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Archive for July, 2013

Stop holding up with your hands

the feet of the one whose soul is set on the decimation of the divine; see, he can only stay up as long as he’s being held, wherever he is being held. It’s up to your hands.

Let them drop, worthless at your sides and swinging, so you know that not only is he falling but all else you thought you could hold on your own is, too.

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My sister calls me after work saying It’s happening, it’s really happened this time and I honestly don’t know if I can bear it… And my first thought is about a girl dressed in a bright yellow dress and orange-red lipstick that sticks out against her milk skin, the summer before I left for school…. And she’s calling herself Mango, Codename: Mango, and I’m laughing so hard my cigarette falls out of my fingers onto mom’s carpet and we scream oh shit, and then laugh some more.

I think about it so hard that I almost laugh, until she reminds me in her present voice that she can’t have babies, and it’s probably because she can’t have babies that this is happening.

So I tell her, hold on, I’ll be there. And she says, what, you’ll be in Colorado? And I tell her yeah, just give me about eighteen hours. And when she laughs, I know she’s safe.

I put her on speaker for the drive, and the girl in yellow re-enters my mind, calling herself Mango, Codename: Mango. She’s pursing her lips and making kissy noises, and it’s all fun and games until her lips land on my bedroom wall and white desk; and that’s when I’m smashing her head with a pillow telling her to get out.

Tell me what happened.

I know the girl in yellow well.

We sang on the hilly streets of Lynn Street once or twice; earbuds stuffed into holes in our ears we were convinced led to our souls. We would dress up and walk down the street with our music, just to prove to all the vehicle passer-bys that we were deep and free and something that they perhaps were not. Mango rolled down Lynn Street once, literally rolled, on a rainy evening when water fell off it like a water slide. She just threw herself down it when one of her songs hit a high-note, like she had fallen off her branches and could now go wherever the storm pleased.

He’s gone. Just left, in the middle of the night. I’ve tried everyone. He’s nowhere. It’s been weeks now. This time it’s real. And I’m not pregnant. I’m not. It was a false alarm. Bad test, bad luck. Old age. Hah, old age at thirty-four. I don’t know. I just don’t know what to do. I’m sorry to push this all on you, but I just don’t know. I wanted to hold off, to tell you happy anniversary tomorrow. Not to worry you with this, Kimmy. I’m sorry.

I take a left and miss my turn to get home, digging with my right hand in my purse to find my GPS. It’s been a while since I’ve seen her.

Don’t be sorry. I’m glad you called. Even if it took a crisis, I think. I’m about to tell her how I feel guilty for not calling, but instead I talk about how strong she is and how she can take practical steps to feel better right at this moment, like start with a cup of hot tea perhaps.

Why is this happening to me again?

I don’t know, I really don’t, Mango, Codename: Mango. You have blood in your palms that you never wanted to hold. Unborn children trying to claw their way out of your stomach early, just to see your face, that’s how beautiful it is.

Remember when we thought I’d never get married? I don’t know how to answer her question, so I ask my own.

She laughs, so I know she’s okay.

Then she says: You did always scowl at my boyfriends and preach independence. I thought you were so jealous. At one point I was convinced you meant it when you said you’d never get married.

I smile, and I hope she feels it.

I was wrong about you when it came to a lot of things, she adds.

Me, too, I say. I was wrong about myself when it came to a lot of things.

Mango. I’m still thinking about it. I haven’t talked to her this much in so long. Does she still know that name?

I was so insecure, she says, always having to have a boyfriend. You were right about me.

But Mango certainly never seemed insecure. How could she be, the girl who shouted at storms and spray-painted leaves?

Ah, yes, that summer before I left for school we had bought our favorite colors in pastel cans and decided we were going to do something illegal, but wonderful. Next thing you know, we’re spray painting a leaf on a tree bubblegum baby blue, and before we can get caught, every tree near little local Beans Café mysteriously sprouts lemon-colored, tangerine-colored, watermelon pink-colored leaves to match. We break into a fit of giggles before Sgt. Dell does his round, and as we run we could have sworn we hear Mother Nature shouting and shaking her fist at us through the wind in the trees, telling us not to outdo her green and brown.

That summer, the boys weren’t there. But soon they would be.

We’re barbequing one summer after I left for school, left all those purple mountains and that crisp air and all those colors, and I call her Mango with a little grin, and this is what she tells me: “Who?”

And I laugh at her thinking she’s messing with me.

Mango, I say, Codename: Mango, from those summer days where we spent our energy on lazy days. Don’t you recall? Ice cream cones dropped from car windows in the drive-through in hilarious fits, putting on lipstick just to see what it looked like against our skin; and that day, barefoot on the soapy sidewalk and chalk stains underneath our toenails, when we colored all the black gravel on Lynn Street to life. The first summer we learned to really appreciate each other.

She shakes her head as she scoops more fruit salad onto her sagging plate. “Oh, yeah, I remember the chalk. That was amazing.” It’s the most I’ve gotten her to say all day. And just like that, she’s gone again, hanging off the mouth of her newest boy every few minutes. Mother rubs my back with her palm as I blindly pop grape after grape into my mouth.

“I know it’s strange to see her with somebody. She’s always been so careful. But I trust her. And you should, too. You know her. You know her.”

But she’s still so young, I think. How can you let her off so easy? Don’t you realize that she is losing parts of herself to these guys? They are taking moments away from her where she is Mango, throwing her body down the hills of Lynn Street during a monsoon, screaming that life is beautiful to no one in particular.

Are you there?

Yeah, sorry. I just… I wish I was there already. So I could talk to you, in person. It’s been awhile.

Should you hang up? I don’t mind letting you go until you get here. I’m really okay. You don’t have to worry. I know I sounded kind of dramatic, but I’m okay, Kimmy, really.

She doesn’t laugh.

No. No, stay on the line with me. Please. I need you to. I don’t want to fall asleep at the wheel or something.

That’s not funny.

No. I’m sorry. It’s not funny. It’s really not.

Mango, Codename: Mango, is funny.

She’s a bit sarcastic, and prefers movies with wit over slapstick humor, though she’ll laugh when you fall (as long as you’re not too hurt.) She makes faces like she’s performing onstage for you, and you’re in the way back. When she tells stories she waves her hands like they are separate bodies re-enacting her tale. I can tell someone about my day going down to Beans Café with Mango to buy blueberry muffins and realizing I had bitten into one without my wallet on me, and they would smile and nod like they understood. But if Mango told it, they would hold their stomachs and shake, spit out their drinks and cry a little.

When she was humorous, she was spontaneous. After making somebody laugh she wanted to go somewhere. To move on, so she could find somebody else to tell a story to, probably.  Those summer days we usually ended up in Anne’s Boutique,  not a lot of money in our pockets but a mind that could hold to the brim everything we found lovely, and be satisfied.

We would browse, in particular, the lipstick isle because at Anne’s it was the most colorful section. The tubes were silver or gold or metallic pink or red or greens, glistening against berry or wine-colored or orange or magenta or baby pink solid sticks. Sometimes it was so overwhelming that I wished there would just be one solid color, a designated lipstick color that we’d all wear. But Mango wanted more color, if anything.

We might have been spontaneous in other ways, but we were girls who understood commitment to a color. One day in particular, Mango was birthed. It was when she picked up an orange-red lipstick, and read the name: Codename: Mango. For some reason this struck her as funny, not the kind of haw-haw chuckling funny, but the kind that hits you after a few seconds or so and causes you to go back to it and laugh harder, making other people notice. I looked at the tube and didn’t find the humor on it.

She was tickled. “Codename: Mango? Who has the job of naming these things? Because that’s the kind of job I want.” She pounced on another tube, snatching up a deep red one, proclaiming “Codename: Apple!” in the most official lipstick-color-namer voice she knew.

“Did you know that there’s actually somebody walking the earth named Apple?” I said.

“Sure…”

“I’m serious! Some celebrity’s baby somewhere is walking around with the name Apple.” I paused. “Codename: Emma.”

We burst into laughter, more laughter than necessary, and she curled her fingers around the tube of Codename: Mango and never let go until it was on her bedroom vanity.

Are you still there?

Yeah, of course. Just driving.

I know this sounds sort-of childish, but could you maybe tell me a story? You always tell great stories.

A story or a memory?

What’s the difference?

 

So I remind her of Europe, because I haven’t thought about it myself for a long while. Those two weeks I spent in Paris instead of on Lynn Street; coming back and telling her in quick, exciting gasps that it’s a real thing to hold long baguettes under your arms there and not stick out. How the city is so modern but then has archaic bits centered about it that always remind you of its past no matter what; making it a quaint city if there was ever such a thing. I tell her about watching the Eiffel Tower from the bottom of it, lying on grass under the deep black as the French Fourth of July made tourists and locals alike let out exaggerated, glittering breaths. How the air sang from Play Me, I’m Yours programs, and how I sat and drank espresso the size of my palms, attempting to learn advance French from sepia-stained, well-lived books I bought from vendors on the streets of Notre Dame. But my favorite, I tell her, is still the Lover’s Bridge. And after I found it, I went back every night to it. It had devastated me to think that, after throwing the key away in the Seine, any two people or families might lose their love. Might forget who they were when they were younger, and carved their initials onto their locks some summer day when they thought each other eternal. I would close my eyes and run my fingers over the locks, until I found one to stop at. Then I would open my eyes and see the names and whisper sweet prayers of restoration to their love, and please make it happen tonight, whatever it need be, under all the lights in a hidden and warm spot.

I never knew you to be so romantic, she says.

I was all along, believe it or not.

…Were you ever once jealous over my boyfriends, then?

Hah. Yes. Although I told myself I’d never admit it to you. Whoops.

Hah. You never showed it.

Oh, I did. Mom could see it on my face ten feet away.

I never noticed. You shouldn’t have been. Jealous, I mean.

The color is changing. Dusk approaches down the road.

She continues: I was so jealous of you going. I still am jealous of you going. Look, I just admitted that! I told myself I’d never admit that to you. I can just see my younger self shaking her head at me right now.

I picture Mango, violently slapping her palm to her forehead, sighing.

Well, now we’re even.

Never. We can never be even and I don’t know if we ever were. We’re too different.

A horn blares behind me. I slam my foot against the gas pedal, noticing that I’m driving ten under. Funny, whenever I get in a trance I always go slower.

Do you remember, she says, how I begged you to go?

Sure I do.

Take me, you beg, and I tell you that if you can get down to fifty pounds and become very, very flexible, you can probably fit in my suitcase. Except there’s the whole breathing thing to figure out, too.

You whine, but hug me and tell me to eat double the croissants in Paris, just for you. You know I can’t drink double the coffee for you, because it would kill me I drink so much of the stuff already. And as I wander down the streets of Paris two weeks and two days later, watching the colorful dresses and skirts parade by, walking past the street markets overflowing with the shiniest and largest fruit I’ve ever seen, I think Codename: Mango. For the only time on my trip, honest-to-goodness, I wish maybe that you were there.

So I called you, spending half my budgeted money for the day on a phone bill just to tell you about the mangoes. Because it’s just one part of the mango, the bright orange-red part of it like your lipstick. For some reason I hadn’t realized it before. I guess I had never had stopped to look at what a real mango looked like.

It was my own way of saying that I missed you.

I’m thinking about that rose tea, now, she says. I think I can still taste it.

That’s unfortunate. Oh, Lord, the rose tea. I still have that baby-pink can of it somewhere in my house.

Do you really?

I really do, actually.

She laughs again, and I know she’s safe.

We drank tea from Versailles, with crushed rose petals in the tea ball, holding our noses like we were drinking fancy perfume and pretending we loved it. It was the only treasure I brought back for us to share. We dressed up in all-black ensembles, white pearls, and our lipstick. You wore Codename: Mango, of course, and I wore a basic red. I had bought two teacups in a tourist shop, one I had planned on giving to you.

We had a grand old day, pretending we knew what we were doing, and pretending this is how all Europeans take tea every day, in their pearls, and we weren’t caring when I knew we weren’t entirely right. We said merci beaucoup, bonjour, salut, comment-vas tu? and, of course, mangue.

It was great until you dropped my teacup on the floor as you picked it up to clean it, shattering my own piece of Paris into pieces, my scream shattering your eardrums. That one was yours, I said, grabbing the other teacup from your hands and never pulling it out again until I placed it in a wooden cupboard in my new apartment, dry.

Sometimes you took the best moments and made me angry in them.

 

I felt so bad about that cup. You made me feel so bad about that damn cup, she says.

I overreacted, for sure. My stomach hurts thinking about it.

You did that often. She chuckles.

Did I?

It’s the last time I was in Colorado, thirteen summers after Codename: Mango.

She’s cut her hair to the tips of her ears, and says she is divorcing Leo. I wish I could think of something comforting to say, but I’m too busy staring at her hair. Wasn’t this the girl who picked on me for cutting my hair short? Calling me butch and telling me no wonder I hadn’t had a boyfriend yet at twenty.

As she shakes under my hand on her shoulder, I’m staring at her hair, thinking about how my eleven-year anniversary was last month and my sister who’s never cut her hair this short in her life is getting divorced, one year short of staying married into the double-digits. A rarity for any marriage, as long as we both can remember.

It’s not that she’s never been reckless, or spontaneous. Au contraire, her long hair was the only possession of hers that stayed the same. But we all need consistency from somewhere, so I figured she chose the comfort of having hair cover her heart, hug her face in the summertime and drip-dry for hours.

Her room would change every three months. She’d take everything out, beg to re-paint it, and pick up people’s old furniture from the sides of the road to give her space a fresh look. She would get a piercing now and then just to annoy mom, piercing her nose three times in one day, once.

I hold her body with the short hair and remind her of the nose piercings, and she shakes some more and tells me the holes have all closed up now. Then she tells me that he is touching somebody else, somebody who’s probably less emotionally demanding and who can have babies, and I wrap my arms around hers to hold them from ever going to anyone else. Nobody deserved her.

I look around her living room and notice that since the last time I’ve been there it hasn’t changed. Even the giant vase in the corner of the couches holds the same white poppies, as if they’ve never died. I spot her purse up against the couch, an orange bottle peeking its white head over the tip of it. She must notice that I’m staring because she tells me, Don’t worry, I just got them yesterday. They’re the Doctor’s orders. You can call Dr. Rose if you’d like. Yes, I tell her. I will call.

Are you still there?

Yes. I’m still on my way. I’m still listening.

You were Mango, codename Mango, and I was something I can’t quite recall. But your name was funniest. Who on earth would call themselves Mango? But you loved the way it bounced off your tongue; Mango, Mango, Mango. If you said it fast enough it sounded like a song, slow enough, like a poem.

What’s that noise? She says. She must hear the screeching.

I’m pulling over for gas—just realized I was on empty.

The station is the only one around for a while, and I’ve swerved into it, lost in conversation. Lost in thoughts about Mango and a summer I’m certain like never before I can still taste, smell, touch. The summer before I left for school. At the pump I tell her to hold her thoughts while I call Chris and tell him guess what, I’m on my way to Colorado. He’s good about it, a bit surprised, but good. I remind him that Andrew needs to take his lunch to school tomorrow, the one that’s in the fridge. And oh, honey, Kaitie has a ballet recital that I’m going to miss so could you please, please phone your mom and ask her to be there. And Evan said something about coming home this weekend, but I should be back by then. I hope I’m back by then.

Are you nervous to see her? He asks me. I tell him no, but why would I be when all I can think about is Codename: Mango and the summer before I left.

Then he says this to me: Kim. It’s not your fault, what happened.

I know that yes, he’s right. It’s not my fault. But this time, I’m going to be there.

Before I have time to think too hard, I’m calling her again, and in a breathless, elongated string of words I say to her: Did you ever forgive me for leaving you, that second summer after I went off to school and never came back when you needed me the most?

The sound of cars whizzing by on the road occupies our ears before she finally says: Oh, Kimmy, it’s so old now. I forgave you a long time ago. I really did.

It’s just… I thought you were being dramatic. You’ve always been dramatic. I didn’t… I didn’t know that you were so hurt. I didn’t know what happened.

Yeah, you’re probably thinking. Why do you think I stopped painting my lips, my face, the next time you saw me? Underneath the decor was someone with skin like a ghost’s, red veins running underneath it, boiling and screaming and feeling betrayed. I needed you to see that. I wanted to tell you but you were the last person on earth I wanted to know. You had missed the annual barbeque; so you weren’t there to make fun of me and my guy every time we exchanged spit. You weren’t there to keep your eyes peeled and your mouth sharp on the way he touched me, screaming Hey buddy, watch it while I scowled at you. I used to think you were jealous, but that night as I lay in bed in the fetal position, understanding I didn’t want it to happen how it did, I realized that you were always my protector. When I finally could move I walked into your bedroom where the door was ajar, and I lay on your empty bed.

I called you at midnight, curled up on your empty bed, asking you to tell me about college. Tell me a story about it, tell me everything. Did you get drunk out of Red Solo cups? Was it true that you only ate ramen, or was that the greatest living myth? Was your hair growing out? Were your professors smart, attractive, dorky, arrogant? I needed to hear you tell me everything that you had become in the past year. I wanted to fill myself up with you, so I didn’t have to think about me. I needed you to tell me who I was by talking to me like we were still together.

And in the middle of the conversation I told you “Come back”, and you sort-of laughed, but you could tell something was wrong. “If you don’t come back, I’ll kill myself” I told you. I felt my blood shooting through my veins, violated, pulsing hot and mad.

You were just mad, calling me selfish, telling me to grow up and not to be so dramatic over a guy. And I, not wanting you to know, could only cry and hope that my tears told you everything. But they couldn’t.

Why didn’t you tell me that night? I ask. I’ve never asked her before.

I think that deep down I knew if I told you, you’d come back.

I’m in the car again. The sun is dripping down underneath the fields of corn and it’s all becoming one shade of deep blue.

Isn’t that what you wanted? That’s what I would have wanted, compared to what you tried to do to yourself, for Godssake.

My hands squeeze the wheel until my knuckles turn white. Why am I so mad? It’s all over. We’ve been through this already. The screams from mom at three-thirty a.m. as I slept in another state, phone dead in the pocket of my jeans. The news around lunch the next day and my anger, fury, that she had done it. It’s not her, mom. That’s not Mango. So I’m going to sit here and finish my late breakfast and look out the window of my apartment and pretend that she’s just messing with us, being dramatic. She’s the type of girl, after all, who opens tubes of lipstick in stores just to try on the color before commitment. Who lets the storm take her as she screams that life is beautiful. And she’s alive and well.

She’s thinking about her response, carefully, on the other end. I can tell. Do you remember that summer before you left for school?

Blood flows back into my brain. I’ve been thinking about it this whole time, actually. Must be a psychic sister thing.

Me, too. Must be.

Then I say it: Codename: Mango.

The sun has dropped completely. There is no color. I hit my phone’s screen to make sure that she’s still on the line.

Sorry?

I said, Codename: Mango. I’m giggling like I’m eighteen again, and she’s there in the yellow dress attacking my walls with her bright mouth just to upset me.

Mango?

My heartbeat races, my words come out fast: Mango, like the lipstick, Codename: Mango? Don’t you remember? Anne’s Boutique, where we would try on the lipsticks, and you pulled out that red-orange one and wore it all summer and called yourself Mango. Sometimes, Codename: Mango. And the monsoon came in heavy that year and you rolled yourself down Lynn Street one day, and you were sopping wet but you were screaming that life is beautiful when you’re a mango, free to roll wherever the weather decides to take you.

You have a good memory, is all she says. The memory of a poet; mom was right, you should’ve been a poet.

Oh, come on, you have to remember! I’m trying to laugh, but my racing heartbeat is hurting my chest now.

Okay. I kind of remember the monsoon, walking on the streets with you, but I thought you were the one who rolled yourself down it! I could have sworn it was you. Actually, I told that story to a couple of my friends, a long time ago, and I could have sworn it was you. I told it like it was you.

No, it was definitely you. I start to wonder if I should pull the car over for a second. Something’s creeping up from my stomach; I’m sweating a little. It’s probably the fast food chicken strips from dinner. Serves me right for wanting something quick and cheap.

Oh, gosh, you know what? I remember the lipstick, now. But it wasn’t mango lipstick, I don’t think. It was Apple! You bought that silly lipstick named Codename: Apple! And you wore it on your mouth all summer.

Had I? Maybe I had, but that wasn’t the point.

No, you named the lipstick Codename: Apple as a joke, only after you saw Codename: Mango. We laughed and laughed about it, we thought it was so funny for some reason. C’mon, you couldn’t have forgotten. You slobbered all over my bedroom walls and even kissed my desk with that strange shade of orange-red.

She’s thinking again on the other line.

Guess I’m getting old! I wish I could remember. But I do remember you cutting your hair to your chin with those frayed ends. You did it yourself and I gave you so much crap for it. You went to Europe and I was so jealous that you were finally leaving Lynn Street, leaving familiar faces and finally doing something. And here’s what I’ll never forget about you: That day when the tornado landed, and mom and I were huddled underneath a mattress, trying not to cry. You stood there by the door and watched it and we screamed at you to come near us. But you know what you said? Do you remember what you said?

I don’t. I don’t.

You said you would stand there and watch it inch by everything you loved, because if it was going to destroy, you wanted it to hit you first.

I try to picture it, try to see it, smell and taste the vicious rain, but I don’t , I don’t, and as much as I try I don’t think I ever really will know what she is saying. Was I a girl who once stood on street corners, face-to-face with tornadoes?

I get back into the car, turn off the radio, and tell her it’s her turn now. Tell me what you know about the summer before I left.

I listen to her talk the rest of the drive, listen to the stories become sillier and more light-hearted as the sun begins to rise, and light begins to re-enter my little space of earth. She is a mere mile away, and I wonder what her hair looks like now.

As the sun inches up over the mountains, it causes the color to wake and reveal itself. I forgot how many colors live here.

Soon, I’ll walk up to her door. One more time I will allow the flash of the girl in yellow to cross my mind, and then I will knock on the door and meet her.

By Kaitlyn Knudson

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