triptych: a memoir about quarantine -- creative nonfiction by Sydney Samoisette
I listen to music so much that headaches start to sprout. They blossom like mushrooms on my temple, a few inches from where my glasses sit snug. I take two pink Tylenols and push through. Tinier, more sinister mushrooms grow behind my eyes next. Those are like stab wounds. One afternoon, after a bowl of cereal and a shower, I am bent over the sink for half an hour, pinching my nose to dull the agony.
The fast, hard Whack-a-Mole knock of my distress is better than listening to the decay of my parents’ marriage or my younger brothers’ anger at their Xbox controllers. So I plug my headphones in again.
At first, the quiet is a blessing. Classmates are tedious and being alone suits me. My room is a cocoon of my god complex and clicking computer. Yet, soon enough, thoughts start crawling around: tiny ebony raccoon hands marking up my back and haunting bear growls in my ears.
Cleaning—as I often find during summer—is a good method to avoid thinking. With soundtracks blaring, I fold pyramids of laundry until it is a tingling, mindless motion. I vacuum solid tracks into my carpet over and over. Fingers flip through book spines as I alphabetize them— Joyce Carol Oates, Langston Hughes, Yukio Mishima, John Fulton’s Retribution (which I should read soon)—, and reorganize my bear and demon plushies. I move about, cleaning and mouthing lyrics.
I have playlists for every mood. Each tint or hue of humane, sometimes unnamed emotions that rises in my airways like a puff of cinders and bleeds a raw ugly feeling—all of them, I have categorized by exotic bands. Quarantine’s playlist is slowly accumulating songs. The first song is Queens of the Stone Age’s “Kalopsia.”
The message of the song (though it has many interpretations) is how the singer is seeing the world through two lenses. One rose glassware shows them how winsome, how uniquely wonderful the world is; the other blackening glassware shows them the raw ugliness of our cynical lives. The definition of the word kalopsia, a quiet neologism, is the delusion in which things appear more beautiful than they are.
Overall, I adore the song. Especially the part where the guitar ascends after the second verse. It screeches so high that it really hurts your ears if you keep the volume static. It reminds me of the time when I gave my foolish infatuation my number. It reminds me of the time I kept refreshing my IMessage, waiting and waiting for him.
Quarantine is just another process of waiting, idly biting your tongue until it bleeds and drips down your chin. The world is split into thirds: the beautiful, the ugly, and the becoming. But then again, thinking too much is a gateway to realizing you are worthless and even music cannot distract you from that.
I plug in my headphones and vacuum for the fourth time that week.
With children-safe scissors, I cut. Their dull jaws catch and twist in the spider-like fabric; I manage to slice through it completely with tiny yanks. It billows, the pale ivory rotten yellow at the tips and threads gravitating apart. Under my shaking thumbs, I feel the dress’s train, designed after Frozen’s Elsa, hand-stitched by my grandmother for a Christmas party. I never wore it after, stubborn and loathing. Now, years too small, I take the only fittable part and wear it as a shawl.
In an elongated mirror, my reflection crunches its eyes and flashes a row of tiny centipede teeth, the gap between the first two teeth is enormous to me. My hair is getting too long; my nose is too ugly. “All alone, my pet? The little men are not here?” I sneer in my foolish delirium, having just watched Disney’s Snow White. I like fairy-tales, they distort the reality so you don't have to endure the truth, like how Snow White’s real name was Maragarete and her ‘little men,’ or guardian dwarfs, were her father’s quasi-slaves with backs broken from copper mining and limbs shrinking from starvation.
Hobbling to better impersonate the witch, I make my way to a wooden stool left besides my gigantic window. It has a magnificent view of my entire backyard. I look out and feel like a queen underneath my horrid skin.
I begin, slowly, to imagine myself as a widow on her balcony, breezes carrying sea salt to her nostrils, awaiting the nebulous light of her husband’s ship that is absent one captain. My husband has not died at sea however. He has landed on a port, seeking supplies and fallen in love with another woman. One day, I will see him on the streets, my skin withering and eyes blinder. Seeing how he has moved on without me, holding his grandson’s hand, I will fold my hands over my empty belly and lift one to wave. He waves back, no recollection or sadness in his eyes. C'est la vie.
I sit there, imagining it is 1914—six years before a plague. My lover returns from the market, hair swaying and eyes soft like a firefly’s light. At midnight, there is a knock upon our door and we are dragged out by hands on hair, like nails on mosquito wings. The world shifts, soil makes room for my knees. They make me watch her summery golden hair turn an autumnal brown and bludgeon her crown with a rock. She and I die with a crunch like a kernel between teeth. C'est la vie.
I sit there, imagining the thousands of lives I could have had. Often I am reluctant to address religion but the suspicion of my past thrills me. (Do I hate the beach and the blurry shoreline for more than I know? Why do I jump when the first popcorn unfurls in a mini explosion?) Yet, the inkling of happy or sad endings disappoint me too, because here I shepherd such a boring, irksome life.
In my melancholy, my eyes scan thick, growing greenery. I buried my gerbil in that lush grass. Digging the grave by myself with a bright yellow Spongebob shovel, a shadow shading me. She wasn’t really my gerbil; she was my brother’s—the shadow—but he refused to care for her after one nipped finger.
We bury my brother’s gerbil in a red Silk gallon. It still has milk at the bottom, splashing into sand fur. When I push the dirt over the milk coffin, I try to rake my brain for the prayers that my great-grandmother always makes us say on Wednesday dinners, coming up empty.
Improvisation: “Dear God, please see this gerbil into Heaven. Take good care of her as she is the best gerbil in the world. Please, love and feed her. Amen.”
My brother walks inside with me. His eyes are dry, mine are not. Dressed in jeans and a heavy sweater with this stupid shawl draping down my back, I realize I am now crying. I hate it here, at home where my four walls feel like a coffin.
“What are you doing?”I don’t turn around. As a silent crier, I am fine as long as my face is obscured and in a non-visible direction. Stiffening, I wipe a hand cautiously over my face. I tell her that I am just looking outside, neglecting to mention my little cape. This was a stupid idea! My body hisses and burns with embarrassment.
“Stop being ridiculous, Sydney. Come down for lunch, I’ve been texting you too. I'm getting on a call in a few minutes so don’t talk during it.”
I haven’t drank any but I begin to lick my bottom lip, swearing I can taste milk.
More and more, I am beginning to feel like I’m in a washing machine. The same chords are being played and the trivial cycle, so prominent and adamantine now, ills me. Little distractions are proven fruitless. I cannot keep pretending to be a captured Rapunzel shouting from her tower.
My world deforms and folds compact.
I force my siblings—because my parents will no longer play pretend with me—to call me by a different name. In my capsule world, I am Eir who only knows the smell of linen and one house’s interior. My younger brothers do not understand my game, yet still must use it if they need me to do chores or tutor them.
One day, I will met a boy/girl in some innominate town in a state like Hawaii or New York in a thunderous downpour; I will introduce myself by another name, maybe Arachne or Lorelei, something that neighbors will remember, as they offer the umbrella I had forgotten at home; I will be so beautiful, hair damp and eyes bright, that they will have to kiss me at the threshold of my apartment; with them, I will shepherd a life that will never be tedious again.
Surrounded in the scent of laundry, I—Eir—check on the life of forgettable Sydney. Bitterly, I oversee the dates on each IMessage. Though Sydney has always known it, the knowledge gnaws at her right lung—she so often is the first one to text, a lone hand reaching out. C'est la vie.
As night falls, I power off my phone. I smother my face into the flannel pillow. My glasses will leave a spider bite in my cheek. Right now, I am Eir who falls asleep to form her own memories absent of any other name or life beyond the bedroom coffin.
Maybe tonight, I’ll be Sleeping Beauty: decaying on my bed, blood on my chin, the curtains of my eyes drawn shut after a long day, waiting and waiting. Yes.
Sydney Samoisette is a senior from Londonderry, NH. Often, she uses writing as escapism from reality along with a good dose of Invader Zim comics and fiction horror podcasts. She has been trying to put more effort into learning piano, watching 1930s films, and shrinking her to-be-read-later list.