For your summer reading pleasure, BURNAWAY brings you Just Like Suicide, a novel by artist Mery Lynn McCorkle, set in the Los Angeles art world. She writes from experience, having lived for years in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, when it still was the art frontier, and then LA; she now resides in Rome, Georgia. She describes the book as “a compendium of interlocking tales cataloguing self demolition and success in the Los Angeles art scene, from the point of view of artists, dealers and family members.”
We’ll post sequential chapters from McCorkle’s book every Wednesday and Friday over the summer. Or click here to buy the book now.
Teresa sat on a stuffed trash can surveying the boxes which filled over half of her studio. Stacked as high as she could lift, the boxes contained her mother’s worldly possessions. It was strange to think that her mother’s life boiled down to twenty seven cardboard boxes.
A woman made fierce with age, her mother bluntly rejected anyone’s attempts to care for her. She didn’t want to move in with them. She didn’t even want to live in the same town with them. She didn’t want them to call her every day, didn’t want them to hire someone to care for her. She would barely let them into the house when they visited, insisting that they sit on the porch, or just inside, right by the front door.
A neighbor had let her know it was necessary for them to step in. Her mother had walked outside in the snow wearing only her nightgown and stood in the yard lost. Some people react to Alzheimer’s destruction with quiescence, drifting off into a diffuse emptiness. Her mother screamed and attacked those who tried to help her. Physically attacked. She had knocked over the neighbor who struggled to lead her back inside the house. She threatened the EMS team with a shovel. Half way through a conversation her mother had forgotten who she was and became terrified her daughter was an assassin. Teresa had a scar on her chin where her mother had thrown a tray at her, scars on her arm where her mother had scratched her trying to get away. The hospital kept her sedated for their own safety until her brain slowly, finally forgot how to breathe.
The amazingly large amount her mother had saved didn’t begin to cover all the hospitalization expenses. She and her husband had to sell her mother’s house, car and furniture to raise more money for her continued medical care. Only after everything was liquidated could they get her on assistance. These boxes were personal possessions Teresa had placed in storage at her mother’s insistence for the day when she was well enough to leave the hospital. That day never came. Even with her mother babbling incoherently and the doctors telling her week after week that the end was very near, Teresa kept paying the storage fees. Now that her mother was dead and buried, the granite tombstone finally installed, it was time.
Three boxes were filled with Bibles and religious materials. What was she supposed to do with this stuff?
Her father had died eleven years ago. With his death, her mother had completely stopped trying. She quit her job. She stopped going to the beauty parlor, stopped gardening and eventually stopped going out at all, even to attend church services. She stayed inside watching television evangelists, reading the Bible, taking copious incomprehensible notes on all the televised sermons. She lived on peanut butter and crackers. Teresa found all the food she and neighbors had given her stuffed in the back of cabinets with mouse droppings and roaches. The macaroni and cheese boxes dated back twenty years. Her father had lived with this, never mentioning a word about it.
Before Teresa began selling her mother’s treasures online, she wanted her two children to pick what they wanted to keep. Some of the cut glass and depression ware saved by previous generations were lovely. She particularly liked the pink bowl with peacocks woven into a pattern. As a child, she had loved it from a distance. The living room was forbidden to children. The chairs had clear plastic covers and a milky plastic mat covered the most frequented paths on the carpeting. The room was only used on Wednesday nights for prayer meetings. Even then, the plastic covers did not come off. In the end, the pristine condition didn’t add much to the resale value. The furniture was never worth much to anyone except her mother.
Her mother’s china with the tiny rosebuds along the edge was also in perfect condition. Teresa tended toward plastic herself. It was earthquake proof. She actually preferred the simple forms which she could toss into the dish washer. They were practically indestructible. Washing dishes had been such an ordeal in her childhood, having to be so careful with every wet plate, fearing her mother’s wrath if she broke anything hand washing them. She would get a stomach ache during dinner, knowing she’d have to wash them afterward.
Her husband, trying to be kind, had suggested continuing to rent storage for all of this. She knew that it would sit there, accruing rent and sour memories, for the rest of her life if she didn’t deal with it now. This wasn’t something she wanted to do. Since Odessa wanted to include her newest work in a group show, she had a deadline. For painting, she generally hated deadlines: they interrupted the flow and she floundered. For housekeeping tasks like this, though, deadlines were essential. Without house guests, visitors and parties, she would never voluntarily clean the house thoroughly. And she had to paint. It was almost a physical need, like eating. With the boxes leaning up against her best lit wall, she would have to be rid of them before she could rehang the new work and make the final revisions in time for them to dry before the show. Besides, if she didn’t paint, her children would badger her: “Mom, stop picking on us and paint!”