Tuesday, March 22, 2011

They All Came

I wish you could have been there for the sun & the rain & the long, hard hills. For the sound of a thousand conversations scattered along the road. For the people laughing & crying & remembering at the end. But, mainly, I wish you could have been there. –Brian Andreas, StoryPeople

The sun was strong and the air was crisp and we marched up the hill. We traveled in twos and threes, the mass of us turning into a line stretching long and thin. We were silent, save for the click-clack of heels on the pavement.

You were 25 when you died, and had gathered friends throughout your years. And they all came, from elementary school teachers, to high school friends, to travel your companions in Spain. They came to witness the end, to try to make sense. They came to bury you, to say goodbye, to find solace in remembering. But most of all, they came.

Except for one. Did you know that? All of the cousins came. Jane was there and Sally and Joe. Lauren and Diana and Stephanie came. Even Josh showed up. Only Allison didn’t come. She said it was too hard to travel across the country, couldn’t leave her kids behind. It was an excuse and we weren’t in the mood. We thought her choice was unforgiveable. We didn’t shun her, but didn’t go out of our way either. That was 9 years ago.

A few months ago, I got an email from Allison. She regretted that she hadn’t been there. Said it was one of the biggest regrets of her life. She was sorry, wanted a relationship. I thanked her for getting in touch.
Remember when Grandma was dying? Dad got in a fight with Uncle Paul about the shared responsibility of her care. Dad didn’t want to forgive then either, said he was done with his brother. But you told him to make amends. You told Dad he had to forgive, because he is his brother.

But you see, Bill, without you, I don’t have a brother or sister. I need our cousins to play understudy. So I’m going to forgive her. Try to have a relationship if I can. I think it is what you would have wanted.

And if it isn’t, I hope you’ll forgive me.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Down and Back Again

I raced out of my last final, ready to start winter break. I had packed my bags that morning, and when I got back to the apartment my roommate was waiting for me. We threw the duffels in the trunk, strategically arranged the snacks (always Cool Ranch Doritos and Diet Coke) for easy access, and got in the car. "Wait! I forgot the fish."

I grabbed the fish tank that I planned to keep at my feet for the drive. They were just goldfish, but I couldn't leave them for two weeks with no one to feed them. "Okay. Let's go."

Allison and I had known each other since we were kids. Now in our senior year of college, we were roommates. We had done this drive many times before, down and back in her little brown Toyota 2-door that she insisted we say was "taupe." That car was our ticket to freedom as soon as she turned 16. She never let anyone else drive it, so I was navigator, snack provider, and this time, fish tank stabilizer.

The drive was a straight shot, the 5 to the 405, exit at the San Fernando Valley. We rarely took the scenic coastal route down Highway 101, not wanting to take the time despite the more interesting view. Besides, it was already after 3. It would be dark in a couple of hours.

We were a few hours into the drive when it started to rain. It was cold, and we were worried about getting through the Grapevine, a stretch of highway that is prone to sudden closures when it snows. Traffic can back up traffic for hours. We decided to take the hit on time and head over to 101 on one of the stretches of road connecting the two highways. After a brief glance at the map, we took the exit marked Rte 46: Lost Hills.

The road was just one lane in each direction, no street lights to mark the way. Allison slowed from our 75 mph interstate pace, but soon felt comfortable with the road, which, though dark, was well paved and mostly straight. We went back to our usual routine, making plans for the break, Depeche Mode on the radio. We could see an occasional house along the road, laughed hard at one with the enormous Christmas lights  spelling out "Happy Birthday Jesus" on the rooftop.

And then, I died.

I don't remember anything about the accident. I've been told Allison swerved to avoid an animal, probably nothing more than a raccoon. We went off a ditch at the side of the road and the car flipped. She was fine, but something hit me in the head; the police think it might have been the fishtank. A few minutes later, my heart stopped.

I was only dead for a few seconds, resurrected with a swift thump to the chest by what could have been Jesus himself but turned out to be the owner of the birthday lights house. He ran out when he heard the accident. A short time later, the ambulances arrived. 

And then, I was fine.

I was only in the hospital a few weeks. I had to miss my last semester, but finished my classes and graduated over the summer. Allison and I almost never talk about the accident anymore, not because we want to avoid it but because in so many ways it's like it never happened. We took a detour, mine a little farther than Allison's, but ended up right where we started, the only casualties a taupe Toyota coupe and two little goldfish who were never found.

This week's prompt asked us to write a piece - fiction or non-fiction - in which you or your character take a detour. This piece is fiction, though based on real detour I took with my college roommate.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Only in Florida

The long sharp knife deftly cuts each orb in half with a single slice. Six demi-spheres lie on the counter, rocking slightly, revealing their yellowpink flesh. My grandmother chooses a new tool, a curved knife, slightly serrated, created just for this job. Each segment is separated from its membrane, but left intact inside its fleshy bowl. She places the fruit on little plates, and hands them to me to bring to the table, one half grapefruit per person.

Only in Florida is grapefruit considered an appetizer.

I pick up my spoon, specially designed for the task: oblong with a serrated edge. I take a first taste, feigning a test of the grapefruit’s astringency, but knowing full well that I will reach for the sugar bowl. No grapefruit on earth is sweet enough for an eight year old’s palate.

I sprinkle the sugar, just a light dusting, and watch as the crystals melt shimmering onto the fruit. And now another taste, this time bright and vibrant, tart and sugary. I dig down, making sure to get some of the now sweetened juice in every bite. This was the taste of sunshine, of visits to Grandma and Grandpa, of swimming pools and shuffleboard, of humidity, of winter break in Miami.

Every so often, back home in Southern California, my mom would serve a grapefruit before dinner, but it was never the same. I’m sure the fruit was just as good (the grapefruits probably even imported from Florida) but we didn’t have the special plates, the serrated spoons, the glass of sun tea on the side. We didn’t have the carefree days of a school break.

But mostly, we didn’t have Grandma and Grandpa.

This post is part of The Red Dress Club memoir writing series, RemembeRED. This week, we were asked to write about our favorite fresh fruit or vegetable. Although grapefruit is hardly my favorite fruit, it does hold some special memories.

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Ugly Truth

You say you want the truth? It isn’t pretty. Or it won’t be to you. Actually, I’m surprised it’s taken you this long to ask. Maybe you just didn’t want to know, because then you’d have to do something, admit there’s a problem. That our picture isn’t perfect. That your wife is damaged goods.

Of course, if we’re really being honest here – that is what you want, isn’t it? – you must already know. I’ve made no real attempt to hide anything from you. I practically begged you to catch me. But denial is a powerful drug. Or maybe you really are that blind.

Shall I lay it out for you? New clothes, disappearing for hours into the bathroom, the bedtime excuses. You thought you were just giving me some space, and for that, I am grateful.

You’re still not getting it. Here, I’ll show you. No, don’t look away. See that? They’re really quite beautiful, aren’t they? The lines, so straight and even, each one in it’s place. It took me a while before I could get them that perfect. Each exquisite line a moment of pure feeling, a moment I didn’t have to think about anything else. Didn’t have to remember.

I’m usually careful, but this one here? This one bled more than the others, small round droplets oozing up. I watched that for a long time, each crimson sphere expanding until it collapsed and finally fell, leaving even more tracks. I’d squeeze and watch it again, until I had nothing more to give.

Am I going to stop? No, I don’t think so. I mean, I almost don’t have to cut anymore. I can just look at my arm and remind myself to forget what happened. But I have to do it sometimes. Did you know humans can’t remember physical pain? I’ve always found that fascinating.

Oh, come now. It’s not so bad. It’s not like I’m dying, and it’s nothing that can’t be covered up with a little makeup and some long sleeves. And if someone notices? Scratches are easy to explain. Maybe I fell into a rose bush or picked up the wrong cat. After a while, most people get tired of hearing about real pain. They’d rather you just got over it.

Like you, they’ll just choose to believe the lie. It’s so much easier than the ugly truth.