Boyhood in 3 Parts
From the edge of the frozen pond, I watch you walk on ice. The blue house sits on a faraway cloud. We examine our frozen forebear, who holds mementos from last season. Suspended in her ice are orange leaves, twigs and grasses. Nearly every afternoon in autumn, we met by her edge to start our expedition into the woods. We forged paths in the dirt and walked amongst woodland creatures, finding fuzzy caterpillars and toads. The trees formed staircases for us with their roots, and we thanked them for it. We marched with sticks and made up chants, pledging our fealty to Mother Earth and vowing to protect her and save the whales. We spent lazy days dissecting cattails, exposing their fluffy innards, allowing the seeds to fly.
Now it is winter, and she sleeps. All the life within her is frozen in place. Her mud containing multitudes and is still, undisturbed. The seaweed has ceased its gentle wave. The fish are nearly petrified wood. On the shore, the caterpillars are cocooned under layers of decay, quietly awaiting the thaw of spring. There are no bullfrogs or crickets to sing their guttural songs. She invites you to listen to the branches that creak like old women in their rocking chairs. “Hush children,” she says, “be still.”
But you, my brother, are always moving. You test her ice with your winter boots, stomping her circumference. If she is frozen solid, then we can slip and slide and fall and laugh. Feeling the firm layer of ice beneath your feet, you venture further. When you reach the middle of the pond, you look small. You are far away from the cattails. You are far away from solid ground. You are far away from me, your little sister. “It’s safe, see?” You trust the pond to hold you like she does your memories. You jump up and down, trying to convince me. The ice snaps under your feet.
Dad’s passed out again. His rhythmic snoring assures you that you are alone. He could see what you’re doing from his bedroom window if he wanted to, but he won’t look; of this you are sure. I am an apple that watches from a neglected tree in the side yard. The blue house perched on a cloud is no longer ours. This new house is made of brick and was built on land that was once an apple orchard. The fruit, now small and underdeveloped, stays sour until it falls and is eaten by worms.
Boys will be boys and start a bonfire. The store is closing, and everything must go. Burn that old picnic table and those dead trees. Light ‘em up with lawnmower gas. Fuck it, throw in a plastic sled for good measure. The red saucer melts into lava. What happens when you burn a battery? At what temperature does metal melt? The fire is insatiable; she’s demanding more. She grows as high as the boys’ discontent. Your buddy dares you, “I bet you can’t jump over it.” Watch me.
It’s the moment of truth; a double-dog-dare. You’ll need a running head start. Back up to the trampoline, all the way to the spot where Dad blew out his knee. This will be easy. You’re no stranger to flying. Run. Jump. Soar! You are suspended, moving in slow motion. In this space you finally feel calm. Don’t look down. Maybe you’ll make it. Do you care?
The fire finds you and catches you in her warm embrace. Where is your mother, anyway?
Love can be so cruel. The flames caress your skin; they are relentless and all consuming. You emerged not a phoenix but with a hand dipped in liquid plastic. Your skin turned to white coral with deep grooves and folds. The nurse said burn victims are the most likely to go crazy.
As if you are a tadpole, the pond wants you inside her. She paralyzes you with her cold water and you sink in her muck. You can’t breathe; your vocal cords are constricting. You gasp for air as she envelops you. She yearns for the child who wanted to slip and slide and play; the child she nurtured for years. Your arms are dragged down by your winter coat, now waterlogged. Everything is so heavy. You grab for something solid, but there is nothing. You spit out water. You spit out her nourishment. You scream.
Like the fish waiting for spring, I am frozen, too. I can’t move. A mere spectator, I can’t reach you. I could never reach you. Like the cattail seeds that fly over my head you are in the wind and out of my grasp.
The familiar slam of the back door echoes in the trees. Dad runs out from the blue house. He runs down the hill and without hesitation jumps into the pond. His splash scatters the ice. Elbows high, he fights her for the right to you. The water is up to his chest. He grabs you by the arm and you float easily to him. As though you are weightless, he throws you over his shoulder, the way he does when you play-fight. He runs up the hill to the blue house. The door slams again.
Linda A. Jordan is an attorney, activist and writer interested in exploring the intersections between emotion and the natural world. She is a proud Michigander and member of the Sault Tribe of Chippewa Indians. As a public interest attorney, she strives to make Michigan a more equitable place for people experiencing poverty. She is also the founder of Rent Party Detroit, an organization that raises money through the arts and cultural events to prevent eviction in Detroit and educates the public on persistent housing inequities. Linda enjoys writing songs, poetry and fiction. Her poem, A Eulogy for My Grandmother, was selected as a finalist for Touchstone Literary Magazine’s Debut Prize in Poetry.