Mentee: Angelica Rozza
Mentor: Joanna Laufer
This piece is a short excerpt from a novel I am writing, titled Ernest Rising. It has been changed slightly, but still narrated by the main character, Ernest.
The Silent Room
For eight months and twenty-two days, I haven’t left my house. I have a full supply of facemasks, disinfectant sprays, hand sanitizers, and latex gloves. I use specific dinnerware, which only I can eat off of. My food is not allowed to touch. I wipe down every chair before I sit. I don’t touch knobs on cabinets or doors. I never drink tap water. I don’t order take-out because I must know the person preparing my food. I avoid elevators and elevator buttons. I only take showers, not baths, because I refuse to bathe in my own filth. I hate germs, but I hate being a germaphobe more.
My mother does the cooking, the laundry, and the shopping. I dust, mop, and sweep — wipe, and wash everyday until the whole house is immaculate. Cleaning the house is like cleaning my mind. I fight off the depths of my imagination before the germs have the chance to crawl up my skin and seep into my pores. If what’s around me is clean, the inside of me feels clean too.
My mother says the way I am is fine, but she’s lying. To me and to herself. I want to make her happy, just like other kids make their mothers happy, like buying flowers and making cards. I want to prove to her that she means something and that she doesn’t have to pretend that her compulsive son is all she needs to smile. I want her to come to terms with her son who is stuck at the edge of insane, searching for a way to be average again. I may have a facemask over my mouth but she has one over her eyes. We are both blind and mute to who we have actually become. We fear what one another might be thinking so we shut down and accept it like this is how life will always be. My apology to her, and my gratitude, is trapped somewhere between guilt and regret. Her realization is lost between denial and unconditional love.
Ever since my father left, my mother changed. She watched him leave and didn’t do a thing to stop him. She rearranged her room and buried herself in work. She quit her book club since all its members were married women who didn’t understand the single mother scene, and started reading on her own. Friday nights used to be her date night but now she’d rather spend it with me watching the movies she loves and I hate.
Two weeks after my father left, I was still going to school, playing basketball, taking the subway, staying out late, and eating every meal at my favorite fast food joint. But something was happening within me that I couldn’t explain. At the mall with my friends, I started walking up the escalator only two steps at a time. When we ordered ice cream at the parlor, I would only lick the scoop counterclockwise and never bite the cone. My friends never noticed my habits until I became so involved in avoiding every sidewalk crack I would leave them blocks behind me without even turning to notice.
I used to think that the world was safe enough for me to always breathe easy. But with every new habit that I developed so quickly, the life I led before stopped making sense. I associated myself with people who would never understand why I have to wash my hands thirty-three times a day. I erased all the germs I could from my life. I erased until I was virtually alone, making sure everything stayed as perfect as I needed to feel safe, just minus the ridicule.
Sometimes I want to ask my mother if my behavior doesn’t honestly strike her as odd. I think she forgets sometimes that I’m not the son she knew for the past sixteen years. I’m just the shell of him. My mother has done a wonderful job of painting a façade of a normal life, filled with light tints of love and dark shades of lies. However, I can’t find the words or the way to begin my transition back to normalcy. I just want my mother to finally look me in the eye and say that she’s done seeing me live like this and help is on the way. Even though I didn’t ask to be rescued.
Sometimes, after I go to bed, my mom sits on the couch, watching television. She has the television almost on mute so she won’t disturb my sleep. I always want to tell her I don’t mind if she has the television on, but I know it makes her feel better to try to keep me content.
As I lay in bed, I picture her sitting on the couch in our living room with her forlorn face, and her disconnected eyes watching some sad romance movie on the television. I imagine myself bringing her whatever she wants from the kitchen. With my bare hands, I carry a tray for her. It doesn’t matter who touched anything on it. The whole room is silent apart from the sad movie and her crying. But I can’t hear her. I can’’t hear her cry. The cry is on the inside — the inside of my head and the inside of her heart.