Karin Killian

Once, A Moon

Smack in the middle of the tenderest flesh of my abdomen sits a faded blue crescent moon, embracing my navel—my first tattoo. I got it the winter I turned twenty, desperate to stake a claim on my own body.  Liz came with me. We were back home, in Duluth, spending our holiday on the steep frozen shore of that biggest lake, where we’d grown up. When I’d mentioned my idea she’d gushed enthusiasm, her passion leaking, as it did, inundating everything.

We huddled for hours on the floor of her old room—a small, sheltered space decorated in her meticulous font, twisting and racing up all four walls, a multitude of philosophies etched in Sharpie and draped in twirling vines. I swayed to the Indigo Girls while she sketched, at my direction—one moon after another—until, finally, she achieved what I sought: A very female face exuding wisdom and knowing grace while also appearing—eyes wide, brows arched—to appraise all she saw.

This was back when I still thought Liz would be the one among us to fly to utmost heights. She dripped art and poems and plays and her voice resonated, strong and deep. I’d spent my adolescence sitting in the wings, wrapping myself in velvet curtains when she sang—always center stage—while I waited to find the confidence to merely speak. The simple fact that she would hold my hand made me feel the closet I’d known to complete.

We took that pencil sketch and sped south, in her dead mother’s car, at 70 miles an hour, in the dark, over ice, to Carlton, where we followed an unlit road to a trailer with a blinking neon sign. We parked in the snow and climbed the portable steps and pushed through the weightless door to find a bearded man and a silent brunette.

It was the man who took Liz’s drawing and made a thermal copy and laid it upon my belly, pressing, leaving a trace which he filled with sharp needles, stripped from plastic sheaves, and layers of blue, green and grey ink.

I closed my eyes that night, pinching myself to distract from the pain. But in the years since I’ve watched that moon wax and wane through two bellies full of baby girl, without my friend at my side.

Nine months after that night that sprouted my eternal moon, Liz met a boy at a coffee shop in St. Paul. He’d had a Bible and a persuasive speech and she’d followed him to Texas, believing, it seemed, he knew a special path to God.

It was a narrow way, requiring her to slam every door she’d passed through before, shutting us out. But still I pounded, for years, sending phone messages that echoed and then letters, whose scripture-laced replies goaded me, indicted me, but also gave me a return address on the prairie, which I followed, once, in a rented car, to an empty trailer, locked and dark.  I’d hoisted myself up, with my own strong arms, just high enough to peek through the lace curtains, where I saw walls again papered in her particular scrawl, but now all quoting Luke and Paul, Matthew and Mark.


Earlier today I did that thing we do now, when we yearn and grieve. I Googled Liz’s name and found a new video of my old friend, her face now swollen, her braids long, but her voice unmistakable as she sings “Amazing Grace” in that tenor that still, even today, makes my entire being vibrate.


Karin Killian has worked as a waitress, bartender, secretary, dog-walker, papergirl, tour guide, Peace Corps Volunteer, field interviewer, teacher, translator, and director of various non-profit and international development projects. She currently lives in Northern Michigan with her husband and daughters. Karin’s favorite sweets are dried cherries and dark chocolate, preferably together.

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