Iowa Writes

MARIS VENIA
How We Got Here


It's early and cold outside. I can feel my breath against my skin and the steam from my coffee is thick. I bring the mug to my lips and watch as a few college students walk past my apartment building. I'm sitting on the top step, far enough out of view that they don't notice me as they look ahead with sleepy eyes, the shock of an early September chill against the heat that was August rendering them mute.


He was here recently. It was a seven hour drive for him—two coffees, three phone calls, and one toll booth from Michigan to Iowa—and then it was four days of him here after a month apart when I moved away.


In high school we knew each other but not well. We had classes together but I don't remember which ones. Old photos are evidence that we were involved in some of the same activities and I try to recall our conversations or moments we shared, but my memory has become selective and I rely on fragments and images instead: the outline of his undershirts beneath the thin material of his button-ups—the thick ridge of the hem and the smaller ridges across the back—walking behind him in the halls and wanting to run my hand across his shoulders, feeling that texture under my fingertips. The sound of his voice, deep, and the sound of his music: the rhythm of drum beats from the stage across the gymnasium. Some sort of energy between us. When he picked me up in his dad's Mustang for prom: the tremble of his hands and the heat that exuded from the lapels of his jacket as we stood near each other at the front door of my parents' house.

It's early and cold outside. I can feel my breath against my skin and the steam from my coffee is thick. I bring the mug to my lips and watch as a few college students walk past my apartment building. I'm sitting on the top step, far enough out of view that they don't notice me as they look ahead with sleepy eyes, the shock of an early September chill against the heat that was August rendering them mute.


He was here recently. It was a seven hour drive for him—two coffees, three phone calls, and one toll booth from Michigan to Iowa—and then it was four days of him here after a month apart when I moved away.


In high school we knew each other but not well. We had classes together but I don't remember which ones. Old photos are evidence that we were involved in some of the same activities and I try to recall our conversations or moments we shared, but my memory has become selective and I rely on fragments and images instead: the outline of his undershirts beneath the thin material of his button-ups—the thick ridge of the hem and the smaller ridges across the back—walking behind him in the halls and wanting to run my hand across his shoulders, feeling that texture under my fingertips. The sound of his voice, deep, and the sound of his music: the rhythm of drum beats from the stage across the gymnasium. Some sort of energy between us. When he picked me up in his dad's Mustang for prom: the tremble of his hands and the heat that exuded from the lapels of his jacket as we stood near each other at the front door of my parents' house.


The cement of the step I'm sitting on isn't warming underneath me and my coffee is cooling too quickly, so I reenter my building, the smell of the hallway hitting me as I walk in. The smell is that of a nursing home and it comes from the first floor apartment of my 101-year-old landlady, who has lived here her entire adult life. She and her husband raised their family in this building and one of their children raised his family in it too. Tenants have moved in and out and on, her children and grandchildren have grown, her husband passed away some years ago, and now her great grandchildren visit, the cadence of their chatter filling Sunday afternoons.


As I make my way to the stairs, I glance at her door and the blue label on it which says "& Neita C.," her husband's name removed after his death. I hear the volume of her TV emanate through her door and out into the entry. She watches television—or listens to it—from early in the morning through the evening as her hearing, her sight, and her mobility are all severely limited. I wonder what she thinks of. And with each day so similar to the next, I wonder what she waits for and if she's lonely.


In my apartment I reheat my coffee and read while I wait for my phone to ring. During the years after high school, he and I communicated briefly, exchanging a few e-mails and attempting to meet up for drinks. It wasn't until later, after college, both of us settled into jobs away from the town we grew up in and living an hour apart from each other, that we finally did. There was the anticipation of his visit as he made his way to my city, and then his arrival: standing in my doorway, radiating the same kind of heat, the same kind of nerves as years before, but as we stood facing each other, there was some shift in atoms, some shift in space, something altered and unseen.


Now that I'm here—two states away—distance is measured differently: by the span of sheets or by the land between us—miles of highway and pavement, the wide sky and the expanse of fields and farms undulating on either side of the expressway.


When he was here last: his shirt moving and pulling as he scrubbed and rinsed and reached for another plate to wash. I watched the movement of fabric across his upper arms, shoulders, and back as I dried. I touched my hand to his side and he moved so I could get into a drawer; I stepped back so he could reach more dishes to wash. There was music from my stereo behind us but we were silent, and I wasn't searching for something to say, I wasn't waiting for anything this time.


And after dinner, after dishes, after the evening hours slipped away, he sleeps on his stomach, and I on my side, though we're entangled during portions of the night—his arm around me or mine around him or us face to face.

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About Iowa Writes

Since 2006, Iowa Writes has featured the work of Iowa-identified writers (whether they have Iowa roots or live here now) and work published by Iowa journals and publishers on The Daily Palette. Iowa Writes features poetry, fiction, or nonfiction twice a week on the Palette.

In November of 2008, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated Iowa City, Iowa, the world's third City of Literature, making the community part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network.

Iowa City has joined Edinburgh, Scotland and Melbourne, Australia as UNESCO Cities of Literature.

Find out more about submitting by contacting iowa-writes@uiowa.edu


MARIS VENIA

Maris Venia is a former high school teacher from Michigan. She is in her second year at The University of Iowa as an MFA candidate in the Nonfiction Writing Program.

This page was first displayed
on March 19, 2009

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