Hunting for meaning is the most natural thing to do when you’re confused. Luckily, you can find it in just about anything if you concentrate hard enough. All you do is close your eyes as tight as you can, growl to yourself and think hard on the one thing confusing you most.
My pursuit of meaning is a deliberate and serious bit of business these days. I’ve found some good hacks, though, little tricks that have been useful in pulling light through the cracks, illuminating things.
One trick I like is to stand in front of a bookshelf. I close my eyes and run one hand along the book spines until I get the feeling that it’s time to stop. Whatever book my hand is resting on is the one I pull out. My eyes are still closed when I flip through the pages, and the sentence my index finger lands on is The One. It’s the sentence that illuminates the meaning of the day, a Very Special Message from the Universe to me.
Today, I pulled out Ozma of Oz:
“Finally, in despair, she decided to leave it entirely to chance.”
See? Could it be any clearer?
I called a guy over to talk about fixing my overgrown disgrace of a backyard. I like its disgraceful appearance, but my nutty neighbour Gypsy doesn’t. Remember Gypsy? She’s the one whose dad is a dead alcoholic asshole, so she understands grief, okay? She’s also the neighbour who thought Kris might have murdered me and dumped my body behind Silver City Theatre. Anyway, Gypsy is convinced that the three foot long weeds and grasses in my back yard are attracting all the neighbourhood rats to gather and plot against her. She keeps knocking on my door to tell me about how the rats are all my doing and are making her afraid to go outside.
I’m a slob, but I don’t leave garbage in my yard and I keep the recycling inside until recycling day. The rats aren’t my problem – they’re not my fucking problem – and I’m getting really tired of her thinking up ways to get me to take responsibility for her rodent prejudice.
“They’re not my rats,” I told her the other day for the hundredth time when she banged on my door like a cop at 8 a.m., “I don’t have pet rats.”
“Well,” she said, “I went into your yard when you were on vacation, and I could see their little trails through all the long weeds you’re growing back there. They’re getting through the fence into my yard and I need you to take care of it.”
“I think my weeds are beautiful and natural,” I told her, “but I’ll cut them down if it would make you feel better.”
“Thanks. It would.”
I called my sister to complain.
“My neighbour is being fucking crazy again,” I told her, “she’s convinced I’m breeding rats over here.”
“Just get the yard cleaned up, Chelsea. It’s got to get done anyway if you’re going to sell the place. I know a guy, I’ll text you his email.”
“Oh, so should I shave my armpits too if Gypsy thinks they’re attracting rats?”
“Your yard is a jungle, come on.”
“It is not! It’s a garden of common weeds and grasses – a garden, not a jungle.”
“Just call the guy, Chels. I’ve gotta go, I’ll text you.”
She said she would text me, so I was expecting a text, but after twenty minutes of waiting and stewing over Gypsy’s assumption that I’m a disgusting rat person, I decided to do something useful before calling the yard guy.
I made a flyer, which I folded up and placed in Gypsy’s mailbox:
I never had to grasp for meaning with Kris. He always said exactly what he meant, even if it involved potential rejection, even if it might have made him seem foolish or desperate or over the top, he just didn’t care. He wore his heart on his sleeve from the beginning, and I always knew where I stood with him, which was a tremendous comfort.
He was puzzled by me, at first, baffled by my keeping him at arm’s length until I felt there was a reasonable chance he wouldn’t hurt me:
From: Kris <firstname.lastname@example.org> Date: Sat, Dec 4, 2010 at 4:46 AM Subject: RE: Cohen To: “Chelsea” <email@example.com>
I hope you’ll let your guard down, with me. I hope you’ll let me through. I’ll stop trying to kiss you, so much, until you feel more comfortable with me, and want to as much as I do. You’ll have to forgive me for trying, though. I just know that beyond your bubble is someone I like very much, if I could only move through it. I don’t understand you, but I do, at the same time. I can’t relate, but I can understand, or try to. I’m trying.
We’ll have to get to know each other better, first, though. I can see, that’s how it is with you. I’m fine with that. It’ll take time, but I have time. I’m really in no hurry, and look forward to sharing more quiet moments with you. I love talking to you. I love it when you smile at me. I like holding your hand.
Listen, I get it. You say you don’t want expectation, so let’s forget about expectations. And let’s not call what passes between us anything. I’m not afraid of commitment, and of trying to make a relationship work. But it’s far too soon to talk about such things, or even entertain the thought.
I can fall in love, however. And maybe that is where we’re different, in how guarded we are, how controlled we are with such vulnerable emotion. I can fall in love, and I do, rather easily. So easily, in fact, that I’m covered in bruises from it. From leaping, and falling, when I’d no good reason to believe there would be anything to catch me, or break my fall. From landing, hard, and breaking. But I’ve never been afraid of being hurt. That’s something that I’ve never been afraid of. Bones mend. Hearts heal. And there’s always another cliff to leap from. And you never know what gentle breeze may carry you aloft.
Some people are born with more heart than sense. Chelsea, I’m one of them.
When I was seventeen I was infatuated with a boy who had hair down to his waist. He wore it in a long ponytail. He was tall and big with dazzling brown eyes that shouted We are handsome and good at seeing the best moves in chess!
One day he called and invited me over to his house.
“Would you come over and brush my hair out for me?”
His hair was getting dreadlocks, he said, and he didn’t want to look like so much of a hippie.
It was a Saturday morning when I got the call and I was supposed to be helping my grandmother clean out her pantry, but I canceled and drove over to his house with my heart burning in my throat. I was shaking when I knocked on the door, absolutely terrified and thrilled at the idea of spending time alone with him, of getting to touch his hair. This is an honour, I told myself, and a day that you must brand into your memory forever.
I thought it might mean he was in love with me. Why else would a boy invite a girl over to brush the tangles from his hair? Asking someone to brush your hair means something, something big.
Would he insist I get in the shower with him? Would he give me fragrant oils and make me wash his feet first and sing Everything’s Alright from Jesus Christ Superstar? And while washing his feet, would he look down and realize that I was his soul mate, that I was born to wash his feet and kiss his knees and brush his hair forever? Would he be overcome with passion and pull me up to meet face-to-face, the water dripping off our noses? And would he grab my naked bum with one hand and the back of my neck with the other and kiss me with the power and glory of a zillion burning stars and then seed me with a glorious teenage pregnancy?
I was fully on board if that’s what he had planned.
It looked promising when he opened the door in a Canucks housecoat, but then I noticed his hair was already wet. He’d just showered.
I tried not to look as disappointed as I was when he handed me a bristle brush and a bottle of Pears conditioner and suggested we go down to the rec room and watch Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure.
On his couch, I sat with him on the floor in front of me, his head between my knees. It took the length of the movie to get his hair untangled, and when it was done I kept combing for an extra ten minutes, not ready to give the moment up, trying to soak in the smell of his scalp. Never forget this moment, I told myself again.
“Pardon?” he asked.
“What? I didn’t say anything.”
“I heard you say something. This moment?”
“Oh, I said we’re done. This moment! All done now, ha!”
“Oh, great. Thanks, Chelsea.”
“I have some friends coming over to play some Tomb Raider in a bit. They should be about half an hour.”
I asked if I should go.
“Yeah,” he said, “probably. Unless you want to play video games.”
I don’t like video games.
The yard fixing guy’s name was Trevor. He came over with a clipboard and a measuring tape. Trevor’s jeans were secured with a belt high above his belly button and his t-shirt was tucked in tight, a neat and tidy man with a broad smile, crushing handshake, teeth like yellow coral.
Trevor tromped around and measured things. He kept saying you guys, as in, you guys could get some landscaping rocks, you guys could save some money by filling this area with gravel, you guys should try powerwashing this patio.
Once it was time to talk money, Trevor seemed nervous to be throwing numbers around. He kept glancing over at the back door of my house, as if he was expecting a hairy husband to burst out and yell hey, that’s a rip-off! You trying to rip off my wife? You trying to fuck her too? Get off my property or I’m gonna give you a beautiful black eye, you crooked sonofabitch!
I told Trevor I’d like to book right away. I hoped having a date nailed down would help him feel less squirrely, but nope, he was still all weird and looking at the door.
“I’ll just leave the quote with you and let you guys discuss it, how’s that,” he said.
“I think I’d like to just book it now,” I said.
“You don’t want to discuss it with your husband?” Bam -there it was.
“No, can we just book a date now?”
He appeared so confused that it occurred to me he may have accidently traveled forward in time from 1955. It just wasn’t computing, I could see him short-circuiting.
“I’m seeing a lot of toys in the yard,” he said, trying out loud to make sense of this crazy puzzle. “You have kids obviously, eh? I just thought…”
“Yeah. Single mum.”
“Oh okay, well this’ll be a good deal for you then, eh?”
He scratched out his quote and replaced it with one for fifty bucks less.
“My wife’s ex is a real piece of work, eh? Gives her grief all the time and it’s been five years. I hope your ex is treating you right.”
“He treats me great,” I said.
“Oh, good to hear.”
“He died last Christmas.”
“Aw Jeez. I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay. Dead people are nice. They always treat you right.”
Trevor grimaced, then nodded earnestly like he was at church and I’d just quoted some beautiful bible passage from the pulpit that stabbed him right in the christbone. I expected that he’d flip open his calendar and pencil me in at that point, but he didn’t. Instead, the idea of the dead husband seemed to relax him, and he sat himself down in a patio chair, leaned forward with his elbows on his knees and hands clasped, and looked at me mournfully. It was a look that said baby, we’ve known each other for a few months now, and it’s about time we had a little talk about ‘us’.
“Look,” he sighed, “I’m gonna be real with you for a minute. It’s crazy that you’re going through all this. It’s a crazy coincidence, eh? Cause I’m having a real hard time right now too so I know what you’re going through.”
“Yeah. My dog just died of cancer. We tried to save him but there wasn’t nothing we could do, eh? Just had to let him go.”
“That’s awful,”I said. His eyes were welling with tears.
I sat down in the chair beside him and we gazed at the weeds together.
“Yup,” he went on, “nothin’ fair about it. He was my best bud. And me and the wife are going through some stuff right now too. Of course whenever it rains it pours, eh? The wife’s mom is in the hospital cause she fell off her stool at bingo and hit her head, so that was real hard because now we gotta drive her around all the time. And then my Dad just had a hip replacement, and the food in the hospital was so bad it almost poisoned him to death and we had to bring in A & W every day, eh?”
“Man. Yeah, that’s a lot. Sorry about your dog.”
Trevor said his dog, ZZ Top Dog, was a beauty, just a beauty of a boy, eh? He was a mutt with a heart of gold who could open the fridge with his paws and help himself to whatever food he wanted. ZZ Top Dog danced, too – did I ever meet a dog who danced?
“Yup, he danced alright. To the beat and everything.”
Trevor also told me that 2016 has been a real bad year for a lot of people.
“… real bad year. Something’s in the water, eh?”
“Yeah, in the water.”
I’m always delighted to hear that a lot of other people are having a bad year, I told him.
We settled on a date and he talked a bit more about his dad and the hospital food. Then he stood up and vigorously brushed some invisible sawdust off his pants.
“Gotta go pick up the wifey now,” he said with a wink.
“Okay,” I said, “Thanks for coming.”
Trevor offered his hand for another shake. I took it. This time his grip was different. Not like a vice. It was soft, loose, tender. And…wet. I felt something wet and gel-like against my palm, which made for the most uncomfortable handshake of all time since he was looking deep into my soul and smiling intensely with those lemon biscuit teeth. I couldn’t let on that the wet shake was weird for me, especially knowing about his dog and wifey and mother-in-law and dad, so I smiled back as politely as I could.
“Nice meeting you, Chelsea.”
“Nice meeting you too.”
He hooked his measuring tape back into his pocket, made his way out of my yard. When he got to the gate, he glanced back and waved, winked at me again.
Once I heard his car start and was sure he was out of range, I looked at my palm. It was covered in mustard.
A few weeks after I combed the tangles out of the boy’s hair, I hosted a Halloween party. I dressed as a forest nymph and glued leaves all over my body and covered myself in green glitter. He dressed as a vampire. At the end of the night, I found out he was in the basement getting a blowjob from my friend who was dressed as a sexy Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz.
I told Kris this story at one point, the whole story, including the blowjob part.
“That’s hilarious,” he said.
“It’s not hilarious. It’s fucked up… like why would he ask me to brush his hair ? What was the meaning in that?”
“There is no meaning.”
“There is. And it is not hilarious.”
“Okay, darling” he said, “not hilarious. But teenage boys are just idiots. There’s no more meaning to it than that. He just wanted the knots out of his hair.”
“There was meaning. You don’t know. Brushing someone’s hair is meaningful.”
We were laying in bed together, the baby sleeping between us. He stroked my face, my hair.
“Can I say something? Without you getting mad?”
“I think it’s time you let this one go.”
I wish I could just let things go, but I can’t. I just can’t.
My Report on Mustard by Chelsea Jane
What do you think of when you hear the word “mustard”? Do you think of warding off evil spirits as a Viking in the olden days? Do you think about putting some in your wife’s morning porridge to stimulate her libido?
Mustard is actually a plant. Mustard was one of the first plants ever domesticated. Mustard sauce is made from the seeds of the mustard plant, which has been used for years and years and centuries…
…to “spice things up”, as they say!
In France, which used to be called Gaul, the Romans came along and got some mustard seeds which they took back to Rome. That’s when it became popular in Rome, because the Romans discovered a love for grinding the seeds and putting the sauce all over themselves and their food.
The word “mustard” comes from the Latin words “mustus ardem”, which means “burning must”. This means that mustard is a condiment for when you feel like you really must do something, and you feel it so strong that you set yourself on fire and burn from all the longing.
Jesus Christ, a True Famous One from the olden days, was known to love mustard.
“I love mustard,” he told his disciples, “so much. I love it so much that truly I tell you, if you have faith like a grain of a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘move from here to there’, and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”
Mustard can get bitter if you leave it out of the fridge for too long. Mustard got better and smoother along with the industrial revolution. Mustard is used in modern days on salads, sandwiches, and in sauces, marinades and soups.
Mustard is the most popular condiment in the world! And now we know why.