November 11th, 2010 - Adam Grabowski


Lately, your brain’s been fogged-in. Could be the medication or the accumulated hours of a life spent, but the only thing you’re sure about November 11th, 2010 is you told your wife it was Kurt Vonnegut’s birthday. Which she undoubtedly knew since you’re so fond of telling people her birthday is easy to remember because it’s the day before Kurt Vonnegut’s.

~

Note to your younger self: Put the date down, quickly, while the cement is still wet. Date everything—the cards you give, the books you buy, love notes you scribble—these are clues. You may need clues when you write your essay about November 11th, 2010. It will not be as easy to recall as November 11th, 2006—the day after your wife’s 21st birthday where you’d been so drunk she had to drive you home. Or 2018 when she bought that burgundy dress on the way to the restaurant and changed in its bathroom. Or 2008 when your infant daughter arrived home still umbilicalled to an oxygen tank.

~

You met Vonnegut once. Crashed his office hours just to see if you could. This was back in 2000 (you think) when you were definitely not a student at Smith College. You hadn’t read any of his books, but he was famous, and a writer. This one’s a short story! he rasped, going over the poems you’d brought. Hey, wait a minute, all of these poems are short stories! See? Kurt Vonnegut said, handing them back to you, Poetry is easy!

~

Poetry is easy! It’s a good story to tell, which is why you tell it. Often. And no one has heard it more than your wife, who is all too aware that if you’re telling the story, then your quip about Kurt Vonnegut and her birthday is sure to follow. It was always designed to bring her into the conversation—she is quite shy—but you can see now it never actually did. It just made her part of the story.

~

Hold onto the things that matter—anniversary cards, just because notes; a personae poem in the voice of a Viking. Do not ignore the fact that ephemera is the language of monogamy. And put the date down. Since neither you nor your wife can remember anything else about November 11th, 2010—Well, I know it was Vonnegut’s birthday!—it would behoove you to find the birthday card (hers) from that year. Get forensic. A break in the case. 11/10/10: the day before the day in question. A key witness.

~

In truth, you haven’t read much Vonnegut beyond the classics and Timequake. She’s never really come down on whether she likes Vonnegut or not, but a couple of Christmases ago she gave you a Kurt Vonnegut mug with all his greatest hits etched onto the side: “Poo-tee-weet,” “I love you sons of bitches,” “Among the things Billy Pilgrim could not change were the past, the present, and the future.”

~

Remove the box from your shared closet. Gather, too, whatever’s fallen at your feet—a walking map of Dublin, a heart-shaped tin that says I pump the big, big love—now sit on the bed with the box and fan through a decade of your life, nearly two. Ask yourself, is your marriage getting worse or more human. Letters, postcards, Post-it notes, napkins, squares cut from a paper bag—all pleas acknowledging that the years can get hard. And Valentine’s Day, Christmas, birthdays—without a date it’s hard to tell when each occasion begins to carry with it some sort of implicit apology. Look at this mess. All this romance. This attempt.

~

In Timequake, Vonnegut writes, “When you marry somebody now, all you get is one person. I say when couples fight, it isn’t about money or sex or power. What they’re saying is ‘You’re not enough people!’” You’re not enough people!—the quote we used to throw at each other. Maybe you should’ve gotten more people. A coworker. A neighbor—someone to bitch to, to lower your voice and say The thing is…, another witness to your life.

~

And you thought things were serious back then, before the coronavirus, before everyone had to be enough people. Some marriages survived, some marriages didn’t. So it goes.

~

Timequake, of course, is about a world event—a timequake—that forces everyone to re-experience the past ten years of their lives, but consciously and unable to change a thing. It sounds awful having to know better and still say something unrepeatable. To ignore someone you care about, hurt them because they hurt you first or because the world hurts too much, and you can’t talk properly. You’re watching your past, your subsequent future happen date by date by date. November 9th, November 10th, November 11th. Look at yourself—you couldn’t follow instructions even if you wanted to: That joke isn’t funny anymore. Now tell her you love her. Now tell her you love her again.

Adam Grabowski’s work has appeared in such literary journals as Hobart, jubilat, and Sixth Finch. He holds an MFA in Writing from the Vermont College of Fine Arts and lives a life of stern comfort alongside his wife & two daughters in Holyoke, Massachusetts. Go on Bewilderment, his chapbook from Attack Bear Press, was released in November 2020.

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