I am the crazed lady, barefoot and blistered. The annoying pebbles and gritty gravel burrow deep inside the open crevices and souls of my naked feet. I own nothing. I wear tattered, ripped dirty dollar store hand-me-down jeans and some tossed aside beige stained football hoodie. I recall some arguing and cussing, “that’s a football jersey you disgusting, smelly old bitty, not basketball.”
Maybe? Yes, I think so. I think that might be right. I can’t be certain, my memories are a jumbled jigsaw and I flip-flop reality for fantasy. It doesn’t matter. I won’t remember the next thought, word, or sentence. The pencil is a nub and the notepad stuffed in my back pocket is filled with jibber jabber to make sense out of the nonsensical. When I read the words back I get upset and cry sometimes, for the poor person who scribbled on paper napkins and tablecloth scraps? I forget she’s the same as me.
My body is brittle bones, aching sticks and open skin sores. It hurts ya’ know, the ulcers. They bleed, crust, re-open and burn straight through the nerves from the inside. Too many to treat, and so many I’ve lost count. What does it matter? The white noise and chitter chatter patter in my head is so loud it screams obscenities, too insidious to remain inside. The fuck yous, bastards, asshole profanities I scream in tongue at the sky must come out. The footprints and crisscross boot tracks are maps I leave in the dirt. I must move, keep moving down the road, stick to the dirt paths and babbling brooks far and away from the highway, cities, honking cars and taunting cattle calls. I remember that was a very, very bad treacherous path to be cold, mad and alone. No matter how many dead grey squirrel blood guts I pass by, splayed onto the pavement I am the same road kill.
Raped, teased and beaten by the lure of a hot cup of coffee and grilled cheese. I believe the nasty vile boys in the blasé, stereotypical beat-up Chevy.
“Hey stranger, there’s a diner just up the road with nifty quarter jukeboxes and vanilla malted fountain milkshakes in massive stainless steel containers, red leather seats and grilled cheese. It’s your favorite, right? You must be hungry.”
Wait. Hold up. My favorite? How did they? I didn’t say. Did I?
Liar, stupid short term memory. Maybe it was whiskey and burgers, or pizza and beer. I can’t be sure. It’s all the same empty promises. They pissed on me tearing off my already hanging shredded clothes, tossing me by the side of the road, hungry, numb and cold. Always starved and bone-cold even in ninety-degree stick smelly heat. I remember gurgling sounds from my belly, wet mud stuck to my face, vomit in the back of my throat and blood dripping down my legs.
Days? Was it days? How many hours, days, or weeks did I lie paralyzed in a ditch? I can’t say. I wasn’t right in the head. Right? You remember. Lunatic, nutter, stupid, crazy, moron, insane, crapper, bitch, whore, psycho. You name it, I heard it. The unoriginal, unimpressive, classless boring bougie bullshit labels.
I keep moving. I’ll be safe if I don’t stop, don’t stay in any one place too long. Oh yeah, the sweatshirt? It said Cowboys, but the ‘boys’ had long faded and that’s why the mean people called me cow sometimes. That wasn’t very nice, not very nice at all. It didn’t matter much. I’d forgotten my own name a long, long, time ago. I had a real nice family once, a neat home with walls and doors, TVs, computers, modern conveniences and all the latest fanceries. A nice, white-picket proper home and fine family. They were kind and liked my company even though I wasn’t like them. They didn’t mind, and they never poked fun. I had a pretty, cool mommy who made grilled cheese sandwiches and a funny, gentle daddy who took me for fountain-style Vanilla Malt Milkshakes, the soupy and solid frothy kind with whipped cream swirls thick enough to hold a cherry on top. The stainless-steel shaker tastes like cool and smooth like velvety dreams going down and my belly giggles satisfied. That was a surefire, spitfire edge of your seat jump up and down happy and sorely missed all but forgotten memory. It gets buried beneath the layers and layers of bad stuff, the cracks and fissures. I smell like shit, not vanilla. Maybe I shit my pants, and pissed them too? Maybe? Could be. It’s hard to practice good hygiene on the road, homeless, crazy and alone.
Sometimes I sneak into a Hess or Dairy Queen real late at night to wash up at the bathroom sink. I do the best I can. The water’s always too cold, makes my rotted teeth chatter. Bidet, in French, I don’t know how I know that. Maybe I read it and wrote it down in my notebook. It’s funny, the mirrors in the bathrooms are always cloudy or broken, the bulb’s busted, it’s dark and you can never get a good look.
Which is a huge relief because that lady, the old one with the straggly, greasy, wispy white hair, bug eyes, dull skin full of craters and wrinkles as deep as the ocean, is terrifying.
It can’t be. It can’t. It just can’t.
Can it be?
That’s plain nonsense, silly fodder. I don’t know her. She’s frightening, old, and alone.
Is she real or something else? It’s a mystery even I can’t recall. Crazy is crazy there are no sliding scales in my pretend world. It’s make believe, and my shopping cart queen has always been with me. Walking parallel beside and sometimes taking the lead, others, disappearing from view for long lapses ducking into some Laundromat to wash the stink out. She’s been me as far back as I care to remember, way before the cracks and breaks, way before fault lines and sinkholes.
Shopping Cart Queen is the figment of my imagination and persona non grata reoccurring bad dream I do not wish to be. She is the fate I fear most, the scenario that terrifies and scares the breath out of me.
To be the forgotten nuisance who was once loved and cherished but long discarded less than an afterthought. Alone with lunacy, shopping cart queen and me kicked to the curb with the recycled trash left out on a Sunday evening. Come Monday morning the receptor bin is emptied and the contents go missing for good.
Who has time for some annoying, illogical trivial person and trashy inconvenient matters of the mind?
This parable is not lost on the discarded, ill-forgotten, unlucky souls. I scribble fast before memory no longer serves and I am swallowed whole.
I hope if tomorrow comes and I’m still here I remember something different, something delicious, and vanilla scented. Won’t matter much since the days and days and days are disappearing quickly and speeding up.
Pretty soon, I won’t have to run at all.
Pretty soon, I’ll be in some trash bin next to a beloved, rusted, beat-up shopping cart with busted wheels.
Pretty soon, and soon enough I’ll be nothing but nuts and bolts, tongue and groove.
If you meet someone along the highway who speaks a different language, in a foreign tongue that scares you please be kind, and just listen. That might be me, or someone very much like me. No one is immune to shopping cart queen parodies, and misery does not pick or choose easily.
Because this life is the only one we’ve got.