Here, people stay or they go. The smart ones go. There isn’t much here if you have any brains and half the chance to do something. The tired ones stay, like my father. He’d been through so much crazy stuff by the time he was 25, just stopping and settling down probably seemed like a good idea. He never talked much about it. But my mother … she had only been a young girl, but she talked about Prague as if it were magical. She had seen Paris, on their way out, and then they had landed in New York. When I was younger I thought, Why did you let yourself get stuck here?
She had trouble with children. My father said they wanted more children, they were grateful for me. It was suffocating, having all that attention. And then finally, when I was thirteen, my mother was going to have a baby.
It killed her. Literally. I didn’t understand it. Bleeding, something happened during the birth. They couldn’t get my brother to breathe. And then she bled to death. I’m sure it wouldn’t have happened in Paris or New York, but this is good old Jericho, North Dakota. A hospital so good it’s not even there any more. I didn’t understand what was happening, but after that it was just him and me. I was all he had. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was like manacles.
I had always planned to go, to go far. I had the chance to go to college, my parents never had that. My mother told me once that my father would have been a doctor, except for the war. Instead he was a welder. Fixed combines. I wasn’t going to let this place wreck me like that. I wanted to get far away, a college on the East Coast, like I’d always read about. I tell you, it was like I had manacles. I didn’t get any further than Fargo. And I should have known better, but there was this nice young man from this part of the state. He knew me like I was an open book to him, he could just read me without us talking. Nobody ever told me I should be careful about that, a love where there’s not much talking. And now I have a marriage where there’s not much talking. Nobody tells you these things, what you need to worry about.
We were going to go away, to Minneapolis or Chicago or St. Louis. But then there was a recession when we finished, no jobs. And he got this job here, a good job, really, he’s done well by it. “Building roads for America!” one of the guys he works with said at a picnic once. I wanted to hit him for that. So, then, it just made sense to come back here, so the kids could grow up near their grandfather. While my husband is off building roads, gone a lot of the time, and not talking much when he gets home. My whole life I was going to get myself far from here, from this winter, from this flat openness. And I ended up more stuck here than anyone.