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June 11, 2022

The Garbo Lesson

Jen Rouse

When you’re not old enough to drive and Cinemax never unscrambles at your house, you find a stash of Garbo VHS at the corner video store. The dank smell of the carpet, like a forest floor of mushrooms in the dimly lit corner where you always find her, makes your choices seem illicit. And yet still acceptable to your mother who waits outside in the crucible—a Delta 88—of an Iowa heat wave. Who doesn’t love a Hollywood starlet? At home, you nest inside the mauve papasan, with a Tab and cold vat of congealing tuna casserole. Like Garbo, you are always alone. How you study with artistic precision the set of her jaw, the steadiness of her gait. You walk into every situation knowing death is fondling the collar of your cape. Later it will be your therapist who runs her finger down your cheek. A woman who touches your sadness as though it were the creamy petal of a camellia. Deeply inhales what you believe is the truth of you. That nothing you do will allow you to live beyond longing. In the middle of the heartland, where there is always pity—a lapping tongue of fire at the edges of your pride.