there were three stools at the counter. one tucked uncomfortably behind the side of a cabinet. the place setting was a dead cactus. i’d sit next to my brother, my right ear facing him. you stood on the other side of the stove. you played music. you told us stories about your adolescence. for a moment you were trying to let us know you. you were nervous, there was hesitation in your step, you hadn’t had a closet to fit your skeletons in for a few years, you got used to carrying bones in your suitcase. i laughed at your jokes, told you it was okay. we were okay. show me your sorries, no need to tell me. it was okay. sitting in the sideways seat in the back of a borrowed pickup truck, three addresses in three years. again. it’s okay, dad. you pulled the stuffed animals out of storage, recreate the sundays we used to share. pancakes in park city, and a cold drive down the canyon before the heater could warm up. when outside warmed up, where did you go? whose acura were you driving? the one that took us to disneyland, and the hard rock hotel in las vegas. to seattle and back. to all these temporary rooms. why did we sleep in so many beds that were never yours or mine? to the movie theatre, to drop us off at Uncle Johnny’s. to squatters pub, and brunch dates with girlfriends i’d never meet again. did you drive the acura to hawaii? did you get trapped on the island? is that why you didn't come home? and when your home was made of cinderblocks and metal bars you held onto my arteries. heartstrings; attached. through the metal detector, face the guard and i'll face you. two hours of conversation, my words were tapped by the hour. and my mother she spoke to you, and i sat and my brother and i listened and it’s how it always went. maybe one day she’ll give me that strength. 12, 13, 14, 15. birthdays by the phone. i wish someone would’ve absolved me of the guilt i felt when i missed a call. you missed so many of mine, before i understood timezones, before i knew how far away new york was. you are my oldest penpal, maybe i wouldn’t have become a writer without the letters i penned to you. now, i hardly hear from you. 

at that counter somewhere between three and five years ago, i turned 16, 17, 18. at that counter, i absolved myself of guilt.

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