Fiction: How To Survive As A World-Hopper

1. You are not the tangled Spider Plant your seventy-five-year-old foster mom (five worlds ago) made you water every day. So stop sending out roots.

No, really.

Stop. It.

The soil is invariably mixed with pesticide pellets, and if it isn’t, if it’s the good dirt—I mean the really good dirt that’s black with moisture and nutrients, soft as plush, and thrumming with a warmth you just want to curl your shy tendrils into—don’t get used to it. Some firm, yellow-gloved hand is already reaching toward you, yanking most of you up from your newest hanging pot, and carrying you out into a blistering white wind you’ve never felt before.

2. Stop using trite plant metaphors in your self-lectures.

It’s tired.

3. Stop thinking of all the parts of yourself you left in other worlds.

Your biological mom’s jacket—half-sunk in the nasty, trash-bag-laden creek in the woods behind Mrs. Evingston’s house (seven worlds ago). Forget the address; you’re never going to retrieve it. It belongs to the universe now.

A Cinderella necklace your favorite foster sister (fifteen worlds ago? sixteen?) gave you because it was her least favorite souvenir from Disney World—snatched and swallowed by Mr. Morrison’s pastor’s wife’s snot-machine Pug and pooped out in Mr. Morrison’s backyard (thirteen or so worlds ago). You didn’t want it back at the time, and you certainly don’t want it back now.

Your kissing virginity—taken by Nate, a chubby kid who was also being fostered by the Bellmans (eleven or ten worlds ago)—a boy who’d hit on you so constantly since you got there that you wanted to hit him with one of those Cherry Cola bottles he was always lifting to his lips. This one should remind you there are perks to wall-hopping.

Your biting virginity—lost in a somewhat regrettable incidence that centered on poor Mrs. Holland’s hairy leg and occurred after she tried to force you to eat her Shrimp Scampi the week you decided you were anorexic (don’t know how many worlds ago). Yes, you were shocked and sad when this got you removed from Mrs. Holland’s house, but you learned something from this. You learned that biting people is an efficient method of expediting the world-hopping process, and you used it with great success on at least three other occasions.

Your throwing-lit-firecrackers-at-people virginity—lost on a truly scarring Fourth of July celebration that happened on either the Maddisons’ or the Jonses’ driveway. Both families provoked you so much during Fourth of July celebrations that you can’t remember which one you threw the firecracker at and which one you simply fantasized doing this to. A downside of world-hopping: memories merge.

Your private diary with Lisa Frank’s happy, rainbow dolphins on the covers and emo suicide poems inside—destroyed (by you) after Mrs. Morrison found it one day and, violating the fundamental human right to NOT HAVE ONE’S PERSONAL DIARY SNOOPED IN BY NOSY FOSTER MOTHERS, read it, and forced you to have a slightly uncomfortable and wholly unproductive talk with the pastor about your “depressive tendencies.” Don’t give in to the temptation to start a diary again. You’ve tried, like, eight times, but the embarrassment PTSD was so bad that you had to shred, burn, or otherwise dispose of the evidence as if you were a spy and the info in those pages would get you shot were it discovered. Besides, emo poems just aren’t ironic enough if they’re not written in a genuine Lisa Frank journal. And you’re too old for Lisa Frank.

Your cuddly stuffed hedgehog with the roundest bead eyes and the most bop-able nose—dropped in some huge, clean government building inhabited by tall, grim-faced adults whose long legs and heavy shoes rushed them in and out of rooms that exploded with stacks of paper and angrily ringing phones (so, so many worlds ago). Oh, Hedgy, I miss you.

Your general goodwill toward other human beings—lost somewhere between worlds seven through nine. This one actually isn’t permanently gone, but it won’t come back until you stop blaming it for all your problems.

4. Don’t be resentful.

5. Flip the script and assert your agency by proactively leaving traces of yourself in all the worlds you find yourself dragged into.

Write that “potty-mouth word” you just learned all over the Northern Waterthrush page of Mrs. Washington’s bird book. And the Sanderling page. And the Tufted Titmouose page, why the hell not.

Hide a convoluted trail of over forty clues all over Mrs. Bellman’s neighborhood and “discover” the first clue on a walk with Nate the day CPS rescues you from him. Act disappointed and jealous that you won’t be there to find the treasure. Watch his selfish eyes dilate as he pretends to act sorry that he won’t get to split the treasure with you. Laugh all the way to your first Group Home. Make predictions about how many days he’ll waste before he’s disappointed.

Write your name on every desk you can. Write with pen, with permanent marker. Something that can’t be erased.

6. Consciously adopt the philosophical position that yours is the only consciousness that you can be certain exists.

Follow this with the view that none of the people in your life are people.

Your foster parents are not your foster parents. Your friends are not your friends. Your boyfriend is not your boyfriend.

They’re avatars.

And all these avatars are here to teach you something, to sharpen your character, to change you. And once you learn the lesson you need to learn from a place, that stage is cleared, and you get to move on to the next one. Like a game!

You like games, don’t you?

7. Keep your eyes peeled for the underwater level.

8. Adopt a gratitude for the present moment, for wherever you are.

Enjoy Mrs. Holland’s cooking.

Feel honored when the slobbering pug allows you to pet it, even though it hates most people.

Make amends for the Cinderella necklace.

Be grateful, grateful, grateful ‘til you die. And then be grateful for death.

J.V. Sumpter (BFA from University of Evansville) is an assistant editor for Kelsay Books, Thera Books, and freelance clients. She received 2020 Virginia Grabill Awards in Poetry and Nonfiction and has work in (or forthcoming in) New Welsh Review, Leading Edge Magazine, The Amethyst Review, Not Deer Magazine, Wretched Creations, Flyover Country, and The Augment Review. Visit her Twitter @JVSReads.