I. The Bedroom
I’m awake before noon. It’s not much earlier than noon, but I’m awake. My head feels dense and achy at the base of my neck and sore everywhere else. It’s too hot and my pillow is hard and lumpy. I kick off the afghan tangled around my body and roll to my side.
My room is totally dark; the black curtains really do the trick. I can reach them from my bed, and I’m able to pinch the edge of the curtains between my fingers and tug it to the side. They open just a sliver and the room is instantly lighter, splashed with color. I relax again, settling back into my mattress on my side. It could take me an hour to get up. I survey the room, looking at all the clothes I have draped over chairs, piled on the floor, hanging out of dresser drawers like they’re trying to jump ship. My room is mostly clothes—I have a few pieces of furniture, and some band posters to add character to the white walls, but it was one of those projects I ran out of steam about when I was unpacking and two years after living here I’ve just given up on decorating.
I listen to the fan ticking on my desk, like a clock that’s on speed. It’s an old fan so it’s loud and works hard to waft a slight breeze across the room. I watch it rustle the bottom of a Nirvana poster taped up by my bed, the bottom pieces of tape having come unstuck to the wall. I used to think I could be Kurt Cobain in this city.
I’m so mentally and physically spent from working at the bar last night that it takes me no less than an hour to even sit up.
II. The Bathroom
My name is Celestial and I finally get up to take the first dump of the day. The bathroom’s across from my bedroom and as I lift the seat to the toilet I make sure not to glance at myself in the mirror. I don’t need to check to know that I’ve got makeup smeared on my eyelids and cheeks like bruises, and my hair all flat and stuck up against my head. I take a seat and hold my face in my hands, staring at the wall in front of me. The sun is at such an angle on the bathroom window blinds that it casts the stripes of its shadow diagonally across the wall. I zone into the stripes, imagining myself starting at the top and sliding down the lines, like a child at a park. I’m a miniature version of myself, letting gravity pull me down, releasing myself to its strong and inevitable force. Suddenly they remind me of slanted prison bars, and I feel like my face is nearing them, and I’m pressing my face against the cold, steel bars, wrapping my fingers around them—
Before I realize, I’m done with my business. I take a moment with the sink to splash my face with water and leave without checking the mirror.
III. The Kitchen
I wander downstairs to the kitchen and start myself a cup of coffee. Like everything else in my life, the actions are mindless, grabbing a chipped mug from the cabinet, popping a k-cup into my coffee maker, hearing the fussing of it revving up to brew. My life revolves around drinks. I wouldn’t care if nobody’s thirst was ever quenched again, even my own.
My kitchen is nice but under-utilized, and I am not the woman who is going to ever utilize it. It’s small, but it has dark cabinets and a new counter, and a window above the sink, which is a feature that I believe vastly improves a kitchen. We had a window over the kitchen sink in my house when I was a kid. I used to stare out it when I washed dishes, growing up. It looked out over the driveway and into the backyard. I’d watch my dad mowing the lawn from it, pushing the mower back and forth along the same tracks every week. I wonder if he still keeps the same lawn mowing schedule. I wonder if he still wears the same designated pair of green-stained “lawn mowing” shoes. I wonder if he ever put in that pond that he and I used to talk about. I need to stop wondering now. My mom kicked me out of the house when I was seventeen for coming out to her as gay and Dad didn’t stop her.
The coffee maker sputters with a finish, and that concludes today’s episode of Cooking with Celestial. I grab the coffee mug and head to the living room.
IV. The Living Room
How do I live? I take a seat on the love seat, tucking my legs under me. By myself, that’s how. I pull the mug up to my face and breathe in the sweet elixir of bean juice. I exhale and my glasses steam up for a moment.
The living room is much neater than my room, but that’s because there aren’t any clothes down here—just a love seat, a coffee table, and a TV set. My blue acoustic guitar is on a stand in the corner, dust settled along the frets on the neck and coating the body. I bet the strings are rusty and way out of tune. I take a sip of coffee. It’s too hot and it feels good scalding my tongue.
I think about how I only have about eight hours before I have to go back to the bar. It makes me want to crawl back into bed. I think about my co-workers, how last night they spent the whole night complaining about each other and yet shorted their side work and went out together after their shift. They make me sick. The bar is kind of trendy and attracts a trendier clientele, so we’re a younger crew of bartenders, all in our early- to late-twenties. It may be hard to believe, but every single person I work with is a star in their own melodrama in which they’re featured as the most mistreated yet hardworking underdog in fake television history.
I set my mug down on the coffee table and watch the steam reach from it, like weightless arms stretching and dissipating. Everything I have is because I worked for it. I’m able to live in this house by myself because of nothing but my sweat and my tears, and I feel like despite it all, I have nothing left of myself. I couldn’t have afforded any of this if it weren’t for my job at the bar these past few years, and the money I’ve made bartending; no matter how much I hate that job, I do depend on it—I still have so many bills left to pay off from the time I spent at the rehabilitation center when I was younger, after being kicked out. My eyes fill and I don’t blink, but a tear spills over. I was so determined to take care of myself after I got out, to protect myself, that my singular determination wiped out everything else in my life.
Lately, every day I work, I ask myself if it could be my last. “Will today be the day I quit?” I’m too good at shutting up and dealing with the shit. I tell myself I’m weak if I can’t handle strangers eyeballing me like I’m prey if it means I get a fat paycheck; it’s easy money, and I’m a wuss if I can’t just deal with strangers yelling at me all night if the tips are good. But it’s just not me. I glance at my guitar again and blink. The tears fall.
V. The Basement
I leave my coffee sitting in the living room and float down to the basement like a ghost. The stairs are wooden, and I expect them to snap in the middle with each step I take. The temperature drops a few degrees and I’m immersed in a musty, damp smell.
When I was forced to leave my parents’ house, I didn’t take a lot with me, and then after that, I spent a couple years struggling with money and drugs. Everything since then has been rebuilding. There are three cardboard boxes in my basement, and nothing else.
I know which one to open. I kneel down on the cement floor and pull out an envelope with a small stack of pictures in it. It smells dusty and I sneeze.
How am I supposed to find the will to be myself every day? When’s the last time I’ve been myself? Suddenly I have to frown and close my eyes, and when I open them, the envelope in front of me is blurry. I pull the photos out and start blinking; my vision crystallizes and I see the image.
The picture is from a few years ago, in an old friend’s living room. I had just gotten the bartending job, and we were celebrating my first self-indulgent purchase, the blue acoustic guitar. I’m in the middle, on the couch, holding the guitar; there are two blond girls—Sarah and Kita—on my right, and a guy—Austin—on my left. The picture is a little dark, but you can still see so clearly my face, open in laughter, and everyone’s arms around each other. I don’t remember who took the picture, probably Austin’s latest girlfriend. There was a little party going on outside of the picture, with some more of my friends, but Sarah, Kita, and Austin were my closest.
I exhale. All these people left me; or, I left all these people. Sarah and I even had a thing going on, but eventually my work schedule forced everyone away from me. For a little while, I worked the bar and a video rental store, so I’d clock in at least 55 hours each week. I hardly even got to wear in my new guitar.
I guess that’s all I needed to see because I tuck the pictures back in the envelope and stash it back in the cardboard box. I look around me, at the empty basement, quiet and dark, soaking in the neglected moisture in the air. I take another deep breath and ask myself again.
Will today be the day I quit?