*Featured Artwork By Mali Fischer
By Grace Jasmine
I am sitting in a corner café in a small town in the Phoenix metro area. I call this a small town, but what it really is, is a large city that has morphed overnight from a sleepy little rural desert community to a place with a booming population, and an eclectic downtown full of swank eateries that is more like Westwood than the West. I am sitting here having a salad that I special ordered with pumpkin seeds. Rather than a natural seed, the seeds are a candy-coated pumpkin seed cluster, and I am infuriated. I can’t eat them, I don’t want them, and I didn’t order them. They mislead me. They lied.
I am eating around the candy-coated clusters. I just got another rejection email and I am eating around the pretend pumpkin seeds. The waitress came by a moment ago and I swallowed my rage long enough to ask for a side of nuts that were not previously candied, masquerading as actual nuts. She said she would bring some. I am willing to stay calm long enough to see if the nuts I get are authentic and real and not covered in sugar. It seems a small thing to ask to inform the public of an establishment’s desire and/or intent to candy their nuts.
I yelled at my husband today. I didn’t yell, exactly. I just acted like every move he made was premeditated to ruin my happiness. I managed to remark accordingly in a well-modulated voice. He returned my volley with the expert backhand of a seasoned player in my game. He knows me. He knows why I’m acting like this. He gets why every move he makes, makes me want to scream. He gets why the sugaring of nuts is a punishable offense in the fabric of my life. He knows why I am acting like such a tyrant.
You see, these are all little things. The nuts and the dog pee pads and the way the exterminator can never get all of those teeny little microscopic bugs off our tiled bathroom floors. The way that lady who calls herself a barista informed me she “threw away” the extra foam as if that was information enough about why I didn’t have a puffy little dollop on my morning Americano. I said, “Would you please make my drink right?” She said “Mmhmm.”
And then there’s the grating voice of the young man in the booth in front of me. And the way he and his father are eating their pizza. And how I’m dodging the sugar clusters which I have now decided are “pumpkin brittle” and as brittle as me. I’m brittle. Brittle and ready to break into a million pieces of frustrated annoyance. And it’s not because I forgot my meds—I wish there was a simple prescription that could make this recede into the background and go away. But nothing I can do will change it. It simply is.
You know, if someone had prepared me for the pumpkin seed brittle, I might have even liked it. It’s a good idea, but people need new and different and unusual things front-loaded for them. They need preparation. They need time to ready themselves for that thing that happens that throws the order of their world off. They can’t just expect people to handle the mind-blowing news of pumpkin seed brittle without warning. Warning is everything. Warning is key.
My nephew’s name was Brian. He was 40 years old. He had a handsome face and beautiful eyes—just like my brother’s. He had a beautiful, creative, and unusual wife and two adorable sons, and every picture I ever saw of him, he was connected to his wife and family and looked so in love with them. His body language screamed attachment and contentment. He looked so alive.
Less than 48 hours ago he became a missing person. His mother, who I can’t abide because she was the crazy first wife of my deceased brother, called and told me. I said I felt like it would be alright. That they might have had a big fight, the sort of argument that makes people run away from home for the weekend to sleep it off and regroup—ugly, hurtful, mendable arguments that couples return from, and life goes on.
48 hours ago, while I talked to Brian’s mother while driving home from my writing group, I was sure I felt nothing other than that. A rough weekend. An argument. Life with its normal messy and emotional day-to-day.
When the phone rang again yesterday evening, I didn’t pick up. I was busy. The voicemail was tearful and hysterical.
My brother’s son, my nephew Brian, had taken the family car and the cellphones and all their money and gone somewhere that I still am not clear about and slit his wrists.
I haven’t got a single platitude or helpful thought about this. The ex-Catholic in me keeps repeating the words “mortal sin” and the day is filled with unimaginable annoyances. Considering myself an empath and being so completely far off from the feeling that something was happening or had happened is confusing. I was blindsided. I was going to call the following day. Almost at the very moment the second call came in. I was going to call. But if it had been a fight it would have certainly been none of my business. From my position, tenuously connected by blood, trying to slowly ease into a more normal and healthy extended family relationship—how would this have been the moment to call him? But I wish I had.