Calculating Distances

Dear Jenny,

Today marks the 30th anniversary of our divorce. The last time we spoke fifteen years ago, you asked what it was like being married to you. I couldn’t understand why you wanted to know that, so I didn’t answer. Maybe it was because I didn’t want to know what being married to me was like. But I’ve had a lot of time to think about your question, and here’s what I’ve come up with. 

Sometime after our second anniversary, which you celebrated by working a double-shift at the hospital and I celebrated by taking an aimless drive on some backroads to see how quickly I could get lost, I began to realize that we were two people who had completely different destinations in mind when we set out on a journey we thought we were taking together. 

That drive turned out to be the first of many I’d take without you over the next three years. I’d hop in my car after you’d leave for your grad classes or a shift at the hospital, pick a direction, and start driving until I felt the pull to turn around and come back home. I kept a journal of all of my trips, so I’m sending you just a few of the entries with the hope that they might help answer the question you asked me all those years ago. 

Happy anniversary,
Jamie

*          *          *

January 26, 1988: Columbus, OH to Louisville, KY. 412-mile roundtrip. I’ve never seen so many lawn jockeys before. I bought a sterling silver horse necklace for your birthday because you like to doodle galloping horses. I’ve always wondered whether they are running toward something or running away. I had the necklace wrapped before you got home.

*          *          *

August 17, 1988: Columbus, OH to Wheeling, WV. 256-mile roundtrip. I listened to Bluegrass murder ballads there and back. I wonder how many secrets all the abandoned mine shafts throughout Appalachia must hold. You didn’t get home from work until 7:20 p.m. You never said why you were late, and I didn’t ask. I could’ve driven a lot further.

*          *          *

February 24, 1989: Columbus, OH to Wapakoneta, OH. 178-mile roundtrip. Work called you in at the last minute to take a Saturday shift. I shot for Indianapolis, but blowing snow made the roads nearly impassable in places. Even turning around before I was ready, I barely made it back to the house before you got there at 3:20 p.m. after they sent you home because of the weather. I need to start thinking of an excuse if I don’t make it home before you.

*          *          *

May 10, 1990: Columbus, OH to St. Louis, MO. 834-mile roundtrip. You said you had to work a double-shift, 16 hours, so I took advantage of the extra time and practiced my speech for if I ever get the balls to leave you: “We got married for an idea, not for love”; “Honestly, where do you see us in five years?”; “You never say ‘we’ when you talk about us.” I pretended to be asleep when you finally climbed into bed around 1:30 a.m.

*          *          *

June 23, 1990: Columbus, OH to Pittsburgh, PA. 372-mile roundtrip. Sunday is normally our day to read the Dispatch in bed together. When I brought the paper up to you, you told me I should go thrifting—something I love to do, but something you’ve always hated doing. You said you had a paper you needed to work on. You said you would be busy all day. You said that it was ok. So I went for one of my drives for the first time with your knowledge and with your permission.

*          *          *

August 30, 1990 – September 6, 1990: Columbus, OH to Fairbanks, AK. 3,818 miles, one way. Neither of us cried when I left to take a job that promised a new beginning. Just as we’d estimated after scanning the maps and calculating distances together, I pulled into Fairbanks the day of our fifth anniversary. The plan was for you to move up here after defending your thesis and join me. But now, having just hung up from telling you that I arrived safely and wishing you a happy anniversary, I realize that I could hear in your voice what you’ve already worked out for yourself: that after eight full days of driving, I never once looked in the rearview mirror.

Kip Knott

3 Questions for Kip Knott

What was your process for creating this work?

The piece began as a straightforward creative nonfiction essay, but I was having a difficult time getting it to be something more than just purely confessional. The more I experimented with the form of the piece, the more it began to move into the realm of fiction. Once I settled on the segmented form of the journal entries, most of the story fell into place. I was still having trouble with the opening of the story, though, because I knew that I had to find a way to set up the purpose of the journal entry form and also provide context for the information in each of those entries. After several revisions, I found that the epistolary form worked really to personalize and provide context for the whole piece.

What is the significance of the form/genre you chose for this work?

As I mentioned before, this story began as a creative nonfiction essay. Changing it to flash fiction allowed me to become more creative with the structure and amplify the emotional impact this relationship had on the narrator. Condensing 30+ years of information into 750 words was a real challenge, but it kept the whole piece from getting bogged down in the minutia of the marriage and from becoming too repetitious. I wanted this story to feel very personal, so using the letter as a way to provide context for the time range of the story and then relying on the narrator’s personal journal entries seemed the best way to convey the impact that this marriage had on him.

What is the significance of this work to you?

Even though this piece ultimately ended up as a work of fiction, there are still some personal details in the story that come straight from my own experiences. Ultimately, this piece does address some of the issues that I had never really resolved from my first marriage, so in many ways the narrator of the story is reminding me as much as he’s reminding himself and his ex-wife of some of the details of the marriage that had been locked away for many, many years.

Kip Knott’s most recent full-length collection of poetry, Clean Coal Burn, is available from Kelsay Books. A new full-length poetry collection, Hinterlands, will be available later this year from Versification Publishing House. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Barren, Drunk Monkeys, HAD, (mac)ro(mic), La Piccioletta Barca, New World Writing, and ONE ART. More of his writing may be accessed at kipknott.com.