Maintaining a tenuous grasp on telephone lines and relatives

Lary says I need drugs. He says I'm way too upset about my phone connection -- or my lack of a phone connection -- to deal with the situation lucidly, so a few tabs of acid are in order. "You should try it," he says, sounding like a bad actor with a bit part in The Cross and the Switchblade. "It makes you feel good."

"What're you, my pusher?" I have to yell. Lary's been trying to foist acid on me a lot lately. He even stashes it in weird places all over his house because he knows I hang out there when he's gone, and I bet he's hoping I'll ingest it accidentally or something. One time he came back after a trip to Cancun, made a beeline for the kitchen and accused me of stealing some acid buttons he had hoarded in his freezer. "They were right here," he kept saying, staring at the icy abyss, "wrapped in tin foil and plastic. Are you sure you didn't eat them? Because if you ate them I don't care."

Me? Eat acid? Even back when I did drugs I didn't eat acid. When I was in grade school I was forced to attend a drug-awareness forum in which all these former LSD and heroin addicts recounted horror stories about how drugs dragged them through the sewage pipe of life, and I didn't want to end up like them, living in sleazy tenements littered with needles and unwashed underwear and having friends on bad trips turn blue and puke out their entire tongues into my lap. So, no, I didn't take his acid. Not then and not now.

"C'mon," Lary still implores. "It'll make you feel connected."

I doubt drugs will help with my connection. BellSouth says my phone line is working perfectly, but if that were true I wouldn't be spending 40 cents a minute like your average cell phone bovine, in line at the drug store and such, begging the phone company to fix what's making my land line act like a radio receiver for the construction crane across the street. When I pick it up, all I hear is "BEEP. BEEP. BEEP." In spite of this, customer service still says my connection is fine.

Believe me, it's not. And this is the holidays. People might try to reach me, like relatives and stuff. My husband likes to point out that I have no relatives, and that's why I keep old pictures of total strangers on our mantle, to fake friends and visitors into thinking I have a history. His words give me pause, because I never thought of it that way, that those old photographs might be surrogates for my missing relatives. I just thought they were really pretty, all those sepia-printed portraits of other people's ancestors. There are three wedding pictures of various women festooned with white lace and brooches, a girl of Raphaelite beauty holding a bouquet and, my favorite, an old lady with a baby on her knee.

So maybe it's true that I like having these pictures because I have no evidence of my own ancestry. Solitude has its perks, but sometimes I wish I had a real extended family rather than my own mother's gaggle of asshole siblings and their spawn. She'd estranged herself from them by the time I was 9, but I'd briefly reconnected with a few at her funeral, where they'd eyed my sisters and I with misgiving, as if afraid our new orphan status would require them to act as real family members or something.

So rather than remaining connected with them, I collected old pictures I found at flea markets and thrift stores instead. The genuine articles from my own family had long been abandoned, and now they just clutter the empty corridors of memory. So I replaced those photos with these. I like to look at the one of the old lady with a baby on her knee -- she must be dead for decades now -- and try to see into her sunken sockets. I try to envision how she must have sat down that morning to twist her hair into a Bavarian bun at the nape of her neck before tying a gingham apron around her waist. I wonder what she would have thought if she knew that a century later the picture would end up in the hands of an unconnected person, posing as an imposter relic from someone else's past. Might she have been happier to remain unfound?

If I were her, I would want to be found, I realize. So I look at her now, with her toothless grin and her proud grip on her grandson, and if I gaze long enough I can see that, yes, there is a definite possibility there. There is a possibility that the person who abandoned this photograph regrets having done so. That person could be related to me. That person could have been me. I look closer and suddenly feel a connection. Yes, I realize, she is mine. I finally found her, and I will never throw her away again.


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