My sister has since painted over herself in that room. I can remember the small space where I occupied wall and that was long-since-gone as well. There were little chunks of the wall missing where I was, much like myself, and our mother would eventually reach out for me in the middle of the night.
I saw the room for the first time just the other day. It was almost a tobacco shade of brown instead of the pale gray that it came wrapped up in. The beds were gone, replaced by records and sofas. The same rug sat in the middle like a patient child waiting on the corner of Christmas and whatever comes after.
There was no formal sigh of relief in there. The atmosphere still heavy—a moment that felt entirely like being ten minutes away from rain but forty minutes away from sunset. It was a July evening after all and who would I have been to expect anything more out of the southwestern corner of Ohio.
I sat on the sofa and stared into the television—that a day ago sat as the head of a bedroom set. I could see my mother’s reflection in the television, lying there, eyes half open, mouth slack, her dead tooth shining in the hint of sunlight peaking in through the window on the wall behind me.
Death has this strange way of reminding you about nothing. That’s all it is in the end. A quiet form of vertigo that leaves people fighting over the garbage you accumulated while living, while also fighting off the ghosts you left, and the bills you left, and the questions we all still felt the need to express—even though language only works to a point.
I lit a Marlboro and sunk deeper into the sofa. I could see her eyes opening more as it came time to swallow another handful of Oxycodone, and at that point I lost all regard for if it was her or me who was taking them. I began to ash on the floor for lack of a better ashtray, and I thought it suited the moment regardless, as felt just as stale as the scenes playing out on the television in front of me two years later.
You can paint your life so many different ways without actually knowing any better. I did it often. At that moment I began to see my legs—the little sticks—the thin little movements, scattering across the television to the bedside of my mother. I saw the little noodle arms reach out to wrap around her in the bed—little spoon to big spoon.
I arrived too late to see her leave, which was strange because my entire life—even the birthing part—was always entirely too early. I made my peace with her the night before. I told her a story about a woman who lived in a boot-shaped house that was wallpapered with cow hides. She had this thing with cows, probably a childhood thing, and it just seemed fitting. I laid in bed that night before and told her this. I fell asleep on her shoulder. I did the very awkward and out of place twenty-first century thing and took a selfie with her as she laid there.
It becomes a strange situation when you cannot see your canvas anymore. When all you see is the threatening nature of routine. That is perhaps why my sister picked up the paintbrush this time and not myself. She had already long-since learned to swim inside of it. She always told me it was a difficult thing to tread through oils. I was too busy staring at the television to realize the sinking. The haze of smoke filling out the room, as the colors began to separate.
Joshua Robert Long
Joshua Robert Long is a writer and celebrated cat dad from Yellow Springs, Ohio. He has authored six poetry books, the most recent being Mixtape, Volume 3: The New Poor Manual For The Living, which is forthcoming from Sock Rides International. When he’s not in the parking lot by his house petting stray cats, he’s usually on Twitter (@wrinkledsocks).