The Unintentional Ways of Timelessness by Nikoletta Gjoni
It probably happened only a few times, but like many memories that remain suspended in space, I remember it being a ritual we developed and shared until the earth would fall flat all around us.
There was always a low hum coming from downstairs in the living room after we had all gone to bed. Each night I’d descend the stairs to catch you in a blue glow, the TV light a halo around your hair. The volume was as low as a secret to not disrupt the rest of the house that had retired for the night.
I could’ve been in high school, though today I always imagine myself to be younger when I creeped into the living room each night, footsteps leaving creaks behind me in an invisible trail. The first few intrusions came with the usual questions of it’s late, why are you up? And, awake again tonight? Before we settled into a routine of sorts—a synchronized dance in silence, save for The Golden Girls on TV.
It was the first time I think I laughed at sex jokes in front of you. And then with you. Quiet at first, our shoulders shook, not wanting the other to know we found Blanche’s escapades funny. Within a few nights, it no longer mattered and I began to pretend that it was two women on the couch instead of Immigrant Mother and Adolescent Daughter. We simply existed, cohabitating a space late into the night—growing a little more towards each other with each commercial break.
They say it’s all about the eyes but it’s really in the hands when it comes to mothers; fingers stroking through tangled curls until eyelids drooped heavy; heart lines running east to west, deep and long as rivers. The sense of endlessness in time had never been so palpable.
All the years beyond a certain magical number (thirteen, fourteen, anything with ‘teen’) blur together to create the lie that old is old is old is all the same. What we really mean is that the troubles and victories that come with age become indistinguishable as the years progress. We strive to find comfort in the skin we’ve molded, constructed, and stretched out for ourselves to fit into over time.
And we know (because we always secretly know) that this is the best it’s going to get. I didn’t know then how to vocalize it—even to myself—while dozing on that couch night after night, far beyond my bedtime. But that’s the thing with perfection: you can feel it even when you can’t say it.
I remember, still, nestled on that couch, cocooned between cushions and body in a way that is only acceptable to do so with Mom. It’s become the cornerstone of so many other memories that trapeze between adolescence and adulthood. It begins here, even when it doesn’t. And in this way, there is always a timelessness about us; a timelessness about motherhood and aging, even when memories feel so distant and surreal, making us believe we dreamt it all.
Nikoletta Gjoni is a fiction and creative nonfiction writer living outside of Washington, DC. She currently has a collection of linked short stories out on submission about people living in Communist Albania, spanning the 1970s through to the present day. Her work can be found or is forthcoming in the Kindling Volume III anthology, Cleaver Magazine, Cotton Xenomorph, Riggwelter Press, and elsewhere. Her first published story was nominated for the 2018 PEN/Robert J. Dau prize. You can follow her @NikiGjoni.