backyard crowing


burn, baby, burn

At Garofalo family reunions, nobody cries but babies, and grandmothers; and this time, me. At twenty-one, I had gradually fallen in like with a boy whose friendship was unspeakable to anyone, because it featured two relaxing kissing sessions and a slew of racy text and instant messages which my father unknowingly paid for. I doubted a devout Garofalo would understand.

Saturday was the first full day of the reunion, and I joined Aunt Renee’s side of the family. Hers was my preferred bunch: the twins, Jade, and a few uninvited and unrelated guests peppered our eggshell faces with Hispanic, African American, and Native American colors. One of the twins was just seventeen, but her steady boyfriend was twenty. Cousin Ramona was a 53-year-old professional student, with several degrees and a doctor of divinity. According to my degreeless father, she had taken advantage of her marriage to Rob, a Cherokee, and scrounged for grant money for years. Her eldest daughter Jade had married Drel, a kind black man and threat to his grandmother-in-law’s old fashioned ideas about race.

And so I went out with the poor, eclectic group to a riverbank in Kings, Texas, and there I felt sunscreen unnecessary. Jade and Drel’s baby became mine for about an hour, in which I learned the importance of shading baby skin from the sun. When I was a child, I avoided holding babies, because I thought that if the first baby I ever held was my own, I would have good luck. Little Sali changed my mind about holding babies, and that day instead of worrying about my superstition, I worried of her safety.

Late into the day I felt my sunburn appear, and the other side of the family decided to take a swim as well. I had been in contact with them through e-mails recently, and I had yet to spend any time with them, so off to the river I went. My cousin Meg and her boyfriend Jeremy were among that group, and they forced me to re-evaluate my un-relationship through laughing and flirting and…good lord, was I jealous.

That night my burn kept me up until five am, and so did Marc, my Austin flame. I threw him two or three texts… “Hey, I’m in Kings, what are you doing?”… “I’m at a party, and the hostess just left!” … “What are you wearing?”… “I’m at a family reunion and everyone is asleep, what do you think I’m wearing?!”

After a quick goodbye, I settled into my covers and soon discovered that I could not; they would not let me. They were Jade and Drel, that twin and Mike, and Meg and Jeremy. “He’ll make a good son-in-law,” Ramona had said of Mike when he handed her money to buy floaties that morning. “Probably so,” Meg had replied when my grandmother asked if the next time they would meet she would don white. I could not understand my family, either side, and why they were intent on marrying young. I had the urge to rip my hair out…and finally settle on Marc, and sleep. The night before, Ramona and I went through the old reunion photo albums. “Who is that guy?” we asked each other as we turned the pages, and our conclusions amounted to “Must be an ex.” Of course, my mother is an ex, but I can take a joke.

The sheets kept me sitting up in bed, and the heat emanating from my back began to make me tear up. I squeezed my pillow and wished it was his round stomach for the umpteenth time in the past month. He was at a party, and I was crying, grasping for him. Every time I imagined how my head had rested on his shoulder weeks ago, another wave of silent tears crossed my face, and I heard a wheezing sound from my aunt and uncle’s side of the cabin. “Jane?” I thought heard either my uncle or God inquire. Whoever it was, he sounded surprised. I forced myself to quiet what I thought was an undetectable cry, and no other words were uttered that night, save a few to my red eyes in the bathroom mirror. “Get it together, you’re beautiful, you deserve more,” I found myself sending that mirror girl some ESP. I even made her smile, just to remind her that she could.

Eventually my body accepted the pain of sleep, and the next morning my aunt’s speaking to my grandmother woke me up. I shut my eyes as soon as they opened to eavesdrop. Aunt Kris explained that my uncle “Was using his inhaler like crazy last night, and I think he does it every night.” Grandma took on her worried tone. “Has he said anything about it?” she asked. “Oh no, he would never tell me about it,” Kris continued. I reopened my eyes and tried to find my uncle with them. Uncle Cal was a smoker and an alcoholic, and he could not drive anymore thanks to a few DWIs. Cal was not in the cabin, so I sat up and attempted invisibility for the rest of the day.

That next night I found myself in familiar sheets again, and as I drifted off, I sent Marc some inspiring messages about what we might do to each other come August and with what. He responded promptly (he always did, when we communicated about such things), and eventually I felt too numb with exhaustion and lidacaine that I had to confess. I typed, “I’ve grown fond of you, and I know I should not have. Would you consider a real relationship?”

The few minutes in between my confession and his response were brutal. I had turned him down twice in the past year and then asked him if he wanted to just play. I had then become attached; I had decided not to wear sunscreen. “I’m not really sure how I feel about anyone right now,” he replied. I sat up straight in my bed. Had I honestly thought he could make the same mistake that I did? He already milked the cow. After a few minutes of realizing the truth that I knew from the beginning, my head hit the pillow, which I acknowledged was an inanimate object.

The morning after, I awoke thinking about breakfast. “The sun will shine warmly upon me again,” I told myself.

11:53 pm - Thursday, Jun. 21, 2007


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