Adults by Joel Kopplin

I was born adult, but not to begin with—born again like some with Jesus. The death of kids’ stuff, kids’ concerns, kids’ love, all cashed and killed against a cobblestone street trailing back some seven years to the moment. My death, her death. Clairvoyance kept in the night sky, beach barely visible, soft light and the sounds of the water, the waves. That moment she asked for a cigarette from the pack she bought me because I was not of age—actually no, she didn’t ask. I asked, she said yes but without saying anything. Cigarettes seven years later but menthols maybe. My death, her death. A small moment so compacted I couldn’t see. But some seven years on I see all things, including her, whom I watch from the passenger seat of her car, window wide open while I smoked menthols that I did not offer because she did not smoke. August heat cramming us in in spite of the wide-open windows, the radio on so low I couldn’t hear it. She looked straight ahead and I didn’t ask because she said no without saying, so I knew. I knew then what I know now, born again as adult and beyond the breach of what was back there on the beach barely visible save the soft light and the sounds of the water, the waves. That moment she did not ask for a cigarette from the pack she bought me because I was not of age—no, no she didn’t ask. I asked, she said yes but without saying anything. A small moment so compacted I couldn’t see. She reached and I reached, and somewhere beyond the reeds and the docks and the waves I saw my death, her death and our rebirth as other things: a job writing copy for friends who fix computers; an apartment with a yard that is all yard in all directions; a degree from the Courtauld; a dual citizenship and licensure for employment teaching grammar and sentences and syntax; a series of transatlantic flights spread out over several years; a husband and a daughter; a foreclosure on a house underwater; aging parents moving south and selling a house that used to mean something and now doesn’t mean much; another daughter, later a son; a brother divorced after fifteen years of marriage, moving to the east coast, becoming cosmopolitan; friends that die after fifty; alcoholism in several shades and shapes—all collapsed into a small moment too compacted to be seen and so felt instead, I felt it, and it resonated as a feeling I mistook. My death, her death. Coming out over on the other end, the other side of the stalled traffic, August heat cramming us into her car in spite of the wide-open windows, pulling off onto Larpenteur Avenue, cars cascading from the fairgrounds, sun in bright white blasts shining from windshields, and she saying nothing just staring straight ahead and I knew. I knew as soon as she stopped the car. I knew like I knew when we sat along the beach just barely visible and I offered cigarettes she didn’t ask for because she didn’t smoke but she said yes without saying anything at all. Somewhere on the other side of the reeds and the docks and the waves I felt the mistaken feeling and I knew. I knew it then and then I knew it seven years later when I watched her from the passenger seat of her car, window wide open while I smoked menthols that I did not offer because she did not smoke. She looked straight ahead and I didn’t ask because she said no without saying, so I knew. I knew then what I know now, born again as adult and beyond the back-there breached and abandoned on a beach barely visible but for the soft light of the night sky, the sounds of the water, the waves. I knew she meant no because she looked straight ahead and I didn’t ask because she said no without saying and I knew. And as the last light of a child flames out in the August heat, I said I want to go. I said I want to be somewhere else. I said I want to be someplace I’ve only ever imagined because you’ll be there, and there you’ll be just like you were when I saw you say yes without saying.

 

Joel Kopplin‘s stuff has appeared in places like Red Lightbulbs, HOUSEFIRE, Metazen, and The Quotable. He is from Minnesota.



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