He was standing at the corner where we met every morning to walk to work because we were young and carless. I had gotten on a train and moved 2,000 miles for a walkable city. He had always lived…
“Walkable City” is the first time I wrote about this scalding relationship from my late twenties, nearly half a lifetime ago. Some relationships need lots of words in their aftermath; this one did not. I remade my life in its fallout—moving, starting an MFA program in fiction, committing myself to “being a writer.” Eventually I got married and had a kid, and twelve years later, that kid went to sleepaway camp for two weeks. I challenged myself to draft one new piece of flash every day he was away.
The first eleven days, I burned through familiar topics: marriage, motherhood, grief and its aftermath. By day twelve, I was tired and ready for my kid to come home. Out of ideas, I found myself mining this memory about the day John Denver died. In the first draft, I thought the piece was about how muddled the vulnerabilities were in the relationship. We hurt each other easily and often, and I never felt like I was on solid ground, apologizing when I didn’t want to be apologizing, hurting him when I always felt like the one who was really hurt.
But as with nearly all of my work, the meaning emerged in revision. I’ve often joked I’m the only person who has ever disliked living in Portland, Oregon. These lines became the heart of early revisions: “I was not at home here, but also wasn’t homesick. I was not at home at home either.” So much of my writing returns again and again to the same theme of the struggle toward home.
In a moment of writerly kismet, I took “Walkable City” with me to a residency at the wonderful Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts. My roommate was the equally wonderful visual artist, Mary Jones, who makes art, quite literally, out of walkable cities. Her conversations about art and home were delivered like a gift that I braided in to finish the piece.
MIRIAM GERSHOW is the author of The Local News: A Novel. Her short stories appear in The Georgia Review, Gulf Coast, and Black Warrior Review, among other journals. Her flash fiction and nonfiction pieces appear in Pithead Chapel, Heavy Feather Review, and Variant Lit, where “Lines of Communication” won their 1st Annual Pizza Prize. Miriam’s next book, Survival Tips: Stories, will publish with Propeller Books in March 2024. Find her on Twitter at @miriamgershow.