We’re driving down from the hills in the summer heat, the valley a green haze below us, the Sutter Buttes in the distance. My hand is resting on your arm, all angles and smooth skin sliding onto your wrist, my scars and your freckles. Our respective pedigrees, the gifts our families left for us, laid out on our flesh.
There’s a gay man singing through our stereo, I cry along, needing his rich wail to bring me down, hold me here, in this moment, with you. He sings of a Gay Messiah, and I feel the irony in my core, sending chills in the summer heat. How beautiful this world is, how far we’ve come, how much further we have to go.
I think about how timid I am with my words now, how the years have stemmed the flood yet made the waters no less fierce. My frustration leaves me tongue tied, there is so much I have to say, but I feel so small and irrelevant.
My home town is changing, developing and growing, full of meth labs and small businesses where once there was cowslip and fairy globe, herds of grazing sheep and cattle. My eyes follow the old patterns; The Frisians still standing tall in their fields, the last remnants of the old junkyard, the copse of valley oak that was planted when I was born. The park is overflowing with people, cars parked where there was once ground squirrels and magpies, grazing deer and roaming coyotes.
We arrive at my grandma’s house, where the gravel bites at my feet though my sandals, it’s a familiar pain, one that brings a strange semblance of comfort. The mourning doves are crying over the cicadas steady call. The silk tree is blooming, tufts of pale pink dancing in the evening breeze.
The old patterns are still here, waiting for us to walk them. The cracks in the pavement are unchanged, the tangle of grapes and ivy shading the front of the house. I feel both old and young, my mind half convinced that if I can only believe, I can find home again in this house. A child version of myself, running bare foot and muddy, magpie feathers tangled in her hair. I think she’s there still, a ghost that haunts me with her boldness and dreams every time I find myself within the borders of the old picket fence. She stands upon the old chopping block, chest thrown out, arms wide, screaming a battle cry to the world, a world that only wants to quiet her. I want to find her again, bring her out of the shadow of memory, let her stand tall within me, all boldness and recklessness and unstoppable determination.
We go inside, where we eat ice cream and dance around the issues that sit down across the living room with us. The air conditioner is older then I am, thunderous and shaking, like the blood slamming through my veins as I feel the tangles of family and mortality and obligation. I do not bring up those things I promised myself I would, even as I feel us all slipping towards, “too late”.
My grandmother is frail, tissue and driftwood, almost a century of life reflected in the twist of bones and plum blue veins. I sit as close to her as I can, at the very edge of the old coffee table, where I can recall coloring and doing my homework, while the stove blazed behind me, the old green carpet scratching against my ankles.
My mother is tired, I urge her out of the kitchen and make dinner for my grandma, something simple and recognizable. Grilled cheese on whole grain, a cup of tomato soup. She feeds a third of it to the dog, but I don’t mind, she has earned her right to eat or not. She has fed me on love till I wanted less, now I cannot get enough. I think about the millions of others, standing alone in old kitchens, feeling helpless to escape those they care about the most.
I sit with my grandma while she eats, and we watch California start to burn. I want to ask her to turn the television off, simply sit with me in the quiet and tell me of Illinois in the thirties, of Detroit in the forties, of California from the fifties and on. Tell me of the men she loved, the dreams she conquered or lost, I know so much, but it is never enough. I am desperate for memories, wanting her to live on in my heart, a ghost beside the little girl she raised.
I have yet to live, I want to tell her. I have yet to see and experience the world. I do not even know who I am, because I have become so lost in being other things for other people. Don’t leave me, I want to whisper, let’s go back two decades and stay in summer perpetually, digging in the garden, when your hands could still pull potatoes from the earth, twist tomatoes from their vines. I was raised in two worlds, and how I clung to your for it’s stability and sweetness. I do not want a world where you are not a phone call away.
Mortality is the final argument, wishes can pile upon themselves and change the course of our lives towards many things, but we still end our journey in one port.
Driving home, feeling both empty and full. The sun is fading, the California fires sending smoke across the horizon. There is little comfort to be found now, we talk of small things and I dream of being alone. Completely alone, somewhere far from here. Where I can no longer hurt or be hurt. But I’m all twisted and tangled up in these lives, and I’ve given myself no means of escape.
Except for the words.
All pictures taken by me.