The Big Brick Review 2016 Essay Contest: 3rd Place ($100)
Building on the narrative of our lives...one brick at a time.
by Kerry Feltner
WHEN I WALK by, even the birds quiet down.
If I was counting I’d tell you that it has been nine days since I drove away from you while you hit the rust off your brakes.
As a passenger I knew your Honda had always wanted to keep going instead of stop at some sign that was erected to control its nature.
The goodbye we had was not real to me; like the hours of a funeral that languish between body and life; food and formaldehyde. I don’t remember our last kiss but every part of me wishes I did. Even the stubborn breaths I’ve taken since.
Today and for many days ahead I am a snake—shedding my dead skin. But really, if we’re counting, it was you who was the actual serpent—the coward who cheated without telling.
The tea kettle and the shower in my new place plead with me in the same shrill note, beckoning for help—it’s like everything that’s been used has had enough.
I went back to Mt. Hope Avenue—the place where hope packed its bags and waited to board while we thought that proximity meant love. There I saw a card from your parents but written by your mother. I had only stopped by to collect my bills, coupons, and credit card offers but I read her words too.
She wrote, ‘we definitely understand your decision.’
It seems unlikely that they do. They, in their late sixties, over six hours away, and never meeting your darkness cannot fully know what, you, a 28-year old man, and me bridging on 26 years are like together.
They know only that you’re their unexpected baby. They see you only as a child, quiet and beautiful.
It angered me, rendered me brick red, this assessment. No one can pretend they are somewhere. There is no virtual reality. We exist in real forms. Only the heart beating that I could hear as I laid my head on your chest and the words that we gave each other—even if they were aggressively told—are truths.
I remember when you told me all those stories—the one where you made out with a debutante or another where you drank an entire bottle of hot sauce just to keep your cool. You really do see yourself, you know. I’d love to have the acclaim of your mirror for an hour.
My grandma Ruth told me to floss every day because ‘you’ll never know what you’ll find in there.’
With you, I found a child, quiet and beautiful and frightened. It has been over 500 days that we’ve said goodnight together. There’s nothing else to look for. You float around reckless; a raccoon ready to grab anything to live on, even a person’s hope.
Remember when the overhead light fell on the coffee table, unprovoked but breaking its form?
After a while with you, tectonic plates shifted creating a wedge between what was and reality.
Where can we return to?
Sometimes I forget you—the way you nicknamed me and took my hair out of my collar—like those bumper stickers for losing candidates that seemed worthy enough to stick on a possession.
When the signs fall down, the supporters rally behind another, and no one hears your speeches, did we really build a life?
Or was it a cave, a temporary lean-to that helped us decide what we should believe in?
On Sundays I still go to church. God is more present. The brick building of the Peace of Christ church is down the street from a toy shop. We went there once to see the toys. I was drawn to the dollhouse section; you were in the airplane aisle. The dollhouses had accompanying families, tied together by plastic and forced smiles, painted on by a foreigner. In the last months of us, I felt the same way—my face was a warning sign with weak eyes and a tiny grin and even I knew it.
Boy, you wear someone down.
I see you in my dreams sometimes. You just look at me and I look at you. We neither speak nor smile, both knowing we can no longer hold out our palms.
Last November we went to the Vanderbilt Mansion on Long Island. We walked around the grounds of something that was once so polished. The circular pool was filled in like a grave. The diving board was still there to help catapult someone to a new experience, if they so dared. The ceilings had wounds leaking and parts of the walls found freedom in the jump, trying to save themselves from the dying structure. That is all you can do sometimes.
I miss you all the time.
It was Valentine’s Day, you know. I didn’t know what you ate for breakfast or if you found a new heart to dissect. We lived together for so long. Now we will not live together but we each go on living. I don’t know if you’ll ever get to the bottom of what or where you’ve been.
My new room is sunny. It has four windows like a temple. The stillness of living alone is only beautiful to God.
I was without a way to fully see what happened before but looking back I felt peculiar warmth from you.
It was like when my grandma talked about working at Friendly’s. In the 1990s I went and visited her with my mom, holding my gymnastics Barbie—she had a very flexible groin that allowed her to do a split on every surface. I had ice cream and pigtails. I thought then my grandmother was a happy woman. But now I see an old woman working at a fast food restaurant so that she can afford her life which was a solitary one in a center for living—which might be the greatest irony.
The version of her that I knew had distant eyes. After she picked up her limp child from a truck’s bumper in the 1960s, her eyes averted the world. I never saw her eyes fully as a child.
I miss you at night most.
I still think of your face pressed up near mine when your eyes were finally clear and you looked like the boy you were. Outside, ambulances raced to the hospital where we both were born. Inside, I stared at you hoping you’d wake up. You gave me such little time to be loved.
My birthday is soon.
This next year around the sun is unknown but I want to be kinder, less worried, and to breathe with awareness. I’m learning how to let go, even when I never wanted to. Nothing can ever be certain.
I made plans with you; in my head.
We’d move to Colorado and I would write and you could engineer something. We could have brunette children who wanted to make indoor forts and trace the sky with fingers, connecting the constellations together like a coloring book. Marriage would be hard but also exhilarating with a chance to see a person’s evolution, something scientists marvel about with species every day.
To have an eyewitness account of how a human turns out and what steps they take or why they stand still; the world’s highest honor.
I saw us having two dogs because everyone needs a friend or even an enemy—it keeps the drive to function there. We could have been happy with a mutual understanding that trust is more than just a unit in gym class but it actually means that there is no bullshit. To be one area of the world where the bogus is eliminated and the expectation is clear would have been a chance to be serene, a lightning strike.
I was struck giving light to a black hole.
When we were us we held hands and watched the ducks watch us eating ice cream. I saw your grey hairs beginning to brush up against the youth of a face that longed for summers playing war and sleeping in. You’ve always been bigger than your mind.
If the rooftop where I said I loved you was real or if the slow dances at weddings made you feel anything but stupid, how could I know? We each go on living. Our signs are not compatible so really it's our fault for trying—my fault for trying. I will never feel that you did.
When I was a kid—toothy, with a bob cut—I pictured you. A brown haired boy with blue eyes; there were only physical requirements then. I worked to be worthy of someone wonderful. I barely drank in college. I met who I could. Even the jerks were direct.
How can people call it heartbreak?
It feels to me like a renewal of the body and the zap of the mind. As if a phantom limb becomes real or hair growing back thicker, stronger we morph into a new specimen by force and time and hurt. But my heart should not break for someone who never heard the cracks. My soul stings and I’m always cold wishing for the light; my pride just pennies in a fountain, tails down.
I look for your car on the highway in the opposite lanes. That car held our first kiss and the leather seats always reminded me of the chance that was, the way you held onto me, showing me then that you did, truly want me. That night I was still mysterious to you.
I may never see you again other than on the Internet which tries to keep people close but in a cryptic way. I fantasize about the 1970s when someone could truly disappear and there would have to be some digging to understand what became of their person. Our generation does not know that true feeling of absence.
The earth can forgive better than I can.
It tries to rebuild even after people throw Starbucks cups into its beautiful face and when fires take everything it's built away without warning.
The way the earth accepts its hand and instead grows while no one is watching—that is what I want to do. Forgiveness and clarity are foes. Truth is there for a day you invite it out and remark on its appearance.
I did recognize you, the boy and all. And still, I wanted to see you.
Kerry Feltner is the technology reporter for the Rochester Business Journal. She studied journalism at the University of New Hampshire and is native of Horseheads, N.Y. In addition to business writing, she writes creative nonfiction and poetry. Innate curiosity continues to design her life and work. Her articles can be found at www.rbj.net and her blog is in the making at kerryfeltner.wordpress.com.
"Dollhouse" photo © 2016 Gregory GerardTweet < back to the Reviewl