I’d promised Amy something beautiful. Down here, beautiful things would always come along eventually. Then they’d be even more beautiful after the long time you had to live without them. But there was never any knowing just how long it would take between remarkable things, or if those things would be able to make up for whatever it was you had to wait through in the meantime. Where I was taking my not-quite-wife, beautiful things would arrive suddenly, and their disappearing would be just as abrupt. In the middle of a life I must now admit I knew she wouldn’t want, something rare and precious would reveal itself. We’d just have to wait for it.
By the first spring after I’d moved her here, eight months after I’d brought her to the place of my raising—a place rural and remote even for Alabama—it had been so long and our days had been so exasperating that we’d both forgotten that we were waiting for something good to happen. On my morning drive to work, I saw the overnight explosion of rich lavender blossoms I’d missed for three years in Ohio. I was already in my office at Judson College when Amy called, awestruck on her way from our house in Greensboro to her office in Tuscaloosa at The University, struggling to drive, talk, and at the same time drink fast enough what she was seeing and smelling, this breaking drought, when a vastness that felt so empty and hostile the day before seemed so full and inviting all of a sudden.
Until I was eighteen, I’d lived in the Black Belt—that rich-soil strip across the center of Alabama that that was once home to the best agriculture and the most slaves, but was now home to a handful of the poorest counties in the nation. You wouldn’t think much was worth much here, until some magic like this materialized out of the nothingness. I remembered the feeling of these kinds of surprises, these punctuations to the broad, stark solitude, like a single exclamation point struck at random somewhere on a sheet of unlined paper. Only in these years of my coming back, everything I’d grown up around returned to me through Amy’s eyes—those of a foreigner, an immigrant, an invader who didn’t have the decency to repent in shame from the upstate New York that made her. She had to endure many trademark Southern inhospitalities—both the slippery subtle kind (“Oh, honey, I can see how your hair could be so pretty!)” and those that were anything but (“White pussy!”)—and it quickly started to sour me on home more than home already had soured itself to me. I’d loved this territory, but I’d hated on it a lot too. Now I was trying to love it as an insider and as an outsider at the same time, even though the whole place seems set up to keep you from doing that.
“What are all these purple flowers?” she said, crackling in and out of cell service along Highway 69. “They’re everywhere! And how do people keep from running off the road for staring at them?”
“I know!” I said, knowing then, as I do now, there’d be no words good enough to get it right.
I’ve thought the annual wisteria bloom was something we should have held festivals for, but this was an event that would never cooperate with a crowd. Wild wisteria is only truly impressive when it strings itself in chandeliered draperies across acres of hundred-foot water oaks and sweetgums and loblolly pines—terrible places for people to gather and gawk and eat funnel cakes. The color and the aroma are always strongest on clear, cool, wet-garden mornings after a nightlong soaking rain. The eruption only lasts about two weeks, and you never can tell exactly which two weeks it’s going to be. You just wake up one morning and the world is different. In your first outdoor breath, you understand, at last, what purple smells like.
One well-tended vine blooming along a trellis can deceive you into thinking you understand what wisteria is capable of. It attains something else with its fleeting magnitude. It changes the entire landscape, like if a mountain sprouted up one morning on you otherwise flat horizon. Appealingly gothic among the ghostly woods, artful and mysterious as very old wrought-iron filigree, it vanishes as quickly as it came, fading like a myth from some dead culture. It’s everywhere at once, then just as suddenly, it’s nowhere at all, its pinnate fronds again indistinguishable among the countless other woody vines that curtain the roadside woods. It can feel impossible to reconcile the aggressiveness of its being there from how thoroughly it isn’t there when it isn’t there.
But people don’t talk much about it. They seem content to keep their ecstasy private, if they have any at all. John Allan Clark—call him John Allan, not John—was regularly more enraptured with things than I was, even when I did feel some rapture. My best friend since first grade, he and I would drive down every dirt road in the county looking for what the place was all about, and during those short blossomings, finding where the best, most dense patches of Wisteria were hiding out in the overgrowth of those hills. Few others were so excited about it.
“It’s pretty,” you’ll hear, as I did from my father, but that’s about as far as the appreciation went. “But once it takes hold somewhere, you won’t never get rid of it.”
Daddy’s appreciation of the vine was outweighed by the burden it caused—one more aggressive piece of encroaching wilderness he had to constantly beat back to the edge of the property line. It always seemed a shame to me that such a thing bloomed and died, year after year, but went uncelebrated. Easy for me to say, I suppose. I never had to fight it for control of my land.
The next Saturday after the bloom was perfectly wet and overcast. Amy and I drove around the looking for the largest purple clusters we could find, some still where they’d been years before. It was early April and the air was already getting uncomfortably hot and humid by mid-morning. Even Amy rode with her window down for once, her dark, goddess curls pulled back into a low ponytail to keep them from snarling. She said she’d come for the ride only if I promised not to stop anywhere until we got back home, and that nobody would see her.
We both carried the dull hangovers from drinking bourbon at home the night before when we’d stayed up very late again trying to make sense of our workweeks, of this place, of her place, of fleeting moments that made you happy, of those that were supposed to but never really did. For all the talking we’d done the previous evening, we mostly kept quiet as we wound along the narrow gravelly ribbons of the county roads I hadn’t driven on since high school. Mostly, we’d just point and say, “look over there.”
Amy curled up and laid her head against the pillar of the car door. I petted her shoulder and slid my hand down to squeeze hers. She squeezed back. The thick air and its heavy, complicated perfume held on to our bodies like tailored clothing. Its drowsy weight felt nice on top of the mild sickness, and both things helped dull the jagged edges of what it felt like to live here.
I’m sure wisteria doesn’t mean any of this to anybody else. But I’m really not interested in whatever anybody else says it means. I do detect some faint echoes of Southern courtliness, with which, for many a glossy Southern lifestyle magazine, the flower has become associated, but that ain’t how it lives with me. Yes, there were lots of antebellum houses around here—this being former plantation country—and many of us did like to affect, with varying degrees of irony after we’d had ourselves a little bourbon, the soft, stylish accent of the extinct high Southern society most of our families never had the money or status to participate in, but all that was just old wallpaper, old furniture reappropriated like a steampunk hipster’s found art. It didn’t have much to do with how people lived or why they lived that way.
We rented a one-story ranch house built in the 1970s with nothing in mind but low cost and the low-profile ability to ride out an Alabama tornado. Set back a couple hundred yards from the road, sheltered by thick patches of woods, its front yard studded with tall thistles and knee-high fire ant beds, it was only distinguishable from the neighboring cow pasture by four strands of barbed wire and a perimeter of unruly azaleas. If you squinted really hard, you could see the only other visible house at the other end of the pasture. Nobody else was around to see you or hear you or make you feel like your presence on the earth would make any difference at all.
Amy is social. She likes to smile and say hello to people walking down the street. She likes there to be people walking down the sidewalk. She likes there to be places to walk to. She likes there to be sidewalks to walk down. Even though I’m the far more adaptable of the two of us, I’d grown to prefer all those things, too. But that’s just not how country folks lived. Everything was too far apart to build sidewalks everywhere but in the middle of town. We’d have to drive from our house just to get to where sidewalks started, to say nothing of driving to haircuts or doctors appointments or restaurants that didn’t have gas pumps out front. And it was always either too hot or too cold to walk down a sidewalk once you drove to it. Every so often, you’d get maybe fifteen minutes when the weather was just right, but you’d have to catch the world when it was on its way from being too much of one thing to being too much of something else.
Amy took out her phone and looked at a picture she’d taken of herself. In it, she wore one of her pretty-but-not-too-sexy teaching dresses and stood in front her favorite towering wisteria display—a huge patch on County Road 4 right near our house. The largest one either of us had ever seen, this was the first she saw of wisteria. She’d stopped the car and gotten out. Ordinarily, she’s fitfully terrified of bees and wasps, but then she felt alive and exhilarated at the mounting of swirling and buzzing that vibrated the whole woodline, the whole metropolis of insects all more drunk on the flowery air than she was. This was the same spot she had to drive past on her way to and from work.
The previous semester, she had a terrible schedule in which she didn’t get home until after nine at night, and had to leave again by six the next morning to make it to class on time. On both ends of the day, it was almost always dark when she’d driven down County Road 4, which short, but paved with tar and chert gravel, full of sharp curves, had no lines painted on it at all, and in the warmer months was threatened to be swallowed whole by the tall grass and reaching wilderness that beat against your side-view mirrors if you got too close to the edge. One night during those first few weeks, she approached two cars stopped on the road with their headlights on. As she slowly eased her car around them, someone shone a flashlight so they could see her face. The same thing happened the next time, and the next. Soon, they learned her schedule and recognized her car as local, so they dropped their suspicion of her. They even started waving as she crept by. She’d nervously wave back. These weren’t police or people just hanging out to talk in the middle of a deserted road (which people did sometimes. Idiots. Goddmanmit. Gonna get somebody killed.). Very likely they were moving drugs. Most likely something hard. Knowing what was popular around here, I’d guess meth. Maybe cocaine. But these guys seemed friendly enough. They might have even been protective had she gotten to know them. Or they could have been the opposite. This was as certain of the situation as either of us wanted her to get.
Amy’s favorite flower spot was that same spot, and so now, for her, and therefore also for me, wisteria had gotten all tangled up with those meanings too, even the meanings that were just mysteries. Amy sighed and uncurled in her seat a little to talk about it one more time. Each time she said the same words, she got a little more comfortable with them, slowly emptying them of fear and anxiety, filling them instead with something like acceptance. “Remember when,” she said.
I’d also promised Amy two years. Just two years. We’d just finished grad school together at Ohio State, and come out with identical degrees. It was 2008, and all the jobs had gone away. Amy still says we could have gotten by in Columbus, and she’s probably right. But I couldn’t see past the two full-time, college-level teaching jobs we found in Alabama, which were separated by what my upbringing (but not hers) had taught me (but not her) to call “driving distance.” People tend to have long trips to work down here. We spend a lot of time driving alone. And living alone. I hauled Amy down to Greensboro to live alone with me.
Before she’d even visited, Amy looked at my photos and read my newspaper stories and asked a lot of questions and listened to my talking. “It must be beautiful where you are,” she said once, meaning where I was from. I had trouble trusting her sincerity, but it proved real and unwavering. She genuinely and intensely wanted to know everything that I was and everything that was behind me. In my Ohio apartment—which soon became ours—she kept this quiet boy talking with thoughtfully leading questions and the rapt attention of a deliberate empathy I’d never before experienced.
“Do you think I’d do well where you’re from?” she said, smiling and flirtatious.
“No,” I said, laughing a little because the truth felt like the wrong thing to say, so wrong it was funny. “Not even a little.” She gave a playful huff and slapped me on the arm. Three years later, when it came time to move there and see for ourselves, I’d even convinced myself of what I’d started telling her. “It’s not that bad. You’ll do fine. ”
She was from central New York, which I’ve learned has its own enrapturing beauties, inviting and infectious. Glacial lakes, big, dramatic hills, plant life so tender that during three out of four seasons it tempts you to go roll around in it, which is the opposite of what anybody with any sense does back home.
“No wonder this place breeds so many hippies,” I said, eyeing the delicate roadside greenery on our first trip out to meet her folks. She laughed. She thought grass was just grass everywhere. In the long darkness of its winters, viny plants and sawtoothed grasses have a much harder time turning feral than in the endless Alabama sunshine. But there were other plants here. Many others. Some kind of flower was opening all the time, even in January. I talked about wisteria like it was a miraculous spectacle the Catholics just hadn’t gotten wind of yet.
There is a native species of American wisteria, but that’s not the one I’m talking about. It’s more regulated by the environment that has adapted to it over a very long time. Like so many other plants, Chinese wisteria was brought to Alabama from Southeast Asia for domestic gardens, but it quickly got loose and started weaving itself into the lonely woodlands. As a relatively new immigrant, Chinese wisteria confounds all the local systems that spent so much time adapting themselves to cope with different things.
One thing we don’t say when we talk about Southern culture and its symbols is how young it really is, how you should really think of it all as recently imported, relatively speaking. We don’t say how Southern culture—in fact all culture—is an appropriation of whatever broken pieces of older things we had lying around. We talk about Southern traditions like they go back to the beginning of time. This place pretends time began some time shortly after 1838, when there was virtually nothing left to remind us of the Choctaws.
Amy grew up in what she called a small town. But that town had neighborhoods and restaurants and basic services that worked all the time. There were stores and places to eat that kept regular hours. The earliest lessons her father—a lifelong bartender and bar owner—had taught her about being an adult centered around proper comportment in bars and restaurants. She got early praise for knowing how to order, how to respect and identify with the staff, how to tip.
Here, you ran a good chance of just about any place being closed at prime times on random days, no matter what the sign on the door said. If we wanted to go out, we’d have to make the hour drive to Tuscaloosa or the ninety-minute drive to Birmingham, and then another one to get back home. When we’d get back to the house at the end of long teaching days, it would feel like such an ordeal to go anywhere or do anything that we’d usually just stay home. I’d stop at the Piggly Wiggly on the way home. I’d cook collards and rutabagas and locally farmed catfish because those were the best and just about the only things the Pig had to offer. We’d eat it. Then we’d wait until it was time to get up and drive to work again.
Just about everybody was quick to tell the New Yorker how best to behave. Most of the advice was incompatible, but the consistent themes were that she’d have to give up however things were done elsewhere. I think an honest state motto would be a combination of “Get off my land” and “Hang up whatever you been; put down whatever you brung with you; you in Alabama now.”
These were aggressive acts all their own, but they paled next to the things these unsolicited advisors wanted to warn her about. This was a place that punished invasion. This was a place that wanted you to know that you weren’t safe, that nobody was safe. There were those who simply turned away from Amy in a hoity, obsolete, Southern aristocratic huff when she told them where she’d grown up. Others told her not to go walking on the road, not to go pretty much anywhere alone, that folks disappeared sometimes, that girls especially disappeared sometimes, that you’d get raped around here for saying this or saying that or voting for Obama, that I’m not gonna hurt you; don’t worry; where you headed walking on the road all by yourself; don’t worry; you’re scared aren’t you; no, I’m not gonna hurt you.
“You’ve just got to go with it,” my friend Scott told her. Scott and his almost-wife both even said “nigger” to Amy all the time just to challenge her, just to see what she’d do. “Things here ain’t like they are where you’re from. And if you fight it, if you try to live like the world is how you want it to be instead of how it is, you’ll be running straight back to New York with your tail between your legs.”
I started to realize just how much of an emphasis my hometown people placed on cutting it, handling it, making it, getting by, surviving here. It seemed like a great many folks thought that if you weren’t suffering, you weren’t earning your right to live. I know imports from the North and Midwest who’ve lived here longer than I’d been alive, and still they were regarded as outsiders. My mother moved from the adjacent county when I was a baby, and still Marion doesn’t feel like home; its people don’t feel like hers. Plenty of people do extend help and love and charity around here, sure, but little of it comes without a dose of punishment. We make it harder on folks who come in from outside, then when they leave in frustration at our incomprehensibly casual cruelties, we point to their fleeing backs and say, “See. Look how weak they were. Not like us. We’re still here. We ain’t weak like that. We’re from Alabama. We can handle it.”
Amy would miss the flowers when we left. So would I, but neither of us has had a single thought of moving back among them. Years later, she still says, “If I could take wisteria with me, I would take wisteria with me.”
Chinese wisteria is much more fragrant, and far more ruthless in its growth than its tame native cousins. Unlike the profitable domestic crops of catfish and crawfish—for which we do hold annual festivals around the state—such wild things don’t accommodate commodification. It defies control, and refuses to be changed exactly because somebody asks it to change. This is what the Alabama-raised poet Andrew Hudgins calls “cussedness,” and it’s the most supreme of all rural Southern values. Wisteria doesn’t like to be coddled, babied, nurtured. It doesn’t want your easy life. It thrives on neglect. It would rather take care of itself.
And, of course, it ain’t from around here, either.
I’d try to bring some with us. When we’d leave Alabama for New York, I’d dig up a gnarled, old, wise-looking, wrist-thick rooted cutting while it was at the height of its bloom. In its plastic pot, it would put out a respectable few leaves and runners every year—far less aggressively in the scant Northeastern sunshine—but it would refuse to bloom again. I’ve read it can take fifteen years to return to flower once it’s transplanted. It has patience. Cussedness. I can’t even begin to guess what it thinks it’s waiting for.
Wild wisteria also shows how Alabama is far from unified. There is no universal Alabama identity or experience. It’s a Confederacy. When Amy was taught Civil War history in school, she was taught that there were a group of people on one side and a group of people on the other. She was also taught to feel proud of herself for being on the moral, abolitionist side in that war, despite the handicap of being born a hundred and seventeen years after it ended. I was also taught about two sides, but I picked up on a deeper truth about the Southern states, even though my teachers, in a different way from Amy’s kept saying “we.” It wasn’t that the Confederate states all wanted to belong to each other; they wanted to be left alone by everybody, including each other. One of the reasons the Confederacy failed was the top-level realization that they couldn’t hold together without something strong at the center of government contrasted with the general population who thought that being left the hell alone was the whole reason they were fighting off the Yankee invaders to begin with. The states had been telling the Yankees to leave them alone. As the war went on, they were saying the same thing to the Confederate government. Get off my land. Winston County, Alabama even seceded from the rest of it, becoming for a brief time, its own independent nation.
Y’all who don’t know can find an astonishing degree of individuality here, even over things that you’d think would be unifying. The only unifying thing I can find in my home is an intense desire to be left the hell alone by everyone. There’s a charming, inventive side to that cussedness, but it also means that for any given symbol, we’ve all got our own private meanings. And it means that we can too easily pretend we can write whatever meanings we want into symbols whose history really won’t allow for that. The Confederate battle flag, for example, is forever inseparable from slavery and the following generations of public and private terrorism against black people in the south. But that’s not what they told us in school.
When Amy tried to bond with her own freshman college students over the enthralling thing that was happening in this strange and special place, she’d expected them to be as enraptured as she was. They didn’t know what she was talking about. Either they’d lived their lives in the cities and the suburbs—where the wild things had mostly been paved over—or they’d lived in the country and somehow never noticed the momentary magic. And none of them wanted to hear from some outsider what was so special about their lands, which were to be defended from intruders across all history. (Well, all history after about 1838. Nobody likes to talk about who the intruders were before that.) Amy’s students expected her to learn from them, to adapt to them, to love and revere this place in only the ways they’d been raised to love it and revere it and defend it. Amy came home that night with one more way of feeling sad and separate from everybody around her. She’d been called Yankee in truth and in jest on pretty much a daily basis, along with the genuinely respectful “yes ma’ams” students gave all their elders, but here was a new and unexpected way she was given the message. Get off my land.
“I don’t care,” she said that night. “I’m still going to enjoy it. They don’t know what they’re missing.”
“You don’t get much here,” I said. “You’d think everybody would walk around happy for the few days you actually do get something.”
“You’d think,” she said. “But no. When the first sunny days happen in Ithaca in the Spring, everybody’s walking around smiling and strangers are being extra nice to each other on the street because they know they’re both having a good day for the same reason. They just came through something really hard and now suddenly it’s better and everybody wants to be happy about that. Here everybody’s still miserable no matter what’s happening around them.”
“That’s true,” I said. “When you hear somebody described as having an easy life, it’s always an insult.”
“I’m sure it is,” she said. “And I’m sorry, I love the wisteria and I think it’s beautiful, but it’s not enough to make up for the rest of it. It’s not worth the wait.”
I realized that life here would always be full of waiting. John Allan, who was running his own little newspaper at the time, compares living here to birdwatching. “You wait for a long time to catch just a tiny glimpse of something miraculous. So many things happen here that just can’t happen anywhere else.”
He means wisteria is one of those things, but only one. He finds little meaningful jewels everywhere. He was endeared by Dorothy’s Country Kitchen when they told him he’d have to wait on his pork chop, and so they handed him a half-empty plate of greens and black eyed peas. When his chop finished frying, the cook stabbed it out of the pan with a fork and carried it out to him like that, plopped it on his plate still sputtering with Crisco, leaving a dripped trail of it behind him on the floor leading out from the kitchen. “Where else are you going to see that?” he said like it was a reason to stay alive.
Somehow, for him, this place and its eccentricities are enough, even when he sends me a text message to tell me how much he hates it, how conflicted he is about it, how constantly it gets in the way of his living how he wants to live. He and I have spent many a late drunken night talking about all of this, about how alluring and abusive our home place can be. But he loves it more than he hates it. He loves it better than I can. He can also drink a lot more than I can.
“Write about it,” he slurred one night we drank deep and talked deep. “But don’t just make it into a paper tiger. That’s too easy to do and too many people do it that way and it’s worth a whole lot more than that. It has to be.”
He finds more fleeting beauty because he never seems to wait for this place to present him with anything in particular. I need too much control to just wait that openly. That also means that he finds ways of loving people here much more deeply than I can, of loving them for what’s underneath the cussedness they use to get along in the world. Maybe I’ve just got too much cussedness for that.
Whether during a visit or a phone call, Mama usually says the same thing about how my parents’ life is going and what’s happening in it. “Not much,” she says during pretty much every time somebody isn’t in the hospital. “Go to work and come home. Go to work and come home.”
I was an only child. Few left alive on Daddy’s side of the family lived here anymore. Mama still had brothers, nieces, nephews, and cousins about forty miles north up in Bibb County. Ever since she married Daddy, she’s been waiting for a chance to move back, waiting on the year he can give up the auto body shop and she can give up the state liquor store, waiting on grandchildren, waiting on the time they can retire so they can get their lives started.
It was mostly the isolation that got to Amy, the daily emptiness of casual intimacies and the lonesick life all those days of purgatory would add up to. An overflowing week or two here and there really weren’t enough. Around this time, I included one of my favorite quotes from Annie Dillard in a weekly column I’d been writing for John Allan’s newspaper, The Perry County Herald:
“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”
I’m always tempted to add words to it, though. When I try to repeat it, I usually get it wrong by projecting myself onto it, tacking on an opening clause for my own subconscious reasons, my own fears of stagnancy and wasted life that had hit me so hard as a teenager. Here’s what I turn it into “We must be careful how we spend our days, because that is, of course, how we spend our lives.”
I’d promised Amy two years and no more, and I meant that. I rediscovered the small, charming things of the place, and the deep wonderfulness of a few close people within the larger crowd of embittered indifference, but it wasn’t enough for me either. Alone in our rented brick house at the edge of the cow pasture, I could get fascinated by snakes and plants and mushrooms and the weather; John Allan could come over once in a while, stay over once in a while (Amy loved him too); we could have my parents over for a stiff and silent dinner (which is how we’d always eaten every meal throughout my growing up), but what else was there to do? Who else could we become but two more in the loose confederation of hermits scattered across these unending woods and pastures? So happy to see the wisteria blooming again, we’d say. “It’s amazing!” John Allan would say, and we’d talk about where it was showing the strongest. “It’s pretty,” Mama or Daddy would say, and we’d go back to the sounds of chewing and forks dragging across or plates. Then the wisteria or some other sudden wonder would go away again, and we’d go back to forgetting that we had anything to wait for.
I suppose the thing you wait for can’t mean very much without everything you go through while you’re waiting. No one story can capture it. For Amy and for me, wisteria accumulated little fragments of all the exhausting days and nights we’d been living through, and all the thousand miniscule things that made each one them a slightly different kind of exhausting. There were many beautiful things that came along, too, that turned into similar symbols—an interesting animal would visit the house we were renting—a barred owl, a golden eagle, a fox squirrel, a rattlesnake—or we’d happen into rare perfect night with friends—but somehow they only kept reminding us of the hard, dull, desolate time and space between them. But we both wanted our days to matter more than that. We wanted each one to be full of its own things. We didn’t want a few days a year filled with the burden of making up for all the emptiness that stretched out on either side of them.
After eight months of living there, after eight months of azaleas and gardenias and magnolias and crepe myrtles and camellias and month after month—even in the winter—of blossoms unfolding on all kinds of tame and wild things, when the wild wisteria finally erupted, when we woke to se that, as sudden as fireworks, its miles of vines had erupted grape-cluster flowers throughout the untended roadside wilderness, when the magnitude if its fragrance changed the air and how we breathed it, when the succulent air and distracting beauties made it difficult to drive, before she’d begin to live her own answers to her own question, Amy said, “how can so many people who live in a place so beautiful be so sad?”
Since then, after two years, we’ve moved back to New York and now to Wisconsin—going where the jobs are, helping Amy’s father after his first heart attack, later helping him die—and I’m still wondering about that. Amy says she’s glad for those two years, but that she’d never want to go through them again. Neither do I. Home isn’t enough for me, so I’m still elsewhere, building new ones in places that can weather hard things but don’t go out of their way to suffer. I wonder why I felt the need to put us through that in the first place.
Maybe I thought she needed to see the place that first made me. Maybe I thought it would help her understand how I worked, and that insight would help our marriage. Maybe I wanted to prove that her life had been too easy, even as I was hoping to avoid a hard life myself. Maybe I’d carried with me a lot more of my homeland’s pride-in-its-own-suffering than I thought or wanted. I don’t think that I wanted her to suffer by moving her to my hometowns, but I did want her to see lots of other people who lived their whole lives in ways foreign to her, suffering in ways that nobody in their right mind would take on voluntarily. And so I made her sign up for exactly that. We needed jobs, sure. That’s what I said was the priority. And it would be… educational. And illuminatingly hostile. And beautiful. Sometimes. Eventually. You’ll see. You hide and watch.
Jason Tucker's essays have appeared in The Southeast Review, River Teeth, Cream City Review, Waccamaw, The Common, and Sweet, among other places. He lives with his wife and daughter in Boston, where he teaches writing at Suffolk University and GrubStreet.
Q. Can you describe your writing space for us?
A. I'm a mostly-stay-at-home parent, so I don't really have a writing space. Sometimes I can write on the couch in that unpredictable interval while the toddler's napping. Sometimes I can make a few notes while she plays on the floor in the living room of our small apartment: I keep my laptop open on the stand with the TV we never turn on, and I can hit a few keystrokes as I walk by, but I don't have long before she's clinging at my leg, or trying to push me out into the room where she can play with me. Sometimes I can write for an hour or two in the half cubicle I'm allowed in the English department where I teach part time. When we can afford a babysitter to cover more than teaching hours, I go write in the upstairs of the public library. All I need is a little quiet. Otherwise, I've learned that I don't need an office to write in. But no coffee shops. I can't work in a coffee shop. Too much other work going on. And I feel like I have to keep buying things to justify the space I'm taking up. And if I can't find a seat, I get mad at people who clearly aren't buying enough to justify the space they're taking up. You can see how it's very distracting.