My daughter’s in the backseat as we drive to zoo camp and since she’s old enough now I switch Pandora to my station and the Indigo Girls start belting out “Galileo” and not in another lifetime but in this one, right now, I’m in college, freshman year, sitting in Kelly’s dorm room with the blinds drawn and the lava lamp bubbling, and Kelly is pulling CDS from her four-foot high tower while she burns incense and mixes us screwdrivers. Kelly is my first college friend. Kelly is the first lesbian I’ve met who’s “out.” Kelly is the first person to tell me she was sexually abused as a child. Kelly has the same dorm fridge as everyone else but she’s the only one I know on our floor who has alcohol even though Jill, our RA, lives right across the hall. Kelly is the first time I’ve heard the Indigo Girls. Kelly is the first person to offer me a joint. I’ll decline because I’m still me, valedictorian, scholarship girl, and I might want to run for President someday. Kelly thinks this is funny. Kelly doesn’t know what she wants to do with her life. In that room with the shades drawn and the incense and the screwdriver I don’t like the taste of—I’ll learn how to drink three years later, after my sister dies—Kelly and I talk about life and school and relationships and the conversations are the same ones I’ve had in high school except this is college now, the world is exploding, I’m reading William Blake, I’m reading Kant, I’m spending Thursday nights with my astronomy class at the observatory peering through the telescope at Saturn, I’m going to LGBTQ meetings now and I think I’m an ally but Petra told Kelly she thinks I’m cute and I have a nice ass, Kelly wants to know if I’d date Petra? Except there’s this boy in Japan I’m sending long letters to and there is so much else to figure out, how to fit a day’s worth of textbooks into one backpack, how not to spend all my meal plan money before the semester is over, how to distinguish Saturn from every other blurry speck in the infinite universe, what to say to a friend who has suffered childhood sexual abuse and breaks the rules without caring, kind of like my sister. Kelly is falling in love with Jill, the two of them quietly touching hands as we spill over Jill’s couch, grinding popcorn into Jill’s carpet, shouting out our favorite lines to Singles and What About Bob? In the house we rent together Kelly and Jill share a room like a couple, like adults, another realm of which I know nothing, and I’ll start spending more time in the library, writing novels, going to parties at the band fraternity because the boy from Japan is back now and the letters have stopped. For my birthday Kelly will get us tickets to Billy Joel’s River of Dreams tour and I’ll ride with her to Milwaukee and she’ll speed on the highway but slow down through underpasses because that’s where the cops sit, and I’ll meet her father who is the male version of Kelly, same height, same build, same blue eyes, and I’ll breathe very shallow breaths from the top of my lungs because of what Kelly has told me of him. We’ll scream and sing and spill beer at the concert and I’ll buy the T-shirt and it will outlast college and our friendship and Kelly. Jill will tell me when they break up. Jill will tell me when Kelly moves to Florida and becomes a dominatrix, something else new in my orbit, BDSM. Jill will call to tell me Kelly killed herself. By then I’m out of school and nothing is a shock to me anymore, I’ve done all this already with my sister—the funerals, the crying, the potato salad—but standing at the casket, how innocent she looks, nothing like Kelly, I’ll fall on Jill’s shoulder, weeping. Because among all these strangers and family and people who knew her from childhood Jill and I are the only ones who shared the popcorn and the movies and the dark rooms, and I alone hold the lava lamp and screwdrivers with the Indigo Girls, a piece of Kelly no one else will ever have. How long till our souls get it right? the Indigo Girls want to know. I got scholarships and Blake and Kant and a consulting job and heartbreak and Kelly got sexual abuse and drug use and bondage and heartbreak. And we both got this restlessness, this itching beneath our skin, but Kelly’s pressed at her until she burst, leaving those bloated strange remains in the casket, and I get to open a vein every so often with the Indigo Girls and bleed out whatever it is, enough to let me breathe a while longer. I get to cross the parking lot to the zoo entrance holding my daughter’s hand beneath a sun that drenches us all without mercy and twenty years after Kelly I still have no answers, no vision, no insight, but Galileo did, and the Indigo Girls got glimpses of it, and maybe Kelly did, too, and that highest light was just too beautiful to bear.
Misty Urban is the author of two short story collections: A LESSON IN MANNERS, winner of the Serena McDonald Kennedy Award for Fiction (Snake Nation Press, 2016), and THE NECESSARIES, a finalist for the Indie Star Book Award (Paradisiac Publishing, 2019). Recent stories have appeared in Fiction Attic, District Lit, Sweet Tree Review, Literary Mama, and from Write Out Publishing. She also writes academic scholarship about medieval romance and monstrous women and creative nonfiction about motherhood, including an essay in MY CAESAREAN (The Experiment, 2019). Find her online at mistyurban.net and at femmeliterate.net, a website for feminism, literature, and women in/and/of books.