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Not the Discarding but the Cleaving
By Christina Olson
When my father finally packs up his spaceship and returns to his home planet, I wonder what he’ll take with him. The man was never one for nostalgia, but these days I think he’s chucked it all, every artifact of the first sixty years he spent on Earth. The yearbooks and deferrals I understand not keeping— all shag and pain, ancient history. And while the man reads a lot, they were all library books, no marginalia or ticket stubs to discover. Plus, you’d have to go to the movies, and when we went to see Jurassic Park in 1993 he balked at the prices, admitted the last movie he’d seen in the theatre was Superman. He was the sort of dad who collected actual fossils, not old license plates for the garage. When his mother died, he set aside for me a crystal beer pitcher. This is practical nostalgia. Productive reminiscence. I’m not angry about these things even if I sound like it. First marriage long over, children grown and gone—I almost understand the strange logic of not keeping the markers of these basic, expected cycles. We take note when the leopard gecko sheds it skin all at once, wriggles out of its too-tight suit, but humans too cast off our skin constantly. We just call it dust, Swiffer it off our framed photos. No, what concerns me is not the discarding but the cleaving. His Before Life and his Now Life, how little they resemble each other, how nothing bleeds through. Now Life is two houses, an Audi TT, a leather jacket, new wife, her adult children the same age as my brother and I but somehow so much more space-taking. It’s been twelve, no, thirteen years since my father turned into this alien, so I’m pretty much used to it. When he texts me asking when my brother’s birthday is again—I always forget—it’s only one day that I need to process my rage, only three beers I drink that night. If I’m allowed into the house after he flies away, I wonder what I’ll find. No hope for the little clay elephant I made, but maybe a couple photo albums. Sometimes I daydream that I open a drawer and find the letters I wrote. But then I snap out of it. Geckos don’t have eyelids—they lick their eyes to keep them moist. They have tear ducts, but only to clean the cornea. How practical! If you didn’t know the science, you’d be forgiven for thinking that a gecko could cry.
Christina Olson is the author of Terminal Human Velocity (Stillhouse Press, 2017). Her chapbook, The Last Mastodon, won the Rattle 2019 Chapbook Contest. Other work appears in The Atlantic, The Normal School, Scientific American, Virginia Quarterly Review, and The Best Creative Nonfiction. She is an associate professor at Georgia Southern University and tweets about coneys and mastodons as @olsonquest.
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