...It’s been a long time / since I’ve wanted to die, / it makes me feel / like taking off / my skin suit / and seeing how / my light flies all / on its own, neon / and bouncy like a / wannabe star.
--”Field Bling,” Ada Limon Tonight on my 15 minute drive home from campus, I almost hit two animals, which seems like it could have been a bad omen, but almost means it’s ok. The first was a panicked little rat jittering across the center lane in the intersection down on Federal. Right in front of the crossfit gym where I always drive slow because I worry that very strong people will be carrying very heavy things on their shoulders on the shoulder of the road, wearing dark clothing without any reflectors. The second was the little black cat that’s taken to lounging outside my sliding glass door now that That Cat isn’t down here to drive them off with her fury. Or maybe one of the 20+ other little black cats that appeared suddenly this spring and have spent the last year growing lanky and fearless. Some mornings I find their dusty little toe-bean prints scattered across my windshield. It reminds me of childhood winters in Montana, how we’d check the wheel wells to make sure no critters were curled up sleeping, trying to keep themselves off the frozen ground.
Makes me think about the story my dad told. How he’d been called in for some fire emergency and forgetting to check the engine, dragged our black cat, Little Kitty, all the way to the station and back. Still that mangled little cat lived to see me off to college.
Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about origin stories. Where we come from. Who we come from. What it means to leave. I’ve been thinking about how easy it is to get things all mixed up in our heads, no matter how long we’ve been gone. How people become the stories we tell, the way we become other people’s stories. I’ve spent a lot of time wondering what you say about me. Worse yet, I think about you saying nothing, like the whole of me just stopped existing. Did you know Angr, the obvious Old Norse root of our modern anger, also means grief or sorrow? What does it mean to carry this sort of duality? To shoulder our contradictions.
There was a day, do you remember? Sunset on the Santa Monica pier. When you told me you missed what we’d had because even with nothing we had each other. And I thought about the half-wide trailer by the train tracks where we slept, the three of us, on the pull-out couch in the living room. The night you woke us to stand shivering and barefoot on the front steps. To bear witness. Migration. How the sound of the geese, all those wings, was the definition of flying. How we looked up into the sky and it was white with bellies, all those bodies heading somewhere, bellies splashed orange with the streetlamp glow. Migration. We are always coming or going.
I’ve been thinking about how when I say home people hear family, even though those are two different stories, and how when I say home I mean Portland, which is where my family is, but not like most people think, and I’ve been thinking about how I could have killed myself in that yellow room during the winter in 2011. Could have taken all those pills with all that tequila, but I didn’t. It’s been a long time since I wanted to die. Tomorrow I’ll be 30, and I’m trying to reconcile how I can be both that sad little girl, wearing hand-me-down dresses and eating Kraft cheese sandwiches, and this person who sees musicals on Broadway. Drinks $12 craft cocktails in speakeasies. Doesn’t ever have to count pennies to keep the gas tank full.
I don’t remember how old I was when Little Kitty disappeared. I must have been in college already. Gone or leaving. I don’t remember how she was missing for days or weeks. I don’t remember, wasn’t there, the day you found her in the backseat of my stepfather’s old car. What I remember is the hush of your voice when you talked about the sound of the maggots chewing. The smell of summer-ripe rotting flesh. The catch in your throat when you said you called the 12 year-old neighbor boy to put her out of her misery. How the gun was his father’s. How he named that bullet mercy. I’m embellishing again. But what are we without stories?
One of the greatest gifts you gave me, I was seven or eight maybe. You told me, Baby. It doesn’t get easier to be brave just because you’re grown up. You’re still scared. But you do stuff because nobody else will and it has to get done. I’m sorry I forgot. I’m sorry I expected you to be brave. I’m sorry I’ve been waiting for you to save me, when I’ve already saved myself in a hundred different ways. Seeing you like a gut punch after not seeing you for so long, like maybe love has always been another word for missing, like anger and grief, two sides of the same coin.
I’ve spent a lot of time wondering what you say about me, hoping you use every word there is for daughter. There’s no word for the bond that forms between two people who survive a natural disaster together, or if there is I haven’t found it yet. I’m sorry that for so long I’ve thought of you as the storm, when in fact you were just as weather-torn as me. Tomorrow I’ll be 30, and I’m me in a way you can’t quite comprehend. You’re you in a way I can’t quite comprehend, living so many miles and a vastness of silence away. But you’re also the mother who spent my childhood reading I'll love you forever, I'll like you for always, as long as I'm living my baby you'll be. Here’s what I know: when I watched you, rolled up sleeves, washing dishes through a steam-smeared window at your daughter’s wedding, I loved you so much there aren’t words for that kind of lonely.