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Grey Sparrow Journal

Issue 30, July 31, 2017
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Twenty-Four Years Later

 

by Michelle Meyers

 

 

1990:

Scientists at CERN create the World Wide Web. You should be excited but instead it scares you. You think about the enormity of the world. You think about how insignificant you are. You call your mother but the Southern lilt and easy cadence of her voice only make you frustrated.


I meet you at a frat party on the north side of campus. You’re playing beer pong, smoking blunts, your hair buzzed short against your head. You have eyes like sea glass, translucent and ethereal. You bury yourself in a hoody that’s too big for you.


Later that night we lay out under the stars, our fingers intertwined. You like the paint splattered across my jeans. I tell you I’m an artist. You say you’re a physicist. I’ve always been afraid to date a boy like you. Someone serious. Someone real.


You whisper into my ear. You tell me about Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle. Your voice reminds me of another universe. When you finally kiss me, your lips taste sweet like shellfish plucked fresh from the ocean.


1991:

The U.S. Army enacts operation Desert Storm, destroying the Iraqi army. You hate that people aren’t more upset about this. You go to war against your world. You break up with me because you think I’m too indifferent. You join Students for a Democratic Society. You stop shaving and grow out your hair. You read Thoreau’s Walden over and over again. You spend the summer off the grid in Maine and drop too much acid. 

 

1992:

Riots erupt in Los Angeles with the Rodney King verdict. You begin running. You spend entire days running through the woods behind campus despite the chill of the New England winter. You run as if you are being followed.


You write me love letters. You make me mix tapes. You take me camping in the Adirondacks and we sleep under stars like tear drops. You tell me you’re sure that time exists simultaneously, in multiple dimensions. I ask you why. You tell me a night this wonderful could never end, your body warm and solid against me in the sleeping bag.


1993:

The movie Philadelphia is released in theaters. You cry when Tom Hanks dies from AIDS at the end. Your brother calls you for the first time in five years. You find out he has HIV. You fly to New York City when he takes a turn for the worse. You lace your fingers together, lean forward on your elbows. You pray that he will be okay. You ask me to pray with you.


1994:

The first gene linked to Alzheimer’s is discovered. You wish you could forget everything. You toss and turn at night, thinking about your brother, thinking about your future, thinking about me. You stop running.


I ask you if I can paint you. You say, Not yet, not yet.


1995:

168 people are murdered in the Oklahoma City bombings. You begin working as a weapons engineer for Raytheon. You ask me to move in with you. You buy deck shoes and comb your hair. You carry a briefcase. You play on the company softball team.  You come to all of my gallery shows, dressed in a suit that swallows you up.


1996:

Bill Clinton has an affair with Monica Lewinski. You hate your job. You become restless. You drink too much gin. You have sex with your secretary, a pretty brunette who says she’s a Catholic.


You sleep on the couch for the next month. You question God. One night you bend down on one knee and beg for my forgiveness. 

 

1997:

Dolly the sheep becomes the first fully-cloned complex organism. You decide to change career paths and become a high school biology teacher. You want to do something good for the world. You want to do something that matters.


You introduce me to your mother for the first time when she comes up North to visit for your birthday. You look exactly like her, tufts of blonde hair like corn silk, blue eyes like the earth, a good ol’ boy from Arkansas. You finally admit to me that you have never met your father and probably never will. Your voice cracks when you say this.


You ask me to marry you.


1998:

Larry Page and Sergey Brin found Google in California. You convince me that we should move to California too. You’re sick of the snow during winter, the humidity during summer. You buy us a Volvo and pack all our belongings in the trunk. You decide we should take the Southern route cross-country. You like the rolling green hills of Kentucky the best. They remind you of your childhood. You ask around town for a minister. You say your vows under a sycamore tree, barefoot in a borrowed tuxedo.


You sing to me later, under the moonlight. You sing to me a deep, melancholy tune. It’s the first time your Southern accent comes out.


1999:

The six billionth person on Earth is born. You find us a cramped apartment in the Mission in San Francisco. You get a job teaching at a high school in Oakland. You can’t stop smiling when you find out I’m pregnant. Your eyes glow like the sun. You begin brainstorming names. Icarus if it’s a boy. Alma if it’s a girl.


2000:

The dot com bubble bursts. You don’t say anything when I tell you about the miscarriage, the moment I felt the red warmth trickling down my thighs. Your younger sister shows up in San Francisco a week later. She says she’s lost. She’s brought nothing except the clothes she’s wearing. You buy her cover-up from the local drugstore so she can hide the bruises on her neck. You sing to her at night when she can’t fall asleep.


2001:

Terrorists attack the World Trade Center. You have a friend from childhood who worked on the 29th floor. You hate yourself for not remembering his last name. You start reading more. You read about string theory. You read about the accelerating expansion of the universe. You read about black holes. You feel like you are sinking through a black hole. You feel like you are pushing me out of your orbit. You don’t talk to me anymore.


2002:

George W. Bush signs No Child Left Behind into law. You come with me to the doctor. You ask her if there’s anything else we can try. You hold me against you as my tears stain your shirt. You tell me that we can adopt, even though you know we will not. You start murmuring in your sleep. You recite the names of the children we will never have, a chant. Your own personal mourning ritual.


2003:

The U.S. launches into war against Iraq. Your sister moves back in with her husband in New Orleans. You decide you need something to do with your hands. You learn carpentry. You like the sound of the hammer against the nails, like gunshots. You build me an art studio in the garage for my birthday.


2004:

Same-sex marriages become legal in Massachusetts. You fly out to Boston with a small Ziploc bag of your brother’s ashes. You meet your brother’s partner for the first time, a soft-spoken energy consultant with a wild thicket of red curly hair. The two of you scatter the ashes along the coast outside Provincetown, watching the waves lap them away. You say a prayer under your breath, the first time you’ve done so in 10 years.


2005:

Thousands die in Hurricane Katrina. You get a call from an unknown area code. Your sister has gone missing. They never find a body. You hope that she has finally escaped. You hope that she is free.


2006:

President Bush signs a law renewing the Patriot Act. You throw the television out the window. You stop reading the paper. You need a break from the news. You surprise me with an effigy of Bush on the balcony. You let one of the neighbors light it on fire. You become giddy as you watch the effigy smolder. You laugh more than you’ve laughed in years.

 

2007:

The Nobel Peace Prize goes to Al Gore and the U.N. Panel on Climate Change. You take me to Europe for our tenth anniversary, France and Germany and Austria. You say that everyone should get to see Europe at least once before they die. You say we should see it before everything changes.


2008:

Barack Obama wins the presidential election. You become optimistic. You make me elaborate candle-lit dinners and read me William Blake as we fall asleep at night. You become friends with a man who owns an art gallery near Union Square. You invite him over to see my paintings. You help me wrap my canvases in bubble wrap for my first big art show. You ask for my autograph as we lay sprawled out in bed, the night sinking both warm and cool around us. 


2009:

Unemployment reaches its highest level since 1983. You get laid off from your teaching job. You decide to become more politically active. You protest for same-sex marriage, for women’s rights, for an end to the war in Iraq. You start running again. You would run all day and all night if you could. You occasionally notice twitching in your hands and feet. You take it upon yourself to stay better hydrated.


2010:

The U.S. Supreme Court rules that government cannot limit the spending of corporations on political campaigns, that corporations have the rights of people. You fly to Washington D.C. to protest the decision. You trip and fall outside the White House. You have trouble standing back up. They make you spend a night in the hospital. You tell me it’s nothing serious.

  

2011:

The Arab Spring begins. Your body rebels against you. You wake up one morning having difficulty speaking. You tell me that you still want to go to my art opening that evening. You let out a moan as you force your legs from under the covers. You finally let me take you to the doctor. You get diagnosed. You find out you have two years left, three at most.


2012:

Syrian president Bashar al-Assad agrees to a ceasefire. You try not to complain. You try to make peace with yourself. You have a hard time swallowing and chewing. You can’t walk. You tell yourself that there must be some sort of life after death. You convince yourself this is true. You wake up in the middle of the night, your eyes seeping tears, realizing you don’t believe this at all. You let me put my arms around you and rock you back to sleep. You let me paint you for the first time.


2013:

North Korea says it has detonated its third nuclear bomb. But you are immune. You are unaware. You are in a different place now, even as the world keeps going. I imagine I can still feel you. And I imagine that somewhere, we are together again. I think of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle. I don’t know where your particles are, but I can feel your momentum.