Remember the Earth

Nonfiction by Angelique Stevens

“Remember your birth, how your mother struggled
to give you form and breath. You are evidence
of her life, and her mother’s, and hers.
Remember your father. He is your life, also.
Remember the earth whose skin you are:
red earth, black earth, yellow earth, white earth,
brown earth, we are earth . . .” ~ Joy Harjo

Ever since the police showed up at my door, I’ve been obsessed with what happens to the body after it dies. How long does it take before the flesh gets mushy? What happens to the blood? Does it pool just underneath the skin where gravity takes over, or does it ooze out? For weeks after Gina died, I saw death everywhere. I’d pick up an overripe apple and touch the quarter-sized squish of brown where it had started to rot and wonder whether pressing on a dead body after it putrefies would make an indent, too. Two weeks later, when the roses had begun to wilt, I threw them into the garbage, their blackened stems upturned, wet, rigid, and smelling of rotten water like sewage, and I thought of Gina in the rigor stage when the body is stiff and cold. I wondered if that’s how she smelled when they unlocked her door and found her face down in her room. Her neighbor told us they opened a window and put fans on the floor after they removed her. When I cleaned my fridge after all the company left, I opened an old container of sour cream. The gray/black wasn’t fuzzy like mold usually is. It was a thin mottled pallor skin that had spread outward from the center. I fought the urge to peel it off, to squish it between my fingers. I have this image in my head of them scraping my sister off the floor with a putty knife.

I knew the second I saw the police that it was Gina—that the day had finally come. They told me my sister was dead. One of them wrote down a number. “This is the medical examiner’s number. When you’re ready, they can give you more information.” Both of them offered their condolences and left me to my grief.

When I called the medical examiner, he said he’d been the one called to the scene when they found her. “I’m sorry it took us so long to phone you. She was in pretty bad shape when we got there.” He paused for a second. “She’d been there for a while.”

“How long is a while?” I asked.

“Her neighbor said he thought he saw her on the twenty-seventh.”

“But can’t you tell exactly how long she’s been dead?”

“She’d been there for some days. We had to do x-rays to identify her.” He explained to me how the neighbor had asked the landlord to check on Gina because he hadn’t seen her in a while. They found her on Tuesday, November 1, five days after he thought he’d seen her. She had been dead at least ten days.

 

Actually, my obsession didn’t start that day. It was the day after, when three friends and I went to Gina’s apartment, a low-income nightmare downtown. When the landlord walked us to her studio, he pointed to the paper covering the seam between the door and the casing. “As you can see, the room’s been sealed by the medical examiner. No one’s been in here since.”

From the hallway, I reached into the room and felt for the light switch. I waited a few seconds for the roaches to skitter. To the left, behind the door, dried, congealed blood spread across the linoleum near the bed, as if she had fallen off the mattress and landed face down. The floor was filthy with cigarette ashes, liquid spills, crumbs, dirt. Who would want to sit in all that? But I can’t imagine her sitting on the bed either. I imagine her in the lowest place she could find.

I took a deep breath and turned my head. My three friends came in behind me. We must have stood a full minute catching our breath, before JJ—who’d been almost as close to Gina as she was to me—covered the spot on the floor with a blue blanket. “OK, we’re looking for papers, anything that seems important, right?”

“Right,” I responded. Each of us took a corner of the small room. There was a closet to the right and a sink with a mirror. She’d shared a bathroom down the hall with her neighbors. Under the window slumped four black garbage bags of beer, forty-ouncers, cheap vodka, gin, and whiskey. How long had they been there? Had she bagged them herself, or were the bottles lying around when the ME arrived? He’d told me there were a lot of empty bottles and pill containers. He’d also said there was a note.

 

“It was a letter of intent,” he said.

“A letter of intent?”

“Yes.”

“What did it say?”

“The usual,” he said. “‘I’m so sorry.’ ‘God forgive me.’”

 

My friends walked to the bed. I stayed near the closet. The place felt infected. We didn’t want to touch anything. We’d brought two boxes, some antibacterial wipes, and some paper towels. Gina had told me a year earlier that she had roaches. That was the last time I let her do laundry at my house. I didn’t even want to drive her to the Laundromat after that. I imagined them crawling out of my car and finding their way into my home—the one I’d bought a couple of years after I turned forty, after my divorce. “Why you so afraid of roaches, you pussy?” she’d say. “They just creepy crawlers. They ain’t gonna hurt you.”

There was a kitchen cart near the garbage in the middle of Gina’s room, as if someone had pulled it out from the wall to search behind it. On it was a burned microwave from a trade she had made with a friend, maybe for money or food. An Altoids tin lay open on top with a burned-out crack pipe and booklet of Top papers. I wondered whether she had died with blisters on her fingers. I made her show me her fingers every few weeks. “See, nothin’. I been good,” she’d say. Every once in a while I’d catch a glimpse of the black burns on her thumb and forefinger and she’d say, “Yeah, I fucked up, but I only did it once. Now I’m just stickin’ to pot.”

I moved to the closet—my friends rummaged through her nightstands. Her clothes looked like she hadn’t done laundry in months. I smelled her, or maybe her smell was in my head—like the way she was most of the time—stale cigarette smoke, body sweat, piss and shit, crotch funk. When I did her laundry, my whole house reeked of her and Tide. I poured the contents of the laundry basket into the washer without touching her clothes. Sometimes when I switched them to the dryer, I’d find tobacco from a stubbed cigarette, or cheap bracelets, her bus pass or change, wadded-up Kleenex, a sanitary napkin still stuck to her underwear. In her closet, I kicked over her laundry basket, picking up pieces of clothing, shaking them. Maybe there was something in a pocket or hidden in the basket, anything to tell me about her state of mind.

We were all looking for clues, little signs of her identity: a birthday card from her friend, Linda, who took her to do laundry; some mail from the hospital; a picture of her at the church smoking a Philly blunt; and five Bibles. Five? Had she been searching for something? There wasn’t much more to tell the story of her life—just her clothes, some canned goods on a shelf near the door, all those alcohol bottles, a dozen prescription containers. That was it. I pulled out the Crock-Pot from the stand by her little refrigerator and placed it in the box we had brought. We tried the answering machine, but none of us could figure out how it worked. We all went through everything twice and then again, just to be sure. Then we stood in silence. There wasn’t much to say Gina had ever been here in this world, that she had ever done anything of any meaning, that she had ever been loved.

She was only ten months older than me, but growing up Gina was my big sister, always there to take care of me. In fourth grade, she fought Willie Joe in the school parking lot. I was talking to some kids by the chain-link fence when a commotion started and we all swarmed to the other side. Gina and Willie Joe were punching, pulling hair, and yelling. Some kids tried to break them up. I heard Gina say, “Bitch gonna put my family down.” And she lunged again at Willie Joe, but some boys held her back.

In sixth grade, she stood up to Luther, a ninth grader who tried to stop us from passing through an alley. We had taken the shortcut from a friend’s house after dinner. It was after dark and we were late, so we had taken the way our parents had told us never to go. Luther and his friends were hanging out, smoking pot. He looked at us and said, “What the fuck are you doing on my road?”

“We’re tryin’ to get through. That’s what the fuck we’re doing,” Gina said. I stood behind her. I knew it wasn’t good.

“No, you ain’t,” Luther said, moving into the middle of the street.

“You either hit me or back the fuck up.” Gina shifted so that she had to look up. I grabbed at her hand and whispered for us to go, but she ignored me. We waited for an excruciating length of time before he laughed and stepped aside.

 

Mom was always leaving our stepdad, John, when we were growing up. Again and again, she’d get manic and he’d start drinking and their rage would turn into explosive fights and she’d pack us up and leave for the local mission or shelter and stay for a week or a few nights until he came and brought us home again. He was seventeen years older than her. They had met at Alcoholics Anonymous, where Mom had gone for help after she left Reggie, our biological father. Gina and I were only babies when she met John and married him. I don’t remember a time when John wasn’t our dad. So we called him Dad, and we called Reggie “Reggie.”

We might have been eight or nine when Mom stole Dad’s paycheck and we ran away to Alternatives for Battered Women. Mom lied about being abused because there was nowhere else to stay. I contracted a case of strep there. Dad later said it was from the smashed window in my room. One night my fever spiked to 105, and the women in the shelter pooled their money so Mom could rush me to the hospital in a taxi. The doctor said I was on the verge of rheumatic fever. Dad picked us up the next day. Gina stayed home from school with me so Mom and Dad could work. She brought me ginger ale and cooked us grilled cheese and told me stories to make me laugh.

Later, when we were ten and eleven and lived in a commercial area, Gina visited the businesses nearby when she got bored. Near the carpet place, she met a disabled man in his fifties, and the two became friends. She brought me to meet him one day. He asked us if we would help him shop on Friday and said then he would take us to dinner. Mom didn’t mind, so Ned picked us up after school and we went to the store, helped him into his wheelchair, reached groceries on high shelves for him, and then he took us to Perkins. It became a standing Friday date. For years, we’d shop and then eat. Sometimes Ned took us to the movies or museums. Other times he’d buy us nice school clothes as a thank you. By the time we were in seventh grade, though, we both had begun to get wild and our days with Ned became infrequent.

Gina and I had started smoking early. Everybody was smoking cigarettes and snorting rush and getting high. One afternoon, we skipped seventh grade with friends. The four of us went to our house near the lake. Mom and Dad worked twelve-hour days. They wouldn’t be home until after dinner, so we hung out listening to Gina’s Hall and Oates records and smoking. I didn’t know how to inhale yet, but I was an expert at creating the illusion of it. With the cigarette between my thumb and forefinger, like I had seen all the cool guys do in movies, I sucked in as hard as I could. Then I pushed smoke out my nose, making it look like I had inhaled. But that afternoon, it happened by accident. It was glorious, as if I was grown up. Gina and I lined up Mom’s cigarette butts and practiced inhaling together. Later, Gina threw up yellow Cheetos all over the basement. Not long after that, she ran away.

 

Looking at Gina’s room, I thought about my own little house. If I died, my friends could spend weeks learning about me from the boxes of grade-school notes, the bundled letters from boyfriends, all my teen journals, and high school pictures. It was because of our rootlessness that I had saved them. But Gina had nothing to represent her, nothing to testify to her life in the days and months before she died, except maybe her phone. I was her last relative, her last life witness. But she had stopped talking to me a month before she killed herself.

Her last texts to me were sent September 26. She said, “I don’t want anything to do with you no more. You were never a sister to me. Don’t call, text, or write. Don’t come looking for me either. Bye!!” It came out of nowhere. I was shocked. What had happened?

“Huh?” I replied.

“BTW I’m blocking your number ASAP. If I have to, I’ll call the police. Just like you did. Karma’s a bitch, ain’t it?” Her triggers always happened in the fall. It had been this way for years. The first time she went into the psych ward, it had been a long time coming. But it had never clicked for me when we were younger that there was anything wrong with her. She was always different, always a little louder than everyone else, always a little less socially aware, always unafraid. Then Reggie died when we were in our twenties, and she started to spiral. One night she heard voices in her head: a local radio announcer told her to go downtown, so she did, except it was twenty degrees and she was wearing only a t-shirt and underwear. She smashed through the glass window of a corporate office building. By the time the police got there, she had frostbite up to her knees in both legs. She was on crutches for months. After that, it became a cycle of jail, the psych ward, and low-income apartments. She was given a dual diagnosis: addiction and bipolar schizophrenia. She had hit the genetic lottery: Mom was a paranoid schizophrenic, and Reggie had been an alcoholic.

 

Though she did OK during her thirties, she started spiraling again after she turned forty, drinking a lot more and getting blasted on crack. When she was broke and wanted to keep her high, she’d take the bus to my new house to ask for money. The first time she came, trashed out of her mind, it was freezing outside and she was coatless in a gray hoodie and jeans with sneakers and low-cut socks. Her thinning hair hadn’t been washed or brushed in days, and she spat when she spoke.

“Please please please give me money. Please please please give me money, sissy. Please please please give me money,” she chanted in a drunken trance. “Sissy, please please please give me money.”

I slammed the door as she started her chant again. Then she tried every door in my house, pushing to get in, pounding and screaming and kicking. I wondered how many of the neighbors were watching. Finally, I relented. I had to teach a class at 6:00, and I didn’t want to leave her there, so I gave her ten dollars to make her go away.

That was the worst thing I could have done. She came back the next week and the week after, both times trashed, beating on my door, staggering all over my front porch and falling on my driveway. The next time, I called 911 the second her fist hit the door. I yelled through the screen, “I’m calling the cops.” I spoke loudly into the phone. “Yes, my sister is at my house trying to break in.” At that, she ran off. The next week when she came again, I turned off the lights and pretended I wasn’t home. But she didn’t relent. I heard the glass give way to her fists hammering at the door. I ran to the opening with my phone calling 911. “Yes, my sister just broke into my house. Can you send someone quick?” I looked at her. “The cops are coming.” She hurried back toward Monroe Avenue.

I said I didn’t want to press charges, but the cop said I had to. It had been his second call to my house, and he said the calls would continue if I didn’t sign the papers. So I signed, but I never followed through. Ultimately, the judge dropped the charges.

Not long after, I got a voicemail from Strong Hospital. The nurse’s message said that Gina had overdosed. Was she dead? Why would they leave such an ambiguous message? When I called back, the nurse said, “She’s in ICU now, stable and intubated.” Eventually, they moved her to psych emergency and later, at her request, to Saint Mary’s psych ward. I visited her on Sundays. I didn’t have to do her shopping or her laundry. We played Connect Four, and I’d bring her McDonald’s, and we’d eat and chat and laugh. She was there more than six months before moving back into the Cadillac—a roach-infested crack lodge.

 

“I’m sure Mommy and Daddy are sooo proud of you!” her next text said.

“What are you talking about?” I asked.

“Maybe you and your buddy buds at Strong Hospital can have me locked up next time, you know, ‘where I belong?’” That was the last text in the thread—the last communication I ever had with my sister.

 

My best friend, JJ, and I went to high school together and became roommates in our twenties. She was the only other person who knew everyone in my family. Once, when I was out of town, JJ offered to bring Gina food and take her to the laundry. After that, Gina began texting JJ when she was bored. In late September, JJ texted me: “This is from Gina: ‘Yo J. Please don’t give this number to my sis. Tell her I 4give her & still love her. Right now I don’t want anything to do with her. You can text me tho, Love you.’” When JJ asked Gina what I had done, Gina wrote, “She made me wait for my birthday present. She don’t believe me about Daddy John molesting me. She sides with Strong Hospital. Fuck her!!” Daddy John molesting her? I hadn’t thought about that since our twenties, when she’d said it wasn’t true.

 

In seventh grade, Gina vanished one day. I came home from school, and she wasn’t there. When she wasn’t home by 10:00 that night, Mom called the police. Back then, there wasn’t much they could do except write a report. We assumed she had run away.

Gina’s disappearance was painful in a way that changed me. Being so close in age, we looked like twins for so many years. We were the same height. We both had our parents’ dark skin, the same black, shiny hair and black eyes. Our differences weren’t visible. She was strength and fearlessness to my introversion and apprehension. I had relied on her more than I realized. Months later, when she finally resurfaced, we learned that she had gotten picked up by a pimp, who had taken her to Buffalo to prostitute. She wasn’t home for long after that. She had changed too much, and so had I—both of us hardening a little bit.

After an argument with my parents about drugs, she went to live with Ned. She told our mom that John, the man we called Dad, had raped her and that she couldn’t live in the same house with him anymore. Later, Mom said that Gina had found out somehow that John had gone to prison for rape. How did Gina know? Mom said it didn’t matter: Dad was a different man now, and the woman who had accused him had emotional problems.

I never believed Gina’s accusation. I thought she wanted to live with Ned because he represented money and normalcy. There were no paranoid schizophrenics or alcoholics in his house. Ned had a paved driveway and a backyard. He bought Gina leather jackets and make-up and took her to the movies and dinner, while I was stuck with a drunk and a psychotic. When Mom told me one day after school that we were leaving John again, that she was tired of his drinking again, I ran away. I took the bus to Ned’s house, but my parents found me there and dragged me home. The next morning they filed a Person in Need of Supervision petition to have me sent into a detention home. “Over my dead body will you go to Ned’s house,” my mom said. “I’ll never let another one of my daughters go with that man.” What did she suddenly have against Ned? He’d done so much for us over the years.

 

It wasn’t until Gina and I were almost twenty that I learned about Ned molesting her. He had spent years gaining our trust, spending money on us, buying us clothes, and taking us to nice restaurants. All that time, he’d been preying on Gina—when she moved in with him, he moved in on her. After a while, emboldened, he took in more teens and became known for helping “troubled girls.” He sent them all to special schools and bought them nice things. He even jetted them to Florida for vacations.

“He would make me lift up my shirt and then stick that deformed hand up my blouse and squeeze my nipples. Then he begged me to suck his dick. The motherfucker.” We both cried that day. Gina said she was sorry for lying about Dad, but that Ned had made her feel important. I hadn’t seen it earlier, but it was clear then. It was Ned who had told Gina about Dad’s imprisonment. He’d found out and then used what he’d learned to manipulate her into leaving us.

 

After we left Gina’s apartment that Sunday, I spent hours on her little flip phone reading texts, calendar appointments, and call logs. I searched every folder, trying to find a crumb of information. It was a new phone; she had lost the old one. The texts only went back to October 15, and her last text out was on October 22 to JJ. The thread began like this: “I’m getting tired of waitin’ on yo’ slow ass; you almost as bad as that sister of mine. How’s the lil snob doing anyway?” JJ asked whether she had decided to forgive me yet. She said, “Nope. I’m not goin’ to her house for the holidays either. I’m sendin’ her a Walmart card and that’s it. High time she got a taste of her own medicine.” She said she missed my dog, Neptune, more than she missed me and that I could take my money and stick it up my snobby ass. She didn’t need my help for anything. That last message was sent October 22 at 7:46 p.m.

There are no outgoing texts after that, no phone calls, nothing. She was supposed to do laundry with her friend on Monday the twenty-fourth and never made it. The friend left a message: “If I don’t hear from you, I’m just going to assume you don’t want to go.” It was almost 2:00 a.m. when I heard that voicemail. I looked at the calendar on my own phone to see what I had been doing on the twenty-second. Having a party at my boyfriend’s house. JJ had been there, and all my friends. I had spent the three days before cooking and shopping and cleaning the new weekend house he was building on the mountain. That whole Saturday we hung out with our friends, ate, drank wine, laughed, and drove the four-wheeler on the trails. I’m certain now that was the night Gina killed herself.

By 3:00 a.m., I wanted to call the medical examiner and ask exactly what “pretty bad shape” meant. What had she looked like? I Googled what happens to the body after it dies. I learned that an ME can only tell when a person died if he or she gets to the body before the putrefaction stage. Early in the process, it’s easy to tell time of death. In the pallor stage, when the blood drains from the skin and makes the skin look white, it has probably been only minutes. Livor mortis, when the skin becomes purplish blue near the blood, happens within thirty minutes. Rigor mortis begins almost immediately in the smaller muscles, such as those in the face, and takes up to eighteen hours. In fact, an examiner can test temperature and rigor to get a fairly exact time of death during this stage.

Even after rigor ends, it takes another twelve to eighteen hours for the body to go through the opposite process. After that, the rotting begins. This is the state Gina’s body was in when they found her. That’s why they couldn’t give me a specific time of death. Though her official death certificate says October 27, I think she had been rotting since the twenty-second, or maybe she passed out for hours or even days before she actually died.

Suddenly I was desperate to know the exact day—the exact moment. Maybe if I knew I could figure out what she was thinking when she decided to kill herself. Were her last words to anyone really about me—that she missed my dog, Neptune, more than she missed me—that I could stick my money up my snobby ass? Did she really believe that I wasn’t there for her? That she was alone? Is that what she went into death thinking? I wanted to ask the medical examiner if she’d been, for certain, in the putrefaction stage. I imagined her body, two hundred pounds of oozing fluid rotting on the floor. Where had all that congealed blood come from?

I wanted to run back to Gina’s place, rip the phone out of the wall, and bring it home. But I knew her landlord and neighbor had been waiting for us to leave so they could clean. They had probably already thrown everything away or salvaged what they could. Her phone would have been sold or dumped already. Maybe if I drove over there, her things would be out on the curb. I could go through them, do it right this time, make sure I inspected everything. I regretted not going through every one of her pockets, checking the corners of the closet, systematically examining everything when I had the chance.

Why hadn’t I taken her landline? I should have taken the whole thing more seriously. I could have seen when she made that last call. Why hadn’t any of us thought to do that? Was her last call on the twenty-second? Or was it later? Did she try to reach her friend? Did she talk to anyone? That could be the most important clue, and I never even thought to look.

When I studied her texts to JJ again, I noticed Gina had asked about me: “You talk to miss snot-rag? What’d she say?” and then again later, “You talk to Ms. Thang? What’d she say??” She wanted to know that I was there, that I was still her sister. In fact, every time she texted JJ she asked about me. Maybe if I had just texted “I love you” she wouldn’t have felt so alone. Instead, I had been relieved that I didn’t have to take her shopping or buy her detergent.

I wanted to go back to her room, lift up that blue blanket and study the stain, get down on the floor and study everything. What had happened? Could I call the medical examiner at 3:00 a.m. and ask him? Would I seem crazy? I had given her that blanket for her birthday in September. “I’m curious,” she had texted. “How much did you spend on me this year? Fucker?!”

 

I always expected Gina to die of an overdose. I imagined her death a thousand times. I saw her dead in an alleyway because she had passed out drunk walking home from the soup kitchen or church. Sometimes I saw her getting hit by a car or beaten up. Every once in a while I imagined her dying of natural causes—a heart attack or stroke—but not very often. I knew she wouldn’t live long, but, of all the ways I imagined her dying, I never saw her taking her own life.

 

One night, soon after I started community college, she called my tiny studio apartment at 2:00 a.m. “Can I come over? I’m at the diner around the corner. I just left Strong. I got my ass kicked by a john.” I made coffee while I waited. Her face had taken the brunt of the beating. Her left cheek was gashed, and both her eyes were swollen almost shut. Under the hospital shirt, cuts and bruises covered her arms.

“Jesus, Gina!” I gasped when I saw her. “What the hell happened?”

Some guy had picked her up on a well-known prostitute block. He drove her to the park where johns often took their girls. He liked it rough, she said. But it was too rough. He beat the shit out of her while calling her Mommy. “I fought that motherfucker every fucking minute, but he was crazy. He shoved his dick up my ass and pushed my face on the ground.” She had called the cops, described the man, even given a partial license plate, but they had said there wasn’t much they could do but call an ambulance. I let her sleep on my couch that night. In the morning, I walked to the store and bought her bandages and groceries and gave her money to take the bus home.

 

During our twenties and thirties, when Gina was in and out of institutions, we spent as much time together as possible. Back when Mom was alive, the three of us got together on Sundays. I picked Mom and Gina up to go grocery shopping. Then we’d do dinner either at Mom’s apartment or mine. After Mom died and it was just Gina and me, our dinners became sporadic. I was always too busy. It got so I would only see her when she needed something. Once a week I’d take her shopping or to McDonald’s, drop her off at the Laundromat, and pick her up an hour later. Then our Sunday dinners turned into holiday dinners on Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving, and her birthday. Then, even later, in the three years since she had smashed my door, she had been at my house only three times, for two Thanksgivings and a Christmas.

She had a habit of calling every day or every hour; if she was fucked up sometimes it was every fifteen minutes. Most days, I didn’t answer. Once she got a cellphone, we texted almost every day unless she was on another bender. It was always in those times when I didn’t hear from her that I expected a visit from the police or a call from pre-trial or Strong Hospital.

 

The following week, when I went to the city’s property office to get Gina’s letter of intent, they gave me an evidence form listing an ID, a “notebook with blood,” and prescription bottles. A notebook? I had thought it was just a letter. Maybe everything I needed to know was in that notebook. I wanted to call the ME again and ask whether she’d written something else—if she’d mentioned me. But the lieutenant who was working on her case said he couldn’t release the evidence until he had an official ruling. I went home empty-handed.

            Back home, I searched Gina’s phone one more time. Maybe I had missed something. In one of the subfolders, I found an audio file. It was her voice, full and happy.

“OK, D. Say something. Say something.” A man’s voice said something inaudible. Then she laughed a full-on Gina laugh. “You crazy. Now stop, OK?” And then she laughed again. The whole file was only ten seconds long. I played it for half an hour, again and again, until I realized it was her, the Gina I knew, the happiest, loudest person in the room. She wasn’t angry or fucked up. She was just playing around with her new phone and laughing.

 

When I was eight, I was chasing a dog across the street and got hit by a car. I broke my femur and lay in traction in the hospital for months before finally going home in a body cast. My parents put a bed in the middle of the living room for me. I watched soap operas and crocheted blankets and did homework assigned by a tutor. One day while Mom and Dad were out, Gina and I decided to get me out of bed. The cast went all the way down to the foot of my right leg and just past the knee of my left, making both legs spread wide. Then the cast followed up my hips to my chest so that I couldn’t bend from the waist down.

Gina helped me inch my hips off the bed. Then, she pushed down on my legs to tip my top half up. My body moved like a see-saw with the bed’s edge as the fulcrum. When she realized she had full control, she let go of my ankles and watched me fly backward, laughing the whole time. Then we were both cracking up. We tried it again, only this time Gina got behind me and pushed from the back when my feet hit the floor. To move, I had no choice but to mummy-walk spread-legged through the house. Every once in a while, I’d gain too much momentum and tip, and Gina would run in front of me so I wouldn’t fall. And then we’d start laughing all over again.

Angelique’s non-fiction can be found in The Best Travel Writing, The Chattahoochee Review, Cleaver, Shark Reef, and a number of anthologies. Her essay, “All the Grains of Sand” won the grand prize in the Solas Award for Best Travel Writing. She holds an MFA from Bennington College and has attended the Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference. She finds her inspiration in wandering—being in places that push the boundaries of comfort, experience, knowledge, and hunger.