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Liquid

nostalgia is the most incredible of human phenomenons. only humans can miss something that they've never had.

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Have you ever been to your mother’s childhood home? The little apartment on Cherry Slope seems so small compared to the tasteful post-modern loft that you spent your adolescent crisis in, but you can see it, can’t you? The calico wallpaper and cracked blue mosaic-tile floors fit perfectly with the little cactus plant that she told you was perpetually on the sill of the kitchen window, the breadbox and muffin basket in a cool and open corner, the beautiful illustrious-eyed tabby that napped in the sun on the front stoop. You remember how she used to tell you how when she was young, and you always wondered god, how did she do it, how did she survive in a one-story three-bedroom apartment with two sisters and a crooked-legged little brother, two parents and a crinkly-wise great-aunt, when all nine hundred and ninety-two square feet of that empty cavern that you were born into seemed too small to breathe? How did she survive with nothing but a handful of colors and a stack of richly fragrant paperbacks to pass the days, with no car and a rusted bike and three raucous, blissfully unaware little children to look after? And you couldn’t imagine, you couldn’t understand—but you can now, you can see her young and hopeful again, her eyes bright with the sort of youthful vivacity that you can only imagine (she’d outgrown it long before you were born). Her voice is lyrical and lilting, calling Tony and Nina and Abigail as she leaves the house for the sunshine outside, to draw sunflowers on the bumpy black asphalt with crumbling, stumpy chalk. And like they are the birds and she is the Pied Piper, they come, three pairs of little feet clad in secondhand shoes pattering down the front steps to surround her and help her green in the stems. They draw sunflowers and lilies and roses and poppies to cover the sidewalk, and the asphalt isn’t very smooth and the chalk breaks so often that their hands leave ghostly pastel prints on their clothes when they’re done, but they draw them anyways, and it works just well enough that at the end of the day they can lie on their backs and squint in the sun and pretend that they are in a garden that puts Eden to shame. Those calico walls and cracked blue floors and the paw prints immortalized in the concrete where the tabby stepped in the wet overlay, they are her, they are the essence of her, and you can finally see how this is where she made herself.

I met your father on the corner outside the dollar store, she told you, and you scoffed when you first heard it, but now as you trace her steps on that same dollar-store corner, you can see it—your father, lanky and good-looking and just smart enough to be shy at seventeen, your mother, blithe and beautiful and just adult enough to be sad at sixteen, and the way your father looked at your mother like he had never seen anything like her before, because he hadn’t. It’s strange to see the places where your parents became your parents before they were your parents, and it’s strange to imagine how your father’s heart bled the moment your mother’s soft dark eyes lit up with a smile just for him.

You wonder what that sixteen-year-old version of her would have thought if she’d known that, thirty years later and three hundred miles away, her son, with the same dark eyes and heart cracked just around the edges, meets a girl on another corner, a girl who temps him with features that are so delicate and exquisite, so simple yet refined, such liquid light to the cola-brown brushstroke of her inner pupil, that it’s as if she is a painting on a black-and-white film background. Her cedar-sugarcane perfume and the taste of rosebuds and sweet grapes on her tongue makes your chest tighten in that addictively painful way, and you stop wondering about your parents and start wondering just how it’s possible that the line of the small of her back up to the slender column of her neck forms such a perfect curve, and why her lips part just slightly when she breathes. Her apartment smells like vanillin and the wallpaper is baby-blue with little white stars, but even so, you almost believe her when she hooks her ankle around yours and tells you “Don’t fall in love with me”; but there’s a look in her eye like she’s a thousand years old, and there are sparrow-shaped wind chimes hanging from her ceiling and strings of fairy lights wrapped around her bedposts, and when you lie together in the pale melancholy light of the rainy dawn, she looks like a fallen angel, twisted in white.

And maybe, you think, this is what it feels like to have your heart bleed—calico wallpaper and mosaic tiled floors, a sleepy cat on a sunny stoop, corner-store love-at-first-sight, the girl with the liquid eyes and her sweet woody scent, the smell of vanillin and the glow of fairy lights and the silver lining that makes broken things beautiful again, but only comes with the rain.

And maybe this isn’t what it feels like to have your heart bleed. But maybe—drawing sunflowers on fragmented black asphalt—maybe it’s all it takes.



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