Sunday, July 8, 2018

July 8: Joe Slocum • Denry Willson • Carolyn Ogburn • Patrick Madden • Alec Carvlin • John Che • Dinah Lenney • McKenzie Long • Danielle Cadena Deulen


Today we present ten more dispatches from June 21, 2018 to you. More details on the project here, but, in brief, we asked you to write about what happened on one day in June, and are publishing the results, largely unedited, for the next month and change, roughly ten a day. If you wrote something (it's not too late!), send us your work via this submission form (it's okay if you didn't RSVP before: the more the merrier).

—The Editors



July 8: Joe Slocum • Denry Willson • Carolyn Ogburn • Patrick Madden • Alec Carvlin • John Che • Dinah Lenney • McKenzie Long • Danielle Cadena Deulen 





JOE SLOCUM

My day starts an hour before my alarm is set to go off, a small victory. I downloaded an app with extra loud alarm tones because the ones that came standard are not enough to wake me. The new one is so loud it shocks my wife awake. After the morning visit to the bathroom, I suit up: dirty jeans, steel-toed boots, a pocket knife, an old t shirt, and a hat to keep the sweat from my eyes. My truck is already loaded with shovels, a bucket, safety masks, work gloves, and cases of water. I arrive at the volunteer center a little before nine.
     Today they send me to the Houghton Country Historical Museum in Lake Linden, Michigan. They say this is the town that was destroyed the most. Five nights ago, somewhere between six and seven inches of rain fell in just a couple of hours. It was raining hard before that and continued after the flooding. Highways and bridges are washed out. Roads are gone. Over sixty sink holes have been reported. Houses are flooded. We are in a state of emergency. Nobody has flood insurance.
The drive from Houghton to Lake Linden should be twenty-four minutes, but I’m slowed by driving around sinkholes, rough areas where volunteers have filled in washout, and a steady supply of confused men in dirty clothes who wave me through their work area. I pull up to the Museum headquarters around ten. There is a dirty, green dumpster by the front door sitting next to the biggest U-Haul you can rent. The building looks like it was placed in a damp riverbed. Up and down what remains of M-26, the highway that runs through town, there are loaders, Bobcats, and Caterpillars of all sizes working to move debris. There is dirt piled up everywhere.
     I walk inside and introduce myself to the woman in charge. She is thankful and ready to get me to work. My job is to sift through the damage, clean what is salvageable, load everything into the moving truck, and unload it at the museum’s new home down the street. The next three hours are hot and sweaty. I work alongside volunteers from the national parks, an army vet, and other people whose houses weren’t destroyed. We move file cabinets, antique furniture, and various artifacts. The bookcases are antique quarter sawn oak barristers from Wernicke Co. Each section has a thick coating of what we decide to call mud around their bases. After some attention with Murphy Oil, the old hardwood comes back to shine. Not a single one had a broken glass door.
     Nothing like this has ever happened here. Nobody is prepared. They say there hasn’t been a flash flood in the area for five hundred years. The radio reminds us to be patient with first responders and volunteers because nobody has experienced this kind of disaster. I hear this as I drive by a house with a front yard filled with small boulders. I can’t help but think it’s beautiful. Each stone seems intentionally placed. If they were not blocking the car in the garage or denting the walls of the house, it would look like the landscaping of homes I’ve seen in the desert.
     My house took several feet of water into the basement. It went high enough to extinguish the pilot light in our water heater. I had no idea so much had rushed into my home overnight. When I checked for flood damage in the morning the water had already run away down the hill and into the canal with rest of the brown flood water and sewage run-off. All we had to do was relight the pilot and run a dehumidifier for a few days.
     After the truck is unloaded, we break for lunch at the Hubbell firehouse. This is a relief station for the community. There are blankets, clothing, food, gloves, and bottles of water. Nobody says much during lunch, only that the food is good and a few thank yous to the people organizing everything. The faces are tired, and you can tell by their pants who’s been bailing out basements. A little girl is driving her mother crazy because she won’t eat her fruit.
     In the afternoon we start on the catalogue of newspapers dating back to 1887. Each year is a bound hardback. Some are only an inch thick while others are closer to three. The pages are flaky and have that great smell of old books that I have to respect. Sometimes on the way to the truck, a torn fragment of paper slips out and is carried away by the breeze. One of us runs for it, and we do our best to get it back in the right volume, but it is impossible to tell if we’re putting things in the right place.
     Most of the volumes were shelved high enough that they didn’t get soaked. The old pages that met the flood are being cared for by an apprentice to the archivist for the national parks. She keeps them in a freezer and slowly brushes each page with some kind of solution. By the end of the day she’s saved a few weeks of old news.   
     On the drive from the fire house to the museum, we pass 8th street. I was there two days ago helping someone rebuild their driveway. I don’t know this area well, but I couldn’t find where 8th street was at all. Houses, sheds, and cars were buried with sand where they stood or moved by the flood waters before the sand covered them. I walked up the center of the washout until I found the yellow house I had been assigned to help. Today 8th street is a dirt road passable by cars.
     At quarter to six we called it a day. There is a lot left to move. At least four big rooms full of office supplies, antique tools, books, more newspapers, and framed photos. Everyone affected by the flooding is doing what we are doing here: assessing the damage, sifting through artifacts, and trying to put things back in place. This area needs so much help that doesn’t seem possible things will be fixed before winter when the dirt that covers everything will be hidden by our annual two hundred inches of snow.
     The woman in charge gives us a sincere thanking and handshake at the end of the day. She is delighted with what we’ve accomplished and is already organizing for work to start over tomorrow. This is life in Ripley, Dollar Bay, Hubbell, Lake Linden and other towns in the copper country for the foreseeable future. Two loads from a truck that can hold a four bedroom home seems small in the middle of a two-county state of disaster. It doesn’t seem like the work will ever be finished, but I’ll be back in the morning. 

—Joe Slocum


If you can, please donate to these three fundraisers to help the community. Joe Slocum is just some guy. 





DENRY WILLSON

I was drinking vodka at midnight, watching Tombstone. June 21 was the last day of our San Diego vacation, and I was sharing a suite with my girlfriend, our friend Jules, and Jules’s two-year-old daughter, Bianca. I hadn’t slept for the first three days of our trip, and had slept only a bit on the fourth. I was getting worried because—random example—at the end of that third day, I had involuntarily wept with exhaustion on the second deck of a double-decker bus at the San Diego Zoo. We were somewhere around Elephant Odyssey.
     Tombstone ended. I found the The Graduate on a different channel. It was the scene where Mr. Robinson encourages Ben to “sow some wild oats this summer.” I began some serious note-taking that I thought would be super important later. Here are some of the legible highlights:

  1. “Am I in the driver’s seat? Or is June 21?”
  2. “Anne Bancroft was smoking hot.”
  3. “A day cannot be contained.”
  4. “Is Mrs. Robinson’s coat leopard, or jaguar?”

I woke up to sounds of life coming from the other room. Bianca wants to do everything, but has a very limited repertoire of things she can actually get done on an adult-style timeline. She is darling, but can be… unreasonable. But what can you do other than answer her questions, allow her to make what decisions she can, try to honor her choices, watch her struggle, and, in the process, be totally dominated by her?
     About twenty minutes before we got in the car, the neighborhood cat that we had befriended came around again. Bianca got sad that we’d be leaving our surprise vacation cat behind. We had to talk her through it.
     Before we truly hit the road, we stopped at my girlfriend’s brother’s work, Ballast Point Brewery, in Little Italy. We ordered some pretzel bites and beers and lemonade, and sat outside. Bianca wanted to choose where we all sat but I wanted to be in complete shade. When I sat down in complete shade, Bianca flailed and thrashed and refused to sit where I wanted, and I responded by saying that she was free to sit wherever she liked. We had to talk her through it.
     Jules tore up a pretzel bite for Bianca because they were piping hot, and because even the little pretzel bites were too big. But Bianca wanted a pretzel bite whose structural integrity had not been compromised. We had to talk her through it.
     We got on the road for real. We tried to assign a name to the woman on Jules’s navigational app. There were some strong contenders, but we all kind of agreed on “Gail.” Maybe it’s more accurate to say that I led the push for “Gail” and simply outlasted Monika and Jules. Monika and Jules decided to put on a true-crime podcast. The true-crime genre always makes me think of true-crime books that smell like they were read in rooms where the reader chain-smoked indoors. I doze through the crime, trying to use a stuffed animal as a pillow.
     At some point, I make a little game out of stealing sips of Bianca’s lemonade while she sleeps. The lemonade is in her child-seat cup-holder so that I have to reach across her to get it. At some other point, Bianca, still sleeping, clasps her hand on the lemonade. Does she know?
     I spent most of the drive on the fringes of sleep, that nebula of distorted thought that can become confused with reality. One of the podcasts (Movie Crush) was two dudes talking reverentially about a horror movie with Toni Collette, ill-willed ghosts, and kids getting their heads chopped off. In another (Keep It), the hosts were talking about what it means to “cancel” somebody.

I’ve always found that Interstate driving is like playing a really boring, really high-stakes video game for a long time. But I wasn’t even the one playing.
     Later, Bianca woke up and offered me some of her lemonade. She looked too tired to cry.
     If you’re headed east on I-10, and your purpose is the smoothest transition from Interstate into Tucson, the best exit to get off onto is Congress St. Exit 258. We got off on Prince.
     Jules dropped Monika and I off at our house. We all said our tired goodbyes. I showered and unpacked while Monika lay down. While unpacking, I found a knife that I’ve had for about 15 years but that I had considered lost for about a year. It was in the inside pocket of my duffel bag.
     We ordered a car and went to Che’s Lounge, a tradition for us anytime we get back from a trip. Jim was bartending. Jim and I have a hard time communicating because we both mumble and have bad hearing. Monika relays to me that Jim is recruiting me for Space Force, which I incorrectly assume is some A-Team-style pop reference.
     “Don’t Fear the Reaper” by Blue Oyster Cult comes on over the jukebox. Monika suggests that it could be the theme song for Space Force.
     We drink. Back in the tranquil purlieu of Che’s, my attention bobs around like an old birthday balloon. Televised sports... the bar’s wood grain... Monika... the gleaming bottles... the artwork... the lights... the people.
     Eventually we order another car and go home.

—Denry Willson





CAROLYN OGBURN
It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come our real work,
and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey.
The mind that is not baffled is not employed.
The impeded stream is the one that sings. 
—Wendell Berry
It’s dark, and I can’t tell if it’s raining. I lay in bed, loathing the prospect of walking the dogs in the rain, until I was woken by a dog’s nose against my arm. Sliding out from the bed I share with my partner, careful not to pull the sheet with me, I can see only a damp morning light, which tells me nothing. 
     The coffee had been ready 20 minutes before I pour my first cup. The nose-welcome dog, a border collie/brittany mix named Puck, watching closely. Theo, a brindle catahoula/pit with one blue eye, curls on the couch, eyes open. I hold the warm coffee mug against my lip. My current favorite, a gray stoneware my mother had given me years ago in a set of four, imagining that I would have dinner parties at which I would serve Irish coffee. A certain despair settles then. I turn to the page to write, but instead find the headlines, allowing myself to believe, as I often do, that twitter threads are a distraction from despair. I like one, then unlike it. 
     The dogs will not be patient anymore. Still in pajamas, I pull on my boots and leash the dogs. Sophie, a gray cat, slips out between my feet as I’m still wrestling with the door. It’s not raining, but it’s far from dry, the morning drenched in cloud. Songbirds are raucous, and a few—jay, crow, “drink-your-tea” tufted titmouse—insistently name themselves with their songs. I think again how a child knows as much about birds as I do, think again about how an education once contained not only bird identification by song and description, but also by nest. My brain feeds me this familiar litany of shame, even as I watch the dogs picking up the scent of whatever has been sharing our gravel road, our acres of scrub and pasture, our wet and unkempt yard and garden. I think of a poem I’m trying to write, attempt to force something from my walk into its stanzas, but I can’t remember the poem well enough to find an opening. The haunting trill of a songbird whose name I do not know, whose shape I have yet to see, follows me until we’re back inside. With a towel, I wipe the dogs’ paws, then make a semblance of drying their wet fur. I make a sandwich, kiss my partner goodbye. I’m already late.
     Sometime during my morning commute, perhaps with a mouthful of pb and banana sandwich, I realize that today marks the solstice, the longest day of the year. Most of the year, this drive is made in the dark. This, the longest day of the year, marks the turning back towards the dark. My headlights are hard against the morning fog.
     It’s just before 8:00 when I pull into the parking lot at the local university, where my work  today consists of meetings with incoming students, anxious parents. I check email, reply to a few, check the headlines again, pour another cup of coffee before realizing I’d scheduled a meeting with a colleague. I’d prepared a list of topics for the meeting, knowing that I’m likely to forget things I’d meant to ask, but as we talk I can’t shake the feeling that we’re talking about different things. I try to shift the conversation, so that we’re talking about how differently people experience the same situation, how common it is that words are used to evoke widely divergent meanings, and how hard it can be to even remember that one’s intention may not be understood. But I don’t think she knows what I mean, seems impatient to get back to a more tangible topic. I don’t know what we’re talking about anymore, and my own words seem empty and alien in my mouth. By the time we’re finished, I’m nearly late to the next meeting. 
     The day passes in this way. I feel myself gaining confidence—or is it indifference?—through meetings with people who don’t know anything about me but my job, my office. Sometimes they’re teenagers newly graduated from high school, sometimes parents who’ve been battling IEP committees for decades, sometimes one, sometimes the other, sometimes both. They enter with palpable trepidation, but they’re eager for kindness, and I can give them that. I don’t need to fix problems, not today. I don’t have any solutions. All I have is kindness, and for now, this may suffice. Later, I will wonder if that’s true, or if kindness just feels better to me. 
     I forget to eat lunch. I send phone calls straight to voicemail, focus on doing one thing after the other. The next thing I know it’s after 4:00 and the office is clearing out for the weekend. We don’t tell each other goodbye in this office unless we’re walking out at the same time. As I leave, three students have just arrived. I don’t wait to see if they have questions for me.
     My office is underground, its only window at ceiling level and revealing a concrete retaining wall. It’s always a surprise to walk outside, to see the results of a day filled with weather. Now, for instance, I’m temporarily blinded, squinting at stray leaves and small branches littering the concrete walks, asphalt roads, the parking lot nearly empty of cars, the puddles steaming from a rainshower no longer in evidence. No cooling leftover from the rain, or, if there is, it’s imperceptible. I’m suddenly starving, weak-kneed, exhausted. A colleague greets me even as I try to avoid his glance. He’s just back from Greece, working out reimbursement details, paperwork. He seems cheerful, relaxed, and I’m ashamed that I can’t rise to meet his mood. “I’m sorry,” I mumble, dodging towards my car. It’s an abbreviated statement: what I mean is, I’m sorry for myself, not traveling, not relaxed, not handsome, not single. It’s the longest day of the year and all I can think to do is end it. 
     The drive home is air-conditioned, and the news is of what is being called “migrant family separations” and “zero-tolerance”. The news is comforting in its familiar absence of meaning, and in its false assurance: knowing the headlines, I’ll be prepared. I’ll not be surprised (I will be surprised); I’ll be safe (I won’t be safe). Like birdsong, percussive and lyrical, defending territorial claims. There is no actual birdsong within my air-conditioned car, no piping of frogs from the ditch, no barking dogs as I drive past. I don’t remember when the roads narrow from interstate to four-lane highway, from four-lane to two, from state highway to narrow winding backroad, from backroad to gravel. It’s not until I pull my car to its spot in the shade of the barn that I’m aware of anything outside the car. 
     My partner has made us salads for dinner. We talk, vaguely and comfortably, about our respective days and settle into the couch to watch a show. It’s something we argue about at times, whether this habit of sharing time in front of a regular show is a healthy relationship habit, or if it underscores feelings of alienation, depression. This isn’t a conversation we have tonight. Long before the light leaves the sky, I’m in bed, and, like almost every other night, in order to calm my anxious mind, I turn on the radio and listen to the news. I tell myself, I’ll be prepared for what’s next. 

Carolyn Ogburn

Carolyn Ogburn lives in the mountains of western North Carolina in the watershed of the French Broad River, where she does any number of things for love and for money. 





PATRICK MADDEN

I have seen forty-seven summer solstices before this one, a few before my memory kicked in and the rest subsumed into a general “cotton wool,” as Virginia Woolf called the bulk of life, from which I cannot recall even one particular moment, despite this being a significant day, not in the impositional sense of so many days declared such by humankind (the first of January, the fourth of July), nor in the personal sense of those days important to me (my birthday, my wedding anniversary), but in the astrological sense, which, despite the nomenclature (for Juno, queen of gods) and the numbering (the twenty-first earthly revolution since…? an arbitrary beginning), suggests a leaning toward order beyond our paltry attempts at organizing life.
     By writing it, or from it, during and after it, I will fix a small part of it, “it” being my experience of the day, the overlap between my sensory apprehension and the infinite buzzing external reality, and thus I will remember it, or store it somewhere that I can return to it and thus call it back again in the future, pretending to remember.
     This is my naïve notion: that on some future day I will want to revisit this day, that I will feel proud or relieved or accomplished that I have saved something particular, that despite my shaky recollection I can locate a past self among specific past events. For instance:
  • I awoke to my alarm at 5:40, dressed in exercise clothes, woke my sons to get ready for Cub Scout camp, carried the new puppy downstairs and took him outside, encouraging him to pee, which he did.
  • After dropping Marcos and James off at the church, I fell asleep on the couch watching Australia play Denmark in the World Cup (the game ended in a 1-1 tie) while the puppy dozed in the corner of the kitchen.
  • I awoke to a knock on the door; it was Scott Sullivan, a sprinkler repairman who loves Notre Dame, my alma mater, and who proudly showed me the interlaced ND tattoo on his right biceps then got to work replacing and adjusting and tweaking.
  • I exercised not once but twice, in a final sprint toward winning a month-long weight-loss challenge I’d been having with my friends Andrew and Kelly, which was to end the next day. (I played DVDs from Shaun T’s Focus T25 series: Upper Focus and Lower Focus.)
  • I watched Argentina lose to Croatia, 3-0, and felt a slight bit of schadenfreudish glee, I admit, though I know many fine Argentinians, and I feel bad for rooting against their team. Nevertheless I do, mostly because I have lived in and loved Uruguay, my wife’s home country, and because Argentina is much bigger than Uruguay, and Croatia, and sometimes their national team players can get big-headed and dismissive of other countries, especially Uruguay.
  • I took a short walk to the nearest church to spin a Pokéstop for the phone game Pokémon Go!, hoping to get a “gift,” which I could give to other people who play the game, but I was disappointed, as the rollout was only for players at a higher level than I.
  • In preparation for the arrival of Karina’s family next week, I cleaned our downstairs office, which had become a storage room for junk we don’t know where to put. Mostly I threw things away or recycled them or shuttled them into boxes with lids so I could hide them.
  • I sat on a stool at the kitchen island and wrote, mostly staring idly out the back window at the unpredictable movements of the leaves on the peach trees and the illusory stillness of a sliver of mountain visible past the shed we made a few years ago.
  • With my whole family, I went to Provo to celebrate the wedding of our friends the Bangerters’ oldest son, Tanner, who looks quite a bit like his bride, Sarah, and whose reception featured a live jazz band and delicious homemade cupcakes but not enough time to catch up with Neal and Lee, who had recently moved to London, so we sat in chairs on the lawn and enjoyed the atmosphere and chatted a while with Mary Anne McFarland, mostly about our oldest children, who had both begun missions last September in Mexico right when a series of earthquakes hit.
There was more, of course, including some sleep on either end of the day, and some meals, and bathroom breaks, about which nobody wants to hear, not even my future self, the most likely reader of this missive in any case.
     So I have created a repository for memory, a madeleine to jog a return to June 21, 2018. Or perhaps, as Annie Dillard says, I have begun obliterating the day from memory in order to save only the written versions of events. “After you’ve written, you can no longer remember anything but the writing.” She seems lamentably resigned to this fact, but in my particular case, I am inclined to think there is no big loss, given the almost certain probability that this summer solstice would fade into a generalized nothing just as all the others have. So I welcome the supplanting of experience by its selective translation, these small parts of my day transformed into a more particularly durable form.
     As Eduardo Galeano taught me when I first spoke with him (in downtown Montevideo at Café Brasilero one December day I could probably look up if I needed to), reality consists not only of the external non-textual; our writing, too, is real: “We begin with the moment an act happens in reality, outside the author’s head, and then the author reproduces in himself what happened outside himself. Then this idea, this reproduction of the act inside the author’s head, also becomes part of reality. The original act, which comes directly or indirectly from reality, is transfigured in the process of creation.”
     Elsewhere, near and far from me, my fellow beings spun other Pokéstops and attended other wedding receptions; joyed and sorrowed at goals and misses; sat writing staring at other mountains, or oceans, or forests, or brick walls, or trash heaps; made futile efforts to stave off the encroaching entropy. Others danced and drummed and sang, some at monuments long ago constructed to mark the northernmost place where the sun stood still in the sky. Still others suffered in common and unspeakable ways. Underneath us all, the earth wobbled slightly as it spun unaccountably fast, imperceptibly fast, as it continued its seemingly interminable revolutions, barely noting the significance of once again leaning fully toward the sun.

—Patrick Madden

Patrick Madden is the author of Quotidiana and Sublime Physick, essay collections.





ALEC CARVLIN

The assignment for this essay is to write about the events of June 21st, 2018 for an online publication called Essay Daily; to observe, record, and report what happens on that day as I see fit. Some 280 other people the world over are joining me in the effort, and the intended result, I assume, is a kind of non-fictional mosaic shedding light on how simultaneously similar and different we all are.
     This is a tough pill for me to swallow, as it would be hard to convince the people who need convincing that the man in Tunisia maybe be different from the one in China and the one in Baltimore, but that all of them are connected by certain undeniably human experiences. All delight in receiving unexpected gifts or mail, until they unwrap the box and find socks or tear open the letter and find anthrax or a bill. All enjoy riding the razor’s edge of ear cleaning, where at one distance the probing Q-tip feels incredible, and a millimeter later the drum is pierced and inoperable. And all hunger for sex so much that, at one point or another, they’ve each looked longingly—nay, lustfully—at a ripe fruit and thought, “Who would ever know?” To the people who need convincing, these comforting similarities are overshadowed by the more obvious and far less meaningful cultural, linguistic, and aesthetic differences between us. I don’t mean to say that people can’t change: they can. I just don’t believe in the written word galvanizing it, because the ignorant don’t read.
     That being said, the people at Essay Daily seem to truly love essays, and love of the game is a motive I can get on board with. What’s more, something interesting did happen on the 21st. 

Today, I found Tinder again, though perhaps that isn’t the right phrase. I didn’t lose it, I was just in a better place where I didn’t need it. A relationship, I think it’s called. But that’s done now, and a little over a month later it seems I’ve reached the critical mass of loneliness necessary to download and install the notorious dating app again for the… fifth time? More, probably – by a factor of ten if I’m being honest, but I have no idea about the specifics as every time I find myself back in a relationship and delete Tinder, I purge every memory of it from my mind. Then I’ll admit to a friend that I’m lonely, that I’ve even gone so far as to sharpie a cuddle-buddy onto one of my pillows, and they’ll remind me that there’s this magical app designed to solve just such problems. Permanent marker staining one side of my face (in streaks I argue are not the result of weeks of crying), I’ll ask them what it’s called.
     “Oh, I don’t know,” they’ll say, “I’ve never needed anything like that. Kate and I get along perfectly and have since we met in the neonatal care unit. Our incubators were side-by-side. I think it’s something fire related, though. Kindling, maybe? Or DuraFlame?”
     “No,” I’ll say, the memories flooding back and the muscles of the smudged side of my face slackening in a miniature stroke. “It’s Tinder.”
     For those unfamiliar with Tinder, it is an app that sucks out and spits on your inner romantic by presenting you with a seemingly endless supply of fresh faces to swipe right on (meaning that you like them) or swipe left on (meaning that you wouldn’t want them if they were the last people on Earth). If you like someone and swipe right on them, and they in turn like you and swipe right on you, then you are invited to converse with one another, and come to more explicit terms with how incompatible you really are.
     Wow, you think as you talk to your “match,” I wouldn’t want to be with you if you were the last person on Earth. And then you go back to swiping again in the hopes that this person is the exception. And they are not.

The guilty party who reminded me of Tinder this time was my friend Andrew, who, after hearing 40-odd minutes of bemoaned soliloquizing—Why did she do that to me? Why wasn’t I better to her? Why do I still give a fuck? etc.—cleared his throat (in what I’ve decided was sympathy) and told me it was time for me to get back out there. We were at his place in the Upper Valley, Vermont, which, outside of the grounds of nearby Dartmouth College, is not exactly a beacon of Thursday night night-life.
     “Where am I supposed to get back out to?” I asked.
     There are, on most nights, only two options. One is a chain of imitation Irish pubs—Salt Hill, they’re called—that discourage much in the way of social interaction due to their large size, and the other is a local dive bar—The Filling Station—that discourages much in the way of intelligent social interaction due to its clientele.
     “Actually,” Andrew said, “there’s a concert on the Lebanon green tonight. We could head over there and see if we can’t pick up some stragglers.”
     “I’m not really a… straggler-picker-upper,” I said.
     Andrew held up his phone and turned the screen to face me, revealing a little white flame set on a backdrop of lusty red.
     “Well,” he said, “there’s always Tinder.”
     My soul shuddered, and I said as much, so we headed into Lebanon for the concert, grabbing Cambodian food on our way. That a rural town can have Cambodian food before a decent haunt for the young and lonely is stupefying, but adds, you must admit, to the idiosyncratic charm of the place.
     I feel so alone, you might say, mouth full of lemongrass pork, matchstick carrots and Hoisin sauce, and there’s nothing built into the fabric of this place to change that. How charming. 
     Phenom Penh sandwiches in hand (essentially Cambodian bánh mìs), we headed for the green and found a fairly sizable crowd seated in the grass and on lawn chairs, facing a brick stage where a long-haired, paper-thin musician strummed his guitar and sung about love.
     “There’s a cute one over there,” said Andrew when we finished eating. He pointed into the throng of seated concert-goers at someone I couldn’t see.
     “Where?” I asked.
     “Over there, she’s…” He paused. “Oh, never mind, she looks twelve.”
     She wasn’t the only one. As a quick examination of the crowd exposed, the stragglers Andrew had imagined were only straggling because they hadn’t yet learned how to drive themselves home, meaning that they didn’t want us to pick them up romantically (if anyone has ever really wanted to be picked up by either of us), they needed their parents to pick them up physically.
     “I’m pretty over this,” I said, lighting a cigarette and turning away from the horde of jail bait. “It makes me feel old and even more pathetic than usual.”
     “Well,” said Andrew, “on Tinder you can select the age range of the people you want to see…”
     “No.”
     “Fine, fine, I guess we’ll go see what’s going on at The Filling Station.”
     “Also no.”
     “Well pick one,” he said.
     My choice was the bar, but in the end, I got both. This because The Filling Station’s only two females were even farther from my age than the girls at the park, but in the opposite direction, and the thought of going anywhere else to try and meet people after so much disappointment—on the longest day of the year, no less—was becoming physically exhausting. So there, in the dive bar, I redownloaded and reinstalled Tinder. I found it again.

My profile on Tinder hasn’t changed in the last four years and features as it’s text component a simple list: “Pros: I have a cute dog, I cook, and I travel. Cons: I write.” As if to prove this, the flagship image is my writer’s headshot, where I stare down the camera with a look of tortured constipation.
     “Do you think this is good?” I asked Andrew, handing over my phone.
     He nodded, distracted by his own swiping. “Yeah, man. It’s great.”
     “You don’t think I look like I need to poop but can’t?”
     Andrew took another look, paused, and, trying his best to look earnest, said, “No, not at all.”
     I navigated to the main screen, the place where it all goes down (or, more accurately, left and right), and found myself faced with my first contender: Bella, 27, Hospice Nurse. She was attractive – stunning, really – with long raven hair, large doughy eyes, and an impressively sincere smile. All of her pictures were like this, and just as I was about to swipe right, passing our fate as a couple to her fingertips, I remembered other people’s profiles had text components too. And I made myself a deal: If the text of her profile is as intriguing as her appearance, I’ll swipe right. If it isn’t, then no matter what, I’ll swipe left. And, the deal-making voice in my head continued, I’ll do this for everyone. 
     I tapped my screen and her text was revealed.
     “Easy going, down to earth, fun. Looking for a guy to stumble home with from the bar on a Friday night, followed by an attempted 5k in the morning and some volunteering.”
     I swiped left.
     “Why did you do that?” Andrew cried.
     “She’s too intense for me,” I said. “Drinking to the point of losing control over your legs only to run 3.1 miles when you wake up? And then, when you’re done heaving and puking your way through the cross-country course with legs that are dead for the second time in less than 12 hours, topping off whatever that feels like with volunteer work? Masochism isn’t a strong enough word.”
     Andrew balked but, when I described my plan to him, came around with a sly grin.
     “That’s an interesting idea,” he said. “It’s going to slim your results considerably, but since we’re swiping out of the same pool of people, I’m all for it.”
     He was only half right, as a few swipes later, after a few blank profiles (automatic left swipes) and ones that had anywhere in them the words “my kids are my world” (also automatic left swipes), I got: “Firm believer in only a splash of OJ in mimosas—for color.” And I swiped right. The next one was even better, reading, “Let’s match and then never speak. If we do, let’s make painful small talk about where we live that goes nowhere. If we somehow manage to exchange numbers, let’s trade a few texts back and forth about meeting up without making concrete plans. And if we get past that, let’s get married.” I swiped up—a super-like—and thought, Marry me now.
     I learned a lot over the next few hours while, in reality, Andrew and I made our way home from The Filling Station and onto his apartment’s porch of spatially invasive plants. A fichus probing my inner ear, I discovered, for instance, that the most common thing women write in their Tinder profiles is that they are “a Pam looking for their Jim” or that they “only swiped right because you have a dog.” Lots of them are looking for someone who’s going to make them laugh – which gives me the strangest idea that they probably aren’t funny themselves—and more of them than I ever would have guessed are fans of the Oxford comma. Equally interesting is that tall girls tend to mention their height and insist, if not outright then in subtle, almost passive aggressive ways, that you, too, should be tall, an example of which being, “5’8” and love a good pair of heels.”
     I swiped left on all of the above but the Oxford comma lovers, who, I reasoned, were probably the closest to my people. Interspersed, though, were other great profiles, some of my favorites being:
  • “I was a really ugly child, so you know I have a personality.” 
  • “Thicker than eel sauce, spicier than wasabi. Can you guess my favorite food? It’s pizza.” 
  • “My kitten needs a positive male influence in his life.” 
  • “No tolerance for misogyny and men who skip leg day.”
and
  • “If you don’t look like your pictures, buy me drinks until you do.” 
The problem with dating apps is that they only offer, for most, a skin-deep experience, and leave the rest to chance. I guess dating physically isn’t all that different, but I was pretty happy with myself for approaching something so in-your-face superficial in a new and different way. And as the day came to a close I realized I was, for the first time ever, happy to be back on Tinder, if for no other reason than that it seemed to provide a never-ending well of material.
     Then, as Andrew and I disbanded the porch-hangout and headed to bed, pink pressure marks on our arms from where his vines had tried to grow around us, I read the funniest Tinder profile of the day, and probably of my life. It read simply: “I like my men like I like my coffee—incapable of loving me back.” I laughed until I felt tears welling up in my eyes and pouring down my face, elated that someone like her existed and that I was finally crying from something other than emotional distress. Who is this fucking genius? I thought, tapping back to her main profile image in a sharp break from my newly established norms and rubbing the moisture from my eyelids. But when I arrived, my laughter petered off. And then I swiped left, because she wasn’t my type.

—Alec Carvlin

Alec lives with his dog, Puff, in Boston. For more of his work, check out his blog, Notes from my Phone, on his website: aleccarvlin.com. 




JOHN CHE

I woke up still feeling sick. I was in Cariquima, an Aymaran village, 12057' high in the Chilean Andes, inside my 9’ camper. The altitude, the cold, the darkness certainly didn't help. I was going to miss greeting of the first sun on the first morning of the village’s indigenous year 5526. We had celebrated New Year's Eve with the Aymarans last night, walking through the town square to the school, where we continued as a dance. The locals were dressed in colorful costumes. They played their repetitive rhythm, consisting of a large drum beat with a group of slightly off-tune flutes. They let us walk among them as the only white people. It was great to hang out with them, but this morning I was going to sleep some more.
     Lisa, a past romance, recently got intrigued by South America, Chile, the high Andes or the idea of reconnecting, and had joined me. It was her birthday. She got up. I handed her a small marzipan figure, the only present I had come up with on short notice. Short notice? We'd traveled together for 17 days already, but we had spent a good part of it trying to figure out if, and how, to live in minimal space without rubbing each other the wrong way. Our talks varied from splitting our ways to starting a family, but a hug just 6 nights ago seemed to have shifted the tone a bit towards the friendlier side, so a present was certainly due.
     After she returned from the sun prayers for the new year, we set off to what had actually brought us to the village, the Sendero de Chile from Colchane, a 2-day, 16-mile backpacking trek. The adventure started with trying to find a ride to Colchane. Everybody was very friendly in their way, trying to help us, but still lacking the commitment and confirmation to give us the confidence that it was going to happen. However, 1 1/2h and 2 early beers later, we were on a slightly overloaded bus going towards our destination.
     We started our trek. There were some trails and old roads at the beginning, and even a trail sign painted on a rock, but most of it was walking across the altiplano desert, a stark scenery, flat with high snow-covered peaks lining the horizon in all directions. Once in a while we came across a group of llamas or wild vecuñas. In-between were falling-apart ruins of old dwellings, as well as inhabited mud shacks, though we could not tell the difference. Eventually we got to a creek, still running in daytime, though it was going to freeze over at night. This was our simple, cold, but beautiful home for the night. It was an amazing setting on a unique day, a romantic spot, as far as a small tent, sleeping bags and freezing cold would allow.
     As I left the tent later that night, the moon had already gone down and left the infinity of stars sparkling across the canopy, so much denser than I ever get to see it anywhere close to civilization. It was so familiar, yet so different from the night sky I was used to from the northern hemisphere. This day will always be full in my memory—sickness, culture, nature, adventure and romance—so much more than I could share with the world in a few paragraphs.

—John Che

John Che, originally from Germany, is a former electrical engineer who has lived in 7 countries on 4 continents. Currently he is traveling the world in his camper Wyld Eagle, maybe retired or maybe on a long vacation. His publications include technical journals and some blogs.





DINAH LENNEY

June 21, 2018 Bennington, Vermont.

My collection is growing—
     it started with a pine-cone (nothing special, but it called to me from the path the other day, and I picked it up, and I liked the feel of it in my hand—it’s white tipped and medium sized) and an acorn hat (a cupule, I just looked that up, that’s what it’s actually called: mine is cross-hatched and perfectly circular). There they are, the cone and cupule, alongside a long, white twig (well, but bigger than a twig: a baton!), and a tiny scroll of bark (curling as if it remembers the branch—if only I knew how to read birch, which looks a little like braille, come to think of it)—
     anyway, here it is, my collection—my pine cone, my cupule, my baton, my bark—waiting for me on the dining room table when I finally give up and get out of bed and come down the stairs (as if the longest day of the year weren’t long enough: I’ve been up since just after 4)—
     and even before making the coffee, I’m arranging and fussing and snapping and snapping some more. Six AM and I’m taking pictures—I’m obsessed with this phone, I’m obsessed with the camera, zooming in, zooming out, bark turned in, bark turned out; same deal with that little round hat (upside down, right side up), which is three different browns, by the way—
     but okay, I do need coffee.
     So I put down the phone and make myself a pot. And it's terrible—awful, bitter, bad—which doesn’t make it any less delicious. Or photogenic. Snap, snap. Here’s my coffee on the table. Here it is on the sill, beside the screen, which is filthy. Here with less milk and more milk and a second cup with no milk at all.
     Whew. I’m exhausted. What I need is a couple of eggs. I boil them up. I resist the urge to take a picture. I mean, eggs, c’mon. Been there, done that. Plus there’s no pepper in cupboard. If there were, well then, I might never get dressed.
     But I do. On schedule. It’s been an okay morning for pictures, I’m thinking, though it’s not till I’m on my way to the first lecture of the day that I start to feel hopeful. Excited. Tuned up. To think I almost didn’t stop for this door in the wall—I almost put it off so as not to be late. And it’s not that the photo itself is so wonderful, that’s not what I mean, not at all—but beginning with the weathered wooden planks set too high in the bricks on the far side of the garden; beginning with seeing it there, an old door, beautiful and useless (mysterious); see how it shimmers in the sun?
      Well. You’d think it would be enough to notice. And it almost is. Almost. But—but so much better, so much more gratifying to find a picture, just there, camera ready, than to arrange and rearrange (the collection, the coffee): and what does that mean? What does that say? About seeing? About me? I don't know. I can't think about that now. All I know—or feel, anyway, in this instant—is that I’m very possibly set for the day.
     Sure enough, in the afternoon (after lunch with a student: tuna fish, beige, need I say more?) I get happily worked up about the tiniest daisies, if that’s what they are, clustered at the edge of the tall green grass; and the blue of the pond, clouds sitting on top, that gets to me, too. (Makes me think of that poem—“The Lake” by Sophie Cabot Black—“Day and night, the lake dreams of the sky,” it begins.)
     Later on, before four graduate readings, I pick up two sets of acorn hats—twins, connected at the stem—to add to the collection; and a long gray feather; and another piece of birch, this one thicker and marked by perfectly spaced holes; and a small pink stone, which is exactly the color of the horizon when the sun goes down. I have that picture, too, and it isn’t much, really—but the moment, the moment is extended and still—
     finally, once I’m sure the pink is fading, I turn and shoot a video (the third of the day), from the top of a bench overlooking the pond. Again, no great thing, but the crickets, and the birds, and the harmonizing frogs—I can’t resist the music, I can’t.
     Funny, it doesn’t occur to me to take pictures of people. Not the ones I know and love, especially not them. So I don’t touch the camera during dinner—which is a celebration, with toasts and elaborate desserts. Afterwards, more readings, and, frankly, I’d just as soon close my eyes.  But alone at the end of the evening, and on my way back to the house, I try for a bunny sitting in the grass very near my front porch. Then I click on the video option again, for fireflies, that’s why—but look! There’s Peter's tail, very white, bouncing across the lawn, disappearing into the field beyond.
     Inside, I hit the light switch and empty my pockets and tote: one pine cone, five cupules, one feather, two pieces of bark, a baton, and a rosy little stone. My collection is growing. I’d better charge my phone.

—Dinah Lenney

Dinah is the author of a memoir-in-essays, The Object Parade (Counterpoint Press), and Bigger than Life: A Murder, a Memoir. (University of Nebraska Press) and co-edited Brief Encounters: A Collection of Contemporary Nonfiction with the late Judith Kitchen (W.W. Norton, 2015). Her work has appeared in a variety of publications and anthologies including The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, AGNI, Creative Nonfiction, the Paris Review Daily, and the Los Angeles Review of Books, where she serves as an editor-at-large. 





MCKENZIE LONG

I awake to a gentle patter on the tent. I pull out one earplug and hear the pelting increase in volume and intensity. I slip off my eye-mask, squint in the bright Alaskan sunlight, and unzip a corner of the door just to check if it is rain or snow that I hear. Rain. I replace the earplug and eye mask and roll over for more sleep. Rain means no occasion to rouse from my sleeping bag.
     It is day eight of a ten day trip to the Pika Glacier, an area known as Little Switzerland in Denali National Park. Six of us have come here to camp in the snow and rock climb on the surrounding granite peaks. We flew in on a small otter plane—built in Canada in 1954—with duffles full of gear and cans to store our poop. When we landed it was clear and sunny, but we knew bad weather was coming, so we dragged our gear by sled an appropriate distance from the landing strip, set up camp, dug out our bathrooms, and then left to go climbing at 6:30 pm. Being in Alaska in summer means there is no danger of getting caught in the dark, so we climbed through the night in lingering twilight. Scott, Dale, Ali, and I climbed a peak called Middle Troll as two parallel teams, marveling at the beautiful view over the glacier and basking in warm sunshine at the belays. At one point Scott tossed animal crackers to me and I tried to catch them in my mouth mid-climb. The four of us summited around 12:30 am. We briefly celebrated and admired the view of distant Denali and then began the long rappel back down to our skis. We returned to camp at 4:30 am, devoured a box of macaroni and cheese each, and went to sleep. By the time we woke up the next afternoon it was snowing, and it has been snowing ever since.
     But today—the longest day of the year in a place where it doesn’t get dark anyways—it is raining. I wake up for a second time, this time to the roar of avalanches crashing down nearby mountain faces. The rain is soaking the snow and weighing down, pushing it over the cliff edges. There are so many avalanches that if I close my eyes, it sounds like the pulsing beat of ocean waves breaking upon the shore.
     It is noon, so I suppose I should get out of my tent, at least for a little while. I suit up in waterproof pants and waterproof jacket and waterproof boots and wade through snow the few feet to our communal cook tent. Thank goodness for the cook tent. During storm days, it gives the six of us somewhere to be other than our beds. Only today everyone is so depressed by the rain that no one is here yet. Yesterday we had a few fleeting hours of blue sky and sunshine, and we all had our hopes up for climbing today, so the rain feels extra depressing.
     I prime the stove, shovel some snow into our water pot, and begin to prepare coffee. By the time I am through, everyone else has arrived soggy in the cook tent. We decide to make pancakes because they taste good and take a long time. By this point in the trip we are all getting on each other’s nerves, but we manage to avoid arguments.
     At the start of our trip we began a tradition of taking a family photo each day. We chose a spot in our camp that frames a peak called the Throne, and every day we took a shot of all of us from that same location:


This gives us a feel for the changing weather, what we did each day, and the overall mood of the group. Our first photo, before we left on that first climb, showed us in climbing harnesses with huge grins on our faces. The photos since then have gotten progressively snowier and gloomier, with us wearing rain jackets and holding up bottles of whiskey. Today none of us can summon the motivation for a family photo. We huddle in the cook tent and peek out the door. Wispy low clouds drift in front of the Throne, and my skis sag sideways in the waterlogged snow. We make a group decision not to stand in the rain for a photo. Jess snaps an empty picture to commemorate the mood of the day:


     After gorging on pancakes and playing some bored card games, I retreat back to my sleeping bag. After eight tent-bound days, everything is wet and everything stinks. I pack some damp socks into my sleeping bag with me, in hopes that they will dry out with my body heat. I pull out Great Tide Rising by Kathleen Dean Moore and began to read. I am on the chapter called “On Joyous Attention” in which Moore writes about forging “an intimacy with the everyday marvelous:”
Paying attention to a night of roaring waves, a face full of stars, the kick in the pants of the infinite universe, the huge unknowing, alerts us to the astonishing fact that we have any place at all in such a world. Attentive to that, we live richer, deeper lives, more fully realizing our humanity.
I lay the book on my chest and listen to the soft drum of raindrops, the distant rumble of an avalanche, and the thrum of my heartbeat, warm and alive under my hands. What an intricate world I live in. And just like that, I am consumed with gratefulness; for mountains in all their intensity, for friendships, for my opportunity to be in this frozen place, even for rain.

—McKenzie Long

McKenzie Long lives in Mammoth Lakes, California where she climbs rocks, designs guidebooks, and writes about sense of place. She is currently working on a book about national monuments.





DANIELLE CADENA DEULEN

Morning

I wake up and lie there thinking of the night before. My mom drove down to watch the boys so that Max and I could attend a 20th anniversary party for friends. It was our second date of the year, and at a good restaurant we couldn’t regularly afford—where everything was organic, contemporary, and the wait staff was as serious about their food descriptions as any lauded writer. We ate and drank too much, and laughed too loudly at our own jokes. Max’s appeal is in his outrageous sense of humor, and mine in my willingness to discuss anything—or so I thought then. Now everything we said seems inappropriate. Were we charming or just loud? In the sober, dim light reaching beneath my black-out curtains, it was hard to tell. He’s in bed next to me, his back turned away so that I don’t have to endure his snoring, which is soft this morning. I want to wake him to share in this quiet moment with me, but decide that’s selfish and let him sleep.
     It’s strange to wake up before anyone else. Usually, a child’s plaintive voice calls me numbly to my feet—a bad dream to soothe away, a diaper to change, hunger too sharp to sleep through. Usually, I stumble through each demand, barely bothering to see the tasks I perform, bone-weary and waning, never enough of me to go around. But even my two-year-old, Miles, is still sleeping. I can see his cheerful, heart-shaped face clearly in my mind. Just a week ago, when I began weaning him, he cried and cried while I tried to soothe him without giving him what he wanted. We were both miserable. Now he’s accepted our break up and is sleeping through the night for the first time in his life. I know I shouldn’t feel heartbroken about this, that I should get up and do something for myself: I should shower! I should read a book! I should sip tea quietly while staring at my yard! During summer my husband and I trade off caretaking our boys so we can both get projects done, and it’s my day, so when everyone is up, I’ll be on.
     They’re locking up children at the border. This single sharp thought intrudes as if it weren’t mine. They’re taking children from their mothers and locking them up in “Tender Age Shelters” at the border. My eyes start to itch. My throat sweats. My stomach turns. My family’s a mix of white American and Mexican-American. I think about the election two years ago when my eight-year-old niece, a beautiful brown girl, watching the news with my sister became more and more agitated, eventually revealing that she believed if Trump became President he would send her to Mexico. She is an American born to an American. Still, at eight, she’d heard enough hateful rhetoric to believe that Trump didn’t see her as citizen or a human being, that he had no problem separating families. When I heard my sister’s account of it, I responded with what at the time seemed like reasonable words: “Well, obviously she’s confused about whether or not she’s a citizen, but even if she weren’t, this is the United States. We don’t just take children away from their parents. That shit’s not legal.”
     They’re locking up children at the border. They’re taking children from their parents and locking them up in cages like animals…
     Just then my four-year old, Mercer, opens our bedroom door in his plaid pajama pants and no shirt, his tender skin and shock of white-blonde hair haloed with hallway light. My husband startles up out of sleep and when he sees our son in the doorway he says “Well, hello there,” gently in his sleepy voice, “Good morning. You wanna come up here with us?”
     Mercer crosses the room and climbs slowly into our bed, smiling as if he knows some great secret. One of his arms does the climbing while the other cradles Baby Whale, a fuzzy, well-worn blue humpback that slumps around with him everywhere. He presses Baby Whale to my cheek and his own tiny nose to my nose and touches my ear softly, breathing his stinky puppy breath into my mouth.
     “Good morning, Mama.”
     “Good morning. Did you have fun with Nana last night?” But before he can answer, Miles yells from the other room. It’s time to get up.


Afternoon

At the dining room table, Miles decides to introduce himself to me and his brother. He reaches out his left hand for awkward handshakes.
     “Glad to meet you,” he says, smiling coyly.
     “Well, very nice to meet you!” I play along, trying to shake his hand and wipe ketchup from his cheek at the same time, but he squirms away.
     “No, Mama! Stop! I don’t like it!” He makes his best angry face. He’s been trying on faces lately.
     Out of the corner of my eye, I notice Mercer has climbed out of his chair and is going through the art drawer, throwing handfuls of paper and crayons overhead dramatically.
     “What are you doing?”
     “Where is the glue?” he uses his exasperated voice.
     “That’s not how you look for glue,” I say, kneeling to the floor, “would you please help me pick up this mess and when—"
     “But I have to pee!” Mercer says. Fair enough. I jump up to take Mercer to the bathroom. As always, he overshoots the toilet a bit before getting a straight aim at the bowl. When we return to the dining room, Miles has climbed out of his chair and runs toward me.
     “Fix Superman cape!” He’s holding the red cape that never stays Velcroed to his Superman T-shirt which he has refused to take off for two days now. I stick it on again and for a moment he looks pleased. I bend down to my other son.
     “When we’re done cleaning up we can look for the glue together, okay Mercer? Hey Mercer, are you listening to me? Please stop getting things out of the drawer and help me.”
     “Blow balloon!” Miles says, nearly knocking off my glasses with a colorful fistful to show me.
     “Where did you find balloons?”
     “Blow balloon, Mama!” I blow up a yellow balloon and hand it to him. He’s delighted and runs off into the living room with it. When I turn around, Mercer has used scissors I thought were hidden to cut up the plastic bag that held the multi-colored puff balls he calls “barnacles.” The barnacles are everywhere.
     “Mercer! That is a no! You know better than that,” I hear myself saying as I turn to pick up the barnacles, “now help me pick up this big mess you made.”
“I didn’t make a big mess. The scissors made a big mess.”
     “No. You were cutting with the scissors so you made the big mess. Now help me clean it up.” I begin singing a stupid clean-up song that entices him to clean about 10 percent of the time. He looks at me with indignation. Miles arrives with another balloon he wants me to blow up, his cape hanging from one shoulder.
     “What happened to your other balloon?”
     “Balloon pop. I sad.” He makes an exaggerated sad face.
     “Miles, I can blow you another balloon, but right now I’m trying to clean up. Will you help me?” He looks at the barnacles with interest. I sing the stupid song and with great concentration he begins lifting one small puff at a time and dropping it into my palm. I internally congratulate myself for being so patient.
     “I just need to give you a little haircut,” Mercer says as he snips a chunk of my hair off with the scissors. My patience pops.
     “That’s it,” I say, jumping to my feet, “No more scissors! I’m putting them up!” I practically stomp into the kitchen to throw the scissors in a cupboard.
     Mercer screams as if I’ve dropped them off a cliff, “Noooo! My scissors!”
     Miles, intuiting that this must be the moment to yell about my failings, joins in with, “Yellow balloon pop! Superman cape! Mercer scissors!” He’s followed me into the kitchen and kicks my ankle ineffectually, his face scrunched up. He likes to defend his big brother, a habit his big brother doesn’t reciprocate.
     “Miles, don’t kick Mama. It’s not nice and I know you’re—”
     “I have to pee!” Mercer runs through the kitchen holding his crotch.
     “What? Again? How? Why?” I say to no one, following Mercer up the stairs to our bathroom. He overshoots the toilet again. I make a mental note that I really need to clean our toilet. Walking downstairs, I notice the back door is open. Miles has slipped out. I rush out to find him ripping up my orange California poppies into a shredded pile.
     “Please,” I say, trying my patient voice again as I cross our dry lawn to him, “please stop picking Mama’s flowers.”
     I feel Mercer tug on my pant leg. He comes around and points definitively at Miles.
     “Miles picked your flowers, Mama. He needs a time out.”
     “Mama flowers!” Miles says, picking one more poppy carefully and offering it up to me, “for you, Mama,” he says, smiling brightly, “glad to meet you!” He holds out his left hand for me to shake.


Evening

After dinner is bath time, which Mercer loves and Miles screams through the one minute it takes for me to wash his face and body. His hair is grimy from lack of washing because most nights I can’t steel myself well enough to endure his outrage at the necessity of pouring water over his head. Still, each night as I lift him from the bath, feel him trembling in the towel as I carry him to his room, I’m struck with the realization of how very small he is, how vulnerable, why it makes sense that he clings to me every moment he’s awake, how scary the world must seem with such delicate skin. I feel overwhelmed with a mix of love and anxiety while I dry him, rub him with eczema cream, slip him into pajamas, thinking of how I could have been better that day, more patient, more loving, but also how I feel so depleted, so exiled from myself, a little sad that I’m no longer the protagonist of my story. Mercer is still splashing happily in the bath, talking to his submarine and rubber fish. I have to stop his fun now, get him out and repeat the same routine with him.

Once the boys are in pajamas, I lead them downstairs to the family room to watch TV for an hour. We know I shouldn’t, but at the end of the day I’m so exhausted I don’t know what else to do with them. Max is upstairs checking the day’s news in his office. I can hear him muttering angerly as I sit on the stairs within earshot of the boys looking through Facebook posts. Everyone is outraged about the border situation. Everyone is saying something about it. I type up a few different posts but can’t seem to get the tone right. Everything I write seems trite and self-serving, some variation of I care too! I decide not to post anything. When I hear an episode of Sarah & Duck coming to an end, I know it’s time to get the boys to bed.
     No matter how sleepy the boys seem in the family room, by the time I get them upstairs to their beds they’re always bursting with end-of-night energy, Miles jumping and squeal-laughing in his crib, Mercer trying out various tumble moves and yoga poses. I always mean to put the boys in their beds and walk away like all the parenting articles tell me I should do, but I always end up either lying next to their beds or snuggling them in our bed. Tonight’s a floor night. I lie on the felt rug between their beds to shush them until they seem calm enough to drift off, then slip out.
     It’s about 9 pm by the time I get downstairs where Max is waiting on the back patio. He’s in his pajamas smoking marijuana and looking at our yard. He’s tall and tattooed with short white hair and Buddy Holly glasses—super cute. By now he’s watered our fledgling garden, cleaned the dishes, and taken out the trash.
     “Hi,” he says, blowing out a huge plume of smoke, “look at the sky.” When I walk out into the yard, pink and gold cumulus stretch above me like a lit-up riverbed.
     “Wow. It’s really brilliant. Thanks.”
     “I thought you’d like it,” he says, smirking. “Also, I love you.” Max is given to spontaneous romantic declarations, an excellent quality in a husband.
     “I love you too.”
     “And I love our boys.”
     “I love them too.”
     “And I hate our evil fucking country.”
     “Me too.”
     My younger self would have mocked this life. It’s so cute, so common. I don’t disagree with that younger self, but she spent so much time scoffing at the ordinary that she couldn’t see how she was denying herself the pleasures of the mundane. I look back up at the sky. It’s been an everyday day—a whole day of nothing. We’re so lucky.

—Danielle Cadena Deulen

Danielle Cadena Deulen is the author of a memoir, The Riots; two poetry collections, Our Emotions Get Carried Away Beyond Us and Lovely Asunder, and a poetry chapbook, American Libretto. She teaches at Willamette University and is the poetry series editor of Acre Books. You can find out more about her at danielledeulen.net.  





Check back for more dispatches from June 21, 2018 tomorrow. —Editors

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