The Gilded Age

by Charley Johnson

I have always imagined that I missed the “golden years of my family.” Marriages, college graduations,
trips to Paris or Cairo or Illinois

My great-grandmother’s famously horrendous frozen yogurt and my aunt never allowing anyone to miss a holiday. Things I know because the instance was said to be true and confirmed as proper evidence for a court that signed papers and looked over wills.

My mother spills red wine on the coffee table with questions and words bent into a smoking volcano 10 miles from where my brother lived.

I imagine her words slipping through my niece’s young lips “what do you regret in your life?”

My 22 year-old body pulses with a blood that runs through all of our veins.
the mudding of red water does not turn rivers into an aqueduct of family lineage
there is no rerouting here

No time for contemplation or me begging my grandmother to lace her cigarette smoke with a kindness that tastes like her favorite whiskey.

I turn to my mother and say “I do not know.” This is a temporary truth. A truth that I often end with when diving into myself is more lava covered continent that sunny ocean beach that we swam into until we could not touch because there is always a need to be weightless for a little while.
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A list of things I have regretted in my life:

The time I took 5 dollars from my mom and then ended up purchasing her a halloween themed cup with it because gift giving seemed like the only cure for the guilt

crafting alcohol into borrowed time
moving mountains for those that lived at the top of them
crying over spilled milk and white men tears that continue to only stain my clothes
boiling my own blood to rid it of a disease that will not continue

never allowing myself to be scraped open into a Mariana trench or the ability to fall in love with someone will never be a skill I can write on my resume

How much I envy my mother and my brother for being able to be in love though temporary or long lasting, child producing or body convulsing,

this inability will never sit with me as easily as I want it to

And now a prelude the beginning of turning the faces into something more beautiful

A song singsonged until it is swung from the oak tree that grew in the front yard
A night with a little too much tequila and whiskey
A long breath in the airport in Amsterdam
A train ride across the U.K. in November
A little girl with wide eyes and open palms that comes to me and leads me across the volcano
She looks at me and said

“you are so good at floating.”

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Charley Johnson is a genderqueer artist living and creating in Cedar Rapids, IA. They focus their work primarily through the channels of movement and the written word. Their work fluctuates from the political to the passionate to the mundanity of the corn fields. They seek to incorporate their own lived experience with the eyes of the reader to incite a universal connection between two hearts.