Home Remedies for Non–Life-Threatening Ailments Boredom
(Born from general confusion stemming from lack of clear direction/complete misunderstanding of life’s purpose.)
Stay indoors, in a room with bad lighting but many makeshift ashtrays. Arrange and rearrange your comforter into various malleable structures. Stand back and give names to the newly birthed forms. Now it is a manatee. Now it is Abraham Lincoln’s headless body. Now it is a giant nose. Applaud yourself for your mastery, for now you can be fairly certain of the potential you possess as a visual artist.
Write a letter to the boy named Bunny whom you met on a train in Croatia. The one who spoke to trees and set his watch to random hours as his way of time traveling; write to him that you hope he is still alive and insane. Tell him you are glad you’re not him and even more glad he’s no longer following you around, talking about modernism. Grief
(Not your own grief, but your father’s grief, after your fourteen-year-old dog dies. He calls often, sobbing into the receiver. Even though he’s a fifty-five-year-old man who should know that a blind asthmatic basset hound was not going to live forever. Grief that hardens when you realize that life has gradually become very difficult for your father, and you’re at a loss as to how to comfort him. There are many ways of living, places to hang hopes and direct love, and it’s quite obvious to you that a very old dog was probably not a good place to hang his. So it’s specifically that kind of grief.)
Let his phone calls ring and ring. Delete voice messages robotically, holding the phone away from your ear. If your heart is the fruit from which the nectar of comforting words could be squeezed, that fruit is dry. The dregs could be called mockery. They would sting him bitterly.
It is better to focus on a problem you can help him solve. How about those giant squirrels that have taken over his backyard? Eating the grass bald in patches, like alien spaceship landings. Order poison that he couldn’t use when he had a dog around. When all the squirrels are dead, the guilt that both of you will share is sure to keep him from calling you for at least two weeks. Inappropriate Feelings
(Toward married contemporary British drama professors.)
Go to his office hours religiously, bringing in new opinions on plays he’d recommended. Show him the plays you’ve written inspired by the plays he’s asked you to read. Fiddle with the framed photos on his desk as you talk about your family, his hometown, your boyfriend, and his wife. Laugh a lot. Babysit his three-year-old daughter, Elaine, and while she’s asleep, go to his room and smell his shirts.
Agree to go to dinner with him downtown, tell him things about your father you’ve never told anyone else. You will begin to feel queasy when you realize this is the first time you’ve ever been alone with him outside of school. When he asks you up to his studio loft to show you his sculptures, say “Cool! Definitely!” with eyebrows arched. When he goes to stroke your hair, act surprised, say something antiquated like “Oh my!”
Take his clothes off while making out with him on his couch. Make mental notes of the peculiarity of his needy old-man lips, his loose old-man skin, and his strange rubbery old-man hard-on. Something will happen right then that’ll make him seem less a sexy, gentle intellectual and more just like the guy who “hey hey heys” at you outside the bodega. Your inappropriate feelings will then be dissolved into a satisfied curiosity and now you can pull back, walk out of the apartment, and leave him naked, bewildered, gasping. Self-Doubt
(In your abilities as a playwright stemming from Inappropriate Feelings toward married contemporary British drama professors.)
Switch your major to archaeology, to criminology, to library science. Take a semester off to work at a florist across town that specializes in enormous bouquets and fountains.
Write a play about a large, wrinkly alien who terrorizes Los Angeles. Fear of Flying
(Because every time you fly, you land somewhere new and you have to make new friends.)
Leave something you love in every city you’ve lived in. A record player in Shanghai, a kitten in Seattle, your best dresses hanging in a closet in Paris. That way you’ll always have a reason to retrace your steps back to old friends. So it means you won’t have to stay away forever. Learn to enjoy being alone, appreciate the silence of dinners where an entire roast duck can be gnawed away, cartilage and all, without conversational interruption. You are free and oh-so-mysterious. Think: Friends, who needs friends? Bilingual Heartache
(From someone breaking your heart in a foreign language. It is like regular heartache but somehow it’s painful in a creative, new way.)
Pray that a painful cold sore appears on your face so that you can instead wallow in self-pity. Self-Pity
(A by-product of chronic dissatisfaction with your wide, uninteresting face.)
Get your nails done by a seventeen-year-old Vietnamese girl who probably weighs about as much as one of your thighs. After she puts your hands in a bowl of smelly water, she rubs lotion into your fingers. She looks up at your face and says, “Your hands are so white and soft, you never do any housework, do you?”
Open your mouth to protest, as if she were your mother, but then agree; she guessed correctly. Nod. Lower your head. Dwelling on the Past
(You remember seeing your parents waltzing in the living room of the first house you lived in. You think about your father on his knees like a wounded animal, bent over the newspaper looking for work. You hear the echoes of your mother sobbing in the shower on your way to elementary school. These memories become a fable, entitled “The Legend of Mom and Dad,” and it is tied to you like a cloud-shaped balloon above your head.)
Begin researching random things of interest. The history of Jamaica, for example, and the tragic disappearance of indigenous people is a good place to start. Start a blog about Jamaica and Jamaican cuisine. Establish a huge Internet presence. Insomnia
(Because now that you spend so much time on the Internet in order to avoid Dwelling on the Past.)
Make paper planes with New Yorker
subscription postcards. Rearrange bedroom furniture. Tipple Nyquil from the bottle, and as your arms go numb and your chest sinks to the bottom of the mattress, think how much better life is now. Really! Your parents are no longer married, but everyone is eating high-quality local organic produce, only they’re eating it alone and now no one gets to argue. Isn’t that better?
Copyright © 2019 by Xuan Juliana Wang. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.