Once upon a time I thought I was going to get a creative writing MFA. This is an excerpt from a piece I wrote for my application back in 2009, when I still thought the world could be a beautiful and hopeful place. It’s based on a two-week tour I went on with a Gainesville band. I wish so much that I could go back to that day, if only for a few minutes.
I sat on a swing at the far end of Jay’s backyard, breathing in the smells that perfumed from the keg of homemade beer that Jay and Dan had rolled out just in front of the back door, as the two dogs ran playfully through the crowd.
Here, amidst the vines and weeping willows left over from a simpler time, it was easy to fantasize about being a high-browed southern belle fanning away the heat with my wide, lacy cap, while talking about my day at the Kentucky derby. The people in my family were northerners, and so everything that I found here seemed more novel and singular, and wholly foreign. All the while, the others flourished in the familiarity of the setting with their quilted ancestries spanning over the expanse of southern cities that, if mapped out, all flowed across the Bible belt as a self-proclaimed river of morality. This country was theirs’ before it was mine, with their sixteenths of Cherokee and their eighths of Suwannee and their great great great’s that fought in the Civil War and the Revolutionary War and the French and Indian War.
I could hear the Georgian twang in Celia’s accent reach up into the night with new levels of guttural zeal, as they all rehashed memories of Christmas dinners and family reunions where this uncle flew in from Arkansas and that Cousin drove down from Tennessee. They were my other, the managers and owners of the sweatshops that my Great Grandparents worked in as immigrants from Poland and Russia. And now, generations past and I was welcomed in with them, the Ashkenazi Jew, fled from a continent-worth of hatred, and at home in Kentucky. I smiled to myself, the over comer of truths that my grandma had promised to me when I was young. “You can be friendly but never friends. They don’t care for us.” Teaching me the words to hate them by, “Goy,” “Gentile,” “Them.”
Celia slipped from the group and settled in a seat next to me, and we both rocked back-and-forth and sipped at our drinks and smiled. “I’m so glad you came with us,” she said.
“So am I.”
The boys set up just as the whispers of crickets crept up around the tiny party, and so I moved back inside to film. Dan had just changed into a sequined jumpsuit that Jay had given him, the pants bell-bottoming out over his shoes further encouraging the spectacle that Dan had already set out to create with his rainbow bathrobe and red spandex one-sie.
I balanced my camera in one hand, as I sipped at my homemade beer, swishing the strong hint of hops between my teeth. When they had finished, I found a chair placed off in a dark corner of the living room, meaning to disappear into the shadows and watch them all interact. It was there that Josh found me. Everyone else was crowded around Dan and Jay, who were back to laughing about family quirks as friends came up to congratulate Dan on an excellent performance. It was not long before I noticed Josh at my side.
“Hey.” He spoke first. I looked at him, but could only see two white half moons snaking over the top rims of his glasses, a reflection originating from the brightly lit room off behind us, and that is precisely what I spoke towards.
“Thanks.” The background sound of laughter and conversation filled up our silence until it seemed almost not to exist. “I noticed that you liked science fiction.”
“Yeah,” I replied and wondered whether he noticed my beat-up paperback of Ender’s Game poking out of the corner of my purse or that I had lent Neil my copy of Dune somewhere between North Carolina and Tennessee. “I like science.” I felt dumb at my reply, but I didn’t know what else to say.
“Cool.” His half moons disappeared as he looked down.
“What kind of stuff do you read?” I wanted nothing more than for those two moons to reappear.
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