A year ago I ran through the front door with my phone in my hand. It was cold out but I didn't put a coat on. Cut glass rattled in wood as the door fell shut behind me. It would be my last ditch effort, and your response would be the last ditch period. You told me she was moving there to be with you, I paced the driveway. I asked you how that felt, you paused and said, pretty good. I went back inside and later I drove my car to a friend's house and made some more phone calls but this time no one picked up.
Just something about this place, if I'm here too long I feel swirls of a person I used to be, and it makes me surly. Sitting at a table of family friends, sweet people with happy unexamined lives, being asked over and over if I have a boyfriend yet. When am I getting married, ideally. I shrug and churn out a number. Really I'm only dreaming up answers, but I can't say that aloud. I'm already too strange, too far away.
She said, times have changed. She said, in my day, if you weren't married by 21, you were considered an old maid. I said yes, times have changed. The thing is, my parents didn't raise me to be an expert at finding boyfriends. They didn't buy me school workbooks at the toy store so that I would be a good wife. Most people can have babies, and most people do. Most people want to get married, and most people do. Most people vote, but it doesn't mean most people should. A woman in a mall looks me up and down and says she likes my outfit, asks me where I'm from. My mom smiles and says, she lives in New York, she's a writer.
I remember in high school, I got into this fight with my parents. I don't remember what we were fighting about, I can just vividly hear myself saying, I'd rather be alone at the top than not be at the top at all. The memory is transcendent, like I'm remembering someone else say it. I see myself standing there with a fire in my eyes. I find it equally comforting and frightening, like the old me knew the new me would eventually show up and was readying the fort. In my darkened bedroom, I taped my poetry to rose-colored walls.
There's this amazing poem that's stuck in my head since I read it. These lines: This is for every little boy and girl who stood between home and a tornado, weighed the options, and took a chance on the twister. The image of the tornado is violent and accurate, but I think the writer neglects the other half of the story, something the Dorothies may find comforting. That once you've chosen the tornado, it becomes your home.
People keep asking me when I'm coming home, coming back to the South. I just smile and say I don't know, we'll see, we'll see. But really the tornado is my home now. I love the turbulence, pressing my face to the wind and stretching my limbs over an unlimited expanse. I can never go back to living on the ground. I need the scorch to live. The only way to go is up. Up and away.
SEE: JOAN JONAS EXHIBIT AT GAVIN BROWN
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