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  • Writer's pictureSara Sherburne

Parked at a Loss

Parked at a loss.

It was Marianne who said that, or maybe her name was Melanie. In my Young Adult Cancer Creative Writing Group. I haven’t stopped thinking about it. Parked at a loss. I imagine rumbling up, shifting into park, killing the engine. The silence. A beat of relief and then..? Keys dangling limply from the ignition, hands resting idly on the steering wheel, thumbs tapping softly on leather. Scanning the horizon for..?

Heidi presented on Zoom today (on the big conference room screen) and the cursor intruded rudely upon her face the entire time. I felt an aesthetic displeasure as the little white arrow toured across indiscriminate patches of skin, and then a little dopamine rush when it slipped perfectly between her lips or started to pick her nose as she bobbed her head. I couldn't really tell you what she was presenting about.

Our neighbor has a dog named Bob. He is absolutely ancient. He’s a blue heeler mix with grisled black and white fur and half of his back hair shaved off like he had a surgery, but it’s been like that since I’ve known him. He’s blind and mostly deaf and has one blue eye and one milky black one. Most nights he glowers rigid-limbed outside our sliding glass door, his mis-matched eyes silently demanding salmon jerky. Sometimes I find Bob inside our house, industriously sniffing the floor. “Oh hello Bob,” I say. He ignores me.

I typed “potato chip” into google scholar for no particular reason and found a study called “Mechanical and acoustic evaluation of potato chip crispness using a versatile texture analyzer.” How crispy is this potato chip, someone would like to know?

The closest I have ever felt to motherhood was when I recently carried a Chinese money plant onto the plane with me. Shielding my fragile darling against the the gusts of power-walking passerby. Watching anxiously while the the TSA agent built a little nest around it with my jacket so that the flappy things on the security X-ray wouldn't bend its stems. Regarding it fondly when a flight attendant fawned over its cuteness. He is precious, isn't he?

“Cancer survivor.” This is an identity for some. For me the words are too bitter, or maybe too sweet. A shirt that's self-consciously ill-fitting. A room that is too crowded. Or too empty.

Does anyone actually use those paper toilet covers that they have in public restrooms? I remember exactly one time that I used one out of curiosity and then thought “well dang I ripped it and this is very slippery and now half of it fell in the toilet and am I even allowed to flush this or do I have to pick it out?” For me the greater concern than getting someone’s butt germs on my butt would be getting someone’s butt germs on my hands, which seems more likely if I try to apply the paper cover than if I just ignore it entirely. Plus a toilet seat is realistically a very inhospitable surface for bacterias. Mobility permitting, there's always the hover option too.

I read an article about a man on death row who became the biggest advocate for his own execution. His crimes, abhorrent: raping his daughter in front of her dying mother, whom he had shot. Murdering his sister in law. Verbal and emotional abuse. Unfathomable, unforgivable.

But then, the trauma that shaped him - growing up in abject poverty, living in a chicken coop. Witnessing his sister’s rape by his father. Huffing gasoline everyday to feel “no longer a pissed off loner…no longer hungry…no longer ugly.” Getting hooked on opioids and then meth after an injury. A battle between a split psyche.

“I was a good man, at one time,” he says, before his execution.

I think everyone was.

In my Young Adult Cancer Writing Thingy we were prompted to write about “holy purpose.” Laura got baptized last year and found Jesus. Meghan said breathily, “I am more rooted in who Jesus calls me to be.” Then she quoted Einstein: “There are two ways to live, as if nothing is a miracle or everything is.” I don’t know if Einstein really said that but my theory, as I become increasingly skeptical about just about everything, is that internet gnomes compose pithy aphorisms (or pluck them from historic obscurity) and then glibly attribute them to the most brilliant man in the world to give them a little oomph. Not that it really matters, but Einstein could be annoyed.

Yaz said, “I wasn’t super vibing with the ‘holy purpose’ thing so I wrote about this cactus.”

I watch a video of a four-year-old in a dinosaur suit narrating his snowboard run. “I won’t fall, maybe I will, that’s ok, cause we all fall.” He falls into the snow (with an impossibly cute “oof!”) and struggles to right himself. “What kind of dinosaur are you?” His dad calls from behind the camera. “A powder-saurus.” he struggles for a few seconds and then gives up, exhausted. “I’m a stuck-a-saurus."

"Consumer acceptance toward potato chips fried in yellow mealworm oil"

Sure, bring on the insect-as-protein revolution! Mealworms require 10% as much land as cows, after all. And they don’t have the stinky burp/fart situation. They may be what we’re left with to prevent ecosystem collapse, along with algae and jellyfish. Someone has to eat all those jellyfish. I wouldn't like to be a mealworm farmer, though.

Our two year old neighbor tottered into our house and inquired, with genuine concern, “where are all your toys!?” This has given me a mild but unexpectedly existential crisis.

A five year old holds a sign, "My Body My Choice." "WHOSE CHOICE IS IT?" Her mom yells. "MINE!!" Her daughter screams. How to explain.. to a child that her rights are in jeopardy. How to explain what a "right" is, and then suddenly isn't. How to explain why anything works the way it does.

Going back to the potato chips, I would argue food texture is just as important than taste. I came to this conclusion when mouth sores relegated me to a liquid diet, which was just not enjoyable. Compared to the militant snap of a carrot, the explosive disintegration of a chip, the myofascial tear of airy brioche. There's much less destructive agency in slurping up blueberry banana goop. And once you enter the solid realm, some textures render the act of demolition infinitely more satisfying than others. Over-fried egg? Devastating. Flaccid carrot? Appalling.

I watched Inside for the fourth time. God I love Bo Burnham. “That funny feeling” pervades. Something like, “the quiet comprehending of the ending of it all”

A bouncer scrutinizes my ID, “why did you cut your hair?

“I had cancer.”

He waves me inside.

Apparently the "Disposable Toilet Seat Potty Covers Market" (a string of words I have uttered exactly zero times, but I like to imagine men in suits stating it solemnly, brandishing laser pointers. Also, what is the purpose of the word “potty” here? Does that refer to something different than “toilet”? Please advise) was valued at 489.9 million USD in 2020 and is expected to reach 574.7 Million USD by 2026. Business is booming!

How do we expect people to become better people in prisons?

I fainted while getting my blood drawn the other day, which has never happened before. It was incredibly disturbing. I thought I was falling into the Abyss of Death. Face hot, sweat tumbling from my temple. Hair drenched. Then the nausea, am I going to throw up? I can’t breathe. Um your blood stopped flowing are you OK? No I am not OK. I keel forward. I feel gray. Everything is slow. My shirt is sopping. Mouth full of cotton and cement. A strong smell under my nose.

Your face turned the color of your water bottle, my nurse says, after. Teal. “It’s my favorite color” I say weakly. It’s not, really, it just felt like a good thing to say. I don’t have a favorite color, I realized. Most can be perfectly pleasing in the right context. Mauve coffee mug, dusty cerulean crocs, pale sunrise banana flesh.

Teal was probably not the best color for my face, though.

I used to be staunchly pro crunchy peanut butter and now I think smooth has some good points too.

What else?

I'll just play Madness, again.


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