Home Like This by Amanda Whitehurst
Amanda Whitehurst evokes an indelible sense of place through vividly descriptive language, unexpected word choices, and kaleidoscopic imagery in her nonfiction flash “Home Like This.” Scenes of Puerto Rico unreel like a movie on fast-forward as her cousin Marco drives her to a restaurant to meet their mothers, “speeding so fast I’m sure we’ll either die or take off.” Home means one thing for Marco who lives there, another for the visiting narrator who—like so many other Puerto Ricans—lives elsewhere. They speed past the “skeletons of homes abandoned after Hurricane Maria,” the “gray carcass of a dead shopping center,” and the people who remain—unemployed couples at the beach, women selling fruit, a family enjoying a pig roast. More Puerto Ricans live off the island than on it, Marco tells her. “I get why they have to go, he says, but how could anyone leave a home like this?” What grounds Marco on an island without jobs, without affordable health care? Whitehurst writes about her family in her author’s note: “I wanted to represent the reality of their difficulties while also depicting their fierce love for where they live, which are two unrelated, simultaneous truths.” Her reckless cousin Marco flies like the wind, but in Whitehurst’s stunning description at the close of the flash, the imagery of the wind threaded throughout “Home Like This” takes on new “simultaneous truths” as well. “Just look at him,” she says. Just look at them. Just look. —CRAFT
Content Warning—self-harm and/or suicide attempt
When I visit from the states my cousin Marco becomes wind. In the car to the restaurant where our mothers wait he’s all curls dancing, all cheeks stretching, speeding so fast I’m sure we’ll either die or take off. He bump-bumps onto the median, breezes past the others stopped at a red light, glides through the intersection despite what could happen, a storm erupting from his throat. I’m like bro, chill and he’s like you chill, I’ve never been caught. We’re so free here. My worried brow has always been the hill he plays on; our mothers say it’ll be the hill he dies on, too. Through the window, the world kaleidoscopes: the skeletons of homes abandoned after Hurricane Maria smear into women selling bright splotches of fruit to longtime neighbors; the golden arm of a beach freckles with young couples making a day of unemployment; the gray carcass of a dead shopping center splatters with kids playing catch me, nobody there to stop their wind-brimmed bodies from blowing through its ribs and out its stomach. Their squeals sound like screams and I’m trying to tell the difference when Marco says more people born on this island live off of it than on it. They want jobs, healthcare that doesn’t suck as bad. The car inhales a waft of someone’s family pig roast, the delicious smell of life floating over fire. I wonder how a place could be starved of itself, kicked so hard in the guts it even loses the wind it swallowed. I get why they have to go, he says, but how could anyone leave a home like this? With that, the gas pedal collides with the floor and Marco lifts both palms off the wheel, stretches his arms out, one safe inside the car’s body and one through the open mouth of the window, where the breath of the world swallows it whole. When thunder bellows from him, a memory lightnings inside me: a year ago, my mother’s quake on the other end of the phone, Marco’s missing, we’re worried he might try to hang himself again. All those times my cousin’s feet fluttered off dirt: nothing could ground him on an island without affordable psychiatrists, therapists with openings, a cousin who doesn’t live so far away. Just look at him: Marco, full of air, his lungs wind-loud, his clothes trembling in it.
AMANDA WHITEHURST lives in Nashville, Tennessee. She earned a BA in Sociology from William & Mary and an MSW from Columbia University. Most recently, her flash “I Could’ve Been Your Reflection” won first place in Exposition Review’s Flash 405 multigenre competition. Find her on Twitter at @mandawhitehurst.
Featured image by Deivid Sáenz, courtesy of Unsplash.