I was hot for Henry’s lettuce. It tasted great and had strange and alluring names like Bibb and Batavia, Paris White and Vivian. I used to go to the farmers’ market every week and salivate over the industrial tubs of the sweet vitamins and minerals that would make my body whole again. After the market, I took the subway home, holding two big plastic bags lightly as newborn babes, so as not to crush the leaves (delicate Dynamite, tantalizing Tom Thumb). At home, I dressed them simply, with a little olive oil and salt, imagining the sweet dirt his lettuce grew in, where happy worms burrowed through the earth. I ate Ruby, Prizehead, and Valhalla lettuce for lunch and believed I could do anything.
Once, at a party, I told a stranger I was obsessed with lettuce (Four Seasons, a favorite). She wore an asymmetrical haircut and an argyle sweater, and I hoped she would recognize I was also a unique person and worthy of her friendship. Instead she squinted at me, drained her glass, and walked away. I found my coat and left, swearing I’d never go to a party again. That turned out to be easy.
I haven’t seen Henry for a year. I’m too afraid to ride the train to the market. Instead I go to the grocery store and hold my breath. In my head, I hear the YouTube yoga lady say breathe deep into your belly. In my head, I tell her to go to hell and buy shitty lettuce (Industrial, Cardboard) that comes in stupid plastic containers and tastes like boiled water. I miss Henry and his jagged beard.
My mother’s birthday was a week ago. Normally, I’d have boarded a plane and watched her blow out a candle, but my doctor strongly advised against travel. If I catch something, it could kill me, he said.
“Stupid lungs, haha,” I said, laughing nervously as his face froze on my computer screen.
My mother is angry that I did not come this year, that we did not get to eat tiramisu together. It’s supposed to put you in the mood, but neither my mother nor I has anybody to be in the mood for. I had some chocolates shipped to her house. Surprisingly, she got me a gift too.
She signed me up for a service called Mystery Surprise! Every week, a random assortment of goods is delivered to my door. I open each box with terror, hoping whatever is inside will not spiral me into sadness, like when I got two plastic champagne flutes, a picnic basket, and a blanket, supplies for a romantic picnic in the park. I put it all in the trash chute and then lay down for a few hours.
I last visited my mother two years ago. I was in slightly better shape then; I brought a sports bra and sneakers that I laced up with a serious expression on my face. I was not well enough to run, but I didn’t want her to worry. I walked around the park, watched other runners run and sweat, and worried about my insides. When I returned, my mother asked how my run was and I said good and she said good, and for a moment we enjoyed believing that I did not have a chronic lung disease that might put me in the ground before her.
Near the end of fall, when Henry lets the lettuce in the ground die (goodbye, Bronze Guard) and shifts his focus to the hydroponic operation, I get a mystery box with a disco ball, hardware to attach it to the ceiling, and headbands with pink and purple sequins. I stand on the one chair I own, a wooden straight-backed thing that tucks under my one-person kitchen table, and secure the disco ball. Then I turn it on, its lights flickering across my bed, the table, the galley kitchen, the closet door. I turn off all the other lights and close the curtains. I put on two headbands, and watch the light from the ball bounce off the sequins and spray the walls of my apartment with pink and purple dots. I don’t turn on any music, just dance to the beat in my mind. I move my arms up and down like a wave and let my neck roll side to side. I kick out one foot, then the other, and see Henry’s face in my mind. One day, my mother assures me, life will go back to the way it was. I dance and dance, imagining the sweet crunch of lettuce in my mouth, wondering what she will say when I’m gone.