“Should I come in?” Nicki was still holding his hand in the darkness of her Jeep. His house looked so lonely at this hour.
It took him a second, and he turned his head slightly and looked at her. “What do you mean?” His tone was kind but confused.
“Never mind,” Nicki kissed his cheek and unlocked the doors, smiling quickly.
He inhaled. “I’ll see you.” She watched him walk slowly back into his house, pausing just for a moment before the door. She imagined he looked as if he might turn around, and it might have been real, but then he swung the screen door open and stepped inside the dark house.
Nicki sat there for another minute, wrestling her thoughts. Did she just ruin everything?
She told me over lunch one afternoon how I ought to not trust banks. I ought to keep my money in cash, hidden, tucked away underneath my mattress or in my coffee tin or even in the ceiling tiles or baseboards. She told me that I ought to do this right away when I get home. I nodded occasionally, at the moments where I felt like it would make the most amount of sense, even though I felt like not much was making sense as we sat underneath a Spring sun with an umbrella propped next to our table, its folds of sunbleached fabric fluttering occasionally with the breeze. Just because she’s an aunt, she told me, perhaps for the hundredth time, doesn’t mean I get to ignore her advice. She then told me that she wasn’t my mother, but that my mother ought to know better than to let me go off for an entire afternoon in the city with an aunt that barely speaks to the family. I thought this was a strange thing to say, but I ordered another iced tea and settled into my chair for more hiding place ideas for my loads and loads of cash I would soon withdraw.
“I can’t help it that I’m more pretty than she is, and that don’t mean I have to make her feel better about herself by lookin’ worse myself on account of her mother dyin’.”
“Liza dear, now let’s carry those trays a bit slower now, hmm? Yes, that’s much better, thank you child, ahh–oop! Careful with that saucer there dear, yes, oh my what an improvement since yesterday, such an improvement. Your mother might just be proud of you by the end of your time here, darling, as long as you–oh no, not the knife, dear, use the teaspoon for that.”
“Mother,” she said slowly, “I don’t care what father would think. To be tied up in some romantic affair across continents and oceans, my hair tousled by ocean spray, complexion ruined by a poor diet or strange food–it all sounds exactly perfect.”
“Look out!” He cried. “You can’t be runnin’ around here wit no shoes on, gal. Dint spect to see anyone out heah anyhoo.”
“A simple ‘hello’ would have sufficed, but no, you had to go and make a point,” Marla was breathing heavily from her sprint across the street. “I just wanted to let you know that I really, really hate you.”
Dad offhandedly mentioned that he told you the story, but I thought I’d take a minute or two to set the record straight.
To give you some context, it was a really cold winter. While you might be asking what that has to do with the story, consider how few things there are to do in Minnesota when the windchill brings the temperature below -70F. Anything you would do becomes way more about survival than it does about having fun.
So that night, when Jonathan suggested we try to make our own fireworks, it really seemed like a good idea at the time. Please excuse the cliche, dear cousin, but there isn’t a better way to put it than that.
We assumed that since everything was covered in snow, it meant that everything was fireproof. Snow is water, after all.
The only reason the fire marshall didn’t charge us with negligent arson was on account of how cold it was. Not because he was feeling merciful, but because his pen wouldn’t write. He made us stand outside the whole time they were putting out the blaze, gave us a long glare that made us think he was quite capable of murder, and that was that.
Any mention of us laughing, joking, teasing the marshall, dancing around the flames, or requesting that we do it again, are all gross exaggerations. We took the matter quite seriously, and have never attended an Independence Day celebration out of reverence.
See you at Christmas,
I really am doing just fine these days. The other week I went to the bank, the post office, and the grocery store, all without incident. You see, the difference between an “outburst” and “communication” is all dependent on where the fault lies. Randy explained it all when we met last. He said “the person responsible for the outburst is the source of the outburst.” So simple. It wasn’t my fault that the man in front of me spilled his jar of coins all over the bank’s white speckled carpet. At the post office, it wasn’t my fault that the employee handed me the wrong sleeve of stamps. And at the grocery store, it wasn’t my fault that the deli was out of my smoked turkey breast. So naturally, my response wasn’t my fault either–I’m simply not responsible. They just shouldn’t have done those things, and it all would been just fine.
When Emily told me she couldn’t like Lisa Frank anymore, there was definitely a part of my nine year old self that didn’t believe her reason why. I don’t know how, but I could tell that she had decided that she couldn’t both like Lisa Frank and be cool in the eyes of her peers.
This was unforgivable. I don’t remember if my own love for LS waned after that conversation or not, but years later I was reminded of the whole incident because of Facebook. She shared a link on her page to a new line of leggings designed with Lisa Frank prints.
“OMG MUST HAVE.” She wrote.
The vindication I felt was insurmountable. My childhood self rejoiced at knowing that I was right all along, that her sudden dislike of those rainbow animals was all a ruse. But then there was a jab of sadness, realizing that she had given up something she actually loved, just for the sake of being accepted.
The bittersweet flavor of childhood memories make their remembering a confusing practice. Some of it is so warm and a little hazy but so safe and good, and then you realize what actually happened, what they meant, what they weren’t saying–what was actually happening. And the darkness clouds like ink into the clear water of who you are, and it’s all shadowed with something ugly and frightening. There’s just enough sweet to give you a smile, for a moment, and then you realize the dogs are barking at the neighbor again and there’s a spill in the kitchen and you’re gone again, for now.
Emily drew butt cheeks on my pants, while I was wearing them. It was a brilliant idea. When I got home, I slid my backside against the wall all the way into my room, in case Mom saw. I didn’t know what she would do if she saw, but I didn’t want to know.
“I don’t like Lisa Frank anymore.” Emily told me the next day. She always knew what to like and not to like. She went to the public school.
“Why not?” I frowned.
“Because this younger girl came up to me and said she was going to adopt one of the animals. She actually thinks they’re real. So I can’t like them anymore. It’s too sad.”
That was sad. But that wasn’t Lisa Frank’s fault. Lisa Frank was mine–and no sad dumb little girl could ever take that away from me. And then Mandy said she too liked Point of Grace while we were eating at McDonald’s. Not my Point of Grace.
“You don’t love BRIDGEACROSSTHEGREATDIVIDE Point of Grace!” I shouted and ran to the Playplace.