My parents have moved! This time, I believe, for good. Donna and Desi are waiting for them in Virginia Beach. Daneal took off further north long ago and seems to have finally made a calm life for herself. Chris bounces from bong to bong, county to county. Only Denise is left in the Mohawk Valley. She has been fighting cancer and though she is well at the moment it's ineveitable that one of my increasingy rare visits will be to see her in the hospital. It's fitting though that she should remain and I hope she continues peacefully witching out her days for a long while until she eventually joins the ghosts that she loves and that have kept her company for so long.
As for my parents, I hope the Virginia sun clears away the October Country shadows. I hope heat and humidity sweat the valley soil from their bodies. I love that they now see ocean tides rather than the singular flow of the river. I love that the air above them is full of seaguls rather than crows. Here are a few images in honor of their departure from the valley and some memories of my own life and subsequent visits there.
Autumn of course. The sound of frosted leaves underfoot – a sound that combines thin glass breaking and papers shuffling. The smell of a latex Halloween mask as it slips over your face. A new school notebook.
Anxious blank pages.
The single-wide trailer at the back of the near empty sales lot, sitting alone like some gigantic discarded candy bar. The same trailer set on the land we cleared by hand. My parent’s learning disco routines on a shag living room rug. The intermingled stands of rust and saffron pressed down in a foot print that slowly erases itself as the carpet rises back up.
A bottle of Valium on the kitchen counter. An owl cookie jar with eyes wide, happy, and empty.
My Aunt in black. Silver bangles clanging. Black Sabbath tolls from a scratchy overplayed record. She’s telling me how to write a story. Telling me how to keep vampires away. Telling me that my great-great granny in the nursing home used to be a powerful witch. She’s teaching me to paint. She’s teaching me to distrust cops and soldiers.
(My father is both.) She’s dancing to heavy metal, spinning and kicking, reaching for some witchy ecstasy in the tarpaper shack behind the house.
The TV showing Gulf War coverage. No battle images. Only a distant missile rising in the dark. My father is over there somewhere. A letter with a single photo of him outside a tent. The photo is cheap and grainy. Its texture matches the dust storms he describes in the letter.
My father is sure the first snow of the year is coming. He says he can smell it. Just before it begins the hills seem to draw in a breath, hold it, hold it, then breathe out, releasing soft flakes. The snowfall thickens till the dark spots on the pale birches appear to hang alone, treeless, in the white air.
Christmas presents under the artificial tree that leans more to the left each year. My parent smile. I see worry behind their teeth but the morning allows nothing to come between paper ripping, action figure battles, the speed of the new sled, the taste and texture of candy canes melting on my tongue.
Night under a full moon. We are leaving soon, moving to NC. This is the last game of hide and seek in the cornfield. Whoever gets to be “it” is called a werewolf and howls when their prey is found. Somewhere in the cornstalks a howl goes up, an adolescent voice breaking as it rises. It mingles with a girl’s scream that ends in a sullen cry of “not fair.”
I’m 16, visiting from NC. I've learned that my older cousin is gay. He says come over if I need someone to talk to. He opens the door in a bath robe. He offers me coffee. In his bed is a man with a mustache, a chipped tooth, and tattoos. He makes a joke about my cousin “liking ‘em young.” My cousin says, “Ignore him. He lost his manners in prison.” I want to talk with them about being gay but their freedom to joke about it unnerves me. Instead we talk about relatives but I wonder what it would be like if they touched me.
Arriving just after midnight from CA. My parents have moved back to the valley, back into my father's childhood home in the hills. Their truck winds along the stretch of road with no houses, no lights, and the steep slope dropping away on one side. There had been many accidents here. As kids we knew ghosts waited below.
My parents in the kitchen. The table covered with bank statements, hand rolled cigarettes, and donuts. Cigarette smoke hangs thick and blue under the overhead lamp. They are trying to refinance the house. My mother sighs. The smoke curls in slow, elastic ripples.
My sister with a cigarette. Talk of bruises and assaults she’s suffered. She taps ashes into an overflowing ashtray and changes the subject.
My nieces are still very young. Their Barbies, some headless and naked, are in a tangle that reflects the way they love and attack each other. I wonder if they ever play with them or just move the whole angry orgy of plastic limbs and smiling faces from one room to another.
Returning to photograph at Halloween. The girls run house to house in a sugar frenzy. Leaves spin down the road in a dry little cyclone. The camera vibrates in my hand as it automatically loads a new roll of film. There is a chocolate fingerprint on the shutter button. For the first time in my life I'm sure that I won’t be chained to this place.