Last night I had a dream that my mother and I went shopping. We were at an outdoor mall and it seemed to be wintry; I sensed the glow of holiday lights. We were having a nice time together and I said to her, “Mom, it’s really important that you remember tonight, okay?”

I don’t remember anything else about the dream. I don’t remember if she promised to remember, or if she smiled as if to promise, but I knew–even while dreaming–that she could not keep that promise. As I recalled the dream to my husband, I found myself lying–already re-shaping the dream. I told my husband that my mother said “Why would I forget tonight? I won’t forget anything anymore.” I am certain that in the dream she didn’t say anything, nothing at all. When I re-told it, I made it come out the way I wanted; I made my mother remember something, and promise to keep remembering it.

 

***

 

Lately I’ve been like a kitten pawing at a moving light. My friend Allison has a tiny spotlight that she used to whirl around the shiny floors of her apartment, so that her cat Piggy could chase it. She said it was fun for cats to chase things that are always just out of reach. How can humans know that the cat is having fun, that it isn’t driving the cat insane to be forever in pursuit of something illusory, a moving target?

My mother is my moving target. It has been a decade since her brain bleed, a decade since I charged down the halls of the ICU to confront the specter lying in the bed, comatose for two full days, a decade since the new Mom was born from the ashes of the hemorrhage –the Mom of fitful despair and half-recollection, who is plundered by dementia.

It was All Saints’ Day. A perfect time to visit our local legend, Thomas Jefferson.

People talk about Jefferson in Charlottesville, anchored by the university he founded, as if he were alive. “Jefferson would want us to build the road around the park, not through it.” “Jefferson would not let high-rises obscure the view of the Blue Ridge Mountains.” Instead of “What would Jesus do?” people ask, “What would Jefferson do?”

You just published a book called Playing with Dynamite: A Memoir. Why did you decide to write a book about yourself? Did you do jail time or recover from addiction or walk on the moon or something?

First of all, I never intended to write memoir. Like many writers, I started with autobiographical fiction. I wrote a novel about a teenage girl growing up in Detroit who embarks on a quest to find out who her father was and how he died. It’s remarkable how many memoirists say they started by writing their story as fiction, but it didn’t work, so they finally had to tell the whole truth. That’s what happened with me.

It all began with a visit from a woman. She rang our doorbell. Diiiiiiiiing Dooooong. My widowed Bengali immigrant mother opened our large wooden door. It let out a small creak. Maybe a warning, like in a scary movie, the first mistake, never open your door to a stranger. A skinny white woman was standing at our doorway—blonde hair and blue eyes. She was carrying a petite Louis Vuitton purse which she held onto tightly.

“Hi, I’m part of a city committee that is raising awareness about safety precautions. You are aware that there is a serial killer at large?”

My mother looked at the woman, her expression blank.

 

In journalism, we’re taught to ask the Five Ws and the Sixth H:

 

1. What happened?

2. Who was involved?

3. Where did it take place?

4. When did it take place?

5. Why did that happen?

6. How did it happen?

 

It’s always the Fifth W that is the hardest to answer.

 

***

April 17, 1985 (When)

You wake up earlier than usual that morning because you want to impress a boy at your junior high school. You walk past your parents’ bedroom and notice that your mother (Who) isn’t there, that her side of the bed is empty, an abandoned shell—crumpled-up sheets and a feathery impression of her torso, the salmon pink comforter still tucked in tight. Those army corners. Your father is snoring heavily, and you watch him through the crack in the door, the steady rise and fall of his chest. You wonder where your mother is. Your parents don’t get up until 7:30am. It’s 6.

Oklahoma, he said in his mind, two long os, two short as, and wanted to know if there would be anyone to whom he could disclose, ever, the tenderness of his feelings, in all their callowness, when he said this word.

Salvatore Scibona, The End

 

O

O is for Oktaha, Okemah, and Okmulgee, small yellow towns with tall water towers and low-lit diners where the cheerleaders still gather after the game.

O is for Oolagah, a name like a spell, where Will Rogers once said he’d never met a man he didn’t like. “When you meet people,” he said, “why, after you meet them, and see their angle, why, you can see a lot of good in all of them.” He died when his plane crashed in an Alaskan lagoon at the apex of August. The pilot was Wiley Post, a famed barnstormer with one good eye, but he wasn’t ours, he was a Texan. Amber Valetta went to my high school; Gap Band Avenue is just down the street. You can sing Mmmbop and I can sing mmmbop, and the Hanson boys still live in Tulsa, where they lived, too, in 2001. Were they homeschooling that fall, or were they on tour when the towers fell? Did they think, like I did, how lucky we were to live nowhere, how no one could ever want to hurt us, not aliens, not invaders, of course not terrorists. I’d forgotten already how Timothy McVeigh parked a truck on a Wednesday afternoon two hours west of Tulsa, a truck meant to go nowhere but everywhere, its cargo nitromethane.

 

She researches genealogy. Collects. Organizes. Obsesses. Discovers distant relatives all along the Adriatic Coast. Roots stretching across continents and seas.

But don’t ask her about cells or strands of DNA. About heredity or the odds of what might be passed down.

Don’t ask her for the truth.

There is a story the family tells. Well-rehearsed. Plausible. By now, she may even believe it herself:

It is a hunting accident that killed her brother fifty years ago. A father, his two grown sons in the woods of Big Pocono State Park.

What they don’t say: These are seasoned hunters, antlers and disembodied heads displayed like trophies in their living room and den.

 Someone careless, the story goes, cleaning a gun.

Sing

By Naomi Kimbell

Essay

 

Sing of despair, of days, this song the abyss in you. The ocean is deep but Lake Vostok is deeper still. A person can’t float in it, can’t taste it. A person can’t even see it but only imagine with sonar and drills how cold and dark and still it must be. Although sometimes, somehow, you slip through a borehole into that fossiline water and sink through its radiance, a brightness not seen but felt in the freezing, a place where fathom pulls you to a depth you could never plumb yourself, a true straight line with no handholds to stop your fall. Days pass, and nights come, and mornings—and streetlights flash at dusk and dim at dawn and the garbage men bang the dumpster and the snowplow scrapes the street—and you have to hit the snooze and swim, and find the shore, and heave to land like a first live thing with legs deep beneath the southern pole and lay upon the rocks and just breathe, just for a second, and drink coffee or maybe tea, with cream or maybe milk.

A man you don’t know makes a joke online of which you are the brunt, you know the one—woman, kitchen, sandwich—that old droopy-eyed dog of a joke still rattling around under the stoop, its bark long faded to a hoarse cough. It’s ironic, someone comments, because he’s sooo progressive, a real champion for women, haha! and you wonder what it means when the champions use the same language as the oppressors, their lines interchangeable except that one of them, at the end, elbows you hard in the ribs and says, Just kidding. Tells you, Lighten up, take a joke, like they’re doing you a favor.

And aren’t they? Could be worse—at least they don’t mean it, right? At least someone’s having fun?

***

Not long after college, you meet your friend Tony* at the bar one evening for happy hour and find him waiting with your favorite drink—gin and ginger, tall, extra ice. He’s the kind of guy who will do that, who knows your drink and buys the first round while you’re stuck in traffic on your way over from work, the kind of guy who does it without expectation—no unanswered debt filling the space between you, crowding one of you out. But tonight he has an eye on the girl you’re with, the way she’s braided her hair and pinned it across the top of her head like a crown and has borrowed your turquoise earrings and listens with her whole body when someone else is speaking. Tony buys the second round too, because, you know, he’s nice like that, and then he stands close enough that his whisper in your ear trails a shiver across your neck, an arrow drawn back in the bowstring, unquivering: She’s deliciously rape-able in those jeans, yeah? And when you don’t respond because you’ve forgotten how to direct words out of your mouth he holds up his hands as if to fend off what he knows is coming, his smile unassuming, even genuine when he tells you, I kid, I kid. His betrayal is such a surprise that you know if you allow yourself a moment to linger beneath its weight it could snap each one of your ribs in half. Instead, you let your drink sit untouched on the table, the ice melting in your glass like a slow goodbye, and then politely refuse—and refuse again—when Tony offers to walk the two of you home. You sure? he asks, it can be scary out there, as if for even a moment you could have forgotten.

 

Cover_NarrowRiverWideSkyThe Minnesota relatives visited. Our grandfather had visited us. He walked among the thistles and goats and chickens while we showed him where the events of our lives happened – the place where I fell off the horse, the place where Brian found a big frog. The goats sniffed his shiny shoes.

Uncle John lived in a cottage behind the house for several months after he returned from Vietnam. He needed some time alone, Mom said. He’d gone to “Dog Lab,” become a medic, and served two tours. He left again to Minnesota, married aunt Barb and adopted the little boy she’d had from her first marriage, and they visited the farm. I remembered he said he wanted to spank his little boy one hundred times. After he spanked the child and joined us outside by the livestock gate, he said he’d counted pretty high, but didn’t get to a hundred. We’d heard a cry per strike. Mom told me not to speak about it as I stood beside her counting heart beats, blocking out the crying. I don’t know how many smacks I heard.

 

AuthorPhoto_JennyForrester

 

Who do you think you are? I mean, what makes you so special?

I ask myself these questions all the time. I imagine people asking these questions about me behind my back. So, I wanted to include them at the beginning of this Self Interview. They’re actually important questions. Even though some people would say we shouldn’t be this hard on ourselves, I think we should. I think we should come to the page, whether we’re writing the page or reading it, with a sense of urgency.

man-1123130_1920

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Damn, you’re sexy.

For a work convention.

What do you mean uh-oh?

Not everyone in Vegas is doing coke and getting blowjobs from hookers.

It was great talking to you…I don’t want the night to end.

Do you want to come up to the room and order some room service?

No? Then how about breakfast tomorrow morning?

Why do you keep asking me that?  I told you, I’m divorced.

In Memory of Scott Von Lanken
Joshua Cummings, 2017
Joshua Cummings, 2017

 

1. Do nothing after you find out from a mutual friend via Facebook messenger that your once-best friend, Joshua Cummings, just allegedly shot and killed a Denver RTD security officer at point-blank range, then wonder why feelings about this person you haven’t spoken with in five years and haven’t heard from in two are creeping through you;

2. Say I told you so to no one about the worrisome content of his social media accounts now plastered on multiple news sites, content you actually viewed a few years ago when, via Facebook, he reached out to your wife who he used to run cross country with in college, and also say I told you so to yourself as confirmation that you made the right decision back then not to get back in touch with him;

3. Say nothing as you watch your old college classmates and fraternity brothers talk on Facebook about how wonderful he was or how fucked up he was, how shocked and/or unsurprised they are/are not;

4. Write a long response about why everyone is right and why everyone is wrong about your friend and what he did or did not do and that if we really saw it coming, then why didn’t we say something, but never hit send;

Mother could be you

 

A year ago I was pretty, people noticed me in the train. I had this way of not looking. That’s the trick, isn’t it? You present yourself, your perfumed body, soft at the right places, a straight back and tall, strong bones. Living the busy life, giving everything but. And that but is what the weak-hearted want. They’ll crawl for it; they’ll kiss your heels. I know this so well. It’s a model of love, handed over from generation to generation. Mothers who say: go play in the street honey because Mother is busy. Mother has her lover waiting. Mother wants to take a nap in the sun. You really want to play with the other kids, but you wait on the porch for Mother to open the door.

 

Shout Outs

By David Zoby

Essay

NWA

Late for class again, late and permanently disorganized, wearing my jeans jacket despite the chill. I could cut class and what difference would it make, but for a brief feeling of regret? Who was I letting down? The lush grasses between academic buildings? The professors who seemed there and not there? The low and somewhat jumbled Allegheny Mountains to the west framed my 1989. I was a senior at Virginia Tech, living in an all-male dorm, one semester away from drift. It felt as though I was living in a diorama where everything was multiple choice, colored in with a number two pencil, or left blank. Fog was flowing in from the ridges and hollers. It was a fogbank that told you a cemetery was nearby, that battles took place near here. It was tattered and worn on the edges, like the comforter I had rolled myself in for the last four years. Of course I cut my Human Development course and went back to the dorm to boil some ramen. Who wouldn’t? I was rolled so tightly in that fog I could hardly hear the students coming and going to classes, the refitted elevators ascending and descending, a door closing, the hallways hushing. My books were in there, rolled in the cocoon with me: Edith Wharton, Ralph Ellison, and Sherwood. I guess this is where it all started, my resistance to 1989.

I was the head resident advisor in Pritchard Hall, a towering, Cabrini-Greene-like building completed in 1967 with questionable ventilation, but otherwise solid construction. Intimidating on the outside, Pritchard was steel and Hokie Stone, common granite that the university hung on all its buildings. Pritchard contained nearly 1,600 college males between eighteen and thirty years old. We RAs had to show up a week before the students. The scent of fresh paint hung in the air near the lobby. The painters knocked off at noon to attend the annual staff barbeque. I lay awake all night listening to workmen putting the final touches on the breaker boxes, testing the fire alarms, water pressure. The elevators were sliding nicely on new oil.