Amanda Oliver

Nov 21, 2020

4 min read

Upbeat Moon

First grade and my father shows me I can whistle to the chickadees and they will answer. I learn at the bottom of our driveway waiting for the school bus.

Around the same time, I learn that the delicate parts of food, like broccoli florets, are digested by the body first. I start to think about dying for the first time. About which parts of my dinner might be left over.

I am fascinated by how our house has scissors we use for everything, including haircuts, thrown into a junk drawer that barely closes and my friend’s house has everything organized in neat jars by color.

I subsist on Eggo waffles and mini frozen pancakes. I am rail thin, more optical illusion than girl. My arms are longer than they should be by two inches. I am gangly and uncomfortable. I look like a fun house mirror all the time.

My parents argue. This and snow are the things I know will always happen.

I stop whistling to the chickadees in the morning.

Someone tells me they don’t love me for the first time. I want to carry it like a buttercup, a seashell, a slice of California orangel like the relief of white linen fabric on a body in the desert, like a single snowflake from my hometown. Just a bit of life. But I carry it like a barb, a boulder, a heavy weapon. For so long.

Laura Marling and Prospect Park in the summer. We are so young, but not young enough to say we love each other. We burn holes in leaves with a magnifying glass and lay on each other instead.

Years later I hand you a yellow book over a red table in Union Square and you say something about trusting me. We rush to the subway and we run to a corner market for a pack of Magnums. We open a small window after and I let rain fall on my bare feet. You kiss my neck. I think We will always have this.

A woman at a bus stop in D.C. dares us to kiss in the rain. She thinks we are afraid to do it ourselves.

Years later I hold your baby. I hug your wife. I am happy for you.

I live on an island and I fall asleep next to someone I love every night, but everything in the apartment is his. I have a suitcase, my clothes, some bookss. I buy one houseplant and kill it. Everything else is his. I clean his cast iron skillet with a Brillo pad and want to have sex more than he does. He loves me and then he doesn’t and I have to take a ferry boat and three planes to escape it. All three years.

The most beautiful thing in the library were the books and almost no one borrowed them. I was not a good librarian, but I was not a bad one. I answered questions, I put the holds on the shelf, I was nice to people. The branch where I worked is closed now. No one wants it to reopen except the people who need it.

I used to sit in the back of church and stare at Jesus nailed to the cross and Mary kneeled to the cross and think bullshit.

The only times I pray are to St. Anthony or St. Christopher. I believe in them so little that I allow myself to ask them for miracles only.

I misread part of a student’s sentence; see “upbeat moon” instead of “upbeat mood.” I realize I know exactly what an upbeat moon looks like.

I have a dream later that night. You say, “Tell me everything” and I know where to start. I wake up not remembering who I was talking to.

I meet a man in the Mojave Desert. Eventually he wishes me peace and I wonder when it was he decided I was not peace. If it was when we made love on his hardwood floors and he nearly passed out or when I painted half his house and didn’t speak or when I yelled that no one, no woman, would ever be okay with all his ex-wives things still there. I was right. He got rid of them for her.

I cry until I have to pull over the day the man who holds signs on a street corner makes one that says “Satan loves you, beau.” I feel like I am not allowed to be heartbroken, but I am.

Unlisted

Amanda Oliver

Amanda Oliver

OVERDUE: Recknoning with the Public Library forthcoming from Chicago Review Press March 22, 2022 • amandaoliver.com