Me and Jack are hanging out. Sitting on the stoop. Jack is bigger than I imagined. He is quiet but needy. Sitting close to me with his bone, put-off because I do not pet him. I feel so visible here, my anonymity gone the second I crossed the border between central and southern Illinois. The stench of wet dirt greeted me. The sight of a shredded deer carcass spread across the interstate with streaks of blood confirmed the little mileage I had left.
It’s dark here. Darker than anywhere. There aren’t nearby cities with streetlights to light up the distant horizon. Civilization is thin here. Silent. That shrouded feeling wells up in my chest. Seeps out the corners of my skull.
I sit with Jack the dog now. We watch the neighbors push mow and ride mow their lawn. I saw my nephew earlier. His skin is tauter, his bones larger. He points and uses words and pushes his little body to its physical limit.
I pull into my sister’s darkened driveway. She greets me in her scrubs. It is late. We are tired. She walks me through the new house. I try to keep my notions at bay. I keep my mind quiet. Trying to shake out the night’s drive from my hips and my shoulders. My sister tells me a story. She had our nephew in her upstairs bedroom. It was night. It was storming. She has an old chair that came with her old house pushed back in the corner. It is yellow and floral. Our nephew pointed at the chair, “who’s that?” Without a word, she carried him down the stairs. Later, upon hearing the story, her boyfriend burns the sage my mom gifted them. Walking around the house expressionless, determined.
I sleep deeply, undisturbed in the downstairs bedroom. I am relieved to wake up and realize this in the morning when the light is coming in. “Everything is better in the daylight.”
In the morning, I open all the curtains. I tug up all the windows. April here is not like April in Wisconsin. There are flowers and trees with leaves. I will be hot later in my loose t-shirt and jeans. I will be comfortable in the morning drinking my coffee in the grass in just my shorts, barefoot. I grill French toast for breakfast. My sister makes us a pot of coffee. I try to refit here.
In the afternoon, I sit on the arm of my brother’s couch. My nephew points at me from the arms of my sister, “who’s that?” Our eyes light up and we laugh. “Just like that,” she says. But I am real, dimensional.
I sit here with Jack now. The neighbors don’t acknowledge us. There, a vestige of Midwest home I recognize. I will eat cafeteria food later with my sister. She will tell me stories of the woman she works with, who I partied with in my very late teens. I will find very fond memories of this woman folded up in my brain, someone I didn’t even realize was hiding out back there. But my thoughts have never mattered here.