I was born in a pickle jar. My first view was of the inside of a kitchen cabinet. Stubborn bits of label and glue that would not wash off the jar obscured my vision. It was dark, but my developing eyes didn’t mind. Enough light filtered through the cracks in the doors to see all I needed to see: a coffee cup hand-painted with a beach scene from Mexico City. It was paradise. I contently swam in circles.
I smoked my first cigarette at two years old. I was outside a Laundromat beside the dumpster I called home after being tossed out by my parent who was an inconsequential and slovenly short hunk of hairy man. I had been a mistake, apparently. My parent had tossed me out, jar and all, two years previously. The jar broke, and I was born, and now here I was contemplating. While toddling around, pondering my fate, I found a crumpled pack of cigarettes on the ground. There was one lonely crushed up cigarette inside. I lit it with a Zippo lighter I carried in the chest pocket of my dirty OshKosh overalls. The lighter was decorated with a Confederate Flag. It said: “The South Shall Rise Again!” I inhaled and coughed, inhaled and coughed, inhaled and coughed again. Yet, by my fourth toke, I found I was already used to the process. A thin blue trail of smoke wafted up from my chubby hand as I waved the cigarette in lazy arcs. I cleared my throat. “The contemplative life is often miserable.” This was from a book of Chamfort plays I had found beside the dumpster one pale afternoon. I decided to follow his advice then and there to “act more, think less, and watch oneself live.” I found a tattered beret and placed it on top of my head.
By the time I reached my teens, I realized that everything came in threes. There was me, my beloved, and my beloved’s beloved. There was a fight. I won the fight but lost the war. My beloved’s beloved fell in love with my beloved as she nursed him back to health. They went away together. Then I was alone again: two and one, one and done.
A priest gave me a copy of his Latin Primer. He said it had been his only book as a boy. He said this in Latin of course, so I did not understand what he said at the time. I loved that book. I was in my twenties and trying to find my place. I had left the dumpster behind and moved into the Laundromat. I liked the big glass windows. When I leaned my face up against the cool glass and looked out at the cold world, it felt something like being home. Domis dulcis domus.
By the time I reached my thirties, the Laundromat had been torn down. I heard they were going to turn the shopping center into a Walmart. I wasn’t sure why they would do this – there were already three Walmarts within two miles – but sure enough, that’s what they did. So, I left for the woods. I found some people out there with long hair who were very nice at first. They welcomed me, called me “Brother.” It brought tears to my eyes. They said they were Rainbow People. I liked them. They asked me if I wanted to be one of them. They said according to Rainbow tradition, there is only one prerequisite for joining the Family: a belly button. Once they realized I had been born in a dirty pickle jar with no umbilical cord and therefore no belly button, they apologized and left me alone.
By the time I reached my forties, I was coughing constantly. After years of smoking, the air I breathed was a consistency more like razorblade-infused syrup than a gas. I knew it wouldn’t be long. I walked towards an apartment building. I snuck in through an open window. I moved straight towards the kitchen. There was an empty pickle jar. It stunk inside, but I was pleased by the organic funk. I filled it with my own urine and sloughed off tiny flakes of dry skin with my dirty fingernails. I blew in a puff of cigarette smoke before closing the lid. The conditions were perfect. I smiled and watched as the fragments of myself danced in the dirty water. They came together, one by one, and coalesced into a swirling fetus. I placed the jar inside a cabinet and turned it so it would face the coffee cups. There was a nice cup in there with a hand-painted beach scene from Mexico City. I looked in the mirror and realized that I had grown into an inconsequential and slovenly short hunk of hairy man. C’est la vie.