I am sitting here on day one of social distancing and thinking of all the people in the apartments next to me, seemingly doing the same exact thing. I do not know any of my neighbors names or what their lives entail. This is mainly my fault as I have extreme anxiety surrounding not so much knowing about my neighbors, but my neighbors knowing details about me. I thrive on being a secretive, protected person in my cubby hole of isolation. Once, my neighbor above me, whom I learned had children on my second day after moving in because I heard four pairs of stomping feet making a ruckus above me at seven in the morning followed by a screech of “I DON’T WANT TO GO TO SCHOOL!,” knocked on my door. It was the middle of the day and I was in my underwear. After about thirty seconds of sheer panic and not moving from my couch in direct view of my window with blinds lifted approximately six inches and sunlight streaming in, I raced to my chair and grabbed a blanket to cover the lower half of my body and instead of pretending I wasn’t home like I wish I did now, I answered the door with a joker-esque smile of anxiety and said nothing as I made intense eye contact, utilizing my poor body language to inquire what she wanted.
My neighbor, whose name I still do not know, had already started retreating away from my door as it took me over a minute to answer. She walked back over to stand in front of me and stumbled through “Hi! Is it...uh...okay if we duct tape these...uh... Christmas lights underneath your door so we can have Christmas decorations for our kids? If it’s too much of a hassle, we would understand. Uh..” She waited for me to respond. I clutched my fuzzy, stained blanket that terribly needed a wash to ensure she couldn’t see my granny panties and said incredibly loudly “YES THAT’S TOTALLY FINE. YAY LIGHTS. HA HA. TOTALLY COOL.”
When the conversation seemed to be done, she said “Great, sorry to bother you! Have a great rest of your day!” I smiled to the best of my ability, my heart racing because I always assume that when someone knocks on my door that they are mad at me for something (too loud of a TV, sick of me setting my fire alarms off, mad at me for just existing), and slowly closed the door.
Now, I’m sitting here in a fucking self-quarantine as the COVID-19 pandemic sweeps the country and I wish I would have asked for her name and over for wine sometime because I want to know her STORY. I want to know what keeps her up at night. I want to know how her apartment is decorated. Is it chaotic like mine? Or is it minimalistic and chic? Is it messy from exhaustively ordering pizza last night over cooking a meal or is it pristinely clean from an organized chore chart hanging on the fridge? Reading I Have the Answer by Kelly Fordon made me more keen to get to know my neighbor. Because just like me, she is living a life to the best of her ability and her story matters.
This short story collection is a simmering display of adulthood and the challenges people face around us in silence and in shame. It is incredibly human and eloquently full of emotional truth. Some of the stories force you to stop dead in your tracks and bear witness with your whole, entire body. We are granted admission to the grief of Corrinne, a woman who unexpectedly loses her husband and has to learn how to go on living.
We are introduced to a man whose father is losing his memory and is trying to grasp at the remaining straws of stories before he loses himself completely. It delivered a seething line:
“Think of his mind as a library on fire. Take advantage of the time you have left.”
This past Father’s Day, I gifted my dad a tape recorder. I want to have his stories and his voice and tid bits of his life on me at all times when he no longer is here with me physically. He has yet to record his first story, but I trust he will find inspiration now that he is retiring and will tire of war movies (hopefully) in a couple of weeks. I have a voicemail from my Dad (mack daddio dale in my iPhone) dated on October 25th, 2019 that is inherently meaningless and arbitrarily goofy. It transcribes to: “Hi, this is Dale Chidester and I was calling you to give you some instructions on your license plates! You can call me at your… earliest convenience. Thanks! Bye!” I also have a voicemail from my mother from July that is complete gibberish and more than likely filmed from the bottom of her insanely large purse, but it is her voice, and that is what matters. We will not always be granted the privilege of our parents’ voices, so go check your voicemail now and save that ordinary recording to every facet of your mind and corner of your iCloud.
Fordon tackles a story about the magnitude of rape culture at an overtly religious schooling institution, how it is perpetuated, and the internalized desire to be silent about sexual assault due to the copious amounts of shame we are societally pressured to feel. And then, when you think Fordon might give your heart a break, you meet Maura, whose husband left her and she finds herself unable to leave her house. While some stories are definitely more impactful than others, Fordon never weans away from rocket-launching a truth bomb into your allergy-congested chest.
Another story follows a group of “friends” parading through parenthood. It shows the truth of parenthood and the friendships that form because of it. Are they due to a deep understanding and love for one another? Or are they built out of convenience and a desperate desire to find someone who might be struggling as much as you?
Do you want to know what story made me openly cry into a PBR at a dive bar in Virginia Highlands? Let me just say it includes a searing “FUCK YOU” to people who adamantly proclaim that their family member would never become addicted to drugs.
The most gripping story for me followed a woman named Theresa, who put on a rampant unveiling of the events that can unfold when parts of ourselves are invisible to our neighbors. I wonder if my neighbors have ever lost a loved one to a drug addiction. Or if any of them have lost their father and wish more than anything that they could have gotten just one more story. I Have the Answer has inspired me to lull my anxiety and maybe greet my neighbors with a hello. A smile in the courtyard. A banana bread offering. A hand reaching out. An invitation for friendship. Today, I am quarantined. But tomorrow (figuratively), I’ll ask for a story.
I Have the Answer
By Kelly Fordon
188 pages. 2020.