A clean slate 

Sorting through clutter, both real and imagined

I'm not happy that Grant wants to hang my child. His inspiration comes from his new loft apartment, which is empty -- like a clean slate -- and sometimes he says he wants to keep it that way. But other times he says he wants to host occasional art installations, and that's where the ideas come in. "We should take a bunch of babies Mae's age," he says excitedly, indicating my 8-month-old daughter, who is sitting quietly on his spotless and otherwise unoccupied kitchen counter, "and just hang them on hooks. It would be fabulous!"

He sweeps through the vast living room, his face alight with enthusiasm, his sandals shuffling on the polished concrete floor. "There could just be babies all over the walls!" his voice rises and echoes off the cement. "Babies hanging like hams! I love it!" Then he approaches Mae, who, for reasons as mysterious as my own, is madly in love with him, and yanks her up by the straps on the back of her overalls. "We could hang her like this, with a sign underneath that says, 'Mae Beth by Hollis Gillespie.' Are you not loving this idea?"

Yes, I am not loving this idea. I am, instead, diving across the room to rescue Mae from his clutches. "If you ever, ever hang my baby from a hook I will personally rip your brain right out the back of your skull." But Grant is unfazed and continues to soak in inspiration from his empty loft. Thank God he is off the hanging-baby brainstorm and is back to entertaining minimalism. "Nothing!" he spouts breathlessly. "Can't you just see it? Bare walls, nominal possessions. A clean slate! I'm loving this idea."

Who wouldn't? A clean slate is the ultimate possession. My own slate is more like Lary's place. Lary lives in a different warehouse than Grant altogether, with tools and torches strewn about. When I was pregnant he used to joke that my baby would be banned, as if his home were some kind of clubhouse where only emotional infants were allowed. "Like I would ever bring a baby here!" I'd yell back. "You can't walk five feet in this place without having your head impaled on a big rusty nail." But since then I've found that, ironically, I enjoy it there more than ever. I hang out while he's out of town, feed his cat and eat his pistachios. It's almost peaceful, sitting there amid another man's junk. Mae hangs out as well, but safely strapped in her carrier, of course, with mosquito netting draped over it. No way am I gonna let her crawl playfully through Lary's House of Sharp Edges and Open Flame. I mean I have to protect her, right? From his junk as well as my own.

And that's the real hazard; my own junk. I've been trying to avoid it lately, pushing it into places like the carriage house garage, and not even stacking it neatly. There's my broken treadmill, two plastic trees, old area rugs, a large plywood sign Grant, Daniel and I pilfered from the roadside that blares "Get Right With God" in letters as big as beer mugs, a wind-up plastic penis with clown feet that hops. These are just a few items in a galaxy of crap, a precariously teetering danger zone that basically mirrors my own brain, which is painfully cluttered with memories of my past perceived atrocities.

Atrocities like the time I allowed my classmates to taunt my little sister, who was fat. That memory murders me. I should have protected her. I should have been a better person. Instead I am who I am, a sorrowful refugee on hiatus from my own ignorance, wondering what I did to deserve my daughter. Sometimes I anguish over the groundless notion that there's some kind of karmic roll-over policy, and that Mae will be made to suffer for my past apathies. "I'm sorry," I say into the emptiness.

And sometimes, just to rescue myself, I'll rewrite the memories. Because if there's ever a moment I wish with every atom of my being to take back, it is the moment my little sister looked at me to save her and saw that I wouldn't. How her eyes rounded with the realization that she was utterly alone, and how she held back her tears by pretending to pluck pills off her second-hand sweater. So in my mind I go to my little sister, who is trying not to nervously pick at her sweater, trying instead to fold her hands with heartbreaking dignity atop the cafeteria table, and I take one of her hands and bring it to my cheek. In my mind I see her eyes smile with relief, and I think for a second that maybe a clean slate is possible after all.


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