by Delaney R. McLemore

This is about the shotgun wedding I heard you had in Reno and makes me wonder about what you’re doing now, if you still sleep every night with your husband and child (children? are you multiply blessed?) resting under the same protective cloud your breath makes, or if that same air is left making cold cumulus in the night, hands gnarled with the same desperate drunk grasps that have marked my bare-earth fingers, digging deeper, clawing downward and sometimes aimlessly at the sky, howling at the moon. Are you out there in the same night, under the same stars?

I’m listening to the Holy Bible on my computer but it’s not what you think. Not that book we never had read to us but the band, staccato disruption to this letter to you, bringing me back to the moment I am in and not those we shared. The light is green through my door, reflected off the vines and leaves laced with spider-web glint, and I am looking at our past time through that same verdant glaze. You are somewhere in Oregon, green with the rain that is slowly coming back but we fear might never return. I wonder if you’ve ever left, if you’ve come back, if you have the same crushing sense of defeat when you look at what we believed we could be and where instead we stand.

What was your dream? I can’t remember now. It was so long ago, but if I close my eyes there are the dust clouds at the edge of the parking lot in front of your house, so close to mine, but how did we meet? Children have no control over their connection and make no plans of their own. Our parents must have created our civil union. The bowling alley? I don’t know. What did you pretend to be out on the hot concrete wander land of the street you called home? When I close my eyes and look through the dust, there were no babies at 20, no Reno elopements, no small-town addresses. That thick air, cracking our lips and knuckles, staining our ankles, was a fantastic land of pop star loves (primarily Hanson) and being stars, living far away from the shrews we called lovingly mother.

But. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe all of the idealized lives we created with our Ken and Barbie dolls was practice for a life less lived, kept locked within a sadness I imagine finding in women whose lives have been so different than mine, as I push against taking one for the team, settling down and getting married again and having those babies to anchor a wealthy man to me like a boat to ocean’s floor. I did it once, mother-friend, but I lost the ring.

That isn’t how I imagine you define your life, but it’s not you who polishes my disappointed mask, the look of discontent a fear flag for others. The moment my plane, train, or truck rolls over that state line, home again home again, I sink into the bitter the way bark lines trees, a protective layer from the barbs I fear coming. My small-town’s sounds echo the childhood resentment I carried like a hatchet on my shoulder, the deference to difference that pushed me away from my small western world.

Coming home will always feel like a breath not taken, smothering and comfortable. The fog pillows me in, lulls me into a motionless, amorphous slumber. Maybe the dream of the nineties now so cliche in Portland is just the in and out of a morphine kiss, boundaries lost as we live without direction, acceptance first, of all those empty themes.

You define that decade of dream for me, mother-friend, you I hoped to be like when I grew up — but the difference between us became a slimmer year with every rotating day. It was you I missed so much in my mid-childhood move, the post-divorce relocation my mother forced, you who defined those years before I owned my hometown, Full-o-meth, Already-Gone. When getting married wasn’t a question but instead a foregone truth, when we bled only from accidents, not the tide’s change, when our feeble karaoke at Eastland Lanes was enough to satisfy the burn under my skin to be seen, to be noticed. Before my dreams had left the dust and became the concrete.

Where are you now, mother-friend, bleeding in the night?


Photo by Taylor Hammersla on Unsplash