i make you a mouse out of thin cotton yarn the colors of clementines & bubblegum & the half & half your mother puts in her coffee. you chose her, nearly three years ago, limping across the threshold on adams street, eyes bigger than your frail kitten body—a knowing: she would save your life.
the mouse sits on the kitchen table beside a square plastic box of champagne bears. we laughed about them the first night i got here—you curled on my lap, belly round & fluffy, soul no longer so skittish—about how they taste no different than gummy bears we could steal from walmart, just dressed up in $9.99 branding & prestige your mother & i can’t, won’t, ever understand.
dom perignon be damned, we’re living on cash & pineapple salsa, watching the desert streets flood. i don’t want sticky sugarfina affluence, but i’ll eat tofu & squash your grandmother cooked for me after pulling a jumping cholla needle from my finger.
your mother named her truck after a caroline polachek song. bunny, the dark green rider, & i always think she’s singing firearms blazing, not fireworks. but that’s where we’re at now, no longer at the manistee beach showered by explosions of imperialist glitter. we’re driving down euclid avenue, fishing pole in the back, rainclouds lifted. the lake is small, but we cast & reel back in, cast & reel back in—& the precious-stone human makes a catch, & their voice is tender with gratitude & respect for the life they snuff out of the fish to feed themself.
your mother’s cars are always a little in need of care, but i’d pull on an exposed door latch every time we park at a bookstore if it meant i felt free. it doesn’t matter that the stereo doesn’t function; we will always find a way to listen to music.
i do, i do, feel like a lady.1 & maybe this feels truest to me when i’m beside two tall girls with silver statement earrings, hugging each other tight in the doorway. like i can wear a crimson blouse scattered with white poppies instead of black & gray. like i can wear a denim miniskirt & it’s chosen this time, not forced, & i could feel at home in my body. your mother’s best friend slips off one earring & lets me trace the etchings in the metal. we are so different, break some of the rules in near opposite ways, & yet—walking through rule-shards gives ones’ feet callouses, no matter what the shards look like.
once, you got lost: for four days we thought you were gone. but you weren’t. you just had to prove you were part of this family by running away into the woods. both terrified & tenacious. you’ve traveled across the country & back again. you hid under the bed in the cabin with the pink motorcycle jacket & the glasses painted with wildflowers, but you crept out to crawl into the arms of the california strawberry, between us on the rosy poppy sheets. now, the well-worn turquoise speaker tumbles from the dash, but the music doesn’t stop—i do, i do, heart is unbreaking.1
your mother & i have said, half-joking, that what it means to be a gay girl in this dynasty of our family is to fall in love with people from far away places. or for our old romances to be our ride-or-dies. but maybe it just means to keep going, keep trying, no matter the broken hearts. to feel what we feel & not let it harden us; fuck the rules & the champagne bears. & maybe there is no such thing as what it means to be a gay girl in this dynasty of our family. but vesper, i’m looking for a blueprint. i feel a little ragged, like you were on the streets. multicolored crochet polyester catching my tears in your mother’s subaru, staring into the neighbor’s string lights glowing in the darkness. i’m looking for some kind of hope, vesper, talking of imogen binnie over corn tortillas & jackfruit & peppers, excitement bubbling over possibilities that may never come to fruition. why is that so often the case? i don’t know, vesper, these pink poppy sheets still sting my chest. curled on them alone, no soft skin. your mother’s end america pin sits in a glass dish with tiny silver snakes. there’s a pen & ink snake pinned to the buttercup wall: I AM TRANSFORMING.
you jump from my lap to investigate with your gentle pink nose—curious about your crochet mouse, the tiny vial of bootleg estrogen gifted to your mother, blueberries from a plastic carton. your mother & i picked so many blueberries as children. we did again this summer, together this time, & standing by the jumping chollas i spoke of how i was surprised your grandfather made me blueberry pancakes, but why, why, am i surprised? that your mother buys me lunch, gives me her bed, that you sleep on my chest & trust my safety as i trust yours.
after all—i help carry the rustywool sofa through the back door, make sure you don’t escape, wash the dishes, fry sweet potato latkes, & this giving is necessary as breathing. arizona state route 80 stretches out into the sunset in front of me, your mother talks of mira bellwether, & i wonder what it would be to live in a city with an anarchist community collective. thousands of sandhill cranes find a home here every winter, neighbors with tiny starlings who flutter in whispering flocks.
we leave you curled on the quilt your grandmother stitched from scraps of fabric leftover from a doll dress for me, an oven mitt for my mother, a ski race t-shirt of your grandfather’s—folded beside a glowing lamp. we run into the night, & i used to explore with someone i will never explore with again, but your mother paints your name in blue on secret concrete walls & i know i will never be without an exploring companion. even in more theoretical danger than we’ve been in all week, i feel at ease. your mother opens her heart in words: r.i.p. tortuguita. i wish mira fucking bellwether was still alive. we have to fight, fireworks blazing, for trees, forests, no more champagne bears, for carving out what it means to sing i do, i do, feel like a lady—because the world won’t do it for us.
your mother clasps her hands as a stepping stone for my boot, so i can climb higher, like smoke into the sky of a city not yet light-polluted enough to obscure the stars. like the winding road up mount lemmon. she holds a broken fridge steady so i can lift myself onto solid ground, for i couldn’t do it alone.