We hand over our passports as part of the routine. The customs officer reads the country of origin and watches how I’m already taking my glasses off, from years of hearing that being requested. I watch my husband talk to the officer, I can’t seem to make out the words as my ears are still cloudy from the long flight. I rarely feel completely clear until an hour from landing.
“Do you work?” the officer asks me.
“I am not working but rather helping my husband succeed,” I respond. He gives me a blank stare and sure enough, no immediate follow-up.
“Where is your husband’s office located?”
“Los Angeles. Want me to get more specific?”
“Is he looking for a change of career? And yeah, I assumed it’s in LA County if you’re landing here.” I nod.
“I don’t imagine my husband will be changing careers,” I say, is this appropriate for him to ask me about his career direction? My husband goes paler as it dawns on him where these questions are going. Each one leading from the recent terrorist attacks in Europe pulls away the security blanket from all our borders. I’m standing there answering questions, I’m standing there until he finally tells us:
Siobhan Vivian is the award-winning author of 2016’s The Last Boy and Girl in the World, 2012’s The List, and the trilogy of novels, Burn for Burn, which she co-wrote with Jenny Han. She graduated from the University of the Arts with a degree in Writing for Film and Television and received her MFA in Creative Writing: Children’s Literature from The New School in NYC. She was an editor at Alloy Entertainment and was a scriptwriter for The Disney Channel. Siobhan currently resides in Pittsburgh, PA, and teaches a Writing Youth Literature course at the University of Pittsburgh.
What was the first story you ever wrote?
It was a piece I had written to get into undergrad. I had done a little creative writing in high school because someone told me the [creative writing] class was easy. I was a terrible student in high school—basically, I was directionless. I took this class and loved it. I felt like, “This is work? This is fun!” And I was getting praise, which I had never really gotten before from high school teachers. So, when my teacher said to me, “You know, there are universities where you can basically go for writing and do what we’re doing in class,” it blew my mind.…
the little honorary pallbearers
place their boutonnieres
on the casket before it is lowered,
but for once I am not thinking
about death or about the woman
I knew well long ago, nor—
when people I haven’t seen
for decades hug me as if
just last night we were swapping
stories around someone’s back-
yard fire pit—nor am I, in this moment, obsessing about
the passage of time, caught
up instead, as it comes over
the slight rise, weaving through
the headstones, silk roses, teddy
bears, tiny American flags,
the guy in a straw hat throwing
wilted flowersinto the back
of a pickup truck, struck
by the sound of someone else’s
bagpipe procession, the wind
taking some notes, softening
the edges of others so that
one could almost believe
in some other land there, foreign
but familiar, just over the hill,
but fornow it’s enough to be here
in this moment, the one in which
my granddaughter kisses my wet
cheek, reminding me of nothing else,
carrying with it no dramatic irony,
no conceit, just a moment
like so many, these days,
I might wish to let linger.…
When I am twelve, my friends are divided amongst two distinctive groups: those who have been kissed, and those who have not been kissed. Desperately, and against notions of popularity, I long to be amongst those who have not been kissed. My first kiss, a few weeks after my eighth birthday, was a mistake of wordplay. Paul Forilio had taken me behind his family’s large oak tree. He had inquired, “Do you want a French kiss?”
I had stared at him, bewildered, and waited for his Mom to tell us to play where she could see us.
Then, it had dawned on me. Oh, he means a Hershey kiss. “Okay,” I smiled politely, extending my palm for the sweet.
Never did I expect his lips to clamp around mine, or the tongue that knocked against my molars. Horrified, I shoved him backward. Against my parent’s rule of not crossing the street without adult supervision, I ran home, trying to spit out Paul’s French kiss the entire way. When I found Mom, hunched over to plant her tomato garden, I burst into tears. “Mommy, help!” I shrieked, “Paul gave me a French kiss! Not a Hershey one.”
These words that, hence, I’ve laughed about with my mom for years.…