Tuesday, February 23, 2010
For the last few months, I thought I had lost my photo album from Japan. I worried that I might have thrown it away in a fit of housekeeping. I get way too much pleasure out of throwing things away. It's so much easier than actually organizing them. Our apartment has so little space. But it does have a garbage chute that makes throwing things out almost fun. It's like a slide at a playground, for trash. I get giddy with the sense of lightness that comes from throwing things away, the suddenly clear surfaces and cleaned out drawers, but often suffer from disposal remorse after dumping more than I actually wanted to part with. This is pretty much the subject of my novel.
My two and a half year old son, Max, also loves to throw things away. At his preschool, the teachers tell me that he will often ask for a cup of milk, claiming to be thirsty, then take just a few sips, only for the pleasure of walking over to the garbage can and dumping it. He also likes to throw things out of his car window while I'm driving. It's hard to explain to a toddler why it's okay to spit a cherry pit out the window but it's not okay to throw a crumpled potato chip bag out the window. So I finally had to tell him not to throw *anything* out the window, a line he likes to repeat in a testy way.
The other day, he was sitting in the backseat with his window open, wearing a pair of Spiderman sunglasses, and then suddenly they were gone from his face. I asked where they went and he said, "I don't know, Mommy," in a tone that suggested he did know. I asked again and he shrugged. "Did you throw them out the window?" I asked, and after a little more prodding, he finally admitted that he had. We were driving fast down a four lane street that fed onto the Bay Bridge. He started crying as he said that he wanted his sunglasses back, and I explained rather tersely that after he threw something out the car window, he could never get it back. I was stern, hoping to get my point across. When we got to our destination, and I went to get him out of the backseat, there were the sunglasses on the floor of the car. I was relieved that he hadn't thrown them out the window, but a little disturbed by how readily he accepted the blame. He seemed to believe that he was guilty, as surprised as I was to see the glasses.
I wonder if there is a genetic predisposition towards feeling guilty when you've done nothing wrong. My mother has admitted to me that one of her greatest fears is accidentally committing a hit-and-run. How could you accidentally drive away from a car crash?
The last time I cleaned out my closet, Max had a ball watching me dump hangers and clothes on the floor, much of which made its way down the chute. Within an hour, we'd filled the apartment building's trashcan. I was cleaning my closet in the hopes that my photo album would turn up, and to my relief, it did. Looking through the photos, I came across this one, taken at the Bonenkai or New Year's party for the first high school where I taught English. After staying up half the night with my fellow teachers, drinking way too much and singing karaoke, we slept on futons on the floor in two luxury hotel rooms (men in one, women in the other) and then met up again for a banquet hall breakfast featuring this sashimi. A man brought the fish, still alive, to the breakfast table, filleted it as you can see while we watched, then served the slices of sashimi in the bowl of its own carcass.
Looking at the photo, I remembered how, the next day, I told this story to a friend, embellishing it slightly to say that the fish had been killed so freshly that its flesh was still warm when we ate it.
At first she seemed duly horrified. But then she said, "Wait. Aren't fish cold-blooded?"
Yes. Okay. If you're going to be literal about it. But it made a better story my way.
Which is just one of the reasons why I didn't write a memoir. Like Max, I can't seem to stick to the truth, and have a hard time knowing the difference, but at least I don't have to feel guilty about it.
Posted by Malena Watrous at 1:50 PM