[creative nonfiction]

I am here, breathing

heavy into one end of the receiver,

in order to reassure you.

I am here,

on one end, breathing.


“Where are you?”


The phone clicks shut.

*     *     *

On nights like this, I’ll watch Hoarders to learn/unlearn empathy (for my mother). I love them, I cry with them, and I think I understand. Sitting criss-crossed in a pile of clothes, I fix ramen, wait (for you) to come home. The kettle whistles with the opening credits. When you do make it to the door—my graduation, my burial, all of it—we’ll stare at each other, from all the way across the room, our eyes calloused. The clutter, between us, will move like shadows.

Of that, I am certain.

121 episodes later, I am vacuuming the living room floor. I have moved the bags of clothes behind the sofa, into the attic. You find the closets are bursting. Like the closets, you are too. You cannot find that dress, the one with the flowers, there are so many. You open the big trunks in the attic and start to go through the years; fingers digging down through the floor, the bedrooms below, the living room collapses, the kitchen, and deeper still, into the hours and the days and the seconds, my childhood, until you have gone through everything. The sofa is unturned in your hands. Your eyes glistening, the fat tears rolling down into the folds. Mother, there is a difference between impulsive buying and desperate keeping. Do these clothes even know how complicated they are?

“Take it. Take the useless dress. My arms spread wide—the room/the mess behind me. A single breath escapes, a trembling staccato.

You have no idea what matters,” my mother’s voice hardening.

Judy Xie’s writing has been nationally recognized by the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, Rider University, Ringling College of Art and Design, and the Festival of Books. She attends Mountain Lakes High School in New Jersey but will be attending Columbia University next fall. She has been published in Polyphony Lit, Columbia Journal, Into the Void, and Noble / Gas Qrtly, among others. However, she is most known for consisting of at least 50% ice cream.