You’re It (by Jessica Bowman)

His father once told her that he was “happily surprised” she had stayed with his son for so long. Even at the time, she said, she thought it was odd. Her parents were the kind of people who would brag about a second-to-last-place, mustard-colored ribbon won at a third grade science fair for a project entitled “Penicillin,” or really “Moldy bread found at the last minute because I forgot the science project assignment due to an obsessive need to be invited to Seth Bower’s ninth birthday party.” Everything she did was wonderful to them, even when it sometimes wasn’t. That was the kind of love that, like water, remained the same in any vessel, after any pouring, after being frozen and melted again.

But his father felt that it was a burden she bore, being with his son. He thought it sarcastically and with a smiling twinkle in his eye, but – he thought it, he must have had a reason to think it, all the same. She said she forgot that conversation for a long time afterward. When she remembered it was slowly, like ice melting from a rain-gutter. Drop by drop.

She met him during recess in sixth grade while playing freeze tag on the cracked pavement between the tire swing and the portable building where Mrs. Shiver taught reproduction. Her idea of guiding children through burgeoning adolescence was to hand them informational booklets – pink for girl, blue for boys – and make them watch the hour-long video entitled “The Miracle of Birth.” It was a miracle any of them ever dated again, she said.

She told me how, in elementary school the seriousness with which one conducted freeze tag depended on the time of year. In the fall it was a laid-back, cavalier type of game where Chinese-style un-freezing (going through someone else’s legs) was allowed and you could freeze someone by throwing four-square balls at them. In the spring you could also tackle freeze, and usually freeze tag became a boy’s only sport. But in the winter, freeze tag shone. Not only did snowsuits make sliding on the ice and falling down while running to escape your attacker way more fun, but you could think of all kinds of ways to get unfrozen – and yet, most of the time, she said, they didn’t. It’s odd, she said, how bored she would get in the spring if she had to stand in place for more than a minute, then in the winter stand for fifteen without complaining. They took the phrase “freeze!” literally, I think. It was part of the fun.

Since sixth grade she had always, I think, stood still for him – as if he tagged her years ago and never let her go. Freeze, he’d say. And she used to say, how cold? I think sometimes about this frozen version, and how I never go to meet her.

The last winter they spent together brought the last, and most cutting, fight. It was New Year’s Eve and she said she remembered these two things: one is that she cried while standing outside the bar with her sister and that her sister had touched her glacial cheek with numb fingers. Her sister said something but even though she didn’t remember, it stayed strong like a gelid ice cube in the back of her head. Cold but true. She cried and the tears left shiny trails down her cheeks even when she wiped them off in the bathroom. The second thing is that she vowed to give up smoking but he didn’t believe her; later in the chilled semi-warmth of the garage he came at her as she dropped her cigarettes on the floor, and he was yelling. She remembers this; the rest is intransient, liquid, elusive.

Then, the next morning she woke in the guest bedroom, alone, and found him on the couch in a biting mood. He said he was done and the words came through the room like a frosted fog, unfurling for years, it seemed, until they registered. Her mind woke slowly, a hibernating bear, stretching furrily but curling back to a supine state, covering its face. She waited for the rest and she said she remembered the waiting most of all – she said nothing, and even when he shouted and told her that she had lashed out the night before, that he’d only been trying to reason with her, that she had tried to hit him and had pushed him away. That she had run to the guest room and locked the door. That he had tried to get her to come out (this, even, she stood silent for, knowing with an icy certainty that he had never and would never knock on any doors for her). She didn’t remember when she finally broke, but when she did it was like the release a river in the spring feels when it realiz! es the ice is gone and nothing is keeping it from the sea. The rest, she said, is all memory.

There aren’t any freeze tag games now, and I think sometimes that she is happy. But sometimes I’m reminded how cold she must have been. She told me once that the first time she knew had been one winter when it was really cold outside, and the forecast had called for high winds and blizzard-like conditions. At the time their garage had been half-filled with leftover furniture from his parents they were trying, unsuccessfully, to sell. She laughed (at least she laughed about it) when she told me that, to be fair, he’d created a schedule for them to “take turns” parking their car in the garage. And so the entire winter was spent looking forward to one week of warmth and her old Subaru starting easily, and one week of freezing, stinging snow, nearly frostbitten fingers, and dark, moody evenings spent curled around a heating pad. The thing was, she said, she understood the point of fairness and dividing the garage equally. She just didn’t understand, she continued, wh! y it was fair for him to get angry with her when she asked him to give her a battery jump.

In my condo complex I only have a single space for garage use. I offered it to her this year, because my work parking is covered and heated. I didn’t think much about it, but when I said it, I saw her smile and realized that somewhere inside her, parts of her were still thawing out.

This is an original work posted by permission from the author. This work is not to be reproduced or replicated in any form without the express written consent of the author.


Jessica Bowman lives in Anchorage.

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