I only clean the house when I’m about to rent it on Airbnb. When I come back the apartment is still neat, smelling faintly of a stranger. It only takes three days for the apartment to smell like cigarettes again.
The luggage will not be unpacked. Occasional pilfering will reduce its contents, but the bag will remain in the corner for months, maybe years. My “wardrobe” lives in a similar suitcase. I’ve lived in the same apartment for six years, but I stand in front of a suitcase every time I have to get dressed. I can’t bring myself to buy a bureau. Used clothes are expensive enough without the added expense of a special place to put them. Hampers and laundry baskets are the same. What’s the point if all of your clothes are dirty?
Eating is a permanent annoyance. You have to do it at least once a day forever and it never fucking ends. It only takes six hours to feel hungry again, seven to be sure. At eight the pain will start but at nine it subsides. When I get light headed, I go to the kitchen and find something to put in my mouth. A hard-boiled egg, an apple, maybe a fistful of stale almonds, always some stolen item from the kitchen at work. I like things that taste good—who doesn’t? But I won’t cook or order food. Too much work. After it’s done I’ll just be hungry again. After a great meal I am no happier than I would have been with none. Big meals are the worst; they just leave you hungrier.
I’ve finally quit shopping for food. The first year I lived alone, I had tried to make a habit of going to the grocery store. What a failure. I’d walk the aisles and choose a few things, almost at random. It felt clandestine, grabbing things like a greedy little rat. I’d come home with, I don’t know, some crackers, a nectarine. I’d eat them quickly to put the whole sordid experience behind me.
I know you’re supposed to go to the grocery store hungry and rich. You’re supposed to want food—you’re supposed to think about it, plan for it, choose it, pay for it. You’re supposed to want to eat. Each of these things feels like a step in a dance I don’t want to learn.
A few times I did to the store, ravenous with hunger, and bought things. I even put them in the fridge. But after a week, it was like it never happened. The little mozzarella balls had all been picked out of their tub; the “goal” food like lettuce was still there, but rotting. I had done the hard work of going to the goddamn store, but once wasn’t enough. I was supposed to keep doing it over and over, like some kind of balanced, well-adjusted idiot.
Worse were the times I forgot I had gone to the store. Days later, I’d be starving and would mindlessly wander into the kitchen where I’d discover everything I’d failed to eat. It hurt worse than the hunger to see the questionable tofu, the wilted bok choy. I’d try to save the situation by cooking it up and eating it. But the food was always sad, and slightly off-putting. Then I’d feel so guilty over all the effort I had wasted in going to the store, and all the times I was hungry while this good food had been sitting right there, and that when I finally did make a meal it was too late, and I’d just fall into this shame spiral that would bar me from the grocery store for months.
It’s like reading a bad book—after a long series of great books you read a bad one and you end up swearing off books for years. I’ve only read bad internet articles for the past decade. In 2011 or something, I spent $1 on what turned out to be a bad book and said, “Never again!”
If roads are paved with intention, I’m still in the parking lot. I have no plans to go anywhere. I will make my life right here. I’ll pile up dirty old t-shirts and stuff them under my head when I lay down in the backseat. I won’t spring for a hotel, not even a hostel. If I have a roof over my head, it’s the same as when I lived in my car. A penance. I remember most the nights when it was 102 degrees outside and I had to sleep with the window rolled down just to breathe, but I was in disgusting Houston and fat bugs flew in the window all night long, landing among the burger cartons and crumpled up clothes on the floorboard. The only thing that would chase them out was cigarette smoke, but it’s hard to smoke and sleep. So I just shut my eyes and ignored it.
It’s better this way. An empty fridge never needs cleaning. A forgotten suitcase never needs unpacking. Time does the work for you. Clothes that pile up become pillows and a bed; unlike me, they make themselves.
The case for negligence is simple: why do, when you can don’t? The case for negligence is full of dirty clothes I haven’t worn since I last went to the store.
Melissa Mesku is a writer and editor with recent work in Guernica, National Geographic, and Lapham’s Quarterly.