The first name Joshua gave me was Blue. Julie Blue.
It was the same name as the color I chose for my first book. A book about my family that I wrote in second grade.
I knew, at seven, that my family was beautiful and covered, like wallpaper, with forget-me-nots. I knew that our name was a title, letters crayoned subtly towards the bottom right, falling blue. Uncentered on top of graphite articulated by a second-grader’s fist.
First letters, like memories, will never be erased. They multiply, one next to and on top of another, thickening into a pile that needs to be sorted, read, resorted, reread.
I saw my first memory at three and a half. Trying to find a pattern in my family, the people in it, make the names flow like Nicole, Joelle, Julie. And Matt? An additional member, younger than me, a name with one syllable, not two. Nicole, Joelle and Julie. Nicole, Joelle, an… Ju… Julie and… Matt.
My tongue mouthed itself around the word.
“It just doesn’t sound right,” I told my dad while sitting on his bed with my sisters. He looked at me, smiled, as he told me that my mom was in the hospital with my new brother.
I looked at my fingers, touching each, left pinky to pointer: “Nicole, Joelle, Julie… and… Matt.”
The baby was in the room, and I know that a few days later I wanted to smother him with kisses and dress him up in a baseball uniform. But the buttons on the hospital bed were so new, so powerful that they could lift my mother and make her fall. I needed to press them. Feel them, four bumps, with my hand. Nicole, Joelle, Julie, Matt.
Re-ordered, three years later, into a picture on the first page: Joelle, Matt, Nicole, Julie.
Smiles, like sunshine, rise. The assignment was to be thankful, so I pressed graphite onto the page, writing for thanks.
This is what they do for me they help me do my chors. They also play with me. When We have to wark sometimes they make warking fun.
The waves washed into my legs. Florida. Me and Joelle, or Joelle and I. Parallel sisters in bathing suits pink and green. Nicole centered, lighter pink that peaks into white. Matt between, baby, yellow. Dad catches the moment. Momma duck watches, a Pringle crackling in her teeth. Salt crisps into the sea, waving away.
Twenty-five years later, we resurface through waves in the north. Sunset Beach, Carolina. I wake up. The door between the main part of my parents’ condominium and our room is closed. Joshua and I nestle into the same bed, still unmarried, opening our eyes to the sound of lunches being prepared
– Mom, what kind of sandwich do you want?
– You just take care of yourself, I’ll be fine.
– Ok, I’ll just make all ham and cheese then.
– Not for me, I don’t like ham. Leave mine.
– Ok, I’ll make you turkey.
We listen and bury ourselves deeper into bed. Mayonnaise is opened. Peanut Butter Puffins are poured. Joshua rolls onto his side, arm across my belly. We wait for the waves to settle so that we can get up.When we get up, we think everyone has gone. Matt’s cigarettes are on the coffee table.
This is what my brother does for me he helps me clean my room sometimes that is sometimes. My brother helps me make forts when we do. Matt smiles for the camera, but I can’t remember who took the picture. Must have been my mother, just before she set out the urinal, reached for his hand while he peed. Yellow, his shirt, a stream into the winds of West Virginia. But I can’t be thankful for peeing, since I am a girl and can’t use the urinal without spilling. I hold it quietly, wondering where West Virginia rests. The hills seem endless and the cars don’t ever stop.
If I had peed, I would have washed my hands.
I would then have covered my hands with white gloves. The next year, or maybe the previous. Clutching a white Easter purse, too small to hold anything except for a penny and a dime, I smiled for the camera and hated it. Cousins around, in the middle, smiling down. And I remembered sharing, which was never hard. But I must have known, even then, that it took effort to play, to give.
This is my cosin tom and this is what he does for me he plays with me sometimes. This is my cosin Frank and this is what he does for me he shars with me.
Sharing is hard for Henry, but wasn’t a year ago, when I had to encourage him to be more assertive, to take his turn. Like at yoga for toddlers, which we only did once, when his eyes were caught by the breath ball, mesmerized by the in, the out. Around a circle of children, one, another, and then Henry. He looked at me, uncertain.
“¿No quieres tocar la pelota?”
“Espera a que te llegue.”
He waited, eyes following, hand opened until it caught and held. In and then out.
“Little.” He said.
“Big.” He continued, watching it expand in between his hands.
“Dásela a otro chico,” I urged him to pass it along. He did. He watched them play and didn’t ask for it back. I hugged him, felt him soft between my arms.
This is me and this is what I do for ather peopel I help them. And Love some peopel.
Hands held, more proper in the white. Eyes descend, head lowers, as if in prayer. Each person listed, each image kissed. Hands touch head, heart, shoulder, shoulder, and come together to hold them all. To make sense of the letters, the pages, the memories that build, one onto another, like prayers that no longer follow the ritual laid out by other people. Prayers that wave away into the meadow.
We are all there. And here. Six. Joelle, Julie, Nicole, Matt, Judy, Mike, Joshua, Brian, Jack, Ava, Henry, Ella, Poppy, Seth, Gab, Laurie, Donn. The wave grows every day, rolling over its own center, a dark blue, somewhere.