Authors: Michelle Tea
of No Man’s Land
A NOVEL BY MICHELLE TEA
ebook ISBN: 978-1-59692-972-2
M P Publishing Limited
12 Strathallan Crescent
Isle of Man
Telephone: +44 (0)1624 618672
email: [email protected]
155 Sansome Street, Suite 550
San Francisco, CA 94104
Copyright © 2005 by Michelle Tea
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Rose of no man’s land / by Michelle Tea.
ISBN 1-59692-160-9 (alk. paper)
1. Teenage girls—Fiction. 2. Lesbian youth—Fiction.
3. Poor youth—Fiction. 4. Dropouts—Fiction. I. Title.
Book design by Dorothy Carico Smith.
Publisher’s Note: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
For Ali Liebegott
Thanks to Stephen Elliott for his chronic helpfulness, both to me and the world at large. Thanks to Pat Walsh for his continuing care and enthusiasm. Thanks to everyone at MacAdam/Cage for a seriously magical book publishing experience â David, Dorothy, Kate, Melissa, Julie, Jason, Scott, JP and everyone else who makes the boat sail. Thanks to Kathleen Tomasik for being the very best sister ever. Thanks to Eric Black for his good vibes and humor. Thanks to Tara Jepsen, Sara Seinberg, Peter Pizzi, Marcus Ewert, Clint Catalyst, Peter Plate, David West, Laurenn McCubbin and Jessica Lanyadoo for eternal encouragement and support. Thanks to Diana and John and Anastasia Kayiatos for being so sweet and so cool. Thanks to Eileen Myles for being the north star. I worked this book out on many spoken word stages and want to thank some people who create literary community in my world: Frank Andrich, Alan Black, Lynn Breedlove, Tina Butcher, Sarah Dougher, Cindy Emch, Tara Hardy, Richard Hanson, PK McBee, and the lovely Anna Joy Springer. Thanks to Ma and Rick for their love. Most of all thanks to Rocco Kayiatos for his sincerity, his sustained curiosity, his positivity, his abiding belief in me, his foxiness and his foreverness.
People always say to me that they wish they had my family. Like my family structure, or my lack of family structure or whatever. What they mean is, they wish they never had to go to school or clean their houses, or they wish they never got into trouble with their parents. Serious trouble, like when you get grounded or your favorite thing gets taken away and locked in a drawer somewhere. I guess they wish their parents didn’t give so much of a shit and since mine clearly do not give any sort of shit at all, they’re jealous. Really these people are massively wrong. It’s like when guys say, “Oh if I had tits I’d stay home and play with them all day, I’d never get out of bed.” Believe it or not I have actually heard my Ma’s boyfriend Donnie say this. I heard him say it with a mouth full of ham salad from Shaw’s, the pink
mayonnaisey mush that he eats by the spoonful like a modern caveman. He doesn’t even bother to make a sandwich out of it and it’s not because he’s on one of the no-bread diets like my sister Kristy. Donnie just has a natural aversion to civilization. I’m surprised he doesn’t dig a stubby finger into the hammy glop and eat it like that, that’s how gross he is. Instead he shovels it into his mouth with a big silver tablespoon. I always know when Donnie’s been eating ’cause the sink is full of spoons. So Donnie said, just days ago, with his eyes on my mom’s boobs, “If I had tits I’d stay home and play with them all day, I’d never get out of bed,” and all the vowels were compromised by the ham salad tucked into his cheeks. The sort of funny thing is that all Ma does is lie around and fiddle with her boobs, but it’s because she’s a hypochondriac and she’s terrified she has breast cancer all the time. Whenever Donnie’s not around she’s flat on her back on the couch, her nightgown hiked up and the spectacle of her breasts splat on her chest, her hands meditatively rubbing the skin inch by inch, pressing, somber and focused like when she’d look through my and Kristy’s hair for bugs when we were little. So it was sort of ironic to hear Donnie say that to Ma of all people. Her summery nightgown does sort of showcase her boobs so it’s not like she doesn’t have some responsibility here. I thought the mere reminder that she had them would have made her hands fly nervously to case them for tumors, but instead she just smiled a weird, lazy smile at Donnie and gave him a slow-motion swat. I guess she liked it as most females enjoy it when their boyfriends make appreciative comments about their breasts. I have found
that thinking about Ma like she’s just another girl in the world, like any of the girls going on about their boyfriends in the bathroom at school makes me less horrified that she is in fact my mother. When I start thinking of that word,
, it’s when I can start to feel empty and panicky and filled with big scary nothing feelings. So mostly she is Ma, the girl on the couch, so afraid to be sick that she’s brought it onto herself, kept company in her make-believe illness by her food-eater boyfriend Donnie.
Ma says about Donnie: “At least he doesn’t bother you girls.” By “bother” she means “try to have sex with,” and she says it like we, me and Kristy, should drop to our knees and kiss the peeling linoleum and prostrate ourselves to the patron saint of creepy dudes for sending us such a winner. I think the biggest problem between me and my family (by which I mostly mean Ma, my mother, the girl on the couch) is we have really different standards. For example, I would like to think it’s a given that your mother’s boyfriend doesn’t try to have sex with you. I know that this isn’t always the case — look at the Clearys across the street. Their stepdad had actually been doing it with one of the older sisters until one of the younger sisters called the police I think and it was like the whole family got hauled away somewhere, I don’t know what happened to them. I don’t think they would put an entire family in jail for something like that, but the Clearys are gone, their house and the rumors left waiting for them. I would like to think that we do better than the Clearys, me and my family. I guess you could call me inspired. I’d like to think that you don’t just let creepy guys into the house, not ever, but to
hear Ma talk about it, it’s a real crapshoot and the fact that Donnie hasn’t tried to get it on with me or my sister actually makes him a great man as opposed to simply not a criminal in that particular arena. Ma says I’m ungrateful and also unrealistic. That’s the part that gets me. I am ungrateful, it’s true. I’m not proud of it, but I don’t think that gratitude is something you can fake. I mean, people do. I see people being pretend grateful all the time, like at school, and I don’t know how they don’t just puke all over themselves from the toxic phoniness of it all. I think I’d rather be honestly ungrateful — realistic. I think I’m realistic. I hate when Ma tells me I’m not. We both think we’re being realistic, me and Ma, and only one of us can be living in what’s generally acknowledged as reality, and most of the time I’m pretty confident it’s me. But sometimes, like if I’m feeling particularly bad, she can trip me up with her insistence that I’m living in a dreamworld, and I start to consider that maybe Ma’s world is the real one. And that is a deeply spooky thought. That’s creepier than a hundred million Donnies all put together in one room eating a lifetime supply of ham salad from Shaws.
My original point is that sometimes people at school — who I rarely talk to yet they seem to know the whole story about my family — make it sound so great that I can do whatever I want. In reality, it’s not so hot. Maybe the grass is greener, but I think it would be great to have a Ma who did get at you to do your homework and saw to it that you woke up by a certain time of the day, who didn’t let you drink cans of beer in the house. Maybe if I did have that
sort of Ma I’d really hate it, it’s true that people really seem to hate their Mas for just these reasons, but there is something very anxious about the way things are so blown open in my home. It’s like I really could just do anything I want. Or maybe it’s more that I could just
do anything, and it would be no big whoop. It’s not about going out and robbing the Cumberland Farms on the corner or getting pregnant with some loser’s kid. It’s more that I could sit in this bedroom of mine, plopped on my skinny bed, for a solid month before anyone noticed I haven’t left the house in so long I’m green. I could be one of those people who never gets off their mattress. I could be a high school dropout, and believe me, don’t think I’m not considering it. My high school is a complete joke but at least it’s something to do. It seems like on the outside of high school there’s nothing but time. Big, dark, eerie time, endless amounts of it. I guess that’s life, and I’ll wind up there soon enough, I might as well not quit high school. After high school comes life. Don’t ask me what I’m supposed to do with it.
original point is that I missed the last day of ninth grade. I’m not terribly sentimental, but I’ll never have another last day of ninth grade again. I missed it. Lately little things like that have been making me incredibly sad, the sort of sad you feel when you see a real old man at the Walgreens buying a single carton of milk, or a tiny box of ice cream. Something individual-sized. First of all I think it’s incredibly sad to be buying food from a Walgreens. It’s just not a place to find nourishment. It sort of makes me mad that Walgreens sells food at all. It seems
greedy, like it’s not enough to take your toothpaste money or your birthday card money or medicine money, they’re going to get in on the food racket too, selling really lonely food items to sad people too old to hike over to a real supermarket. I was behind an old man at Walgreens last week, one who was buying a little red pint of milk and a tiny box of vanilla ice cream that looked like it got packaged up in about 1950. Just a weird blanched picture of a dish of ice cream on the cover. It didn’t look too appetizing. The man’s hands were sort of shaky when he paid for it and then he walked out real slow. The sliding automatic doors were open forever, it was like a performance, the old man leaving. I wasn’t the only one watching him. There was a big lady in front of me buying antifungal foot cream, and she shook her head and muttered something tense and regretful. I was behind her with a box of Walgreens brand tampons, which are not great but are definitely the cheapest, and when it was my turn at the register I could barely find my dollars in my pockets, I was so wrecked by that old guy. I know in my head it doesn’t make any sense, that just because someone is old it doesn’t make them automatically great or holy. Just ’cause you have the elderly shakes doesn’t mean you’re God. Not to bring everything back to Donnie again, but he’ll be an old man someday and it pisses me off to imagine a totally regular girl trying to buy a box of feminine hygiene products moved to tears at the sight of him buying ice cream at Walgreens. Which will totally be his story: eighty years old, alone, buying individually packed, ill-nourishing food at a big drugstore. And nobody should feel sorry for him because he creeped his way into
his own destiny for sure. My point is the old guy is probably an asshole, but the sad I felt off him was wicked powerful. I tried to talk to Kristy about it and predictably she said it was just my period and I should get that pill they make for women who get too emotional during their period. I told her that pill is just a bunch of Prozac stuffed into one pill, but she didn’t listen because she’s four years older than me and thinks that makes a big difference between our brains.
Even though Kristy sort of made a joke out of it, I do think it was my period that helped me feel that sadness off the old man. I think that when I have my period my body gets sort of weakened, from losing all the blood and also from the energy my insides are spending cranking it all out, and it’s like some invisible shield I’d propped up around me sort of melts away and all the sadness of the world rushes in. I think I psychically protect myself most of the time so I don’t go crazy from the constant awful that surrounds us, but when I have my period I’m all ripped open and raw enough to feel the deep, deep sadness of everyone, assholes included. It’s truly terrible. Maybe if everyone walked around being in touch with each other’s hidden pain it could work out and even be beautiful, but it doesn’t feel safe to be the only compassionate person on the planet. And when I have my period, that’s exactly what I feel like — some weird psychic girl, an anti-superhero who can feel the tragic vibes of everyone she bumps up against in the world. I try to stay in my room when I have my period, but even that’s no good ’cause I eventually have to walk to the bathroom to piss or to the kitchen to scavenge
a scrap of food from our dusty cabinets, and chances are I’ll see Ma, all spaced out on the couch, watching television with her sparkly eyes wide open, unfocused, like the glowing box had finally hypnotized her, sucked her brain out her eyeballs, and she’s not even watching anymore, just staring, lobotomized.