I just listened to a tape of my four year old self retelling the story of The Three Bears, a story riddled with inaccuracies. Hearing my past small voice put me in tears before I even heard the bears leave the house. Halfway through telling the tale I started conflating chairs with beds and hot with warm with cold. I yelled MAMA I MADE A MISTAKE. Though you can’t hear her voice on the recording, my mother told me to just keep going. I kept going. A rendering of the house would make it four stories high with four levels of sub-basements. Goldilocks would either find hot porridge or warm porridge, chairs or beds, soft or hard. Eventually the bears came upon the girl asleep in the baby bear’s bed. I ended the story there. Mama I’m all done, my voice wavered. One will never know how the bears and the girl resolved their conflict. Goldilocks is my favorite squatter in all of literature. Mama I’m all done. At age four, I could not read. This was the best I could do for my favorite squatter. I didn’t know how to end the story. Generally in retellings, Goldilocks is confronted. Sometimes she falls upon her bottom as she runs from the Bears’ home. Always the bears stand in their home somewhat confounded by what just occurred. Over time, many retellings have scraped away any hint of very real menace that a household intruder actually signifies: she’s blonde, young, and vulnerable.
Senior year of high school my friend Karin took me and our friend Jill to Tuscon, Arizona to visit her aunt and uncle during spring break to check stuff out and explore. We were band nerds so don’t get excited. It was mostly hiking and music and a goth club. We came back just as Boston pale as we left. One day Karin’s uncle, who was pretty cool, told us that a few years back he and his wife had gone on vacation and he happened to get back to the house a few hours before his wife on the day of their return. While they’d been gone a neighborhood young man with a developmental disability had run away from home and been squatting all week at their house, eating their food and watching their cable TV and masturbating naked all week in his own shit. Shit was smeared all over the walls. The house was his toilet. He pointed to where I was sitting on the couch and said He was sitting right there Amy, right there where you’re sitting when I took a frying pan and knocked him unconscious. The only reason I was able to do so was that he was jacking off so intently and focused that he didn’t hear me come in. Shit everywhere. We had to get the place redone. New couch? I asked. Nah, we just got a new slipcover.
Goldilocks is known for being poor, beautiful, and charming. Even so, she needed things to be just right. The Tuscon squatter made things his own (just right) by smearing his own feces, and engaging in a constant, urgent sexual self-gratification. He was also perfectly able to use the can opener. Sounds just right. I remember asking my friend’s uncle what the young man was running away from. I remember feeling satisfied with the answer: he was just disturbed.
On that same couch I watched the news of the Oklahoma City Bombing, which occurred the week I was in Tuscon. Shit smeared everywhere. I think of shit smeared on a dick like paint to a canvas. Timothy McVeigh was blonde and poor and vulnerable. He wrote: “Go ahead, take everything I own; take my dignity. Feel good as you grow fat and rich at my expense; sucking my tax dollars and property.” As an outsider, we can’t decide whether he felt vulnerable or not. We can only observe it, perceive it, comment upon it. Seems vulnerable to me. He also always had trouble impressing the ladies. It was, in his opinion, his biggest problem until he started thinking about Waco. It’s also safe to say that he lacked the charm of Goldilocks.
I also think about what was on the television that got the Tuscon intruder off. It was definitely day-time television. Certainly the news couldn’t have gotten him hard. I like to think of something that represents our consumer driven culture, a metaphor for how sick we are in our modern times like “The Price Is Right.” His eyes would have settled in the middle distance between his self and the screen, the wheel turning and turning and slowing to just the right slice.
I wonder if I could knock a person unconscious if he intruded upon my space. Would I “turn” in time? They say we are stronger than we give ourselves credit for. We surprise ourselves. Once my friend Sara got drunk and moaned in the spare bed at our apartment. We decided she needed to make herself throw up in order for her to get some sleep. Should we make her smell her own vomit? I offered. This was not perceived as helpful. I worry sometimes that in an emergency I will be neither wrong nor helpful. In an emergency will I be able to gather myself into a storm of violence?
Amy Lawless is the author of two books of poems, most recently My Dead (Octopus Books, 2013). She lives in Manhattan.