My mother called me up the morning after I vomited at my cousin Maggie's wedding to explain to me why I couldn't get a man: I had no compassion, never thought about anyone besides myself.
I didn't think she was using the word right and went into the living room for the dictionary, causing the phone to static and her to hang up.
The C section was missing. I went to the library, straight to the OED. I sat down back of the reference section next to a sleep-eyed boy whose blond hair swooped along his ears' tops like the splintering bristles of miniature brooms. He was reading anime porn swathed in Details.
Matt lived at home, said he was scared of the dark, scared of McDonald's and stacks of dollar bills. I spat into his sweet corn hair, called him Matty in bed like a girl. I made him sneak in his bare feet over the hard wood's creaks to show me snapshots, narrate his childhood spent tucked into the cradle of his mother's arm.
I told my mother I thought about Matt, who wasn't myself, considered myself cured. She said I wasn't thinking of Matt but the red-haired girl. Another story of the blonde girl and the red haired. I stopped the story short, supplied the moral myself: the blonde girl thought of what other people needed from her; the red haired, what she needed from them. It wasn't the same.
I'd call Matt up at his mother's at two, three, tell him I couldn't sleep for thinking about him fucking me. His mother answered two weeks in, forbade me to see him. I wouldn't even wait for him to speak—just start: You're on top of me, behind me, I'm on top of you.
I thought about Matt's mealy hands, his grainy small smiles squirreled in uneven stacks next to the TV, waited cattycorner his house for his mother to back her bright white station wagon into the cul-de-sac. I cut the lights, asked him who he was thinking about.
He wasn't listening. He was listening for the sounds of his mother's tires sliding asphalt to gravel.
My mother called me to tell me to call my aunt Maria, whose husband had left her for a petite brunette named a flower.
She called back to call me unempathetic.
I went to the ice cream parlor, feeling sorry for cows, and bought myself a sugar cone with laundry quarters. I slipped on a dripping I'd missed with my tongue, grabbed the thigh of a scrawny pale boy with a white mark under his eye on my way down.
Mark helped me off the floor, told me how his mother used to beat him, how he watched cartoons and political roundtables with the sound down, how he hadn't been touched since the car accident that killed his mother.
He'd had his own place since he was sixteen, wide blank air-conditioned rooms. Naked, I demanded he hit me. I wanted to be bruised, fucked up, but he'd just lie on his stomach on his bed and whimper. I had to do everything.
I told my mother people wouldn't show me what their lives were like. She said everyone's lives were the same: the blonde remembers her experiences and understands others feel those same emotions in similar situations; the red-haired girl doesn't think anyone has feelings like her. She's always the only one.
I asked Mark to get in his grey hatchback and drive me to his mother to see what she thought. She lived fifty freeway miles south, in the dank vermicular grub. Mark rubbed his fingers over the marble, his scooped-out last name, cried with his hands in his ears.
But she didn't talk, and I didn't either.
My mother called me to tell me her neighbor needed to borrow the pearls her mother had given me for a second wedding. I said I was wearing them to an international art film. She said I didn't trust anyone or anything.
I went to the bank to deposit my grandmother's weekly grocery check, left my purse on the island counter right next to the tallest boy in the room.
Luke caught up to me in line, caught my arm, pulled me halfway to his chest. The pink straw of my bag was biting into his palm.
I told him I could buy us food so he stopped by the gas station on the way back to his place. He ran in to buy us hotdogs already in the buns and milk thick with the scent of bananas. He brought back my change, pressed the cold coins into the cup of my hand hard.
His place was decorated up like he wanted to be able to call it a pad, posters under glass, twisted-up lamps, his mother's silver-framed photo on the mantle that hung from an un-fireplaced wall. As soon as I pushed him down onto his bean bag, he screamed out he loved me.
I told my mother people couldn't be trusted, that they lied to get what they wanted. She said people do what they do and believe what they believe for a reason. I told her we were agreeing with each other: the blonde and the red haired into a morally ambiguous strawberry. She disagreed.
While I was pushing down on his wrists with concentration and my whole weight, Luke announced he was looking for a plain life, the kind that came with a plain brown-haired girl and an unspecified brown-haired dog, was going to start attending non-denominational church on a semi-regular basis.
I bought a can of blue hair spray. It made my hair match the hair of his mother on the mantle.
My mother called me up just to say I didn't get it, didn't want to be happy.
I told her I didn't.
I went downstairs to gather my mail from its little tin home. A pierced boy, barely closer to six feet than five, came closer down the street, kicking the front and rear right tires of every car pulled to the curb.
He told me he never listened to his mother, never flossed or opened greeting cards. My hand slicked, the Cosmo my mother had gift-subscribed me slipping in a rush onto my bare feet. I knocked it off one foot with the other, stepped over it, and pulled John into my blue backseat.
His twin bed swam with socks and sour t-shirts, stank. When the phone rang, he didn't answer it.
I told my mother I wasn't listening to any more stories. She said the stories rang true.
John didn't vacuum either, rocks and knock-off cereal o's and origamied business cards nipping, nibbling my feet. He held my hands above my head, held my elbows, hips, knees. I held my hand over his mouth, pinched his nose when he snored. He kicked me in his sleep, oblivious to the tight meow of the phone ringing and kicking in the other room.
And this is the story I told my mother: I don't want to be happy.