I don't remember exactly how old I am in this memory. I think I'm somewhere between 8 and 10, but I can't really pinpoint it in my mind. I know we had remodeled our kitchen that year or the year before, so everything is pretty new, but earlier that year I tried to make instant tapioca in the microwave and had burnt a hole in our new glass stovetop, which left it with a permanent dip, the shape of a Tostitos Scoop between the back two burners, but closer to the left one. Tostitos Scoops didn't exist back then. I remember my mom was furious at me and my dad was mad too but he said it was okay because I started crying. I told him I was trying to make the tapioca for him because I knew it was his favorite dessert. It went horrible—the tapioca was too hot and I didn't wipe it up fast enough and it burnt that hole. A few weeks later my dad said that whenever he saw it, he thought about how I tried to make him his favorite dessert and that made him happy. Whenever I'd stare at the dip I'd think about tapioca and about how good I felt making the tapioca and doing something nice for someone and how bad I felt when it went wrong and how good I felt when my dad said that to me.
The kitchen is in between the living room and the family room and my room that I share with my sister is behind it. I imagine the stairs are to my left, even though those weren't there when this happened. Someone is in the family room—I think it's my mom.
I sit on the cold tan tile and I stare at the two clocks, one on stove with the tapioca burn and the other on the microwave above. I sit there and I stare. I'm still wearing my purple Leo that's velvet on the top and shimmery spandex on the bottom and I've got tan trunks on underneath and bike shorts over. I remember myself wearing my Raisin Fest t-shirt that was really simple on the front and just said "Raisin Fest" on the left side, but then had a really huge, colorful cartoon depiction of a dancing raisin on the back, but I know that's not possible because I hadn't done that meet yet. I think I only imagine myself wearing it because that was my favorite shirt for a while.
I remember that I was in a good mood because I got to finish on beam that day and beam is my favorite. I remember that I had a special pink and yellow water bottle that I was convinced tasted like chocolate milk if I refilled it at the tall water fountain at my gym and I filled it up before I left even though my mom wanted to leave, and it was sitting to my right.
I sit on the cold tan tile and I stare at the two clocks, one on stove with the tapioca burn and the other on the microwave above. I sit there and I stare. I stare and I watch as clock on the stove changes first and then a few seconds later the clock on the microwave meets it. The colon in between each blinks at different times and I fall into a pattern, a rhythm, and I start counting.
I don't know what it is, but it feels good. It's comforting. I sit there. I stare. I count. It feels good. It feels good until it doesn't. It feels good until it doesn't and then it feels like I can't stop. Like I'm trapped. I know that I have to stop, but I don't know how and it feels like everything I liked about it will go away if I stop and it feels uneven if I stop.
This pattern follows me around. For years, I’ve felt it in the things around me, in the score of a television show, in the sway of a crowded train going too fast, in the blinking of a light in the distance. When I get anxious I tap on my clavicle 112112112112112112112 and I tap until I bruise the bone and it turns a mixture of my favorite shades of green and purple with speckled bits of blue. My doctor tells me I should stop.
I can’t remember how I stopped that night in the kitchen. I remember feeling between—calm and anxious, still and moving, present but not. I think it began my two biggest toes on my right foot. I tell them to move and they don’t. My body feels separate from my mind. I tell them to move and they don’t. They don’t move until they do and then my body is awake, alert. Time has skipped from 9:21 and 9:22 to 11:43 and 11:43. I don’t remember sitting there that long and that makes me uncomfortable, but also feels strangely good. I wonder how it could be that no one walked through the kitchen, how no one noticed me sitting there. I don’t know what to do, so I get up and I walk over to the oven and I look at the dip from the tapioca burn and I feel good and bad and confused. I walk to my room and go to sleep.
About the author...
Jennifer Kiehl is a Chicago-based, Japanese-American writer and performer from California. She is the co-founder, editor, and co-host of Scout & Birdie. Jennifer is a graduate of Columbia College Chicago where she received a BA in Acting. When not writing or performing, she spends her time giving cookies to dogs, eating baguettes, and hanging out with her plant, Plant. Keep up with her on Instagram @jenniferkiehl.
Want to read more of Jen's work?
Check out her piece, Miniatures, from our First Impressions issue!