I stand naked, except for socks and sneakers, eating popcorn. Last night, milk-sweetened baby vomit dripped warmly down my back as I sat in a dark room cultivating how it aroused me. I shudder, recollecting how a friend had inadvertently made the sound of a delicate, half cry and I had laughed explosively loud and long in response.
Periodically we all find ourselves trying on new roles. Still acclimating to shifting habits, it is my actions here tonight that I notice for some clue about who I am. I am alone, except for my two boys asleep just two rooms away. And I cannot stop eating popcorn. Partly this eating is an over riding tactile stimulation, but it is also the repetitive sound that I settle into. The crunching inside my head is reassuring.
I once made popcorn on my first trip back home after five months away at college, full of the independence and pride of expertise - my electric popper being the dorm students' key to self-determination. My two younger brothers and I were heating corn oil with abandon in our family's kitchen. Peering through the glass cover of the popper, I was overwhelmed by the vision of a swirling whirlpool of white. I lifted the top, inadvertently igniting the white vapor with oxygen. The sound of exploding fire sent a shriek through my mother. Someone drowns the flames in a cloud of baking soda. I have singed eyebrows and a fuzzy hairline.
Tonight I seek comfort in the absolute vacuum of thought that the endless din of the popcorn offers me. My expectations for adventure have become a function of crowded habits. Finding a beer in the refrigerator that has been on its side for so long it is corroded on its base, but still opens with a satisfying hiss. Watching how a bromeliad without water for long periods will sprout appendages and feeling reassured that even in potential distress it grows. Leaving messages on my home machine from work about something I cannot forget, and then returning home and in utter gullibility being excited about having a message. Chatting with the late night recycler carefully picking through our bin for glass about the balmy weather and the fortification of good attitude. Eating popcorn in a rare moment alone at home, avoiding thought. These are confirmations of spirit that makes my arm muscles throb and my skin tingle.
I sit down in an overstuffed coffee colored reading chair with a footstool spray-painted to match. The leather warms to my buttocks, back and legs. A newly arrived magazine on my lap, I settle into the contemplation of reading others' words. According to the editor, my life is going too fast; I am addicted to speed. From advertisements further on, I can relieve my depression (apparently from false slowness) by taking Saint John's wort.
I close my eyes and dream that I work in a research lab. Amidst the territorializing of the research for financial gains, an accidental and fatal contaminant is released. Scientists are left to die, their limbs amputated to supply needed members to those mercurial enough to be still living. While areas of the country are shut down, I visit a bar in Russia with my youngest son. We learn from the local residents that spreading salt on the affected area neutralizes the same contaminant. My baby and I return to the local high school evacuation center and I organize a distribution of potato chips. Eating potato chips deactivates the contaminant.
I freefall myself awake, and go into the bathroom, pee, and listen to the quiet of this home. Somewhere in the stillness I will find myself. I slide the childproof lock out of the medicine cabinet handles. Digging past orange-scented degreaser, sanitary napkins, vapo-rub, and hydrogen peroxide, I pull out a jar of Aztec facial clay packaged in a jar with a cactus desert scene that adds fuel for my journey. The directions say that I should mix the clay with apple vinegar. I move to the kitchen in the hush of purpose.
The apple cider fizzes as it hits the fine dusty bentonite. I slowly mix the wet vinegar with the powdery clay, scraping the sides to gather the smoothly whispering paste. I return to the bathroom to watch as I spread this living matter around the inside of my eyebrows and nose, around my nostrils, down my neck. I continue the cool caress down the outside of my arms and hands, thoroughly enjoying my sculpture.
The directions tell me to rinse after the clay has dried. I think twenty minutes and return to the living room to sort through my desk and the ephemera of my life: old ID cards, campground information, women's health newsletters, old birthday cards, and a journal. Since becoming a mother, I speak the self-evident instead of hovering around the obvious. Constraints on my time have made me relish the definitive of the matter of fact. I used to wait until I was critically in need of attention to divulge coveted thoughts. Now I have fewer secrets. Details of my past are pieces of information, thrown out in idle conversation as a gesture of familiarity.
After one hour I am cold and my face is tight and pinched. Long cracked crevices open across my arms. My hands look like a topo map. I can barely open my jaw. My fantasy has come to a close and I move from my desk back to the bathroom. Clumps of clay paste plop on the floor. I turn on the faucet and step into the shower. At first I am caught in a gentle, unexplained fear. I can't get this stuff off. Oh, no! Look what I've done! My ideas and their practical translations have gotten me into trouble before. The whispering fear is assuaged with calm as the hot water splashes over my shoulders and down my legs. I massage my forehead, my eyes, my hairline, my neck, hands, and arms. Turning off the faucet, I sit in the muddy gray water, squishing clumps of paste between my fingers and toes. I am fascinated with the reddish blush of my arms, showing the lines where the paste stopped. Slowly I remember that amidst the desert cactus and alternative suggestions for adding grape or cucumber juice to the paste, there was the quiet caution: "Watch for rash."
In high school I had applied a Noxzema facial treatment. Spurned on by the excitement of newly discovered information, I lathered the eucalyptically fragrant cream all over my face, happy in the image of smoothly porcelained skin like the TV ad. In the morning as I eagerly peered at my face, my enthusiasm turned to horror at the discovery of at least four freshly blossoming blemishes. Wracked by the tragedy of this event, I stared into the mirror, stunned, wondering how my information turned out to be so wrong.
I delay getting out of the muddy water. I massage my feet, pulling at my heels and rubbing each toe carefully. These same feet that a mere few hours ago nestled in the privacy of socks are now where I coax myself open. High school is a long way from tonight, where familiarity and singular company suffice. I unplug the tub and push all the clay blobs down into the drain to dispel any evidence of my journey. I peep out of the tub and glance in the mirror. Not too bad from far away with tired eyes. On closer inspection I do have an impressive red line across the bottom of my neck. There was a time when it was a fleeting source of pride to have a hickey. My face looks like I have just run five miles. I figure I look healthy. The clue to my matter-of-fact self is in the mask I washed down the drain.