My Grandmother Doesn't Think Much of Me | Kelcee Sykes
By this I mean that she thinks I’ve come unmoored, that I am all bra straps and birth control, that when the water comes, I will put my faith in myself and I will sink. That I look too much like her to act the way I do. That people will talk. She offers side-hugs and deep sighs before she and my grandfather fly south for the winter. If she prays for me, she doesn’t say so.
I know I don’t confuse love with rebellion. I found my blue-eyed boy adrift in a sea of wheat fields. I tangled myself in his family roots before I whisked him away, leading him south, south, past the rivers and the mountains and the safety of the low-lying and landlocked to a sweltering upside-down peninsula that won’t be here thirty years from now. I promised him permanence then brought him to a prehistoric place where time doesn’t pass, where the sun never sets, where he couldn’t mark the days if he wanted to. We hate this state and we love each other and I lie awake each night wondering where I’ll take him next, knowing that if he’ll follow me here, he’ll follow me anywhere. Like snow birds who must remake their nests with each change of the weather, we’re good at building bedrock from whatever we have on hand.
I haven’t married him. Not yet, anyway. When my cousin and his partner left for the West, my grandmother offered to set up a wedding herself. She cornered him. Just need a pastor and a witness, she said. Only takes a cupplla minutes. When I moved to Tampa—a stone’s throw from the fisherman’s haven my grandparents call home from November to March—she told me about roads that dissolve into sinkholes, about which churches have free spaghetti dinners, about how to breathe in the low, slow heat. Nothing was said about long-term love, mine or anyone else’s. My cousin wonders at her lack of admonishment. Maybe she thinks my sins are too great to bear admonishing, I tell him. Maybe she knows I got my stubbornness from her. Family resemblance, too, is bedrock of a kind.
Florida is a temporary solution, a school-length pit stop on the way to somewhere else, the fever-dream version of a place a person could be born, grow old, and die. I grew up with dirt under my fingernails. Here, if you dig too deep, you’ll drown. The sky is just the ocean in repose; its anxious, thundering pulse accompanies the churning of the waves beneath your feet. I wake from nightmares of land coming loose at the seams, of drifting away and being lost at sea. Of water on four sides rather than three. Of a suffocation of moss. Of a quick, undignified rot. I cling to the boy, to his eyes the color of a cloudless sky, to the buoyant anchor of his voice, the thrumming heartbeat of permanence.
My grandmother lives just south of here, in a weather-beaten house I’ve never seen, though she’s been there as long as I can remember. The one cornerstone in a sinking foundation the earth can’t quite choke down. She offers harsh consolation. The hurricanes haven’t taken me yet, she says, casting her scornful glance at the Gulf. Don’t suppose they’ll start now. And despite what I know of the world, of this place, of promises of permanence and anchors and long-term love, I sometimes think she might be right. You have to make choices when you live near water, she says. You hold your ground or you learn to float.
Kelcee Sykes is a writer from Lansing, Michigan currently pursuing an MFA at the University of South Florida. Most of her work draws on characters and themes inspired by her Midwestern roots and questions what it means to feel at home in our environments, in our families, and in our selves. She only owns 206 bones, as far as she knows, but it's been a while since she checked.