Harold Simpson, the English department chair, told me I had a low IQ.
To Mr. Simpson, I was somewhere between mentally defective and virtuoso—more likely to work in an ad agency than write poetry or a Harvard thesis about the existential angst of Jean-Paul Sartre and his friends. I would never, in his mind, be able to ponder: Did Jean-Paul or Simone de Beauvoir have an IQ test? Did they suffer from Weltschmerz? Were they insecure about getting into Princeton? What would Simone de Beauvoir have replied if Mr. Simpson declared, “Simone, you did poorly on your IQ test. It wasn’t in French… perhaps that was an issue.”
When I was sitting Shiva for my dad, Mr. Simpson said, “You’re a copy editor for a diabetes account at a large ad company because no one checked your IQ. You don’t know fuck shit about glucose, though you do have a few redeeming grammatical skills.”
Harold Simpson was correct. I knew nothing, quite zero in fact, about diabetes, compared with his son who was getting a doctoral degree in microbiology from the University of Michigan. Mr. Simpson, in addition, said I was a bottom-rung idiot compared with the Italian-American savant reading Dostoevsky in his study hall.
Mr. Simpson also informed me that my father was dying of cancer. Daddy was having his kidney removed and it was only a matter of time before the other kidney got cancer and spread to the rest of his body. For my parents didn’t deploy depressing knowledge, whether Dad was truly dying of cancer or I was stupid.
It was better to say I came from a long line of intellectual peasants—my Austrian grandmother read voraciously, but threw her daughter’s Charles Bukowski novels into a wood burning stove—than to inform me I was a brain weakling who might go to Rutgers, perhaps Montclair, but never study Euclid at St. John’s College in Annapolis, Maryland, where all the classics, in their original text, were unleashed in Latin and Greek.
It was last night, in a dream, that these thoughts surfaced. I realized my brothers did drugs; my mother was a saintly woman who hated my guts but loved my brother Theodore whose guts I mistreated. I woke up this morning with a slightly emotional hangover.
I am now living with Theodore, who was my mother’s favorite, even when he flooded her basement with thrift shop purchases. If, however, my bed was unmade, she ameliorated me by the sound of her voice. I was the person to whom Mother always delivered punitive measures. She did not “do shy” around me, but if anyone else, like Mr. Simpson, accosted me, Mother would defend me. It was anathema, indeed, unfathomable to Mom, if Mr. Simpson, usually someone in the English department, decried my unknown genius; maybe it would never be known, and it should only be assumed I was inferior in “her household,” not those of others, who were not related to me, though I had a combustible closet with photos of David Cassidy, but these imbeciles had no right to question whether I was more Partridge Family than Einstein.
My brother Theodore is not malevolent. When one of his druggie friends got cancer, Theodore gave him money because his friend didn’t have health insurance.
Theodore reminded me, “You don’t have health insurance either,” as if it’s my fault, more than Joe Biden’s, and “you are so fat. What if you have a heart attack?” Then I envisioned going on Facebook, begging for money, like his friend, whom Theodore only gave $18 to ($18 is “Chai” in Hebrew, which means “life,” though it’s often an excuse cheap people use, but it’s certainly more generous than giving zero, though this dentist, who was also in their grade, and can afford more, only gave $100).
There was a time, most of my life, when I had medical coverage, and though I’ve always been “corpulent,” at least since college when I ate French fries with melted cheese, Theodore’s words stung like Mr. Simpson’s, telling me I was average, though I’m not a moron, and these learned opinions come from the English department, because really, if this were the Social Studies department, they’d know damn well these concepts originated with the Eugenics movement.
Still, Theodore is not placated, does not mind discussing I have no medical plan, and will soon announce to our family and friends, via Facebook, that I do not have health insurance. That is why, like Theodore’s friend with a terminal illness, I, too, will have to GoFundMe.
I can, however, handle that I am obese.
I need to be humble, sleep well, take the editorial test, so I can get medical coverage, and move out of Theodore’s house, because at least then I will not experience his misogynistic diatribes against his cat Snickers, whom he calls, “cunt,” because she occasionally shits on the floor.
Lately Theodore and I have been cleaning our house because a cleaning lady came and quickly left without saying goodbye. She jumped into her car after Theodore stared at her from the stairs.
I asked a few of my friends, “Do you think she’s coming back? Why did she leave so abruptly?”
Hillary, who is currently in Rome, texted me, “Maybe she needs to get supplies.”
Another person, who is a lobbyist for pharmaceutical companies, said, “Your house is a mess. You need to hire a service for $1,000.”
My older brother, Isaac, who cleans his house regularly, without the assistance of a maid, acknowledged, “You and Theodore are slobs. Why would anyone dust for you?”
This made me, a white Jewish trash girl, think, “I am an absolute failure. Not only am I unable to get a good GRE score, I am worse than a homeless bipolar patient, though I have a home, which is really a trashcan.”
If we don’t unclutter the clutter, I told Theodore, or clean the house like my mom did for the housekeepers who came every two weeks, we would be zonked in a disease-ridden place where variants of the Corona virus would make themselves known.
Theodore and I are not conventional in the sense of pharmaceutical lobbyists and restaurant owners who’d never frighten a potential cleaner out of their homes. We are more like the slime at the bottom of the bucket that must be cleaned before you can use the bucket.
My grandma didn’t clean much. She was forever sleeping on her bed. She even called her maid the diminutive Yiddish term, Schwartzah, which is how Jewish people during the Depression castigated Black people, usually those who worked for them.
As for my mom, she constantly called me shtik drek, which in Yiddish means, “piece of shit,” because my room was always a fucking mess.
Theodore and I are not like normal people. He throws a few books into the recycle bin and sleeps for three hours.
I schedule my work around different TV shows on Netflix. For me, the series Maid is a great inspiration, and I identify with the disheveled and impractical nature of the single mother who is a victim of poverty and bad family relations.
Snickers, Theodore’s cat, died recently. Theodore played a video for me of her before the vet put Snickers to sleep.
Snickers was our matriarch, a visionary, a patron of Purina cat food, who snubbed us but whimpered apologetically if she were in the mood. Snickers did not mind our mess. In fact, she languished in the piss and unclean cat litter.
Theodore and I sleep through life or watch movies.
Theodore, who knows I’m unhappy about the recent “maid alienation,” has been in his bed for five hours today, though he promised to get up after 45 minutes and clean his room, which is a Goodwill store.
I decide it’s okay to have a messy home or a low IQ. You can’t fit a squirrel in a hole if the squirrel is larger than the hole. And as my dead father used to say, “You are what you are when your Mammy sets you free.”
My astronomy teacher in high school, who graduated from Yale, was confused when I told him I was going to college, because my inability to tell Orion from the other stars baffled him. “If you look up high enough,” he wrote in my yearbook, “one day you’ll see Orion.”
I hoard these memories the way Theodore does his toy cars, rocks, Jewish bestsellers from the fifties, and bad paintings. It allows us to feel the comfort of mediocrity, the silence of our insatiable appetites, as our dogs and cats nestle next to us.