Carry Me Home by Claire Kortyna

Carry Me Home

In my earliest memory of my father, I’m on his shoulders. My hands are overlapping, clamped on his forehead, and I’m working hard at smoothing back his thick carpet of hair. It normally stands straight up; he styles it this way. It’s the familiar, military cut: “high and tight”. Today, my objective is to bend this hair to my will, mush it flat. I’m sliding my palms up his forehead, using the natural oil from his skin, pushing against the stubborn turf, soft and sharp.

We’re in New Jersey, at Conte Farm, where the tractor will drop you off out in the fields to pick your own fruit. We’re here for the apples, so it must be one of those thick, sweet days between summer and fall. My brother and I get to come here a lot, for the farmer’s market, for the homemade ice cream shop in the back that changes its soft-serve based on its crops, for the pickings — pumpkins, apples, blueberries, more. At the checkout counter, we always beg my mom for honey-sticks. Little plastic straws, sealed on both ends, are stacked in a beautiful jewel-toned array in front of the register. They’re filled with gleaming honey, infused with fruit flavors, dark ambers, navy, maroon. My brother and I have been hoodwinked by Winnie the Pooh, by his ravenous honey gluttony. We know how the gold of it spills out of his mouth, drips yellow like butter. We crave it. Please Mom, please. Pleaaaaase.

She often relents and buys us each a honey-stick. We never like it. It is not like candy with its flat punch of sugar. It’s strange, the tang of it musky yet floral, like cherry blossoms. It sticks to the back of our tongues, sweet yet astringent, nearly sour like a sting. We give them back or sneak away to throw them out without her looking. I do learn, eventually, to stop asking — learn that I don’t like honey, learn to stop darting into the kitchen after watching Winnie the Pooh, to stop begging for some of it on a spoon, only to recoil again, betrayed. But still, I looked at the honey-sticks with envy each time we went, drawn and taunted by their shiny colors.

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On my father’s shoulders in the apple orchard, these are my favorite smells: golden hay crushed underfoot, the delicious rot of fallen apples, thickened in the hazy sunshine. I am above the world, tall as treetops, and I’m smoothing his hair back with my palms, one, then the other, in single-minded intent. One, two, one, two, brush and press, press and brush. This is the whole memory. This, and then an image of looking at him from back on the ground, seeing that his hair was, in fact, warped backwards, goofy looking, as if he’d been wearing a hat too long. The gleam of my satisfaction: I’ve done it.

I wish I could say, on this day I remember the pleasing weight of an apple against my palm. The cool-skinned, crisp-tart mouthful, the scrape of gnarled branches. I want to tell you, on this day, I recall the feel of a parent’s hands at my waist, the blunt ache of their fingers pressed into my abdomen as they lift me high over their head. The wrench and twist — how I yanked and spun that reluctant fruit ‘til it snapped at last — sometimes caught, sometimes falling onto the grass below. I’d like to put it simply, on this day, I looked with pride at our teeming basket of fruit, almost too heavy to carry, straining the metal wire of its handle.

But these memories exist like skipped stones on a creek. Rock flashing across water in a miracle of fluid dynamics — surface tension, momentum, force — then they, too, fall prey to gravity and sink below, lost amid the infinite gravel of the streambed. This is ok. These moments still matter. A life may unspool like a single continuous thread, but the living of it doesn’t have to.

I remember also being carried by my mother there, at Conte Farm. I’m older, or perhaps it only feels that way. The season is still hot. I am very tired, stumbling along the tractor-wheeled rut, bumping against black plastic crop beds. I don’t know what we were picking that day, blueberries perhaps. My mother hoists me up, carries me piggyback. Her short fingers are unable to reach far enough behind her to interlock. Instead, she holds them flat-palmed under my butt, like a little seat. The whole of me perches there, in the gentle triangle of her hands, while my sneaker-heavy feet bounce off each stride of her thighs. She’s canted forward and my arms are wrapped over her shoulders, wrists knotted in front of her neck. She hitches me upward frequently, likely to get the choking pressure of my hands off her throat.

These are my only memories of being carried by my parents, which likely means they were, or were near to, the last times they carried me. This is not a sad thing, although the thinking of it wants to be: one day your parents put you down, and they never picked you back up again.

This is true.

It is also true to say: one day your parents put you down, because now you were strong enough to make it on your own. 

Claire Kortyna’s work has been published in The Offbeat, Beyond Words, the Dubuque Area Writers Guild Movement Anthology, Crack the Spine, and others. Her essay “Lunar Musings” won Flyway: Journal of Writing and Environment’s Home Voices Contest. She is a nonfiction PhD candidate at the University of Cincinnati and an Iowa State University MFA graduate. She reads for The Cincinnati Review and The Sewanee Writers’ Conference.

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Image: Camille Pissarro (Rodney) CC2.0

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