Almost a Prairie

Almost a prairie

Vincent van Gogh, Long Grass with Butterflies, 1890.
oil on canvas, 64 x 81 cm


Almost a Prairie revised

Tonight, I’ve got nicotine on the mind. I ‘quit’ two days ago, but that’s bullshit by anyone’s standards – I spent the last 48 hours teasing my weakened lungs with cigarettes in a fake prairie. In Connecticut. Upon my return to New York, I smoked on my walk to the pasta shop that almost knows me by name, and pressed myself against a birdcage in Greenpoint, seeking connection with Simon’s bluebird Louis. It’s funny how quickly some experiences leave my waking mind. It’s funny how quickly I tuck anything away. On the train from Fairfield to Grand Central, I had the itch to start writing before my subconscious blasted the memory with Icy-Hot, numbing it for no good fucking reason – of course, I had nothing to write with, and fell asleep clacking my head against the window settling with the fact that whatever I wrote would be distanced. 

I didn’t want to write a narrative that felt spineless, some off-kilter take on something that otherwise was intended to be understood raw – but I also had to come to terms with the fact that my inner, snippy dialogue was irrelevant, as anything I could ever write would only hold rawness to myself, and one other person. In one moment, I watched him watch me listening to his dad talk about a bloody historical something. I couldn’t tell if he was searching for amusement in my eyes, or if he was as toned out of the monologue as I was – I was pressing my arms against my sides, unable to focus on anything but the color green. I hadn’t seen it in this great concentration in what felt like years. We sat in short grass – not tall – and smoked his cigarettes. I told you I quit, and I barely meant it, because my insides are malleable and I drip through cracks with ease. Of course, of fucking course, I chose to bring and wear the closest dress I own to fake prairie Connecticut casual – granted, it is the same dress that both gained acceptance to a Y2K theme party and received the backhanded compliment of ‘you look like Amy March in that.’ Before the car drove past, it felt like the realest fake prairie romance I’d had. I wonder all the time if I’ve used up my  life supply of extraordinary intimate moments. 

I started dreaming again last week, slowly becoming aware of the fact that it really was happening every night. I knew why it wasn’t happening before, and I only longed for it when I heard of someone else’s. The first one was nothing short of a nightmare; it was nearly completely gone by the time I opened my eyes, and I didn’t bother shutting them to remember again. In some tetanus-rust version of my childhood home, situated in the early 19th century, my kid brother had a melanoma. I listened to his lower back, pressing my ear to where his kidneys would be, and I became unnerved by the sound of an arrythmia. I knew not to message him frantically in conscious life, I knew his kidneys were as right as they should be at sixteen. He doesn’t drink, doesn’t smoke. The other brothers and I faired differently at his age, with aching lungs and garage floor concussions. Though second to youngest, I was the first to test my dad with teenage overindulgence. I think it amused him, watching me repeat to every ER doctor what happened the night before. It pleases him still, to give me shit for it. I think back on the PCP night of 2015, the drug test my mom administered to me in their bathroom. I, ridiculously, and ruthlessly, denied any claim that I was high through bloodshot eyes. I can’t remember him, his face, though he stood right behind my mom. I can’t remember much of my dad’s face through my childhood, only from the photos that show us every summer on the lake. I didn’t like him much, only in the month of August. 

Someone told me recently that I wasn’t truly a Midwesterner, that the northshore was some other entity entirely; this bashed my view of Midwestern cowgirlism, and the twangy blues that swung through the open house windows in the summers. I felt Midwestern. I started to hate the East coast, the people it birthed, and the incessant self righteousness that came along with them. The summer home that was in use year-round in Connecticut was some parallel version of the lakebred life I led. I missed the kitschy rainbow pinwheels in South Haven, peeing my shorts at the harbor watching the blue moon ice cream dripping down my brother’s face. I thought he hated me, and it broke my heart. My youngest brother thought I hated him too, and that broke mine again. On the opposite side of the lake, we got to see the sunsets in South Haven. It made my dad’s heart melt. Can’t go West, can’t go East – I’m stuck in Indianapolis, will a fuel pump that’s deceased. Ten days on the road, now I’m four hours from my hometown – is this Hell or Indianapolis, with no way to get around? My cousin was born in 2007, and before Ollie came along, she was the youngest cousin I had. I remember holding her as a baby. I remember her curly hair (now straight). I think she got her braces off a few weeks ago. I noticed my first wrinkles a little over a year ago. Over the summer, I took a photo of my hands every day without realizing it for weeks. They age the most clearly to me. Sometimes I’ll look in the bathroom mirror from a wonky angle and I’ll see my nana. I see a photo of myself at eleven, look at my limbs long and flailing, remember my striped leggings from fifteen years ago, my mom telling me I was leggy. I did cartwheels for summers. 

I wore plaid that matched his. I did it on purpose. He ripped an ear of plastic corn off a bodega branch, he gave it to me. To remind me of home, I joked. The corn sits on my windowsill, below the AC I so haphazardly ‘installed.’ He wrote in red ink, my red pen, to remind you of home

Miss Midwest.

I see the ocean, and I miss the lake.

To remind me of home.

Almost a prairie.


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