An Ode to Delmar

Jamie Wagman

 

When we arrive in my hometown, I transform into the hatchling bird in “Are You My Mother,” aimlessly looking for a parent or an address, someone or thing to claim me.

When my feet are firmly planted on Delmar Boulevard, sunlight blazing, passing by my old neighbors and familiar plants and puppies, I am home. I remember drunken New Year’s Eves, stolen cigarettes and hard-earned poker chips, nights with women when we were still wondering and waiting, still coloring our hair and piercing virgin cartilage and making lists, comparing notes, asking ourselves should we or shouldn’t we. I can easily recall the rage of my teenage years, and that orange fire in me still blazes some days when memory fractures, when my frame feels a bit too slight, when I’m walking and suddenly don’t know what to do with my arms. Anger doesn’t blind me anymore, but I still taste blood.

And I remember walking my baby back and forth on this road three times a day for two years. It was the only thing that silenced her. Strangers grew used to her cries, and together we watched seasons change. Her eyes dilated in wonder as people chatted with us. Rebecca, they called to her. The homeless cartwheeler captivated her in the morning; the coffee barista charmed her with a whistle every afternoon. If I look hard enough, I can see the chalky outline of childhood on the cracked pavement here, both hers and mine. And I realize a part of my heart, still pulpy, is buried underneath the road by the big oak tree where we used to sit and eat biscuits. But the restaurants are not the same anymore, and neither am I.

Eventually my mother does find me, her dark green irises locking with my lighter ones, lingering over me and my children, her questions pouncing, bouncing off of me. Have they bathed recently? Are her clothes too small? Does the baby need new shoes? Are you running too much? Perhaps I am.

You can’t go home again, Wolfe warned. Goodbye to all that, Didion wrote. And Nora slammed the door. They are all right, of course. I, too, moved and thought I would stay six months—but I stayed eight years. And in as much as this is a love letter, it is also a goodbye note. A farewell to the 1,300 acres of prairie and wetlands where I trained for a marathon, watching the paths change, the earth rotate just slightly on its axis as I kept on. Goodbye to the old ranch house—that sold 12 years ago—where there was so much silence, where I drank my first beers, where I plotted my eventual leave. Goodbye to the oak trees and lion statues, to the playground where the swings have now rusted, to the babysitters who all graduated by now.

You’re still mine, Delmar, but I release you, relinquish you to new young mothers, other lost teenage girls, women in their 20s who are making new lists. Should she or shouldn’t she?
She should.
She should.
She should.

 

Jamie Wagman has a MA from The Johns Hopkins University and a PhD from Saint Louis University. She teaches at Saint Mary’s College in Indiana, and her creative work has also appeared in The Adirondack Review and Nashim: A Journal of Jewish Women’s Studies & Gender Issues, among other publications.