Kaitlyn Greenidge is a Brooklyn-based writer. Greenidge’s publications include “Victor LaValle Talks with Kaithlyn Grenidge” in Always Apprentices: The Believer magazine Presents Twenty-Two Conversations Between Writers, McSweeney’s, Believer Books (2013), The Feminist Wire (2013), At Length Magazine (2012), and Green Mountains Review (2011).
Greenidge’s awards include Waiter Scholar, Breadloaf Writers’ Conference (2010). She received her B.A. from Wesleyan University and an M.F.A. from Hunter College.
Last period of the day. Charles decided that he would talk about tessellations. Last period, they should have been covering sines and cosines. They should have been starting to graph but he just didn’t have it in him. Tessellations were his favorite.
When Charles first started dating Laurel, he’d told her that. He’d told her how much he loved the idea. “Everything has its place,” he’d said, “And when it’s in its place, it makes beauty.” Laurel said laughingly back, “That’s too easy.” She didn’t like easy. She never had. She liked complication. She said, “If it’s not hard, it’s not worth it,” and that had excited him, still excited him, twelve years into their marriage, her willingness to battle.
A whole class on tessellations: the subject didn’t deserve a full lesson. But that morning, waking up without Laurel or his daughters, slumped on his bony couch, drinking the spit of coffee grounds and lukewarm water that drooled from his second hand coffee maker, he’d looked at the graphs in his notebook, at the lecture notes he’d penciled for himself in his straight boxy hand, and what was left of his heart had gone out of him. He knew he couldn’t bear it. For once, he wanted to speak with love. He wanted to talk in public about something he loved. And since he couldn’t speak of Laurel and he couldn’t speak of his daughters, tessellations would have to do.
It was odd, this desire. It was, of course, he knew, like the ache at the back of his throat and the licks of burn in the pit of his belly and the dryness of his eyeballs, and his relentless insomnia—all of it a good doctor, hell, just an especially empathetic ninth grader, would diagnose all of it as symptoms of the divorce. He didn’t like to call what was happening by that name. Charles called it “a separation” for his girls and he called it nothing for the people at work when they asked how he was doing. But to himself and to Laurel, he called it by its true name: a cleaving. He always said it as a sad joke, though. “Should we talk about the cleaving?” he’d chuckle, but Laurel wasn’t having it. This was the one of the few times Laurel disliked complication. “Just call it what it is,” she’d say, annoyed, and he would answer, still laughing, that that was what he was doing. That was its true name.
He stood in the classroom now. Right before the first bell of the last period. The green shadows from the fir tree outside wavered and rippled and splashed across the bulletin boards on the classroom’s back wall. He supposed, if he had to talk about something he loved, he could talk about that. He loved that. He loved the green. He loved the country: he always had. Growing up hampered in Central Square with all the other Bajans, he’d declared his wish for wide-open, quiet places. When he was six he’d announced he wanted to be a farmer. His parents were scandalized. They hadn’t left Barbados only to have their son turn around and work his way back down into the dirt.
He hadn’t really known that black people in America could live outside a city, could grow in wilderness, until he met Laurel. When he first meant her she still smelled like fresh pine sap. It wasn’t overpowering, it was subtle, most noticeable right behind her ears and under her chin. He’d told her and she’d been mortified and then insisted he must be joking. But he wasn’t. She had always smelled like wide-open country to him. He made her tell him everything about her home: the tree farm, the hills. She casually mentioned picking fiddleheads from the weeds in the woods behind her house, brushing off their paper veils and biting the fresh curls till they burst into green in her mouth, and she did not see the wondrousness of that at all, thought him odd for seeing it. “It was just stuff you eat as a kid on your way to school, like chewing on hay,” she said, as if chewing hay was normal, too.
Her farm was gone by the time they met. Her parents mortgaged it to send her to college and then her dad died of pneumonia shortly before her graduation, her mother a few months later. In the wilds of their early love, he promised Laurel he would buy it back for her, and she’d said, “Don’t bother.” She told him about the silence, too, of course, the solitude of growing up black in white country. But that didn’t deter him: that made him want it even more. Even the racism up there in the country sounded dreamy to him. Much better than the squawks and loud calls and the migrating college students in Central Square who liked to make their mark on the bars he’d walked past for years by catcalling insults at him from their doorways. He considered it the major failure of their life together: that at the end of their first decade of marriage, he still hadn’t made enough money to get them to the green. So he’d said yes to this job, to teaching high school math in the Berkshires, in the country, because of the woods and the trees and the streams. The selling point was the green. The rest of it: how hard it was, how unbelievably lonely it was being the only black teacher in an all white faculty at a nearly all white high school in a nearly all white town, didn’t matter because of the green. He’d thought so, anyways. Laurel disagreed.