Rotted shingles decorated the sides of the houses and broken gutters flooded poorly kept lawns, resulting in patches of mud and cracked earth during the summer—which was also when all of the windows were wide open, so when we were bored, we would sit outside together and hear the dysfunctional marriages sing.
We pitched a tent in my densely weeded backyard and spent the entire night with the chanting cicadas talking about your alcoholic mother, my abusive father—how odd it was that the two could carry the friendliest of conversations with one another as if they could recognize and stroke the brokenness standing in front of their eyes. I told you that dad made me kneel on the scorching hot blacktop driveway in the summer months, and showed you the faded skin on my kneecaps as a result. You told me that your mom often vomits in her sleep, and that you discovered at a painfully young age how to feel the pulses of life in the throat of another. Each of us had one parent—one teammate to cling onto like a life raft. Dad for you; mom for me. I stuttered whenever I tried to carry a conversation with your father. I didn’t know how to interact with a loving man. You cried at the dinner table when we were twenty years old, drunk from the exhaustion of college finals, when I had six consecutive glasses of wine and confessed that I don’t hate men—I’m just terrified of them.
I was gifted with the written word; you painted like an absolute mother fucker. You touched up my art projects; I edited your English papers. I called you at 4am in college on the verge of a mental breakdown with a ten page paper I hadn’t started yet; you took off your smock and goggles and explained that you were working in the kiln—about to stick your head into the scorching temperatures to end it all. We laughed maniacally. You set tampons on fire to illustrate the societal views of the woman’s reproductive system—I handed in a prose piece into my workshop class that left me so vulnerable, so raw, I considered withdrawing from the class afterwards.
You told me not to withdraw. You told me that my writing is something worth pursuing. I told you to ignore the stupid cunt who said your photography project was cliché. We looked for butchered road kill on the drive to Florida for your still life project. I shouted “POSSUM” and pulled over while slamming on the brakes going from 85 mph to nothing in a matter of seconds. You reached in the backseat for your camera. We both stood on the side of the interstate with speeding cars zooming by while you attempted to focus the right shot on the possum that pranced into the road at the wrong time.
“I didn’t know that possums were purple on the inside,” I spoke to break the monotony of cars speeding by.
“Go write a prose piece about it,” you joked.
“I probably will, one of these days.”
Shakespeare once wrote that “the breaking of so great a thing should make a greater crack.” And when I think about you, that’s exactly what immediately flows into my mind like the collapsing of a dam. Fourteen years; two divorces; two run-ins with cancer in two different parents; two different colleges two hours apart; three consecutive text messages you sent me that appeared as blue bubbles on my cracked iPhone screen.
The breaking of so great a thing should make a greater crack—but it didn’t. In fact, nothing cracked. It was meticulously sliced and removed—transplanted, transformed, molded anew. Your absence forced me to identify love in spaces I never paid any attention to. I can only hope that my absence has offered the same for you.