Cosmonauts Avenue
One ordinary autumn day, when I was ten, I fell out of a tree. Not a particularly large tree. An oak, maybe. The kind with solid branches outstretched like arms, perfect for climbing. Playing with my friend, I lost my balance and forgot my grip. For a brief second, I was flying, flapping my wings like a fledgling. The next I was lying on the ground on a damp bed of glowing leaves, my arm twisted askew and looking up at cotton ball clouds across the expanding sky.
My dream is to be the funniest person someone has ever met. Maybe I am that something to someone. I talk to my therapist about my competing thoughts and resolute feelings. The friction gives me migraines. Can I be both rock and hard place? What is that phrase even trying to mean? I only want to see all angles of everything is that so much to ask for, so much to try for.
Before Cameron returned home to Texas, we’d exchanged our mailing address. A year after he returned to Texas, I served a mission in Taiwan from 1994 to 1995. He wrote to me weekly, telling me about his transition back to the student life, about his breakup with different girlfriends, and about the feelings he had kept secret during his service as a missionary. "I fell in love with a girl . . . it’s you."
I’m trained on all the birth control methods. I memorize the effectiveness percentages, the most common side effects. I learn to take vitals and discover which exam rooms have the digital blood pressure monitors, and which ones will require me to use a stethoscope, the ear pieces so hard they hurt as I listen for the muffled beat.
To some, the role of arbiter comes naturally—my great uncle for example, an Indian diplomat during the 1950s, would often boast of his abilities to transform a tense atmosphere into one of eye-watering tenderness. My son, at the moment of writing, possesses no such gift. He uses one of two strategies when my partner and I are in discussions with our daughter.
These cylindrical yellow telephones spill out of the baskets placed in the center of our house, the last-minute snack grabbed before a junior-year track meet and the forgotten friend left to turn brown in the pantry. Bananas are underrated for all they do for us. We appreciate your service and salute your uncomplaining roost in the back-shelves of the world. Their comical slip-and-slide plot devices were a frequent recurrence in 喜羊羊与灰太狼, “Pleasant Wolf and Big Bad Wolf,” which I remember in velvet glimpses of brilliant screens, sweaty and odorless in the Beijing apartment of my youth.
I’m playing Candyland with Ambrose on the floor of her family’s playroom. Her and her sister are only allowed 30 minutes of TV a day and I foolishly let them use it all before 9 a.m. I am partially paying attention to the game and mostly scrolling through instagram waiting for the coffee I stole from the bottom of the pot downstairs to kick in.
My mother tries to be supportive of the idea of my writing, even takes memoir classes at the local university and shares her essays with me, but does not understand my need to publish. She wants it to be enough for me to put the words on paper and share them with her and my sister. She struggles to come to terms with my need to share them with the wider world.
I know my name isn’t the story I want to tell, but it’s all I can give you for now. I’d love to offer you a life story, unabridged, coherent, rendered insightfully, but all I can muster is a few scraps that dance around my first name, its historical, literary and popular lineages, its foibles.
It’s written on a Friday. It’s written as a letter to my white boss. My very lovely (but) white boss, who I called evil for the first time the day before yesterday.
Sound. My first medium. That coincidence of air and flesh where I learned what joy and beauty are. I was incredulous when Kathryn told me about this machine. I researched it compulsively, more aghast with every click.
Tag-teaming, Gary and Mickey detailed how they landed in AA after watching the bottoms fall out of their lives. Thanks to the grace of God, their sorry asses had been dragged through the door and they’d started practicing ‘attitude of gratitude’ and living life on life’s terms. AA had been the absolute last stop on the train; now Gary had ten years of sobriety; Mickey, eighteen.
I might have placed a hold on my relationships with most of my relatives, but I always stayed in close touch with my mother. Although she and my father also changed the geolocation of the house they called “home” and were now thousands of miles away from Vladivostok, my mother continued to be my conduit to my former life. Unlike me, she never felt like she was meddling when she spent hours on the phone and, later, on various video-chats, trying to keep abreast with the life in our hometown.
I didn’t get the body of a woman until I was 35. It seemed like everyone else had traded in their boy-bodies long ago, and even though I really thought I’d have mine forever, I’d taken him for granted for so long I hardly noticed he was missing until the body of a woman arrived in the night, headed straight for the closet, and tried to squeeze herself into his clothing. 
Your belly, swollen with years of Milwaukee’s Best, would rise and fall with each breath that passed through your big, sun-burned nose. We’d watch from a distance, far enough from your beer-soaked breath so that it couldn’t fill our smaller, paler noses with the smell that was you, and we’d wonder how a man never thirsted for anything but “the Best.”
A tooth for a tooth. By the skin of your teeth. As bad as pulling teeth. Lying through your teeth. Biting off more than you can chew. Fighting tooth and nail. Sink your teeth into it. Set your teeth on edge. Don’t bite the hand that feeds you.
Three daughters under one caved-in roof meant hair conditioner usage was monitored like underground earthquakes near a volcano, where one big jolt of conditioner used in a single shower would make the entire household melt down into a pool of lava.
Once, when my father was out of the country my mother asked me to cycle to the university library (my mother didn’t drive) to pick up some books. I was understandably wary. I was eleven and thought that being alone and in the library would be weird, but I also knew that my mother didn’t consider protest, at least not mine.
What the fuck is going to happen when he gets to the gay bleacher section?! And then suddenly, Psychic Mark hits a snag. A stony woman wrapped in a draping black duster is scowling in Mark’s direction as he pulls out a series of random images: A fish tank, A blue orb, The letters B, C and A.
I did not learn how to dread my parents’ death until college because I was too busy anticipating my own. My fear surpassed any charming precociousness altogether and sat itself squarely down on the couch at my first therapist’s office, peering out past its sad hermit shell onto the children’s books and tissue box on her table. There it was sailing with me at the top of the swing’s arc. And again, leering from the bottom of the aquatic center pool like the fabled turd that would shut down the place for hours at a time, except that the poop was real, and I was so, so full of it.
At the time, I had loose curly hair and was envious of your bald sides with the small bit of hair that resided on the top of your head. Each night, I would walk into the bathroom and place my palms on my forehead. Slowly, I brushed back all my hair with my hands and watched my curly afro disappear. Sometimes I even cracked a small smirk while placing my hand on the side of my belly, releasing a small laugh, just like yours.
Update: I have checked again, and the dog is not a whippet or a greyhound. The dog is a sausage dog, which is something I would have known if I’d thought about it. Visual memory is particularly tricky. I wanted it to be a nice light dog, of a breed I admire, because that would go well, in black and white, with the seagrass and my grandmother’s light-grey hair.
To broaden the scope of my own private dictionary and pinpoint an entry where I could fit, I found myself scouring the three books the public library had tagged with round rainbow stickers, pulling out the terms that fascinated me – dyke, butch, boi – and collaging them secretly in the nest of my being like some kind of sexually confused magpie. I didn’t want to be a “lesbian,” as that word sounded like a disease and not a person, but I wasn’t allowed to be a “boy” if I wasn’t “trans,” and I wasn’t “trans,” not completely.
Today, the ropes swing violently. Strung from the roof, they hang down the side of my building. They beat against my bedroom windows. I can see seven from my living room. The ropes seem to be suspended in the air, independent from the building.
The summer before I turn 17, I go to a six-week academic camp where I focus on writing and dance. We talk in one of my classes about psychosomatic medicine, the notion that touch can cure certain ailments and has a distinct psychological effect on us. Whether used for harm or for healing, physical contact is a critical element of human interaction.
"Two years after I unfriended John on Facebook, Tempest and I were lying in her bed watching and re-watching the scene in Pride and Prejudice where Mr. Darcy is so overwhelmed by the touch of Lizzie’s hand that he splays his fingers, as if to reach back through time for memory of her skin on his."
Dad looked over his shoulder to check his blind spot. He answered me, keeping his eyes on the road, “I used to think about that kind of stuff when I was your age,” he told me, “but after a while, it doesn’t bother you anymore.”
She’d been falling asleep often, nodding off while you were talking to her, mid-sentence. It was a new symptom of her disease. She wasn’t forgetting faces yet, but names, places and dates were a jumbled mess.
The other dyke was talking to the father of the bride. I put myself at his elbow, turning my face towards him and my body towards her. He paused their conversation to introduce us. “Annabel, have you met my niece Other Dyke?”
I had a shoplifting habit at this time but I didn’t steal anything from Jessica Ruben because I took my job as a Boutique Retail Assistant very seriously.
I should turn the podcast off. It was the same when I read that book about Henrietta Lacks and got all worked up about cervical cancer: I, too, felt a knot in my abdomen. I, too, sensed that something was wrong.I, too, had pain during intercourse, at least some of the time, if Shmulik went too deep.
My favorite mall fact was its origin story. The American mall was invented in the ‘50s by an Austrian architect and immigrant named Victor Gruen. Looking to his native Vienna as a source of inspiration, Gruen sought to design a civic square for shoppers in the sprawl.
The text read: BUG, your Rx is due now. Reply REFILL to fill, HELP for more info, & STOP to opt out of Rx alerts. I did not reply. A woman behind the counter asked if she could help me, and I stepped forward to hand her the orange USPS delivery slip.
I lost a baby two years ago, still thinking of that lost body in my body, its cells permanently shed into the lining of my stomach and lungs, while I sit in front of the Tbilisi Galleria sharing a strange concoction of beef, lamb, onions, parsley, and eggs rolled into a lumpia-like roll...
Iris is a tortoiseshell cat. Because so much of my house is mismatched patterns, it is difficult to photograph her. In most she will exist as a blur, a momentary interruption of a couch or rug.
On a summer night after my father did or did not die, I sit with the boys at night on the lakeshore across the highway from my house.
Most people would prefer not to have to look at, or be aware of at all, people with disabilities. But if they have to, they want to break into applause as someone manages to cross a room without falling down. They want to remain in a superior position, and most importantly, they want to believe that it's not that bad.
Dwelling. To dwell. From the Old English word dwellan, which means “to lead astray, hinder, delay”. Later, the word became associated with the state of abiding, or continuing for a time, in a particular place, state or condition. A dwelling, then, is a space between two different states of being, a place of dallying, of pausing in thought.
But I am tired, he has exhausted me and I understand now how parents just give in and buy their kids bad ideas and feed them sugar and let strangers watch them while mommy ducks into the local pub at high noon for a quick shot of numb. And it’s in the sale bin for $5.88.
Correct him, even when he yells at you. He’s always been absent-minded, but this is different. Stand your ground when he denies it. It really happened. You were there. He was there, just last week. Last Monday, to be exact. Show him where you wrote it on the calendar.
The only people who speak about the parts of history I’m interested in are drunk older cousins at parties. Unfortunately, they also happen to be the least reliable narrators, on account of their drunkenness, as well as their fondness for exaggeration.
after a while you won't be able to turn on the wim wenders film paris texas just because it is streaming on demand and it is friday evening and you are living alone because he who has bale coloured hair and sensitive skin is interstate for the time being working for the man you won't be able to simply watch movies that too heavily dramatise male loneliness
We’ve been touring Israel, my mom and I, for almost two weeks now and until this point everything’s been agreeable. The crusader fortress in Akko, the Bahá’í Gardens in Haifa, the visit to Kibbutz El Rom, the winery in the Golan Heights (which I skipped, more of a beer person). Even St. Peters Church had weakened me.
For many, the sun-sparkling Atlantic, the clean-as-seashell beaches, and the freshly-caught seafood of Provincetown are a vacation paradise. For gays, it’s a liberating mecca where kissing, hand-holding, and public displays of affection are smiled upon.
Sharks do not sleep as mammals do. Many shark species must keep moving in slumber, bodies restless even if minds are calm, to push oxygenated water past their gills. They are drifters. They, too, are restless at night.
I just re-remembered: Mama told me and Mark not to say “cancer” in this house, everyone was keeping it secret from Baba Galya that she was going to die. Deda Vitya says, “Lina told me, after Galya died, that Galya told her she went to the doctor on her own and asked him how much time she had. Galya put cards under her clothes, and later I found them: ‘These are for Lina, these are for…’ So Galya knew, and kept it a secret from all of us…”
Over the course of my eighth-grade year, my exceptional hearing paid off, earning me a couple of eavesdropping sessions between mom and dad. They argued with low voices in the morning, careful not to wake me.
"Well, that shut me right up. He had told me before that I sounded crazy, that I was acting crazy. This time was different. I was crazy, plain and simple. I excused myself to use the bathroom and turned on both the sink faucet and the shower head. I was not going to let him hear me cry."
When I was boy, you were a planet. Then you weren’t. You disappeared from the solar system, relegated to “other,” to “dwarf.” But I remember you, distant one. You are part of a family of the forsaken. In the end, you revolved around the sun like the rest of us.
As a child in Ohio, I only heard so much about this war. I knew that there had been suffering. I knew that Ammah was affected by it—seeing her home after almost twenty years, her birthplace, broken apart in many ways. I understood that war meant irreversible change.