Editor Kirsten Larson, Editor's Choice, December 29th, 2014
The way home forms in the mouth, like womb…
In our monthly Response Column, NAILED asks readers to respond to a particular word or phrase. We are seeking raw, honest personal responses that aim less to answer questions and more to raise them. Responses in the form of art, photography, essay, story, poem, and rant will all be considered for publication. January’s topic is MASTURBATION, please email your responses to Kirsten@NailedMagazine.com by January 19th, for publication at the end of the month. (Word count limit: 1,000 words.)
+ + +
Definition of Your (New) Self, by Liz Prato
origin: Late Latin, orphanus, meaning destitute, or the Greek, orphanós, meaning bereaved, or Sanskrit, arbhah, meaning weak.
Definition: An orphan is a child whose parents are dead or have deserted them permanently. Can also mean: a person or animal deprived of some protection or advantage; someone who is not authorized, supported, or funded; not part of a system; isolated; abandoned.
Adults can also be referred to as orphans, or adult orphans, or midlife orphans. Characteristics of losing both parents as an adult include:
- Feeling adrift and untethered (“untethered” is the word you will most often use, and you will heard used by other adult orphans, your new tribe)
- Extreme befuddlement over trying to parse out the idea that for 43 years you were somebody’s daughter, and then suddenly, one day, you were nobody’s daughter.
- A relentless compulsion to examine the past, good, bad, and ugly. Why did my dad spend his entire fortune and try to commit suicide three times and take out an unpayable reverse mortgage on the house and leave your mentally and physically ill brother with no place to live and no way to take care of himself? Why, why, why?
- Being expected to get on with your life because, after all, this is the natural order of things; Some people never acknowledge that it was a big deal, your father, your last parent, dying.
- Reactivation of mourning for the first parent and the sense that if your mom had never died when you were 26, none of this would have happened.
- Resentment towards friends whose parents are still living; often manifests as “Jesus, you can’t seriously be complaining because your mom wants you to buy a different kind of bread when she visits?”
- Knowing that there is no longer a safety net, even though that safety net had been full of holes for the last several years.
- The responsibility to “hold the family together” – not that your dad was doing a bang-up job of this, anyway, but there really is no one left but you.
- Feelings of guilt that the last time you saw your dad he was in the psych ward, wearing a hospital gown and no-slip socks, sitting on the edge of a single bed.
- Doubts about what the hell we’re on this earth for if we’re all going to just die and grieve, anyway.
Liz Prato’s short story collection, Baby’s On Fire, is forthcoming from Press 53 in May 2015. Her fiction and essays have been published in Hayden’s Ferry Review, The Rumpus, Iron Horse Literary Review, ZYZZYVA, and many others. She writes, reads, teaches, edits, has lunch with friends, dreams of the tropics, and watches too much TV in Portland, OR. “Definition of Your (New) Self” is excerpted from her recently completed memoir. www.lizprato.com.
+ + +
Defense, by Jenny Forrester
I woke up one night, knowing that something had happened.
I looked outside and saw Paul parked by the tree at the end of the driveway, his white truck lit by a full moon. He’d been circling the block ever since I broke up with him. We were always breaking up.
I went to my mother’s bed at the end of our trailer and huddled there, for safety, even though it was a razor’s edge kind of safety. It was better than no safety. At that moment, it was a bet, a hedge, a hope that if Paul, or anyone else, broke in through the flimsy door, she’d awaken from her long sleep, from a mama bear sleep and show her grizzly teeth to defend me.
“Tired,” she rolled away from me.
So, I walked down to the tree, and I got into the truck.
Paul drove south on Main out into the spaces where small ranchers sold out and became homeowners with acreage. A few cows, not too many. The cows were north. We drove south towards the reservation.
He stopped the truck at the border of a dirt road and then said, “You sure are fat.”
I said, “Sorry,” then I wished I hadn’t.
“Why don’t you lose weight? You’re such a pig.”
“I’m getting out now.”
“Why did you get in the truck with me?” he said. “You got me all worked up, like we’re gonna get back together, and now you’re gonna leave? You’re such a bitch.”
My face turned hot and I glowed sweat and ugliness, I looked to the stars for comfort, but they were blurred.
He picked a boot off the floor, a work boot and threw it in the small space. He could’ve hit me, but he controlled himself, threw it instead, without a target. His rear view mirror broke off. And then he got mad.
I stepped out of the truck into the cold night and walked along the gravel, wishing I’d worn my tennis shoes instead of leather clogs.
He drove up behind me.
“You can’t walk all the way back to town.”
“Why can’t I?”
“You’re such a baby. Get in. I’m not gonna hurt you.”
The world stopped, but I walked. The truck inched forward.
“You have to get in.”
“Did you hear me?” I turn into him, look straight through the open truck window, straight into his eyes then.
“I promise I won’t hurt you. Just get in. You can’t walk all the way back to town.”
It was cold. I got in. I was always getting into that truck. He cut the engine when I got in. Country boy power play.
“I’ll marry you,” he said.
“No,” I said. I imagined a lifetime of him calling me fat.
He looked down at his hands, “Are you sure it’s mine?”
“I’m sure. Pretty sure,” I said. I thought it was the night we were parked out north of Hesperus on a gravel road. He didn’t pull out in time. I felt it or heard it – a whispered spark. The next morning I knew that I was pregnant.
But then in that moment when he asked if I was sure that it was his, I knew something truer that set me free.
“You’re right,” I said. “It might not be yours.”
A wind picked up and blew leaves across the hood of the truck.
He said, “What are you gonna do?”
“I don’t know,” I said, “But I want to go home now.”
He started up the truck, dropped me off at the end of the long driveway, and never circled the block again.
Jenny Forrester has been published in smalldoggies (chapbooks series), NAILED, The Literary Kitchen, Hip Mama Magazine, Seattle’s City Arts Magazine, and in Indiana Review. She’ll be published by Putnam in 2015 in the Listen to Your Mother Anthology. She curates the Unchaste Readers Series.
+ + +
The Last Safe Space, by Elle Nash
Inside my hands is a photo of me and a husband with that warm Instagram look holding each of our two children nestled into our arms. In the background there is a Christmas tree that appears to give off a glow that is reminiscent of a financially stable home with presents underneath the tree that make up for the emotional unavailability of my parents. Pretend for a moment there is warm food on the table that I was able to successfully cook without wincing at the chalky results of my poor baking skills, clean carpets and swept floors and an effortlessly organized house. A house, pretend for a moment that we’re in a house with two floors or two bedrooms or some space for me, a place worthy of reminiscing, a place I want to be. A place with fresh cut flowers in each room and a fridge that is always full and dinner recipes on a calendar on the fridge next to a honey do list I always have to remind you about, like mowing the lawn or helping me pull the weeds in the garden of eden we keep in the backyard to feed our children.
Pretend for a moment we’re in a home. A home. A home with a heartbeat. The way home forms in the mouth like womb, the way it’s supposed to enclose you, encircle you. The way a locked door is supposed to protect you, keep the baddies out. The way the bad guys aren’t supposed to be the ones who live in the home. The way the safe place becomes just a kitchen with the tap always running or just a bedroom, which becomes just a closet or just a corner of a dark bathroom lined with terry towels for sleeping near the heating vent in the floor. The way the safe places shrink each winter into smaller and smaller spaces to the warmest centers, first into the body and then even smaller than the body it recedes into the heart or some other organ. Like into the arms of a mother who can’t take care of you. The way you’re always reaching, reaching up like a toddler from the floor for the warmest spaces to engulf you.
The way the red Christmas lights light up your face, all the flaws are erased. Can’t see the scar on your cheek from the remote control I threw at you or the mistakes on your hands from the dishes I broke. I stand in this light with you. If we let the red Christmas lights encircle us like the sun glowing through skin and muscle my scars are gone too. If we stand here next to the tree with the two children and presents underneath, the glow can hold us like a child as we stand still for this photo that we’ll place on the fridge next to the unpaid bills. This photo I can hold in my hands, cradled inside the last safe space.
Elle Nash is a writer in Denver, Colorado with her fiance and her cat. She had the opportunity to attend Tom Spanbauer’s Dangerous Writing workshop in 2013, and has dreamed of Portland since. Her work can be found at Exterminating Angel Press, Blue Skirt Productions, and 303 Magazine. Sometimes she blogs, here.
+ + +
Albany, by Rob Hart
I lived in Albany twice, in two different studio apartments. They were both in the same building—a crumbling apartment complex that people in the neighborhood thought was a halfway house.
The first apartment had a space heater instead of a radiator. I slept on a mattress on the floor. There was a table with two chairs and a loveseat. The kitchen was so small the refrigerator was in the living room.
The second apartment had a hutch and a futon and a couch, and even a radiator, which sometimes knocked so hard it sounded like someone was hitting it with a wrench. Again, the refrigerator was in the living room.
I was a reporter, and I lived there to cover the legislative session, which goes from January to whenever the budget is passed. That’s supposed to happen by April 1, but sometimes took longer. My newspaper didn’t have an apartment on hold, so I had to find a place that would rent month-to-month.
I started when I was 23, and was probably the youngest bureau chief in the history of the Albany statehouse. It’s fun to say, but left me without much to do socially. Most of the reporters were in their 40s, 50s, older. When I was ready to hit a pub, they were headed home to their families.
It’s hard to make friends in the statehouse. The politicians you cover, sometimes you go out for drinks, but you’re both mining each other for information, cataloguing the things that you say. The legislative staffers are drunk on Kool-Aid. They believe in stuff. Reporters believe in nothing. It’s all oil and water.
I was a three hour drive from home, and I didn’t want to drive six hours round trip every weekend, so most of the time, after the town emptied out on Thursday night, I stayed.
I drank a lot of whiskey and watched a lot of movies from Netflix. I did a little writing and a lot of reading. I went to movies alone. I wandered the streets of Albany, which is like a dystopian science-fiction movie set in the winter. So much concrete. I went mostly to gay bars because everyone was nice and the pool tables and dartboards were always free.
I fell hard for a girl who turned out to be a lesbian. Then I fell hard for a girl who mixed medication and booze and threatened to stab me outside a wine bar. I kept dating her for a little while, though. I played chess with a guy in my building who, one day, made a hard pass at me. I politely declined. He kept making hard passes until it got weird and we had to stop playing chess.
I tried to join a writing group in Schenectady. The girl who ran it was a white girl who wore a bindi and a sari and talked endlessly about her love for Indian culture. One woman wrote an amazing story and credited it to God, and I told her she should take credit for her own work (I was 23). I never found out if they met for a second time.
I’m sure there were entire days that I didn’t say a word, other than exchanging rote pleasantries with the girl at the coffee shop, or the guy who worked the register at the burrito place around the corner.
And then there was the snow. Sometimes I couldn’t leave my building, and spent morning to night within the confines of my apartment. Sometimes I’d brave it and walk through Center Square, down Lark Street—the busiest parts of town—and it’d be entire blocks before I saw another human.
One night, in the first studio apartment I lived in, I was lying on the floor, watching a movie on my laptop, and I saw a mouse in the kitchen. It disappeared behind the fridge before I could stand all the way up.
I saw the mouse twice more that night. The third time I saw it, I went to the deli up the block to get a trap, but they only had rat traps that looked like medieval torture devices, so I drove to a hardware store and got glue traps.
A week later I caught the mouse. He was a little guy. Gray with toothpick-thin limbs. I ran the trap under lukewarm water until he was loose. Then I put him in a cheap pot that I never used, with some shredded-up newspaper and some corn from a can and a Gatorade cap full of water. I put it near the space heater but not too close. I called him Winston.
When I woke up in the morning Winston was face-down in the cap, drowned and stiff.
I cried. Full-on, body-shaking bawling. I’m not even kidding.
I was 23 years old. I had interviewed governors. I stood my ground when a guy at a crime scene threatened to shoot me in the head for trying to interview him, and I’m pretty sure he meant it.
And I fucking wept over that little mouse, dead in a pot. I had been so alone for so long—even being around people, in the cavernous and crowded halls of the statehouse, I was alone—and this mouse had chosen to drown himself rather than live with me.
That’s not what happened, but it’s what I thought. A completely irrational thought given life by the emptiness of a cold Albany winter.
Both times I lived there, the budget got passed on time, so I was out of there around mid-May. I hear Albany is very nice during the summer months.
Rob Hart is the associate publisher at MysteriousPress.com and the class director at LitReactor. He is the author of The Last Safe Place: A Zombie Novella, and his debut novel, New Yorked, will be published by Polis Books in June 2015. You can find his website, here.
+ + +
The Calling, by Faith 47
Graphite, ink, acrylic and spray paint on Belgian linen
Faith 47 initially became recognized for her street art, painted on the cityscapes beyond the economic boundaries on South Africa’s weathered canvas. She has shared her visions with many other cities across the globe, including Shanghai, London, New York, Paris, Vienna, Johannesburg, Miami, Berlin, Nairobi, Melbourne and Montreal.
+ + +
Header image courtesy of Isaac Cordal. To view a gallery of his art, go here.
+ + +