The summer we turned twenty-two, you and I would go to Europe, but at separate times. I would go with my conservative Christian parents and rebellious, aloof sister on a short vacation, and you were to go as an au pair in August, to leave everyone behind: your mother and angry stepfather, your boyfriend Deon, your dog, me. Ten months teaching English to two children six miles outside of Paris, selling your furniture, streamlining your wardrobe—remember you read a blog on how to cut it down to twelve outfits?—learning French. If that doesn’t fix a person, doesn’t force them to find out who they want to be, what can? I went out of the country.Couldn’t find myself within a thousand mile radius. When I know how much of you is here, how many leftovers from high school, from four years of college. I’m here, and I’m part of you.
Of course, this isn’t a letter of anger about your leaving; it’s a letter of change. Our generation is getting married too soon, and we know better. We change better than everyone else. We’ll find ourselves better. As though at the beginning of time God had sorted us into baskets, those with ambition, who have interests like yoga, or photography, or scrapbooking, with the will to order, and those who are careless, who settle for community college, who don’t put away dishes or clean out their inboxes. In one basket, those girls who don’t get married before twenty-two. In the other, those who never leave our hometown. Those who do.
When she left, there was only a white cup on the sink and a battered cobalt blue St. James Bible on the wobbly three legged kitchen table and an even more abused dog-eared paperback of Louis L’Amour’s Mustang Man.
The house had no electricity for three days, exactly the number of days it had been since the dog had been fed and since all twenty of the fish died in the algae covered ten gallon aquarium.
I felt large and nameless. I had no friends and no money, yet, I felt strangely comfortable, as if nothing worse could happen to me.
If this is life, I thought, then this life is sacred and must be clung to at all costs. Life must be sacred if it is possible to feel this way.
I was not educated in those days, but I knew enough to know that one should lose himself in the darkest of places, that no one should attach himself to images and that inactivity is the highest expression of love.
Yet, I confess, that’s when the pen began moving across the page, when the poems began, and life began to take form….
He knew who he was. He knew what he wanted. He knew he could have what he wanted. He loved life.
His sister was confused. She knew what she wanted and thought that maybe someday she’d have it but someday what she wanted kept changing, because she kept changing. As she went through her life, she grew to accept so many other things, because they were tangible and transient, temporary, even though down deep they weren’t what she really wanted. She grew to appreciate the world as it entered her existence. She loved life.
He was given a football. He was taught to throw the football and given encouragement for his ability. He was told he was special.
She learned to throw the football. They told her she was cute because she knew how to throw a football. She thanked them and giggled because they seemed to like it when she giggled.
Bobby walked out of the house and down the road. Some of the birds were singing and some were not. He wondered why they didn’t sing, the starlings, the blackbirds and thought they might be unhappy. The idea of sad birds almost clouded his eyes but after ma, he had made a Bobby-promise not to make any more tears pop out of his eyes. They were cruel, hateful things, smudging everything, making buildings look like butter and the flowers like ruined photographs. No, no more tears for Bobby, even if his heart trembled and shook like the tracks when a train approached. Ma had always told him to stand behind the yellow lines when they’d gone on a trip and he’d always listened. Would he ever go on another trip now, without ma? He shook his head no, but in his heart, in that secret place where he made his dreams and sometimes fell in love with the pretty girl from the local shop that sold his pop, he wondered.
One strange day in my youth, on a Monday, the headmaster, Mr. Werman, interrupted my English class and Mr. Plimpton’s lecture on the Romantics, Wordsworth in particular.
We were supposed to have read “Lines” the night before. I wasn’t paying much attention and was instead doodling lazy daydreams in my mind. Mr. Plimpton, when he recited lines of the poem, had a sleepy, deep, and sonorous voice.
Since I wasn’t paying attention, Mr. Plimpton called on me and asked, “How would you describe the force that Wordsworth believes connects us all to nature and to each other, Mr. Rowland?”
Before I could answer him, and long before the chilling fear of an audience could sink in, Mr. Werman entered, shuffled across the room, and whispered into the long raisiny ear of Mr. Plimpton. After a moment of listening, Mr. Plimpton said, “Edward, Mr. Werman would like to have a word with you.”
When I was seven I went to sleepaway camp, where I fell and got eight stitches in my knee, never knew with whom to sit in the dining hall, and drew a spectacular picture of a ladybug. The wings were smooth red with seven spots; the pronotum was black with white markings, deceptively eye-like, like an orca whale; and the head was small with friendly eyes and antennae. I drew it on the last day of camp with a sticky bandage on my leg while the other, braver children climbed the old California oak. All week long I had sat under inspirational posters in the dining hall: ladders of success with rungs labeled, “I won’t,” “I can,” “I did.” Finally, I thought, as I looked at my gorgeous ladybug, I had really done something at camp.
The Woman in the Rose Colored Dress by Kaj Anderson-Bauer
It started with a real woman in a real rose-colored dress. Roland saw her while we at the china buffet. All the while, as we’re eating, Roland is giving me this weird look. As we walk out, Roland whispers in my ear, “that woman in the rose-colored dress was staring at you the whole time.” I had no idea what he was talking about so I said, “oh yeah, the woman in the rose-colored dress, she’s been on my trail for years—she’s like a state of mind for me now.” That was sort of how the joke began.
Ginger had long legs, jade-green eyes, and hair as red as autumn leaves. These days, at sixty-three, she had to henna her hair, and though it wasn’t as lustrous as it once had been, it was still thick and wavy and reached past her shoulders, a mane she could toss as she danced. The skin now sagged on her upper arms, and her thighs were a bit lumpy, but with sleeves and pants or a long enough skirt, nobody needed to know. She wore size 4, had no stiffness in her joints, and was always raring to go.
He had not been home in precisely 87 days—almost three months, which amounted to so many weeks that I’d quit counting. The days of chicken salad sandwiches and chairs that hurt my tailbone were long past. So were the days of watching a familiar reality fade away. These days my mother and I had mastered a perfect illusion of sameness, masking the gap of before and after brain injury.
She winterized the boat, made time to throw sticks and tennis balls to Meagan, helped me with math homework. I thought her intelligence and perfectionist approach to things would be the trick to algebra, but we were both stumped, bored and frustrated. She cooked for us, mowed the grass and kept the garage clean. She went to my volleyball games and chorus concerts, and drove me to Speech tournaments in the wee morning hours on Saturdays. She lectured me about cars, constantly. About riding with my friends, and how to pay attention to who was a good driver, who was responsible.
It was as if my dad had been on a long vacation. He could walk in the door and slip right back into our lives. Except my mother kept referring to my father as “handicapped, both mentally and physically.” She had me prepared to babysit my father—meal times, bedtimes and do and don’ts and lists. I was a good babysitter, the kind that gave all the kids on my block secret snacks and extended bedtimes.
I’m sitting next to my Spanish teacher in her dusty old Honda as she pulls into the town square and parks on the packed dirt near a stone wall. The square is crowded with people, mostly women and children in traditional Maya dress; the fragrant smoke of cooking fires floats above them. As I step out of the car I feel dazed, as if I were in a dream.
A young woman rushes toward me from across the plaza – a small, solid woman with shining dark eyes and a beautiful wide smile. “Hola, Juanita,” she calls. She wraps her arms around me and the warmth of her hug makes my eyes fill with tears. I know she must be Maria Francisco, the wife of my friend Elio. But how did she recognize me so instantly?
It was Thursday night and once again Gerald was packing them into the Old Town Pub. They came through the door in twos, the men stepping uncomfortably in slacks that had been purchased for them, the women attempting to appear grand in their pearls and summer dresses while they held their men close and claimed them. The couples at the tables settled in and agreed, ‘This is nice, we’re glad we did this,” while those who’d arrived late were forced to either balance on stools or lean against the walls. No one wanted to arrive too early, for the food went right through you, but there were certain sacrifices to be made for a big night out. It was Thursday and Gerald was playing, there was nowhere else to be.