Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Grocery list

There was a vintage neon sign outside a run-down motel on the old Route 66. You had photographed it with a Polaroid camera. This was right after college. It was perfect.

You were going to be an artist, somehow. You were going to fall in love and settle for nothing less. You were going to travel the world. There would be more photographs. Exhibits, maybe. Fulfillment.

Then your mother had needed you back home. There were hospital bills.

The canned-goods company that was all there was in your hometown had an opening for a graphic designer, mostly for their company newsletter and PowerPoint presentations. The job would pay well. There were a few "creative opportunities," people in navy-blue suits said in the interview. Your art could appear on a can of peas at the grocery store. Like Warhol in reverse, you told yourself at first. Like nothing like that.

-She returned her clothes to TJ Maxx so you would have extra money for your road trip to see the West. She didn't work outside the home and it was what she could think of to do for money. The clothes no longer had tags, but she'd talked the store into taking them back. She was shy but she did that for you.
-She always drew a heart around your name when she wrote it on your elementary school brown-bag lunches. She did this for years.
-She tells people that she gave birth to her best friend.
-That 1950s chrome-edged diner table you'd always loved from your grandparents' house -- she'd gotten down on her bad knees in the basement and polished it, taking a toothbrush to reach the tiniest nooks and crevices, so it would sparkle in your first apartment. You never asked her to. She just did it. 

You make her dinner and bring it upstairs to her on a tray every evening, like some daughter in a tragic novel or made-for-TV movie. The situation is not temporary.

Your best friend from high school works at a gallery in London now. She goes to the theater, to museums, and you drive 45 minutes to the mall in the next town. Your college boyfriend always said he could never live in a flyover state. He would ask you, "How did you do it before?"

At the store, you stand in front of your peas. Should you buy them, or not? What do they represent, those peas? Failure? Duty? If you buy them, is that acceptance of your life, resignation? If you buy the other brand, is it avoidance, or defiance? All the little choices in life, all the little big choices.

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