# of pages revised: 10 ½
# of literary mags submitted to: 3
# of days left to complete 2nd draft: 63
Last night I made some pudding for Nikki’s birthday. I was going to bake her a cake, mind you, but then I thought no, Nikki’s going to want some sort of almond flour/no sugar/healthy-for-you cake, so I went with sugar-free pudding instead. I used carob chips to form the number “31” on top, and I set out all sorts of random accouterments, like sliced bananas, walnuts, and shredded coconut.
I’m glad I made the birthday pudding, because it turns out Nikki is planning to make herself a healthy cake for her party tonight. And plus, she liked the pudding.
“This is so fun, Eva!” she said last night, whilst dumping coconut and carob chips on her plop of pudding. “I love the accouterments. And I haven’t had pudding in ages. In fact, the last time I remember eating pudding was at your house in high school.”
“We did always like pudding at my house,” I said. I talked about how my mom used to make icebox cake – layering graham crackers and pudding in a cake pan – and how when we made Betty Crocker cake from a box we we would always put pudding in between the two layers to make it moist. “I remember being so surprised,” I said, “when I found out that other people just put frosting between the layers. I was like, what? You don’t use pudding?!”
When you’re a little kid, we reflected, you think that everyone does things the way your family does them. And then you start getting older, and going over to other people’s houses, and realizing that there are totally different ways of doing everything.
“And you’re like, thank God,” Nikki said.
It’s a good thing to keep in mind when writing characters: every house, every family has its own set of rules.
At Nikki’s house, everything was so clean and cold and sterile that I was almost afraid to sit down. “I remember spending the night at Nikki’s in the ninth grade,” I told Nate, “and when I took a shower in the morning, the shampoo was frozen.”
“And we never had ready-made food,” Nikki said. “You’d open the refrigerator and there would literally be nothing but a carton of eggs. But if you looked in the freezer, you’d see all these labeled bags of weird meat because my mom and step-dad did their own butchering. We always had animals skins hanging on the fence in the back yard.”
“Oh,” I said. “Is that why we never went back there?”
“But then you’d go over to Degra’s,” Nikki said, mentioning our other best friend from high school, “and it was like a whole different universe.”
Degra’s apartment was overly warm and smelled like something weird we could never quite identify. It was stuffed to the brim with things like her mom’s napkin ring collection and old family photos from the seventies. You always had to be quiet because her mom worked the night shift and was always sleeping.
“At Degra’s house,” Nikki said, “you would be served a hot dog split down the middle with pimento cheese spread inside.”
“Or,” I said, my voice beginning to tremble with laughter, “the salad would be one piece of wilted lettuce, with a scoop of cottage cheese, and a prune on top.” Nikki and I collapsed into giggles.
“And then there was Eva’s house,” Nikki said, turning to Nate. “I loved Eva’s house. It was so comfortable and homey.”
“That’s because it was messy and insane,” I said. “It was obvious that there were no rules and you could just do whatever you wanted.” But I knew what she meant. All of my friends from high school still reminisce about how much they loved that house.
“The thing I loved about Eva’s house,” Nikki said, “was their bathroom closet. It was so huge and filled with all kinds of random stuff they’d collected over the years, like half-used bottles of hair dye and Halloween make-up, and bubble bath, and jars of old earrings.”
The thing about that house – The Wasena House, we called it – was that, really, there were no rules. My mom was constantly rearranging the furniture, and the furniture itself could not have been more random: a maroon couch, an orange rocking chair, a life-sized fake tree, an old green metal desk. Before my dad moved out, he built floor-to-ceiling bookshelves in the den out of scraps of old lumber, on which sat the hundreds of books he had collected from flea markets and yard sales, back when he thought he was going to start a used book store.
He also built a gigantic deck in the back that allowed our pitbull, Hunter, access to the garage roof. I once had a teacher say to me with concern, “Eva, I drove by your house the other day and noticed that your dog was standing on the garage roof.”
“Oh yeah,” I said. “He likes to do that.”
In fact, there was a lot of roof-play at the Wasena house. My bedroom allowed access to the roof over the porch, so my friends and I were constantly going out there to hang out. I also used to skate around the downstairs in roller blades, and I once broke the chandelier while bumping a volleyball against the dining room wall.
There were always piles of books and papers in the foyer. My brother’s Lego’s spread out on the living room floor. Art supplies left forgotten in the den. Garden shears placed absent-mindedly on the table. The refrigerator was always full of snacks and pots of leftovers and experimental concoctions. In the summer, we slept on the back deck. In the fall we made a life-sized scarecrow for the front porch. There was a point in time where we had several old toilets in the side yard – I forget why. Friends and neighbors were always over. Someone was always wearing a wig, or that crazy full-length fur coat my mom got from somewhere. It was a mad-house and a dream-house and a place where everyone just did whatever they wanted. No wonder we all loved it.
When I graduated from high school and moved out of the Wasena House, my natural inclination for order began to take over. All of the places I’ve lived since have been clean and organized and reflect my somewhat-Type-A personality. I try not to accumulate too much random stuff. I always know exactly what’s in my refrigerator. I take off my shoes at the front door.
“You’re so neat,” my mom will say when she comes to visit me. “Where did you get that from?”
And I’ve always been proud of my clean house and my organized kitchen. And yet, a part of me misses that crazy hodge-podge lifestyle of the Wasena house. Because, like Nikki said, it was comfortable. It was fun. Order is nice, but disorder… there’s some nice about disorder, too. You never knew who or what you might find in the Wasena house. There were always surprises to discover. Something was always happening. In a way, I think, the disorder of that house made us all more creative. It was where my friends and I made up songs and dances and put on costumes and took photographs. It was where my brother played music and made art.
So when I get worried about my writing – when I worry that I’m not structuring my day efficiently or organizing my research better or, hell, organizing my life as much as I should — I just think about the Wasena house and the reason why everyone loved it. They didn’t love it for it’s organization, that’s for sure.
To put it another way, it wasn’t really the pudding that Nikki was so excited about. It was the random accouterments all jumbled up together, just like our old bathroom closet. Order makes sense, but disorder, perhaps, makes magic.