A Short History of Explosions
Age 7: I looked up from the yard-worn action figure and saw my uncle’s name on the television, so I ran to the kitchen to yank at the pink arm of my mom’s blouse while she sliced onions on the cutting board. She said the tears were from the onions, but the lines on her face said she knew. The lines on everyone’s faces said they knew. And that’s when I knew. That’s why they had all driven here to our town and our home, but no one had told me.
Age 7: Everything in the Center for the Families of the Fallen at Dover Air Force Base was the color of sand. The floor was the arid, almost-white of sand baked by unrelenting sun. The chairs the adults sat in were the wet brown of sand the waves let breathe for only a moment. The children’s room was small, one wall entirely chalkboard with clean, straight letters at the top, saying, “Our Hero For Always,” and the rest of it covered in notes to Sgt. Major Arturo Gutierrez. While my cousins drew hearts with arcing chalk swoops, I erased the Sgt. Major’s name with the side of my palm and wrote in the name of my uncle.
Age 7: Everyday for three weeks I went to my wooden backyard playset and with my fist, smashed any bug I found. When asked, I didn’t know what to call myself. My older cousins called the beetle shell mess of my knuckles shrapnel.
Age 8: Each firework made me blink and flinch, my eyes flashing open to catch the afterglow.
Mom, I asked. Fireworks are explosions, right? Uncle Joe died in an explosion. Are all explosions
the same? My mother’s eyes reflected bursts of wet jade. On our blanket, she hugged her knees.
Yes, she said. Every one. Just like that. An orb cracked white, the world’s largest dandelion,
waiting to be blown across mountains by wind. My uncle went just like that, fierce and brilliant.
Age 9: When you find a receipt from Dick’s Sporting Goods taped to the bottom of a snowboard from Santa, this, too, is an explosion, though its fuse is years long and you still see only in hours and days. Before it is a bomb, you will see it as a lie, small and putrid, a worm turned inside out on a hook, and you, the fish who thought it food, flounder on shore, fearing the truth, which is neither a rock nor a dry, gasping suffocation but the knowledge that you live and love among fishermen.
Age 11: Yet fuses were so unlike the landmines and grenades my parents set off around our house. The rooms downstairs became war fronts entrenched by How dare you’s, scarred by Howitzer salvos of doors slammed so often I thought the wood flooring and wainscoting would splinter. The stairs and second floor hallway were No Man’s Land. I slid my feet along the carpet to avoid strafing. I placed my hope in silent nights, in unplanned truces settling over us, light as feathers
Age 14: In chemistry class I learned there is something arcanely beautiful about magnesium burning in a block of dry ice. It sparks white and breathes fog, sliding between colors. Hot and cold enough to burn, it is forever untouchable, the beating heart of a child, Pandora’s Box, calling.
Age 16: Love decimated me, pressed against me in a stairwell, ran her tongue over my lips, sank her nails into my skin, didn’t know how else to ask me not to leave. Love decimated me, sent me water labeled Lethe, split my ribs to take her heart back. Oh lover, if you wanted, I would let you do it all again
Age 17: I sat in a bathroom stall after Intro to Physics and let the tears break. Ten years ago, my family stood on the tarmac, hugging with desperation and cadging cigarettes from each other until all the packs were empty. The flag-draped casket descended from the plane, and we moved all at once, a star collapsing in on itself, a black hole opened. So much of my life fell into it: the worn leather smell of baseball gloves, my first cold, cheap beer, handed to me through fire pit smoke, a house to stay at while my parents struck each other with blunt words and lightning. And you, Sgt. Major. I pulled you in with a swipe of my hand. I looked at my hand. I had punched the stall door, and I saw I was bleeding.
Age 17: On a blindingly sunny day in Afghanistan, my uncle stepped out of a Humvee, walked toward a boy sitting with a goat outside of a house made of stone and timber, and was then slammed back against the Humvee as if God punched him. The IED shredded most of his lower body. I watch the fireworks on July 4th each year, imagining my uncle dying the way I thought he went—in thunderous bursts of color, in white and green and silver. I am still trying to remember him that way.
Donovan Borger holds a Bachelor's in English from Binghamton University, where he was the recipient of an Academy of American Poets University and College Prize and a Fulbright Grant. His work can be found online at poets.org and Ragazine, and is forthcoming in Sugared Water. He lives in New York.