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Excerpt from Another Word for Love by Carvell Wallace, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Another Word for Love by Carvell Wallace

Another Word for Love

A Memoir

by Carvell Wallace
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  • First Published:
  • May 14, 2024
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The Quiet

We had been homeless for about a year. We never slept on the street; mostly we bounced from one temporary living situation to another with the occasional night in a motel or a car. Some of these situations were fine. Some were not. Maybe it was less than a year but it felt like a long time, full of endings and tiny deaths.

I was seven and a half years old, almost eight. We eventually found an apartment in Virginia, which I could tell meant a lot to my mother. There was one bedroom, a small patio, a kitchen, and a sunken living room, which I guessed was a thing to be coveted by the reverence with which these words—"sunken living room"—were spoken.

I remember the days in that apartment as lonely ones. It was just the two of us. The afternoons were long and quiet. We had no furniture, save for a bunk bed and a rocking chair whose lengthening shadow would spread across my body as I lay on the empty carpet while afternoon turned to night and my mother slept like she had briefly died. We had just come through a chaotic period of homelessness and now we had a place. We were tired, but our safety here was flimsy. I knew even then that eventually we would lose this place like we lost all others. We were like survivors of a shipwreck who had washed ashore onto a deserted island. We had made it, but for how long?

Food was not guaranteed. Sometimes I ate from a stick of butter when I was hungry. It gave me a headache, but I also loved the warm recklessness of it, putting something slick and salty in my mouth, a forbidden overflow of flavors that almost made me nauseated, but not quite. Other times there were restaurant leftovers. I knew my mother went on dates to get takeout for us, and I was grateful whenever I saw a noisy, oversize Styrofoam container in the fridge. Cold salty half-chewed steaks, gummy fries, rock-hard cakes, and chewy slices of garlic bread. It was like eating from a very nice trash can. I gorged myself whenever I could.

Maybe I first began to contemplate death in those afternoons of lengthening shadows. The TV would be on; the final credits would be rolling on some made-for-TV action movie. My mother would be dead to the world. I would be alone with night advancing. I would feel trapped in a space between awake and sleep, between life and death, that I found intoxicating and terrifying. It was as if I was in the presence of a holy truth: the Ending of Things, the Encroaching of Shadows; the Quiet Death of a Temporary Suburban Apartment Complex at Dusk.

But wait. Maybe that is just how I made sense of things later, after I grew up and got away from there, turned myself into a poet and writer, someone who, for whatever reason, can't resist weaving stories out of aching trails of hurt and long serpentine shadows across an empty carpet floor. Maybe what I experienced then was a feeling of abandonment that shook me to my core, made me want to cry, made me feel useless, like refuse and garbage. Maybe I just needed a hug. Maybe I just needed my mother.

It's hard to know anymore what's what. I guess that's what time does, changes the meaning of things. I try not to bother too much about figuring out which truth is the truest. A lot of things, I have learned, can be true at once. That is how I have survived.

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Excerpted from Another Word for Love by Carvell Wallace. Copyright © 2024 by Carvell Wallace. Excerpted by permission of MCD. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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