Cora Dawn Taylor
I, a pudgy eleven-year-old, had taken great liberties to ignore, if not completely shun, my body. I did not linger before mirrors or cooperate with family photos. I dressed in baggy clothing from the boy’s section of the department store. I scratched the eczema on my ruddy cheeks with reckless abandon, because I did not look at my face long enough to notice the swelling and angry red lines. I wanted no part of my body – it wasn’t good enough.
That day though – that night, rather – I had to tune in to my body’s most acute signals and sensations. I had to be quick, sure, silent. The cling of bare toes to the hardwood floor, the burn of a recently-dislocated knee – I had to monitor it all.
I hadn’t ever tuned into my breath before, but I’d felt it catch at the base of my throat earlier that day. Something was wrong. I heard it in my mother’s voice: “who is Laura Andrews?” Who, indeed? My father brushed off the query, snatching back his cell phone, while I listened with the ears of a child who so abhorred her life that she wanted desperately to insert herself into others’.
Despite my mother dropping the issue, I couldn’t let is rest. I needed to know who Laura was, and why my mother’s voice sounded to accusatory and scared. She sounded like someone who’d just been bitten by a spider - “that wasn’t a recluse, was it?” Flesh, violated. Voice, shrill.
I took it upon myself to find out about Laura. About Dad. About the tremor in my mother’s normally strident voice. Asking, naturally, was beyond the question. My parents already hated my habitual eavesdropping, and they’d stopped answering my more intrusive questions. “What do you mean it’s not my business? You said that until you saw someone naked, no personal questions. But once you did, you could ask them anything!” My mother’s years-earlier effort to curtail my nosiness towards friends, acquaintances, and teachers had backfired. Regardless, she had run out of patience for my increasingly intrusive lines of questioning.
So, in short, I had to sneak into my parents’ room and investigate my father’s baby-blue flip phone. I was aided, in part, by my father’s snoring. After opening their door painstakingly-slowly, I eased one bare foot onto the ground, slowly rolling my weight onto it. My other foot, freed from its usual orthopedic devise, followed. I spent the next several minutes easing myself, ghostly-quiet, past the foot of my parents’ bed. Finally, I reached the counter in their bathroom. I seized the phone and hastened out of the room.
I held my breath until I’d shut my door behind me. Hands shaking, I flipped open the phone and navigated to the messages folder. Sure enough, I found what I would later know to be sexting: “And now I’m naked on YOUR bed.”
I felt like I was being hit by a tidal wave; my legs tensed, my palms grew cold, my ears rang. What I wanted, more than anything, was to shake my mother awake and have her tell me that nothing happened - that my father wasn’t a liar or a cheater. Instead, I tiptoed carefully back to my father’s phone charger and plugged his cell phone back in, wondering how I was supposed to tell my mother that there was another body in her marriage, and that someone wanted it on Dad’s bed.
My Grandmother Rose annoyed my parents in the same way I did. She was too messy, too scatterbrained, and too unpredictable. The things about my Grandmother Rose that annoyed my parents endeared her to me. We were kindred spirits – gross, disorganized ones.
That’s why, when I was brought down to Arkansas to visit her, she did not get cross with me for bringing toads from her backyard inside to swim in the bathroom sink. She waved my mother off, when she was squawking at me for patting the toads dry with my grandmother’s “nice washcloths.” To me, fluffy pink washcloths made perfect toad towels.
My grandmother did not scold me several years later, when I wandered out of visitation for some recently-deceased elder, to pick ticks off of a stray dog in the parking lot of the funeral home. The dog didn’t seem to mind my dalliance, either. And the fact that no one noticed I was missing for a solid thirty minutes only reinforced to me that the dog was more important than the make-pretend and stiff hugging of visitation.
As I grew older, I became more aware of why my parents would get so exasperated with me. I instinctively blushed when I saw my school folders overflowing with papers, and I knew that I should hide the way my socks never matched, and my shirts invariably had some sort of stain on them by noon every day. During my annual visits to Arkansas throughout my middle- and high-school years, I saw myself in my grandmother’s overflowing ashtrays and heaps of laundry. My parents whispered about her mangy dogs that she took in as strays while I tried in vain to teach them tricks. And even once I began sporting mascara and hickeys from boyfriends, I delighted in chasing the toads whose bellies made a comical “plop” when they landed after each jump.
Over time, I’ve gotten more adept at hiding that Grandmother Rose side of myself. I’ve stuffed my blotchy cheeks, stained clothing, and overflowing folders into a sort of closet of unwelcome habits. I try not to let others see that a level of my mind is a ranch-style home in the middle of the countryside, full of coffee-stained teacups summering, coaster-less, on hardwood mantles. Years after I had seen a southern toad, when I was no longer beholden to my parents’ bevy of roadtrips, I lived alone in college. After a disastrous breakup, spurred on partly by pretending to be someone I wasn’t, I had a one-bedroom apartment by the river all to myself. Every night, as the stars rose, I would walk the path by the water. Sometimes, after a heavy rain, disoriented crawdads would wander up the hill from the river, swaying in the dark towards the nearby golf course. I interrupted my stroll every time to pick the lost creatures up and ferry them back down the slick hill to their home, setting them carefully just at the muddy edge of the lapping river.