by Kate St. Germain
I took any advice I could get for six months after Lila died. I meditated, I socialized. I focused on the present; I planned for the future. I was counseled, I was massaged by reiki masters and prophesized by shamans and priests. I went vegan and munched on leafy greens. I went carnivore and ate nothing but bloody steaks. I was celibate, and I had sex with arbitrary women I met on lesbian dating apps. I did yoga, I ran, I slept for days and didn’t sleep at all.
None of it worked, so I tried to separate myself from the world for a while.
The apartment that I was rented after Lila died was the least dismal of the studios I could afford in Brooklyn. I was living off of my dwindling savings. I had resigned from my job at the graphic design studio where I had worked for nearly a decade because I couldn’t face making small talk with people who were on their way to take a shit.
ALERT: NEW DELIVERY. ONE LARGE PINNEAPPLE PIZZA
If you told me a year ago that at 38 years old I would be delivering food to people who were too hungover to leave their apartment, I would have been mortified, mostly afraid of who would see me. But the grief made any social pretenses intolerable. Besides, it was all relatively anonymous. I had repeat customers, but most people were so humiliated about ordering soggy pad Thai for the third time that week that they didn’t look me in the eye. The exchange brought me satisfaction, which was the closest thing that I was going to get to happiness.
ALERT: NEW DELIVERY. 4 FRIED CHICKEN COMBO PLATTERS
My ass was starting to hurt from all of the biking, but at least it was decent cardio. The bike was the best gift Lila had ever given me, not a gift I suppose because I had bought it myself and asked her to paint it white. My sister Kira helped me sell all of Lila and my shared possessions after she died, but I had always been partial to this bike.
MESSAGE FROM KIRA:
Hey sis. How ya doing? Offer is always on the
table to come and stay with us. Xoxo
I made my delivery to an office in midtown and handed over the tepid chicken to a bunch of men in a board room with loose ties and receding hairlines. The room buzzed with adrenaline, fueled by their own self-importance and perhaps a little cocaine.
NO NEW DELIVERIES AT THIS TIME
I took the most extended route home. I always had my headphones on, but I never listened to the news or music, and I certainly couldn’t tolerate any self-help, so I tried replacing my thoughts with podcasts. I started listening to a podcast recapping a reality show that I used to make fun of my sister Kira for bingeing while she was pregnant with my niece, Sonny. It had years of back catalog, and I didn’t find the two women who hosted the podcast to be remotely charming; therefore, I could dismiss everything they said. I kept the podcast on as I lie in bed. I had never been a big sleeper, but I hadn’t even been able to manage 4 hours a night in the past six months. On the nights that I could sleep I kept dreaming of the happy times between us. Our first year together. We rarely left the apartment that early winter and summer, drinking copious amounts of red wine while Lila painted, and I worked from home.
ALERT: NEW DELIVERY. 2 LARGE PAD SEE-EWS
I threw on my hooded sweatshirt despite the balmy Brooklyn weather; I was always cold at this point because I was starving, food seemed like a grotesque indulgence to me. I wore the same uniform every day, one of my various black hooded sweatshirts and straight leg jeans, paired with black motorcycle boots. I draped the hood over my head and got on my bike. I was led to an East Village apartment that was in between a chain fitness center and a 7-11, a truly depressing sight.
I didn’t make eye contact as the man opened the door of his ultra-modern apartment.
“Hey, man, thanks.”
People often mistook me for a man, I kept my stringy black hair chopped into a pseudo mullet and my gaunt frame could easily be mistaken for a prepubescent youth.
Usually, I didn’t engage on my deliveries, but something caught my eye in the background.
“Where did you get that?” I avoided looking at the man in the eye; picking at my raw nail beds, my eyes darting around the room to see if any of my other possessions filled this place where they didn’t belong.
“Oh, the chair, I think my girlfriend bought it used from someone.”
It was my chair, the chair that Lila had made for me. Lila had burned a cigarette on a velvet bubblegum-pink dress I was wearing. I knew it was an accident, but I was particularly fond of this dress because it made me look like I had tits. I had kept my anger pretty well hidden from her up until then, but that night I lost it. At first she smiled while I screamed at her, before realizing that I wasn’t joking. She tried to calm me down, telling me that it could be fixed, but I was inconsolable. I ripped the dress off and threw it in the trash, putting on my sweats and sleeping at the office that night.
Lila had taken it out of the trash and reupholstered it onto an old chair and given it to me for my 36th birthday.
“Hey, are you okay?”
I could feel myself shaking. Tears began to stream down my face.
“Do you want to come in and drink some water?”
I looked at the man in the eye for the first time and took in his appearance. He was younger than I’d imagined, maybe 24 or 25. His dark skin contrasted with his dewy dog-like eyes and his concern overwhelmed me. I felt a familiar rush surge through my body, who the fuck did this guy think he was? Was he trying to be nice? Trying to be caring?
I ran into the apartment and grabbed the chair, running through the door and into the hallway. By this time his girlfriend had emerged from whatever bedroom she was in and they were both following me. I raced down the stairs and through the door. I stood in front of the parking garage that my bike was tied up in front of. I turned around to see them there.
The girlfriend was clutching her navy-blue robe shut with one hand, while her other was on her boyfriend’s shoulder. Her platinum blonde hair was wet from the shower, and her feet were bare, black with soot from the New York City streets. They stood there waiting for me to make the next move.
“You can have it’ The woman smiled. ‘It’s not a big deal, can we call someone for you?”
I gripped the chair with my hands so tightly that my knuckles turned white.
The man stepped towards me, and I felt my head get hot.
I threw the chair through the window of the parking garage and ran down the street.
I decided to take Kira up on her offer to stay with her upstate for a while. The country used to be a source of disgust for me. The bugs, the dirt, the animals, but I was no longer put off by filth.
I got the odd text from former friends checking in but talking to them was too draining. Any happiness that they exhibited felt like a personal attack. I deleted all of my social media accounts after Lila died, but I created new ones and chose Elijah Wood as my avatar because he was the most harmless person I could think of. I posted nothing. I followed inspirational quote accounts, body positivity, and life hacks. But mostly I followed the Kardashians.
Lila’s love of the Kardashians seemed cute to me at first, but two years into our relationship it exemplified exactly what her problem was. She was lazy. She’d sit there for hours bingeing the show and doing nothing, while I worked my ass off to keep our lives afloat. My earnings had dwindled as my particular skill for helping fat red faces modernize their specific brand of bullshit had become obsolete. I needed Lila to start helping out financially and she knew it. I didn’t say it, but she wasn’t an idiot.
ALERT: KIM KARDASHIAN HAS STARTED A LIVE VIDEO
Now I could relate to Lila, and I found the Kardashians lack of self-awareness to be a big furry blanket over any negative feeling I had.
Kira knocked on my door for our nightly dinner, she forced me to eat dinner with them every night. When I first got there, she told me I looked too thin, although we both knew that I’d take that as a compliment. Our fat shaming mother ensured us that we would not be honoring our curves. I’d sit there and silently eat a salad while Sonny did most of the talking.
Kira sometimes asked me if I’d watch Sonny for her. Sonny’s real name was Madison, but I respected my niece too much to call her that. Sonny was six years old, and besides occasionally mentioning Lila, she was the only person that allowed me distance from it. She was, however, continually misunderstanding me. Crying when I acted excited — laughing when I stubbed my toe. Quite frankly, I suspected that she might be on the spectrum, but I certainly wasn’t going to be the first one to bring it up.
I took Sonny to the park on the first anniversary of Lila’s death. We sat around the playground looking at children swinging from the jungle gyms and screeching down slides. I asked Sonny if she wanted to play with them, she was an anti-social child which usually garnered respect from me, but today I needed the break . Sonny was in a particularly annoying mood today. She wouldn’t stop talking about a boy in her class named Floyd, who had given his pet snake a funeral. She thought that it was wrong because snakes can’t talk and therefore they can’t tell you what their funeral plans are.
“What should I do? What do you think? What do you think is the right thing to do?”
“I don’t know.”
“Well what did you do when Lila died, did she tell you she wanted to be buried?”
“SONNY! GO PLAY WITH THE KIDS ON THE PLAYGROUND, NOW!”
It was the first time that I had gotten angry with Sonny and I was surprised at how well she took it. Her mother had never raised her voice to her so the establishment of me being the one in charge must have been a relief to her. She sullenly walked to the playground where I watched her sit on a swing and rock herself back and forth.
I kept my eyes on my phone, trying to distract myself from the thoughts of that last day with Lila. The last day that I saw her, she told me she had taken an unpaid residency in Vermont. I couldn’t believe how ecstatic she was; it was as if she didn’t know that this would make me furious, that I should be happy for her.
Our fight devolved into each of us making a case for why we weren’t at fault for being wrong for each other. For the first time words with a semblance of finality were spoken. I could see her struggling, panicking. She clenched her jaw and picked at the invisible hairs on her chin while she tried to muster the courage to end things. A part of me empathized with her struggle, I could see how tortured she was. But the emotion that was always more accessible to me was anger. I called her lazy. I screamed, she cried. I apologized and then started at her again. I felt guilty; I always felt guilty in the end. I let her sleep in our bed while I slept on the couch, kept awake by my mind vacillating between shame and fury.
I was pulled away from fitness content by a woman wailing on the playground. Her long, sleek black purple trench coat contrasted with a matted gray braid that fell to her ass. Her alabaster skin showed no sign of her age, which I guessed to be in her mid 60’s only by the waddle that collected at her neck.
Sonny was alone on the playground with her. All the parents must have already seen her approaching and shuffled their children away. I was late, I was distracted. But Sonny wasn’t scared.
I grabbed Sonny’s hand. “Come on, time to go.”
She wouldn’t budge. She sat there, glued to the swing, transfixed by the wailing woman in front of her.
“She only has one sock; her feet must be cold.”
Sonny kicked off her pink sneaker and removed her sock, running towards the woman at the other end of the playground. I ran after her.
She took the sock from Sonny, clenched it in her hand as everyone in the park began to watch the spectacle.
“Excuse me, excuse me.” I faced the woman’s left cheek which was smeared with a sticky maple substance. She turned her head to look at me and stopped screaming for a moment. Her eyes were different than I thought they would be. I don’t know what I expected really, maybe one lazy eye or red eyes or eyes of two different colors. But they were large and the most beautiful hazel mix.
She handed the sock back to me, never looking at Sonny. “AHHHHHHHHH!”
Sonny huffed when I gave her the sock back.
“No! I don’t need it. Her feet are cold.”
“Come on, take the sock and get your shoes on. It’s time to go.” I felt my cheeks start to flush, keenly aware of the families watching me from the sidelines, mistaking me with the kind of person who would be in this situation.
“No! I don’t want to take it!” Sonny sat down next to the woman, still wailing, and wouldn’t move. I tried to pick her up, but she became dead weight underneath my hands. I felt myself get hot, my whole body felt numb and a familiar sensation filled my body.
“SONNY! GET UP AND LET’S GO RIGHT NOW!”
She was unperturbed by my rage, so I grabbed her hand and began to drag her across the AstroTurf.
She started to cry but I didn’t look back, I was focused on getting us to the car and getting us home. I was overwhelmed by the sights and sounds of the situation.
I looked down and saw my niece leaving a trail of blood. She must have cut herself on glass on the playground and the result was a large slice across her thigh.
“OWWWWWW!” Sonny cried. I picked her up and sat her in the backseat of my sister’s white Nissan, fumbling around for a first aid kit.
“It’s not so bad!” I said. Sonny continued to wail, and I felt the tears forming in my own eyes, reaching for the right thing to say. I couldn’t find a first aid kit, I couldn’t find bandages. All I saw was a bottle of extra strength Tylenol lodged between the passenger seat and the backseat, and it wasn’t even for children.
“I was scared you were going to get hurt Sonny. I was scared and so I did something I shouldn’t have done.”
Sonny continued to sob, wiping her tears with the back of her hand while searching for an acceptable answer.
“I know it hurts Sonny, but please stop crying. Please. You’re making me very upset.”
I lost it. I felt the emotions in me bubble to the top and I let it out. I was sobbing, I was uncontrollable. Sonny stopped now, I saw her shocked little face through the slits of my eyes while my tears erupted.
“You think you’re eventually going to learn to do it right, Sonny, but. Even grown-ups make mistakes.”
Sonny was clear and composed now. She reached towards me and I thought, the little sweetheart, she’s going to hug me. But she reached for my phone.
“I’m calling my mom to take me to the hospital.”
Kira screamed at me when she met me in the parking lot of the emergency room. She didn’t want to hear my side of the story. I called a taxi back to Kira’s place and chugged a half a bottle of Benadryl to get some sleep. It was 5 pm.
I passed out and had hallucinatory dreams about Lila’s nose. I loved how when she cried the tears would drip down the tip of her nose and fall on to her lips. I’d wipe them off and hold her until I made her feel better about us. The last morning, I saw her I woke up expecting to see her in duress, she was always a mess the day after our fights. But her face showed no signs of crying. She looked clear-eyed and purposeful, and I became fearful. Lila brought up the idea of her leaving the city for a while so that we could both think. She was too timid to pose this as anything but a question. I couldn’t afford to make any demands of her after my behavior the previous night, so I told her to go.
We had a surprisingly convivial breakfast before she left for the country. We were both too exhausted for any more conflict, so we spent the meal doing what we did best as a couple, romanticizing the early days of our relationship and criticizing other people.
The last thing I said to her was to be careful on the road, she had never been a great driver.
ALERT: KYLIE JENNER HAS POSTED A PHOTO
I hid the alert as I heard my sister shuffling around downstairs. It was 4 am. She had always been an early riser. When we were young, it used to drive me crazy, she would shake me awake even during the weekends while I couldn’t figure out what the hell was so pressing for us to do.
Kira sat at her oak kitchen table sipping coffee from a mug that Sonny had made in one of her overpriced day camps.
“Can I have some?” I gestured towards the French Press on the counter.
Kira didn’t say anything, but she nodded. I sat down across from her while I sipped my black coffee.
I avoided looking her in the eye, afraid that I would break down again.
“I’m sorry. I was scared, I thought that Sonny was going to get hurt and so…”
“You know she hates that nickname. No one else calls her that.”
I shrugged. “I thought it would make a special bond between us, a cute nickname between niece and aunt.”
“Talking to your niece, spending time with her might bond her with you too.”
“Okay, Kira, I’m sorry! Look I’m going through a hard time, I don’t know what you expect me to do.”
“What I expect… this problem of yours didn’t start a year ago. It’s been happening since we were kids. Whenever you’re challenged you blow up to avoid the situation.”
I felt my body get hot again. “You don’t know what it’s like. You’ve always had it easier than me, you could always relate to people more; people always liked you better.”
Kira laughed. “We come from the same place! Same mom and dad too. The difference is that I dealt with my shit and you have to too!”
Now I was pissed. “I don’t have to do anything. I don’t have to talk about it until I’m red in the face, then cry, then go through whatever fucking acceptable emotions everyone expects of me. I’m pissed off! And I’m processing it!
“Well then you can’t be around us! And I’m pretty sure you can’t be around anyone else either!” Kira realized she was yelling and lowered her voice, Sonny sleeping upstairs.
“You’re not really in the world at the moment, and you need to make a decision to either coexist or exit. But we can’t be subjected to this because you’re using losing the love of your life as an excuse to act like a total asshole.”
“She wasn’t the love of my life. She was leaving me. She couldn’t handle me anymore. She had found a way out. I worry…” I started weeping now as I saw Kira soften, come closer to me and put her arm around me.
“I worry she had to die to get away from me.”
My sister hugged me. “I’m just worried about you.”
“Yeah. I’m worried about me too.”
Kira took Sonny to her father’s house the following weekend. I was looking forward to the time alone but when it came, I didn’t know what to do with myself. My phone was making me nauseous.
I found myself hungry for the first time since I could remember. I fumbled through Kira’s pantry for something that looked remotely edible but found nothing. I chugged one of Sonny’s grape fruit juices and I decided to take a walk into town and look for something that I might want to eat.
I had a strong urge to listen to The Spice Girls, specifically ‘Say You’ll Be There.’ Kira and I had listened to the Spice Girls on repeat during our childhood, before the idea of Lila had ever entered my mind. I found the tune and played it on loop while I walked through the rustic town.
I came upon a drum circle where white people with dreadlocks danced ecstatically in the middle of the ring. Incense emanated from the town square and children danced to the eclectic sounds of out of tune instruments that the people in the circle played. And then, there she was. The screamer in the trench, this time draped in lilac linens and emphatically banging on a tambourine outside of the ring and screaming along to whatever tune she was hearing.
I sat outside the circle and tried to pass judgments on the people I watched, but the music was horrible, and the people seemed okay with it.
The woman caught my eye. She walked over to me and I put my other headphone in, hoping she’d understand the universal anti-social signal. But instead, she handed me a sandwich.
“No.” I said, barely looking up at her. “I’m not-I can’t accept that.” But then I saw the sandwich. Crusty ciabatta with tomato and mozzarella, green pesto brimming the edges. It really looked incredible.
“Yes, you can, come on. You look like you could use a bite.”
My hand shook as I reached to grab the sandwich. It was the first thing that looked edible to me in a year. The woman sat next to me in silence, clapping along as I scarfed the sandwich down in a matter of minutes.
As I finished my last bite, she turned to me.
“Okay. Join us, honey! The water is warm!”
I shook my head and kept my headphones in.
“You look very tight and wound up, honey! You’ll feel better.”
“I don’t know this song, and I’m already listening to music. Thank you very much for the sandwich but this music makes no sense to me!” I felt the tears welling in my eyes, on the brim of streaking down my face.
“Oh, honey! You need to let it out.” She grabbed my hand and pulled me into the center of the circle.
I tried to think of an excuse, something that would allow me to dismiss this encounter. But I couldn’t. So I allowed her to take me, standing there for a minute before realizing what I needed to do.
I stood in the middle of the circle, and I started to scream.
Kate St.Germain spent the past six years in Asia teaching English as a second language while traveling extensively to places like Vietnam, Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia, and Taiwan. She holds a BA in International Studies from Marymount Manhattan College in New York City. In 2018, she attended the Iowa Writers’ Workshop summer fiction workshop. She volunteers at the Literacy Network of South Berkshire and continues to teach ESL to students in Asia through a distance learning program. She enjoys yoga, meditation, and running with her Taiwanese puppy, Francis.