There was an elm tree outside my bedroom window. It was there when we moved in, after the divorce, and every year its branches would grow closer. By the time I was in high school, I could reach out the window and almost brush the leaves with my fingers.
Sometimes I would stay up late, reading classic English novels, and think about the boys I had crushes on. Sometimes I would go downstairs and make myself pizzas with English muffins, tomato paste, and cheddar cheese. My mother, single for years, slept through it all. The pizzas and the novels were recognizable units, circular and rectangular. The cheese came from a bag, shredded.
My mother never dated after the divorce. I knew there were men who were interested, because they would bring presents to our house, safe things: Classical music albums or art books, neat square packages. They would stand out by the gladiolas and try to make tired conversation long after they knew it was their time to leave.
Their faces were vast, but their expressions readable. You could always tell what they were thinking. My mother wasn't afraid of their mystery, because they had no mystery. These were nice men who would never hurt her. They were wide stretches of Midwestern prairie. With them, you could always see where you were going, but still get lost.
One morning, as I was laying in bed still awake, the sun came up. I didn't see it because the neighbor's house was too close and blocked it. People say “sun” when they talk about sunlight. “You're in my sun,” they say, like they own it. But it's not sun, it's only evidence. The light warmed my face and my body, like it was touching me, only it wasn't.