They decided to take away my favorite pizza place in order to make room for new apartment buildings. When I was a child, I’d cry until my mom removed all the green stuff from on top of the cheese. Now that I’m older, dried Italian herbs on top of the cheese still make me uncomfortable.
Light splinters through the trees that line the freeway when we drive fast. Even when I shut my eyes I can feel the nauseating strobe light, warmth then no warmth, in time smaller than seconds. When I put the blinder down, a shimmery handicapped permit flutters from the ceiling onto my lap. It belongs to my 9 year old cousin who died in February because she had a heart defect, and now it belongs to her mom, Tracy, who pretends to limp out of the car when we pull up to Target or the movies, all of us laughing. When I tell people that my 9 year old cousin died, sometimes I omit the fact that she was sick. I don’t know why death by sickness seems to hold less weight than death by kidnapping or car accident. I want everyone I tell to feel her death the way I do.
Pieces of Easter-colored card stock pile on the counter, they tell Mackenzie to Get Well Soon. But half of her heart was missing, it wasn’t like she had pneumonia. When I sleep in her room now I imagine her small, bloated body next to me, her flushed arms that felt like fuzzy peaches, even when she lay at the front of the room at the wake. I touched her arms then, and her cheeks, and her dress. I don’t feel sad until I open her dresser and see all her shirts and shoes. In this moment I don’t feel sad that Mackenzie died, I feel sad about how small the clothes are. I take fists full of fabric, sliding the coat hangers together, and I press my face into the gentleness of glittery words on blue and purple shirts. I can smell when there was a person in these clothes.
I don’t tell strangers about my cousin’s death even though I could. Yesterday, a woman named Debby sat in the chair next to me while we were getting pedicures done. In this moment, I don’t think about pizza, or the boy who doesn’t like me back, or Mackenzie. I think about Debby as she tells me about her big date tonight. Her hair is yellow like a duck and she wears two thick swipes of eyeliner beneath her lower eyelashes, and she has a Long Island accent because she grew up on Conklin and Staple Street. Her date’s name is Barry, and she met him on AfroRomance, a dating website for Black people, Puerto Rican people, and Debby, who is a white lady. She made oatmeal raisin cookies for Barry because he mentioned in their text conversation that he loves oatmeal raisin cookies, and she offers me an oatmeal raisin cookie and I eat it, and it’s one of the best cookies I’ve had. She tells me about her ex, Tony, who was a bodybuilder and a piece of shit. She shows me a photo of Tony, his wet, brown skin contouring each engorged muscle and vein. Debby and I exchange information so that she can send me recipes; she’s working on a cookbook but hasn’t thought of a title yet.
When I leave the nail salon, I think about how equally strange humans are, the separate ways we spend our time. The pizza place is down the street and if I go now, it could be my last time. If I don’t go now, the last time I went could be my last time. I don’t go because I’m not hungry and I don’t think I care enough. Sometimes I notice things that are there but soon won’t be. I already knew my parents were getting older, but I just realized that so are my kindergarten teachers, and my neighbors, and my dogs who I met as puppies. I became attached to Cassie the same way I did with my stuffed animal pig, Balsamic. Balsamic had mangy, too-loved fur, a palimpsest of baby pink or lavender, and he smelled like something warm. He sat in bed like a piece of toast. Cassie was funny and smelled warm too, but instead of Balsamic’s rug-like quality, her hair was glossy and dark blonde. My hair was uneven and looked like it had never been conditioned, despite the fact that I went out of my way to condition twice each time she showered, hoping it would fall from the towel onto my neck like ribbon, the way Cassie’s could. I wasn’t pretty, and neither was Cassie, but I was uglier. The two of us had art class together, and one day, I asked Cassie who her best friend was. She said that it was Giulia, and then she said sorry. I said I know, and cried when I walked to the bathroom.
I came home from school and went to my bedroom. I saw Balsamic’s blameless smile and hated him. I took scissors from my pencil bag and softly snipped the legs off of his body. His stuffing mushroomed out of the slits and gathered on the floor. Once I had him fully dismembered, I lifted an ear to my mouth and put it right in. Chewing took too long, so I swallowed harshly. Piece by piece, I ate his cleanly sectioned carcass, then, I cried. I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry, I said.