Issue #54

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Want

I want to wear the black dress with the three-quarter sleeves and the silver zipper running up the back. I want to wear the red lipstick and I want it to look good on me. I want to take a step toward the mic and smile. What I’m saying is I want to be heard.

I want my name in black print, want the author bio. In the picture my skin is clear and my left eye does not wander away from the camera.

In my third-grade reading class I wrote a story in which I undermined house burglars. “I had to kick, punch in their privates,” I wrote. “I poured fresh-made poison down their throats.” I had just seen Home Alone. I wanted to make the teacher laugh. Instead, she pulled me aside, called my mom. My mom spoke to me gently but God, I blushed, and I don’t think I wrote a word I wanted to for years.

Growing up, my dad used to say, “It’s nice to have wants.”

My girlfriend took a picture of me at the zoo. It’s become a favorite profile picture. In it, I lean forward to smell the roses blooming on a bush. From the side I am chinless and acne speckles violent red on my cheek. But God, the roses are so pink and in bloom.

In my ninth grade English class I took an assignment seriously: write a short story. My teacher insisted on reading it aloud to the class, though I begged him not to. “It’s good,” he assured me, and cleared his throat to start. While he read, I put my head down on the desk to hide my blazing cheeks.

My mom flinches. “Red lipstick looks too harsh on you.”

My girlfriend dyes her hair. Last month it was teal, this month it is purple, and one day, she says, she will have red hair again. “Your hair is such a beautiful color,” people have always told me, “don’t ever dye it.” But how exciting it must be to get to choose. How exciting, to pluck a cardboard box from the shelf and, for $12.95, change the way the world sees you.

Growing up, my dad always said, “Want in one hand and shit in the other. See which one fills up faster.”

Gertrude Stein never threw her writing away; she kept every draft, thought every word was genius. I read The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas for a class and, with every page, hated Stein more. I have not thrown a draft away since.

When I die, I want them to find stacks of notebooks under my bed. “This is genius!” they will exclaim. “How could we not have known?” Then, I want to poke my head around the corner and laugh at every grieving person. “Surprise,” I want to say. “Joke’s up,” I want to say.

When I die, I want to be buried in a biodegradable bag. I want to be a tree.

I do not want to die.

Someday I want to own a house—single story, with a wrap-around porch and a view of the water. I want to paint my house blue. My girlfriend can decorate the kitchen, the living room, the half-bath. I don’t care. But in my front yard, along my white picket fence, I want to plant roses and each spring watch them bloom.

I don’t want to have to ask anyone to read what I write. I don’t want to follow it with, “You don’t have to if you don’t want to.” I want them to want to.

I am afraid I want to want to write.

Once, for a class, I wrote an essay about the deaths of my grandmothers. I did not want to wallow, so I wrote it to be funny. A classmate handed it back and, in the endnotes, wrote, Nice exploration of narcissism. I blushed every time I went back to that class.

Is this essay an exploration of narcissism? Aren’t they all?

I want to wear the black dress, the red lipstick, strawberry hair piled on my head. I want to step toward the mic, it’s okay if I blush. I want to look into the audience and see every one of them there, hearing me.

KINDLING

An Exam For A Suitor