“we tell ourselves stories in order to live”

the only thing i did today was file taxes and buy toilet paper from target. that’s
enough, right? i text my friend about our 1099s and they tell me  it’s  so  dumb:
if y’all lost this money, y’all lost this money.  we’re tired.  i’m tired and i tumble.
i’m tired and i’m tumbling  into  the  entirety  of  my  professional development
spent in the nonprofit sector.  i  wish  somebody  would’ve  told  me  the  truth.
that everything is about money.   even when it’s about people,   and especially
when it’s all about to collapse over a grant we laid it on thick with.   i was once
the  bright-eyed  kid  who  touted  “we  tell  ourselves  stories  in  order to live.”
i know these stories.  i’m living these stories.  the  story  is  that  you  stock  up
on rhetoric and then you slide.  this  year  i  finagled  my  way  into  a higher tax
bracket and suddenly i’m right of center. don’t tax the rich. I am the rich.  I  am
an  outfit  repeater.   I   get   paid   to   nod   and   nod   and  nod  and  I  respond
to  emails  with  a  sneer.   yeah,   I’m   on   some   ayn   rand   tip   and   altruism
doesn’t pay the bills.  altruism doesn’t pay for health care,  for  child  care,   for
elder care.  that  one  awful  night  I  held  my tía dead in my arms,  I wondered
who would cover for me the next day  had  I  chosen  to  live  in  my  body.  but   
I        didn’t.         I         chose         overtime.         I         chose        a          paycheck
and  maybe  I  thank  it.    who   wants   to   sit   with   day   old   hair,   saturated
with cigarettes and vomit?  I  don’t  remember  bathing  before  the  deadline.
I try not to remember the empty  bottle  still  whistling  from  the  trunk  of  my
guilt. days later that same friend texts me:  I  didn’t  get  any work done today
BUT I walked to the market for goat meat to make Liz soup  while  sh
e’s  sick
and I filed my  taxes. that’s enough, right?  
I  tell  them  that  spending the day
caring for a loved one is and should always be enough, but what I really mean
to   say   is   there’s   no   getting  around  the  debt  that’s  been  deferred,  the
crumbled   curbs   you   will   sit   on,  and   the   whole  of  west  oakland  filled
with fennel in the sun.      

My therapist asks me if I like myself 

here’s the thing: 
I see a space and I fill it
I see open cabinets and boxes
all over the kitchen floor, the trash
not even close to full but turkey slime 
weaves into my collar and gets stuck in my nose 
then it’s all in my head. How was I supposed to know?
How am I supposed to trust a house that creeps with black
widows? We admire her beauty before we kill her. I know not
to go searching for a shine in dark corners: I know that intention
often falls back on itself. Later, I hope I don’t remember the disfigured
ceiling, and the way it used to breathe on me when I stopped to think and
think. My therapist is waiting on an answer, and I look at our bookcases filled
with vines, a scale, the silly photo of your sister we spent an afternoon dancing with. Why? I say. It’s true that sometimes I’m a shell of a human. It’s true that I act too quickly when I cover up a trace. I like myself just fine and that is beside the point. We’re moving house and there are too many things here to fit there. Things I haven’t touched since before we moved house to unbearable heat, then the flooding. Rain like I’ve never known, in a constant state of becoming worse than last season but not as bad as the next. Remember when we walked amongst blocks of fallen trees? Redwoods splayed out across houses like nothing. Honestly, this gave me hope for the past. The confidence that our roots have their limits and until then I will mind my own clearings. I like myself just fine. I like myself better when I’m moving, fingertips buzzing for the verge or do I count the slips from it? My homes have not always been safe but they have always been beautiful because they are mine and I make them so. With every distance, the static becomes song and apologies are frivolous. Don’t help me pack, let’s dream about our next place. Or the one after or the one even after. Years from now when we’re frail and amnestic, let’s fuss over line breaks the way we did in the first place: intention is everything. I spent my twenties rolling cigarettes and now I’m finally great at it. I spent my practice so concerned with form and now I miss the lyric: the self we chisel from the bottom up to make a body
Intention is important, but is it everything? What about evidence? In our next kitchen when I’m cooking dinner for a crowd and the heaviest plates come crashing out of reach, will it dawn on me that I’m the one who put them there?

Published by Inverted Syntax, issue 5, 2023