the distance between us

Fic update.

When I was in college, my boyfriend and I broke up. We’d been together for a few years, and the distance, amongst other things, came in between us. I remember I was eating lunch when he called me and said it was over. I didn’t bother trying not to cry. I was devastated. I was humiliated. I was just about everything you feel when the love of your life calls it quits.

We gave it another shot about a year later, and one of the hardest parts about getting back together was knowing there was a chunk of time missing between us. He’d tell me about friends he’d met or things he’d done or places he’d been, but it felt like he was retelling stories instead of getting to experience it together. I hated that I felt like I didn’t belong within that time frame; I hated that I couldn’t understand. And he felt the same way, told me he hated the way I’d grown in his absence, and he wasn’t there to witness the change.

I shut down a lot. So did he. Anytime he’d try to talk about the time we spent apart, I just felt uneasy and fucking sad. It was unwarranted, for the most part, and I struggled to keep my emotions in check. But it was like anytime we realized there were pieces of each other we didn’t understand on a personal level, it stung. A lot. That was where recovering got tricky. Awkward. One step forward, three steps back.

“We didn’t get to share that together. That’s a part of you I don’t know. I hate that there’s nothing I can do to go back and be a part of it.” - Something my ex said to me that I won’t forget, years and years later.

We never did fully recover, and eventually we realized we were completely different people than we were at the start, people who didn’t fit together anymore. We desperately wanted to mold our lives together, to make it work again. But we didn’t make it.

I wanted to write about a couple who did.

The fic is done. I plan to publish it tomorrow, if all goes according to plan x

And then, I catch his eye. My gaze lifted and I found him. Confident as ever. Fitzgerald Grant III, the award-winning actor. Surrounded by other winners and low-key fans of his work. I remain poised, twisting my lips slightly. I want to show that I’m unfazed by his fame. It’s just another person at another gathering. So many millionaires and celebrities are in this room.

But seeing him wink and give a crooked smile - that’s only for me - leaves me breathless. I almost come undone.

We are sixty feet away from each other, separated by numerous bodies. So many obstacles. And there’s the cameras.

The cameras always know.

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The Distance Between Us

A quick one-shot for you - AO3 & FFN 

Here you go, @heather2285

xo

The Space Between Us

When we get out of the car, winter hits me. The smell of it is the same like when I was five, and sixteen - the only two times I can remember, but it’s a smell that is inside me like muscle, or an organ, a smell that sends me reeling while I stay rooted in the same spot, staring out toward the Swiętokrzyskie mountains and a gray, open sky. Of course there’s no real word to describe this winter - crisp, smoky, nostalgia. There is no single word; it is every word that takes me back to the beginning of the crystallization of my memory, our memories.

“Do you remember this smell?” I ask my younger sister, who is already shivering only one minute outside, and ten hours into our getaway.

She shakes her head.”It’s cold as fuck though.

M was only two when we left so how could she remember? I watch her walk toward the roadside WC, my other younger sister waddling behind her, pregnant and tired, but like the two of us  - so excited to be here again.

I wait for them to pee, vaping hungrily, looking out across the empty parking lot at three bright receptacle bins - green, blue, yellow. Poland’s recycling? I think, smiling warily. I snap a picture, find the right filter, and Instagram it immediately. It’s a Sunday. I close my eyes. I breathe. The air. The smell. We are here, the three of us. A getaway. A getaway from what? From husbands, children, work, Brooklyn, Jersey, Los Angeles. From our fairy tale lives, like M will repeat a few days from now. 

I warn my sisters that our grandmother’s nursing home is not fancy. Fancy isn’t in the arsenal. I warn them she will not remember us; she hadn’t remembered me, her self-professed favorite, last August when I came with the boys. I warn them that the smell on the second floor will hit them like a fucking brick. A sour smell, of people sick and dying, and windows shut, and antiquated plumbing. Like shit and resignation. 

We talk about Babcia, as we unpack in the hotel room. Should we go see her now? Should we eat pierogi first? Or wait for our dad? Our father lives here too. He’s come back looking for his old life. We grab our coats - eyes dehydrated, itching, the skin on pregnant V’s hands cracking, tiny bloody fissures on her knuckles. It’s four pm but time means nothing because we chased the sun across the Atlantic for eight hours - or maybe we ran from it. I don’t know. I know nothing. I am reduced to memories of a place that quivers and pulsates with my childhood, our childhood. The words “remember when” will be repeated a hundred thousand time in the next seven days. We will slowly forget our kids, we will never find enough sleep. We will laugh until our stomachs cramp. We will fall asleep to the sounds of an American stand-up comic, emanating from M’s iPad. 

We will laugh as our eyelids get heavy. We will cry even more.

My sisters and I had friends growing up; American friends, sometimes other Polish immigrant friends. We had lots of friends, and sometimes they were best bosom buddies. But no one knew us like we knew one another. No one understand where we had come from, what we’d escaped, or how far away we longed to run. There was no space between us. The only slim distance was in the way we formed our memories, and told our stories, to those who were willing to listen. There was no breaking us, even as we broke, bit by bit, sometimes together, sometimes alone. It was not until I moved into my first apartment with M, leaving V behind, that a distance started setting. It was not until M moved away to California to follow a boy and her dreams, that distance became a fact, and for me - the enemy. 

Growing up, we spent our summers in a small, boring and beautiful city called Kielce. Every summer, for years and years. Boarding planes together, without mama and tata, waiting for bags marked with frayed fluorescent colored ribbons. Driving toward those mountains, willing those three hours from Warsaw to go by in a flash, staring at cows and ancient men walking along the road, in slanted brown berets, even in the heat of July. Weeks spent eating pork cutlets and sweet carrot soufflés, weeks falling in love, getting into trouble, listening to Babcia’s stories, staring down onto Toporowskiego Street from her limestone balcony. I wrote a novel about some of it once. The main character was a more poetic version of, but there were no sisters. I knew, even in thinly veiled fiction, I could not touch their stories. I respected the space between us.

Last week, we deplaned in the airport that is now modern and renamed Chopin International. We’ve been back of course, as adults, with our own burgeoning  families in tow. But it’s been almost two decades since those summers, when it was only us

Our Babcia is eighty-six now, and in the throes of Alzheimer’s. Last week, she did not remember my sisters or me. But that did not stop her from reaching out her hands - hands that felt as soft, unreal and light as if they’d been fashioned from some threadbare fabric, fingers like feathers settling on our cheeks. I should know you, you are my family, but I don’t remember you, Babcia said, fear in her eyes. But we remember you, that’s what matters, is what we answered, because what was there to say? “We used to spend the summers at your apartment, you made us kanapeczki, we slept on the futon in the little room.”  She listened as if we were spinning magical tales, feeding her snippets of a life that was fading fast from the recesses of her tired, confused mind. V had brought a plush teddy bear, as a gift, and Babcia reacted like a child. He will sleep with me, be my companion, and he will never leave my side. But what color is he? What is this color? We told her he was yellow, or amber, or beige, but none of those words sufficed. She couldn’t name the color she wanted to find. We wept, all at once, in small bursts of snot and tears. We didn’t want her to see us cry. But we cried anyway. 

We saw my dad too, who lives like the madman of Shiloh, things upon things, disarray that comforts him. We visited a family member who is in the last stages of addiction. Don’t look at me, he said, when he opened the door, but we looked, shock n our faces, at him who we had known forever, who had suddenly and irreparably aged a hundred years. We cried again, rummaging through familiar drawers to take something back to the nursing home for Babcia, to take something back to the States. I’ll sell it, if you don’t he said. I’m sorry, but I’ll sell everything. So we took - porcelain tea cups from all those summers of twilight herbatka, and pictures, and a blue plastic tumbler that held long grained rice for more than forty years, a staple in the kitchen from our youth. A memory of Babcia spilling the contents and letting me play with it, as if the kitchen floor were a sandbox. So take it, just fucking take it, my sister whispered, crying, quick with her hands, and slipped it into her bookbag, It was surreal, standing in that home that Babcia would never see again, that was now a mausoleum, a place unrecognizable, filled with cigarette smoke so bad that V had to flee.

Everywhere we went was bleak and gray, and strange, and still, it was some kind of wonderful. Everything was a demouemennt. Everything was so incredibly complicated. Everything was the end of the road. It was our goodbye trip. Goodbye to our beginning, to the memories we shared, to old bedroom walls and wizened faces. But despite that, and despite help that didn’t end up helping, and cash twisted into palms, and constant rain and jet lag that did not let up for a single goddamn minute - we walked together happily. We walked side by side. Two mothers now, and one about to become one. Three sisters, like a real life Chekhov play, with all its sentimentality and sad smiles. On our father’s pleading, we met with a young filmmaker at a pierogi cafe - yes, there are such things in our homeland - who was enthralled (her word) by our ‘story.’ Your father, his politics, his journey, you there girl form this town, living such a life now. She wants to make a documentary about us, and though we were flattered, I sat with my chin in my hand, reluctant to share us. We’ll be in touch, I said, because I could tell she was kind and earnest. But my heart tightened at the thought of our life in somebody else’s hands. 

Every day, we’d leave Babcia’s side and those nurses who glanced our way with quizzical smiles, raised eyebrows, who we’d showered with doughnuts, and pleas, and autographed pictures of my husband, as requested, we’d leave cramped, neatly furnished apartments of friends and family, we’d leave pothole ridden streets - and think the same thing. A fairy tale life was waiting for us, and how easy it would be to forget this. 

How impossible it would be to forget this. 

“I’m gonna have to write about it,” I told my sisters, “to help me process.” Process; an American verb. In places like Kielce, there is room for such extravagance. 

But there is too much to write. In Warsaw, the rain fell harder but we felt lighter. The city was brimming with life, and sparkling skies and brought us comfort. In Warsaw, we allowed ourselves to breathe again. It was easier to reconcile with what we have - money, security, happiness, freedom, possibilities - with we had we once had - nothing but tattered, battered, tangled dreams. I will not share details of our particular struggle - because everyone struggles, and because I am not ready to fully share, something that is not only mine, but what belongs to both of them, just as much.

Now, I sit in my office, back in America, and I miss the hell out of my sisters. Our trip is already another memory; something we dreamed up and somehow made come true. I think about the space we once occupied, and how beautiful it had been to be back there again, and how hard. I think about our story, and how it has a clear beginning, a winding long winded middle, and yet, there is no end, and there never will be one. I think about Babcia. I think about a day in August, circa 1991, a heat wave, packing pork chops on powdery white buns, and one towel each, and walking toward the reservoir toward the local pool. And how later, the walk back to Babcia’s was always better, when we were tanned, and smelled like chlorine, and the sun wasn’t setting just yet but was already worn out, and how the trees shaded us, and how we didn’t say much to one another, how we walked with a gaggle of age appropriate friends, separately, a good distance between us, but always, always our heads craning back to make sure were all still there, the three of us. 

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Dear Love

This is about that feeling, that person, and that journey we all can have a number of times in life. I hope this brings comfort to your heart. Share this with someone you love.

Why I Write about the Immigrant Experience

Contributed by Reyna Grande, Author

I learned to read in English in the 8th grade. As a child immigrant from Mexico struggling to adapt to the American way of life, I had a hard time finding my experiences reflected in the books given to me by my teachers at school or the librarian at the public library. Closest were the works of the Chicana writers I’d read in college, such as Sandra Cisneros and Helena María Viramontes, where I found bits and pieces of myself. But I did not find books that spoke directly to my experience as a child immigrant.

I did find books about adult immigrants and the struggles that adults—like my parents— experience when they arrive in the United States: low paying jobs, abuse and discrimination in the workplace, fear of deportation, struggles to assimilate and learn English, and the hardships of navigating and understanding the nuances of American culture and society. But as a child, wasn’t I as much a part of the immigration narrative? Weren’t my pain and heartbreak, struggles and triumphs, also worth telling? Didn’t I also risk my life and fight just as hard for my dreams?

Why weren’t children’s voices being heard?

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