Ethereal love races
Through electric fingertips
To the deepest soulparts
Brightens darkened hearts
All in a single second.
A holiday toast to my husband:
Brighter than the shade of rubies in my ears, deeper than the scarlet smeared on my lips, richer than the aged merlot in my glass, is the love my crimson heart carries for you after sixteen Christmases together.
Photo courtesy of Unsplash
In sixth grade, I strode into your bedroom to find you situated on your bed with your Stephen King book in hand. Eyes almost closed, but not quite.
Scruffy flannel pajamas snuggled your body. Antique quilts swaddled the bed. Your glasses had slipped to the bottom of your nose, like always, and you hadn’t yet shoved them back up.
Soft white light whispered to the shadows in your corner of the room. I didn’t say anything. Didn’t have to. But I needed to be close to you. At your side. A daughter needs her mother.
So I slid into your bed. Opened my R.L. Stine book. Exhaled.
It would have been different had we known what was to come; cancer.
At that moment, we would’ve had conversations about life. About close family I never had the chance to meet. About what you were like as a child.
You’d show your candor, your true colors. But that knowledge, that experience, would’ve come at a cost.
But we didn’t know. Not yet. Instead, only our steady sighs and the shooshing of turning pages swept against our ears. Everything else turned silent because it was our space, our time.
Had we known, we would have gained something. But we would have lost so much, only to watch the clock.
Seven pets, at least, are buried where my sister and I played, digging and swinging without fearing the future.
The sandbox, swings, and siblings left, tears fell, weeds overgrew. But five dogs, a bunny, and a bird named Lucky remind us of life’s fragility, even after so many years.
I had three weeks’ notice to plan for the trip to see my sister become a wife, but it only took two days for the mailman to deliver my lace dress. I rummaged through my daughters’ and husband’s closets for something to match.
The ten-hour drive resulted in my children fighting over which movies to watch and who got to eat the last gummy shark. They also shared laughter from the bottom of their bellies.
In Toledo, the groom found the rings he lost, and I ran across a sheet of ice to collect the bouquets I forgot in the car. The bride smiled.
After two families tied a bow to become one, we celebrated with pasta and Peroni.
“See you soon.” Kiss your husband goodbye in Detroit. He’s going to New York to begin his career, and you’re staying to pack. He’ll come back to get you in one month so you can begin the next chapter of your lives together.
It’s okay to be scared.
Fold your clothes and place them into cardboard boxes. Long sleeves first, because it’s almost summer. If it’s on a hanger, you pack it that way. It will make unpacking in your new apartment easier. Leave out the sweatshirt with the Old English D, because you might need it at night when the cool breeze blows off the Detroit River.
Wrap the kitchen glasses in grocery bags because you can’t afford bubble wrap or newspaper. You don’t have many pots or pans, just hand-me-downs from your mom. You think of keeping one out in case you cook but decide to live on sandwiches, salads, and cereal. It’s only a month, after all. You pack them away and tape the box shut.
Leave the things you won’t have room for in your new life next to the trash chute. Old artwork and chairs from Ikea that won’t fit in the truck, the ripped Nelly Furtado hoodie that carries memories of late nights and laughter in its pocket, and the s-shaped shelf that used to hold photos of friends: someone will take it. Someone will love it or maybe throw it away.
Each day after work, walk the dog around Comerica Park. Try to remember the way the home runs echoed off your favorite players’ bats. Remember the chants for Magglio, Verlander’s no-hitter, and Zumia’s wicked fastball. You wonder if watching the Yankees will give you the same joy. Will you forget how much you loved nestling into the crowd for a Saturday night game?
Remember the taste of the Hebrew National with just mustard, and the way the August sun would drop behind the top of the stadium as you took that first bite. Will New York have Hebrew Nationals or Ball Park Franks? Will the sunsets look different in Brooklyn? Will the sky change from blue to pink and crimson before settling in below the trees? Will the buildings be too tall to see the beauty? Will your neighborhood even have trees to look at, to smell in autumn, to catch snow in winter, and to bloom in the spring?
Before the big move, have your friends over one last time. Dance with them. Sing with them. Reminisce about the late night parties in your apartment. Tell them no one could ever replace them because they are so special. Look them in the eyes and promise you will never let go, even with hundreds of miles stretching between your palms and theirs.
They will promise the same.
But you know you’ve never been very good at keeping in touch from long distances.
When your husband comes home thirty days later, kiss him. Hug him. Tell him how much you’ve missed him. Smell his cologne. It’s the one scent that goes with you from the place you thought you’d live forever.
Remember why you’re going: his career, your future together. Detroit is crumbling, the auto industry has collapsed. If you stay, your s-shaped shelf and the happy faces in those photos may fall to dust with the city. Better to leave now and salvage what’s left.
Watch all your things get carried out: boxes, blue leather couch, old dresser, your favorite vintage lamp. One by one they leave your home and get loaded into the big, yellow truck. The things that can’t fit are the things you have to leave behind.
Say goodbye to the empty space, the parquet wood floors, the echo off your avocado-green wall, the memories of home.
It’s okay to cry.
I’m standing in the middle of the bathroom with my faded fuzzy pink robe on. My hair is tied in a knot on the top of my head. “I bought a new toothbrush,” I say to my husband as I smear some Sensodyne on the bristles of my new Pulsar.
“Oh yeah?” Justin spits white foam into the sink.
“The bahhery died in my old one,” I say while brushing. “Can you beeyeve I only had it for like a monsh?” I spit. “Those things aren’t cheap.” I grab a flosser and look at Justin. I glide the flosser between my teeth, first top then bottom.
He plucks one contact from his eye then the other in a smooth, fluid-like motion. He blinks and brushes away the moisture dripping from his eyes with his finger. “Did you try changing the battery?”
I look into the mirror and push a wrinkle between my eyes to flatten it. Then I stretch the skin beneath my eyes up and out, looking left then right at my reflection. I barely remember what it’s like to have buoyant skin. “Yep. When I did, some metal piece inside the toothbrush broke.” I apply my prescription-strength anti-wrinkle cream to the thinning skin beneath my eyes, then I slather it on the rest of my face.
“Why did you buy the exact same toothbrush then?”
“It’s the only one I really like. I’m afraid of trying something new.”
“Makes sense, I guess,” Justin says before gargling with some enamel-restoring mouthwash.
“But you know what else?”
He spits. “What?”
“I opened the new toothbrush and some of the bristles are bent back and to the side. See?” I hold up the toothbrush for Justin to examine.
He squints his eyes to see, then puts glasses on his face to see better. “Well they don’t make things like they used to, I guess.”
Our eyes meet in the mirror. Him with his glasses he’s had for seven years, since I was pregnant with our first daughter. Me with my robe I’ve had for ten, since our first apartment in Detroit. I reach for the mouthwash on his side of the sink.
He kisses my cheek. “Wanna fall asleep watching Ancient Aliens again?”
Ornaments hung from the spruce; twinkling lights on the roof; earrings dangling from my lobes; new polish painted on my toes; sequins weighing down my dress; borrowed cufflinks on his wrists; champagne fizzing in our cups; to eat, we have a roasted duck; parquet dance floor filled with friends:
These days we will call our best.
Photo courtesy of Unsplash.
It’s the summer of 2002. I’m twenty and full of bones that won’t commit to anything except having a good time. Through a series of bad relationships and a father who doesn’t call from three states away, I decided that relationships suck and I’m better off letting go and being alone.
Earlier today, a friend invited me to his party to celebrate Justin’s breakup.
Justin, my friend’s roommate, plays bass and spikes his hair. I’ve noticed him before. His band, Stunnd, played at a pub once. I was there by chance with friends. I remember watching in awe as he played bass. He was rhythmical and intense.
I’m always going to shows and interviewing bands because I write for The Glass Eye, a music zine in Toledo. I’ve seen plenty of musicians, but none played bass quite like Justin.
Earlier I agreed to go to the party, but now I’m stewing about what to wear. The friends I called to go with me are all busy, so I consider staying home.
But I don’t. I settle on a mustard yellow shirt from the thrift store with the words Jack’s Attack Team on the front. The shirt is comfortable; it’s my favorite worn-in tee. My Paul Frank belt secures my bell-bottoms in place and shell toes complete the casual look I’m going for. I don’t want people to think I care too much.
When I arrive, I don’t mind that a red party light in the corner emits the only glow throughout the living room. Smoke swirls toward the ceiling, and house music rattles the framed Pulp Fiction poster on the wall. Twenty people crowd the couches and floor. I walk in and hug a few acquaintances.
Someone says, “There’s beer in the fridge, Danielle. Help yourself.”
I drink more beer than usual to fill the space where I should be talking. After I’ve emptied two cans, I move closer to Justin. I notice his ripped jeans and Billabong shirt. His pokey hair reminds me of Brandon from Beverly Hills 90210. I want to touch it and to ask him how he gets to stand so high, but I don’t. Instead, I lose myself in conversation with less-intimidating strangers.
Justin walks by and brushes my shoulder with his. “Sorry,” he says.
“No problem.” I raise my hand to dismiss it.
“You’re Danielle, right?” he asks.
I feel fire radiating from my cheeks because I realize he doesn’t know me. I hope the red light hides my nerves. “I am.”
He nods and smiles. “I’m glad you could make it.”
“Who’s Jack?” He points to my shirt.
“Huh? Oh, I don’t know. Salvation Army find.” I wonder if he’ll look down at me for shopping at thrift stores.
Justin nods and motions to my empty hand. “Need a beer?”
“Sure,” I say.
On the way to the kitchen, Justin asks me what I do.
“I work at a used music store.”
“Cool.” He hands me a Coors and tells me about the band. I pretend I don’t already know.
I say, “I also write for The Glass Eye. I should do a review on your band.”
“You should.” He seems intrigued. He seems nice.
Justin cracks a joke and I laugh so hard my gut hurts. I joke back. He says, “You’re funny. I like that.”
I want to kiss him, but instead I look in his eyes and we both stop talking for a while. It’s not an uncomfortable silence – more of a moment of realization. There aren’t fireworks like in the movies. This is better. Everyone else in room fades into the distance and the music muffles. The smoky space brightens around us, illuminating his angular features.
Somehow I know he’s what I’ve been missing.
He looks away, smiles and says, “You know what? We match because we both have freckles.” He is the friend I needed and partner I wanted but didn’t know existed, and I know I’ll never let go again.
Photo courtesy of Pexels.
I distinctly remember the day my mom first showed me her bravery.
We were in my parent’s Chevy Celebrity. I think I was five. The corduroy seats itched the back of my knees, so I kept tugging on my skirt hem. I played with the hand-crank on the window, turning it up and down repeatedly. Each time it was down, warm air seeped inside and got stuck in my nose. And despite the floor being out of reach, I kicked my feet back and forth trying to touch my toes against the carpet.
We were car-dancing to Madonna when my mom gasped and slammed on her brakes. Our heads flew forward then slammed against the seats with a thud. I stopped kicking and car-dancing. Stopped playing with the window. Stopped breathing for the shortest moment.
Everything stood still as our eyes connected in the rear-view mirror. There, I saw concern and love, then determination and strength. All before she blinked.
“Oh, God!” she shouted. I exhaled and the world rotated again. “That car hit the little girl so hard she…” her voice trailed off. I heard the clicking and clacking of the car going into park and her seatbelt being unbuckled, then the slapping of the belt raveling up.
She climbed out of her seat, slammed her door, and stopped in front of my window. “You stay here,” she said, using her voice that meant business. Perseverance filled each line on her face in a way that I had never seen before.
I gulped down a breath bubble and scratched the corduroy seat to feel the fibers under my nails. I nodded yes.
“I mean it, Danielle,” she said.
“Okay, Mommy,” I whispered to her, but she was already jogging away.
I craned my head up to peek out the window and the smell of exhaust fumes overwhelmed me. It was a busy street that felt close to home, but I couldn’t tell which one it was. I saw my mom approach a girl lying face down on the pavement. She wasn’t much bigger than me. And behind the girl was a car. Its windshield was caved in and shards of glass glittered against the street. I looked away, afraid and unsure of what was happening.
Time isn’t the same when you are a child, so I don’t know how long I sat there avoiding the scene out of my window, but it felt like hours. I heard sirens and voices just beyond our car. I saw the flashing lights, but I couldn’t bear to lift my head and watch.
Eventually everything slowed. No more sirens, lights, or commotion.
My mom opened her door, sat back down in the driver’s seat, and cradled her head in her hands. “I couldn’t save her,” she wept. “I couldn’t save the little girl’s life.”
Photo courtesy of Pexels