In Cleveland it is slush nine times out of ten. If home is the place you go for holidays that feel progressively more and more arbitrary, then home is slush nine times out of ten.
But that may just be when I see it from the third story apartments of elementary school friends— the ones I’d promised while buckled safely in the back seat of a parents’ car that I’d get that apartment with them. The slush was knee-high then, the snow a thing to maneuver into fortresses or homes, ammo or a second refrigerator when too many bodies descended on the home and demanded more food than would fit in the fridge.
In Cleveland it is sweat and sunshine and a piercing glare off the lake one time out of ten. The beach is dead zebra clams and plastic tampon applicators. The hot young things I hoped to grow into have become teenagers with acne, uncomfortable in their mysterious new bodies, depressing even when the sun shines on their greasy pocked skin while they try to attract one another like the crippled seagulls flocking to the trash of family picnics. I want to cover the girls in their sandy towels, I want them to read a book or take up jogging in safe, well-lit areas; Learn an instrument or a language, I stop myself from saying to them, Anything but what I did. What you’ll do.
At age five Cleveland was the Stop-n-Shop, a two-story Raggedy Ann doll and rock sugar candy. Cleveland was the wrong women I’d attach myself to on shopping trips with my mother, looking up finally in a complete expression of horror at the stranger beside me and running to hide in forts of shoulder padded dress suits. It was the Nutcracker (the best in the world, in my world) and sledding from the Shoreway toward the water, frozen in perpetual waves of car exhaust waiting to melt for teenagers. I could see grown people then, but I could never imagine what they did with their lives–for love or for money. Could that many people have love or money?
The answer was no. There was not enough in that town to go around.
Today Cleveland is The Great Lakes Brewing Company and the house my friend bought, the popularization of urban farms and bicycles and food trucks like every other town I’ve moved to. Cleveland is the drive-in movie theater and organic restaurant on the street that I used to be scared to walk down. I pass Kiddy Park if I take the long way from my dad’s house to my mom’s. It is a parking lot as big as it ever was, littered with a handful of rusting mental sculptures calling themselves “Farris Wheel,” “Roller Coaster,” “Carousel.”
Caitlin has her own apartment for the first time ever. She’s on the East side of town with no roommates. It’s two bedrooms and a kitchen with an alcove made of windows. The table fits perfectly. She has an office. She has a full time job and makes plays and we share Bulleit Rye in shot glasses she’s purchased on vacations. Mine says Delaware, hers says Paris.
We say let’s write a play together. We say I know people say that, but I mean it.
I know, we say, I mean it too.
We also say how it was for the best: the poet moving on to another woman, or that lazy fuck who never paid rent. We neglect to marvel that these are different men.
We pet the cats, we pile the couch into a fortress of blankets and pillows, we hope the cats will sleep with me.
On my head, I say.
Goodnight, she says.
Caitlin is doing well, now. The last time I had found my way to her apartment from my dad’s house one of those interchangeable men was still there, and a fear of unemployment, and there had been the suicide—conversations always life-changing and impossible to navigate. But today she looks put together. Makes looking put together look easy. We share a mutual birthday breakfast and her cup of coffee. We groan off the whiskey. We say it was so good to see you and your star is rising—your skin has never looked so good and your hair is so long.
Your moving up, we say.
You’re growing up, we mean.
Caitlin goes back across the street and up three flights of stairs to her apartment. I get in my sister’s car and drive it to my dad’s house. I take a shower and pick through boxes of crackers and jars of condiments in hopes of satisfying some hunger that is growing inside me like the mold I find in the cheese drawer. I dig first through my old dresser, then the snow piled in the driveway.
I dig through fifteen years of mail covering the dining room table we can’t use any more: I am looking for a good word. The reply to a letter, a sign that it is good to see me and that my star is rising. That my skin has never looked so good. That my hair is so long.
That I am growing up.
Tatiana Ryckman has an MFA in Creative Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts and writes from Austin, Texas. She is the Managing Editor of The Austin Review and her work has been published with Tin House, Keyhole Press, The Doctor T.J. Eckleburg Review, and Music & Literature. Tatiana leads Creative Writing workshops through The University of Texas at Austin and the Austin Public Library. Tatiana’s first Chapbook, Twenty-Something, is forthcoming from ELJ Publications.