When I was fifteen I found a rotting, maggoty apple in my bed and ever since I have been convinced that I am going to die. I didn’t scream as I noticed it, nestled as it was beside my pillow in the pale yellow sheets I’d had since childhood. I merely stood at the edge of the bed and stared in distant terror as my world whittled itself down to the small, writhing mass of the thing. There were really only a few maggots squirming on its half-dry meat, but somehow I found the glimpses of satiny red shreds of peel beneath their translucent gray bodies worse than a similarly sized mass of pure insect would have been. It might have been a full five minutes that I stood and let it’s puckered flesh consume my vision.
Eventually, I tore myself away from watching it to walk downstairs and find my father, who unceremoniously wrapped it up in a paper towel and threw my sheets in the washing machine. The mystery of it was solved when my brother came in from taking out the trash; he’d been gathering the garbage from the basket beside my bed table and, as the result of his fumbling with the already full bag of waste from the kitchen, the apple had fallen out of his notice and into my bed. I went to sleep that night with sheets smelling of fresh lavender and with the conviction that my life was soon to end.
It’s true, I’d been watching too much Criminal Minds—the petrifying and scintillating notion that some serial killer had left the rotting fruit as a calling card had, admittedly, crossed my mind before my brother and the trash came into the picture. But it was more than that. I still couldn’t, and really still can’t, shake the feeling that I am going to die. It’s not so much a petrifying fear (though there’s certainly an element of that) as it is an assumption that has come to live beneath my life. It’s not obtrusive, I still graduated from high school and walk my yappy little dog down the street to piss each morning. But I don’t really make long term plans. My mother cried when she asked if I’d like to attend my cousin’s wedding together next June and I, distracted, remarked that I wouldn’t count on being around that long. I imagine it often. A flash of heat, then nothing.
Multiple therapists have tried to psychoanalyze this conviction of mine, and have all boiled it down to essentially: Well, if something as horrifying and wrong as a maggot-infested apple could be allowed to exist in the place where I lay my head down to rest, then nothing makes sense and I can’t be long for this world.
I got excited once when a girlfriend confessed her obsession with death that developed after seeing a fish leap out of the water and impale itself on a pike at the dock by her lake house. I thought that maybe everyone had their own rotting apple in the bedsheets and just managed to keep it a little quieter than mine. It turned out, however, that her fixation didn’t go deeper than a general queasiness and aversion to seafood. We didn’t last very long after that. Not many of my girlfriends do. Last, that is. Which is fine, insofar as anything as weird and awful as pandemic or imperialism or your bizarre mortality complex ruining budding romantic relationships can be fine.
I mean, it’s ridiculous, because I still eat apples. Daily, even. Honeycrisp is my favorite. And maybe one would expect some kind of compulsive cleanliness to assert itself in my domestic life after finding such contaminate matter in the intimate space of my bedsheets, but really, I still eat chips in bed and don’t mind if the crumbs get lost. Essentially, my life has no lingering signs of trauma save this small, nagging certainty. And even then, I live with it. I woke up the other day with the sun filtering through my curtains onto my face and my dog curled up against my back and I felt happy. Happier, I think, than most people when they wake up on a just another vaguely sunny morning.