When I first started grief counseling, they gave me the option of going to the San Francisco office or the Sunnyvale office. I could only pick one. My boyfriend lives closer to the Sunnyvale office. I live closer to the San Francisco office.
I decide to commit to having a year of grief counseling at the office near his place. This is the closest I can come to admitting I want us to be together for another year. In my mind I am doing this out of convenience and logistics. In truth I don't trust myself so I set up external mechanisms that mimic the rhythm of intimacy.
"Do you want water or tea?" my grief counselor always asks me this.
The tea feels exhilarating. I will get to pick from a box that is filled with 1000 teas, each with a different experience. Seeing that box full of tea reminds me of winning a game I played in kindergarten. There are ten tasks I have to complete. One task is learning to tie my shoe and showing my teacher, Mrs. Marks, that I can do it. Another is counting to ten outloud. For every task I complete successfully I got a pastel-colored construction paper ice cream scoop stapled onto a brown construction paper ice cream cone with my name on it. If I got all 10 scoops I could stick my hand in a candy jar and pull out as many candies as I could hold onto. I reached my chubby hand inside, opened it like a claw, sure that no one had ever grabbed more candy than that in their first. But I could not pull my fistful of candy out of the narrow mouth of the jar.
The orange spice tastes just like apple cider without sugar in it. The raspberry tea is tart and feels silly. I don't pick the earl gray because I'm convinced that the caffeine will make me lie. The chamomile feels too bland. There is a clone of this exact faux bamboo wicker flattened picnic basket box of tea at the San Francisco grief center. I saw it when I went there last month for a special seminar on dealing with your dead love one’s place setting at Thanksgiving. It feels important that I realize this is the same tea box as my tea box, that I spotted the similarity. "Ah, I see. I know."
I usually pick the water, convinced that this could be a moment I prioritize unceremonious hydration over eccentric ritual.
I like to have the little, hemp-colored pillow on my lap. I prefer that to resting my hands on the armrests, and I worry that she thinks that my fat is some kind of security blanket that I've created to hide myself. "No I was fat before I wanted to hide myself." So I feel awkward resting my hands on my belly because I know (I think I know) that thin people think this looks uncomfortable and the almost-knowledge of her counterfactual analysis makes me feel fidgety without the pillow.
"I had a dream that my mother, my grandmother and me were one person. I was laying on the air mattress, and there was like this roulette wheel of thoughts, and each time the wheel spun my mind would just get flung in whatever direction, and then the wheel spun to them. I guess I usually think of them as two parts of one whole. One of them is the good half and the other the bad half, and they can never be both at the same time. One has to be the better one, or else it all stops making sense. But I stopped myself and said 'what if we're all the same person?'"
My grandma says that when she was 14 and ready to have a boyfriend that none of the Mexican guys in California liked Mexican girls. "No, they all wanted blondes. They were too good for las morenitas." My grandmother is fair with a slender nose, but she has black hair and brown eyes and that makes her morenita. And when she went back to Mexico she was too fat for all the boys there. My grandfather told her he was going to marry her roughly 30 seconds into their first ever exchange. He was a body builder wearing slick suits and bolo ties then, but he used to be fat too. His nickname growing up was "gordo." He didn't have a name for years and years, and he finally got sick of it and became a body builder, all muscles. She told me that she didn't think anyone would ever ask her again. I know his strident cockiness. I know her frail wish.
My mom is convinced she's an alien who wasn't supposed to be born, a uterine tumor that through ghastly metaphysics had been turned into a baby. My real dad made fun of this mole on the side of her face so much that she had it cut out, and there's a scar there that never went away. She used to tell me that one day I could get surgery and be as beautiful as I wanted. She said it the way that maybe some mothers tell their daughters that someday they can become concert pianists or pilots - with genuine affection, and the fluffy hope of their own biggest dreams in their voice.
"In the dream we stopped being separate, and we weren't nesting dolls. We were blended together, and there was no separation. It didn't matter who had done what anymore. It didn't matter who had hurt me, and who had saved me, who had left me, and who had kept me. I didn't feel guilty for leaving. I didn't feel ashamed for never having really left. We shared more than we didn't share, and I didn't not want that to be true because it would be ok, because it wouldn't mean I was weak because I couldn't be weak; whatever caused this feeling was also part of me."