by Jamila Lovelace
Jamila Lovelace is angry, black, and nonbinary. Born in Dayton, Ohio and raised between there and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, they attended Northern Kentucky University and graduated in spring of 2017 with a degree in Creative Writing and History. They have worked primarily in nonprofit and are always looking forward to new writing opportunities.
Voyage to Atlantis
Your father is, if nothing else, an amazing storyteller. You have seen him command an audience of nearly 10,000 people. You have seen him talk only to you. You have seen him orate like you would imagine Socrates would have. You have heard him argue with his wife when he had no more words but jabbed with them nonetheless. You have seen him speak truth that could move mountains. You have seen him lie to you. You almost believe him, always.
And you wish you knew what truth meant from a magician. Someone so elusive, you had to hide and creak around in dark corners to know something like the truth.
You have always loved digging in dirt. Finding treasures and looking through dust-caked places. Grime under your nails now reminds you of your digging. How accomplished you would feel, back sweating and dirty hands digging freely to find “it.” Whatever “it” was. Sometimes “it” was the dig.
And your father would watch you, always digging. Sometimes you would see a crystal, jagged, sharp and shining. You’d pry it out with greedy hands. Sometimes it would be worthless. But you found it.
And sometimes a crystal is a long drive where he asks you about your swimming team when you are eleven. You are a part of a team called the Piranhas. You feel more like a minnow. But you talk about the water and how much you love it. Why you are drawn to it. He listens. It is one of the few times he lets you talk and he listens.
And you drive over bridges in Columbus, Ohio, all flat land and East Livingston. You don’t remember the city anymore. Sometimes, in your mind, it is green and reedy and wide, and sometimes it’s narrow and unforgiving. It’s always so big and it sits on your chest. It has become a gray living thing. So when people tell you Columbus is boring, you have to nod along like you know what they mean. You don’t know what they mean. You are eleven years old, you have been all over the country, and the city of Columbus, Ohio is the biggest place in the world.
Dad tells you about his friend who drowned.
He talks about it like he tells you your plan for the day, which new place he’s going to drag you to. How you’re both going to make money that day.
You drive with him and listen to him talk. You hope you can tell a story like him one day, but you hate the things in you that remind you of him. Yes, the good things.
You take on self-awareness to make up for his lack thereof. You think it’s going to heal you from him. You don’t know what healing is.
He tells you about Voyage to Atlantis by the Isley Brothers. He can’t listen to the song anymore. It’s because of his friend. He never cries, you assume as to not crack his crystalline facade. But this is different. You don’t push it. You listen. You let him know you are here for him. You hope he knows you were there for him.
He tells you that he was in high school. He and his friends went for a swim at the beach. Which beach, he never tells you. He lived in Toledo. You can see a group of them, your father’s friends. They are lean with tree-like builds and afros with droplets of water bouncing off of them. Your father is right there with them, smiling the smile you stole in the womb. His hair is very loose. You imagine whatever semblance of an afro he can manage is always falling flat, never quite standing up on its own.
He tells you he remembers his friend, shining in the watery sunlight, and waving at them to swim over to where he was. They don’t know how he got separated. A bright smile, white teeth in black skin, a wave. He calls out to them, asking what happened. He goes under.
Your father shrugs. But to you, it is electricity. You are ashamed of how excited you are. A body for something akin to intimacy.
Suddenly, you are driving across an interstate above water that doesn’t exist, over Columbus’ beach, which doesn’t exist where you are. There are two steel garters and as far as the eye can see beyond you, there is clear, Caribbean blue water.
You know it’s not possible. There is no long winding road with the ocean right next to you on either side in Columbus, Ohio. But nothing can tell you it wasn’t there. That you didn’t drive through the ocean with him. That you didn’t see the blue beside you, then looked at your father in front of the sunset. Orange, shining, and shrugging.
You are too old to not see what’s around you. You are eleven years old. And all you can think of is water.
Maybe if you remember a memory that wasn’t yours, he could look at you with recognition. A cognizance. An understanding that you were there too.
You realize that you have never seen your father struck by the magnitude of anything. It’s all familiar to him. Sometimes you wonder if he is eternal.
He shrugs, casual and contained. He tells you he never swam again. But you can tell he is intrigued by how much you love the water. In his own way, of course.
Maybe he liked watching you concentrate on the water when you stood poised by the diving end. Maybe he liked watching you come out on the other side unscathed.
And maybe he thinks you are eternal too.