The time I left the dog locked in the car, my ex-husband called me careless. He wasn’t wrong. My mother named me Careless. When she immigrated to California, me a silent seed inside her, she discovered Caress body wash in the supermarket aisle. She liked its name written in whooshy peach letters, also liked its creamy smell. It cost a dollar more than the other body washes so she never bought it, just picked it up and admired it and set it down again. When the nurse asked my mother what my name was, she said, “Caress” but the birth certificate came back, “Careless.” Perhaps the nurse was careless. Perhaps she didn’t understand my mother’s accent. Perhaps my mother did not care enough about getting what she wanted.
But Careless fits me well—it follows me around like a cloud, not an ominous cloud but a forgiving cloud. I am Careless so I can lose things, and not just keys or important slips of paper with dates and names on them. All sorts of things that stick to me might float off and wiggle away—great love stories and terrible tragedies, tumors both benign and malignant. Carelessness wraps me in a slick film that lets me slip and slide through all kinds of hazards. I have burned houses down, I have mistaken friend for foe, I have gambled away parts of myself that should not have been gambled with.
But I drift on, across shopping centers like rising dough, through cities that lean against oceans, over fields of melting cars hardened into buckled plastic. I go into stores and carry out what I want, I say hello fine thanks and how are you, I remember and forget to take Plan B. I learn what the flesh can buy and what it cannot. Is the temporary permanent after all, do our bodies belong to us? They say caring is only afforded to those with something to lose. So I carry my carelessness in my arms, over my head or between my legs and only when the sky or the ground splits apart will I remember to care.
Elaine Hsieh Chou is a Taiwanese-American writer from California. Currently she is studying for her MFA in fiction at NYU. You can find more of her work at www.elainehsiehchou.com