Territory, Redefined

Gretchen Clark

1. any tract of land; region or district. A map of the world hung on the wall behind us. Colorful pushpins pricked the places he’d been: Missouri, Germany, England, Amsterdam, France. His dog tags hung from a red pin stuck in Kuwait. 2. the land and waters belonging to or under the jurisdiction of a state, sovereign, etc. We hadn’t talked about the Gulf War when I’d last seen him at the Black Watch bar. By then the conflict had been over for several months and it never crossed my mind that night we met for a drink. But this memento of Marc’s soldier past, with its heroics and dangers, compelled me to acknowledge the war in some small way. “I remember being glued to the TV during the weeks leading up to Desert Storm,” I told him. “At some point in the news broadcast, a map always appeared on screen. At that time, I had no idea you’d joined the Army. I never thought, as I stared at that nightly map of the Persian Gulf that someone I knew was there, readying for war.” 3. any separate tract of land belonging to a state. Marc downed the rest of his whisky, put the glass on the bookcase and reached over to unhook the dog tags from their pushpin. He was close enough for me to breathe in the woody scent of his cologne. He placed the chain around my neck, gently untwisting the tags so that they faced outward. 4. a field or sphere of action, thought.“Does this mean I’m the property of the U.S. Army or of Marc Jones?” I joked. Marc reclined on a nest of pillows and closed his eyes. “It means whatever you want it to mean.” 5. domain or province of something. I watched him for several minutes, and then I traversed China, the Atlantic and Tennessee until I was just inches from him. With his dog tags swaying around my neck, I leaned down and kissed him. I hadn’t forgotten about the man who loved me, who was sleeping in our bed at home, but in that moment I wanted to return to the beginning, to my first love, to the point of origin.


Gretchen Clark holds a B.A. in English and teaches creative nonfiction at Writers.com. Her essays have appeared in Hamilton Stone Review, Writer Advice, Hip Mama, Word Riot, New York Family Magazine, Switchback, Foliate Oak, and Tiny Lights, among others.