It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they tore down the Confederate monuments, and pool noodle crafts were trending. I’m stupid about pool noodles. The idea of all that hot glue and the fumes of melting foam make me sick, and that’s all there was to read about on Pinterest — pool noodle wreaths made with colorful flip-flops, pool noodle sprinklers, pool noodle floating beverage boats, pool noodle cupcake decorations and birthday candles and garlands for kids’ parties.
I was supposed to be having the time of my life. Twelve of us had all won a contest, by writing tweets and blogs and Instagram posts, and as prizes they gave us jobs in New York for a month, and piles and piles of free bonuses, like pipe cleaners and tiny pots of paint and stencils and knitting needles and straw baskets and mason jars. Especially mason jars, with “Ball” swirling in cursive so we could paint it and then distress it so the word would stand out on our centerpieces and kitchen utensil holders.
“What are you sweating over that for?” Doreen lounged on my bed in upcycled boho gaucho pants made from thrift shop skirts while I typed up a blog post about how to seal your painted, distressed jars with finishing wax. “Come on, let’s skip the scrapbooking workshop and get drunk on summer craft cocktails.”
“I guess so,” I said. “Will they be served in Ball jars?”
“You know they will. Wear the peplum top you refashioned from an old dress. There’ll be Yale boys.”
Buddy Willard went to Yale. When I told Buddy I wanted to be a poet, he got quiet. Then he asked if I knew how to make cream cheese-stuffed French toast, and when I said no, he just shook his head and told me he wasn’t sure he wanted to marry me after all.
Arrayed on the banquet table were yellow-green avocado halves stuffed with crabmeat and mayonnaise, avocado halves stuffed with smoked salmon and egg, taco-stuffed avocado halves, buffalo chicken-stuffed avocado halves, avocado toast, avocado hummus, creamy avocado pasta, avocado deviled eggs, avocado chocolate pudding, avocado cheesecake, avocado truffles. The centerpiece was hydrangeas, peacock feathers, and a heap of avocados arranged in a cut-glass bowl. An elaborately hand-lettered chalkboard above the table said #BLESSED.
Betty looked at the buffet, disgusted. “This is why millennials can’t buy houses,” she said with a sniff.
“Shut up, Betty,” Doreen said, shoving an avocado egg roll into her mouth.
“I think I feel sick,” I said.
“Well if it’s food poisoning, don’t blame the avocados,” Doreen said. “You probably ate something with gluten.”
I started adding up all the things I couldn’t do.
My grandmother and my mother were such good cooks that I left everything to them. They were always trying to teach me one dish or another, saying, “you should pin this recipe on your vision board.” But I would just look on and say, “Yes, yes, I see,” while the instructions slid through my head like water. Then I would try to make paleo white chicken chili or cupcakes decorated to look like owls, and then I’d spoil it so nobody would ask me to do it again.
I didn’t know calligraphy either. I didn’t know decoupage. I didn’t know how to make a jeweled butterfly bobby pin. I didn’t know how to make adorable mushroom pencil toppers out of sculpey.
I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. Then the tree turned into a Pinterest board and the fat purple figs turned into luminaries — Ball jar luminaries, milk jug luminaries, paper bag luminaries, painted and punched tin can luminaries, crocheted luminaries.
“I think I had better take a giant handful of pills,” I said.
A fresh fall of snow blanketed the asylum grounds, and the girls in OT worked on pinecone wreaths and Ball jar snow globes.
To the person in the Ball jar, the world itself is a snow globe. Or a pincushion/button holder. Or an arbitrary signifier of a woman’s inherent value as demonstrated by domestic handiwork. Or a toothbrush holder.
“A man to see you!” a nurse announced.
It was Buddy Willard, wearing a leather-trimmed scarf with metal snaps. “Hello, Esther,” he grinned. “I’m dating a lifestyle blogger now.”
“That’s all right, Buddy,” I said. “I’ve had loads of electroshock therapy and feel much better.”
“I was thinking,” he said. “I wonder who’ll eat your cake pops now, Esther.”
“I really wish you’d stop talking, Buddy.”
He grinned again. “That’s all right, Esther. I brought a friend for you to meet.”
A tall man in black with a meinkampf look walked into the room.
“Esther, this is Ted,” Buddy said.
“Hello, Esther,” Ted said. “I hear you’re a poet. I am too, a man poet. What I’m really looking for is a woman who knows how to make a lamp shade out of a metal colander. Or maybe a wine glass holder made out of an old rake. Or slippers out of blue jeans pockets. And of course, make lots and lots of babies.”
The old brag of my heart said, I am, I am, I am. “I am outta here,” I said.