Michigan summers aren’t hot anymore. The leaves on the trees are still emerald, entombed in frosty chrysalides, waiting for the spring to defrost them. I listen to their trunks groan in the frost bitten earth; it wasn’t frozen yesterday. They’re stuck in some kind of twisted cryogenic time-stasis, or something. I close my eyes and search for the sweetness of strawberry ice cream, and the sunny days I spent in Grand Haven, and my little brother’s smiling face; but I can’t taste them anymore. Yesterday was a long time ago. Michigan summers were still hot, yesterday.
I sit under the bridge, with my legs dangling just above the icy water. Jump in, the water’s fine! I shake my head, and huddle into my parka. The empty coffee cup next to me clatters, and I flinch, as if to be struck in the face. Looking up, I see a man and a woman hand in hand. They gave me some of their spare change. I must look pathetic. But next to me is a sign that reads: Homeless and hungry anything helps, in my famous wobbly chicken scratch.
They’re a young couple, they’ve probably been together for a week or two. That, or they’re one of those ridiculously obnoxious couples, that’s secretly dysfunctional. Why can’t I have that? My eyes are dry wells, there isn’t anything left in them left to nurture my front bitten spirit. They’re stopping to take a photo together, I can see them smiling and laughing. I still don’t understand how they can be so under dressed. It’s freezing! I can feel that sensation in my chest again; the ugliness is building up again. You’re sick. I shut my ears as if someone’s whispering sour nothings into them, but I can still hear the devil in my ear. Come home to the waters, Julia. Each time I get closer to the frosty river, I see my little brother Mason’s eyes staring back at me. They’re hazel, just like mine. They’re the only part of him I don’t love. I can see myself so clearly in them, just like when my father sent me away. He was so heartbroken, but I could see the sick degenerate I am in them.
My phone buzzes, and I’m shaken out of my trance. I unlock it to see a text from my old friend, Spencer. U know what JULIA? Ur the only one who’s broken not all of us are. I suppose it’s been a lot longer than a day, since the never ending winter came. I think my phone’s broken, says this text is from a month ago. Of course, that’s not the text that I was being alerted to. I just wait for Spencer to apologize —or to find the right words to reply.
The couple is gone. They are as god intended; a man and a woman. But me, I’m broken. I stare at the text message for a few moments waiting for the tears to come again, —to feel that piece of me that I was missing just yesterday. The date says July 4, but yesterday it was June. The wind howls in my ears, begging me to jump, but when I look in the water, I see Spencer’s icy glare reflected between the chunks of slush and ice.
I chose to be this way, didn’t I? I chose this suffering. I chose her. I used to be able to smell her green apple shampoo sometimes, when I’d see a girl with box braids walk by. I always told her it was childish, and she’d roll her eyes. They were wide, like the amber ponds my dad used to take me fishing on, like the cherrywood floor he installed three years ago, in the house he and mom built; the one I grew up in. She was —is, just like the house I grew up in. Small but sturdy, with a great view of the fireworks on Independence Day. In her eyes, I didn’t see myself, but instead, someone I could be. But we weren’t meant to be this way. We are broken.
The wind picks up again, and I brace myself. The cars on the overpass grow louder, and the sun is going down. I don’t really want to stay under the bridge again. I count the change, I made six dollars, and seventy-three cents. In mostly nickels and pennies of course. Maybe I’ll get a coffee. I suppose I should stop lying to myself. It’s been a month since I’ve actually had a hot cup of coffee. Today is a special day, one I’ve been waiting for since before winter came so many months earlier. I can’t remember why, but I suppose it’s worth celebrating. I decide to throw the used cup I’ve been carrying around for the past five days in the trash. The past five days. I sigh, my lips sagging underneath my scarf. I can feel my legs growing heavy, I’m tired. I’m so tired. But I keep going anyway, despite the snow that’s quickly accumulating on the sidewalk. The sun is setting, and I keep going. I have to go somewhere, anywhere. I decide to find my way to my favorite coffee shop, The Bitter End. What a fitting place, for someone who is marked for death.
I trudge, I cannot see the sunset. The sky is grey, and I hear they’re still going to do fireworks. What a waste. I think to myself, I used to love the Fourth of July. But why? Everyone around me is dressed in shorts, dresses, or skirts. Can no one else see this god damned blizzard but me?
The snow is getting thicker, i trudge, and trudge, until I fall to my knees, exhausted. To the right of me are the wrought iron gates of the cemetery my parents have their burial plots in. I’m not sure what’s taking over me, but I decide to visit them. It’s the only place my father said he’d let me see him again. My mother’s pained wailing fills my ears, and no matter how desperately I try to drown them out, they grow louder. She was mourning the loss of her only daughter, and the grandchildren I’d never be able to give her.
I want to die, but I cannot express it. The snow is thick here, and I practically have to swim through it. I have to see their graves, I want to know where to see my parents, when the time comes. The goddamn snow is so thick, that I breathlessly fall forward. I can no longer feel the bitterness of the snow. Looking up, I notice I’ve ventured further into the graveyard than I thought. I find myself faced with two graves, that belonged to a “Carol Wainwright-Carter (sept 4,1954- June 1, 2012), and Robin Wainwright-Carter (August 17, 1950- July 4, 2012)” Around them are rainbow flags, and fresh cut flowers. Someone must have cleared the snow away, because they are untouched by the blizzard. The snow that falls on to the graves melts almost instantly.
Surely, They must have been sisters. “Did you know them?” A voice calls out over the howling of the blizzard. My heart jumps from my chest, and I whip myself around, but I’m silent. A woman in her mid twenties approaches me, with a bouquet of roses in her arms. “My moms were pretty cool.” Moms? I think to myself in horror. How could she say that so candidly? “My mom, Carol died of cancer a year back, she and my other mom, Robin had a lot of friends with kids. Sorry, I thought you might know her.” She gently places the roses on Robin’s grave, and kneels before it, as if the ground were a pew in church. “She died of a broken heart, I think. —my ma, Robin. Sorry, explaining my two moms to a stranger without context is awkward … I’m awkward.” Normally, I’d make a witty dad joke like; ‘Hi awkward, I’m Julia.” But words escaped me. “W-well my name isn’t awkward. It’s Hannah. Sorry, I don’t know why I just told you all that ...”
“I’m gay,” The words just slip out, uncontrollably, as if the devil grabbed ahold of my tongue. It feels so natural, and so wrong simultaneously. I suppose sin is natural and comfortable for a person like me. The wind just stops, like it was waiting for me to say it. All the snowflakes fall gently to the earth, while Hannah and I stand awkwardly in the silent winter afternoon. “S-sorry, I’m Julia.” I croak softly. I’m not sure if she heard that.
“You know, you’re gonna get a heat stroke wearing all those coats. It’s like 90 out.” I shrug as if I didn’t hear her, and I marvel at the snow surrounding us.
“They loved each other?” I ask her absently.
“I mean yeah. They were married, and my mom, Robin ran away from home to be with Carol. I call Robin my ‘Mimi,’ and Carol my ‘mama.’” A gentle smirk works its way onto my lips. It feels sick to think that’s cute, but I can’t help it. “I’m obviously adopted … from Wisconsin, not Asia. I don’t even know what ethnicity I am.” She’s stammering, but I can tell she’s explained this all before a thousand times. “They fostered some kids back in the day, ones who didn’t fit in and were probably gonna age out of the system. I was one of ‘em. Everyone thinks an Asian kid’s gonna be good at school, but I wasn’t.” There Is a pause, and I can feel the sun setting. “I work at target.” Another pause sits idly between us. I’m more comfortable than I’d like to admit.
“So, you don’t think I’m sick?” I could feel each word falling from my lips like rotten fruit. Of course I was.
“I dunno, are you? You look a little ill. You really should take off that snowsuit.” She lingers in a strange way. Like she doesn’t want me to leave. I finally look at her, not through her. She’s taller than me, looks a little overweight. Her glasses hang sloppily on her face, I can tell she didn’t expect to see anyone. But there is a strange beauty in her tired brown eyes, and her messy jet black hair..
“I can’t feel anything. It’s probably freezing.” My voice is lifeless, but I take the snowsuit off. I still feel as if my body is frozen, my limbs are still difficult to operate, but it’s easier to move. “Wanna get a cup of coffee?” I ask her, I’m not sure why, but her ears perked up, and she suppressed herself from appearing excited. My phone buzzes, and I get a text from an old friend: happy birthday. I miss you, text me sometime. It isn’t Spencer. My heart sinks a bit. “It’s my birthday?” It’s my birthday. I can’t believe I forgot.
“Oh my god, happy birthday! Let’s go get you a coffee then. My treat.” I follow Hannah to her car which is parked nearby. “Sorry, my car sucks.” I smile to myself. “So, what birthday are we celebrating?”
“Sixteen?” It takes me a moment to remember how old I am.
“you seem a bit unsure. Is everything okay?” I nod, and stare at the quiet winter in July. The snow covers the roads, the sidewalks, and trees. I watch people frolic in the snow in tank tops and shorts. I suppose this summer is warm for some. Maybe spring will come.
A loud boom jars me, and overhead a beautiful flower opens in the sky, disappearing as quickly as it comes. More of them dance across the sky sending tendrils of reds, greens, oranges, and purples into the air. I was wrong about the clouds, the sky is clear. I remember why I loved the Fourth so much; it was like the whole country celebrated my birthday with me. That’s what Spencer said.
We arrive at The Bitter End, and order our coffee and sit in awkward silence. The coffee shop booms with laughter and chaos from each table. Hannah starts talking about something. My coffee is fresh, but it’s still as cold as tap water, and it tastes like nothing.I’m not really paying attention, I can’t focus with all the noise. In the midst of the din, I see a familiar head of box braids, and a genuine leather jacket. My head perks up, and I nearly burst out of my seat to wrap her in my grungy arms. —Except her arm is around someone else; a very attractive blonde girl. Someone I always complained I’d never be.
I think I finally feel something. My heart is beating, my palms are sweating. I can’t let her see me like this. Who is that slut? I don’t know what Hannah is talking about, I don’t care. All I know is that my eyes hurt. They’re hot, I’m hot. I’m mad, I’m sad, I’m angry, I’m furious, I’m desolate, I’m jealous, I don’t know anymore!
but now I see her face, I had nearly forgotten it. It was always dreary. She was always angry at the world, but blessed with liberal parents who always knew she was gay. She’s smiling. She’s laughing. I can’t believe what I’m seeing. In the year we’ve —we were together, I rarely saw her smile. She was always face first in a horror novel, or pissed off about something. But her eyes are full of light, she looks so goddamn happy. That’s all I ever wanted. I can feel Hannah’s arms wrap around me, I didn’t realize how putrid I smelled. I’m sweaty, and sobbing uncontrollably into Hannah’s shoulder.
Yet, a weight is being lifted from me. I can still hear the fireworks. I open my phone, and stare at the message Spencer left me. We aren’t broken. I type into the chat, my finger hovers over ‘send’. As I watch her and her date have a marvelous time, I delete it, and say goodbye to Hannah. I burst from the shop, flinging my putrid body into the street, and watch the fireworks bloom overhead. The snow is still there, but the leaves on the trees will be free soon. I can feel the summer beading on my skin.
I don’t think I’ll forget Carol and Robin. I could feel them watching over Hannah, I think that’s what drew me to her. It was as if they were making her speak to me, like I was the lonely new kid at school. Their love transcends death in a way I know my parent’s will not.
Spencer was a lot like my childhood home; she was small, and had a great view of the fireworks on Independence Day --but she was also cold and empty. Today, I saw a light on, and smoke billowing from the chimney. I could hear laughter from the window, but I knew not to look inside.
The blooms are sprouting beautifully overhead. There is an empty space next to me, and snow still falls from the heavens. It will fall until it doesn’t anymore I suppose, and I think I know what it means to be free.