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We Like America and America Likes Us | 2010


We like America. And America likes us. But somehow, something keeps us from getting it together. We come to America. We leave America. We sing songs and celebrate the happenstance of our first meeting – a memory reprised often enough that now we celebrate the occasions of our remembrance more often than their first cause.

No one really remembers how a thing begins. It becomes a ghost, a palpable feeling of removal – real only insomuch as it explains what we’re doing here now, eating dinner together and talking about the last time. The ghost doesn’t touch her food. And we confirm she was there simply because we still have to clean up after her.

We leave America. We say goodbye and kiss on the cheek and make promises to keep in better touch, knowing it will be the same until next time. We leave America like a grandparent’s house. We’ll return to our lives, the things we’ve become without America. We’ll say she made us who we are today, mostly to justify our present lack of involvement.

Once we hated America. She was always on our case. She was always telling us what to do and what to think – mostly through passive aggression. Sometimes just outright saying what was on her mind. We hated America. We wished she was dead. We wished we’d never been born.

And America probably hated us too, in her way. She must have. She’d lie about it now, saying it was tough love, that she only wanted what was best for us. But it’s easy to whitewash the past like that. There had to have been moments.

Like the time she told us to get out. She told us to leave and never come back. Just leave. Sure, it was momentary rage. And she cried later and apologized profusely and told us she didn’t mean it, that it was a lapse of judgment, that she was upset about so many other things at the time, she wasn’t thinking straight, and we’d provoked her, and she couldn’t bare the thought of being alone. She loved us, she said. She wanted to work it out, to find a way for us to be better to each other. All that mattered was that we loved each other, but sometimes it was hard and she would forget how much we meant to her, she said.

It could be beautiful with America. We couldn’t deny it. For all the anxiety, for all her constant self-consciousness, for every way she put herself down, and put us down, nothing ever felt as strong. At least it seems that way. We couldn’t deny it. There was something there that kept us coming back.

Maybe it was just comfort, just a steady hand. Maybe just something to return to. It took long enough for us to realize how dependent we were on her, how much she did for us, unprompted. We abused her, no doubt. We never showed her how much her support meant to us.

But now it doesn’t seem like she did it for us. America did it for herself, really. She took responsibility for everything, she thought she was showing us love, but really she was just proving to herself that she mattered, that we couldn’t do it alone.

It’s water under the bridge now. We’re over America. And America is over us. We’ve both moved on, taken our lives in different directions, started trying to solve our own problems. If anything positive came of the experience, it’s that we at least have a better idea of what we’re looking for.

America closed down, became resistant, spiteful even. America wouldn’t give us a chance to make things right. God knows why we wanted to. We just wanted everything to go back to normal. God knows why we wanted to. Normal clearly wasn’t working for either of us. We didn’t recognize America anymore, and it became clear that maybe, as much as it hurt to admit, we had misrecognized her from the beginning.

It’s painful to feel like you’ve been wasting your time, feeling something that isn’t really there. Keeping it going for the sake of appearances, for the sake of not feeling like you were wrong, for the sake of just not being alone. America started passing out on the couch in front of the television every night. We didn’t say anything.

Everything was fine. America still went to work and still took care of the bills and the kids and still told us she loved us. And every night, again on the couch. We’d go downstairs and try to wake her up, but she wouldn’t budge.

And some nights he’d stay up all night, behind a closed door. God knows what America was up to. He’d say he just needed some time alone, time to decompress. And he’d be up all night.

America never really knew how to express himself. He was good at gifts, but the words were never there, and he always seemed distant. He was stable, which is why we liked him – after that last one anyway. He was stable and that was good for the kids and good for us. America was what we needed, but not enough.

We thought he was perfect for us. He was a promise without too much promising. Capable and caring when he needed to be. He kept his distance when we needed him to. He kept his distance when we would have liked more. We got used to it.

America didn’t talk much, but when we tried to open up to him, he would try to listen. He never knew what to say. It got old. We couldn’t see the point anymore. That was the problem. We grew to not need him anymore. After a while, he was just there. He was just evidence.

The evidence showed in the parts of us we couldn’t explain. How could we be so brazen, so brash, so calculatingly cruel if there hadn’t been some America in the past that instilled a penchant for defiance?

We imagined America as a superior intellect, a wry ironist, a powerful and convincing lover – just beyond what we could handle. America must have been amazing. And we must have simply not been impressive enough to keep him around. America must have been amazing.

And then we met him. We met America, purely by accident, standing in line for coffee. Not what we expected to say the least. America was so normal, so unimpressive – just another series of decisions toward mediocrity. He had a family, but they weren’t terribly happy. He had a job, but not a terribly great one. And he didn’t get our jokes.

America’s voice wasn’t calm or still or magnanimous or anything. It was just a voice, a bit deeper than we’d expected. Not at all what we’d remembered. Though his voice must have been higher back then. America’s parents shouting from the bedroom window for us to put our clothes back on. Whatever it was we were learning about our bodies, they made it clear we shouldn’t be. At least not where the neighbors might see.

America was our best friend, whoever it was we were back then. We spent all the time we could with America, go-carting around the backyard, or role-playing our futures in his bedroom. America had a bed shaped like a car and we’d drive it to the moon if we had to. We were married to America and we had matching fighter jets and mansions and supermodel wives. It sounds like simpler times, but it wasn’t.

Other kids made fun of America. America was overweight and couldn’t run fast and had a last name too easy to rhyme. So we learned how to quip, to comeback, to diffuse the situation without directly sticking up for America. And when America would try to talk to us while others were around we learned how to speak while saying nothing, how to use our body language to convey our independence from the conversation.

We grew apart from America. Bound to happen. We’d watched her grow up, but we had to go our own way, try to make a life for ourselves. America was left to her own devices, left to figure out what to be and how to act and how to learn for herself. We couldn’t help her anymore. And when she didn’t do well in school and when other kids gave her trouble, we couldn’t play big brother anymore. America revered us, believed we’d always be there to protect her. But sooner or later…

It was hard for us to watch. She’d always been so happy, so full of confidence, so ready for anything. But America was under a spell. Not knowing what love meant, America let it mean bruises up and down her back. She let it mean a bloody nose and a black eye and never having to say no. The time we had to take her to the emergency room with a cracked rib, we watched her lie to the doctor. America had fallen down some stairs. America was just clumsy. She laughed nervously. We watched her whither. She wouldn’t listen to us. You don’t understand, she’d say. He loves me, she’d say.

We wished we could have fallen in love with America. She was beautiful, angelic even, but it never made sense. Even rolling around on the wall-to-wall of her parents’ living room with her hair in our teeth, even when our nails trenched the sweat down his back, and meeting his parents, America stayed simple somehow. He stayed an acquaintance, despite everything we shared. Just a friend. We could share anything and it would never go further than that.

No one really knows how love begins. A look on his face one time after we’d made love – a text message too soon after the last one. When did we become a thing to hold on to rather than just something to hold? We didn’t know America was in love with us until it was too late. Maybe we couldn’t have done anything about it anyway. America fell in love with the idea of us, with some fantasy of us, some fantasy of what America and us together would be, before we had a chance to tell him it could never work, we weren’t ready for a relationship, we weren’t comfortable being needed, we didn’t have the resources to be America’s dream.

It wasn’t easy letting America down. As we stuttered through our rehearsed speech we watched the change on her face. We could see the zoom lens of her attention clock away.  We could feel ourselves receding back into the blur of the general population.

Nothing is worse than watching someone you love die. The tangle of tubes carrying necessary fluids in and out of America was worse than the most malfeasant interstate highway scheme. He just laid there as the white coats whirred around the room, his bones decalcifying beneath his translucent skin, his hand unable to grip ours. It didn’t feel like skin. It felt like technology. And as best we could we tried to superimpose an image of America – happy, full of life – over his now failing body.

There would never be another America. Everything America did was everything we wanted to do some day. He had had all the best ideas, all the best stories. America had streaked the campus lawn of life leaving us to cheer by the wayside.  When we were asked what we wanted to be, we didn’t want to be anything. We wanted to be America. 

It’s easy to remember that feeling now. America’s breath on our necks. His hands in our hair. Our torsos entwined – the pressure of sex and vengeance curled together in uneasy alliance. America would have us with abandon just this once and never again. We hated America. We wanted him to know it in our sex. We wanted to please him into oblivion. We fucked America to make America disappear.

America was beautiful. And she was nervous. And she looked at us like a feral cat. Eyes somewhere between stunned and pissed off. When we spoke to America for the first time, her voice defied our expectation. She was confident and charming and easy to laugh with and she made us feel small. But her eyes let on something else. America had a history, but we never found out what it was. We never had the chance. Summer was over and America was gone.

We’d hear from her over the years, usually after a break up. We always discovered America post mortem. She told us about the boy who’d tried to propose to her at the top of a Ferris Wheel and how she’d thought of us for a split second, but it wasn’t why she turned him down. She told us about waiting for the thing to stop stalling and roll them back to Earth. She told us about moving to another state to follow a boy who apparently had been keeping someone else on the side. And how she’d gone along with it for a time because she had nowhere else to live and couldn’t deal with the idea of calling her parents.

But usually we just wouldn’t hear from America. Whatever she was doing, we were just a memory to her and her to us. There was a time we thought we were nothing without America. When she left, we realized all the excuses we’d been making. All the problems we’d been trying not to address. We drunk dialed our memory of America just to hear what we were thinking. We worked late and we told ourselves we had to, that the work came first, that this was an important time in our lives and that love could wait. Just wait a little longer and we’d fix everything, we’d say. Solving the America problem, our lack of attention, our disinterest in sex, our never being home, our thinking of her as a problem – it would have to wait.