just get to the office, tell them what happened. It’s not really you anymore, don’t be embarrassed. It’s just the body you’ve been in, wearing your clothes, using your voice. You are somewhere else they can’t reach you.”
I sat down at a small table across from a kind faced, roundish woman with glasses and a bob. She was so kind and hadn’t even said a word yet. How was she so kind?
“What can I help you with?”
My eyes are burning. It’s that burn before the tears pool up enough to soothe them and I hate that part because that’s when I know I’m on the edge right before I make a miserable baby of myself. Lose transmission, please, so this body can just talk.
“Oh, well, um, my mom, my mom yes, she’s in Massachusetts…well, well I don’t know where she is, I don’t want to be dramatic but I don’t know if she’s alive right now…my uncle, yeah my uncle, he’s dead now but my uncle he had schizophrenia and he, well he died that way…”
No, not my mom’s brother, not my mom’s brother but it doesn’t have to run in the family you see for me to be enveloped drenched choked with fear and forget where I am and cut through those pants like butter like a careless child cutting through their mother’s curtains.
“I…yes, yeah, exactly, thank you, that’s what I need help with. Yes, the pants, I just cut right through them, where I was supposed to fold, I cut.”
Where I was supposed to fold I cut.
My body pushed the words out of my mouth without emotion but I felt feeling itself looming perilously close to my body again, the organ balloons descending, their polyester ribbons skirting the ground with a gentle hiss as they slowly lost helium and floated back down to possess their body again.
“Would it help you to go home or would you like to stay and work for some distraction, keep your mind off things for a bit? What would feel best for you?”
I can’t go home, I…I can’t stay here or I’ll just slaughter even more defenseless designer suits with those Edward Scissorhands shears. I’m hopeless, useless. I felt my organs ruthlessly thrust themselves back into my body without permission, the mind balloon filling all the extra space around my brain, inside the skull, making my head pound and my ears ring, losing hearing and focus. The heart balloon pushing itself down my throat with its squeaking rubber filling all the space inside my rib cage, crowding my lungs and making my chest so tight that breathing was impossible. Go home?
I walked back to my car. I can’t remember getting there but I remember sitting in the parking lot in my car and the ungodly, unfathomable western summer heat that made me feel like I was going to pass out but that would be nice right now, wouldn’t it? Someone can come find me after I’ve been out for several hours—I craved unsentience. I couldn’t lift my hand to put my keys in the ignition, turn on the AC and just drive home. How could life go back to normal after this? Thoughts and feelings and fears had stampeded through me for countless hours the night before and then into my dreams and then throughout the morning, but dust always settles. There was only one question and I didn’t want the answer.
Julia Chopelas: The best thing that happened to her in 2021 was finding a Garfield plush from 1981 on Facebook marketplace. She promptly searched the same said Garfield on eBay, purchased him, and they have been living happily together for quite some time now.