Personal

On ordinary days that become perfect by circumstance

He found dentures washed up on a flea-ridden beach—smoothed down to half its dental cast by the timid waves that deposited large purple jellyfish like blood clots along the shore. We were looking for beach glass but here was the pride of his findings and he tucked them carefully away to be saved. Now they live in an antique mason jar on a ledge behind the toilet and if I see them on display I carefully rotate them back against the wall.

The day we get married the clouds won’t cooperate and I leave the decision in his hands but he knows I’ve never wanted to exchange vows in a church, so he makes the call I can’t and we’re standing under our handmade arbor regardless when the rain starts to fall. His eyebrows go up in perfect crescent moons and we both peer at the sky until a childhood friend donates her umbrella and his cousin holds another over his head and it can’t be coincidence that they somehow match the wedding colours in the photos we get back.

In the letter I forgot that I wrote to him that first summer that he admitted he’s been carrying all this time, worn down to the thinnest folds. He says “I read it when I’m feeling low.” And I hear all of the ways he’s held me to him even when we’re apart. And I see all of the ways we’ve been loving each other in tiny trickles that meet and grow into streams and suddenly our love is immense as a raging river and I don’t mind, I want to, be under its pull. Like I never needed to learn how to hold my breath. Like being near him helps me grow gills.

I read him my handwritten vows, voice shaking, taking slow and steadying breaths and trying not to cry. Here are the things I’ve learned and the ways I’ve loved you and will always try my very best to love you. And here are the ways fate made you family and the struggles we will always come through stronger. I empty my heart onto the page and later, people hold me in their arms and tell me how much they cried when we spoke. How we must be meant for each other. The love in the room is as pregnant as the sky and I feel it in the eyes that are watching us. I feel it in the hand of my best friend, entwined in mine under the table. In the words of my father, when he begins to speak Cree, and a shiver runs through the crowd. I feel it when my mother mentions how much my grandfather would have like to have been here, he is here, and the tear that winds its way down. Free at last.

Later, after the dancing, after my brother holds me and maybe for the first time, tells me to my face how much he loves me, how proud he is of me, after everyone is in their beds, and the room is picked clean, and my buzz is wearing off, and the dress is in a pile and he’s hung it on the door, and I peel fake eyelashes from my lids, after all of the emotion and the party and the hoopla we take our dog Sundance for a walk.

At 3am in a small dark town, settled, soft and the rain has finally stopped and we’re officially, stamped, marked, sealed, a family.

He holds my hand in his the same way he always has.

Wife he asks.

Husband I reply.

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Personal, Prose

What we always knew

Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night with an emotional itch I can’t get to. My best friend got engaged last month and I’m already writing my speech in my head, every night, while the neighbour’s automatic flood light forces its way through our heavy curtains and everything still feels so immediate.

I always felt like the older twin, the one who came first but always had so much more to learn. We used to communicate without speaking—in raised eyebrows and head tilts; in wide eyes and pursed lips. She was a mirror, but always with a better brighter version of who I wanted to be.

The summer nights before fiances, between boyfriends, we took command of entire cities. Leaving artifacts ruined in our wake. We were just people but a force of nature together. Cap ou pas cap? Toujours cap.

Sometimes youth feels like invisibility and a platform all at once. Drapped in each other’s arms at the end of so many adventures, with all these stories to tell, secrets to keep, we were invincible in the kind of friendship that you can’t forge, but finds you when you least expect it.

Now all these responsibilities keep us grounded. Soon she’ll be married, a wife and then probably not too far along, a mother. Exactly like we always planned.

At her wedding I get too drunk, warming my wine glass between two sweaty palms—an offering to the gods of public speaking. In front of me on the podium my ring finger sparkles, catching the light and I lose my place for a moment and clear my throat, wings scrapping my insides as something struggles toward the light.

When I practised I couldn’t stop crying, it was alarming, a submarine filling with water, all of me leaking out onto the page. But the wine has made me calmer, my voice measured out two beats ahead of my brain. It’s over before I know it and her husband (husband!) embraces me whispering thanks into my ear and I hold on to him like the ground is shaking. This is all so new now.

They go to Greece on their honeymoon. I sit cross-legged on my dining room floor assembling the kitchen table my mother gave us. Inheritance hand-me-downs. It’s coming apart at the corners and I think about waiting but drag a chair to the closet and bring down the drill. Manage. On every surface I pile library books according to size and wait for the fees to accumulate. All these late notifications but I can’t bring myself to return what I haven’t read yet.

When we’re older, old, paper-thin. I’ll gather you in my sure hands, winding your white hair into the tightest of  buns. Like you always knew I would.

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Books

The Interestings, life, love and not knowing anything at all, ever

Meg Wolitzer's The InterestingsWe get bound up in each other. It’s inevitable. That’s what makes life interesting—the push and pull of people, especially the ones that you yearn for in one way or another, although not always the way that they want. We make promises in our youth that lack the follow through of day-to-day living. We love people but sometimes with limits, carefully placed for our own protection. That’s what Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings made me ruminate on. Especially because the central relationships are friendships, of course, but also a little bit of envy, some obsession and love. That strange lingering love that pools itself in your most creative friends. They quench you—that aching need that lives behind your breastbone and never quite goes away. The parts of you that the people you love most might not even understand.

I like what Wolitzer says about honesty, about the secrets you carry with you forever, and the intimacy you sacrifice just by keeping them. It’s a book about a group of friends, sure, but it’s also about knowing and how there isn’t really such a thing, not completely, and how arrogant we are when we think we do. It’s about love but also about what real love lacks and how that’s OK, better even, because it’s not about finding everything but about choice—prioritizing. Which sounds clinical but isn’t. Not really, it’s about being real with yourself about what actually makes you happy.

I don’t talk much about art anymore. I don’t discuss writing, not in the way I used to, all tangled up with big ideas and theories. Plans. It’s not because I can’t, but more because I don’t need to. I’m sated with everyday happiness, the kind that comes from being with someone who has love that shores you up. The kind that passes through generations and lasts. I feel like Julz, really, deciding that I don’t need to be so creative, don’t need to define myself by it or feel like I have to be miserable to feed it. But we’re both still chasing something, a feeling we used to have, a worry for the future.

But maybe that’s just what life is.

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Personal, Prose, Writing

What it felt like then and other stories

There were things we wanted then that didn’t seem ridiculous.

Coffee without the grinds. Ice water just before it turns cool leaving wet rings that soak into the wood. We didn’t need the bad with the good, the good was enough, it was plenty. Maybe it was naive to think we could section off our emotions, corner our dislikes with barbed wire, “Stay! Good boy.” Until it leaked out and over and through again.

So, OK, we loved but we did it in our own way, reusing the scraps that kept falling to the ground. Ten-second, three-hour, four-year rule. Now we don’t even pretend to like the same things on Facebook. We keep twin tufts of hair instead—the scalp still on—all our secrets in shoe boxes.

Which feels more true.

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Prose

Reading a Smile

They say your eyes were closed the first time you smiled but they’re wide open now, shining, and I can’t tell if you’re delighted or just scared. Your teeth are clenched but you do that sometimes, when you’re excited, sometimes when you don’t know what to say.

So, I’m hesitating because you might be hesitating and the box in my palm is still firmly closed, frozen. My knee hurts and I remember, now, that I haven’t swept yet like you asked me to yesterday. I just know, when I stand up I’ll be a one-legged lint trap.

But, tell me. Tell me yes. Tell me you want to get frustrated with each other every week for another   fifty years, sixty if we’re lucky. Tell me you want to believe I’ll follow through even if sometimes I don’t. Or, don’t say anything, just let that half-smile teeter into a grin. I’ll know.

 

This one was supposed to be for drabblerousers but it turns out the word limit is 100 not 150. Shit fuck damn. We’ll get ’em next time boys. (Sorry Peter).

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Personal

The Woman Who Came After

She’s sweet, the kind of girl who would be named after a city, and is. I imagine her in an apron and heels, but that’s not fair, her long hair tied up in a perfect bun. I can’t hate her, the woman who came after. She housed your heart so easily. While I strayed she stays, and who could blame her for that?

The truth is as I write it, and I rarely think of you now, but once a year when I remember again that I’ve forgotten your birthday or how my feet felt in my shoes at your grandmother’s funeral, too big to fill. You cried and squeezed my hand so tight I had red marks for days.

The ring is modest, as it would be, but painstakingly picked out and deliberated over. You always did work out the details, thought ahead. No grand gestures or cheesy clichés but you listen and you remember. It was probably lovely how you asked, intimate, a little nostalgic. But, then, you do nostalgia so well.

It’s difficult to say what I really mean when what I mean is drifting and what I say is hard pin points of light bursting through the shades. I love you. I never loved you. Looking back, you could have been anyone but you were you, sitting behind me in history class, letting me borrow your chewed up pen.

I’d love to congratulate you and mean it. But, how can I? You’re still 18 and fearless, driving on the wrong side of the road, playing chicken with my heart. You can’t be getting married, you’re still across from me at that 24/7 Perks Coffee, telling me how happy you are. I never did do honesty right with you, so I nodded and listened, smiled, and walked away again. Always.

So, here we are backs turned, living the lives we were meant for. Loving stronger, better, faster, the way you only can if you’ve learned from mistakes, lived through the heartache.

Still.

You’re engaged, and somewhere out there the fat woman is gearing up to sing. The things I’d say to her, to you, if I had half a chance.

Like, congratulations, you make a beautiful couple.

I wish you well.

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Personal

Losing the Fight

They try their best to convince us not to go, but we go anyway, and the weather is beautiful and the conditions are ideal. We hike uphill for an hour, ignoring coyote warnings and fresh droppings. We don’t all live our lives in fear of yesterday’s storm. I shrug into my sweater, ocean views on all sides and berry plants that flame against the sky. On the way back a moose and her young block the path.

“Don’t move,” he says, pulling me behind him.

I can feel it all pent up inside me and I want to scream and charge it and scare something off for once. I’m not afraid, though he thinks I should be. It’s like crossing without looking. Thinking, “hit me, hit me, hit me.”

Later, we fight. I shut up and shut off, stepping out of his reach. The whys are no longer relevant, we say enough in silence, in terse words rationed out one by one. The new apartment is too small to house our bodies fighting, magnified. So we claim rooms like property and set up temporary forts, doors closed, for the cats to butt their heads against.

Hours pass and the immediacy of anger fades, I’m left hollow, wanting only to be held but unwilling to crawl into his arms or call a truce. I fall asleep curled against my body pillow, under my own blanket, a careful inch of space between us, backs rigid.

Overnight we lose all our fight, deflate, fit into our bodies again.

I get up and go to work. Slam the door, only to change my mind, come back, and kiss him softly as he sleeps. Pause to whisper love into his dreams. Unseen.

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