Why I Don’t Bring Home Pizza Anymore

In the morning my kitchen smells faintly of bacon and toast, though I don’t eat either of them. My former roommate Teanne had a bacon and lettuce sandwich with mustard every day for breakfast. She’s been gone for five months, but the odor nested in the kitchen walls. Teanne is buried in Oak Grove, Iowa, six hundred fifteen miles west of our shared house. Her parents grow organic popcorn on a fifty-acre farm. They sent me a card at Christmas and my birthday and don’t blame me for anything.

I eat six dried apricots and two slices of buttered white bread, then sit at the kitchen table for a half-hour and work on my obituary. My cat Fuffy twists around my legs wanting attention. Fuffy is big and white, a cat food commercial cat who is anything but picky, which might explain why she never had a television career.

I’ve been writing and rewriting my obituary for the past month. It’s a preventative measure. If the information is in a neat package, there’s less chance anyone will need it soon. I don’t have much to tell people regarding my life. I’m not sure if that’s disturbing or if it’ll make things easier.

At noon I go to Dante’s Pizzeria for another eight hours of fruitless managerial work. The high school and late-twenty-something employees linger too long outside on their smoking breaks. They stare at me with half-closed eyes like I don’t matter. After work I forget to take off my white apron, and drive home with red specks of sauce spewed across my chest. Five years of managing a pizza place has been a death sentence for my resume, but it’s the path of least resistance.

My back porch is cool and empty as a bus stop at midnight. I turn on all the lights, set every room glowing with unnecessary brightness, and watch the news on TV. It’s the usual litany of car crashes and burglaries. When Teanne lived with me, most of the house stayed dark at night. She said having lights on when you weren’t in a room was shameful. She also said the news was a load of shit.

There’s no real news,” she told me. “They should call it Tragedy, Sports, and the Weather.”

Teanne was dark-haired with thick curls that frizzed like an electric shock. She had the type of body my mother called stable, meaning you couldn’t budge her with a bulldozer. I have a normal build but felt thin and wispy next to her. My hair is dirty blonde and straight, falls flat past my shoulders even when I try to fluff it with a hairdryer. We lived together for five years after college graduation. Teanne was frugal, and happily inhaled anything I scavenged from Dante’s, mostly burned pizzas and abandoned pickup orders.

Creating art no one buys makes you desperate in a resourceful way, Teanne said, hovering over a white cardboard pizza box. She didn’t believe in plates, said you either washed them or pitched them and it was a waste of resources either way. She also claimed that clay fumes were dangerous, and spending so much time in the pottery studio would lead to irreversible brain damage, or at least a loss in depth perception.

“But all those cigs I have outside the studio don’t help,” she added.

“I keep telling you to quit,” I said. That was our ritual. Teanne said she should quit smoking. I agreed. We dropped the subject. As long as Teanne acknowledged she was engaged in harmful behavior, she could allow herself to continue it and blame clay for inevitable health problems.

Someday potters all over the world will drop like flies,” said Teanne, “and they’ll trace it to clay fumes. We’ll become martyrs and people will buy my f*cking bowls and mugs from the galleries.”

Christmas is coming,” I said. “People will buy your stuff then.”

Teanne tried to sell mugs and vases to phone solicitors, grabbed the receiver hoping that someone on the other end of the line would ask if we needed new windows or siding or knives.

We have great light bulbs already,” she told them, “but I have some fantastic mugs you should see. Your mother or aunt would love them. They can fit a whole pot of tea.”

Teanne’s mugs were beautiful vessels that could double as mixing bowls. I knew she’d be a famous artist. Anyone that loud and with that much talent was bound for greatness.

At Dante’s an elderly man chokes in the dining room while I’m working the register. His face goes blue. I might have learned the Heimlich maneuver in high school health class, but damned if I can remember it. I screech for help until a twenty-something guy with a nose ring and an oak leaf tattooed on his shoulder squeezes the old man’s abdomen. A wet gob of crust pops out of his mouth. I give the young man and the old one their food on the house so I can exercise my sparse managerial power.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” I chant like a dirge. The old man rasps and frowns. The younger man scratches his oak leaf tattoo and asks for a box for leftovers.

Five hours later, in my bleakly immaculate kitchen, I open a bag of cheese curls. They’re already stale. Fuffy wanders around my legs, begging. I give her half a cheese curl though the vet has told me not to feed her people food. Fuffy has a Siamese yowl when she doesn’t get her way. Earplugs can’t shut it out.

I work on my obituary and decide to say I never wanted to major in business. My parents will be upset, but I’ll be dead when the obituary is printed and won’t care what they think. I haven’t read Teanne’s obituary, though my mother saved five copies for me. I tucked them in the bottom drawer of my dresser under old nightgowns.

I can’t write because the cleanliness of my kitchen is distracting. I want to be slovenly, leave coffee grounds scatted across the counter and dirty plates on the table, but my mess isn’t big enough. Teanne could decimate the kitchen in a single meal, scattering bowls, utensils, dry chicken bones and empty cans in her wake. I worked around the melee because Teanne eventually tidied up, even if it was hours after the meal.

She fills space in our house, more space than me, and that’s after her parents carted a pickup truck of stuff back to Iowa. They left Teanne’s kitchen table, sofa, bookshelves, and stereo. All of it smells like Teanne: clay and sweat and smoke and floral deodorant.

The house itself smells like cinnamon when it rains. It belonged to my dad’s Aunt Ellie who died in the blue recliner that still sits in a corner of the living room. Ellie was old, ninety-something, a brittle toothpick woman. I barely knew her. We only visited at Christmas and Easter though she lived just across town. Teanne and I moved into the house after my dad campaigned to keep it in the family since Ellie didn’t have kids. In the cupboards we found boxes and boxes of tea, all with one teabag inside.

I abandon my obituary, float around the kitchen randomly opening and shutting cupboard doors, remembering how Teanne and I arranged our macaroni and ramen noodle cups and Teanne’s miscellaneous spice collection. During the time we lived together, neither of us had a boyfriend for over two months or a paycheck larger than five hundred dollars. On Friday nights we went out with Teanne’s art instructor friends. They called me a couple times after she died and asked if I wanted to get dinner, but then they evaporated. My friends from high school and college are burgeoning with families so I don’t like to bother them. My dad wants me to stay in the house because it’s old, a massive heirloom. I don’t have the money to move out if I wanted, since Teanne isn’t paying half the bills. The house keeps me prisoner with utilities, property taxes, homeowners’ insurance, and guilt. I don’t hate the house, but there’s too much death inside. It smells of cinnamon.

I need human contact, so I call Roger, the other day manager at Dante’s and my sometimes-boyfriend, to ask if he wants to come over later and order out for Chinese. We’ve dated off and on for two years. Roger says Chinese is fine, but not if I’m going to be mopey.

I’m not mopey,” I say. “At least not that mopey.”

Babe,” he says, “you never smile anymore.”

It’s because I’m in mourning,” I say.

It’s been five months,” he says.

Teanne died so fast,” I say. “Isn’t that scary?”

Sad,” says Roger, “but not scary. You need to get over it.”

I slam down the receiver and pout. He doesn’t understand why it’s terrifying that someone as strong as Teanne could die. When you’re in your twenties, you assume that you’ll be alive next week, next month, next year. But Teanne is gone. It’s a shock I can’t explain.

My grandma always thinks she’s dying. I’ve inherited the shape of her fears. Every night I read the evening paper obituaries, comfort myself with the long lives of other people. But sometimes there’s an anomaly, someone dead at thirty. Teanne’s mother wanted me to help write Teanne’s obit, but I couldn’t. For three days after Teanne died I didn’t answer the phone, terrified it would be her calling to ask for those perfect words to memorialize her daughter. She finally left a message on my answering machine, said it was okay and she understood this was hard for everyone. I felt awful.

I sit by the phone and want solicitors to call the house so I can talk with them, so I can sell them pottery. It’s quiet. Fuffy winds around my legs, meowing for potato chips.


Teanne’s asthma had been acting up for three months. Walking up a flight of stairs made her heave like she’d run the Boston marathon.

“I’m fine,” she rasped in a voice that made me worry, a voice like someone who should be on a ventilator. Teanne blamed it on her weight, her asthma, the cigs, and the clay fumes.

My own f*cking fault,” she said when I suggested we go to the doctor. “They’ll say I should lose forty pounds, prescribe a different kind of inhaler, tell me to quit smoking, and bill me a hundred bucks for the privilege of telling me what I already know.”

But that Wednesday evening, Teanne gasped from the living room into the kitchen.

Take me to the emergency room,” she said in the same way she’d ask for a ride to the store. As we drove, her breath was calm and wheezy. At the hospital Teanne sent me to get dinner while doctors ran tests. In the cafeteria I bought fried chicken that was soggy and depressing as a funeral. I ate two bites.

When I found Teanne again she’d been granted the privacy of a closet-sized room near the ER and an ineffectual male nurse to monitor her vital signs. He hummed “Amazing Grace” and reminded me of a guy who’d sat behind me in high school French class and snapped my bra.

Damn blood clot,” was all Teanne could say. It was a pulmonary embolism. An hour ago she’d just been wheezing. The ineffectual nurse scribbled on a clipboard like something could be done.

I opened my mouth, but Teanne stopped my words with hers.

F*ck you if you’re going to whine about how I should’ve gotten checked out sooner,” Teanne said. “Like any doctor is going to say, ‘Oh, you’re overweight, you smoke, you have a history of asthma, and you’re having trouble breathing. You must have a blood clot in your leg. Let’s get that taken care of before it travels up to your lungs and you die.” Those last words she wheezed like a memory of herself, like she was already gone. I held her hand and felt a slight tremor like you feel in the ground when a train is leaving.

F*cking clay fumes,” Teanne heaved. “Call my parents. Thanks.”

I was alone.

The ineffectual nurse frowned like he hadn’t been told about death. Outside the door, men with half-fingers and bloody tea towels yelled about radial saws. Babies screeched as their mothers frantically cooed. Vomiting college students who’d nearly been hit by cars chanted Goddammit, goddammit. Everywhere was hell. I’d won a quiet place in it.

“F*ck,” I said because it seemed like what Teanne would have done in my place.

I called Teanne’s mother that night. The hospital had already informed her family of the death, but I wanted to apologize. Teanne said her mother thought I was great, but I only knew her as a sweet disembodied voice on the phone that inquired how I was doing before asking to speak with Teanne.

You were such a good friend to her,” said Teanne’s mother, her voice breaking.  “She talked about how you were so intelligent and kind.”

I felt sick, thought of the things I could have done for Teanne but didn’t. I was an awful, awful friend.


In the morning the kitchen smells of toast and bacon. I try to rescue my spider plant. Parts have turned brown and fallen on the floor. I make cuttings from the green sections, tiny finger leaves I float in glasses of water along my windowsill.

My stomach growls, a reminder I need breakfast. I wonder if anything in my fridge is edible. It freezes things that get pushed to the back of the top shelf. I find oranges hard as cue balls, the peel cemented to the pith. They’ll become soft and unappetizing as clay after they defrost. The fridge started acting up after Teanne died. It’s trying too hard to preserve things, hold them tight, so it destroys them.

I make a sandwich with ham the package says will expire tomorrow, cheese that is not yet growing green patches, and bread ends that have to be eaten before they turn more stale. Fuffy begs around my heels. I give her a few nibbles before I go to work. I should quit my job, move to the Oregon coast, and get a new name, but I know I won’t.


You’re gonna be my accountant and publicist and sh*t,” said Teanne a month before she died.  “Just wait until I make it big and get into all the galleries. We’ll travel together.”

But I didn’t take many accounting classes,” I said. “And I wouldn’t know how to market anybody.”

College is a load of crap,” Teanne said.  “It f*cked us up. You want to be at that pizza joint forever?”

Well,” I said.

F*ck no you don’t,” said Teanne.  “You’ll be my accountant. You’re good in math.”

“There are too many accounting rules to follow,” I said.  “Idon’t know them all.”

“It’s better if you don’t know what’s illegal,” said Teanne.  “If you get caught breaking laws, you have an excuse. You tell them you don’t know what the f*ck you’re doing.”

Teanne’s logic was far from flawless, but she was beautifully blunt. I was ready to leave Dante’s and launch a career as a business manager. Teanne had plans. She had dreams. She knew we were bright and shining and talented. She was a goddess with wings safety-pinned to her sandals. She laughed about almost drowning when she was fourteen and rode her bike off a pier on a dare. There wasn’t any reason to do it other than to prove she could. The danger came when she tried to get her bike out of the thick mud at the bottom of the lake.

“Mud is the last thing you think about when you’re flying over the water and watching the boys on shore stare at you,” she said.

In the land of hindsight, I would have paid for Teanne’s doctor visit, sold a kidney or piece of spleen or a few pints of blood plasma, whatever would have been needed to find the blood clot and do something when doing something was possible. Fucking clay fumes.

Oh hell,” I say, cramming the last of my stale sandwich into my mouth. Why did Teanne have to die in the same manner she did everything else, in a hurry? I want to blame Teanne for leaving me. I want to think she could have saved us both.

Work is uneventful, but there’s a new guy on the day shift who doesn’t know how to operate the ovens and burns five pizzas. I think of Teanne when I pitch them in the wastebasket. She would have gone ballistic to see that food in the trash.

When I get home, I hear Fuffy yowl before I open the door. I figure she’s hungry, but when I walk inside I see her writhing on the kitchen floor. On the counter is a package of chocolate chip cookies she managed to rip through while I was gone. I hadn’t opened them before. They were Teanne’s. She bought them the week before she died. I run upstairs, dump the contents of my laundry hamper on the floor, scoop Fuffy into the hamper, and take her to the vet to have her kitty stomach pumped for the fourth time in two years.

Teanne believed pets should be babied, and never refused Fuffy when she wanted a treat. I’m pretty sure she once gave Fuffy half a pepperoni pizza. The vet didn’t know how Fuffy stayed alive long enough to get her stomach pumped, since she ate stuff that would be toxic to other cats, and in such quantities we didn’t know how she fit it all in.

At the animal hospital, the nurses don’t look that surprised to see me. I hand over Fuffy and explain the chocolate chip cookies. They can take it from here. I flop in an orange plastic chair and think how amazing it is that, though my roommate has been dead for five months, she managed to almost kill my cat a fourth time.

Teanne paid the vet bill when Fuffy needed to have her stomach pumped the second and third times, but a week after the fact she laughed about it.

Your cat would explode if we let her,” said Teanne.

I knew this was true, but I never found anything funny about it.

Two hours later, the vet assistant gives me my cat and my bill. I give her my credit card, and put Fuffy back in the laundry hamper for the ride home. In the car she starts her I’m hungry meow. I almost pull over to yell at her, but yelling at cats never works. I hear Teanne laughing.

Your cat might as well be a f*cking person for all the self-control she has,” Teanne would say.  “She reminds me too much of me.”

Fuffy paws at the side of the laundry hamper and meows again. An I-Want-Potato-Chips meow. Still alive and willing to gorge herself. I giggle.

When I get home I let Fuffy out in the kitchen, make sure there are no open bags of potato chips or cookies, then I run upstairs to my bedroom. I yank open my bottom dresser drawer, burrow under my nightgowns to find Teanne’s obits, and read them before I can second guess myself. There’s Teanne’s date of birth, elementary school, high school, college, surviving family members, and date of death. Nothing about her art and how she always had clay under her fingernails. No mention that she ate potato chips with ketchup, swore in five languages, and trapped spiders under glasses and let them go outside. Sitting cross-legged on my bedroom floor, I imagine Teanne in her atypical heaven with cigarettes and coffee and chocolate and clay. F*ck all those obits, she’d say. F*ck death. F*ck you. F*ck your fear.

I rip up the obits until I can’t make the pieces any smaller, then I glide to the toast-scented kitchen for a clean sheet of paper and a pencil. Teanne Stien was the sort of person who loved art and pizza and a good cigarette. The sort of person who included you in all her plans. The sort of person who would almost kill your cat four times.

I write for a half-hour. I write Teanne. The real Teanne. The Teanne who did not deny herself vices, who figured if she wasn’t immortal it was best to fake it, who knew it would be quite easy to own the world. I need to submit this to a newspaper. I need to look at the want-ads and see if there’s anything that doesn’t involve long-distance truck driving. I need to buy one of those plug-in air fresheners so in the morning my kitchen can smell of bacon and toast and unidentifiable flowers.

When I look up to the spider plants on my windowsill, I think I see the tiny white thumbs of roots. Sitting on the counter, my cat paws at the remaining chocolate chip cookies secured in a Zip-Lock bag.