The Inland Empire by Adriana Gonzalez

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daisies growing in the rocky dirt in californiaYou slid a daisy stem behind your ear. We were fifteen, and you were well, and your bangs were always in your face. And we made use of the Inland Empire, made use of that valley in California, of its dryness and hills.

That’s what you called it. The Inland Empire, you said, sounded like we were bred from a place of significance. You said it sounded like a board game, a map traced with gold and fires that made us deciders and never just pieces.

I looked to you for hikes, for afternoons of resting against broken grains, and patterned skirts captured in dated and discolored Polaroid film.

Your face was full, and you wore a white blouse and a skirt that was too tight for your body. And because it was too tight, it ripped when you climbed. When you took off your shoes and your toes caught in weeds, you fell, the skirt ripped, and we laughed. And we still ran, the camera looped through a scarf and the scarf around my neck, and you with dried daisies gripped in your palms.

I looked to you for hikes, for afternoons that melted into night, and for nights that painted a sad, dry city against smog and freeway overpasses.

On our backs, our arms extended up, our skin looked blue. We twisted our wrists, spread our fingers and pressed our palms to the sky. We were fifteen, and you were well, and we didn’t mind the heat or dry splinters that caught in our socks because we knew, one day, we would wear insulated boots and buy scented candles for our shared apartment in the city.

I looked to you for the courage to sweat out the Inland Empire.

* * *

You told me your chest was going to explode. That when you swam, your neck felt thick and your body became dizzy. You mentioned that your gums were bleeding. I told you that your gums were bleeding because you never flossed. You showed me the bruises on your thighs, tried to explain how the yellow circles patterned your calves, painted your shins. I told you that because you ate spaghetti, you were gaining weight, and that was why you couldn’t swim. I told you that you needed to eat more chicken to stop the bruising.

Soon, though, you were bald and your cheeks carried indents. The scene had shifted, and you wore a white tank top, your collar bones protruding. You complained of your view out the window, said that you couldn’t see any trees. You sat up in that bed, in that hospital room, your knees to your chest, plastic tubes connecting you. And I told you that you looked like a puppet and you told me that I wasn’t funny and you looked out the window, and I knew the sheets were sanding away at you.

I’m not sure what I looked to you for when you were sick and bald in a bed that wasn’t your own.

* * *

I wear insulated boots, now. I have seen leaves consume the streets of Chicago and I am spinning in snow, and I thank you for making me promise I would leave the hills and the golden dust.

I enjoy the cracking of a wooden wick, the splinters of heat that melt inside glass jars, jars that read: unscented.

I wear insulated boots, but want nothing more than to see you against the freeway overpasses, see you against the smog and the familiarity of that golden board game.


Processed with VSCOcam with m5 presetAdriana Gonzalez is an MFA in nonfiction candidate at Columbia College Chicago, where she also is a Follet Fellow, graduate student instructor and an assistant editor for Hotel Amerika. She stops and marvels when she sees a good tree, lives in Chicago and hails from Corona, Calif.


IMAGE CREDIT: Flickr Creative Commons/Caitlin Regan


  6 comments for “The Inland Empire by Adriana Gonzalez

  1. So beautifully written. The piece is a interesting combination of watching someone you love slowly pass away and the comparison of how badly this region is treated to denying someone’s obvious signs of abuse. Very well done. You are an amazing writer.

  2. I know those streets you talk about, the dried up hills that are so close by. Walking out the front door and we could almost reach up and touch the Peak, the field full if daisies always a constant reminder if times past, I am now close to 50 and I too played in the field of daisies, stickers from tumbbleeeds all up in my socks, we climbed the hill aways trying to reach the top. Some of us did and some , well we just couldn’t make it .Not because we didn’t want to but because the illnesses that were inside..

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