I am five at the indoor pool hanging onto the wall so I can see my mother outside reading on a lounge chair. This is the building I will live in until I am eight and we move to Florida because my Grandma passes away and we need a change. For now, the New York City skyline blocks the sun at different times of the day. My mother suns herself and reads and I watch her. I am afraid that she will die, for no reason in particular, except that I’ve recently realized she is my mother and I am her daughter and I will most likely outlive her. I do not want this to happen and I show this by throwing tantrums at the mall, clinging onto her legs around the house as she does chores, and generally refusing to leave her side, making the morning drop-off at school a difficult feat with my crying fits. A boy floats up to my spot on the wall and asks me if I want to play. I say no and he says I am boring. Boring; this word catches me off guard, and I dismiss it, ultimately, because nothing is more peaceful than looking at my mother, blonde and bronzed, reading her book, waiting for me to come outside and lay in her lap, staying alive for me and me only.
Two friends I no longer have convince me to drive to downtown Fort Lauderdale. We all just graduated high school. Two of us will go to college. The other will develop an insidious drug problem. The girl is my current best friend and we, once inseparable, are becoming separable by the distances of our forthcoming universities, by the choices we make about boys, about our studies, about our bodies. The guy is our best friend too, but he latches onto one of us at a time, craving our love, promising his in return, and sadly we do not want it, but we are lonely and bored and he is always coming back. There is a snapshot of us standing in a lake on a middle school field trip, jeans rolled up to our calves, arms around each other, smiling. The day I take this photograph off my wall and put it in the garbage does not come for a few more years. We meet downtown and go to his apartment that his parents are paying for. He came out gay in the tenth grade, but he wants me to hike up my dress and simulate sex on the bed with him, so I do. It’s his birthday and we are the two girls that gave him the most trouble in school. He was punched in the stomach for God’s sakes, because of me. And when they want to go out for a drink when we are all underage, I say no, and they say, live a little. In a few years when I am twenty-one, I try to do just so and they will both make sure I get my heart broken and they will pretend to understand my pain when it happens, and when I find out they are partly behind it and cannot forgive them, ever, they will tell me they wish I was dead.
I am twenty-seven when I move back to Los Angeles. I have since learned how to deal with the state of love, slipping. My wants and needs often contradict each other; I want to sleep, I don't want to sleep. My old friends might describe me as flamboyantly ambitious. I have not stayed in one place for too long. My old best friend contacted me once when things were bad, and that was enough. Other friends have disappeared into their own disasters, and from this, I try to make sense of our former hardships, the ways in which friendship does not always endure, but it dies, and dies again. My mother always tells me to hold onto the good, let go of the bad, and look forward to the amazing. My mother is my best friend in this life, the only person who I can fully trust, the only one who matters. When I think about kids in classrooms, I tell myself that we were all just babies once, doing our best to understand the world, taste it all, drink it all in, grow up and grow already. Then, out of the void, a small cruelty imparts on us, informs our bodies. Sometimes we can hide in the shadows of tall buildings and wait for the darkness to pass, bring ourselves once again into the light, into the lovely, lovely light. But more often than not, we find that it is easier to cower, to go amiss, to allow our whole lives to be disrupted by some unkindness. Think of a body of water, the fractured elegance of a river, think of how it bends and twists, how it is full, full enough of what it needs to be.
Brittany Ackerman is a graduate of Florida Atlantic University's MFA program in Creative Writing. In 2016 she completed a residency at the Wellstone Center in the Redwoods, as well as the Mont Blanc Workshop in Chamonix, France under the instruction of Alan Heathcock. She recently attended the Methow Valley Workshop in May of 2017 under the leadership of Ross Gay. She currently lives in Los Angeles, with her forthcoming collection of essays, “The Perpetual Motion Machine,” to be released by Red Hen Press in the fall of 2018.
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