“Notes from Toledo,” a micro-essay by Megan Martin

We got in a car and drove to Toledo. Toledo felt like bad news. I thought it was just your sister’s neighborhood where there were very few windows you could see through (bars, boards, broken glass, darkness), but those ghostly windows looked out at us everywhere we went.

Their pit was raging at the door and her kids were playing video games on a TV as tall as the living room ceiling. If you give the cable guy in our neighborhood fifty bucks he’ll give you free cable forever, your brother-in-law said. You can buy a ten-dollar TV or a one-dollar DVD from every other person on the block. The entrepreneurial citizens of Toledo have run two cell phone companies out of business, he says.

Later we got drunk and ate Japanese food and your brother-in-law kept saying how Toledo has the best everything in the country. It has some of the best food in the country, he said. We have one of the best art museums in the country. IN THE COUNTRY, he’d emphasize about each thing, pointing his finger at us on each syllable. He had grown up in Toledo, moved away, and moved back. He told us about the history and the neighborhoods and the schools and the economy. There was no place on earth I understood that well or felt that much pride about. I had lived nowhere I wanted to go back to.

Your brother-in-law stands on an assembly line all day long and builds cars with his hands; my fingers feel like they’re about to crumble off if I type too much or I get “brain fog” from sitting on my couch reading books. The place where I work is called a universe-ity because you’re only allowed to be interested in a little shard of the universe; your little shard gets blown so far out of proportion in your mind that eventually it eats your life. Maybe our jobs aren’t that different in their micro-focus, but your brother-in-law knows more about almost everything in the world than I do.

 

He was right about the Jamaican club where a lady made curried goat in a little back room and that dude in the white pantsuit had dance moves like water and the music wasn’t shitty American pop music; it was music I’d never heard and it transported me someplace I’d never been.

It was your birthday. Usually when you ask me to dance my body hardens and heavies and everything in me freezes. Flashing lights moved disorientingly over your body like huge, bright, foreign insects and energy charged all my limbs. It was 4 a.m. and your sister who had already driven us to four different places that night was falling asleep at the table.

 

The museum was about to close; we get everywhere late because getting four kids in your sister’s car can take hours and the kids were still holding a grudge about last night. When we got home they were crying their faces off about why couldn’t we go to the nightclub! Why couldn’t we go to the nightclub! WHY COULDN’T WE GO TO THE NIGHT CLUB! Why did you just LEAVE US HERE to ROT! They were still grumbling about it in the car.

Your brother-in-law was right that the museum was famous. It was one of the best museums in the world. I had read about it and seen slides. I wanted to look as closely as possible at as many things as possible in forty-five minutes, but only at modern and contemporary art. That’s what I said when your sister when she asked what I wanted to see.

Instead we breezed through each gallery while she glanced at everything out of the corners of her eyes. But she’d stop and say: Where’s my clock? to the security guard, or: Where’s my statue? or: Where are my mummies? or Where’s Charlie? She knew just where the things she loved were supposed to be, and all of them were in storage. I’m sad that Charlie isn’t here, she said. When do you think he’ll be back? Charlie was a statue.

I didn’t have favorite things in any museum. I wouldn’t miss something if it suddenly wasn’t there. If I did miss it, I wouldn’t feel sad about it. I went to museums with a greedy feeling like I wanted to devour everything there for my personal satisfaction so nobody else could have it. Like I never wanted to digest any of it so you could see all the paintings I was carrying around jabbing at my insides, trying to get out of my stomach.

That was the first time I left a museum without wanting to die of museum exhaustion. It was like I could breathe in there.

The dark windows followed us on our way out of town. I knew there was something there, but I wasn’t sure how to see something in them, what I was hoping to see.

 

 

***

Megan Martin is a mom of cats, Iowan-at-heart, and author of the tiny story collection Nevers. She is committed to living in 1997 forever.

Image: traveltips.usatoday.com

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