I suffer from chronic infonesia: my mind is cluttered with information and I have no idea where it came from. It's a symptom of the internet age. I stumbled across the term some months ago and I keep trying to educate myself more, but I can't find the word anywhere, don't remember where I first read it. I Googled it, but all I got were articles about Indonesia.
Twenty-five suicides are attempted for every one that is completed. Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, declared itself a Republic on March 2nd, 1970. The QWERTY keyboard was the brainchild of Christopher Sholes. Don't ask me how I know these things. I could say I've thrown myself into the web and soaked them up like a sponge, but that's not quite right. I'm more like a robin, building a nest with the dry leaf corpses and abandoned gray hairs I find. I'm a subconscious architect, and somewhere in my mind, is a home.
The problem is I don't know where I came from. That problem began when I was six. Jack and Erica thought it would be best to tell me that I was adopted sooner rather than later. They didn't want me questioning the past and reinterpreting what it all meant when I grew older, so now I just question the present.
We used to have dinner together every night, but I put a stop to that six and a half months ago. As soon as I smelled meatloaf-mist or heard sizzling olive oil, I locked myself in the bathroom, said I didn't feel well. Parents don't ask their fifteen-year-old daughters what that means, even the adoptive ones. It's easy to avoid dialogue when I bake in the glow of our living room TV or hunch over my laptop. But beached on the desolate sounds of forks scraping plates, there is nowhere to run. So I snack on Chex mix and fruit, eat lots of little meals throughout the day. I read somewhere that it's much healthier.
Seven months ago, I tried to kill myself using bleach and a washcloth. The original plan was to drink it, but I pictured the fluid blistering my esophagus, scorching my stomach lining, and chickened out. Instead, I soaked the towel and blanketed my face with it, laying flat on my bed. Thought I'd breathe in enough fumes, go peacefully.
All I could smell were hotel swimming pools. I kept thinking of the time I was six, learning to swim, and I had boldly doggy-slapped my way to the deep end, losing my nerve and breath before I reached the wall. Jack dove down after me, had been watching me the whole time.
I ripped the towel off and my face felt just the way it had when Jack had pulled me out of the water: plaited, sore, misplaced.
The walls of my room blush pale beige at their inattention. Jack and Erica tried to offer me pop-icon posters, paintings, picture frames, even multicolored lights that remind me of highlighters, but I didn't bother, let them huddle in my closet. Instead, I bedazzled my MySpace with glitter stars on the menu, uploaded Lady Gaga as my background music. No one sees a bedroom.
I belong on the internet. I belong because I can't not belong. Everything does. World of Warcraft forums and CNN. How-To's on home bomb-making and exegeses of Matthew 28. Porn and poker and relief networks. It's the definition of open-minded. It's liberty and acceptance. No one asks you questions you don't want to answer.
I couldn't take it, waiting in that terrible quiet at dinner for them to mention the washcloth. They must've smelled it, come across it in the laundry, all crusted over with residue of what had happened. I kept expecting it to be waiting for me on my plate like a dead jellyfish when I came downstairs, or for Erica to serve it to us on a crystal platter after we finished. And for dessert, confrontation. But it never came, and so I stopped coming. And we don't talk about it. And I'm not sure why.
Jack's eyes are cranberries when he tells me Erica has breast cancer at 1:24 in the morning. It's too far along, he says, and I can tell he blames himself. They were going to tell me together tomorrow, but he's a wreck. So I try to cry with him. But I can't. I stare at a mahogany-framed picture of the three of us standing proudly on Myrtle Beach, cyan desert behind us. I can't do it. So I think of Haiti and Afghanistan and trick myself into feeling pain in the moment. I trick Jack too and he wraps my shoulders with his arms, wets my shirt. His mouth is a rubbery balloon deflating in my ear and I'm glad he's not pretending to be strong. This is the type of thing no one should be strong about.
I ask Ask.com how I can comfort my adoptive parents when one is dying, but all it tells me is how a parent can comfort a child, how to be a good adoptive parent. Somehow, I'm not meant to comfort them, it's not my role. The motherboard murmurs at me. My ear squishes uncomfortably on its skeleton as I try to listen to its secrets.
Heaven. Hell. Sheol. Purgatory. Reincarnation. Floating around the ether. Fertilizer. Haunting the living. Asphodel Meadows. Dark tunnels and light. Jannah or jahannam. Fields of Aaru. Tartarus. Misvan Gatu. Olam Haba. Moksha, mictlan or limbo. I feel so close to knowing, but I'm not. I'm further away with each option I remember, no memory of where I heard it. How do they know? How does anyone? The source, suddenly, seems gravely important.
I have nothing to offer Jack and Erica. And I wonder, what was I planning on doing after the bleach, the washcloth? Where on earth would I go?
The eggplant parmesan is all wet and red on our plates, like slices of dismissed organs. We reach for each other. Erica says grace and Jack's hand crimps my fingers, folds them over. Then we're quiet and eating. I think I'm terrible, but I can't help feeling relieved that the bleach and washcloth are on the backburner.
Erica coughs, looks at Jack. I watch her, head down, and wonder if she's always had those blond hairs hemming her scalp. She has beautiful high bones in her cheeks and I wish I could inherit them, that she was a part of me.
Jack tells me Erica has breast cancer for a second time, this one longer, more informative. She's not going to brook any treatment, doesn't see the point. She's going to stop teaching her second-grade class, spend more time with us.
In a moment of blind boldness and curiosity, I ask Erica if she thinks she'll become one with the earth as she decomposes. She doesn't look upset or offended, even smirks a little and says no. I'm relieved because I think this earth is too small for her, for me or for anyone, and so we'd better find a way out before we pass.
For the next few months, I'm going to use my ethernet cable as a decoration, string it through my CDs and hang it above my curtain. I've already closed the lid of my Dell, fatted it over some old pictures to smooth them for framing. I tried to use my modem as a bookend, but it wouldn't stand against the weight, so I tucked it in my closet. Later, I'm going to mash my ear into Erica's chest, near the hard lumps that refuse to budge. I'm going to listen closely to what the heart beating against them has to say. I'm going to ask it where it belongs, where do I.
Joe Celizic received his MFA from Bowling Green State University. His fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Redivider, Windsor Review, Monday Night, PANK, On The Premises, Southpaw Journal and others.