13 Brief Anecdotes
Concerning a Mushroom
by Alyssa Hirano Crow
Last week Marie Kondo came into Wendy’s dorm. She invited Kondo-san in as another part of her hoard, but the small, shiny book was something else. It wasn’t weighted but felt like one of those light and airy self-help books her white roommates would read in their dorms. The girls would sit around together in their bras and underwear reading books on boys, makeup, and self-care. Wendy never felt she belonged with her darker skin and rolls. Girls with rolls never wandered around in bra and panties, that was saved for the skinny white girls.
When she gets really uncomfortable, her friends tell her she looks really Japanese. Her mannerisms change and she becomes a beacon for ‘other.’ Wendy is mixed, so she never feels accepted by her white classmates nor accepted by her ‘full’ Asian friends. At home she’s comfortable. With her cousins, she’s comfortable. But when Wendy is trying a new food, or perplexed, or really struggling with a test question, her home Japanese self comes out. Wendy works on campus and she takes office supplies home after each shift. Some days she brings home a pack of cold, steel staples for the occasional emergency of stapling last minute term papers together. Other times she pockets binder clips. She sets them on her desk in a pile. In several piles actually. All over her dorm. Sometimes in the bunk below her. Her roommates ask her for office supplies. They never buy them from the student store, Wendy always takes them home.
Wendy never understood her mother. The ways in which she would throw everything away. She would keep plastic bags from the grocery stores, keep empty containers of margarin and cheese and any other assortment of packaged goods, but would always throw away items Wendy felt were important. Her baby teeth. The medal she won in 9th grade for the science fair project. Every year her mother would replace their furniture with something new. And every two years the house would be replaced. They would pack up most of their belongings and move to a new neighborhood. When Wendy started making her own money in college she would bring bags and bags of clothes, knick knacks, and brick-a-bracks to her home. She would sneak them in the reusable bags her mother kept above the refrigerator and stash them in her old closet. They never saw the light of day.
Wendy couldn’t keep her meals down. She preferred to drink smoothies instead of chewing actual food. This time she ran out of ingredients and at a very reasonable hour walked to the cafeteria to eat. Rush hour. She wasn’t prepared for the hoard of students surrounding her nor the assault to her senses of their noise and bustle and clatter. The clinking of the dishes kept ringing in her ears and she gripped the plastic tray. She hated trays. Hated cafeterias and the way the machine-perfect plastic tray slid down the metal railing just dragging her food along. Like a child. She was 13 again not knowing if she would have anyone to eat with once she stepped foot outside. Not knowing if her friends still wanted her around. She had lost a few of them when she went to their houses after school and she stole small trinkets from their homes. A memento for when they would forget about her and move on. She still has a few of them stashed away in her closet, hiding in the dark.
One night after college she woke up with her eyes closed. There were two images. One of the darkness around her, her conscious eyes see the back of her eyelids, the lights streaming in through her window from the street. The other image was hazy space of her old room she rented out from a decrepit Victorian mansion. The two images converged and seperated and her mind struggled with what to do with them. Her conscious body was tingly, her mind screaming and sending signals to move, wake up, get away. Her unconscious body was floating in the room, staring at the soft browns and hazy light as the cars in her conscious world flew past her window. Their lights flashed on opened unopened eyes. Her body finally bolted online. She looked around her room and saw the boxes and boxes she still hadn’t unpacked. Too scared to fall back asleep, Wendy began to sort her belongings, Kondo-san watching her from the floor.
Wendy woke up to a swarm of stuffed animals, blankets, and half-folded laundry surrounding her in her sleep. She had built a nest to snuggle into and her feet kept constantly getting tangled in some shirts and pantyhose. She dreamed she was a mushroom planted in the earth, her feet sprouting roots.
Wendy never thought she would own more books on how to declutter and clean-up-her-mess and how to organize-her-life than she actually had things to organize. She threw a new thing away every night. She looked through the corners of her rooms and the hidden drawers and free samples on samples and tossed one thing away every night before washing her face and performing her skincare routine (which she had also cut down immensely). She went from a 10 step routine to a basic 3 and her skin suffered for it (being extra sensitive her entire life); she ignored the pimples growing on her face. They clustered between her eyebrows, on the sides of her cheeks, and in the corners of her nose. She left them and they grew and multiplied. She threw more things away in her home, read her declutter books nightly, a passage a day, a daily quote, inspiration for living her life. Her possessions minimized and her pimples increased.
Wendy discarded her possessions into the yard. She beamed when her old college roommates came over and complimented her on her minimalist lifestyle, but wondered why she always wore turtlenecks. They didn’t like her fashion choices. She wore the turtleneck to keep the heat on her body. Since her purging began she included food in her daily throwaways. When her friends left she crawled into the dark space behind her closet and watched old movies, sweating in her makeshift sauna. A few times she almost got heat stroke and had to leave. The mushrooms spread rapidly over her body. She collected them. She delicately plucked them from her flesh and put them in jars, labeling each one with the label machine she justified buying and keeping to herself.
Wendy’s sister, Julie, found her at the bottom of the stairs one morning. Wendy hadn’t returned any phone calls or texts or memes or emails or snaps or watched any stories. Julie got worried and took the car over to check on her sister in her first apartment by herself. The never-used pristine key they had made from Home Depot with it’s silly car design was pushed into the deadbolt. Julie rushed towards her sister’s body forgetting to take her shoes off. Wendy was at the bottom of the stairs, unmoving. She was surrounded by blankets and old food wrappers and flies had started to float over her body. She was sticky and covered in a white mold-like substance. Julie didn’t know what to do so she called her brother. He called his cousin who called her friend who called an uncle who was an EMT and he came to Wendy’s house.
Wendy woke up, alone, in a hospital bed. She was scratchy and tucked in. Nothing was tangled, everything was clean and bright and fresh and crisp, and her things were nowhere to be found. She slowly moved her hand up to her neck and felt scabs where her mushroom friends had once been. She fell back asleep. A few hours later, what she assumed based on the sun rising, she woke up again. Her sister was in the waiting chair. She asked Julie to get some things from the house for her. Julie said they had thrown everything away. Everything. Wendy asked Julie to leave. Wendy balled up a stray sheet and held it in her arms, pushed a few pillows around her, tangled her feet in the sheets, and fell asleep.
Wendy wasn’t allowed to go back home. Wendy cost her sister and her brother and her auntie and her cousin thousands of dollars in damages to her apartment. Wendy had to live with her sister. Wendy saw Julie and her brother Donald play janken until Julie finally lost. Wendy had no things, no mushrooms, no clothes. Julie threw everything away. Julie took her to the hospital. Julie takes care of her. Julie is responsible. Wendy is weak.
Wendy’s friends grow back. Wendy picks her mushrooms more frequently. Wendy picks her scabs fresh, every day. Wendy keeps the wounds open so the spores can grow. Inside Julie’s house, Wendy keeps her jars of friends hidden underneath a floorboard she pried open with a crowbar she found in the garage Julie’s husband bought but never used. Her bedroom had carpet, but her tiny closet was hardwood. She took the crowbar when her sister and brother-in-law were at work and placed her friends inside. Each day she checked on them and added more. Her collection grew. Wendy saw them covering the whole floor of the house. Wendy wasn’t allowed things. Wendy wasn’t allowed to eat alone. Wendy grew mushrooms from her body.
Alyssa Hirano Crow is a Los Angeles based poet and writer. She is obsessed with obsession and her work explores the politics and intersection of belonging and erasure.