Moodswing - Hooked fish

Wallowing in the delicious anguish of attachments

I'm curled up under my desk again; snarly-haired, gibbering, swatting at imaginary insects. I don't even know what's wrong. Maybe it's about my other job, for which I wear a uniform. I wear a uniform and a nametag and an apron.

Sometimes I'm self-conscious about that. Sometimes I wonder if I'll always be an apron-wearing, nametag-sporting bovine with hands all rough from lugging stuff. And then to make it worse, I'll get out my mental crystal ball and see myself at 60, upper arms flapping like two turkey wattles, a bag of bacon fat for a face, and the nametag still there, the apron still there, setting quite a nice example for my daughter.

Jesus God, just ignore me. I'll get over it. I'm operating at optimum stress capacity is all. Chris and I just put a house under contract, with an elephantine mortgage, and we're both petrified, but we've got Mae to think about. I didn't go through this when I bought the house we presently occupy, because I paid maybe $20 for this place. I remember thinking I could afford the mortgage even if I became confined to a wheelchair with a body like a ball of melted wax, working the controls with my tongue. What do I have to lose? I thought, and signed the papers.

Right beforehand, I remember I'd gone to the New Orleans Jazz Festival, where I had occasion to dance on stage in my underwear and hang out for a time with two young heroin addicts, Ryan and Billy, who were on the faltering road to recovery. Ryan had been my waiter one morning and then greeted me later that day on the street, walking his bicycle beside me.

"You're alone again," he said. "We'll fix that."

Soon we arrived at the place of his friend Billy, who had tattooed eyelids and was in the process of getting thrown out of his apartment. As we waited outside for Billy to gather his things, Ryan showed me the track marks on his arms, which were faint because it had been nine months since he'd shot up. "What drugs do you do?" he asked.

"None," I replied.

"Lucky you," he said, and meant it.

Billy emerged and was very gracious. "I'm sorry you have to see me like this," he said, "but it's very nice to meet you." Everything he owned fit on the seat of his bike, which he walked beside Ryan and me. Billy had just been evicted at gunpoint because his roommate caught him with drugs in the apartment. "Did you do the drugs?" Ryan asked him.

"No, I was just thinking about doing them!" answered Billy, grief in his voice. "He doesn't know what it's like," he said of his former roommate.

"I'm a hooked fish, he's not a hooked fish. He has no idea what it's like!"

"I know what it's like," Ryan comforted his friend. Ryan could relate, he knew what it felt like to have one thing — in their case this drug — be the source of both boundless rapture and unendurable pain. He knew the delicious anguish it was to be the slave of such a thing. "I'm a hooked fish, too."

"Hooked fish," Billy repeated softly, shaking his head. "Is she a hooked fish?" he asked, indicating me.

"She's a free fish," Ryan said. Then we reached their destination, a tiny bar that was packed with revelers in the early afternoon. Ryan and Billy went inside, but after hearty goodbyes, I decided to continue on alone. Free fish, I thought as I walked along. Free fish, that be me.

Right. That was not even three years ago — a basic eyeblink ago. Now here I am under my desk with colorless lips and ragged fingertips, no longer the person with nothing to lose, no longer the loser of nothing. I can hear Mae in the next room, making toddler noises. "I'm a tiger," she trills. "I'm a lion. I'm a kitty cat."

I perk up. She's naming all the members of the feline species, isn't she? She's not even 2, my Mae. Is she a genius or what? I emerge from my dark place right then to find her growling at me sweetly with her fingers curled like little paws. As always, the sight of her sends me awash in a roiling ocean of adoration. To think I almost missed out on motherhood because I had nothing to lose and liked it that way. But now everything, everything, teeters on the tiniest strand of hair on Mae's head — her precious, unbearably vulnerable little strawberry-scented head.

God! This is agonizing! I almost want to crawl back under my desk, but instead I kneel down to embrace my girl, who thankfully tolerates it for a good while. Still, long after she wrestles free, I remain there bowed before her, a hooked fish.??