Learning to ride, falling down, getting back on
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In my head I go, Jesus Christ, you wuss. Get out of the car.
In my head I go, Get out of the car, grab the bottle of wine, walk up to the door, and knock. Like a normal person.
I sigh and stare at the line of cars parked in front of me on the narrow street, like rows of colorful bottle caps. Old Seattle neighborhoods are like this: tightly packed-in houses, cars, and people. I eye the rearview. What’s behind me looks the same as what’s in front.
My reflection creeps me out. Not sure when this started. I think when I was in about sixth grade.
I’m the kind of person who would rather eat glass while someone pounds rusty nails into my ass than go to a high-school reunion. So no way am I going to my thirtieth this weekend. Tonight, however, there’s a party before the dreaded reunion. A party for the woman who was my best friend when I was a girl, Anna Mann. At the house of another woman, who was my other best friend when I was a girl, Kelly Angel.
In my head I go, Extroverts.
I adored them both, but differently. Kelly Angel the prettiest, Kelly Angel the popular, Kelly Angel the prom queen, Kelly Angel the verbal. Anna Mann catching frogs with me, Anna Mann eating her lunch with me on the floor in front of the lockers in junior high.
Only well-adjusted extroverts give themselves parties. Introverts hide in their cars and wait for the fear of a coronary event to pass.
It’s getting hot inside my car. Plus I feel the ache of having to pee. I look out the window. Kelly Angel’s house is puke green. The grass in the front yard is brownish. The front porch is clearly in the process of being remodeled, but I can see it will be beautiful. Later. I bet when the porch is redone, they’ll repaint the house. Re-landscape the yard. How people do. Upgrade. Get a makeover.
My bottle of wine in the passenger seat looks lonely. Briefly I consider smashing the top off on the steering wheel and fucking slugging it. That’s me. I do things like that. But how would that look to Kelly Angel? To Anna Mann?
I’ve always loved the lyricism of their first and last names. I like to walk around my house saying the names of people I know at random. It makes me smile. I say them until the sound of the name overtakes the person, and it’s just a sound. Kelly Angel. Pronounced “angle” rather than “angel.”
I know I have to be in the world. I do. I just don’t enjoy it. I place one hand on my belly and one on my heart, which calms me. I learned this in therapy. And it only took nine years.
I get out of the car with my wine and walk up to Kelly Angel’s front door and knock. When the door opens, it’s Anna Mann in a washed-out peach T-shirt and faded bluejeans. She looks exactly like she did when we were twelve, except longer, stretched out. The flesh of her face, her eyes, her nose, her mouth is all traveling ever downward, instead of upward like children’s faces seem to do.
In my head I go, Gravity.
We grew up poolside. Swimmers. Now we are mothers.
I’m here for Anna Mann. I’m here because we see each other once every ten years or so, and she asked me to come. But there’s something else besides social obligation that’s brought me.
Twenty years ago we saw each other at a small get-together she held when she visited the Northwest. I didn’t want to go to the get-together — in addition to my asocial tendencies, I carried eight months of baby bulge in my middle. But I went for Anna Mann, and we hugged, and the life inside my big belly moved against her belly. We laughed and smiled. All that life swimming between us.
Four weeks later my beautiful baby-girl swimmer died the day she was born. The words still and born sliding from my body, as wet and unmoving as a blue stone.
It’s taken me twenty years to make sentences of it. It’s a big deal to make a sentence.
Ten years ago I saw Anna Mann when she came back to the Northwest to visit family. By then she’d had her son, Eli, and her entire life revolved around his seizures and struggles, his neurological stasis, the developmental plateau negating his growth, his survival.
I’m here because of one sentence she said to me then: “Sometimes I think there are worse things than a dead child.” That sentence.
The hug Anna Mann and I give one another is epic. It’s a not-ever-gonna-let-go hug. I can feel Anna Mann’s hipbones and breasts and shoulders. I can smell her shampoo, and I know instantly she uses organics. We quiver and talk into each other’s hair. When we finally pull apart, we both have tears in our eyes.
I don’t identify with most other mothers — the conversations about clothes and music lessons and camps and milestones in development. The only mothers I truly feel OK around are the ones whose kids have something different about them. Something odd. Or wrong. Or worse.
I know: it sounds morbid. I can’t help it.
With Anna Mann the mother-doom lives in her eyes, the way the pupils shiver, and it moves down her neck and into her collarbone a little, the tension there. Mine’s in my crooked-as-a-question-mark lower back, where her hand still rests after the hug.
In my head I go, Was it something in the water? The chlorine?
Over Anna Mann’s shoulder I see Kelly Angel’s son, Kyle. He’s on the couch playing a Wii Mario video game. Also he’s humming. His pants are red. There’s a line of Pokémon cards on the table in front of him. He’s about ten, the same age as my son, Miles. I can almost smell his hair, his skin. In my head I go, Milk and pee. Mothers see the infants in their children always.
Then I hear Kelly Angel’s voice and see her face over Anna Mann’s shoulder, and for a moment it’s like when we were swimming as kids.
“Get in this house right now and help me drink all this wine!” Kelly says.
In my head I go, Let’s take our clothes off and run away into the dusk in just our underwear.
More people arrive. People from our past. While Anna Mann and Kelly Angel greet them, I begin my slow and patient retreat into the corner of the kitchen near the refrigerator. It’s what I know how to do: Recede. Evaporate.
I can still hear Kyle humming underneath the din of many humans. I track the sound back to where he is playing his game. His glasses are too big. He’s oblivious to the adult activity around him. The calm surrounding him is so thick and magnetic that I want to go sit with him. But there is a vast distance between us, filled with people I don’t know. Fathoms.
I look for a safe spot, closer to the humming, to Kyle. I see Linda Barnes across the room, looking like she’s trying to disappear — leaning against the dining-room wall, sort of inside and outside the room at the same time.
People begin to make the noises that represent how they feel about seeing each other after thirty years. If I could think of a word for it, I’d use it.
I’m so close to the refrigerator that I can hear the click and clatter of the ice maker. I almost understand its language. I kind of forget that I have to pee.
This party is for Anna Mann, because she misses her friends in the Northwest, the ones she grew up with, that community of swimmers. She misses her childhood. She misses it because she lives way the hell over in Maine. Anna Mann’s son, Eli, has radical epilepsy and is neurologically and physically underdeveloped. Eli is Anna’s life — will be for as long as he continues his seizing, yawping, spinning, banging existence.
I wonder if she can hear him all the way over in Maine.
I look at Kelly Angel’s son again. I repeat his name and Anna’s son’s name — Kyle and Eli — in my head to the rhythm of the ice maker’s rattle.
Anna Mann is saying to Seana Zauner, “. . . and my husband and I talk about what if we had a normal child — like, another child, a normal one — and we both think, Well, yeah, maybe, and then we both think, I don’t have anything else left to give! You know?” They laugh.
In my head I go, People’s smiles look garish when they laugh too hard.
I know, I know, I know, she doesn’t mean it how it sounds. She doesn’t mean to speak of Eli as “not normal,” doesn’t mean to sound the horn of desire for a “normal” child, doesn’t mean to say it that way. I know the limits of words. But still my gut braids with love and doom, and I regret not stuffing more than one Vicodin in my pocket before I came.
Kelly Angel steers me by the shoulders away from my haven beside the refrigerator. I hold my breath. Then I realize I’m holding my breath and think how lame that is. Breathe, dumb-ass.
“Hey, everyone! Remember Lidia Yukman? Yucky-man?” She laughs louder than a dishwasher on the wash cycle. “Remember how everyone called you that? Yucky-man?”
Remember how I cried in the bathroom at the skating-rink party until I threw up because everyone was chanting that? Remember how you were so embarrassed by me that you turned the lights off in the skating-rink bathroom and left me there seemingly forever?
Hideously, several people do indeed remember me as Lidia Yucky-man. My childhood name was Yukman. Until I took care of that by rescuing my family’s original Lithuanian name.
But in the middle of all the people piling on — Seana Zauner and Page Vie and Brian Dinnel — I hear Anna Mann’s voice: “Actually her name is Yuknavitch now,” she says. The people peel back and part. “That’s her real name. She’s an author. She wrote a book called The Chronology of Water. It’s won awards.” Then she starts telling people how to order my book on Amazon. I feel a little saved. More than a little. But I have no idea what to do with this salvation. I look at people’s shoes. The most accomplished person in the room at this moment is probably John Walsh, the dentist. He’s wearing white Nikes with a blue swish.
I inch my way back to the refrigerator. Anna Mann follows me and hugs me and kisses me and makes a privacy bubble around us. Miraculously the other people talk to one another and leave us alone.
“Remember how we used to rub soapy butts together in the shower?” she whispers.
I do. I do and I do and I do. Could we do it now?
I can see Kelly Angel’s son, Kyle — only now Linda Barnes is sitting next to him on the couch, playing Mario. How did Linda Barnes sneak in next to him? In my head I go, Maybe his game can have a third player.
Kelly Angel claps her hands and says, “Help me get all this damn food I made outside! Paul’s making salmon burgers!”
Paul is Kelly Angel’s husband. Apparently he’s been in the backyard this whole time. Grill spatula in hand. Husbanding.
Mercifully the sun is going down. Soon we will be in the dark, eating barbecued salmon burgers and homemade pasta and salsa.
Unmercifully I sit down on a lawn chair that apparently has a large puddle of water in it.
Because I’m me, I just sit there. I can feel the cold wetness seeping through the ass of my jeans, covering both cheeks. It’s a lot of water. I turn to the guy next to me, who I’m thrilled to learn is Dean Hart the gay man and not still Dean Hart the boy who tried to kiss me at our junior-high dance by sort of smearing his mouth on mine. I tell him his date is way hot. He laughs, and his face and his laugh are so warm and compassionate that I go ahead and tell him I’m sitting in a puddle of water and my ass is completely soaked.
“Oh, no!” he whispers, and then he shoots over to the food table and returns with six big Chinet paper plates. “Here. Put these down.”
I do. I sit on the paper plates and pray they are as absorbent as they say they are on TV. I have to get up to refill my wine. Also I have to pee so bad it feels like I have razors in my coochie. The stakes are as high as they were when I woke up with a zit on the tip of my nose in junior high: If I don’t pee and refill my wine, I may die from anxiety. If I do refill my wine, my wet ass will have to be explained.
I dig the Vicodin out of my pocket and chew it and swallow. My mouth fills with chalkiness. No one chews Vicodin dry. I cough. I need wine the way an accident victim needs medical attention. I stand up. One of the Chinets briefly sticks to my butt, then falls back into the chair.
I hear Kelly Angel’s voice ramping up. “Woman, what happened to your ass?”
The story that comes next is so familiar, I know exactly how it begins.
“Lidia peed her pants in sixth grade,” Kelly Angel starts to tell everyone.
Something in my head clicks.
“Our sixth-grade class was visiting Mrs. Richter’s class, and Lidia was so afraid of Mrs. Richter that she was scared to raise her hand and say she had to go to the bathroom.”
Of course someone asks innocently, “Why were you so afraid of Mrs. Richter?”
They all look at me standing there with my wetter-than-wet ass, a pitifully empty wineglass in my hand, my mouth filled with chalky self-medication. Why was I afraid of Mrs. Richter? I have no idea. The sound of her name?
“How old are kids in sixth grade?” someone from my past asks.
“Eleven,” someone else yells out. “No . . . twelve! Oh, my God!”
In my head I go, I’m forty-eight. Can I go play Mario, please?
Kelly Angel continues: “Lidia sits there and sits there and even starts crying, so I ask her, ‘What’s wrong?’ And then I look down and see a big puddle of pee on the floor! Right there in the classroom!”
The people at the party laugh in the growing darkness.
“But wait!” Kelly Angel says. “That’s not all!”
I was too embarrassed to get up after I’d made the puddle in class. When the smell of my urine drifted up, heads started turning to identify the source, and I colored so hard at my desk that the crayon pushed through the paper and broke into little pieces. When it was time for us to leave, instead of standing up and carrying my chair back to our classroom like everyone else, I scooted my chair along as if it were glued to my butt. Without saying anything. Without looking at anyone. As if I had entered my own world. Pee sort of spreading across the floor behind me. That’s the story Kelly is telling right now.
In my head I go, Just try to make it to the bathroom, where you can simply kill yourself. Stay calm. Death must be quiet.
Barbecue guests laughing. The texture of cotton and polyester and denim. The smell of salmon burgers and salsa. Summer sunset, a light wind filled with charcoal smoke, a wine or beer in every hand. Chinet plates and lawn chairs and sandals and pasta salads. My wet ass like necessary syntax.
“And that’s not even the best part!” Kelly Angel’s voice rises above the laughter.
Mercifully school days ended at exactly three o’clock, and swim-team practice began at four.
Unmercifully Kelly can tell stories all night long.
Kelly Angel goes on to describe my maroon knickers. Knee-length girl pants, cinched at the bottom. In my head I try to reconcile the fact that I loved my maroon knickers more than anything else in the world with the fact that Kelly Angel has just said “maroon knickers” to these people from my past. These mutant adult versions of their cute kid selves.
After school that day I sat on the floor outside the classroom in my maroon knickers with my red umbrella between my legs, waiting for everyone to leave. Two boys, John Fagan and Greg Keiser, wouldn’t go. They began to torment me, trying to kick my red umbrella away to reveal my pee-covered maroon knickers.
Then Kelly Angel says, “Catfish!” and I’m stuck between the past and the present. John Fagan and Greg Keiser kept saying I smelled like catfish. Because of the pee. Which she meticulously explains.
The barbecue guests are laughing pretty hard. Someone even slaps her thigh.
It’s hard to fake laughter, but sometimes it’s even harder not to. The laugh I hear coming out of me sounds like one I’ve copied from a very social friend of mine. I’m nothing if not a survivor.
“And she was soaking wet between her legs! So I picked up the umbrella and swung it at them and told them to go to hell!” Kelly is on a roll. She’s in her telling-a-story glory.
The smell of catfish fills the backyard barbecue. No, it’s salmon burgers. Kelly is waving her hands around. Something is clicking in my head. It occurs to me, watching her, that Kelly Angel has the face of a mother now. She was always considered the prettiest, but this is the first time I’ve thought she is truly beautiful. And then I see: She really did tell John Fagan and Greg Keiser to go to hell. She did. She saved me. And more, she walked me all the way home with my red umbrella and maroon knickers, a giant wet spot blooming between my legs as if I’d been shot with a summer garden hose. She said to me, “John Fagan is a dick.” I remember now.
Then Kelly Angel slaps my ass and kind of spins me around by the shoulders. “See?” she says to the backyard audience. “She’s still that little girl who peed her pants!” Then she hugs me. It’s a complex hug. One that covers way more than the years. I can feel the shapeless pillows of her breasts. The thickness of her arms. She laughs louder than a lawn mower. The barbecue people from our pool past laugh too.
In my head I wish for the warbling sound of the ice-cream truck. Or an overdose of Vicodin. Or just the end of summer.
I think I smell Anna Mann’s hair nearby. I wish she and I could lock ourselves in the bathroom and rub our soapy butts together. Instead I bend over — to complete Kelly Angel’s story — and wiggle my wet ass at the crowd for comedic effect.
I told you I was a good listener.
“Your ass,” Anna Mann says. “It’s heart shaped! You are so lucky! I wish my ass was heart shaped!” She jumps back and takes a picture of my wet ass. When she hugs me, she whispers in my ear, “You are so beautiful. You are my hero, you know.” The sentence is so incongruous that I go momentarily deaf. Then I can hear again, and we kiss each other, a good, long wet one on the mouth.
“I have to make water now,” I say, and everyone laughs some more and lets me pass. I walk the green mile of the backyard to the porch steps of Kelly Angel’s puke-green house. But before I can get inside and catapult myself to the safety of the unfinished bathroom, a boy appears in the doorway holding a shallow wooden box filled with things. It’s Kyle.
“Hi,” I say.
“It’s not my birthday,” he says.
“OK,” I say.
There are no other kids at this party. Earlier I saw him take a break from the Mario game to put salsa on a carrot and stare at it in the kitchen. I saw him mere minutes ago building a bridge out of plastic utensils from the garden hose to the dog-food bowl. He moves around the adults like water curling around rocks.
Even though I have to pee so bad my tailbone stings, we sit down on the back-porch steps. He doesn’t make much eye contact but carefully arranges things in the box. I can see now it’s a drawer. It’s filled with colorful beer-bottle caps — maybe fifty of them — and Pokémon cards. They are all arranged very carefully.
“Know what this is?” he asks, making brief eye contact through thick glasses secured to his head with don’t-fall-off straps.
I study the arrangement in the drawer. The patterns and colors. The shapes that might be. I think of how, when my son, Miles, was nearly four and still not talking, he’d line up his Legos on the floor all over the house, long lines leading nowhere. His father and I would go about our daily house business, stepping over the carefully arranged blocks.
I think about how my friends who are mothers all told me to get him tested: “That’s a classic autism symptom.” I think about how, when I was a toddler, I did the same thing with gravel from the driveway — lines of jagged, misshapen rocks all over the house — and how my mother picked up all the rocks and put them in a box before my father came home each day, and how I didn’t speak to anyone outside my family until I was about eleven. When people tried to talk to me, I did a lot of rocking back and forth and closing my eyes and humming. Which makes peeing my pants in sixth grade a little less surprising.
Maybe my mother should have had me tested. Maybe I should have had Miles tested. Maybe I’m a bad mother. Maybe I’m the worst mother ever. Maybe I don’t even know what a mother is.
I didn’t have my son, Miles, tested, because he was alive.
I didn’t think there was anything to worry about. I recognized every move he made, because I made them too, and still do. It’s the only thing in my life that makes me feel I am perfectly perfect. Like him. My son, Miles. Whose life has given mine back to me. Have we failed? Have I?
“Is it a city?” I say to Kyle.
“Correct,” Kyle says. “This coliseum curves.” He points to a pile of Pokémon cards with bottle caps arranged in a circle. “And the edges are not regular walls, and I haven’t put in sounds, and I still need to make sky.”
“Yeah,” I say. It’s the first time all night I feel OK.
“I like your pants,” I say. “Red is my favorite color.” Deep red.
“Can you go get me more bottle caps from people’s beers?” he asks. I understand immediately that I shouldn’t say who they are for: it’s a private pact.
His dad, Paul, griller of salmon burgers, comes over.
“I see you brought out your bottle-cap collection,” he says to Kyle.
Bottle-cap collection. Good cover story.
Kyle doesn’t say anything but moves some of the Pokémon cards around.
“How old’s your son?” Paul asks me, making small talk.
“Ten,” I say. Then for some reason I add, “A . . . young ten.”
“Uh-oh, pickle alert,” Kyle says.
Paul smiles. “That’s just something he says.”
“Cool,” I say. “My son, Miles, says and does unique things all the time. So do I, actually.”
I look at Kyle, who is stacking the beer-bottle caps. “Is that a tower?” I ask him.
“No,” Kyle says, mildly disgusted.
Paul’s presence has thrown me off. I don’t know how to make adult small talk.
“I like garlic,” Kyle offers, saving me. “My paper plate got mushy, so I ate a piece of it.”
“My son likes bowling,” I say. “And you wouldn’t believe how much paper I ate as a kid.” I don’t worry what Paul might think about what I’ve just said. Then I look at Kyle’s drawer city again. “Is it technology?” I ask, trying to redeem myself.
“Correct,” Kyle says, wiping his nose, then wiping his hand on his red pants. “The lasers go past the atmosphere, and communications are part of the sky.”
His sentences are exquisitely incongruous.
It might be the most important exchange of the night for me. I’m a writer. Making language go strange has always been easier for me than being with people. As a kid, at home, I used to repeat phrases like “Under the top of it” for no reason, in response to nothing. Over and over again. My imaginary friend’s name was “Boca,” and she existed for me until I was twelve.
My son, Miles, is different from other kids. Remarkably different. But you might miss how special he is if you don’t understand how to enter his world.
It’s dark now. People have had a lot of wine and beer and salmon burgers. My ass is merely damp. I decide it’s OK to stand up and find the toilet. There is a wet, misshapen heart on the concrete steps where I was sitting. Kyle hums.
“Nice work you are doing here,” I say to Paul as I enter the unfinished bathroom. I wave my wineglass at the beginning of a marble-tiled wall. I know how these things matter to couples. Paul nods and smiles and tips his beer at me.
Inside the safety of the bathroom I close the door and try not to fart when I pee. I try not to feel dizzy and anxious and out of place, like a lost beer-bottle cap or Pokémon card or pair of red knickers. Before I reach for the toilet paper, Anna Mann comes crashing in.
“I knew you were in here!” she says, smiling so big her cheeks are up around her eyes.
“I love you!” I spurt, bare assed and dripping into the toilet. Of course this sudden burst of emotion makes me fart. We laugh.
“Can you believe how everyone sort of looks the same but not?” she says. “Linda Barnes is all worried about the wrinkles around her eyes, and Dean Hart was in a punk-rock band in his thirties! Isn’t that wild? Can you picture him with a mohawk? God! Now he’s all gay!”
I kind of can picture Dean Hart with a mohawk. He’s bald now, though. And kind. And Linda Barnes’s eyes — Jesus. They are the kind of eyes that are a little bit of every color, you know? Kaleidoscope eyes. Just breathtaking.
“Poor Linda, though,” Anna Mann says. “Two years ago she had stillborn twins. You should talk to her. No one ever talks to her about it. I gave her your book.”
She’s talking about the book I wrote on how a mother might survive having a child die inside her body. Even if the grief leaves a hole forever in her belly.
No wonder she has lines around her eyes, Linda Barnes. It suddenly feels wrong to wipe my twat in this moment. I sit there drip-drying. In my head I go, Twins. How is she even alive?
But Anna Mann is in a manic place. She’s free, she’s untethered from her doom, and she drives the moment somewhere else: “Are Chris Backstrom’s pecs scary or what? Man boobs!”
We laugh. I wipe. Then Kelly Angel comes barreling in.
“What are you guys doing in here?” She shuts the door. It’s just the three of us now, like when we were kids.
“We need a picture,” Anna says, and she whips out a point-and-shoot camera. I pull my jeans up, stand in the middle between them. Anna holds the camera at arm’s length in front of us.
“Smile!” she laugh-yells. We do.
Anna shows us the result. My eyes are closed in the picture. Which happens a lot. I’m used to it.
“Oh, my God,” Kelly says, “look at my fat-ass arms! You have to erase that picture. Take another one.”
Anna lines us up again, and again captures us trying too hard to smile. Or maybe we are smiling for real. We are laughing at least. It’s funny: three grown women in the bathroom. I can still smell my pee.
This time the photo is relatively solid. I don’t know any women who like pictures of themselves, but we don’t look like mutants or anything. Kelly’s arms are fine, and my eyes are open.
We give each other a group hug, laughing some more, and when we pull apart I see a puke-green line running down Kelly’s face. She’s crying, and her makeup is rivering down her cheek.
“Oh, Kelly,” Anna says, and we all pull back into a hug again. I’m not sure what’s happening. I feel like I missed something huge. Then, while our faces are pointed down toward the floor, Kelly says, “Kyle . . . his Asperger’s, he tested in the ninety-ninth percentile. As high as it gets. It’s my fault. I waited too long to have him.” The sentences hang there between us.
“Kyle’s the bomb!” I blurt out before I can help it. No one says anything. Red knickers. Pickle alert. Names race through my head. Satoshi Tajiri, who designed and invented Pokémon, has Asperger’s. So does actress Daryl Hannah. Charles Darwin might have had it. So might Albert Einstein. Andy Warhol. Emily Dickinson. Possibly my son. And me.
Goddamned spectrums. Aren’t we all on one?
I feel Kelly’s arms shake. I can smell her deodorant. I pet her hair.
In my head I go, Kelly Angel, Anna Mann, Kelly Angel, Anna Mann. I can feel their shoulders in the tripartite hug. Their heads. Their hair. Kelly pats my wet butt.
In my head I go, I should walk back and sit in the puddle of water again. I should let Kelly Angel tell her story again and again. All night.
I’m the first person to leave the party. I hug Anna Mann and Kelly Angel hard.
I locate Kyle, who is back on the couch with his Mario game. I tell him good night and dump a handful of bottle caps next to him. “In the refrigerator,” he says, and he smiles without looking up or explaining.
As I walk with relief through the front door and back out into the night, Linda Barnes exits with me. “Oh,” I say, “are you leaving too?” Exit two introverts, one with a damp ass, the other with lines around her eyes.
“Yeah,” she says. Once the door is closed, she adds, “Parties are hard for me. But it was nice to see everyone.”
I know she is lying partly.
I remember Anna Mann telling me I should talk to Linda.
“I know what happened to you,” I say. We just stand there looking at each other, unspeakable things between our bellies.
Even I know this is a bizarre time and place to say that. We barely knew each other back then. Even less now.
In my head I go, Irregular use of language.
In my head I go, Unreunion.
She smiles. “Thanks,” she says, the only closure either one of us will get tonight, beyond our car doors slamming us safely shut.
My daughter’s name was Lily.
I was completely taken by Lidia Yuknavitch’s essay “The Unspeakable Things between Our Bellies” [June 2012]. Her lay-it-all-out-there style fascinated me, but her last, simple line — “My daughter’s name was Lily” — took my breath away. The reader knows that Yuknavitch has lost an unborn child. Then, in five words, we discover that this child is still carried by her mother.
I was moved to tears reading Lidia Yuknavitch’s essay in the June 2012 issue of The Sun [“The Unspeakable Things Between Our Bellies”]. She beautifully conveys the “unspeakable” private grief of a stillbirth with just the briefest reference to hers.
I felt as if I were at that terribly uncomfortable high-school reunion party with her and empathized with the shame and heartbreak she re-experienced. I admire how she shared her secret introspection through rhythmic repetition of the phrase “In my head I go, . . .”
There is personal writing that often seems self-indulgent to me, and then there is the superb, self-effacing writing displayed by Yuknavitch. She inspires hope through her wisdom and dignity.
I work at a very traditional men’s barbershop, where the testosterone runs high and any hint of sensitivity is a sign of weakness. The banter is brutal sometimes. It’s been difficult for me to adapt, but I’ve done it, and I’m thriving.
Still, I sneak little morsels of The Sun in at work between customers, more so on Mondays, when the other barbers are out.
There have been moments on Mondays when I’ve let the tears come up and out, such as when I read Lidia Yuknavitch’s “The Unspeakable Things Between Our Bellies” [June 2012].
Thank you for publishing what is in some places unspeakable.