Oh, Prose! How you’ve thrown me for a loop? And all these years I have thought that the bottles were there to drown the past in, not to float up it’s relics. But the damned memories will never die, will they? And now you want to see me drunk on them, and to watch as I regurgitate them up, and laugh as I wallow in the messes I’ve made.
But there is this one bottle, dusty and aged. Watch as it clings like oil to the sides of this swirling crystal. See how it settles on the bottom, weighty and sure? Lift it up. Don’t fall shy, now. Push your nose right in. Close your eyes, and mouth. Breath it in like a young girl’s breath, floral and light. Yes, that is good! Relax. Let it have it’s way. It will not hurt. Not much.
Now then, slowly… taste.
Do not swallow, not yet. Swish it instead. Swish it hard! Harder than that, Prose! Come now! You asked for this. Swish it all around! It is on you to wake the flavors up! There is no shame. Ok, good… now… now… now then. Swallow. Feel it down. Feel it titillate as it scatters your mind.
Ahhh. It tastes of autumn, does it not? With subtle hints of moonlight, and starry innocence? Now, search through it, find that sugary sweetness floating somewhere beneath. It recalls a kiss if you can find it, a pressing of bodies, a squeezing of hands, the fear of the forbidden, and somewhere a worried mother sitting up, her hands folded in useless prayer.
And the vapors so dry, recalling what is gone. And the jarring numbness of regret, or lack thereof. Ah, it is a precious bottle, this one. A good one for memories, and so very, very old.
Go ahead, Prose. Drink up. It is the best I have to offer, and isn’t that what you asked for?
yellow is my favorite color
It’s a bottle of grenadine - sweet like spring.
It tastes like the cherry soda they serve at Goolrick’s.
Downtown. We were 21, walking through the cemetery.
It was Wednesday.
Me and Sean and Carolyn and Courtney.
We talked about picking out plots there to be buried together
in the least morbid way you can talk about death.
The sun still shines brightly, casts yellow rays upon us.
We are still alive, so alive, more alive than yesterday.
Downtown. we browsed the antique shops, picked out dresses for imaginary occasions.
I bought that seashell purse.
It’s black and beaded.
We took the long way home, didn’t go through the cemetery.
I think I wore yellow that day.
We’re Good People
Though it's tied for second as the worst moment of my life, my mother's last breath is the memory I would unflinchingly uncork and drain. Were that memory not there, the choice would be impossible. The triumphant smile on my daughter's face when she realized the word "daddy"meant me, the surprised joy in her mother's eyes when I proposed to her on the beach, holidays, vacations, all of the moments that constitute what we call a good life; it would be a true paradox of choice.
And that life is all my mother wanted for my brothers and me.
Her life was guided by that desire at the relegation of all else. Her North Star was raising her children to be the kind of people that a life like that would naturally find; kind, honest, courageous in discovering the world, strong through hardship, and committed to the bonds of friendship and family. And that was how she lived. There was more tragedy than many experience, but we lived a life of laughter, of throngs of close friends and family always nearby, of adventures, of encouragement. A life of love around the kitchen table.
But at the relatively young age of 65, broke, having buried her youngest son, and dying in a house she didn't even own, my mother suffered in confusion, turning her head back and forth in anxiety, moaning in pain. Cancer, having spread from her lungs to the lining on her brain, caused a deep dementia. Sometimes comically endearing but often terrifying, her understanding of where she was and whom she was with was wildly out of place.
I had missed much of her illness. Another harrowing situation in my life, which would cumulate into the aforementioned tie for second, was developing quickly. But my mother, wholly in character, had understood and assured me during her decline that I had been doing enough. I'm grateful for my brother. He had been our savior.
And so there we both sat, at her side, my brother and I. My father, watching as nearly a half century of an indescribably deep bond slipped away, had fallen asleep, utterly exhausted by the day's emotional toil.
What could I say? At almost forty, I had so much to thank her for, so much to remember. The life lessons, the support, the opportunities, the wisdom in those moments as a youth when I thought the world was ending. There was more than I could even say in another forty years. And would she even be able to understand my words?
As her death rattle intensified, the truth in my heart became unmistakable. There was only one thing she wanted to know.
I leaned into her ear and said "We're good people, Mom. You made us this way. We'll always be good people."
And in a moment that could be described as nothing less than miraculous, she looked at me with a clarity not seen in weeks and nodded, with a smile weighed by palsy. And within a few moments, she breathed her last.
I felt I had been a good son in that moment. But I had also made a promise. "Always."
My life is no longer the good life I described earlier. Life's ordeals didn't end with the acceptance of my mother's loss. There are always new catastrophes around every corner. And now I struggle to be the man I promised. And I fail. A lot.
But Mom taught us it won't be this way forever. I can't be embittered or nihilistic. While the other bottles on the shelf might be full of the libations that would bring me a smile, right now I need strong medicine. And man, would I love to see her one more time.
My grandfather's laughter wasn't a complete stranger, but a passing acquaintance. It was spare and sparse, doled out like a prize, and never given freely. A thin smile was the reward for a job well done, an impressive feat, or a particularly clever wordplay or joke. Laughter was a rare sound he could almost remember how to make when conditions were just right.
Smiles and chuckles were easier to earn when light would sparkle on the current running towards the ocean. Sadness was an abstract idea left moored in far away ports when he retired as a stevedore; sadness was an abstract idea left to wither in empty classrooms when she found retirement of her own. They were happy in the years that they walked the sun-dappled banks of a winding Southern river, and sadness was the color of our world when she left us behind. His good humor was laid to rest on an October day that was also their wedding anniversary.
I once asked him why he stopped being a fireman. I think of that conversation every time I pass that fire station in the old historic district of Savannah.
"The smell." That was the only explanation he offered. The only other clue to his reticence was when my mother or father would grill, he'd never come outside until dinner was served and the grill was put away. The man himself didn't own one.
Before retirement, I would stay with them in the second house they ever bought together, where they finished raising one daughter after the eldest had wed and moved on. I can still remember the blue carpet in the dining room and the grapevine that ran the length of the garden in the backyard. Every summer, he'd toil for the spoils of the earth; riches gathered were golden corn and the rubies of vine-ripened tomatoes.
I can vividly recall the slices of tomatoes in contrast to the Fiestaware, freshly creamed corn pooled to turn those slices into red atolls in a yellow sea.
On most of these overnights at their pre-retirement house, I'd wake to find a paper bag of freshly baked donuts. He would have to be at work at some inhumane pre-dawn hour, but he'd always leave just a little earlier than normal so that he could bring donuts back to the house for his grandson. I was always fascinated with the fact that he was there when I'd go to sleep, but then mysteriously gone when I woke up, and I never heard a thing.
I've since walked a mile in his footsteps, having known work that occasionally required inhumane pre-dawn hours. I'm still in awe of his ability to stay awake through the 11 o'clock news and then rise at some mysteriously masochistic time.
He showed affection by doing things. Providing. Entertaining. Not necessarily talking. He'd take me along on trips to the store; I always liked going with him more than going with my grandmother, because she knew the definition of the word "No." He'd always let me come home with something extra, something unnecessary. Something I wanted but never needed; there were always new toys to be had, and I'd leave some of them in the cardboard box I kept at that river house.
On one of these shopping trips, he introduced me to something that, unknown to either of us, would change my life forever. He bought me a Daisy Powerline 860, a BB repeater and a pellet air rifle. It was fairly low-powered, but to a six year old, it was a mighty weapon indeed. He taught me how to use it, he taught me how to respect it. He gave me that rifle, and a little red Swiss-army knife that he got for free with his Old Spice holiday gift pack. I still have both.
I would wander the banks of that river for hours with the knife in my pocket and the rifle in my arms; tin cans and tree trunks trembled and feared my name, and the river herself would let me skip shots like stones.
A decade later, I don't think he was ever as proud of me as when I brought home dinner for the first time using those skills he first taught me on those banks. I think that laughter is what's kept in a bottle in my memory, and I open it from time to time.
Stoicism. Self-reliance. Organization. These lessons he taught me by example, and everything combined with what he taught me with that Daisy to help make the man I am. All of these skills are some of the reasons why I'm still here today, and others aren't.
It wasn't until years after he left that river for good that his laughter became as much of a stranger to me as I became to him, but the memory remains.
The Conductor of Memories
I remind myself, you can't.
You can't open this, or the Magic will be lost.
You don't squeeze toothpaste in, or rein the genie back again.
Once uncorked, memories are gone for. Gone for-- I can't say good. Forever.
So, I stare at them upon the shelf, in the vault, where I leap in heart from moment to moment, astonished that these all look identical in identical tiny glass jars. Like turpentine or acetone or some other potent blood thinner. Colorless, odorless, without viscosity, when trapped like this. Vials like for laboratory testing. But in my mind, I can relive them one by one, and I run a gloved hand soulfully over the easy peel label across the fronts. I notice that some over the years have turned, as if shyly, away from me. There are those that have faded in the light. I must have stared at these a lot. Unlike the ones that have remained crisp and dark. The chest tightens as I note the ones that are blank, till I realize that these must be "at the ready" for what is yet to come-- containers in abundance for as far as the eye can see. I shudder at the recognition. When I die, we close this tomb that was, "Infinite Possibility."
If I could take one, just one, just-- a sense of panic takes me over. I've never been good at these momentous decisions.
Will it be Sunrise Mountain? where I simultaneously touched the sky, and the ground, and a peach tree blossom with a humble bee umming to three stubborn donkey, and I watered these sensations into someone else's eye and ear, so as not to keep it, selfishly. It reminded me of the Almighty. The picture of the bench a top that peak I bought like a pipe recollecting Native American Heritage.
Creativity coursing through sinews and arteries-- I know it smells like sandalwood and vanilla in mediation. It tastes like offerings of chocolate and Moscato on the last day of Summer, and sounds like the pouring of purest wild raw unfiltered honey...
I shouted your name?! and the valley echoes mine instead.
I couldn't find the label.
White Flask Labelled “Summer Snowball Fight”
If my shelves were to be stacked with glass flasks of all shapes and sizes, filled with colorful substances of unknown forms, I would put little labels on them. Of course, it is visible from a distance that some flasks look more dangerous than others, but I would want to make sure that anyone reaching into the shelves would know what Pandora's box each one of them could be.
Today, the rays of light feel like waves of heat, and I am craving a memory flask of snow capped mountains. Make no mistake – although these tall peaks spend decades in snow, during the summer season they are perfect for snowball fights. Providing you have a jacket. And very warm pants. Preferably paired with sturdy boots. And if you're going to go this far, might as well grab a hat, a scarf, and some gloves.
Edge of Seventeen
Many people today have “main character syndrome” and see themselves as a constant protagonist in the story. I’ve always seen myself in a supporting role. I’ve always felt like I existed just to fill the cracks in my family and old friend groups. I was the giver, the responsible one, the “parent” of the friend group. I never asked for anything, not even when my mother would directly ask me what I wanted for my birthday. Asking for things means asking my family to sacrifice even more when it’s already tough to make the rent each month. It means guaranteed disappointment from my peers.
I grew up to enter a string of terrible friendships and relationships that reinforced this idea that I existed solely to serve everyone else. My value only came from what I could provide for others. As soon as I needed anything in return, I became a burden to them. Since I was young, I’ve been punished for not smiling sweetly when I’ve been internally wrestling with the value of my own life. People lose interest when their human appliance stops serving its utility with a perfectly pleasant smile plastered on.
My opinions were always wrong. My voice always had some undetectable tone they don’t like. Don’t I know that my job is to be the manic pixie dream-girl, the high-earning career woman, and the docile housewife all in one? “Needs” are just complaints from bratty, nagging women who fail to be happy with the crumbs of attention and affection they’re thrown.
There was a time in my life when I still had hope for a bright, fulfilling future ahead. I believed in being loved fiercely. I drove through my town with the windows down, blasting Edge of Seventeen on the evening before my 18th birthday. I waited in line for hours to see my favorite bands and made friends with the other misfits who understood my heart. I was loved. I saw a beautiful life ahead of me.
I didn’t appreciate it at the time. I’ve spent the years since regretting it. I hadn’t yet received these scars from relationships I only entered because I was so afraid of saying “no.” I continue putting myself last today, but in that moment, singing Stevie Nicks and looking ahead at a beautiful picture of my future that I’ve struggled to hold onto, I finally felt like I deserved to be a priority, too.
I wish I could construct one of those Pensieve bowls from Harry Potter. Lord knows I’ve shed enough tears to fill it. I would dip my head in and feel that moment again — that feeling of mattering, of having a real purpose beyond serving others. I miss feeling hopeful about the road ahead. I would drink in that delicious drop of joy and hold onto the memory forever. I would never let that feeling go.
The Great Betrayal of 2018
My grandma makes homemade wine. Its colour is cloudy, and according to several eye-witness accounts, tastes like paint thinner. She has a cup every day with dinner- we joke that It's a vitality potion, being near eighty-eight and still ass bright eyed as ever. But, for the fact it drinks like gin and less than a cabernet, my family does not drink it.
They bring their own bottle to thanksgiving, and this year was no different.
"Did you check the expiration on this?" My mother asks, her face pulled into a grimace and hand to her chest like it might be her undoing.
My aunt grabs for the bottle, confusion pinching her eyebrow. "Wine doesnt have an expiration, I don't think." But checks it over thoroughly anyway.
"It tastes horrible!" Mom exclaims, reaching over to steal my 7-up.
"Hey!" I crow around a mouthful of stuffing and cranberry sauce. "Thats mine!"
"It's not expired," My aunt confirms, completing undermining my betrayal. "Here, Joe, try it." She says, passing it to her husband who pours a finger into his cup.
My brother all but leaps from his chair, his grin shit eating. "Can I try?"
My other brother cuffing his head is the resounding no.
"Woah!" My uncle coughs, slamming the glass down onto the table. "You sure this is wine?" He asks.
The three parents eye each other, and then the bottle, and then their cups in case there might be errant rat poison lining them.
My eldest brother (the do-gooder) pours himself some, holding it above his head and surveying it beneath the light like he was in a labratory, craning his neck in every which way before pulling his gaze back. He blinks, and blinks again. He looks to my grandma who has been suspiciously quiet, usually asking for an interpration of our foolishness in her language, but is now sitting and eating like she doesnt even know were there,
Without preamble, he grabs for her wine. She doesnt bat an eye, which is all the stranger. We all know not to just take her things, if we aren't yearning for a slipper to the face as reward for bad manners.
My brother surveys the two cups under the light, but they don't look quite the same. Maybe it's her cup, thats tinted from living through both wars and the Great Depression. "Colin go grab the bottle." He commands my cousin, who grouses from his turkey dinner but follows the order and goes to the cupboard we all know and fear to unearth the comically sized green bottle.
I look at my mother, who's chugging her second glass of ginger ale and still seems to be holding her breath, though I cant be sure.
My cousin returns, and uncorks the bottle. We collectively wince, half expecting a cloud of arsenic to come billowing out. It doesnt, of course, and we all sigh in relief at that small comfort. However, my brother is having a glass filled, sitting there with his palms flat on the table and face drawn. It's all very dramatic, and I clutch on my other cousins arm beside me in anticipation of the taste test.
He first sips the glass of my mothers, discarded, grimacing and letting out an audible 'blegh.' He doesnt allow himself a moments reprieve as he tosses the second one back.
His eyes widen. We all swatch him, no one daring a breath. my fingers are cutting crescents into my cousin, but she's far too invested to care because then comes the--
"SHE SWAPPED THE BOTTLES!"
My mother gasps- my brother (the rebel) laughs (someone kicks him), I look around in horror because I'm the only other one with a licence in this family, but its only a learners permit so they couldn't have possibly drunk the Great Poison- but then comes my grandmothers giggle, soft at first. She almost seems to be sobbing beneath her hunches posture, but soon she reveals herself, keeling over as sheets of laughter come forth.
"You didn't!" My aunt says, scandalized. "When could she have done that!"
My eldest brother shakes his head, pointing at the little old lady who we always thought to be so sweet, so serious, but has managed to fool us all. "We left the bottle on the table down here with her when we were all upstairs getting the food!" He accuses.
"Don't insult my wine again." Was her only statement on the matter, in my shaky translation, as she takes her cup back and sips it with the kind of smirk only the success of a great heist could bring.
I had never driven before this night.I refused to drive for another three months after the fact, as well.
What a tableau we must have made, a woman screaming in horror as her daughter drives her car down a main road and almost sideswipes multiple side mirrors, with a man placating her as the only voice of reason in this vehicle and a teenage girl- going a firm twelve in a fifty.
Ever since, my mother has kept the wine within her range of sight.
My first school dance.
And my last.
I got up the courage to ask the guy I had been crushing on for months.
From a distance of course.
It was kind of awkward, the asking.
I asked a month in advance, just to make sure I didn't chicken out.
He thought it was cute that I was nervous.
He said yes.
But the memory I would want to relive is what happened the night of the dance.
He came to my house, and called me beautiful.
He stood and let my parents take all the pictures they wanted.
He shook my dad's hand, listened politely to all of the "ground rules."
The curfew, the intentions, etc.
And then he opened the car door for me.
And held my hand to make sure I didn't fall.
We talked and laughed and played music-
All the way to the restaurant where he had made reservations a week before,
and paid before I even had the chance.
Then, even though it was early still,
he drove us to the dance.
We were the first ones,
but we didn't care.
We walked around, talked, laughed,
chose our spot for the night.
He asked about what music I like to listen to,
we switched phones and compared playlists.
He was the only person I've ever shown my playlist to.
It's the most vulnerable part of my life it seems.
And only when people started showing up did I get visibly nervous.
I was nervous before, but at the time he was the only person
whose presence could calm me in an instant.
And he knew exactly what to do.
He took my hands,
and looked deep into my eyes.
He told me I was beautiful,
and I knew what was next.
He leaned in and kissed me.
He kissed me like there weren't people everywhere.
Like we were the only two people in the world.
And then I asked the stupidest question I could think of.
But I was serious.
Somehow, I still thought he wouldn't want to be with me.
So I asked if everything was just going to go back to normal afterwards.
After the lights dimmed,
and he drove me home for the night.
But he understood what I needed in that moment.
And in every moment after that.
He told me he wanted me to be his girlfriend,
because I was different than other girls.
And he looked in my eyes until I said yes.
And hugged me like the world was ending after I did.
I dated this guy for about four months,
and its been about that long since we broke up,
but it's still my favorite memory ever.
He is my favorite memory.
That Night in NODA
Pinned against the silvery lavender
of his car, my knees wobbled as he leaned into me, doing a slanty push-up in reverse. The weight of his body, thicker and heavier now.
His brow furrowed, his face grew serious and dark, eyes wide, as it always did when he kissed me. His breath was on my face, and I lowered my head. One hand came to my chin, and he gently pressed up. His lips torturously close and lingering. But, I had to meet him; mutualism was required.
As he pulled back to gaze at my face, his brow furrowed again. He tapped two fingers against my temple. "Tell me," he probed.
I smiled. The wind kicked up a little swirl between us and his scent flooded my nose, penetrating my nasal cavity, mouth, throat. It was my turn for agony, sweet and savory.
We walked hand-in-hand toward the old converted warehouse behind the main strip. It was dark and ill-lit. A few guys sat talking and smoking on the neglected docking station; they noticed us and gave him the up-nod as we passed.
The muted rhythm of the music urged us closer, and I started skipping in anticipation. The doorman looked me up and down. But when he recognized my companion, we were let in at no charge. "My man," he said. He looked at me again with different eyes and nodded his approval of me as the plus-one, suddenly seeing the appeal.
A huge ring of people thronged around mats on the hard concrete floor. I bounced to try to get a look as we moved closer to the dense crowd watching the dancers. He held my hand so tight I thought my fingers would turn blue. He weaved through the first layer of sweaty bodies, and I got stuck. So, he put me in front of him and pushed his hands on either side of me to make room.
We made it just behind the front line, but nobody else would budge. I strained to see. The inner ring was tall gangly b-boys, sweat dripping and t-shirts tied at the waist. He pushed on my shoulders, putting me in a squatting position in front of him, and there it was: the sweet spot. I could see everything; he had given me the sweet spot. My head rested against his hips, his hands on my shoulders, I watched. Once in a while I would lean back and give him the look: did you see that killer move? Or, skills but no style, right? Each time he nodded his approval.
When round two ended, the crowd dispersed into smaller circles for chatting, practicing, or just dancing. "So, what did you think?" he tested me.
"Not much popping and locking for a pop-n-lock tournament," I replied. He nodded.
"Now," he looked at me unforgivingly and squeezed my hips so hard I almost yelped, "let’s get you to your bed.”