All over town the euonymus is as red as you’ve ever seen it, bright bushes of flame dotting the landscape. You think of blood but also tell yourself to look up that passage in the Bible about Moses and the bush. Everyone says it is a gorgeous autumn, more vivid than it has been in years—something about rain, or no rain, you can’t remember—but you also know that the colors are hitting you harder because you haven’t been back here at this time of year for a long time. It makes you want to do things with construction paper and glue, iron some leaves between sheets of wax paper, make a turkey out of the tracing of your hand. The person who would have cared most in the world for these works of art is gone but the person who might have cared second-most is alive and well, putting up the same storm windows, raking the umpteenth generation of leaves off the same small yard of grass.
He wears jeans now. This is new.
To be clear, you don’t want to write this story in second person. To be very clear, I am talking to myself here. I’m sorry. I know it is problematic and I’m usually pretty flexible with the narrative voice, able to shift as I go if something is not working, but this is the only way this story is coming. Bear with me. I read somewhere that second person creates a unique tension, and if this is true, it is exactly what I need, because this weekend, this first parents’ weekend for my firstborn in my hometown, while also visiting my remaining parent? That is the definition of a unique tension.
It turns out if you have a child at thirty-two she will turn eighteen the same year you turn fifty. It’s just math. Math with an impact you did not predict. Of course, there is no math that might have predicted she would grow up to go to college in the town where you grew up. After all, she was raised in New York, the city you spent most of your childhood dreaming of. Your arc went from here to there, hers from there to here. You picture two giant curves crossing over the map, their only point of intersection where? Your phone suggests Grove City, PA as the midpoint. This reminds you of Grover’s Corners in “Our Town” and you tell yourself to reread that play.
You never moved home. You wonder if the same will be true of her.
You have come for longer than the official parents’ weekend and are staying in what used to be your room, the blue and white bedroom, though years ago your mother put two twin beds in there for grandchildren visits. She bought Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls for the beds, but your children never took to them and your brother didn’t have a girl. You can hear your daughter now: That is so gender normative, Mom. And she is not wrong. Also, the dolls were made of heavy burlap cotton. Also, there were never enough visits to establish an emotional connection.
You have brought work but worry it will remain only a symbolic gesture.
Your father has a new phone, his first smartphone. He doesn’t like it. Among other problems, he deletes texts like emails and though you try to convince him of the beauty of the text thread, you fail. The one thing he does like is an app that identifies plants. At your mother’s grave, which you visit the first morning, he walks around identifying every tree in the vicinity. You have always liked cemeteries for this reason, the trees. They are often old and allowed their full open-growth shape. Your mother liked the headstones, the names and dates and stories they told, so walking with her here, as you sometimes did, she looked down while you looked up. Now, you realize uncomfortably, it is the reverse.
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