If I could, I would go back in time. I would go back and seek out the 16-year-old version of me. The one who didn’t quite know herself. Didn’t quite believe in herself. Didn’t quite love herself, but did manage to fall helplessly in love with you.
If I could, I would find her and tell her about you. Warn her about you. Let her know that she can love you with all her heart, but you’re going to break it just the same.
But she would go on and love you anyway. Because some things she’ll just have to learn on her own.
If I could, I’d go back in time and talk to my 18-year-old self. The one who gave you everything she had. Every ounce of intimacy. Then watched as you flirted with other girls at your high school. And felt her heart break for the first, but not the last, time.
If I could, I’d tell her it’s okay to feel broken. And it’s okay to ache. I’d tell her that time does heal, but she’ll never be the same. I’d tell her being lost for a while is the only chance she ever has of being found.
But she’d ignore me anyway. And she’d cling to you. Because some mistakes are worth making.
If I could, I would go back in time and seek out my 20-year-old self. The one who looked in the mirror and decided to see beauty. The one who discovered being herself filled her up with infinitely more joy than living up to everyone else’s expectations.
If I could, I’d tell her that you cheating on her had nothing to do with her weight. Or the size of her bra. I’d tell her that the details are even worse than what she’s imagining in her head. I’d tell her that turning her back on you would be the hardest thing she’d ever do, but her future self would be forever grateful.
But she’d stay by your adulterous side. Sweeping up the pieces shattered around her feet. Hoping for the best. Because that sweet little girl’s tragic flaw was always relentlessly following her heart.
If I could, I would go back in time in search of my 22-year-old self. The one who finally saw all she was worth. And all she deserved. The brave girl who stood her ground and said, no more. No more.
If I could, I would wrap my arms around her so tightly. And I’d tell her it’s okay to be sad. And I’d tell her it’s okay to miss you. I’d tell her to let her heart weep. I’d tell her to long and mourn. I’d tell her to dwell on the loss of her first love for as long as she needed.
But she’d shut that out too. And she’d choose to never acknowledge the sadness, to never talk about the fear that maybe she was wrong. And she’d choose to let anger be the only emotion associated with you. Then she’d move on with the heavy burden of a bitter heart. Because there are some things that are worse than saying goodbye.
But this 27-year-old can’t go back. And she got here with only foolish emotions guiding her way. And all those bad decisions took their toll. And you still haunt her dreams. And that time never did come by and heal. Because she never let herself break down. And grieve the loss of a truly great love.
So to her I say, it’s not too late. And it’s still okay to think of you. It’s still okay to be sad. And it’s still okay to wonder. It’s even okay to remember. It doesn’t make her weak or pathetic. It makes her human. It makes her the woman she is. Built on the bones of her reckless 16-year-old, broken 18-year-old, devoted 20-year-old, and valiant 22-year-old selves.
She’s the glorious compilation of all the mistakes she’s ever made.
And if she’s lucky, there’ll be many more to come.
We used to make leaf piles. Rake the yard clean of fallen mahogany and amber and crispy browns until the shivering blades of grass beneath were revealed. We’d drag all those colors into the back corner of the yard. But we didn’t burn them. No we’d never let them go up in flames.
We piled them tall and wide until we created a mattress-sized heap of all the trees had shed that year. Then we jumped high in the air and let our bodies fall carelessly down to earth.
It was fall when I found you. Or you found me. And we both forgot – even if for just a moment – that our hearts were too broken to love again. And the time it took for a ruby red Sweetgum leaf to dance its way from the highest tree branch to the anxiously awaiting ground below, that was all the time we needed.
We were falling too.
In a coastal town you have to seek fall out or you’ll never realize she’s there. When the humidity steps aside, backs away after a cleansing rain. And winter’s bite hasn’t taken hold. The sun is still warm, but the swirling breeze carries just enough coolness to make it possible to sit under those soothing rays forever.
I miss the way the Georgia trees paint the ground with colors. And spending all day in the backyard raking up those leaves just so I could fall with splendid abandon.
But the trees here don’t change with the seasons. And as quick as she comes to visit, fall will move on.
So I’ll just breathe in each precious moment. And be thankful that a childhood spent watching leaves tumble helplessly in the air was enough to give me the courage for my greatest fall. When there was no leaf pile to catch me.
I can tell you when I started loving myself. It was after high school, after college, after moving away from hometowns and old flames and roots and memories.
It was far removed from existing expectations of who I was to be and what I was to become.
That’s where I was when I opened my eyes for the first time. When I looked at myself and didn’t see oily skin and thin hair and big thighs and a flat chest and giant feet and brittle nails.
I saw me. I saw intelligence with a sense of humor. An unusual charm born from authenticity. I saw strength and ambition and resilience.
I saw beauty. And a kind spirit. And a good soul.
That is when I started loving myself.
What I’m afraid I cannot tell you, is when I lost it again. And began fixating on the weight I added to my belly. And avoiding my reflection in the mirror. And shuddering at the thought of someone taking my picture. And lost focus on all I have to offer. And overlooked all that worth I’d discovered.
I didn’t realize self-love was not an epiphany that forever changes the way you feel and think about yourself. You have to work at it. You have to make it happen. You have to remind yourself, despite what the world around you screams every day, what beautiful is.
B:Do you think it would help if you talked to him again?
Me:(sips coffee) . . . I don't know, really. I mean, if I talked to him and he said what I wanted him to, then it would help.
B:What do you want him to say?
Me:That he knows I did everything, tried everything to make it work. That he knows I was wonderful. I was great. I was the best thing that ever happened him and he screwed it up. That he destroyed it. Pulled it out of the ground with its roots still intact. . . . That I gave everything. And he gave up.
“Don’t tell thin women to eat a cheeseburger. Don’t tell fat women to put down the fork. Don’t tell underweight men to bulk up. Don’t tell women with facial hair to wax, don’t tell uncircumcised men they’re gross, don’t tell muscular women to go easy on the dead-lift, don’t tell dark-skinned women to bleach their vaginas, don’t tell black women to relax their hair, don’t tell flat-chested women to get breast implants, don’t tell “apple-shaped” women what’s “flattering,” don’t tell mothers to hide their stretch marks, and don’t tell people whose toes you don’t approve of not to wear flip-flops. And so on, etc, etc, in every iteration until the mountains crumble to the sea. Basically, just go ahead and CEASE telling other human beings what they “should” and “shouldn’t” do with their bodies unless a) you are their doctor, or b) SOMEBODY GODDAMN ASKED YOU.”—Thin Women: I’ve Got Your Back. Could You Get Mine? - Lindy West (via thisisyourwakeupcall)
When she finally stirred, light poured through the cheap blinds, draping the scratchy comforter on the hotel bed in even stripes of sunshine. Her head throbbed as the room spun around her. The stench of cheap bourbon and cigarettes hung in the air and mingled with something sweeter – like day old perfume or the lingering scent of shampoo on a pillow. It might have been mid-afternoon, but the clock next to the bed blinked 12:00 and gave no clues to the time of day.
Rolling onto her back and covering her head with a pillow, she groaned as snapshots of the night flashed in her head. A speakeasy with a password. A bartender with a crooked smile. And the darkest eyes she’d ever seen.
Trying to free herself from the memory of it all, she sprung up from the bed. Dropping two unsteady legs onto the floor and leaning on the doorway to the adjacent bathroom for support. She stumbled in, not quite willing to let go of the wall.
A shower. A shower would make her feel better. She turned on the water and sat dazed on the cool toilet seat as steam began to rise toward the hum of the fluorescent lights.
The water stung, pounding her shoulders in uneven bursts, but she didn’t budge as her wet skin turned pink in the heat. She looked unconvinced at the frail bar of cheap hotel soap. Surely it was going to take something much more substantial to wash it all away.
A good intention. A bad idea. A hotel with a room. A heart with a vacancy. And do not disturb. Do not disturb. Do not disturb.
But it was far too late for all that. She was more disturbed than ever before.
She tried to remember that saying about forbidden fruit, as she was fairly certain it would apply, but her mind was clouded and slow. All she could think of were the shape of the lips that bit into hers last night. The feeling of the tongue that swam inside her mouth. That made her body throb and her mind race. That made her want to somehow surrender and escape at the same time.
Stepping out of the shower she wrapped herself in a thin towel and avoided her reflection in the foggy mirror. She began piecing together her outfit, discarded haphazardly around the room. A black pump. A lacy bra. A braided gold hoop earring.
She spotted her top, halfway draped over the nightstand. As she grabbed it, a small piece of paper fluttered to the floor. Hesitantly, she bent down to retrieve it.
A receipt from the bar. With a note on the back in rushed red cursive.
If I had a baby girl, I’d tell her she was pretty. But that it didn’t matter anyway. Because pretty is just a label society creates. And those labels might as well be written in Greek. They have no meaning here. You’re not pretty or smart or skinny or fat or successful or stupid. You are my baby girl. You are perfect in every way. Society’s Pretty never met no one like you.
If I had a baby girl, I’d tell her she is worthy. A complete worthy being. Just for being born. Just for existing. And one day some freckle faced boy who thinks he’s a man is gonna come along and try and change your mind. You’ll think he’s giving you the world when really he wants to take it all away. And you might make a mistake or two. Thinking you’re in love. But when it’s all over and you’re crushed and confused, I’ll tell you you’re just as worthy as you ever were.
If I had a baby girl, I’d tell her life doesn’t start when you’re 13 or 16 or 18 or 21. Life isn’t womanhood or adulthood or maturity. It’s all the mistakes and magic that happen in between. Life is sneaking out at night with your best friend or losing the biggest game of the season. Life is the first time you drive a car. The first time you ruin dinner. The first time you kiss a boy. The first time you get caught telling a lie. Don’t spend a second thinking you can’t wait until … .Until is now. This is your until. Live in every moment of it.
If I had a baby girl, I’d tell her we’ve come a long way in how the world thinks about women. But we’ve still got a long way to go. And someone is going to look at you like an object. And someone is going to tell you what you can and can’t do with your body. And you’re always going to be seen first and foremost as a woman. And you’ll get used to that because you have to.
You’ll probably do more cleaning and cooking and laundry and child-rearing than your other half despite the fact that you too, have a full-time job. You’ll probably be expected to put your career on hold if you want to start a family. You’ll be expected to lose that baby weight and stay in shape and look beautiful or else lose your value in the eyes of society.
So you’ll have to create your own sacred space where society cannot reach you and tell you who to be and what to become and what parts of you are important and what parts aren’t.
If I had a baby girl I’d tell her that girls aren’t sluts for having sex. And when you think you’re ready, you’re probably wrong. That food is not the enemy. That all bodies are different and perfect and right. I would tell her that life is really tough sometimes, but that’s part of the journey. And I’d tell her to trust the soft little voice in her head that always knows the right thing to do.
If I had a baby girl, my heart would break each time she walked out the door. And I’d hope my words were enough to keep her safe. Or at least enough to keep her going.
I don’t think I’ll have a baby girl. I’m just not that kind. But if you do, please tell her she’s the brightest light in the universe. Please tell her all she ever has to do is shine.
“There was no right answer. There was no way to win. The only victory can be that we do not let this terrible, tragic incident push us further from one another. Together, there is hope. Divided we only destroy.”—writeamuck
My Roots Are Just Anchors; I Am Tethered to the South
I am of the South. I sprouted up, all pink and squirmy, out of red Georgia clay. Ate apple pie and drank Coca-Cola and sang Amazing Grace.
As a little pudgy girl with rosy cheeks and big, curious brown eyes, you could find me catching fireflies at dusk. Poking holes in mason jars. Falling asleep next to nature’s nightlight.
After supper, I’d lay on my back in our grassy front yard. Counting the stars. Hoping to catch one flying by. Flying on to oblivion.
Even if you tried, you couldn’t count the hours I wasted jumping on trampolines. Or swimming in the neighborhood pool. Or trying to dig to China.
I road my lavender bike on make-believe trails through the backyard. I hunted four-leaf clovers. And made club houses out of empty refrigerator boxes.
I trampled through the creek in our backyard, looking for arrowheads, scared half to death of garden snakes and water spiders and southern boys.
Oh yes, the South runs through my veins.
I went to Sunday school. And learned to recite the books of the Bible. Genesis. Exodus. Leviticus. Numbers.
I wore curlers in my hair. Sponge rollers. Hot rollers. Curling irons. And everything in between. My cousins were in beauty pageants. True southern belles with mascara on their lashes and Vaseline on their teeth before they ever had breasts or hips or a choice.
And that’s part of the South too.
The other part. The lonesome part. The part that won’t budge as the rest of the world spins on. Firmly rooted in pride and tradition. Arms folded crossly on her chest. Stubborn as an old mule.
The South isn’t all sunshine and swimming holes.
I have seen her darker side. Her demons. Her ghosts.
I have seen hatred and ignorance and long lost souls. Anger and malice from hatchets not buried deep enough. Feuds not quite left behind.
I have met plenty of folks that never learned how to think for themselves. Never cared much about it either.
I have seen poverty. Trailer parks brimming with lawn chairs and empty beer bottles and McDonald’s wrappers and babies on the hip.
I have seen good men waste their lives to coal mines and poker tables and all-you-can-eat ribs and local bars.
Oh yes, the South has her own bleak, battered kind of underbelly. Sometimes that darkness is all I can see.
Until I remember the joy of a Sunday potluck after church. Or listening to my grandpa say grace.
Until I imagine the simple pleasure of picking fresh ripe figs. Pulling watermelons off the vine. A porch swing on a rainy day. A sprinkler party in the front yard.
And don’t forget about the fireflies. You can’t ever forget the fireflies.
I’ve seen big dreams lost to the small city. People, like me, who couldn’t quite escape. Moved away only to find that our roots are just anchors; we are tethered to the South.
But no one complains when they end up here. There’s still shade beneath the Georgia pines. And the waters of the Chattahoochee still flow murky and cold.
No, they don’t complain. They just pour themselves another glass of Country Time lemonade, find themselves a rocking chair.
The virus spread through her with a violent ferocity. She felt her blood swell, hot and thick as it pulsed through her veins. Squeezing her eyes shut, she tried to take a deep breath, but only managed a shallow hiccup. The tingling sensation in the tips of her fingers intensified. Her throat tightened sharply. The virus was taking over.
She inhaled and exhaled with calculated rhythm in an effort to calm her rushing heart, beating wildly now. Shocked and panicked and scared, her heart pounded so hard she swore it must be audible.
The fire inside her flared up and ripped down her spine. She burned from the inside, her whole body a scorching current, an uncontrollable conflagration.
There wasn’t much time left now. Once infected, the virus quickly took control.
She glanced around her for someone, something, anything that could save her. But inside she knew love is a deadly virus. And there is simply no hope of surviving.
Today we have taken another small step toward equality. And though I’m proud of how far we’ve come, I still shudder when I think of how far we have to go.
Inequality is still rampant. And what’s worse, it is so very engrained in our societal norms that we do not even see it anymore.
While black men kill each other on the streets and gay couples are snickered and spat at, while women are subjected to filthy slurs and hispanic children are seen as some sort of third tier race, we don’t see any of these things as driven by prejudice or injustice or inequality. They are just circumstances. These things could happen to anyone.
Instead, we pat ourselves on the back for being America. For being tolerant. For being the land of the free.
But today, I am filled with joy that every man and woman can now marry anyone he or she chooses. I am filled with joy that we are finally recognizing how blatantly unconstitutional it is to deny one group of people the same rights as others, simply because it doesn’t suit our personal tastes. Today, I am filled with joy.
I know we have quite a long way to go. And I know we will not get there in my lifetime. But do not let that hinder us for taking these small steps.
Step after step after step after tiny, baby step, I believe we can finish this race yet.
Task: Write a story about the images on a roll of film. Use 12, 24, or 36 paragraphs.
He hadn’t crossed her mind for months when she decided it was time to clean out the closet in her adolescent bedroom. She dug through the poufy frocks and sequined skirts of old prom dresses, remnants of a coin collection, graduation caps and gowns and tassels. She dug deeper and uncovered pictures that had decorated her college dorm. Art supplies long forgotten. An old broken iPod – lime green, clunky and heavy. She sorted through high school sports paraphernalia. Sweat shirts from swim team. Running shoes from track.
Twenty-two years of memories kept quiet and tucked away. Out-of-sight and nearly forgotten. But not quite.
Buried underneath a box of clothes that most certainly didn’t fit anymore, she found it. A shoebox. Wrapped in pink and purple tissue paper. And small cut out hearts. A memory box. Containing all the keepsakes a sixteen-year-old holds onto the first time she falls in love.
She ran her finger along the outside edge over the crinkled, stiff paper hearts and considered just throwing the whole thing away. Why rustle up all those old feelings, right? Surely there’s nothing in there she’d actually want.
But something sentimental got the better of her and she lifted off the lid.
Inside, she found delicately packed corsages. Dried flowers and ribbons and Velcro bands. Faded ticket stubs to movies and concerts and amusement parks. Cards and tags from every birthday or Valentine’s gift. Empty jewelry boxes. Letters they wrote each other. Printed lyrics to their favorite songs.
She felt her heart tug as she flipped through the memories. Let them flash in her mind. Homecoming dances and football games. Break ups and make ups and a mountain of firsts. How earnestly she had loved him.
At the bottom of the box was a single roll of film. Undeveloped. She lifted it out and pulled at the fragment of film strip peaking out of the plastic black case, exposing the negatives. Holding it up to the light, she saw a sequence of happiness. A casual afternoon together with nothing better to do than laugh and cuddle and waste a roll of film.
She shook her head. That’s not what it was like, loving him. You’d look through this box and think we were perfect for each other – that we were meant to be. That we were happy. But we were no such thing. Sure there were moments like the one captured on that film. But there were other moments to. The terrible kind. The scream-so-loud-your-lungs-hurt kind. The weep-until-you-get-a-migraine kind. There was cheating and callousness and recklessness and selfishness and emptiness.
Where is the box that holds those memories? Where’s that roll of film?
We look back and we see the flowers and the letters and the smiles and we wonder, were we wrong to let it all go?
She put the film back in the box alongside the other happy mementos before replacing the lid. If I must remember us, I insist on that memory being true to what we were. With that, she added the memory box to the ‘throw away’ pile and moved on to sorting through the Art Supply bin.
I have forty minutes left before my work day ends and I’m free to live life for a measly five hours. What can I do in forty minutes? Well, I suppose I can tell you a story.
The first time I saw his face, other than the photographs I’d studied diligently on Facebook, I had already fallen for him. It was a warm November night. A Saturday. He drove from Atlanta. We had never met, not in person. We had mutual friends of friends of friends. We chatted online. Then via text message. And eventually had lengthy nightly phone conversations, reminiscent of freshmen year of high school.
We talked about things we liked and didn’t like. Why we were single and what we were looking for. Who had broken our hearts. Whether or not those hearts were actually mended. We talked about growing up and screwing up. We talked about music and movies and books and the world around us.
We fell in love over the telephone. And then he showed up on my doorstep.
I was shocked at how tense he was. I’d had the luxury of two strong lemon drops to ease my nerves.
He stayed with me that weekend. Eventually he calmed down. Became the person I’d spent every evening with on the phone.
He kissed my forehead in a bar that night. It was our first kiss.
The next day, before he had to leave, I walked him all around the most beautiful parts of Charleston. Historic architecture. Waterfront parks. Cobblestone streets. I kept trying to sell him on the city I’d come to love so much.
Do you like it? I’d ask over and over again. Yes, he’d say. Yes, it’s wonderful.
Before he left he took me by my waist and asked what happens next. I didn’t know what he wanted to hear or I didn’t know what I wanted to say, so I said, What do you mean?
And he said, I don’t want to leave here without you being mine.
And I thought, I was yours before you ever arrived.
Saying goodbye. It may be the hardest thing we ever have to do. Relationships end. Jobs end. Lives end. Love ends. We practice it our whole lives through. Yet it never gets any easier to say goodbye.
In high school we did it right. With yearbooks that gave us the opportunity to say the things we’d been too shy to admit. To confess to crushes we’d held onto secretly for years. To give the highest compliments and make promises to stay friends forever and keep in touch and never forget. Then we put on matching caps and gowns and go out ceremoniously, with nothing but exuberance and high expectation.
Why can’t all goodbyes be so uplifting? On the verge of the end, why can’t we just exchange notebooks, and write down how we feel. Give the notebooks back and walk away.
You were great and I was great and we were great together. But you changed and I changed and we changed. Now we’re not so great anymore. We’re holding each other back from being great. I think it’s time we both find greatness again. KIT.
Seems like a nice way to go if you ask me.
Instead we draw out the goodbyes. Ripping off the bandage over hours and days and weeks and years. We don’t know how to let go. So we hold on like an anchor that doesn’t quite understand its purpose.
Saying goodbye requires a few things. It requires forgiveness. Of all wrongdoings. All past transgressions. It cannot start with here are all the reasons I’m saying goodbye. It has to start with here are all the reasons I’ve stayed for so long, but now it’s time for me to go.
It requires honesty. With yourself and with your words. No sugar coating, but no brutality either.
We’ve grown apart. Drifted far away. I think I’m not as happy as I could be. And I think, if you’re honest with yourself, you’ll realize you’re not as happy either. You’ll probably agree our best days are behind us; it’s time to move on.
And lastly, goodbyes require forward perspective. It’s not about the past. It’s not even about the present. And it’s not about the next few weeks or months which will likely be difficult and scary and sometimes sad. It’s about the future. The distant glow of a life you ought to be living, a life you could be living, a life that begins when another one ends. A life that starts with a goodbye.
Task: Think of your five favorite novels and read their opening lines. Ponder them. What makes them great. And how you can use their opening line strategies in your own writing.
Their Eyes Were Watching God (Zora Neale Hurston) Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board.
The Fault in Our Stars (John Green) Late in the winter of my seventeenth year, my mother decided I was depressed, presumably because I rarely left the house, spent quite a lot of time in bed, read the same book over and over, ate infrequently, and devoted quite a bit of my free time to thinking about death.
Because It Is Bitter and Because It Is My Heart (Joyce Carol Oates) "Little Red” Garlock, ‘sixteen years old, skull smashed soft as a rotted pumpkin and body dumped into the Cassadaga River, near the foot of Pitt Street, must not have sunk as he’d been intended to sink, or floated as far.
All Quiet on the Western Front (Erich Maria Remarque) We are at rest five miles behind the front.
Let the Great World Spin (Colum McCann) Those who saw him hushed.
She let out a heavy sigh as she stared down at the black scale on her cool bathroom floor. She removed her wrinkled t-shirt and cotton shorts before stepping on. Drew in a deep breath. The scale’s dial whipped around quickly, then teetered back and forth before settling on a number.
And that’s it. That’s the number that defines her today. She’s seen it. She cannot change it. Today, that’s her number.
And it’s not good enough. It’s not low enough. It’s not thin enough. It’s fat. It’s bloated. It’s ugly. It’s big. But today, that’s her number.
She shakes her head silently as she steps back off and turns to start the shower. Tomorrow will be better.
She’ll shave her legs and curl her hair and line her eyes and powder her nose, but it won’t matter. That number has already taken hold. She’ll pick out her cutest dress. Pair it with trendy heels and statement jewelry. But the number hangs over her still. And she’ll examine herself in the mirror before she walks out the door, but all she’ll see is that number.
Every woman she runs into she’ll match up against her number. Every size two and extra small. Every time she’ll fall short. Her number is just too high.
Every bit of food she consumes she’ll weigh against that number. Will this make it worse? Is it worth it? What if I just skip this meal? She won’t enjoy a single bite. Food has become a number too.
And at the gym she’ll mount the elliptical and watch the calories slowly climb. Exercise is just another number. She’ll push and pull and sweat and gasp and think, tomorrow must be better.
She’ll drink water and pass on dessert and go to bed as her stomach growls and dream of a better number.
I know this girl. I was this girl. I see this girl still every day. And every time I see her, I want to tell her a lesson I learned long ago about numbers on the scale.
Those numbers do not define who you are. They do not determine your worth. They have no gauge on your potential. And they most certainly cannot assess your beauty.
They are numbers on a machine. A machine designed to tell you your relationship with gravity.
Stop looking at the scale and start looking at yourself. You are beautiful. And everyone else can already see it.
When I was just a youngin’, maybe five years old, I remember sitting on the kitchen counter on a bright summer afternoon. My mom was nearby, but engrossed in something other than her overly-curious (and in this moment, stupid) daughter.
As I sat there, I noticed a black stapler resting innocently beside me. And I distinctly remember thinking to myself, “I wonder what would happen if I stapled my finger…”
No sooner had the thought crossed my mind did I pick up the stapler with my chubby right hand, slipped my left thumb underneath its arm and proceeded to press all my weight down on it.
After hearing it snap, I lifted my newly decorated thumb up to my face to examine it. The thin line of silver went perfectly down the middle and dark, thick blood quickly began pouring out of it on both sides. It was at that moment the pain suddenly struck me and I began wailing.
My mother immediately took notice and tended to my stapled thumb, trying to calm me down and comfort me at the same time.
She may or may not have asked me why I stapled my finger. But if she did, I’m fairly certain my distressed five-year-old self was not able to articulate that clearly.
So Mom, if you’re reading this, I just wanted to know what it felt like. It’s a pain I’ve never forgotten still to this day.
And you know what I learned? Sometimes it’s just better not to know.
I could be getting the story wrong, but my dad once told me that his great grandfather was mortally wounded in the Civil War. Not in a famous battle, but in some unremarkable episode of fight and fatality that took place in what is now suburbia in metro Atlanta.
The wound in his leg was deemed fatal. But when he did not die from it, he instead half-limped, half-walked the many miles back to his home, where he ultimately fathered my great grandmother, which led to my grandfather, which led to my father, which led to me.
So on Memorial Day, am I grateful to those who have served our country? I am. To those who have pledged to give all they have and at many unfortunate moments, had to cash in on that pledge? Yes, I am forever grateful.
But I can’t help but think of all the lives lost. Not just the lives of our soldiers. But the lives of their unborn sons and grandsons and great grandsons. All those little beings that never came to be. All those lives destroyed before they could even begin.
When we lose our brothers and sisters to war, there is so much more we also lose. An eternal loss of people and dreams and hopes and destinies that will never be realized.
This Memorial Day, all I can do is give thanks to those who serve. Mourn the ones we lost. Grieve the lives that will never even begin. And pray, above all else, that there is such a thing as peace and we may find it still.
I sat alone in my bedroom. Not under the covers, but on top of them. No lights. Only darkness. And I let the music surround me. A frail, breathy accapella voice singing a lonely song. I turned it all the way up, as loud as it would go. Too loud. I sat perfectly still. And shut my eyes. Her sweet, gentle voice. So vulnerable and strong at the same time. It glided around me as I breathed it in. Filled myself up with that achy ballad. And I didn’t dare exhale.
It was almost as if she was in the room with me. Singing to me alone. A disillusioned lullaby. A forgotten swan song. And as it ended, I tightened my eyes - forcing them closed. Willing her voice to come back to me. Willing the notes to go on. Just one more verse. One final refrain. Wanting to hear that sound more than I wanted to see or dream or think or be.
That feeling. That forsaken moment. I lived that for days and nights and weeks and months and years.
That feeling. That’s what it was like to miss you.