I’ve run up and down the state of California many times, and I know that Middle California is elsewhere. This is why you never find anyone really living here, and the towns you do find appear only at night or when the stars are set right, gone to the sands of the endless desert when you try to return again.
The first time I came here, I was six, strapped into the backseat as my mother drove somewhere unknown to me. I don’t remember anything about the trip before, or anything of my life before that day. All I knew was that I was scared of her.
We stopped at a gas station. My lower parts felt swollen and burned from the pee I had held in until she finally pulled over. The only other person at the station was a young adult with long hair shoved under a beanie. They were wearing a beat up, oversized sweatshirt, and they leaned against a beat up, undersized gray Honda. I couldn’t tell if they were a boy or a girl. I never did find out.
I don’t know what I did. Maybe I took too long in the bathroom or lingered between the candy stalls. But she was angry. She pointed to the young adult with the beanie and the beat up car and told me that this person was my new mother. And then she sped off, and we were left staring at her dust. The pump behind us dinged.
Their name was Macfear. The back of their car smelled like rotted sunshine. They lived in a tower apartment where the floor was dull tee shirts, and the walls were bright faces. The room smelled like wet dog. I asked Macfear if they had one, and they said sometimes. Sometimes was two nights later, and I watched quietly as the near shadow of the dog crawled out of the room, heaving its breath under the weight of its body. Sometimes would leave every two weeks after.
My days were filled with milk and honey, meat and potatoes. My memories are anchored to dinners, garlic roasted pork art sessions on Macfear’s casts, beef stew debates about favorite stories, chicken sandwich hugs when I found my pet frog dried and dead.
I thought little about my mother, lost to dust. But I thought much of Mothers. I asked Macfear about their mother, first when I was eight, and they said they had none and never did. I asked again when I was ten, and Macfear said their mother died before they were born. I did not press again until I was thirteen, and Macfear said they and their mother never lived in the same world. On my eighteenth birthday, I asked, and they answered.
“From the days my mother was young, we were destined to be separate. I understood, but she did not. She tried to break our barrier by breaking me, for she thought the barrier was my creation. But it was more than a wall, it was a shift in reality, in which she was never could be a mother, and I never could be her daughter. I was eventually rejected. Your mother saw this too, and only rejected you earlier, and it was never your fault. Our destiny is to embrace and explore the reality in which we have always existed. You have always been among us.”
And we stood as the apartment was no longer pretended, and we stood under the sky and stars of the California deserts. And we were huge, heavy under our own weight; we were Sometimes, known only to ourselves as we ran between the understood and the unknown.