An excerpt from The City Mother:
A strange thing has happened to me. I hesitate to write it down.
I sat on a wooden park bench by the lake, graffiti carved into its peeling surface. Two plastic drugstore bags containing baby wipes, Q-tips, toothpaste, and an aspirational tube of lipstick rested beside me, contents baking in the sun.
Even in the cramped and smelly circus of our lives, where personal mystery was at a fantastically low ebb, I’d discovered it was possible to have secrets. The trick was to get out of the house, to slip its surly bonds. And that was why I would occasionally make a show of packing up my yoga mat or some overdue library books and, with an air of fond reluctance, bid my family au revoir and go and smoke.
At the drugstore, I’d bought the most expensive pack of cigarettes they had. Its pretty box and silver foil were like a birthday present—a present from someone who was trying to kill me by slow degrees, but festive nonetheless. I had a complex relationship with its pretentious label. Marketers somewhere were trying to get me to associate their product with glamour and sophistication, and I saw right through that, but nonetheless I did associate their product with glamour and sophistication. Because smoking expensive cigarettes alone was awesome. No one could place a hand on me with their bodily needs or bourgeois morality. I was off the grid, incommunicado, destroying my own cells with relish.
Today, I was also writing in a small notebook. It felt like a throwback to my old life, a life of words, words, words. The husk of my logical mind, hollowed out by hundreds of hours of lost sleep, was trying fitfully to reason. Focus.
I think maybe it has something to do with my brain?
Exhaling a column of smoke, I pondered my own brain. Something had changed, something no one told me about. Searching for clues, I had been reading up on the subject. During pregnancy, the brain shrinks about six percent... Short-term memory is affected...A hormonal cascade that shifts her into fight-or-flight mode...Ability to respond to infants’ needs and to detect threatening people in their environment...Dramatic neuroplasticity...Scientists do not fully understand at this time...
It always hit me when I walked into the building. Out on the streets, it was a low, uncomfortable hum of awareness, a stress headache of the emotions. I couldn’t get a precise read. But in the apartment building, where a few dozen people lived out their lives—ate, slept, sat transfixed by their screens, struggled, dreamed, despaired, year after year—a troubled feeling-tone permeated the jewel-toned carpet, the staircase connecting the lobby and mezzanine, the dripping sink in the sun-washed laundry room, the dim interior corridors, the fire escapes on every floor.
There is something wrong with everybody here.
It is in 3C.
I can feel it seeping into the apartment, through the walls.