The Sunshine State
Our new house really felt like a home, with cockroaches and two pit bulls and a palm tree and a chain-link fence. On that first day, I heated up a can of kidney beans for breakfast and ate it sitting on the back stoop. Renton was smoking a cigarette; he couldn’t stop smiling. The kidney beans tasted bland. The back yard had no grass, just sandy dirt and a pile of scrap wood and the dogs laying out in the sun. To me, it was perfect. Everything looked just like it was supposed to.
We got a pumpkin for Halloween. We drove 40 minutes south of town to get it, at one of those u-pick places complete with a petting zoo, caramel apples, and a 20-year-old who plays country music covers. We did the corn maze and I was very dramatic about it. “We’ll never make it!” I’d exclaim. “We’re doomed!”
There are more species of fireflies in Florida than in any other U.S. state. Renton and I would walk the dogs at night down the saw-palmetto trail, hoping to see some. I imagined it in my head: our little family together in the quiet darkness with the ephemeral glow of the fireflies surrounding us. The scene that they create is like tangible proof of the serendipity of life. In this moment, surrounded by fireflies, we know that we are right where we are supposed to be.
But this scene was all in my mind. We never saw any fireflies. Instead, I’d get mosquito bites; they formed itchy welts on my arms, and I’d scratch at them like crazy. Renton quit smoking, then started again. Dishes piled up in the sink and we argued about whose fault it was. Our car payment was late.
Eventually I tossed the pumpkin out back in the dirt. It looked fine there on the front porch until I noticed all the gnats accumulating around it. When I went to pick it up, I couldn’t believe that the whole bottom was rotted out. Its time was over.
One day Renton just started talking, “I miss everything up north, the way it used to be. I miss walking my bike up the eastside hill as it’s getting dark outside, wearing my brown wool flannel with a backpack and a knife and a constantly runny nose. I miss looking up at the sky thinking about the heater in my room and that when I got home, you’d be there making soup and we’d talk about how our days went while I did bicep curls with the weights in the living room.”
But I don’t remember any of that. I don’t remember the bicep curls or the soup. I think he’s mistaken me for someone else. Sometimes I think I’ve mistaken him for someone else, too.
The mosquito bites turned to scars. I knew they would fade away eventually.
I walk both dogs by myself now. I double-check that the doors are bolt locked before I go to sleep. I know all the dishes in the sink are mine. I keep the TV on. It’s strange, the way thoughts loop in your head when you’ve got no one to talk to.
There’s a pumpkin plant in the back yard. I keep telling myself it will grow a pumpkin, vibrant orange and even bigger than the one that rotted there to create it. It will be a sign, telling me that things happen for a reason. That this is the way it’s supposed to be.