Today I woke up at 3 AM and thought I could have two days in one: one for my sister and one for me. Her diagnosis was written on the bottom of a CAT scan. The technicians looked worried. So did strangers in the bodega where we went to buy juice. Everything depends on whether you can see the days on the floor or whether they have been kicked into a corner with cobwebs and crumbs. We remember things that never happened.
I had bought an onion and other ingredients for stew. I removed them from the fridge, and the onion was gone. A perfect Spanish onion. I searched everywhere, including closets. When my sister was dying, she said, “I feel an unreal peacefulness.” It was as if trees could grow where trees do not grow. I passed a man on the street, reaching for a penny, and it reminded me of my sister, who used to say, “I feel lucky.” Her shins were sharp as soup bones. I said, “I will never feel peaceful.” She laughed and said, “I know.”
I made tea and sat on the couch, remembering a text she had sent a few weeks before she died. I had felt a pleasant tingle on my wrist and looked at the tiny letters sprinting across the tiny screen. I read texts even while running from zombies or in the direction of free ice cream. My sister said she was falling asleep early, as if her dreams would be versions of the past. She dreamed about a boy she had been with who was twenty-two when she was forty-four, a drummer who was a little fat for her taste. She said, “I could have kissed him for the rest of my life,” and I remembered having sex for the first time and looking in the mirror and seeing no change. After a while I would think about certain body parts all day.
I read a review of the novel Crudo by an influential critic. He was tepid about the book, written by Olivia Laing, and I could feel he didn’t know what to make of the female narrator. She pretends to be Kathy Acker, punk goddess of everything fuck-you, who has been dead for twenty years, but never mind that. The narrator is every abject female who has ever come to the precipice of a woman-future and said, “You have to be kidding me.” I was reminded of a woman I sat beside on a subway. She wore a tattered skirt and a soiled jacket. One leg was crossed over the other and a scuffed clog was dangling off her foot. Her ankles were bare, the skin mottled and red. She was shuffling cocktail napkins on her lap, a large pile of napkins marked in blue ink with a calligraphic hand: phone numbers, arrows, and brain storms, and I felt the loneliness of the world rise off her.
One day when I was on my sister’s bed she said, “The anger of women is exactly the same size as the reach of the thing in the White House.” She meant the man ruling our country. Her room was bathed in sun, and she had color in her cheeks. We had been talking about Ian Buruma, the former editor of The New York Review of Books, who was asked to resign after publishing a bloodless self-defense by the accused rapist and serial molester Jian Ghomeshi. I said to my sister I thought Burama’s mistake was not understanding that the vault had been cracked open and the door left swinging on a hinge. Even a few years ago, he might have survived such a move. Buruma had stood on the curb, shaking his head and saying, What is going on, here? He meant in the world. He was adapting to the role of victim.
I would fly to see my sister on the East coast from the place where I was living out West. On maps it looked like a bruise with a few purple veins raying out from it. The average temperature there is 112 degrees in the shade. There is no shade. When the temperature reaches 115 degrees, the airports close, and the mountains melt into the valley. It’s what the man I live with calls the Graham Greene effect, where our lives go on as normal while the crest of a wave we try not to see grows larger and larger in the background.
When my sister and I were apart, we would write about our days. I told her about a man who had been hit by a car on his bicycle, just as I was passing a Sephora. I dashed to his side and asked professional questions. He was stunned, and his hip hurt. As I bent over him, I could feel the quiet itch of a small insect on my arm. I called 911. The man told me his age. I said, “You look a lot younger.” I was on my way to buy concealer.
I hiked a trail, wanting to tell things to my sister. The thoughts floated beside me like ghosts unable to land. I was wearing a t-shirt with a dinosaur that said, “All my friends are dead.” Lemons were ripening on trees, and it was easy to tug them off. I wanted to tell my sister about the dream I had had that morning. I had fallen asleep on the shoulder of the man I live with. I was holding his junk, a word I place in italics because he dislikes the term. I dreamed I was at an event with Sting, who did not look like Sting but was Sting. This Sting was younger and had thicker arms and a full head of hair. We were sitting next to each other on stools before a high table, and I fell asleep on his shoulder, too, and thought I had held his junk while I was asleep but could not be sure. I was really alarmed to have done something like that in my sleep. I could not be trusted with anyone, ever. Sting’s wife was there, a slender woman with dark red hair. I said to her, “You sit next to Sting,” and I gave her my seat. As I walked in the desert, I remembered holding Sting’s dick, and I got hot, and I could see sex doesn’t care care about grief and grief doesn’t care about sex.
I went to a shopping mall, where a young woman put a substance under my eyes meant to reverse time. I said, “I want to see my sister again in slim black pants with orange liquid dripping into her veins.” The woman wanted me to look in the mirror. I said, “I’d rather look at you.” She said, “I’m from Israel. I’m a Jew.” Her skin was very dark, and I had thought she was African-American. She said, “Are you Jewish?” I said, “I’m from New York. Everyone in New York is Jewish.” She did not know that humans were animals. I said, “Humans are animals and machines.” She had dark eyebrows and curly lashes. She said, “Sometimes I do feel like an animal.” I said, “Go with that.” When I worked as a bartender, I poured everyone stiff drinks.
The critic who reviewed Crudo doubted the author’s control over her material. He used this example: “Would Kathy Acker have thought about her weight while eating cake?” The fact that he could ask this question went to the heart of his disqualification to evaluate the book. Yes, Kathy Acker would have thought about her weight while eating cake. She was female and sometimes anorexic. I have never met a woman who ate like a normal person. My sister did not meet one, either. If a woman seems to be eating in a normal way, she is calculating the calories and sharpening her impersonation of a person enjoying linguini con vongole while watching the feet of a fly get stuck in honey. Only the fly can eat like a normal person before dying in an amber swirl.
I went to a yoga class and noticed a brown stain on the bottom of my foot. I had seen it at home and thought I should wash it off, but there it was. In class, during a meditation, I imagined I owned a diamond, only it was soft at the core. At home I took a bath and thought about my sister's husband. Missing her had created a bond between us. Later, on the phone, a friend reminded me of my age. My friends tell me my age every day, as if I have left it on a bench. They want me to be the same age as them because I am the same age as them and we have made a pact to accompany each other through life’s stages. My friend said, “I remember when you once had flu. You were wearing pajamas.” Tights and a camisole, maybe, but pajamas? I think she meant when I was thirty. She was looking for a body. It was a minor point.
The last time my sister was well, we went to a march for women along the edge of a park banked by police gates. The streets filled up quickly. The sun was warm. Two guys in front of us were wearing pussy hats. I said, “Guys in pussy hats are sexy.” My sister said, “It’s hot, or maybe I’m having a hot flash from chemo.” She had returned from a retreat and said, “I became a hawk, looking out through black eyes, and I was flying around. I could feel where my feathers were attached.” A man on the side was handing out stickers. I took one. It was a drawing of the woman who had wanted to be president. The sticker said, “You should have voted for me, bitch.”
The streets became jammed with people. From the point of view of a bird, the march was a fat boa constrictor digesting an enormous meal. My sister said, “I have to pee.” We were near a famous restaurant. I said, “Pee in there.” She said, “Do you think they’ll let us in?” I said, “We can say we’re getting married and are considering it for the reception.” The idea of marrying my sister didn’t feel like a joke. The doorman was young and friendly. He was letting everyone in. The bar was packed with marchers wearing pink things and carrying signs. My sister said, “What do you think will happen with all this energy?” I said, “Everyone showed up. It represents hope.” I wondered if hope was a form of not wanting something to be a hoax. My sister put her arm around my shoulder. I said, “Let’s get a glass of wine when we finish.” She said, “Good idea.” We headed to a museum. Everyone looked happy. My sister said, “I need a hair cut.”
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