Imaginary Oklahoma is an ongoing platform in which some of today’s most important and influential writers combine with artists from outside the state to provide a fictional take on this place we call home. Through a wide variety of voices, styles and literary devices, these works prove that “Oklahoma” is much more than a place, it’s an idea.
You try having a father who isn’t equal to you in size. It’s not easy. His boots are always bigger. His hands are always bigger. He can reach things I can’t. At fifteen I find my voice is deeper than his and at first that’s a victory that can’t be measured, a world larger than any I can imagine.
I walk around Broken Arrow telling people things they already know, just so I can be heard wielding this new instrument. But then it sinks in that it’s just a voice, and that it’s just a little deeper than his, and that the things it’s saying are not nearly as deep. Over time the novelty drains and with it the power of the voice and I am left with the fact that when we are photographed together I look, always and forever, as if I require his protection. So you try having a father like that. And while you’re at it, try having a mother who notices the difference in size, and comments on it, and even narrows her eyes when she’s commenting on it as if to suggest that things could be different if only I truly wanted them different, deep down in my heart.
There’s an old woman in town who responds to every week of dusty summer by sitting down on the sidewalk, right there on South Main, and then looking up and announcing that she’s praying for water to fall from the sky. She says she’s Creek but she doesn’t look it at all. Everyone accounts her a crank in more than one direction, and in the Ledger they have even given her a nickname: “Rain Dance.” But how is what my mother wants from me any better?
I can look to the sky all I want and ask to be bigger but facts are facts and my father is bigger. Once I put on his shoes by accident and I was swimming in the things. Live with that at twenty, at twenty-five, at thirty. That’s why I first entered a bar and why it took me years to come back out. Then one day, on the orders of the doctor, in an attempt to keep the woman I love, I came out. The sun was an affront.
I visited home and my father was busy in the back but my mother fixed me a sandwich and even offered me a drink. It took all I had to refuse. Do you know what it’s like to deny yourself the only thing that ever comforted you? Glass half empty? Half full? It didn’t matter as long as it was beer. That was my little joke back when I made those kinds of jokes. Here’s my joke now: I put on my pants one leg at a time just like any other great man. I’m so scared.
Ben Greenman is an editor at the New Yorker and the author of several acclaimed books of fiction, including Superbad, Please Step Back, and A Circle is A Balloon and Compass Both. His most recent books are What He’s Poised To Do and Celebrity Chekhov. He lives in Brooklyn.