We Were

by Travis Sharp

I begin after wishing on a star that flashed in the sky, a cosmic homing beacon bargaining for attention. I was alone when I saw it. I have to be alone to see them – no one will go out with me. I wear them down. I’d be the first to say that what you’re seeing is millions of years old, it took ages to reach us, that it’s ancient and long dead.

When you wrote to me I was still at my mother’s. She moved back into the trailer when father died. The family trailer park, you called it, though I was quick to point out that John and Lisa lived in a renovated school bus, one of the old ones from the 60s. It’s curved and small. People were smaller then, and appreciated curves. We are a people of sharp angles.

The world is beautiful this time of year. The leaves are changing and the people are staying indoors. I haven’t been able to keep myself inside. Strange, I know—this coming from me, me who locked myself in the linen closet for two days, me who, near the end, wasn’t able to go past the third tree in the front yard.

This is the second October. The trailers are all on crutches after the summer storms, wooden planks keeping the homes from sinking into the soft earth and tipping over. One of them did. Tip over. It was the abandoned one in the back row. No one tried to stop it. I looked out of my mother’s kitchen window to see two rows of thrift store lawn chairs pointed at the sight. They sat there for hours watching it sink at an antagonizing pace.

I take it in stride that you’ve stopped calling me baby. An author wrote that she knows she shouldn’t trust it when a man calls her baby. But the man the author wrote her letter to later calls her baby. He calls her a lot of things.

Like the author, I’m many things. Right now I’m a telepath, trying to reach you through time and space. When I was a kid, maybe 6 or 7, I was someone else. It’s like that impossible question the Intro to Philosophy adjunct inevitably asks. It was an essay on the final:

Discussion Questions (Pick one):
1. Consider the following and respond appropriately. A man named David lives in a small town in Idaho. David buys a car new and drives it off the lot. Over the course of three decades, David has to replace every single part on the car with a new part. Is the car that David drives in 2010 the same that David drove in 1980? Over the course of a lifetime, all of the atoms within the human body are replaced with other atoms. At the point that no single atom from the moment of birth remains, is the human the same person they were when they were born, or are they someone new?

My answer lies buried under things I’ve forgotten I had in self-storage unit #71. So much of me has come to rest in self-storage unit #71. I’ve been meaning to go there since I’ve returned home, but imagine: opening the orange garage door to self-storage unit #71 and finding a 10-year-old me trying on mother’s dresses, 7-year-old me ducking underneath a coffee table with a chipped-glass top, 18-year-old me watching pirated TV shows for ten hours straight. So much happens in a life. And so many of those happenings fracture and fragment us. Some of them break us off from ourselves completely. You never understood it when a new me woke up next to you, the me you slept with the night before dying in my sleep.

I won’t be here for much longer. You probably saw that coming. Me, in a trailer park. As if. I am many things. Proud is one of those things. Of all the people in the world, I am the one to become proud. Hubris coming out of a town of trailer parks and old plantation houses staffed now by immigrants on work release. It really is a world of its own. It knows nothing of those things outside its borders, and once you cross that border, people forget your name. People forget that your mother had you, the second child, and, for once in their lives, they ask no questions. That’s how it was with me. I came back after I left your apartment and they didn’t recognize me.

(I note to myself that I have started calling it your apartment.)

After the first October I started writing for the local paper as an anonymous advice columnist. It’s anonymous because I did it for free. Like they pay people to do that anymore? Maybe in fashion magazines and women’s empowerment monthlies and big city newspapers, but not here. Here they run adverts about it for a year before someone writes back and says they’ll do it. And then – two people write in! And then the first person asks for a small salary and the second person gets it and the second person is me. This isn’t a publication for people with AIDS or cancer. This is a small city newspaper where the questions are thrown out because of the company policy about offensive material. Everything is offensive material.

My favorite write-in was a man who was worried that his wife was having an affair. He had heard her talking to a man late at night. After he had gone to bed, she would go into the kitchen and talk to a man for hours. The man on the phone spoke more than she did. That’s why he thought it was an affair, he wrote – she had always wanted a man who would talk to her, and he never had anything to say.

The man on the phone then could have been me now. For so many years I’ve been revealing small strips of myself. You could think of me as string cheese, only each bit torn off is discolored, the flavor a bit off. The man who wrote in asked, What happened to us? I am your man on the phone: Who are we this us? I reply to myself in the Sunday paper: We are a collection of retail store bags, out-of-date milk, that strip of carpet pulling itself off the floor. We are apartments. We are five apartments in three years and a favorite spot in Seattle. We are holiday cards made in Paint. We are afternoons having mixed drinks. We were.

I suppose I am trying to tell you those things I never could. I wasn’t trying to hide them. There was just never an opportunity to bring them up. Nothing ever happened that would lead in to revealing any of these things, of telling these stories to you as we lounged beneath blankets in the dark, peeling away the exterior in a Starbucks for you and everyone to see. But they’re bursting forth. They’re falling out of my pores, they’re escaping from my mouth, they manifest themselves as buzzing in my ears. And so many of them seemed pointless at first, but deep inside I sense that they are building toward something, some grand something. Perhaps, if I had found some way to tell you before, to open my mind to you and let all of the sounds and colors flow out, I wouldn’t have left while you were at work and drove without stopping for a hotel until I arrived back home, a place I never wanted to call home.

I suppose I am trying to tell you of all my selves, as honest as they are solid, written down as they are, recorded in letters and pictures and journals.

I suppose I am trying to tell you things.

Travis Sharp is a student in the MFA in Creative Writing and Poetics at the University of Washington-Bothell. His writing has appeared in Crack the Spine, Enhance Magazine, and The Corner Club Press online journal, among others. He is the founding editor of athena’s web and co-founder of Small Po[r]tions, an upcoming journal coming out of the MFA in Creative Writing and Poetics. He spends his free time re-reading everything by Amy Hempel and Lorrie Moore because it doesn’t get much better than that.