“Why don’t you bring your friends over? You’re always locked up in that room,” her hands gesture while her foot is on the pedal.
She insists on concentrating her gaze onto me as she “talks,” but we all know that you’re supposed to keep your eyes on the road and your hands on the wheel. This, of course, does not apply to her.
We start swerving into the other lane, as I predicted, and I frantically move my hands to signal that I don’t want to die today, and for that to happen she should keep her eyes focused.
“But I’m trying to talk to you.”
“Okay, but you’re doing a better job at trying to kill me instead.”
“Stop, that’s not funny.”
“Then wait until we get home!”
Both her hands are on the wheel now, so I can tell that she doesn’t want to “talk” anymore. I roll my eyes at this because she’s a bigger baby than I am sometimes.
She pulls up into the driveway and I make my escape out the car, running up the stairs to unlock the door before she has a chance to lecture me. Upon entering, the scent of rotting wood, fish, gas, and a hint of paint, penetrates my nostrils.
The smell of rotting wood caused by the deterioration of the all wood office space built into half of the living room. Containing wooden shelves atop a wooden desk, next to a giant wooden storage closet with old leather purses and blankets spilling out its doors.
And the pile of my mom’s dirty clothes mounted on top of the chair she uses whenever she calls her friends on the Sorenson monitor (It’s like Facetime, but for deaf people), next to the desk.
The fish odor emanating from the once lush, now food stained and rough to the touch, carpet. As much as we try to get Steve (the manager) to replace it in the 10 years we have lived here, he continues to ignore the calls.
The gas station aroma coming from the broken stove in the kitchen that gives me a slow building headache whenever I watch the $5 pirated movies I buy from the taco stand in Lennox.
And the walls painted baby blue by my erratic mother as an attempt to hide the smeared corpses of cockroaches and spiders.
I let out a sigh because there’s no place like home. My mom walks in from behind and slams the door shut.
“Here we go again,” I announce.
Everytime she’s mad she slams everything, not bothering her one bit because she can’t hear, (one of the perks of being deaf), while everyone else suffers her loud wrath. I try to get her to calm down so that we can start the conversation, but she’s not hearing it, at least purposely this time.
“Whatever then. I’ll just go shower.”
I walk into the kitchen to grab the towels I hang on the chairs to dry, and I feel something sticky on my toes. I lift up my foot to reveal a small puddle of dried up juice on the floor.
My mom looks at me and laughs as she grabs a green hand towel to wipe the puddle off the floor. I try to help her clean it off, but it’s set for good. Great. I get up off my knees and head over to the sink to put the hand towel away, but my feet sink into the floor.
“What the fuck?”
“Hey don’t curse, the Lord is watching.”
“The fuck?” I say again as I clench my teeth so she can’t read my lips.
Sometimes I wonder if she’s been faking it all these years so she can get away with things.
“Sorry, there’s something wrong with the floor. I just sank right now.”
My mom shoves me aside and steps on the floor herself.
“Yes, I know I am, but what’s wrong with the floor?”
“I think the floor is rotting.”
Make sense. The pipes underneath the sink do nothing but leak. So, the water probably found its way into the floor and ate away at it. And knowing Steve, he’ll be more than willing to fix it because he pays for the water.
“I’ll have your dad call him tomorrow.”
“Alright, I’m going to shower now.”
I grab my two towels and head to the bathroom. I try to close the door behind me, but it refuses. She probably used knockoff Windex again, I wonder, because the hinges are stiff. I push the door and lock it as fast as I can so that it doesn’t bounce back open. I feel my armpits get hot from the effort. Gross.
I throw the towels over the shower rod and look up to notice the spots came back. Because I prefer hot showers, the steam always rises up into the ceiling and these black spots form, but it’s not mold (at least I hope it’s not).
I undress and set my clothes on the toilet seat. Looking down, I get annoyed at the blob of wite-out on the seat because it was the only way to hide the screw my mom had to use to fix it (I may or may not have broken it by getting on top to see how my outfit looked in the mirror that day). Blended in with the wite-out are these spots of red from the time my mom spilled hair dye trying to throw the bottle into the trash can, but missed.
Not only that, but there’s also a huge chunk of wall missing right next to the toilet. I can’t help but wonder how the previous tenants did that, and if any monsters come out of it in the middle of the night.
What I do like about the bathroom is the floor. The floor is the only thing wood I appreciate because it’s made out of mahogany. Well, plastic imitation, but it looks like the real thing so it makes me feel fancy.
Getting into the shower, I quickly realize I forgot the screwdriver. But being too lazy to get out, I wait for the inevitable. For my mom to come in and check up on me, as she does every 10 minutes.
While sitting in the tub, I trace the iron rusted rings on the base with my fingers, while the other arm rests on my knees. A few minutes in and what do you know, she comes in to check on me. I tell her I forgot the screwdriver, and she laughs at me again. She goes and brings it in while reminding me how to use it.
“If you want hot water you have to turn it to the right, and if you want it cold, turn it to the left.”
“Yes. I know. I know. Okay. Get out. I want to shower,” but she keeps signing.
“GO AWAY. YOU’RE TAKING FOREVER. LET ME SHOWER.”
I’m relieved when she finally leaves because shower time is my time.
As the water comes pouring down my head like the waterfalls in Cancún, I think about how much I hate having to turn the shower on with a screwdriver. But at least I can shower from the head like everyone else now. Not too long ago, I had to shower from a hose when the hot water stopped working for several months.
And before my mom had the idea of using a hose, I would have to take freezing 5-10 minute showers before school. The apartment was extra chilly in the morning, so I’d always have to speed bathe in ice cold water that my body couldn’t take, always leaving me shaking. Especially since my mom would never turn on the heater because it was too expensive, at least for us. Like muscle memory, I start shaking at the thought.
I start to remember the even worse days when the handle first broke and we couldn’t get the water to come out. My mom would have to bring out the big pozole pot and pour boiling water into it so that it was hot enough to last. She would then carry the pot into the tub and give me a cup so that I could pour the water onto myself. But the surrounding air was always cold enough to give me goosebumps.
After 30 minutes of remembering past misery, I get out and feel the steam flow around me. Walking towards the mirror, I wipe and stare at the reflection looking back at me. I look at what reminds me of a bowl of cocoa puffs cereal sloshing around in milk. The milk (my mother) coming into full embrace with the cocoa puffs (my father), giving birth to a cinnamon milk child.
Instead of my mother’s hazel eyes hiding behind red curls on an almond framed head, I obtained the chocolate hair and eyes with malt-ball shaped cheeks from my father. I hope that’s the only thing I get from him.
I pull open the door and watch the steam fly out into the living room, and dance into the kitchen. I realize that I really am to blame for the front of the fridge giving into rust. Whoops!
I run to my room to avoid another scolding and sit on my queen bed to dry off. A bed I hate-love because it takes up most of the room. My dad thought it would be nice to buy me a bed whose springs weren’t worn out, and footboard that wasn’t split in half. But at least my mom can sleep on a bed, instead of the living room couch, whenever it’s cold.
Using my towel as a gown, I get up and sashay towards the window, to stare off into the vanilla clouds kissing the strawberry skies. I begin to marvel at all the things I’ve gathered over the years in attempts to make me feel normal.
A vanity table, placed at the edge of my bed, covered in perfumes and lotions and other girly things I get when my dad pops by to take me shopping. My closet, as tiny as it is, filled with clothes ranging from $4 shirts my mom buys to the $80 dresses that my dad gets me. Over 25 pairs of shoes, stuffed beneath the racks, ready and waiting to be worn. I like to imagine I’m this extravagant fashionista with a massive wardrobe, but really I just know a good deal when I see one.
That, and the fact I’ve been 5’4 (and a half), and haven’t broke 115 pounds since I was 12, so everything still fits. Genetics? Maybe. I have the same figure as my mother, twiggy with hips, so probably not. Malnutrition and stunted growth? Most likely. The $2 frozen food diet, lacking enough protein and vitamins a child would need to grow, could be to blame. Or maybe it was the high amount of food being thrown away whenever a roach found a weak spot in the fridge. I swear they eat more than I do, at this point they should start paying rent. God knows my mom needs the help.
Growing tired of feeling like a naked mole rat, I slip out of my “gown” and change into something comfortable. I unwrap the towel crown on my head and open the door to my mother standing right in front of me. It’s been 10 minutes. She picks up the conversation she started before her fit.
“So why don’t you bring your friends over? I know we don’t talk much, but I hate to be the reason you’re alone all the time.”
“Because… I don’t know.”
She walks into the room and approaches me, standing close to my face. Looking at the thin string of eyebrows (from her chola days in Mexico) beginning to furrow in frustration, I decide to tell her.
“Because we’re poor.”