The cheese is a week old and wrapped in aluminum foil.
The angles of my new apartment are still so unfamiliar that my mind has failed to render them solidly—it’s as if each time I open my eyes I’ve been recast in a slightly different space than before, give or take a few square inches, a few bricks, a few decorative wood beams. (“These are . . . completely hollow,” B noted a few days ago, jumping up to slap them and then shrugging to me as he does, a few blistered ceiling chips falling blankly at his feet.)
Each motion in a new place tends to feel like a video game tutorial. I wield my new cheese knife. I approach my new kitchen island to cut through the decidedly gray gouda rind. I pause. I wait for direction. If offered autonomous thought I begin to consider the performance of single-use kitchen items, and of kitchens in general, so when I truly stop (wait a minute!) to take in the adorably cumbersome cat-shaped measuring cups and oddly contoured wine goblets, I realize that these products really seek a worth independent of food—which, for many weeks at a time, will be mainly canned tomato-based leftovers and Frito-Lay products—and I am left feeling oh so inferior in the face of my dirty, dirty HGTV kink and whatever trifling, acne-prone god must be calculating my daily actions.
The cheese now sits piece-wise and perspiring on the chipped ceramic plate (Goodwill, a dollar). I’m exhausted. A blister wells beneath my second toe. Yoga, maybe? Or bad shoes. The former seems like a mark of physical progress. The sting is now there but greater. It’s all exacerbated by self-importance. I’ve figured out tonight’s arrangement. Ritz cracker, gouda chunk, some honey pooled on top. Reminiscent of Lunchables, the little cracker-and-ham boxes my weary father fed us when he was mandated by the court to do so. Perhaps this moment is a more holistic form of EMDR, except with oral stimulation. Perhaps I am not fit for psychotherapy.
Earlier, Mickie, my therapist, watched me drink coffee in my new, new living room. She likes the exposed brick. She, too, is a screen now, which is a boring comment to make. I told her in excruciating language about the Song and the Windows and all the other images that come with (I think) love. She rolled her eyes and said to tell B how I feel already. I said You’re Right and then paid her one hundred dollars for her time, only to live out my remarkably clandestine trajectory, the one where I do not follow her advice.
Yes, I know, all of that is pitiful.
I admit to nobody in particular that, yes, I’ve been sexting the British marine biologist. I write it down for confession’s sake, which is weirdly and residually Catholic. He’s forty-two. From the beach, in Ghana, two years back. I pretended to smoke the cigarette he lit for me. I was twenty, effectively seduced yet pathologically committed to the college boyfriend who, very recently, had dumped me in a public park.
Now, the marine biologist floats onto my screen, dependably, while I tenderly position a bit of honeyed, possibly moldy gouda onto my tongue as if it’s something holy.
Naughty, naughty (cat emoji). Got anything to show me?
The plate of cheese is now balanced below my tits. A drop of honey on my wrist (in a sort of graceless, ugly way). It’s two-thirty in the morning, his time, and I hate this bloated feeling.
The cheese, maybe. The gross burden of embodiment.
Jesus. Jesus. This again.
grace (ge) gilbert is a poet, essayist, and collage worker based in Pittsburgh. They received their MFA in poetry from the University of Pittsburgh in 2022, where they now teach full time. They are the author of three chapbooks: The Closeted Diaries: Essays (Porkbelly Press, 2022), Notifications in the Dark (Antenna Books, 2023), and Today Is an Unholy Suite (Barrelhouse, forthcoming 2023). Their work can be found in 2023’s Best of the Net Anthology, the Indiana Review, Ninth Letter, the Adroit Journal, and elsewhere. They teach hybrid collage and poetics courses at the Minnesota Center for Book Arts, and they are a 2023 Visiting Teaching Artist at the Poetry Foundation. Read more at gracegegilbert.com.
This essay originally appeared in Had (March 2021).