“Texas Midlife Crisis” by Leah Mueller

Texas Midlife Crisis

Dear Ericka:

Three months have passed since you
sat in your small American car,
faced a red and white-striped barrier sign
on a dead-end road outside of Houston,
shoved a gun barrel underneath your breast,
pulled the trigger, and died without bleeding.

Your aim was so good that even in death,
you knew how to lodge the barrel in the spot where
your bones would collapse like a planned demolition,
and there would be no spray to clean up later.
For a week, your husband
refused to look in your car for the bullet
and thought it was still lodged in your body,
which was already scheduled for cremation.

Post-funeral, I asked to see your car
since it was the last thing you touched
before you texted “goodbye” and pulled the trigger.
He had parked it casually in the garage,
after he pulled his Datsun 240Z out into the driveway,
and washed its exterior clean of debris.
Its body shimmered in the driveway now
like a polished silver gun barrel.
He always did love that car
and was glad to have an excuse to drive it again.

The two of us opened the door of your vehicle
and peered inside at the cushioned seat
where you deliberately took your last breaths,
noted its puzzling lack of any human remnants.
For a moment, he seemed almost
like you might imagine a grieving husband to be-
his breath shortened, and he ran his hand
across the underside of the driver’s seat,
and finally said, “I found a hole.”

With one forefinger, he traced the bullet hole
like you might examine a tiny wound
that had inexplicably failed to heal.
He ran his other hand under the seat
but came up empty, shook his head, and said,
“The police must have taken the bullet.”

Later we drove a mile from the house
to the place where you died, and your husband
kept getting lost. He complained that GPS
had failed to store the data, but that it was more fitting
for us to drive aimlessly, as you had probably done.

I doubt if you drove aimlessly-
you had probably scoped out the spot months in advance,
you had already compiled a funeral music set list,
changed your life insurance policy, and sent farewell flowers
that were scheduled to arrive at your house
after your husband discovered your body.
wasn’t necessary, because all of his friends sent flowers-
they arrived continuously for a week
until they covered every surface in the house.

Your husband took three towering racks of sympathy bouquets,
placed them strategically in a row beside the sign
that marked the place where you had died,
then took a rapid-fire series of photos with his phone.
I wondered why he couldn’t seem to stop texting
everywhere he went, even when he was driving,
until he was finally at your funeral
and had to place his folded hands in his lap.

As soon as the memorial was over,
we dined at your house on baked beans and white bread,
and everyone dove right in, except for one of your co-workers,
who stood at the side of the group, refusing to eat.
Your husband mingled, phone in hand,
pressing the tiny buttons with earnest concentration,
while your adult children cried in the corner with their father.

I argued politics with Texas Republicans
and counted the hours before I could go home,
because everyone had forgotten how to grieve
in the middle of so many electronic diversions,
and I’d forgotten how much I hated Texas.

You were nowhere in attendance, even though
your photos spun in circles on the television screen-
you with your husband, standing on your lawn
in front of the “sold” sign, you and your daughter
before you quit speaking to each other,
even a couple of photos of the two of us
that I had deliberately forgotten.

We hadn’t seen each other for ten years,
and I’d never met your children, not even once,
because their father took them to Mexico after the divorce.
You were goddamn well not going to subject yourself
to the crass indignity of another divorce,
you much preferred to die instead.

The joke is on you, however,
because your husband never found the bullet
and doesn’t know what to do with your ashes,
so he keeps them on a shelf in his closet.
He announced on Facebook a month later
that he was in Love, then posted photographs
of himself, grinning hugely as he stood with his arm
around a prettier woman, and I finally realized
why he did so much texting after you died.

If I was a gun-toting Texas Republican
I would suggest that your aim was cockeyed,
and you shot the wrong person, but I’ve
never held a firearm, let alone pulled a trigger,
and I don’t recommend it to anybody.
I wish you had spared yourself, however,
and sued your worthless husband for everything,
left him penniless and bleeding in the dust.

I always thought you were the survivor,
hiding behind the cactus with a pistol,
that you would bravely fight your adversaries
until, exhausted, they finally surrendered,
and I was the one who would either make a mess
or miss the target entirely.
Yet I am alive, on a drab October evening
at the beginning of the Northwest rainy season,
staring at my own winter from the other side of the barrel,
and I have no plans to leave here any time soon.

I understand why you can’t answer this letter,
and hope your death is like the vacation
you kept denying yourself when you were alive.
Your daughter took a photo of herself in her underwear
and posted it as her profile picture on Facebook,
so life does continue, and you really can’t blame it
for that. If you have the chance,
wink at me from the clouds, and in your next life,
please stay the hell away from Jeremiah and Texas.

Love, Your Sister

 

Leah Mueller

 

 

 

 

 

Leah Mueller is an indie writer from Tacoma, Washington. She is the author of two chapbooks, “Queen of Dorksville” (Crisis Chronicles Press) and “Political Apnea” (Locofo Chaps) and two books, “Allergic to Everything” (Writing Knights Press) and “The Underside of the Snake” (Red Ferret Press). Her work has been published in Blunderbuss, Memoryhouse, Outlook Springs, Atticus Review, Origins Journal, Your Impossible Voice, Remixt, and many anthologies. She was a featured poet at the 2015 New York Poetry Festival, and a runner-up in the 2012 Wergle Flomp Humor Poetry contest.

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