(Here is part one.)
Slutty Boots spoke, a burst of words.
“Oh, no, hon! We’re not here to take the house right now. Oh, noo.”
I squinted at her in the blazing sunlight, surprised to hear her voice, while relief surged through me, wobbling me, and making me clutch anew at that hard knob in my hand. But once those words poured out of her, Slutty Boot’s forehead puckered and she clamped her mouth shut into a tight line. I watched as she quickly resumed scuffing her toe back and forth along the ground like an embarrassed little kid. She wouldn’t meet my gaze. Maybe she wasn’t supposed to talk. Maybe she had overstepped her authority, but she couldn’t help herself. Maybe she was one of those strippers with a heart of gold like Pretty Woman. I suddenly felt bad for her. Who knows why.
Perhaps sensing the crack Slutty Boots had created, Jersey Boy pressed his case.
“So is it all right if we come in, then? We want to talk to you about moving out.”
Slutty Boots looked at me then, her eyes almost pleading.
“Uhmm ….” I glanced over my shoulder once again, cringing into the darkness of my debris field.
Is it too late to pretend I’m not home? Is it too late to slam the door in their faces? Is it too late to pretend I’m the maid?
My doorway was a force field, surrounding me and protecting me. If they penetrated the force field, I was doomed for sure. For a split second, I waited, focusing all my energy on one last crazy hope, but the unobliging ground refused to open up and swallow me whole.
Slutty Boots continued to scuff her toe and beg me with her eyes.
” ….. okaaay ….” I sighed, opening the door just wide enough for my doom to slip through.
Jersey Boy marched on into the rubble; Slutty Boots tiptoed in behind. I stumbled to the one empty corner of the room — the end of the sofa — and stared hard at the floor.
“You had to know this day was coming, right?” Jersey Boy said after a few seconds.
“Yes. Of course.” I looked straight at him now. I’m not an idiot, dude. “I just didn’t think it would come the day before Christmas. And I didn’t think people would show up at my door. We were supposed to get a notice first.”
“Well, sorry about that.”
He glanced around the room. I knew what he wanted and I was secretly happy I couldn’t give it to him.
“Can we sit down?”
Good luck, Peaches.
Never more mental bravado than when facing imminent doom.
As he took in the flotsam and jetsam of our lives, his eyes widened and flitted here and there, trying to locate some secure outcropping amidst this haphazard sea. The sofa? Loaded with bags I was packing for our trip up north. The chaise? Piled with books. This arm chair? Our coffee house cash register. That arm chair? A huge dusty fan. I could feel my face burning. I was mortified.
But I wasn’t all that sorry.
“Uhm, sorry,” I heard myself saying from the only seat in the room, “the place is a mess …. we’ve been packing and …. well … I’m sorry, I don’t really have anywhere for you to sit.”
A small scowl crossed his face as he was forced to find solid footing between the plops of trash bag and the poofs of warped floorboard. Slutty Boots hovered near the doorway, squashed between an arm chair and the jutting legs of my trampoline. I flashed a slight apologetic smile; she flashed one back.
I could have moved some things, I guess, but what was I supposed to do? Welcome my doom with open arms? Offer it some iced tea? Make it some chocolate chip cookies? I didn’t feel the need to make them too comfortable.
“Okay. Well, that’s fine,” he said.
Then he paused and looked right at me.
“So. We need to talk about you moving out.”
And that was it. Something in that clipped tone, something in that pause like a floodlight on the words, something about the sudden glare of it all and the corner where I cowered alone, something about it all just ripped right through me. Force field cracked. Bravado shattered. My face collapsed onto my hands and I was sobbing. Sobbing like an orphaned child. For eons, it seemed. I could not stop sobbing and I could not bring myself to come out from behind my hands. They were stuck to my face, tears leaking between my fingers. I was aware that Jersey Boy and Slutty Boots stood there. I was aware that they watched me instead of killing me which I would have much preferred. Despair is a messy business best disguised by the pillows of the bedroom or the whoosh of the shower — or so I was raised by the German half of my parents. You don’t cry. At least, not in front of others and definitely never ever ever in front of total strangers like Jersey Boy and Slutty Boots. It is verboten.
But I could not stop and I wanted to die because I could not stop.
Between heaves, I heard Slutty Boots murmur, “Ohhh, hon ….” and Jersey Boy clear his throat and say, “Um, take as long as you need.”
As long as I need? Are you sure? Because it would appear that I have completely cracked apart right here in front of you on the only empty space in the sad rubble of my lost home and I do not know when I will ever stop. “As long as I need”? Okay …
And for some time, there was only the lurch of my sobs, the damp of my hands, and the gloom of shame hanging heavy like incense in the air. Everything else was frozen, it seemed.
After a while, who knows how long, Jersey Boy thawed from his position, striding toward the other end of the sofa where all our travel bags were piled. “Can I sit here?” he said, as he dumped some bags on the floor and sat.
“Uhhh …. ” I couldn’t speak; there was no way. Yet somewhere in my brain I could hear real Tracey, regular Tracey urging me from very far away, from high on a mountain to me low in this valley, “Tracey! C’mon, hon! Rudeness! Say something! Why aren’t you saying something? ….”
But I couldn’t. I simply could not. I had become mute. Pre-verbal. I was a Cro-Magnon woman in yoga pants moaning into her hands. From his newly created perch near my side, and without waiting to see if I could utter any kind of permission at all, ex post facto, Jersey Boy now just started talking … and talking …. and talking.
I raised my head, swiping at my running eyes, nose, cheeks, and stared at the warped floorboard at my feet. The entire time Jersey Boy spoke, I stared at that floorboard. Peripherally, I was aware that poor Slutty Boots had become a slutty statue, frozen in one uneasy position, and that Jersey Boy was now fingering some papers and talking, talking, talking. What is he saying? Is he speaking English? His words were rough stones grinding through the rock tumbler of my brain. They made no sense, only noise. Through the heavy rumble in my mind, I heard myself clear my throat and finally speak — a strange high hummingbird voice, like a child’s.
“Uhmm …. can I call my husband? I want him to be here. Can I call him?” I was desperate for MB to hold my hand, to do all the talking, to loom big and tall and masculine, to even the playing field.
To make them go away.
“Well, we’re on a tight schedule. We have several of these to do today so we can’t really wait,” he said.
“Uhmmm ….. okaay.” I slumped in my seat, no fight in me. None. My sometime inner Shaniqua had been trapped, drowned, in the deluge between my face and hands.
For the next fifteen minutes, while my gaze did not leave the floor, Jersey Boy walked me through every corner of our coming doom, pointing out this feature and that feature, a thorough tour guide of our personal hell. And when he was done, he started the tour all over again, until the tumbling in my brain finally slowed and the words were somewhat more refined, a little better understood.
Next, came a barrage of questions. I whispered thin responses while Jersey Boy patted his pockets.
“Do you have a pen? I need to write your answers down.”
I reached a still-damp hand toward my art pens on the coffee table and handed him one. As he wrote, he said, “You know, I lost a home, too. So did Slutty Boots.” He nodded in her direction; she nodded agreement.
Yeah, sure you did.
Enough with the false camaraderie. I didn’t buy it and didn’t comment.
“You’re being very nice about this,” he continued. “We get threatened a lot, you know. Or people say they’ve been threatened by us. That’s why Slutty Boots is here — as a witness.”
Slutty Boots smiled her apologetic smile again.
Jersey Boy stood up. “So now we need to take some pictures — for the bank.”
I panicked at this, could feel the sudden burn of my face.
Oh, no. No.
My entire underwear drawer was dumped atop my unmade bed.
“Uhmmm …. w-w-w-why?”
I stuttered with post-sob convulsions.
“To prove the place hasn’t been trashed.”
“Well, you can s-s-see the f-floor.”
“Yeah. What’s that?”
“Under floor l-l-leak.”
“Okay. Well, can we take the pictures?”
“I’d rather you d-didn’t.”
“We’ll just have to come back,” he warned.
I collapsed against the arm of the sofa, head in hand, as he trounced through the ground zero of our home, snapping mementos of despair and disarray.
“Okay. We’re all done.” Well, his voice didn’t hint at any sight of underwear. I sat up a little straighter, allowed myself that small kernel of relief. He stood near Slutty Boots now, near the door. They both seemed to be waiting for me to do something.
Oh. They’re done done. They’re leaving.
I stood, lopsided, and moved to coil my arms around myself, to still my trembling core. That old stubborn instinct for self-protection. Flimsy arms were no barrier against our coming doom, of course, but I needed to believe they were. As I snaked my arms around me, my hand brushed up against something on the opposite elbow. That’s weird. What is that? I reached for it, tugged at it and ….oh, Lord. I’d gone to Old Navy to Christmas shop earlier that day. I’d found this hoodie on sale for ten bucks, had come home and tried it on. Was still wearing it, I realized, with its price tag poking out from the elbow. Are you kidding me? I flashed back to when Jersey Boy and Slutty Boots had first arrived. How I’d stood in the doorway, all hemming and hawing and lost, but, oh! with a very indignant hand on my hip and, I realized now, a Minnie Pearl price tag at my elbow.
I was crumpling again, overwhelmed now with the searing pain of my own ridiculousness. Oh, I could feel it coming: the telltale shudder in my stomach; the acid sting at the corner of my eyes; the childish quiver of my chin. Furtively, I cupped my elbow to hide the offending tag, breathing heavy to quell any encore of tears.
It was official. I was a loser in every possible way. I could be the Olympic gold medal winner in losing. I couldn’t be the dignified woman holding her head high as the enemy swarms her homestead and claims it for their headquarters. No. I had to be the chick blubbing endlessly amidst the rubble of her home while strangers watched and cleared their throats and wondered why she had a price tag jutting from the sleeve of her hoodie.
I stole a resentful glance at Slutty Boots. Why did she get to be a silent slut while I had to be a sobbing Minnie Pearl? Why, God? Why?
Tottering from this surge of self-pity, I lurched towards the doorway where they now waited, price tag duly smushed and hidden under my hand.
“Well, thank you for being so nice,” said Jersey Boy.
“Good luck, hon,” said Slutty Boots.
“I’ll be in touch. Remember, end of January,” said Jersey Boy, as they turned to go.
I nodded and closed the door. No longer my force field, it was now just a door. I stumbled across the room, threw my shaking body on the sofa, and clamped the nearest pillow to my face. I knew what was coming and I just let it come. Let it all come.
I cried because I was absurd. Because I’d cried in front of strangers. Because of the stupid price tag. I cried because of the warped floorboards. Because of the pile of underwear. Because of the unmade bed. I cried because of the dream gone bad. Because of the flotsam and jetsam. Because Jersey Boy had taken my pen. I cried for my lost friend, lost job, lost business, lost family. For what had passed. For what was to come.
I cried because my nose stuffed so badly within ten minutes of crying that I could no longer cry and felt gypped.
I ripped that price tag from my sleeve, waited for my nose to clear, and just cried.