Like an old fat Elvis catching a young and gorgeous Elvis at a gathering of Elvis impersonators, we Karens of the past, present, and future meet in front of windows of vacant shops to gaze into the emptiness of each other’s eyes until we summon you. You’re Bloody Mary in mirrored glass disguising yourself as a creep making money by using images of the Hindenburg disaster. We’re your Hindenburg. Capitalize on our tragedy.
Staring at four dudes crossing the street, we Karens are drinking something called bitches’ brew when a legend unknown becomes one of my greatest pleasures—me. In my mind, I’m still a young woman who dances on beaches at night. My apartment is decorated with prints by Patrick Nagel. If you know me well enough, you get the irony. If you don’t know me well enough, get the hell out of my apartment.
I’m haunted by the memory of blue butterfly tattoos on your arms when you ask if I’ve noticed all the portraits of me are of other women named Karen. Not knowing how to answer, I realize now is the time to transition into high concept, into brilliance, to get dumped by Johnny Cash, to be sweetly unassuming, to stare you down cold like a lake after an ice storm. If you’re reading this, it’s never too late to love me.
As a young girl, if you live with an artist in rooms of canvas, you begin to realize how quickly everything can turn to black. If you pose naked, your legs spread before the artist who is a man, you can feel his gaze worming inside you, trying to capture what he thinks of you when you close your eyes and find his art has tattooed everything. All over his walls, portraits of you naked and life-sized are displayed for friends and strangers. His world revolves around you until one day he takes a bucket of mars black and paints over your eyes, your nose, your face and neck, your hair, your hands and arms, your torso, your breasts and feet and legs, all buried under gloppy black paint because he said you turned his world into an old, aging Karen. Long after the artist has committed suicide, you walk through rooms displaying his paintings—canvases painted starless night, and you explain to everyone who visits they are looking at portraits of you.
A couple years before my father died, he drove me to a place he wanted me to see. When we arrived, I asked, “What’s this place? Where are we?” My father asked, “Don’t you recognize it? It’s your hometown.” Stores with broken windows were boarded up with two-by-fours. Remnants of burnt cars littered nearly empty parking lots. Men with guns walked littered sidewalks while staring at us as if waiting for a fight. What happened here? I wondered. It was nothing like I remembered. It didn’t look like home. It didn’t even look like a town. Then I saw Main Street’s white-washed women, so many Karens staring out of vacant stores. “Take a good look around, Karen,” my father said, “because we aren’t coming back.”
At least I graduated high school, unlike my mother, who educated me by teaching me not to be like her—a drunk, sick, unemployed Karen. I used to tell her I was doing this to save money to go to college. I don’t say that now because I’m learning things I could never learn in any university. A famous professor pays me to release snakes into the room while he lays naked on the tile and calls me Karen as I shout obscenities at him. He pays me well and is satisfied afterwards.
Go ahead, call me Karen. I don’t care. It doesn’t faze me. I love snakes. There are so many sparkling garter snakes in New Orleans. Why bother with jewelry when you can wear snakes? Why bother with black lace when a snake is sexier? No matter what you call me, I still drink Magnolia wine on black-satin sheets. Sometimes snakes slither onto the bed and get stuck on satin, lacking traction. Snakes touch my skin. It’s smooth. Snakes touch my hair. It’s soft.
Un voeu: Whisper a name, any name. Call me Karen when you see the first snake and are terrified, tell me to go Medusa, go Karen, go Medusa, go Karen. Make it sound like a chant, a cheer, even though you’re calling me long after fear cracks your voice. No matter how many times you say Karen, no matter how you want me and my snakes gone, call me Karen when you mistake my garter snakes for garter belts. Whisper “Karen” when I wear garter snakes as garter belts. I have so many little snakes moving like memories of champagne sparkling like diamonds in my flute. I’m shivering in high heels because every night I don’t have any money, though I’m working every day.
The bills are late. The rent is due, and there’s nothing in the bank because I just bought a new car—a Chevy. I paid sticker price, like a Karen. It will take me fifteen years to pay off in installments. The lights go out in the apartment because the city has cut off our power, again, but you and I keep gazing out the windows at the Chevy’s sleek paint gleaming in streetlight. A thief named Karen drives the Chevy away. Picking up the phone to call the police, we realize the phone is cut off, too. Because we’re both afraid of the police, I kiss you before I start to cry. We’re dancing like Karens. I close my eyes to see a neutron bomb hit a neutron star.