I bake Tiramisu Cupcakes for the housewarming of my new home in Reno, Nevada. Realize there’s an essay under the frosting when I spy the red welt between my breasts. Nude in the mirror I see what I sacrificed to get here. To my forever home alone. Pastry bag against breastbone I pressed out thick frosting until tender skin bruised beneath my apron. I see the metaphor written on my body. Writers live for this shit.
Herpes sores flare on my lip in the bathroom mirror. This disfigured mouth that once kissed so many never to kiss another. When I left my final boyfriend yelling after me I decided to be celibate. Love never ends well for me. After my wife’s suicide I doubted love was but fleeting as was her short, luminous life. I smooth Gelée Rich extra rejuvenating treatment on my face beneath vanity lightbulbs. The pearlescent gold lidded jar was a gift from one of several friends who cut me off right before I left Los Angeles. All relationships have a lifetime. Family is womb to tomb.
Pink pansy tile below the mirror reminds me of dead grandparents. Bathroom séance time. I say to the mirror, “Dewey and Janet Lambert who lived out your lives between these walls. I love your gentle hauntings. I wish blessings and love upon you. Thank you for your many gifts from the Schizoaffective Disorder to this home that I love. With love invoked threefold protect me.”
Great-uncle Butch built this house in 1954. His wife Theda Butcher left it to my grandparents on her deathbed. Was it haunted by these Butchers? I hoped so. I’m more afraid of Costco and small talk then ghosts. Only overly ambitious yoga poses would be butchered here. An ominous surname wasn’t enough to scare me off when I was this desperate for a place to live. The old Butcher place was my last residential option after I got evicted from my Hollywood apartment. Kicked out of far too many roommate situations to ever dare try that again. I was told so`many times I knew it to be true: I am so insufferably annoying and intolerable that I must live alone to have any stability or security whatsoever. Anyone who spent a prolonged amount of time around me except my wife grew to hate me so much they got rid of me. I learned that lesson the hard way. I prefer to live with ghosts.
Fleeing California’s rental crisis I moved 500 miles away from everything I knew and loved. All to be able to live alone. Even if my Barbie dream house was in the frozen tundra. Yelp told me Reno had one Trader Joe’s, one Target and a few Starbucks. That was enough for me to live there happily. Reno’s slogan is, “the biggest little city in the world.” Bitch, please! Reno’s a cow town. After real cities? Reno’s cute. Cute like a frenemies engagement ring. Yet a quaint backwater is exactly where I want to be right now. Despite my snark I actually love Reno. It’s adorable. People drive 20 mph. The parking’s free. There’s no traffic. Reno is totally different from Los Angeles in all of the most relaxing ways.
The sun rises on my future in this place I name “The House of the Rising Sun.” The Animals sang it. Bob Dylan. Joan Baez. Dolly Parton. Lauren O’Connell. Five Finger Death Punch. Six month ago “The House of the Rising Sun” became my moving soundtrack. I branded the name in writing I can’t un-publish from online magazines. I read the song’s Wikipedia right before moving in. Found out six months too late the original House of the Rising Sun in New Orleans was historically a brothel, jail or clinic where prostitutes were treated for syphilis.
I am perennially the last person to get the memo everyone else in the office got weeks ago. The legend behind my anthem? Didn’t get the memo that it was about prostitution. I was fired from every office job I ever had thus went on Disability. How do I even get the memo as there’s no office? Telepathy? Magic 8 Ball? Chancy, that.
Syphilis? Prostitutes? Always sores show beneath my lipgloss. No men will be serviced in this version of “The House of the Rising Sun,” whatever Dolly Parton sings. The only ”ball and chain” is self-imposed by this reclusive cat lady so afraid of people that I shun most human contact. I lock myself up inside this house as I prefer. Peacefully abide by the law. Save the Reno 911 any trouble so they can deal with all those open-carry guns, meth, casinos and bars that never close. Bars I will never enter.
The small talk question everyone routinely asks, “What do you do for a living,” breaks me. How does one say, “I’m on Disability for my severe, chronic, incurable yet completely invisible mental illness,” without discomfort. Usually I say “I’m a writer,” to spare my pride. This opens the Pandora’s box of, “What do you write?” At that point I’m stuck rudely saying, “Google me. I can’t talk about it.” Awkward to say the least. I can’t think of any route around these small talk roadblocks so I avoid meeting new people like most people avoid the herpes I already have. My pretty candy is poisonous. Stay away.
People say to me, “I wish I was a Schizophrenic on Disability.” People say, “Must be nice, to sit on your ass all day watching TV not having to work while money comes in.” That’s another reason I don’t talk to people very often. My life would be fan-fucking-tastic if only the psychosis, depression, mania, anxiety and hyper vigilant terror of PTSD would stop their carousel carnival rotation around my mind. Stop long enough for me to actually enjoy what privilege I inherited along with these illnesses. A vein of madness runs like pyrite down this old Nevada family tree. Panning for gold, Wild West miners found a gilded cockroach. Like that cockroach I survive. There’s a few psychiatric cases in every generation. Grandpa Dewey was Schizophrenic as was great-aunt Clementine. I have a Bipolar cousin. One of my cousins has an autistic child.
Lady Gaga says in American Horror Story: Hotel, “If I was to live in grief, I would be surrounded by beautiful things.“ My wife whom I loved more than breath died five years ago. I am alone married to her memory. A wedding photo hangs above the couch. Two brides embracing framed in ivory glass and lilies rests on the coffee table. I find peace in Lady Gaga’s words of resignation. I will be alone for what years I have left surrounded by beautiful things. Objects comfort when people abandon. Solitude heals when people abuse. I will find my peace living out my days in the House of the Rising Sun.
I reread a translation of J.K Huysmans’ Against Nature. A decadent French novel influencing Oscar Wilde. Duc Des Esseintes locks himself up in his country home to amuse himself inside alone for the rest of his life. The old fashioned euphemism “neurotic,” reads on the yellowed pages as batshit crazy. I can identify. I furiously highlight paragraphs like: “a desired hermitage equipped with all modern conveniences, a snugly heated ark on dry land in which he might take refuge from the incessant deluge of human stupidity.” Against Nature becomes my lifestyle bible.
My grandmother, uncle, aunt, cousin, his wife and their toddler are the only people I know in Reno. Four generations of Garaventa’s whom I love. I send out a group text to them once I finish decorating. Invite them all over for a housewarming Sunday afternoon.
I worry a lost family guest will wander into the spooky room at the end of the hall looking for the bathroom. The two house rules are: 1.) no alcohol and 2.) no one goes in the room at the end of the hall. I sharpie, “PLEASE DO NOT ENTER” on a Standard Hotel notepad slip and tape it to the door. A happier, healthier person would have put a twin bed and nightstand in there and called it a day. Not this cupcake. The spare bedroom holds things only appropriate for open-minded adults: The occult grief altar where I play at witchcraft. Black pointy hats. A narrow shelf of Wicca books, erotica and Tarot cards. Hers and hers wedding gowns haunt the closet with dresses of the deceased: my wife and Kathy Acker. A broom that looks flight-ready leans in the corner. I don’t try to fly on it. I’m not that delusional.
I worry my stigmatized religion, Wicca, will be a problem in rural Christian Nevada. Two Jehovah’s Witnesses hand me a tract as I sweep kitty litter off the porch. I am appalled. Terrified. I would never even dream of going door to door trying to recruit neighbors to join my nonexistent coven. I’m a solitary practitioner. Witches know what an boundary invasion proselytizing is. I respect others privacy as I hope they will respect mine. Freedom of religion is an individual all-American right. Wasn’t exercise of religious freedom what these colonies were originally set up for? Yes, those Salem incidents were regrettable. Stake burnings are so three centuries ago. Could we just not?
Covering the walls of the witchcraft room are intricate oil paintings of sex acts with Byzantine gold backgrounds. Paintings so obscene no magazine I submit them to dares print them. Except for a tiny painting called “Double Teamed” in my HTMLGiant interview. I try to protect family, children, visitors, workmen and above all myself by hiding all the controversial stuff away. I write about this secret room on the Internet to demystify it in comforting text so no one need actually enter. The reader now knows nothing in the spooky room is really all that bad. It’s just an Addams Family anti-guest room. Just books, art and hobby supplies.
I open the kitchen blinds to see snow glisten in the sun. Tie on a blue paisley apron. Turn through the glossy pages of the Simply Sweet Best Cupcakes Ever cookbook on the teal tile to Tiramisu Cupcakes. I take out all-purpose flour, baking powder, sugar, vanilla extract, and salt from the pantry. Butter and eggs from the fridge. Pale yellow cake batter whirls in the red KitchenAid. I fill muffin pans with crisp white liners. Scoop one spoonful of batter into each cup. Slide the pans into the oven at 350 degrees for fifteen minutes.
As the cupcakes bake I listen to Hitler Youth on the Cabaret soundtrack sing “Tomorrow Belongs to Me.” This charming fascist ditty brought me hope while I waited in transition to move. All those long nights I stayed up writing in grandma’s basement, I dreamed of tomorrow’s dawn. The day I moved in to this house tomorrow was finally mine.
I am not a Nazi or a fascist. I am only too broken and disabled to dare risk joining this resistance I hear tell about. I can’t resist or protest Trump. I’m too afraid. I have too much to lose if my precarious house of cards collapses. So easily this fragile gossamer structure could fall. I must keep that SSDI. That sweet, sweet Medicare that pays for those psych meds keeping me alive. I must stay inside far away from felony rioting convictions doled out willy-nilly when black hooded anarchists turn the protests to teargas. I’ve seen protests turn to riots before. Once you’ve seen the National Guard line up with machine guns you don’t ever want to face that down again.
If readers are offended by my disability dictating this cold-blooded decision? I can’t afford to care. Self-preservation wins out. Facebook activists who call me a Nazi for shutting up and sitting still won’t donate to a psych med GoFundMe. Each time I publish I offend someone it seems. Pissing people off with my writing is now as routine as ghosts. I email essays and poems to editors and wait for the incisive comments and angry Facebook chats if they’re even published. Hazards of the profession. I’m just trying to survive here. Keep taking my ten pills a day so I can peacefully potter around the house. I would rather be privilege-shamed on the Internet by distant acquaintances then gang-raped off my meds in acute psychiatric crisis in a jail cell, thanks. We all have priorities. Leftist infighting between Sanders and Clinton supporters led to this Trump presidency. Why do you think I fill the empty rooms of this house with hobbies instead of housemates? Fuck that shit. I’m forty, not nineteen anymore. People grow up.
Grey bangs fall in my eyes as I take the cupcakes from the oven. Set them on a rack to cool beneath my grandmother’s painting of her once teenage daughter. Swirls of long brown hair. A carefree smile. Young auntie Carol watches the cupcakes cool. Grandma doesn’t paint anymore now that she is almost 100. Aunt Carol is divorced and retired with short grey hair dyed auburn now. Time in it’s inexorable cruelty catches up to us all. Time killed my punk hope for revolution. Time killed most of my hope. Time didn’t kill my hunger.
I take out cream cheese, butter, salt and two packages of powdered sugar. Mix them together with the KitchenAid to form a thick glob of white frosting. A blue plastic bowl comes from the fridge with Tiramisu filling pre-mixed from powdered sugar, cream cheese, coffee and salt. I pull down one side of each liner to slice the tops off the butter cakes one by one. Deposit a tablespoon of cream cheese filling between each half like a pastry hamburger. Arrange paper liners back around the cupcakes on a faux silver platter.
Cabaret’s “Mein Herr,” begins as I fill the pastry bag with frosting. “Bye bye Mein Lieber Herr! Farewell Mein Lieber Herr! It was a fine affair but now it’s over!” Liza Minelli sings. Affairs on the West Coast were delightful. Tawdry. Dreadful. Abusive. Now all over. This California Zephyr’s final stop is Reno Amtrak station. I get off solo. With batteries. “You’re better off without me Mein Herr.”
I press breastbone against pastry bag. Decorate the cupcakes with white fluted swirls. Don’t notice how thick the cream cheese frosting is. Don’t feel how hard I push with my whole body. Don’t feel the pain in my core. Don’t see the bruises until I shower in the pink powder room. I want only to bring joy to my family. I top each frosted cupcake with a strawberry wedge. Perfect! I post a photo of the silver cupcake platter on Facebook because of course I do. How could I not?
Sunday morning I put on the blue velvet dress I bought on New Years Day. The last time I tried this thing people speak of called “fun” outside. Won’t be doing that again. The clerk at Junkee’s Clothing Exchange suggested I check in on Facebook for a free cloth shopping bag. Seemed like a good idea at the time. Damnit, Facebook! An ex-junkie Junior High friend accused my Junkee’s check in of callously adorning myself in casualties of other’s addictions. The shaming comment: “Some bish loved that dress but she loved not being dope sick more.”
Life is cruel. From cruelty and pain come beauty. That’s what high heels are about. I tell myself because I’m sober now I get to wear this blue velvet dress whose long silk cuffs may once have hid track marks. I press the bruise above my heart. Feel pain that makes me feel alive. I hope improbably that thIs dress used to belong to an old lady who held onto her vintage frocks in the back of her closet until she died. Somehow deep in my poison velvet heart I know it didn’t.
I wait full of hope for my new life. Wish I may, wish I might, have this wish I wish tonight. May this cockroach survive to see new light. The doorbell rings. My Reno family living and dead warm my House of the Rising Sun with their love.