“Stop starving your heart. Put your face into the garbage soup ocean and start sniffing. Snort ’til you catch a whiff that stirs the neck hairs of your soul. Then, chase it. Swish your limbs through the muck and don’t stop until you’re dead. That’s it. That’s all that living is.” – Critter, on how to survive as a slug in the anus of a decaying universe.
“Hey! Wake up.”
Critter is leaning on me with all her weight, trying to shake my shoulder.
“Uuuuuuuuuuuuugh.” I answer. “Go away.”
“We have to talk,” she says. I roll my face into the pillow.
“It’s important!” she says. “The whole forest is freaking out.”
I raise my head. “What forest?”
Critter rolls her eyes. “The urban forest. Everybody’s talking about what you did.”
I sit up, my eyes scrunched. “What the fuck are you talking about?”
Critter hops onto my lap and puts her tiny hands on my shoulders.
“Is it true?” she asks.
“Is WHAT true?!?”
She gives me serious face. “Did you. Kick. A deer?”
“Jesus fuck, no! Where did you get that?”
Critter flops down on her haunches. “Huh. Thought so.”
I raise my eyebrow and glare at her. She shakes her head.
“Should have known,” she says. “Squirrels are dicks. Gossipy, shit-disturbing dicks.”
I grit my teeth. “You’re telling me that squirrels are spreading shit about me?”
Critter nods. “Janet Fattail is swearing up and down the river that last time you walked at the park, she saw you assault a family of deer. Says you snuck up on them. When the mother bent down to eat, you kicked in her ribs. Then you tried to climb up and ride on the fawn.”
I smack my forehead.
Critter smiles. “Of course it isn’t true. I’m so relieved.”
“I can’t believe you thought that of me.”
Critter shrugs. “You’ve been off lately. Don’t deny it.”
“Yes, I’ve been fucking off lately. I can barely stand the sound of my own breath. That doesn’t mean I’m going to break somebody’s ribs.”
Critter tilts her head.
“It’s hard to know where your lines are,” she says.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means you’re a little self-destructive right now. Things you wouldn’t have done a few months ago are not so clearly in the no-go.”
I look away and blink tears out of my eyes.
“I don’t want to hurt anybody.”
“I know,” Critter says. “But you’re BURSTING with rage. And sadness. And want. You’re kind of in that place where people snap. Do something awful, just to feel something different. Lash out to cut through the despair.”
The tears start to pour, hot tracks down the sides of my nose.
“I don’t know what to do,” I whisper.
Critter jumps off my lap, onto my dresser. Then she leaps back and sets the kleenex box next to me. She drapes her soft belly over my heart and lays her head on my shoulder. The weight of her body presses against my chest. I sob, and sob, and blow a quart and a half of snot into tissues. They stack up in a soggy pyramid by my knee.
“I bet you wish those were masturbation rags,” she says.
I snort. “That’s a guy thing, Critter.”
When I catch my breath, I stare at my hands.
“I’m a waste, Critter. I’ve got nothing. I will never have anything to give. I can’t make my brain work. Every tiny, normal sensation turns into three-and-a-half weeks of all-consuming obsession. Do you have any idea how many nights I’ve laid awake, fantasizing about scenarios that would be completely fucking awful? And how many days I have lost, writing dissertation-length, deeply heartfelt responses to people I barely know on Facebook, while my kids beg me to play with them?
I can’t play with them, Critter. Can’t even make myself want to. They feel like sand in my teeth. All the whining, arguing, fighting, refusing. Constant resistance. Constant demand. An incessant buzz of complaint. I can’t fucking handle it. I don’t fucking like them as humans right now and I can’t meet their underlying needs and guide them to behave any better because I can’t stand to be mentally in their presence long enough to get through to them.”
Critter looks at me with her eyes and mouth drooping. Like a sad dog.
“I faceplant into every puddle I pass, Critter. When I finally get my feet on the ground and try to work, it’s garbage. It’s taking me ten times as long to do every little thing, and in the meantime, the shit I was supposed to do has piled up on top of me. A mountain I can’t climb out from under, let alone summit. I can’t do this. I can’t do anything.”
Critter pats my leg.
“All I want to do is to make things better. But I say things that make people feel worse. To my kids, to my friends. To my husband, every single fucking day. They’re all wrapped up in the whirlpool of my sick feelings. I don’t want to hurt them. I’m desperate to make it better. But I’m making it worse.”
Critter snuggles her butt beside me, and we sit there, staring into the distance together.
“You don’t have to fix it,” she says.
I shake my head. “I HAVE to fix it. I can’t stand this. I’m going to die if it doesn’t get better. ”
“No, you won’t.”
“You won’t die. No one will die. Nothing will break. The world will keep on turning.”
“I hate that even more. That means there is no escape. No exit button. This nightmare will never end. It will just get worse, and worse.”
“Well,” Critter says, “the world is like that. Entropy, right? The universe has been like this since the beginning. Long before you started acting like an anal-dwelling slug. The sun in the sky is in the act of burning itself out. It’s just physics. It’s not on you.”
“That fucking sucks, Critter. How am I supposed to find the will to keep on getting out of bed? To feed my kids and fight with them and drag their oppositional little asses to school? How am I going to keep fighting to work and write and face people?”
Critter looks up at me. “You stop telling yourself that if you finally get it right, the world will become good. That’s a lie, and you know it.”
I stare at the wall in front of me. I frown. That’s the same grease-printed, scuffed up, slumlord-buff-coloured paint that’s been there since my husband bought the place. I’ve lived here for 12 years. I always hated these blank, avoidant, impotent fucking walls. But I could never gather my resolve to change them.
Critter touches my cheek to make me look at her. “Stop trying to be perfect. You’re not. This world is not. It’s a vicious, shitty, bloody mess. Just figure out what you need to survive. Stop starving your heart. Put your face into the garbage soup ocean and start sniffing. Snort ’til you catch a whiff that stirs the neck hairs of your soul. Then, chase it. Swish your limbs through the muck and don’t stop until you’re dead. That’s it. That’s all that living is.”
My face makes this demented, one nostril-dilated smile. Like Mowgli at the end of the old Jungle Book cartoon from the sixties.
“What?” Critter asks.
“I’ve got a whiff,” I say. “I want to read. To people. I wanna do voice stuff, and read my blog posts on YouTube and do audiobooks and I don’t even know what else.”
She shrugs. “Okay. Do that.”
Tomorrow I’m going to read. To people. The last whiff I followed led to a short story that got published in a book called It’s a Weird Winter Wonderland. I’m one of the authors reading at the launch tomorrow night.
My contribution is a super weird story that tickled and satisfied me in ways I can’t fully articulate. All I know is that I’m hooked on this life, and I want to pull my head out of my own ass so I can read bonkers shit for people more and more and more. I have no idea how people will react, but even if all I get is blank stares and an uncomfortable cough, I want to do this thing.
With exactly the people I’ll be doing it with.
This is my whiff.
Critter and I hope you find yours, and that you give your inner bloodhound permission to chase and howl and raise everyone’s neck hairs.
“And may all your tissue wads be sticky with pleasure,” Critter adds.
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