I was watching Project Runway the other day, in which aspiring clothing designers compete in a reality show competition. Not one of my favorite shows, but I was sitting there all lazy and watching it. And Tim Gunn, whose job it is to make all of the competing designers feel insecure about their work right before they are judged?
He looked at the work of one designer and said this . . .
“It’s like you have a piece of coal stuck up your butt! Make it into a diamond and pull it out!”
That’s cruel poetry, right there.
Cruel poetry always makes me think.
There is a version of my childhood that I sometimes tell shallowy friends in which we come off all brave and heroic and Little House in the Big Woods. Cut off from society, fending for ourselves, going back to nature. No phone, no TV, heating our house with wood. Raising chickens and rabbits and living off the land. There was even a pony!
We were all kinds of awesome and independent!
It was like a Laura Ingalls Wilder adventure!
With food stamps.
Yeah, that’s one version.
There was the coal.
At some point? My parents decided that heating our house with wood, as fucked up as that was? Wasn’t quite shitty enough. And so one day, a large truck drove up into our yard and dumped a half ton of coal in a solid shiny ebony pile.
Coal? It burns hot.
But coal? It burns filthy.
I was, quite seriously, never clean again.
The dust and the smoke from the coal? It settled everywhere. It sank its powdery persistent self into every crevice. It settled and stayed and would not be washed away. The smell of it and the residue of it permeated every porous item. Drifted and lingered on every flat surface.
Our house sank beneath the weight of the filth.
My clothing, my bedding, my books, my pets, my hair.
There was just no getting clean.
My parents sucked at keeping the house warm, even with the coal.
So every winter our pipes froze. And then just stayed frozen.
In case you were wondering about the toilet? Because I know I would be . . .
It froze as well. Not the wider pipes that took waste away, but the incoming pipes? Frozen. And so every morning? We would have to crack the layer of ice that had formed over the toilet’s water. All of us would use the toilet one after the other, and then we would pour a bucket of water into the toilet from high above to activate the flush mechanism.
That was way fucking fun.
All of this meant that our water? Had to come from elsewhere. So part of our days over the coldest months? Involved heading out in the drifted snow to the houses of people my mother thought judged least. Dragging a sled.
And in that sled? Big buckets.
Which we would fill with water at the least-judgy people’s houses.
And then drag home.
In that fucking sled.
Do you have any idea how hard it is to transport large quantities of water on a fucking plastic yellow sled?
So the water we had was of the freezing cold bucketed sort. Hot water? Was only available if you managed to boil some of the bucketed water over the coal fire.
So really? There was no getting clean.
There was grit between my teeth when I woke in the morning. Fine black etchings set into the childish lines around my eyes. Gray at my scalp. The prints of my fingers and palms set off in constant silhouette against my skin. I coughed up blackness. I sneezed blackness.
I lived in blackness.
Good times, people.
Kallan was forced to shred some cheese for her scrambled eggs with a cheese grater. We tend to buy the pre-shredded cheese, and so Kallan was all pissed off at how much work cheese was turning out to be.
“Why,” she asked me as she waved the cheese grater in the air angrily, “am I being forced to use this olden tool? This is ridiculous! I’m like a pioneer woman of cheese!”
She looked down at her hands in disgust, “My hands are all covered with cheese damp! I’m all dirt-attacked by cheese!”
And she went to pump some hand soap into her palm. She turned on the hot water. Washed her hands.
She turned to stare at me, “Buying me shredded cheese? That seems like the least you could do.”
That right there?
My life is filled with cruel poetry.
It feels like I spend my life with memories stuck up my ass.
Like a lump of coal.
Still working on that diamond thing.