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a peaceful protest

I was 16, and the thought of being forced to mention God as part of the pledge of allegiance was too hypocritical an act for me to play along with. Each day of high school began with this mundane recitation, as most people just stood with their hand jutting from a hip, the other dangling across their chest as they counted out the seconds until they could sit back down. They leaned against desks, and talked through it about what party and where it would be, if there would be a keg or a bonfire in the woods. I recited the words, omitting the "under God" part as a sort of half-baked protest. I was raised to flaunt my family's ramshackle atheism, as a choice of smug pride. We knew better, was the prevailing logic.

But one day, I could not stand and say any of it. It felt so rote, so hollow, so devoid of choice. There was no law that said I was required to say it. I knew this was my right, a form of free speech. My homeroom teacher was a legendary drinker, a trash-talking re…


A window has drifted open in the middle of the night, and the kitchen is freezing. I can see my breath hanging in the dark air. Standing on a chair, I press it closed. There was a bathroom in the farmhouse that was always like this. I peed on the ice at the bottom of the toilet each morning, melting it down a little. It was a funny habit before waddling down the driveway in a snowsuit to wait for the bus.

When the snow got high, and Christmas drew close it was hunting season. My parents kept the dogs inside and forbid us to wear brown, a paranoid impulse to offset the hunters that shot at anything that looked like a deer. There were men who treaded down our driveway in giant coats, asking permission to use our land. We always said no. These were our seventy-two acres, and we lived off of them. My parents made one exception, for two brothers from Ramapo, or somewhere else downstate. I don't know what made them different. They brought us boxes of Whitman's samplers and we nibbled at the corners of each chocolate trying to find the nougat ones or the caramels. I remember their giant bottle of Pepsi that would stand in the fridge and how I would sneak sips from it, my lips painted with sugar and salt. 

They came each December and got their buck, tying it to the roof of their truck and driving off. I stood outside in nothing but a t-shirt once, to show them how tough I was. 

I am searching for a hairband, and E is taking forever to tie her boots. We almost forget her lunchbox. I kiss her forehead on the front steps of her school, transferring the book bag from my shoulders to hers. It is still dark outside.

I pass that first apartment we moved into three years ago, almost to the day. I had nothing in my pockets. E rolled around on the floor and danced that night, the first night outside of her mother's house, that first terrifying step towards some kind of freedom. The electric stove always smelled like something was burning in it. The kitchen table wobbled. The washing machine sounded like a broken speedboat. No one in the hallways ever said hello, just faces down, keys thrust forward in the darkness ready to click and disappear.

I pass the courthouse where I got divorced two years ago, counting out thousand ruble notes and paying the bowlegged lawyer in the snow, and then the translator. That was also the middle of December. That was when E's mother slipped into school in the middle of the day and took her, holding her for a week of blackmail and threats while I could do nothing. I had exposed her lies in court, and she was punishing me. E was weaker then, easier to mold, easier to surrender.

The kitchen is warm now. I start some kasha, and an egg to soft boil. The avocados are hard and sour still. They take more than a week to ripen now.
Dragging the chair into the hallway, I dig in the storage space over the front door. The box of ornaments is in the back. Tonight, we will set up our plastic tree. E will direct the decorating. N will come through the door, her cheeks red, her arms full of bags and gifts to wrap. I will look at her for some time and she will say "what?" and I will say "nothing".


liv said…
Oh, I loved this post! A wonderful, sweet glimpse of your former life and then a swoop into the "moment". You are so good at that, Marco. It's like a dance, reading you. A waltz, today.

Beautiful. "Nothing", the perfect title, because we all know that moment when your heart is filled with so much Love and you say..."nothing" with that certain smile on your face - to the one you Love.

This will see me through the week xx
Mely said…
This was Beautiful!

By the way, wrap your avocados in a paper bag or newspaper and store in a dark place like a cupboard or your oven if not in use. They will be ready to eat faster. The same applies for papayas.

Merry Christmas to you ALL!!

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