Cancer, Neon, and the Art of Being Right Back
June, 1995: I don’t know what a flower girl is but it sounds like a pretty dress tucked like a pocket into the rest of my boring clothes. The bottom–fluffy and creamy and white like whipped cream and I sneak into the closet in the dark even though I hate the dark to try it on even though I know I should be sleeping even though I know mommy would be so mad that I’m not sleeping but somebody said you’re getting married and that’s the reason for the whipped cream and it’s just that I don’t want to be bad at something so good.
So I search through the pockets and I wear the dress around and around until my eyes are so heavy they make my closet into little stripes of cream and I promise you I will be good at something so good, because I practiced! Lookit how I practiced!
September, 2002: We’ve just dumped all our boxes into a renovated house in Florida, and you are all the way back in Ohio, scared of me and my sister, of our chemical cocktails for brains and the capacity teenagers have to overlook, to lose touch, to forget your forehead kisses and flower girl dresses. You want a way to be Aunt Kim even at a distance, even with these clusters of roads and this dumb, fat state, so you send us little gifts.
No one is nice to me here. Everybody has somebody else here. Already. And no one is allowed to wear regular clothes here, only uniforms, so I can’t even have myself.
So you send me jewelry and belts, so many belts, the metal clasps like little knuckles from your faraway hands. Little silver bugs and dragonflies hide in the curvature and suddenly the khaki of the clothes they make me wear reminds me less and less of cardboard . Less and less of leaving.
June, 2003: You love inventing time so you invent a night about us, call it Aunt Kim Night, fiddle with the little gears of forgetting until they rearrange. We sprawl on the grass with glow sticks all caught in our hair and severing the soft navy night with the impossibility of neon things. And I have somebody here. Already.
August, 2005: You’re in Florida and I’m hating Florida and you’re telling me why that’s not true. No one is nice to me here and no one really sees me here and you’re telling me why that’s not true.
June, 2007: You’re building nights again out of the particles of empty air. It’s the fifth year in a row of Aunt Kim Night, and every year in a row we wear weirder outfits, spin in wilder arcs, race shopping carts faster into spaceships. Every year I flirt with embarrassment and you tell me why that’s not true, in a weird wig, or a tie dye shirt, or a ninja outfit in the middle of the supermarket. You put me in a prom dress, then you put me in a diner, then you coat me in silly string, and we wear the mess around and around and you say now how is it possible for no one to really see you. Because lookit! How we practiced.
June, 2013: It’s the tenth anniversary of this, and you and my sister are shooting bubbles at my head. The shopping carts steer like boats on the blacktop. How did we get to be so good at something so ordinary? How do time’s particles group and then stick? How do nights turn into pockets that I can carry around? And how can you possibly see me this much? Even from so far away?
May, 2014: I don’t know what a cancer is but it sounds like ugly rocks in a blender. It sounds like cardboard that shuts and never stops shutting.
It looks like an airport where the departure board malfunctions and all the places turn into neon red random letters and neon red mush and nobody knows anymore where they are being taken to or where else it was they were ever even going at all.
June, 2014: Nobody knows anything about treatment and you don’t want to invent time when the tools aren’t yours to keep.
June, 2014: I give you a green wig, and my sister gives you a neon pink one, and maybe they are like nights that you can carry around or maybe they are nothing at all, but I need to practice so this is how I practice. Everything is really good at being really bad.
July, 2015: You are the worst I’ve ever seen you, and nobody has anybody else here.
Sometimes when you talk, your eyes get so heavy they turn me into little stripes.
August, 2015: They tell me to change my flight. To invent time and speed it up. They tell me you don’t have enough so I am on the next plane even though the departures are red mush. I hold your hand. Your sharp knuckles in my palm. Dragonflies cornered into an airless jar. And where the fuck are the air-holes someone please. Someone come.
We leave to take a breath, to eat dinner, and I tell you I will be right back. I will be right back.
Metal buckles tinker. Ugly rocks whorl and smash.
But you die within the hour and lookit! How we practiced. And lookit! How it never mattered at all. Pockets have holes and closets have locks and dresses rip wide open.
June, 1995: I am scared I will be bad. I am scared I will trip and everyone will stare and mommy will be so mad and you will have to stop getting married and being happy because I will trip and everything will be wrong and I don’t know how to break a good thing completely but I think it’s probably easy.
August, 2015: I tell you I will be right back.
August, 2015: I told you I would be right back.
August, 2015: I could break a bad thing, too.
October, 2015: I am in an airport. I am sad. The places are red and clear and they don’t know they are not supposed to be. Austin. Philly. Atlanta. Cincinnati. They don’t know what they could be. What they have been. Where you are.
August, 2004: In the white sand. July, 2006: In a diner. In your pajamas. March, 2015: In a classroom. In a pink wig. August, 2015: In a wood box. September, 2002: In a cardboard one. December, 1973: In a fluffy dress. Around and around in a fluffy dress.
Tickling your children. Weeding your yard. Convincing me that Florida is not the worst place in the world and middle school is not the worst place in the world and cancer is not the worst place in the world because it’s impossible to break a good thing completely.
August, 2015: At your funeral they have bubbles. They have a lot of other things and a lot of useless tools but they also have bubbles. I take the bottles with me. I put one in every bag I brought.
August, 2015: I am crying at the bus-stop. I blow bubbles.
September, 2015: I am on a date. I am giggling. I am not so sad today. I blow bubbles.
October, 2015: I am losing you. All at once and not at all. I blow bubbles.
August, 2013: I am chasing you. Around and around the parking lot. Someday you will hurt and I will hurt and and I will misinvent the night. But someday you will forgive me and the glow-sticks swell and blur around us into a neon mush and the dragonflies crackle out from the metal and a hundred little girls twirl a hundred little dresses and it’s impossible to tell where else it was we were ever even going at all.
FEATURE ILLUSTRATION BY KIRSTEN SAMANICH.