Dirty Dishes


Each time I see two towels in the bathroom I think to myself, But, you’re supposed to go it alone. You’ve always gone it alone. And the two towels stare back at me, unwavering in their symbolism of a life shared. And I feel his hand, never aging, unbuttoning the fly of my jeans as I slept; my sixteen year old self, resurfacing, remembering—fingers reaching lower—feverish, nightmarish, unrelenting.


I do the dishes by hand to clean the slate, warm water cascading over my deft fingers as I scrub; soap foaming, erasing, cleansing. If I don’t finish the dishes I may die. If I don’t get them all clean, how can I put them away? I want to put these dishes to rest in their cupboards, everything in its place. I want to be worthy of those two towels, sitting on the rack side by side like an elderly couple who has weathered the storm of life, like bookends holding the stories of two former selves. Once the dishes are done, put away, I feel helpless and impotent. I become terrified by my thirst, afraid of my hunger. The problem with clean dishes is they never stay clean. By dirtying another dish, the cycle continues—feverish, nightmarish, unrelenting.  


I moved out when I was sixteen. Three years in Kentucky and I felt myself withering in the humidity, the stupidity. I was sick with nostalgia for California; the Golden State. And like so many old folks pining for the golden years, I too pined away for memories. My parents were at a loss. I was responsible, “too smart for my own good”, and unwavering in my convictions. My mother used to collect porcelain figurines, Lladros, and I remember the day she took one out of the curio like a sacrificial lamb and sold it to buy me a plane ticket. I felt like I was being reborn as I pushed through the people out of the plane—a giant mechanical womb that had birthed me “home”. My twenty year old sister embraced me awkwardly and helped shoulder my bags to the car. Funny, we both thought we were ready to tackle the world as adults. Really, we were just kids.


I got drunk at a party. It was the second time I had had alcohol and the room was spinning. I felt like a sailor without his sea-legs. I wobbled to my friend’s bedroom where he said I could sleep it off. He would take his parent’s room since they were out of town (hence the party). Getting really drunk for the first time brought on a hit-in-the-head-with-a-mallet kind of sleep. I was out. I awoke to a dark room, save a sliver of light coming from a small part in the curtains. It took me a while to realize where I was, that I wasn’t dreaming. Then, the realization that someone was on top of me, kissing me with a tongue that tasted of cinnamon and whiskey, sickly sweet and overpowering. Fingers had already unbuttoned my jeans, eagerly stroking, reaching lower, painful in their exploration. I am a virgin! I silently scream. My mouth is being smothered by another mouth, another tongue, and I cannot utter a sound. I keep looking at the sliver of light like it will somehow save me, shed some illumination on what was going on in this room, at this moment. My brain felt like a heavy fog on a spring morning. Lift. Lift. Lift. The word formed in my mind like a million prayers, flying about my brain like a moth, wings batting blindly. My body finally responded to thought. I lifted my arms and pushed. The sluggish cinnamon-whiskey tongue parted from my tongue—I could breathe. I swallowed air like I was drowning. Was I drowning? And the sliver of light hit the face of the faceless. Terror clawed at my throat. I had no idea who was on top of me. Would I have been more relieved if I had recognized the face? If it had been my friend, or someone else I knew at the party?


In that half-light a jagged smile appeared on his face. His fingers were still inside of me, still clumsily and hurriedly moving. Lift. Lift. Lift. My legs took up the mantra that my arms had just sung. I kicked. I wiggled. I broke free.


Words broke the silence, but not mine, his. “No more fun?”


No more fun? The words spun in my mind. I kicked him harder, off the bed. I buttoned my pants, stumbling for the door. His words shot like arrows in the dark. “No more fun?” he chimed again, a parrot intoning the loss of innocence.


I watch a daddy-long-leg build its web. I just cleaned, and its delicate home has become a casualty of my war. I find myself transfixed by it, lost in memory, until I realize I am that spider; building webs of my youth. Each time a thread of memory gets dusted away, I begin, again, the arduous task of building a new web of fragile memories—each time the web different, facets of the same thing. I watch the spider in its solitary work until my eyes see shade spots, looking about the room, lost.


His name was Scott. Is Scott; I have to keep reminding myself of that. He did not freeze in time at that moment, part of me did. He is no longer seventeen. He is thirty. What are his fingers doing now? My fingers are typing this. My fingers are trying to catch up with the other twenty-nine years of me. My fingers are doing the dishes. My fingers are tidying the house. My fingers are folding the corners of those two towels. My fingers are trying to loosen the thirteen years I felt ashamed, unworthy, alone.


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