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I miss the smell of grass cut from your own yard, way in the back where the neighbors can only just hear the sound of the push mower, a little buzzing noise from a motor unseen. Cut the grass around the apple tree, newly flowering, around the old car, left slowly rotting.

I have been eating too many cherries this season. They are deep purple-red, sweet, tart, juicy. One tastes like soap. One tastes like the sour apples I bit into too early in the summer – tart, bitter, sour, green. Not ready yet.

No longer mine – the grass or the apple trees or the push mower, or the land that held all of it.

The grass still grows there – and is cut. The apples grow, ripen, fall, rot on the ground in the shade, or are nibbled on by deer, raccoon, fox, squirrel, rabbit.

The stream will trickle by, as it did before I arrived, and long after I am gone and gone forever.

The sun beats down brightly here, but it is empty warmth – a smile without friendliness. Much is missing. The blue sky smiles sadly at me, the clouds offer their best wishes for future summers full of smells.

 

There is a boy. He is seventeen. He is young. He sits in his mother’s house. Don’t we all? His world is small. He is looking out the window at it. He is slowly driving onto the expressway of it. He calls it a freeway, I tell him it’s not called that where I’m from, he still calls it a freeway. He is a little bit afraid. He is excited. He is brave. He is me when I was seventeen. We are sitting in my mother’s house. We are all here together, talking. At night, when no one else is with us, he tell me stories of him. His cat is laying on the rug in his room. His cat looks like my cat. He likes pizza. Of course he does. He likes pizza with meat, like most Americans, I tell him he’s got it all wrong, that he needs more veggies. When the pizza is gone, he tells me more. He lives with his mother in a small city in a small apartment. His world is small. He goes to school online, somehow, isn’t it amazing how children use to go to school in tiny rooms holding chalkboards, that’s what the books all say, but he goes to school online. In my almost old age I can almost understand it. His parents are divorced, and that seems to matter. My parents never divorced, but that doesn’t mean they were together. He sits with his cat and his dog and he tells me. Some clock goes off again and again at the start of every hour. It sounds like the grandfather clock that lived in my grandmother’s house, but his runs on batteries, not the swing of the pendulum. The story isn’t straightforward. He is his own narrator. There are questions I have that are not asked or answered. Listening, it is a mystery that never plans to reveal the answer, that never knows where it is trying to go. He might be getting a job soon. He’s so excited, he tells everyone. He is kind. He is silly. I notice we all start to sound the same, make the same jokes, our accents merge into one, we all say freeway when we mean expressway, we all turn a little southern though we were born elsewhere. His mother is not kind to him. We only hear the story that he tells. He might not be kind to his mother. She might be ruining his life. She might be saving it. There might not be anything to save. What damage will we do to other people? We are all laughing together at midnight. My jaw is sore from grinning. It was not like this before. There was no happiness in sitting alone, not this much. We sit together. We tell our story so far. There are questions we do not answer, things we don’t include. There is a expressway that runs from me to you. It might become a freeway before it gets there, or something else. The police came to his mother’s house one night, weeks ago. They put handcuffs on him, or so I imagine, it was one of those unasked questions. When he sat there in his mother’s house, he was still the boy who loved pizza, who was afraid of driving on the freeway, who took silly pictures of his cat that looks like mine. I imagine the clock chiming in the background, the cat winding around the officers’ legs, his mother sitting sternly, trying to teach her son some lesson of life. It is some story I don’t know. I am looking through the window at it, wondering. We might hear about it, someday, but the story is not straightforward. There are many blank pages that will never be written, that might be left alone, that might be filled in later. Imagine an empty pizza box. There is a circle of grease on the bottom of it, where some restaurant worker put the steaming, cheesy, meaty thing. They closed the lid, pressing down on the cardboard. He might be that person someday. His mother might have been. The policeman might have been. You might never know.

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“You should go to the moon,” he says. “I’d go to the moon. And Mars. Did you know it takes two months to get there? Or it takes four years if you don’t leave at the right time. So you’d have to leave at the right time.”

He is sitting on top of a table swinging his legs. He needs a haircut. He is excited and scared and smart and I love him.

“We’ve done all the tests,” he says. “We tried the needle one with the string and it swung and it said it will be a girl. My wife is doing good, she’s happy, she’s healthy, we’re all doing good.”

He is going to be a father, this man. I walk away and write poems about him on flashcards. I think about how he has changed me as a person. I think about him being a father.

“I wanted to be a guitarist,” he told me. “A musician. Now I’m sitting on this table.”

Years later I see him again, with a tiny pink sweater thrown over his shoulder. His baby girl is growing up. Is he still growing up?

“What do you think it would be like to leave? To never see your family again? What if I didn’t hug my father goodbye? Do you think I would regret it?”

“I wanted to go to the moon,” I said, “when I was younger. Now I just want to see as much of this planet as I can. I haven’t even seen much of this country, not yet. How much time do I have? Why is it always going by? Should I hurry?”

“Juxtaposition,” he said from the table. “Do you know what that means?”

The moon is far away now. He is far away now. Mars is farther. I still remember what juxtaposition means. The flashcards are duller and the pencil is smudged but the words are still there.

 

 

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1. Scrotal Recall is a pretty great British show, but, really, that title, why? 

2. Why are you smoking? It’s 2015! Put that shit down. Step away from the vapor. Be cool. Live longer. Get rid of that lung hacking. Take control of your own life! Stop smoking 3 packs a day/a cig a day/weird white shit/whatever else it is you’re doing. Or not. I’m just trying to help! Sorry!

3. Stop telling me about all your hilarious “snaps”! I don’t need this technology! UGH. It’s not my fault all my electronics are ancient! Great. Now I’ll never know what you’re all up to.

4. Don’t go back(wards).

5. Update! I tried Snapchat again! And I accidentally opened all of my “snaps” at once and therefore did not see a single one of them! Ooops. Forget it! I’m terrible at this. Never mind! Continue having fun without me.

6. Don’t be afraid of your own words.

7. Sooo, Horns is the strangest/weirdest/best/worst/most intense/most terrifying/creepiest movie I’ve seen ever in my entire life! I don’t know if that’s a recommendation to see it, but, I also don’t feel like those two long hours were entirely wasted! You decide. Also contains Daniel Radcliffe w/American accent, if that’s not interesting enough.

8. All my babies are graduating! And by that I mean young friends, not actual babies. I’m not that old! Oh god! Am I?

9. America. How have you not stopped in your tracks and thought to yourself, “Holy shit, why don’t we let people who love each other get married?” I have! Lots of people have! What are you doing? Aren’t we supposed to be a great country? How simple is this problem to solve? Pretty simple. Ireland did it! Ireland! 

10. Love people much more than you hate anything.

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“I hate my life,” he says.

And then he goes quiet again, the alcohol only letting that much out.

“Why?”

There is no response.

He is drunk and he is too young. But the years keep coming and he ages unwillingly. There are new things he is supposed to do and the birthday parties are less colorful. His blue bicycle is rusted and people don’t notice him as he walks down the street. He is himself. He is supposed to be a man.

What do we have in common?

What do we have in common, I wonder, as he tells me little slurs of himself.

“I’ve been thinking a lot.”

“About what?”

He never tells me, but slumps down in his chair, giving in to gravity.

He is calm and sad. He likes pictures of the sky. He thinks about constellations. I think about constellations. Remember how small we are? Who decided he has to grow up like this? Into this?

There are no other signs of hope from him. He does not seem hopeful. How could he be? How am I? I want to tell him, but there isn’t a short sentence for clarity.

What do we have in common? It must be something. We are so much the same. It is simple and laughable and sad. It is drunk and alcohol and stars. It is remembering how to walk down the street alone. It is music and turning it up too loud and turning it down again. It is midnight again and again and again, and mornings, and afternoons, and cooking ourselves our own dinners. It is loneliness and searching the sky. It is an easy something, something to hold onto, something to become.

He drinks and falls asleep. He will rinse out the bottles in the morning and send them to be recycled. He will keep growing up into this. He will become it. I hope he will keep looking at the sky. Somehow it can be easy to miss.

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1. Don’t stand still. Or do? You need a break from life sometimes, a nap, a vacation, a year off. Is that so terrible? Do we have to slave away, rush around with no path, with no finish line ahead? Sometimes it seems like society (and/or our mothers) demands this non-stop action from us, meaningful or not. Society doesn’t care. But I do! Stop. Breathe. Plan it out. I love you! Just don’t take too long.

2. 18-ish-year-old guy and his grandmother at the grocery store:

G-ma: “What do you want?”

Guy: “Let’s get pineapple. It tastes good. I drink the juice. It’s good for you.”

Um, ew. Don’t tell granny about that!

3. Don’t lose yourself in worthlessness.

4. Pluck it up.

5. Fuck marbles/shot glasses/tiny fancy spoons/posters/baseball, pokemon, whatever cards! Collect lovely people instead. (As in, meet them and get to know them and love them. Not in a creepy murder-y way. Felt I should add that.)

6. “I can’t go to that store again today because I wore these same pants yesterday!” – my life.

7. They are not real anymore.

8. We are growing up! I mean, everyone always said it was happening, but it’s really happening! My friends are getting married, and trying to have babies — actual babies — and building houses — like, on their own, like they’re real adults. Remember when that all terrified/disgusted us?? What happened?

9. So much can change in a year. You change so much in a year. But, is it for the better?! Or for the worse?! Ahhh!

10. Make something new.

Here’s a question for you: What are you most afraid of?

Me? Not the dark, or heights, or strangers. I’m afraid of living the wrong life.

I’m afraid that I’ll take a job in San Francisco, or Los Angeles, because it’s in San Francisco, or Los Angeles, and I’m afraid I’ll be satisfied with doing a job that isn’t satisfying, and, therefore, living a life that isn’t satisfying.

Maybe me saying this negates all my worries. Maybe I’m  waging a war that hasn’t happened yet; that won’t.

Maybe what I’m most afraid of is not being able to find it, the job I always assumed was waiting for me, somewhere. I still believe it’s out there, I just don’t know how to find it, where to look. I’m afraid I’ll miss it, pass over some link on the internet, or walk by the man wearing a puffy winter coat (I’m imagining this will take place in Chicago, in the winter, of course.) who could make it all happen.

Then again, I feel like if I can’t find what it is I’m looking for in San Fran or LA or wherever I end up, I’ll just make it. I’ll make my dream job. I honestly believe it’s possible.

This is my war, my battle. My I-just-graduated-college-and-have-to-find-a-job battle. I’m off into the real world (because people tell me the real world is a real thing), yet refusing to let the real world happen to me the way I’ve always expected it to attempt to.

And yet here, at the end of this thought, I’m still left where I was when I began a few sentences back. The war is still waging, the fear is still real, and there’s no one-liner that can end it.

There is a very specific conversation I’ve had before with people I loved or cared about at the time, or with people I had wanted to love or care about in the future, when they were leaving, or when I was leaving (but usually the former), leaving for good, and I’d have this conversation knowing I’d never see them again or speak to them again, etc. It’s only happened a few times, this conversation, maybe only twice that I can remember clearly. Once was in second grade, when the girl I called my best friend moved to West Virginia, and I knew I would never see her again, even though I wrote down her new address on a scrap of paper I then proceeded to lose, and now I’ve lost everything of her: her name, her face, and her address.

The second time was many years later, in High School, with the boy I (secretly) called my boyfriend, that someone else would call my crush; a strange friend-like-but-not-friend-like relationship. Relationships get more complicated as you get older, but the simple moments of leaving stay simple and stay with you. He was just changing schools, but I knew that our strange fragile relationship wouldn’t last, wouldn’t survive the separation. I knew I would never see him again, and I told him so in our very last conversation, and though he denied it, though he said we’d see each other again, hang out, talk, go places, we didn’t, we never did, we never have, we never will.

I feel another of these conversations approaching, but I feel like the next one will be different, possibly won’t include a conversation at all, and it might be directed at or include the city I live in, was born in, have spent most of my life in, as well as all of the people I’ve ever met, or seen, or spoken to on the streets of my childhood neighborhood, in the state and region and road I grew up in and on and around. I’m leaving, moving, growing up and taking off, and saying goodbye to people and places, or maybe not saying goodbye at all, maybe just thinking back, reflecting, taking it all in once more as someone drives me to the airport, or as I cross the state line in my little black sports car, trunk full of belongings which will be my material memories of this place I’ve been in for so long. And maybe it’ll be different this time, this goodbye will be different than all the rest, won’t be for forever; we’ll still have holidays, and funerals, and maybe a couple months in a few years if I lose my job and my apartment and move back home for a while. I won’t lose everything from this relationship, although the faces will fade, and I might get lost on the side streets next time I drive on them.

Bang. A gun shot. Don’t worry, we’re in the country, they must be hunting. Hunting what?

The phone rings. You answer. Bang. Another gun shot, this time through the phone in the form of bad news. Your heart drops again. You hang up, wondering, what’s that Mat Kearney song? “I guess were all one phone call from our knees.”

Bang. Another gun shot, hours later. What’s he after? What am I after? What are we all hunting? Did that phone call stop my search or start it?

If today is a bad day, how do all the other days compare? What about the great days? What about those?

Bang. Not a gun shot anymore, just memories; coping, comparing the heart breaks: Your arm put in a cast on your eighth birthday. The crushed front bumper of your sports car. The end of something before it began. A false friend. An empty room.

A phone call. A gun shot. It’s really all the same.