Critical Thought: Where I Live

In writing this piece, I was interested in repetition, both in the language of the narrative and, by extension, the narrator’s thoughts. The language here is meant to reflect the narrator’s state of mind, as she uses repetitive thoughts to try to control her mind and cope with being alive in the world. This repetition becomes the rhythm of the story, helping to move time forward while revealing the fragile state of the narrator.

I believe that we constantly create a narrative to function in our everyday lives. Language is how we communicate with each other, but it is also how we personally interact with ourselves and understand our place in the world. Fiction that deals with this type of narrative can be extremely powerful, because it takes on a very authentic voice. When the language of a story comes from character, and serves to reveal and build that character as the story progresses, we feel the humanity behind the language, and can connect to the story in a meaningful way.

Marysa LaRowe was born outside Chicago and earned a B.A. in English and Creative Writing from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her work has appeared in or is forthcoming in the North Central Review, Isthmus, Southeast Review, and Wisconsin People and Ideas Magazine. She is currently studying fiction in the MFA Program at Vanderbilt University.

Where I Live Now

Where I live now they clean the streets on Thursdays. The neighborhoods have names like Solace Creek and Sylvan Meadow. I live in the neighborhood called Glen Hollow, which has many old trees that are constantly cut back to make room for the power lines. My apartment has three rooms, a gas stove, a television I sometimes turn on for the sound, and a few plants I have not yet killed. It is a good sign the plants are still alive. It implies an awareness, a presence in the everyday world, or so they tell me. I keep up with the dishes and the laundry and on Saturdays I clean the kitchen and the bathroom. It is a little place, but it is mine.


I work in a café that specializes in custom decorated cupcakes. It is a good thing to work in a place that always smells of baking. I like the cakes before the frosting touches them, golden- brown and warm and each so perfectly formed in its neat little mold.


Where I live now it is quiet, and there is too much room for thought. I have to keep things simple to avoid the danger. Each morning I tell myself, I am taking a shower now. The water is hot and the tile under my feet is cool. Some moments I will catch myself wandering, and then I will say: I am breathing in. I am breathing out. It is important to monitor one’s state of mind.


Where I live now it is always sunny and I do not like it. I am someone who appreciates a good rainstorm. The people here are clean and they all have money. There is no sadness that cannot be cured with a cupcake. At the shop women sip coffee and complain about their husbands. They eye me suspiciously; they suspect I am not one of them. I smile and pour their coffee. Room for cream?


The shop next door sells shoes and athletic equipment. There’s a boy who works there named Peter. He takes me to the movies sometimes, and once, in the car, he leans in and kisses me. He tells me he is afraid he’s going to hurt me. I tell him I think that just the fear of the thing would make it impossible, but Peter says you can’t help it sometimes.


Before I came here I lived in the in-between places that were all hallways meeting other hallways and unbreakable windows. Once a doctor opened my chart and said, young lady, you are just starting your career in these places. I wanted to punch him. It’s not anyone’s fault the world makes them crazy now and then, so it is no longer possible to live in it.


Anna lived with me in the in-between places. When the panic took her she curled up tiny and hard and silent as stone. She had tried four times to die; I had tried twice. Neither of us could stop thinking about it. Most of the time we lived at the intersection of the south and west hallways, where the windows faced the lake. From there you could see bicyclists and mothers with strollers coming out of the Arboretum. We watched them until we felt we knew them, though of course we were not part of their world. Anna is dead now. I do not try to understand.


In the mornings at the shop I am the first one there. I turn on the ovens, I start the coffee brewing, I sweep the floors of last night’s crumbs and dried frosting curls. I speak each task aloud like it is a holy rite. The key to action is to never ask why. The light comes in through the front windows and warms the place along with the awakening ovens, and the commuter train shakes the light fixtures on the walls.


Where I live now I don’t have many friends, unless you count Peter. He is shy and when we sleep together he asks, is this okay? I don’t tell him it’s been so long since I have been touched that even pain would be okay if it was meant in love. Sometimes when he sleeps his breath catches in his throat and his body goes stiff like it is battling some great fear. I brush the hair from his eyes and he sleeps on. Neither of us has said I love you yet.


Where I live now, I am accustomed to being alone. To wake beside another is strange. To rise from bed and pull two cracked cups from the cupboard instead of one is strange. Some mornings I do not even need to say, I am making coffee now. I simply make it, and Peter is there and he drinks it, and that is that.


Some days I walk alone through the forest preserve and watch the birds swooping between the newly bare branches, and I wish Anna were here to see them. On the day I learned that she had done it I walked the entire length of these woods and I counted every tree but with every step I still thought, I am alive. Who survives in this world and who doesn’t should be a simple thing but it is not. It must come down to more than words.


Where I live now the days are quiet. The toast I eat leaves crumbs on the counter and the newspaper leaves ink on my fingers. Some nights the weight of those in-between years comes pressing down on me, and all the swallowed emotion bubbles up like something prehistoric hidden in the depths of the pond. But then I hear the train whistle sounding over the town and the wind rattles the window and Peter shivers in his sleep, and I think, I am not alone in this.


Outside, there are lights in all the houses and up in the sky it is beginning to snow.

by Marysa LaRowe