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After I dropped out of university, I sat at home for three years. My mother was patient, at first. She’d come into my room and bustle. She’d dust my bookshelf, rearrange the little china horses on my windowsill, pick the laundry off my floor. “Could you get that, Sam?” “Sam, pass me the paper towel.” “Samantha, are you going to sit and watch me work?” She’d herd me out to the mall, to the grocery store, to the library. But she got tired. The bustling slowed, then stopped.
My calendar spent months open to June. I was sleeping until noon, then two, until eventually Mom would have to get me out of bed for dinner. I would slump into the kitchen, sit down, and eat a few mouthfuls of whatever was in front of me. There wasn’t any taste, but I wasn’t hungry anyways. If I couldn’t sleep, I’d sit in front of the computer until my head ached from the glow, surfing listlessly from one site to the next, going through my bookmarks every couple minutes even though I knew nothing would update at three in the morning. I became an atrocity tourist, looking for images so disgusting they’d jolt me into something resembling wakefulness.
Nothing seemed shocking for very long. The internet sideshow constantly produces new material, but none of it is immediate even if most of it is real.
Eventually, my mother moved the computer out of my room, hoping I’d follow it into communal space. She saw what I had been looking at, the images of human excrement and penile surgery and pterodactyl porn and leprosy victims. It was the most yelling I’ve ever heard her do. She thought I was filthy. I don’t think she was wrong. For the first time in months, I walked out of the house by myself. I left her screaming at my back. Without thinking, I went to the park I used to play in as a child. I sat on the swing, vaguely aware of a mother monitoring her son going down the slide, climbing back to the top, going down the slide, climbing back to the top, going down the slide.
If this were a movie, I would have cried then. Reached an epiphany of some sort. Instead I slunk home, opened the door slowly, crept past my mother sleeping on the couch, and dug myself into bed. I woke when my door squealed open. My Mom shuffled over to my bedside. “My little girl,” she murmured. “My baby.” I was careful not to scrunch my face, not to tighten my eyelids and give away my wakefulness. My mother put her hand on my cheek. I pretended to sneeze so she’d take it off. She left quietly, clicking the door closed like a sigh.
After that there was counselling. I went every two weeks to see a dumpy man in a sparse office. “I’m not too worried about you,” he said. “I have another patient, with bulimia. I have to go into the hospital to talk to her.” He really liked to talk about his bulimic patient. There was nothing wrong with my eating. My Mom would drop me off in front of his office every Tuesday. She’d go run errands for an hour, and she always had a box of Nerds on the passenger seat when she came to pick me up. She began to bring home pamphlets for nursing programs. I guess she wanted to use my perversion to do good. I suspect the counsellor suggested it.
The pamphlets went straight onto my closet floor. So my mother began to bring home other brochures—be a veterinarian, a hospital technician, a legal assistant. “What do you want to do?” she’d ask me daily. “Don’t you have a dream?” My mother bought herself a University of Toronto sweatshirt to wear around the house. College and university information booklets found their way into my bed every night. Then an acceptance letter arrived in the mail from Centennial College. “I thought you might like to be a computer programmer,” my mother said. “You’re on that machine all day anyways. Just go. Give it a chance.” The letter was magneted to the fridge, where I could ignore it every time I went to get a glass of root beer. One day, my tearful mother tells me she’ll start charging me rent if I don’t go to school. So I began looking for a job. Something physical, something rigorous. I started working at a Tim Horton’s. Take a cup. Add sugar. Pour coffee. Smile. “Have a nice day.” Take a cup. Add sugar. Add cream. Pour coffee. Smile. “That’s too much cream.” Dump coffee. Take a cup. Add sugar. Add less cream. Pour coffee. Smile. “Have a nice day.” Rinse pot. Change filter. Add coffee. Hit switch. Take a cup. Add cream. Pour coffee. Smile.
After a year, Mom told me that she’d been saving the money I gave her for rent, and collecting interest on it. She said I could use it towards a place of my own, or to go back to school. I moved out of my Mom’s house and into my small apartment. Tim Horton’s didn’t pay enough to support me for long; so I searched for a better job. My mother continued to advocate for school; she wouldn’t mind giving me more money if I wanted to go back, she said. But I didn’t want to go back; I hated the dictatorial professors. Since I was a disappointment anyways, I could at least be one on my own terms. I found my job swabbing the library floors. For four months I lived in my apartment with the peeling not-quite-white colour that seems to be the default for rental units. My Mom came over with cans of paint when she realized that I wasn’t going to buy any myself. After a long Saturday, the bathroom became bright yellow, the bedroom pale rose, and the living space a soft, toothpaste green.