There was this card. We Met At Pieces, it said. I picked it up on our way out of the bar and giggled. I’d never seen anything like that at a ‘straight’ bar. My friend and I had gone there with a gay male friend of ours. He’d told his friend, the bartender at this bar called ‘Pieces’, (who kindly gave us free drinks with rubber cherries in them) that he was so late because he’d been in Straightville with us two. BO-RING, they sang.
As we left I said Now don’t you fall to Pieces thinking it was way funnier than it actually was. But then I kept thinking, Pieces, pieces, pieces.
Pieces of what? Pieces Of who? as if I had possibly cursed him. Or myself.
Before the bar called Pieces, we’d heard some blues at a different bar where a man had said to me, Can I touch your hair? You have beautiful hair.
Pieces of what? Pieces of who? No, you cannot touch my hair.
The next morning my car radio got ripped off. My sweet little Volkwagen Fox. Right on Jones Street in front of my friend’s apartment building. I thought only of the word pieces as I sat in the car pounding my hands on the steering wheel. The more I said it, the more wrong it sounded. Like it wasn’t a real word anymore. Pieces Pieces Pieces. My car was now in pieces. Something was missing that wasn’t before.
I must have cursed myself.
I’m falling to pieces. I’m falling to pieces. I made a song of it since I no longer had a radio.
I hated silence and I had to drive all the way back to Cherry Hill, New Jersey from New York City in it. I stopped at a farmer’s market to break up the quiet. A bald man wanted to sell me eggplants, kiwis, new potatoes. I bought them all. Boy, you sure like to spend everything, he said looking at my breasts as he bagged my vegetables and fruit.
Yea. I guess I do.
Later my grandparents came in a storm and brought me more produce. I was anorexic back then and everyone knew that the only things I would eat (and barely eat) were vegetables and fruit and they’d be damned if they wouldn’t make me eat them while they watched to see if I chewed and swallowed and repeated. My grandmother complained. How will we get home in the rain, and that the whole house smells like basil.
It annoyed her, she said even though they brought the basil.
They’d brought me a shopping bag full of fresh basil from a garden I just had to see. As big as a block. They talked of friends from thirty, forty years ago like it was last week. My grandmother said her French friends had been beautiful. It struck me as impossible, her even knowing anyone French, let alone having French friends, yet she did. They’d worked with her at the casinos, my grandfather said with a smile. He remembered the one who was a stripper from Atlantic City the best. She’d tried to hit on him when he was staying at a motel across from the casino where my grandmother had worked. He couldn’t remember her name, he said, for the life of him, but that was way back when he was in the Navy.
My grandmother’s voice was deep from smoking too many cigarettes. It was probably always like that, I used to think. She was probably born smoking cigarettes, puffing away in her crib, one after the other. The image made me laugh.
I had hated her.
She softened a little before she died last year but it was too late. I no longer hated her but there was nothing except I wish you’d been happy because I worry that I am destined to become you.
She was the most miserable person I’d ever known and my fear that I was going to become her swallowed me up at night or when I sat on her plastic covered sofa. I will not become you. I will not become you.
She would say that she didn’t eat meat. Only chicken and fish. This always cracked me up as I ate my kiwis and eggplant. Gram, chicken is meat, I would say to her not-listening smoking hair dressered-head.
The night my radio was stolen I’d dreamt of two men listening to it in a dark alley. Laughing at me: the fool. I was a fool. A falling-to-pieces-fool.
I imagined they would sit and tune it into a station they’d wanted and then listen all night to my stolen car radio. Maybe it would make them happy. Or maybe they’d realize they made a mistake. That it was a crappy old radio and they should have left it in the old 1988 Volkswagen on Jones Street because the girl they stole it from was breaking.
My life started to break up into pieces before that night at the gay bar, but that was the moment the word got planted in my head like some kind of virus that would sprout up on your face, right there on your lip or chin right before a date or the prom. You can pretend to ignore it but it’s right there, red and pus filled, right there on your face. Your face! The word got trapped in that kind of way. It was unavoidable and unpredictable. Pieces. Pieces.
Less than a year after my car radio was stolen in New York, my mother sold her house. Our house. She sold it to a woman for far less than it was worth because she wanted out so badly. We somehow had this setup where we were to stay there for a while, even after the woman took over the house. It was a depressing situation where my mother and I moved into what had been my sister’s room. Oh, there’s my bedroom which I can no loner go in because it’s not really my room anymore even though we live here.
The woman was rigid and mean and I felt like I was in the movie Mommie Dearest all the time. My mom and I shared a queen bed in my sister’s old room and we’d quiver at the sound of this woman’s voice like we might get beaten with wire hangers if we misbehaved.
I was home from college for the summer and I would just lie in my sister’s old room and cry. Why did you sell our house, Mom? As if I wasn’t an adult at this point and had some say in the matter or that I would ever actually live in the house again. I just wanted it to stay whole and mine. I wanted it to be available to me forever in case I needed refuge.
The house had been broken into pieces and here we were hiding out like prisoners in what was once our own beloved home (with a porch swing!)
We stayed a shorter time than was expected because it was awful and because my mom ended up moving back to California sooner rather than later. That woman eventually ended up selling the house to two gay men, one of which was an interior designer. I drove by the last time I was in New Jersey and the place looked better than it ever did when we had lived there. I did wonder where the mean lady ended up but was happy someone I imagined as lovely got our house in the end.
It took a while until I completely came apart into a million pieces, but, it did eventually happen.
My mother and sister left New Jersey one final time (to this day neither have moved back) and I stayed in New York.
It’s like one day you just crumple.
Right there on the sidewalk and a hundred people walk by and don’t notice, and you want them to. You do! You want them to maybe pick you up and ask you if you are okay or if you miss your house in New Jersey or if you need to eat something or if you miss your father but no one does. You lie there on the cement for some time before you realize that no one is coming and unless you want to get stepped on, you better get up. So you do get up but once you get home you realize you’ve left pieces of yourself all over the city. And you don’t know how to get them back.
Pieces of what? Pieces of who?
Of me! I’ve lost myself. Somebody help?
Until one day somebody helps. Whoever it is, someone does help and you start to find little traces of who you were all over. You pick them up and as you put yourself back together there is an Oh Shit moment because the pieces don’t fit anymore.
The car radio is in some junkyard and that car is long gone. The old body of yours has been replaced with something fuller, bigger boobs and thighs. Happier. The grandmother has died and you will never become her but you will hopefully no longer hate her because why would you? The damage is done. She is dead and you are here and you have finally realized that pieces are all there ever is.
There has to be pieces of us or else we’d be screwed. Imagine if we were not able to reassemble ourselves. If we were stuck as one immovable thing our whole lives?
The pieces that were never found are so long gone that they will only resurface as dreams. As men dancing to your stolen radio under the moonlight, whispering your name over and over and how thankful they are for you because you gave them the music.
The pieces of us may never be put back the way they were but they are making music somewhere out there.
They are a gold mine, if you want to know the truth. Every single part of you.