Thinking of You
A Short Story by Nicole Krueger
Written using the suggestion "Mission"
Originally featured on 10-30-2009
As part of our series "The Words That Seem to Justify Anything"

I thought of you today. I pictured how you would look now, all grown up, with your hair cut short now that you’ve outgrown your butt-rock phase, but still moppish on top because there was never anything anyone could do about those curls. You’ve kept your goatee, although it’s trimmed and doesn’t bleed onto your cheeks anymore, and you still wear your old concert t-shirts under flannel button-ups. You will wear those shirts until they disintegrate, but at least you wash them regularly now.

 

I pictured your kids, too. Two girls and a boy—one to carry on the family name and two to punish you for ever having been a teenage guy. They’d all have your sticky-out ears and your bluish-green eyes, the same eyes I have, the ones we got from our grandma, and at least two of them would have your wide grin that’s part Joker and part devil, but the other—one of the girls, maybe—would have a smaller, quieter smile, and I fancy there might be a little bit of me in it. I smile just imagining you with them. You were always a bit shy and awkward around kids, but they seemed to worship you anyway, and these three would be no exception.

 

You’d be a mechanic, of course. You were always going to be a mechanic; you used to say you had oil in your veins. Your dad was a grease monkey, and he taught you everything he could before he died and left you all of his tools, thousands of dollars worth of tools for which you barely knew the uses of half. You didn’t let that stop you. You took what you could from your high school auto shop class, and no diploma would ever have meant as much to you as finally opening your own garage. He would have been proud, and you know he would have been proud, and in my mind I can see the pride in your cheeks as you talk about the latest Mustang you’ve brought back from the dead.

 

I was thinking about you today while the rain was whipping the bare-naked trees, just like the ones we used to climb, not caring how wet it was outside but always managing to find our grip on the slick branches. It’s almost Thanksgiving, which made me think about how you’d be taking your dad’s place among his brothers and sisters at the family table, just like you did the year after he passed, you their only link to him, although you were barely fifteen at the time. I was a bit jealous of you then, me a year older and still having to sit with the kids at the folding table while you tucked in between my mom and our uncle, as if you’d earned the right to be there just because the state had to give you a special driver’s license so you could pick up food and medicine for your dad, who before he died went blind in both eyes and became too emaciated to get out of bed so he had no way of knowing you used your license to make beer runs at the convenience store across town, where they never asked for ID.

 

I was thinking about you in the grocery store, the floral section, where the flowers made me imagine your wedding. I think I would have cried, seeing you in a suit and boutonniere, shyly greeting guests at the door just like you did at your dad’s funeral all those years ago. That funeral was the first time I’d seen you in a suit, and I’d expected you to be crying, but instead you hugged and smiled and shook hands and accepted condolences, and I wondered how long it had been since I’d really known you.

 

I was still thinking about you after I left the store, while the wipers scrubbed at my windshield to reveal a road ahead cloaked in gray, just like it was the night you were in that car accident your senior year of high school, when your best friend was drunk and you told him to slow down but there wasn’t time before that embankment came out of nowhere. I was home from college that weekend. I have imagined myself hundreds of times since then, throwing my arms around you like I haven’t since we were kids and telling you I’m glad you’re okay.

 

You were still on my mind when I got out of the car and squelched across the grass to the knee-high stone, the one I’ve been meaning to visit but never got around to until now. It occurred to me, while I was laying the flowers down, that the grown-up version of you in my head will never be stuck in the ground like this—that someday, someday when you die, those beautiful children I dreamed up for you will know better than to stick you in the ground like this. They’ll know to have your body burned, just like your dad’s was, and your ashes scattered, just like your dad’s were, up on the mountain where we used to pick huckleberries in the summer and eat until our mouths were stained blue. And then the oldest would take your place at the family table, just as he should do, and there would be no tears in our grandma’s eyes and no empty chair that no one can bear to look at, and I would never have to wonder if maybe there was something I could have said or done that might have made a difference.

Read More By Nicole Krueger

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