Feed Me

by marinashifrin

I was outside cooling off in the 100-degree heat when I realized I forgot to feed Roz. I tilted my head back and groaned, the sun assaulting my exposed face. “Rozzy, I’m SO sorry.” The five-month-old puppy chewing dried bougainvillea petals at my feet did not seem to understand.

Back in our un-air conditioned home, the walls held onto the heat like a grudge. I plunged my hand into an enormous plastic kibble container, blindly feeling around for the measuring cup buried inside. Roz sat studying my every move. As her dark eyes followed me to the fridge, where her precious cottage cheese was kept, my body vibrated with guilt. They (they being Google) say that puppies thrive on routine, and therefore it’s imperative to keep a rigid schedule—my negligence had broken the sanctity of The Schedule.

Had I been doing something useful like reading any of the books weighing down my nightstand, or researching Lebanese Relief Organizations to donate to, or applying to jobs so I could have more money to donate to Lebanese Relief Organizations, I would’ve felt less guilty. But instead, I was waist-deep in the comments section of a conservative YouTube video.

The video was sent to me by a family member, the subject reading, “Nancy Pelosi does not want you to see this.” I didn’t even use my time to feign moral productivity by picking futile fights with strangers, or my own family, I simply sat at my kitchen bar and soaked it all in; the idea that Nancy Pelosi was solely responsible for California’s homelessness crisis, the excessive b-roll of people living in encampments, the reporter’s forced expressions of alarm, the masked interviews, the despair, the fake sympathy, the sweeping generalizations, the pulsating graphs, the conclusion that all blue states were going to hell.

I searched the comments section for a voice of reason explaining the complexity of the crisis. Someone who could eloquently convey that this was not one person’s (or one party’s) fault but the fault of those who gleefully operate within a system of unchecked capitalism, the fault of those not paying attention, not holding accountable, not helping. No matter how much I scrolled, there was nothing aside from anger, threats, and digital fingers pointed at the other side. The outrage was never ending and I was insatiable…pools of sweat formed around my elbows as I clicked, searched, and scrolled for something to fill the internal hole. My chest grew tight, I held my breath, and then…Roz rang the bell to be let outside, breaking the spell. In my driveway, I inhaled sweltering air into my lungs.

Earlier in the year, when I was in the hospital after a car attempted to use my body as a speed bump, a nurse with short hair and stature, told me that my lungs were collapsing. I hadn’t even realized it. It seemed like something I’d feel, or at the very least, I’d find out about when a team of attractive doctors were screaming “HER LUNGS ARE COLLAPSING” to each other while trying to save my life. “Are you sure?” I asked the nurse, surprised I hadn’t noticed.

“This sometimes happens after major surgery,” she responded. Ah, makes sense, I thought, realizing that I now had a new, more distant, relationship with my reconstructed body and its mysterious inner workings. “You have to exercise your lungs so they don’t fully collapse,” she explained while holding a plastic toy-like contraption. She pretended to blow into the blue tube attached to the contraption, “You blow like this, to keep this,” she pointed to the yellow ball, “floating between here and here,” she said showing off an empty space between two lines. “Now you try,” she handed me the toy. I briefly considered screaming into the tube just to, you know, shake things up a bit, give her a story to tell her family when she was done with her shift. “I had the strangest patient today,” she’d say while pulling a $5 tub of spinach from the fridge. Instead, I blew into the tube, because I am forever and always obedient.

The ball barely made it into the chamber before crashing to the bottom of the contraption. A jolt of pain exploded in my chest, bringing with it a vision of my sad lungs limply hanging from my trachea like deflated birthday balloons. (I wanted to write “like an empty scrotum” but it seemed weird and inappropriate to compare the two. Still, I think that’s a more apt visual.) “Keep practicing, ten to fifteen times an hour,” the short nurse said before disappearing.

Sometimes, when I’m on the internet for too long. My lungs begin to feel like deflated balloons again, like they’re collapsing. I’ll be slumped at my computer, gulping in air, none of which seems to make it to my diaphragm. It’s only when something breaks me out of the trance, like a hungry puppy asking to go outside, that I remember to breathe properly, to keep the ball in the air.

I gave Roz her lunch an hour and twenty-four minutes late. She scarfed down the meal in a manner that implied, “This is the first time I’ve ever eaten in my whole life!” I will be better about what I consume and what consumes me, I promised her little back. After gently recommending that she slow down, I headed over to my nightstand and grabbed The Weary Blues by Langston Hughes.

I plopped onto the couch and cracked the book’s spine, the sound a comforting harbinger of peace. Moments later a cold, wet nose pressed into the bottom of my calf reminding me that not everything is always so hot and unbearable.

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