Dear Meg, you may remember my letters. You probably don’t because I never wrote them. I only imagined our long conversations in my head. I didn’t have imaginary friends, Meg. I had advice columnists. I had you, though you never had me.
I also communicated telepathically with Landers, her sister Abby, and Miss Manners. I talked to Santa. The Easter Bunny. The Tooth Fairy. God. The psychics advertised in the back pages. Whatever was out there, whatever might take my extra-sensory meanderings and ET phone-home calls on the Speak and Spell.
Meg, you were the matronly goddess of the shoulder pads, modern woman of the 1980s, syndicated nationwide. I would have travelled to India and laid down before your feet, great enlightener in the proper way to send thank-you notes, venerable guru who turned us on to the equity of his and her checking accounts.
Yeah, I was a weird kid. I wasn’t into comic books or fantasy novels. I didn’t lose myself in other worlds. I didn’t get stuck in my own head. I liked the messiness of the real world, its mistresses and cross dressers, celebrity sex and aliens. I liked the tabloids, and that’s where I found you, Meg.
I’m older now, and well, you’re dead, but I’m not done talking. You passed in 2016 at the age of eighty-five. Your obit read that you were the “consummate hostess.” Maybe you didn’t believe in consummating the relationship before traditional courtship and getting to know one another, but you totally believed in the other meaning of the word. I bet your parties always had the full spread.
These were 1980s parties, the cheeseball, the crackers, the cocaine — fancy assortment crackers, not that Ritz cheapness. Meg, I’m just playing. I know you were firmly against drugs. But you had the olives lined up in a row on the olive boat — an actual olive boat, so classy. Got the spinach dip in the bread bowl and the party punch in the lead crystal serving bowl.
Have a glass of this party punch with me. I’m feeling it now, this drink seeping in, this lead seeping in. It’s a strange swill. It’s called nostalgia. I used to admire your black and white headshot in The Star, the way it lorded over the column, your non-fussy hair style suggesting you were someone I could invite over for Totinos Pizza Rolls and processing.
You knew how to properly cook the pizza rolls, you knew their precise microwave boiling point, that spare blackhole second between :54 and :55 seconds, between happiness and devastation, between pizza pocket and molten carcass husk.
Landers didn’t have anything on you Meg. You weren’t quite as popular as the others. You were like the obscure indie band of the advice columnists, and I was the first hipster, nine-year-old me, sitting around reading my grandma’s tabloid stash.
And God, what a stash she had: piles and piles of The Star, The National Enquirer, Weekly World News, The Globe, The Sun, The Examiner. Mount Rushmore of my childhood. Bible. You might have called it a hoard, Meg, but my grandma came of age during the Great Depression and she called it saving things. When she died, my parents called it trash.
One day something you love will gut you. It might be a person, it might be an experience, but it will just as likely be a stupid object, something that sat displayed on a shelf, boxed in a closet, stashed in a drawer. Wherever it is, don’t bother to go looking for it. It finds you. Slasher-flick style. You will not survive intact. You will not survive whole.
But wait, you say you eat whole foods, you got this whole exercise routine, you like wholesome entertainment. You do everything to keep yourself whole, and yet, you still end up semi-broken. Sure, semi-happy, semi-sane. Semi-affectionate, like a tiny dog with an overbite that snarls at everyone, even the owner. The dog trembles in obvious distress and anxiety, and it makes everyone cringe, except the owner who loves that stupid little dog more than anything.
I can’t tell if I’m supposed to be the dog or the owner in this metaphor, but I do know this: we don’t grow out of our childhood — we furiously molt out of it, shedding off three or four contractor-sized garbage bags full of trash we once loved.
I miss my grandma’s house. Reading the tabloids was her main hobby, aside from taping papal visits off the television — we were all aspiring archivists in the 1980s, after all. And maybe that’s what she was doing — she wasn’t just saving things, she was archiving.
My grandfather had passed in the 1960s, the time when men were men — they didn’t let women drive, their dinners were prepared and ready when they got home from work, and they didn’t go to the doctor when they were having chest pains. Now she lived alone and drove her car to the grocery store once a week to pick up her stories, careful not to muss their paper covers as she plucked them from their wire mother racks. She added them in a stack to the conveyor belt, and if I asked for a candy bar, she added that too.
Back then we took our tabs prophylatically. We injected a bit of the crazy to inoculate ourselves from the disease of reality, our radioactive dose of UFOs, psychics, weight loss tips, Dolly Parton, and sublimated conservatism. Ads for Newports, Wild Musk, JFK plates, and a clip-and-save recipe for salisbury steak. And you, Meg.
When it was time for my pills, I kicked my shoes off, Payless BOGOs, and spread out on my grandma’s 1976 collection Ethan Allen couch — drink in that burgundy grapevine pattern, aka bicentennial chic. She used to keep a plastic drape on the couch to keep it crisp like a new pair of Nikes, but by the time I came around, the thing was a well-loved pair of Converse — “loved” being a code word for the time the dog barfed on it, and that was the day the dream died.
The first time your new car gets a ding, the wood floor gets a scratch, the dog barfs on the Ethan Allen — dreams die. Did you ever have a dream die, Meg, or did you just concoct a baking soda scrub to clean it?
My grandma was my dealer then. Now my psychiatrist gives me all my drugs. I was never the kind of kid to get lost in my head, but then adulthood hit me. If childhood was home, I grew up and became homeless. With nowhere to go, I moved into my head, all my belongings stowed into trash bags. Was supposed to be a short stay, was just going to crash on the couch for a few weeks. But I live here now.
Now I’m sitting on the couch at the psych office. The couch has no give, as though no one has ever gotten comfortable on it, like a booth in a fast food restaurant. They answer the phones with a generic “doctor’s office,” when I call to make an appointment, I guess so the other voices in my head don’t find out that I’m really calling the pill farm to shut them up.
Just kidding Meg, I don’t have other voices in my head. Just yours.
The doc has her hair pulled into a loose ponytail today. It’s supposed to look non-fussy and casual, but somehow it looks the opposite, as though a lifetime of fussing with her hair has led to this moment where she utterly gave up and hastily pulled it back in disgust. This woman doesn’t know how to cook pizza rolls. She doesn’t bother to read the box, its unique instructions. She punches in a minute and ten seconds for everything. She nukes it all, and then she chews through the molten carcass husks, but you have to kind of admire that about her.
I tell her I can’t write when I take these pills. They turn the lights off, they’re cheap bastards, hate paying the electric bill. She doesn’t look up from the computer screen, but she agrees it’s a side effect.
“It’s okay if you skip occasionally to write,” she says to the computer screen.
She adds, blankly, “it’s a good outlet.”
What outlet? Lady, I’ve been trying to get back in.
This party punch puts you on your ass, Meg. It’s not good to binge on, and it’s best in small sips. But when I talk to you Meg, I always end up chugging it.
Meg you don’t want me driving in this condition, so you always strap me into the passenger seat and drive me down the road, far enough so I don’t find my way back to the party and embarrass the other guests. Dump me off on the side of the dirt road, consummate hostess. With nowhere else to go, that’s how I always end up in my head, I guess.
The doc hands me the keys to a new place, a prescription for ninety days. It’s a sparking clean apartment, fresh coat of paint, white, void of color. Everything is contractor and clinical. But it’s fine, it’s fine.