Hilton Als' "Islands" named to The Best American Essays 2015

by Hilton Als

This essay was first published in Transition 113 and has been selected to appear in The Best American Essays 2015 compilation.

Falling through memory, Als juxtaposes a day spent with his intimate friend—a man he “loves like no other”—with arresting recollections of a childhood summer spent in Barbados, when sexual maturation sundered him from his brother.

Full Article / Issue 113

Read issue 113 "What is Africa to Me Now? on JSTOR

I want to go on with my friend forever, not least because he wants to know who I am; he wants to see me, and that includes knowing something about my past, and that past includes, of course, my first experiences on islands. He wants to connect my past of water and tectonic shifts with his island, and the bay. One memory: my younger brother and I were sent to visit our mother’s enormous family in 1970 or 1971, when we were around ten and eight, respectively. Being sent away on summer holiday meant leaving behind our social lives in Brooklyn, where we grew up, and where pebbles were embedded in concrete and streetlights relieved the darkness and one would see and smell, on summer nights, acrid children in striped T-shirts, musty earth in vacant lots, rusting car parts in vacant lots, older children sitting in those non-automotive cars smoking cigarettes and pinching the small nipples on small-tittied girls whose long legs in their Bermuda shorts or denim cut-offs were like osprey legs in that they would have tread delicately through bay water, had there been any as lapidary as the bay water edging toward my feet moments before I recalled visiting Barbados as a child, which was not the great adventure some parents, like my own, expect their children to have, especially if those parents are interested in geography and are familiar with the terrain they are sending their children off to see, partially in the hope that their past experience will make their children, who they cannot see, behave in a way that is responsible to the landscape that the parents themselves used to have their wildest dreams of escape on, but won’t admit to, needing to believe in the fiction of family, of geography, in order to maintain some sense of who they are.


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