The Shape of an 8

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I have, since the dawn of my handwriting career, drawn the number eight as a continuous line. I begin at around 2 o'clock on the the eight's upper curve, wrap counter clockwise around its head and down into the southern hemisphere, reverse direction to cradle its bum and sweep back up to swing just past the starting point in a bit of unintentional sloppiness. Recently, while logging a stack of handwritten checks at work, I came across one of those unconventional eights I see every now and then: the circle on circle eight. This eight is like the wheat penny of eight-making; I typically see one and think, huh, neat, and move along. But this time I was struck by its playfulness. The writer had even left a little gap between the two circles, inviting in a kind of animation, like its two halves we're saying, "Yeah, we're not touching. What of it? You still get the point." That eight was a fuck-you to number-making. And I wanted to follow it to whatever party it was headed to after this one.

Until now, I've had no cause to part with my eight—a surprise considering the carefully coordinated stylistic changes I've made to other characters in my personal font. I've had two separate stints with the closed-top 4; a brief period with the straight-tailed y; an even briefer one with typewriter a. I never did the saccharine hearts over i's, but I did commit to a hollow circle dot from about ages 10-12. The most recent change I've made is adding a horizontal lines to my 7s, in order to distinguish them from carelessly executed 1s.

It's worth pointing out that most of this formal experimentation happened before I exited the halls of adolescence. Middle and high school—at least, in the pre-digitized 1990s—was a time when one's penmanship was regularly put to use: workbooks, dittos, group projects, handwritten notes, in-class essays. (Who knows if this stuff still goes on? I assume high school students do everything on iPads, smart phones, or, at the least, sticky desktops. My high school had approximately one computer for every 100 students.) It was also a time when defining yourself was a task of great social import, and every shred of your puny existence mattered. I wanted a messy ponytail, but only if the lumps along my scalp were uniformly haphazard; I preferred my Chuck Taylors dirty because it meant I wasn't prissy; I wouldn't wear jean cut-offs until the first wash and dry, when their fray was in fuller bloom, as though its volume said more about me than my obsessive exactness.

Handwriting signified something more intimate than physical appearance, something that couldn't be as easily manipulated. Like our awkward locker room nudity, our handwriting hinted at the truth we were trying so desperately to conceal. Many girls settled on a safe, bubbly font, some wrote on a slant like their mothers, some—like my sister—wrote like nine-year-old boys (still does). My handwriting was large and erratic with a hint of femininity that had gone awry, like a doll left out in the yard all winter. My hand struggled to keep up with my thoughts. Letters rushed past each other like people lining up in at an airline terminal. This is still an issue. Sometimes I try to write neater but by the time I reach the end of a document I realize my writing has ended up back at a jagged mess of cross-outs and inconsistencies.

The least I could do was manipulate the styles of individual letters and numbers. I don't remember why I chose those particular modifications listed above; I must have been thinking: I want to be the type of girl that uses a closed-top four. I have no recollection of what type of girl I thought that was. Sophisticated? Artful? Quirky? I know only that it seemed imperative that I alter my 4 if I wanted my true self to be represented.

And now I am faced with the stacked circle 8, whose radicalness is blinding. I experiment with a few on a post-it; the act feels dangerous and fresh and exhilarating, like the way marital affairs are portrayed on television. I sense the approach of that familiar awakening: that this was my eight all along, and will bring me closer to my arrival as a complete person.

Am I foolish for chasing after the empty, temporary empowerment of self-reinvention? Will I look back and see this as the nascent stages of a midlife crisis? What's the difference between a new 8 and a new car/spouse/job/city/set of boobs? (That's rhetorical.)

Perhaps this quest is not adolescent or midlife, but humiliatingly ongoing. I have filled the years since my number-revisions with the continual pursuit of self-translation: the rectangularity of my glasses, the way I sit before yoga class begins,  the introduction of the word "likewise" into my conversational lexicon. I'm forever curating an imagined version of myself that remains one unrealized detail away, neglecting to recognize that a self is both fixed and fluid, malleable and inescapable.

For someone to even notice my new eight, they'd have to know I had a previous eight, and I cannot think of a single person (including intimate family) who is familiar with the nuances of my handwriting. Even if someone did notice, I'm (mostly) aware that the shape of an 8 cannot communicate anything valuable about my life. A half-hearted google search teaches me that engineers and architects often use the stacked circle eight to adhere to technical lettering styles. One message board calls people who use this eight "the scum of the earth" and equates them with serials killers. A woman named Alice confesses on Quora: "I saw Robin Williams do it in Mrs. Doubtfire and I loved it. Been writing this way ever since."

Like Alice, my circle eight infatuation is harmlessly self-serving. Trading eights is like putting on a sexy pair of underwear that no one will ever see, but that just makes you feel sexier. The new 8 is a catalyst whose greater purpose is to tap into my finite, dormant reserve of recklessness. For a minute it will make me feel wild and fun (or perhaps like an engineer serial killer) and will just as soon lose its luster. I expect to return to the old eight out of familiarity or novelty or sensory memory, and it will take me back with benevolence, wise to the ways of my transient appetites.

Blood Test

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I am supposed to be fasting but wake up with hunger crawling up from below against the rawness of morning throat. Two hours until the lab opens. Maybe I can lie, I think. Or maybe it doesn't really matter. I make a cup of tea and dip my fingers into a canister of roasted almonds. "You have to fast 12 hours for accurate fasting blood test results. If you fast four hours or more the fasting blood test results may be accurate," says the internet. In my search for validation I find only the guiding principles of a pervasive framework poised to inspire shame.

I go anyway. The sun is coming up and the parking lot is already full. A woman behind the counter hands me a sticker with my name written on it. "This will be your name tag. Wear it while you're in the building and hand it back in before you leave." What kind of a system are they running here? I sit across from a patient in the waiting area who looks like Johnny Sac's wife from The Sopranos. She scrolls her iPhone with two hands, long curved manicure grazing the screen. I pick up a newspaper and read an article about the FDA changing nutrition labels, making calories more prominent and clarifying serving size. "Most of the nutrients are listed in grams, a basic unit of the metric system. People don't really understand what a gram is."

A technician calls my name and I follow her down labyrinthine hallways to a windowless room. Her hair is in tight rows and she sports a pair of outdated Nikes.

"Let's see what we got here," she says, looking at my sheet.

"I can do everything but the fasting tests. I didn't fast."

"Do you want to just come back and do them all at once?" I tell her I'm already there, so we might as well do the ones we can. She doesn't seem to understand my logic, but concedes. Tourniquet, prick, drain. We make that warm, temporary conversation people make over medical procedures. My boyfriend passed out the last time he had blood drawn. This makes her chuckle and arrive at the conclusion that all men are wimps, a generalization I don't believe, but she is filling numerous vials with my blood, and I want to bond on some level.

She hands me a urine sample cup and leads me to a nearby bathroom. "Don't worry about that sign that says don't flush," she says. "It's because we also use this bathroom for drug testing." I lock the door behind me and look for the sign that says not to flush. I find only a xerox that says "IF YOU URINATE ON THIS SEAT YOU WILL HAVE TO CLEAN IT UP YOURSELF." There is no sink.

When I return she's on the phone tracking down a stool sample kit. "Should I give her the one with the orange lid or the gray lid?" I think about how there is really no graceful way to give a stool sample, how shit universally levels us.

She dumps me back in the waiting room and disappears into a door marked BIOHAZARD in search of my colorfully lidded sterile cups. Ginny Sacrimoni has been replaced by a bald guy with a tribal head tattoo. All the magazines are from 2011 and I find myself staring at a wall mounted photo collage of lab technicians, little portraits cut into perfect rectangles from Kodak 4x6s. They all look so nondescript. Are dull people drawn to lab work or does lab work suck everything interesting out of your life? Two women come out of the BIOHAZARD room laughing. "Just cleaned out my locker and found a wedding invitation from 2009," one of them says.

The technician returns holding a brown paper bag. Inside are three color-coded vials filled halfway with unidentifiable liquid, and some foreign object she calls a "hat."

"The hat fits right into your toilet. You poo into it and then use the little spoons to scoop out samples for each container." Her voice lowers for the word poo. "Do you want the blue lidded cup, too?" She asks in such a way that implies I understand the significance of the blue lidded cup.

"Sure." Can't hurt.

She pulls a blue lidded cup out of her lab coat pocket. I like her, the way she prepares for all possible outcomes. She smiles and asks for my name tag. It makes a soft fabric hiss as I peel it off my coat.

It's going to be a sunny day. I cradle my shit sample kit under my arm and the tinted automatic doors exhale me into morning.

Tricked Into Believing You Are Starting Something New

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Up before dawn with trazodone’s thick fog crushing my face. A vague light glows through poorly closed curtains. 6:23 am. Boyfriend rolls over in the lust of normal sleep. Only sixteen hours to fill before a semi-respectable bedtime. Coffee. I microwave the milk in the bottom of the mug before adding the caffeine so the whole mess stays hot a little longer. Laptop makes the kitchen glow like TV. Email, facebook, other email whose inbox receives messages from Tripadvisor and Goodreads and my mom, work email, weather, calendar. I spend some time obsessing over a recently created profile on a “the world’s leading site for online work.” No leads yet, but I’m optimistic. Decide to take a formal test to rate my English grammar skills: 82 of 100, top 30th percentile. The sentence structure test doesn’t fare so well because I have no idea what an adverb subordinate clause is. I quit at 12 out of 40 questions. If you leave now, you can’t retake the test for fourteen days. I mock this out loud into an empty kitchen.

Oatmeal’s in a bowl and I relocate to the green chair in the living room. 8:15, boyfriend still asleep. Read Cloud Atlas in front of a space heater until I have to pee and then I just take a shower because I’m already in the bathroom. At its hottest our water is still at least two degrees cooler than I prefer. I want to exit the shower with heat welts on my shoulder blades. I blame this lack on my neurotic landlords, convinced they have tweaked this lukewarm purgatory to their benefit.

Boyfriend wakes up and eats a bowl of cereal. We both work from home. “Will it distract you if I do tae-bo?” I spend an hour with a DVD I had my brother convert from VHS when I was twenty-five. I know every scream and grunt and motivational exclamation. I curse Billy Blanks only twice. Crumbs from the rug embed in the sweaty small of my back.

To the market: bread, bananas, milk, chocolate bar, dinner? The country observes Veteran’s Day and a middle school band marches around the store playing some recognizable unnamable song. I want to take their picture with my ancient cell phone, but they’re moving too fast. I cannot BELIEVE you are missing this. Send picture message without picture? Yes.

Lunch is a tuna sandwich. Boyfriend works from the kitchen table today so I move back to the green chair and write for a couple hours. It's like putting a puzzle together, searching through nearly identical pieces of sky for the one that fits until your brain feels light and you move onto another section, tricked into believing you are starting something new. I break to pirate latest episode of Fringe and watch wrapped in a blanket, toes tucked into the gap between cushion and chair. I think about how I wish my hair was as long as Olivia Dunham’s, whose real name I can’t remember without searching imdb, but I’d rather accept the gaps in my memory than rely on technology to keep filling them.

I move to the couch for a change of scenery and struggle through the intro of a Q&A I’m putting together for a magazine. Certain assignments evoke the stilted torture of writing high school term papers. I look to other Q&As for inspiration but feel like a thief without an original idea in my head. Get lost in thinking about how all artists borrow from each other and are connected in an endless invisible network of influence.

Boyfriend leaves to go for a run. Q&A on its way to the editor and I reward my efforts with an apple. The sun reflects off dew clinging to the kitchen windows. We have a moisture problem. The neurotic landlords blame it on our hot breath. “Have you ever slept in a tent?” the wife asked, implying that I compare our apartment to a canvas teepee in the woods. Her tone suggests she believes this is the most logical explanation. I cannot argue with belief.

Lock up and walk through the old cemetery behind our duplex. Trying to find the oldest birth date; so far: 1807. It’s November and summer’s corpse spreads itself over the northern hemisphere. Various shades of orange and brown blanket the walkways. Newer headstones feature etched portraits of the dead. Mental note: etched portrait phenomenon seems exclusive to first generation immigrants. Warrants further investigation.

The dewey apartment welcomes me home. Daylight savings has pushed the afternoon into darkness. I move through, turning on the lights, then pause in the center of electric yellow for minutes, staring, wondering what to do next. My sock is bunched inside my boot. Princess and the pea.

Boyfriend watches football on his laptop, periodically fielding calls from his father, who also watches football in a city 3,000 miles away. I decide to read and then I change my mind and write until my face is pressed against the cold levee of imagination. Retreat to dinner: pasta and greens from a bag. Pre-washed but who trusts that claim. I rev up the salad spinner and let it go, shooting spinach water against skim milky white plastic; it sounds like an engine dying. The most gratifying kitchen experience. One more spin.

We eat touching knees under a tiny kitchen table and talk about writing. Some nights this feels like monologues sharing a stage. Alone, together. How much can you ever truly know about someone else’s work? Tomato sauce stains our lips. I illustrate the puzzle metaphor with my hands. He nods. He’s heard this a thousand times. We touch fingertips between empty bowls.

The Plaid Pantry appears to be out of dark chocolate Reeses peanut butter cups. “Maybe they’re discontinued,” I worry out loud. A hooded man slinks by whose movements echo those of an ape—hulking, dragging, dark. Boyfriend discovers desired candy in an unsuspecting spot. We buy it from a girl who doesn’t say hello back and divvy our treat outside on the gummy sidewalk. “I thought that guy was a gorilla,” he says, shoving the whole cup in his mouth. I eat mine like it’s a delicacy, making it last two street blocks.

At home we get under a blanket and watch part of a Harry Potter. Boyfriend has to explain what’s happening between each scene because I’ve never read the books and there are more characters than a Tolstoy novel. Sleep crawls into my peripherals. I lean my head on a shoulder that smells like wet. “Are you falling asleep?” he asks. I am and so I forget to answer.

“Babe?”

I am in bed first, every night. Crawl into the cold shell of sheets, glasses off, body tucked into a ball, long, deep breath. I find my way to the puzzle, putting words and sentences together at the edges of consciousness. Every idea feels alive, ingenious. Sleep is at the door, and the ideas become a train I am not on, leaving a station. I reach for one and repeat it over and over in my head.

Let me remember this tomorrow.

We're nowhere near the end.

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I write this from the floor, laptop resting on the edge of a coffee table pushed into a corner and piled with rugs folded in half. We're moving and the house is the kind of empty that makes the creaks under our footsteps reverberate and the cats reluctant to move from the islands of home that have not yet become unfamiliar—stool by the window, carpeted staircase landing, bathtub ledge. I keep thinking of the last episode of Growing Pains when the Seavers share a pizza on the naked living room floor and then walk out the front door backwards. Carol leaves last and pauses in the doorway for a couple seconds before saying goodbye to her childhood home and, implicitly, her audience. I misremember her flicking off a light switch, which must have been featured in another touching series finale. I want to say sentimentality is a learned behavior. Perhaps I saw enough of it on TV as a kid to want to elevate the act of moving from one house to another into an epic change worthy of thoughtful pauses in doorways during which I visualize four years of memories in a matter of seconds. In reality, moving hardly allows for the luxury of nostalgic respite. What TV does not show us is moving's gruesome underbelly—the layers of grease clinging to the oven's hood, the awkward conversation about who bought the can opener, the lifetimes wasted on hold waiting to terminate service for the internet and the gas and the electric and the water and the trash. Art comes down off the walls and knick knacks make their way to FREE piles on the sidewalk; the familiar slowly begins to disintegrate. Your life gradually compartmentalizes into a series of boxes labeled with sharpie markers as you slip into a transient state, eating every meal with the same bowl and spoon from some unclaimed chair in the middle of an empty room, staring blankly at a rotating fan. Your home becomes an exotic shell of its former memory-filled self, the way a corpse cannot substitute for the person who once gave it life. By the time you leave one place your brain has already half settled into the next, if only to protect it from the emotional vacuum that has filled the space you have emptied. When you lock up that final time you are not thinking of your fondest memories. You are thinking: did I remember to take the shower curtain?

Of course, if I wasn't sentimental I wouldn't be writing this. But the sentimentality of moving hides in the minuscule details rather than the panoramic view of life's scattered finales. I found it while cleaning off the kitchen windowsill when I stumbled upon a ceramic eyeball that had once been attached to a novelty Halloween mug that belonged to my sister. The mug was in the shape of a head (vampire? monster?) whose eyeballs jutted out from its face on metal springs, the kind of impractical mug someone like my little sister would adore. One of the eyeballs popped off one day and we saved it with the intention of reanimation, but instead it ended up on the dusty windowsill in between an unidentifiable refrigerator part and a sun-bleached zine titled "How To Do The Dishes." When I rediscovered it I held it in my purple rubber glove remembering the mug and the loss of the eyeball; the year my sister lived with us and how she tried to persuade the reluctant cats into sleeping in her bed every night; the way we save broken objects with the intent of repairing them—a refrigerator magnet from Italy, a ring from high school with stars and moons engraved into its surface; the reality that these objects can never return us to the past they represent; that life disappears behind us like the interior of a room disappearing behind a closing door as we stand outside, staring into the fissure until we hear the sound of a bolt being latched.

When you hold these objects in your hands you are tricked into feeling connected. After Carol's weepy goodbye the Seavers close the door on their Long Island home (and their series), but Maggie rushes back into the empty house having forgotten a family portrait on the mantle. She picks it up and discovers a message scratched into the brick: MIKE SEAVER WAS HERE. She runs her fingers over the words searching for the moment in which they were engraved and hugs the framed photograph to her abdomen, savoring the bittersweet confluence of past and present before running out into an unknown future beyond the predictability of her staged living room. The camera pulls back. The score swells into a heartwrenching twist on the original theme. We are left with our nostalgia and a wide shot of a hollow living room, afternoon sun spilling onto the polished hardwoods.

If I were a Seaver I might have pocketed that eyeball, but it ended up in the trash along with a place card from a friend's wedding and a pair of worn out orange Nikes with no shoelaces and dozens of other peepholes into the irretrievable history of my life. There was a time when I was more of a Seaver, when I would have said goodbye out loud to a house that only settled in response, but that era has passed. When I exit my house for the last time I will stand in the doorway for a second, scanning the interior for overlooked scuffs, and I will think of the Seavers and of my nostalgia for a time when I was more sentimental. And then I will lock the door behind me.