VI. Closet Baby
I awoke face first on top of a pile of clothes and miscellaneous garbage on my bed. I was still wearing my now filthy shorts and flip flops, and had sometime in the morning used a piece of paper as a facial mask to block the trickling sunlight from disturbing my sleep.
I was somewhat panicked at the exact moment I transcended from dream to day, because in my vivid dream, I was trapped on a cruise ship of inmates and I could pull out individual teeth with little to no effort. By the end of my dream only one tooth remained. I felt my mouth. All teeth were intact, albeit vile tasting.
It seemed sunny outside. It's hard to tell from my basement bedroom window, as half the glass is bordered by dirt and grass, and the upper half above pavement is just a six inch space for light to creep in. The previous tenant had painted my little room dark purple. I had planned on painting over it, but never got around to it. The dismal individual ray of sunlight is like a crack into an underground cave.
In my bedroom at home I had a wall of windows, and outside alpine trees towered into the sky for miles. With half-closed morning eyes the image is just a scene of green and blue contrast; the beauty is emphasized by birds singing, rather than horns honking and crazies screaming obscenities at dusk. Sometimes before I open my eyes in my apartment bed, I forget that I'm not about to ingest that image of soaring green branches. Instead I find the view of the purple ceiling in my hot little bedroom box. It always makes me hunger, but for what I cannot entirely grasp.
I went into the bathroom to brush my teeth. The apartment was dark and torrid and the open bulb track lighting blinded me when I flicked it on. I appreciated the strength of the connection between my teeth and my gums as I brushed. The amount of synthetic emotion that my sleeping brain conjures amazes me. Sometimes I dream so vividly that the lingering trauma takes days to resolve. Even if the dream is pleasant, I find myself sad grappling with it's artificiality.
The cold water ran and I stuck my mouth beneath it and drank from the faucet. It truly was more refreshing than drinking from a glass. A hose seemed to be a good investment at that moment, and I made a mental note to get advice from Steve about the matter. It may have not been the most civilized way to hydrate, but I tend to care less and less about being civil. I can remember a time when I drank bottled water because I was afraid of the tap. These days I'd probably drink from a dirty river if I was thirsty enough.
It was 9 a.m, and my sister was running a 5k in Lincoln Park at noon. We'd Facebook messaged about meeting afterward, and I'd promised to watch her race. Caitlin and Lanky were now standing in the kitchen. He was leaning against the counter in her red terrycloth robe, and she was digging through the freezer in white briefs, presumably his, and a cutoff t-shirt.
"Look who's conscious." she said. Lanky laughed.
"Zing!" He said. His teeth looked so white to me.
"I fell asleep in the cab, didn't I."
"More like passed out. Abebe had to carry you in. You were like a limp noodle," said Cait. She was opening steaks and putting them on the stove skillet.
"Who the hell is Abebe?"
"That'd be me," said Lanky.
"Oh. Sorry." I liked my nickname better for him. Even in the thick terrycloth he looked as though he was raised in a closet and fed scraps occasionally. It's sad that those closet kids actually exist. Maybe he was raised in a closet and just never fully developed. It would make his break dancing skills a real heroic triumph, rather than some after school hobby he'd picked up in the suburbs, which was far more likely.
"Steaks for breakfast, huh?" I said.
"Well, I figure we had breakfast for dinner. Might as well have dinner for breakfast," she said, scrambling through the nearly empty cupboards for canned vegetables.
"Abebe, can you peel potatoes?" She handed him a bag of them.
"Anything for my lady," he said.
She had her back to him and she looked at me like, "hmm!", her lips down and eyebrows up. I swallowed a laugh.
I kept subconsciously holding my jaw and chomping my teeth, still reveling over my dream.
"What's the matter. You have a toothache or something?" said Cait.
"No. It's just this dream I had. All of my teeth fell out of my mouth. They just kept pulling out like flowers out of the ground. It really freaked me out," I said, still holding my jaw.
"You know what that means, don't you?" She stopped what she was doing and stared at me.
"Oh here we go..." I said, rolling my eyes.
"What?" Said Lanky.
"Don't listen to her. Caitlin took one psychology class and now she thinks she's a Freudian expert. She's always analyzing me."
"I took two classes first of all, and much independent research!" She said defensively.
"Yeah, on Wikipedia," I said.
"Regardless. If your teeth fall out during a dream it means that you feel you have no control over yourself or your life," she talked with her hands, scholastic in tone.
"No seriously! Is that really how you feel?" She put her hand on my shoulder and stroked her chin with her thumb and pointer finger like a contemplative detective.
"You're fucking crazy. That's how I feel," I said.
"Wanna hear my dream? I dreamt I was in an auditorium full of Styrofoam and I kept throwing up, but it wasn't puke, it was gummy worms. I really didn't like the way the Styrofoam felt on me. There were a few other people in there and they all had mustaches..." she looked at the ceiling in thought.
"Freudian me that!" she said.
"It means what I just told you. You're fucking crazy."
"No. You're just a predictable brain and my imagination is genius," she said, seasoning the steaks and adjusting the stove top heat.
"Want to hear my dream?" said Lanky.
"No! Don't tell her Abebe, she'll never stop analyzing you. Hopefully you're not a mommas boy because she'll accuse you of having an Oedipus complex!" I said.
Caitlin froze and looked at him.
"You're not, are you?" she said.
"My dad raised me," he said.
"Good. That shit's gross."
I thought I may caution her later to steer clear of the childhood questions, just in case he was a closet baby.
The steaks sizzled in the skillet and Abebe's peeled potatoes were sorry and nicked. Caitlin sliced them and placed them in boiling water.
"Who wants milk?" she said.
"I'm not eating. But this is important. My sister's in town tonight, and I need to make sure you know the rules of my family.
"I know, I know. No naked struts, especially bottomless. No conspicuous one night stands," she looked towards Abebe, "no offense to you," she said.
"It's cool," said Abebe.
"And no repeating any stories about you, good or bad, past, present, or future." she turned the steaks over.
"And what have I been doing this past year?" I said.
"You've been interning downtown at Edelman. You're the most important of the coffee runners and you've started to like the 6 a.m commute and the view from your cubicle." Her voice was trite and mocking me.
"I'll kill you if you say that."
"Maybe I'll say it then I'll just kill you first. I'll be doing you a favor. This charade is fucking nuts," she said.
"Yeah so, why exactly are you lying to your family?" said Lanky.
"It sounds so much worse when you say it like that." I said, scrambling to clean up Caitlin's mess as she made it.
"Laura has to lie because she's out of control and her fam is judgmental," said Cait.
"Actually you're the out of control one. And you're in my life so I'm responsible for you." I said jokingly.
"Fuck control. There's no such thing as control," said Cait, "All we can control is when not to press the snooze on the alarm clock, and how often we fold our fucking laundry. You want to have people in your life who never press snooze? I don't. You should let me get naked. You should tell your sis you work for a dog and a pervert. Let her judge you!" Her tone was heightened with intensity. She got like that sometimes when some idea inflated her with passion.
"I didn't say she's judgmental. I wouldn't know if my family is or isn't. I don't want to find out though," I said.
"You don't know your family? I don't know my family. You talk to yours weekly."
"I know what their voices sound like. That's about it," I said.
"My dad and I are really close," said Lanky, who was obviously getting uncomfortable from being shunned from the conversation.
"Now that's the second time you've mentioned your dad," said Cait, mashing the potatoes. "How close are you two, cause I'm gettin' a weird vibe..." she said.
I looked at his skeletal legs, which were crossed quite ladylike in the terry robe. 'Closet baby!' I thought to myself.
"Ignore her Abebe," I said.
Caitlin moved gracelessly around the kitchen, slamming cupboards and dropping things on the floor. She was like a human tornado and would surely cause any OCD person to have a mild stroke. She bent down savagely to reach a cupboard below the counter, spread eagle with her knees bent. She would have retrieved something from the floor in the same manner even if she were naked. There was something perceptibly foul about her mannerisms, but at the same time it was all excusable. That was just Caitlin.
"It's almost ready Abebe," she said.
I scrambled around the living room with two garbage bags, one for actual garbage and one for miscellaneous knickknacks that needed to be stowed away for sister night.
There was a half eaten sandwich doused in mustard sitting on the coffee table. Empty bags of takeout and half full boxes of stale cereal were scattered around the room. The corner by the foyer closet was lined with discarded bottles, an area Caitlin had deemed, 'empty corner'. I threw them all away, and stowed her stacks of magazines and posters of nearly naked boys in the knickknack bag.
We'd also retrieved several posters and street signs from Caitlin's city expeditions, all which I set in her room. She'd stolen a life size cut out of George Bush from a party store and we'd used it as hat rack. She dressed it up sometimes, and now he was wearing a cardigan sweater and a sun hat. I started moving it into her room.
"Oh leave Bushy out!" said Cait, "It could earn you points if your sis is conservative."
"Fine. But these are going in your room," I said, holding up an assortment of banners. One said "Circus This Way!", with a large arrow pointing left. One said "Have You Been Saved?", with the image of Christ's face below bold black font.
"Again. I can't see how those things won't make the two of you anything but closer," said Cait.
I folded the blankets on the sofa and accepted the state of the room. It was clean enough, in every sense of the word. Caitlin and Abebe moved onto the couch with their steak plates, and she put in a Martha Stewart DVD. She recorded every episode, and the collection was the only thing she was meticulous about. She categorized them by date and kept them in her room away from 'randoms and street bums', according to her.
"What the fuck is this?" said Abebe.
"Don't talk when Martha is speaking!" said Cait, turning up the volume.
"How can you watch this?"
"Listen 'Bebe. Did I not just cook you the breakfast of a lifetime? Don't diss Martha."
"What's so great about her?"
"The woman is an ex con who can turn a box of crayons into a birdhouse with a tasty, yet nutritious, snack on the side. What more can I say." she said.
"I mean, there's just better people to look up to. She's just.. boring."
"Who's better?" said Cait.
I was now listening from the kitchen while I cleaned.
"Don't do it Cait! Don't start on that tangent about Martha being God!" I yelled over the hot running water.
"Whaaat now?" said Abebe.
"I didn't say she's God. I said she's like God," said Cait heatedly. "The woman can literally turn a pile of shit into a centerpiece. She's an artist. And she's gotten even more powerful since she got out of jail...You know who that reminds me of?" she said.
"Don't say God!" I yelled.
"Jesus." she sounded so convinced, and I'd guessed she was leaning forward in her seat as she talked.
"I'm just gonna eat my steak now," said Abebe.
"You do that. And remember it was made with Martha's cowboy skillet recipe!" she said.
Martha being her heroine was so ironic to me. Cait lacked any intuition of a homemaker. She tried Martha's recipes and projects constantly, which usually amounted to bread dough on the ceiling, or piles of glued Popsicle sticks on the living room floor. Sometimes she referred to Martha as "Mother". I'd ask her about her day, and she'd say something like, "It was good. I watched Mother make crepes and then I got drunk and spent $20.00 on tacos." I was used to the references, and it was humorous to see other peoples' reaction to her Mother Martha obsession.
The morning dwindled and I took a shower and dressed in a clean looking outfit. The khaki shorts and blue t-shirt said, "I'm responsible, but I can be casual too," which was what I was going for. I shoved anything unusual and out of place into my closet and straightened the hapless papers on my desk. I put the dead roses in Caits' room, in case she wanted to make potpourri like Martha.
"I'm out of here. My sister's racing in an hour, then I have no clue what we'll do," I said, standing by the door ready to leave.
"Some good clean fun I take it?" said Cait.
"Fresh out of the shower clean," I said.
"Which you've done I see. Bravo. It'd been some days since you last bathed..." she said.
"Zing!" said Lanky, looking a bit disgusted.
"She's joking," I said, "But seriously. Can you keep everything clean? Like no additions to empty corner, and no condom wrappers on the floor?"
"Not to worry, no way in hell is that happening," she looked at Lanky, "Again, no offense to you," she said.
"It's cool," he said, but really he looked a bit disappointed.
I walked up the stairs and it was like I was emerging from a red eye flight into a new world. Since moving into the basement, days had never been so bright. I waved inside "El Rachero Taco" to Javier and walked west, squinting into the day.