I’m single. Yup. That’s me. I’m solo. I eat alone. And I’ve wondered why it’s so hard to talk about that.
A smart girl will know that a friendship doesn’t work when one of the two is willing to give up worlds & go extra miles & endure sleepless nights for the other. That’s not friendship. That’s blaring, stupid love and it is completely & utterly worth it when two walk towards it with open hands.
I might be the ogre of singledom. I might be the girl who owns the #foreveralone hash tag and gets it screen printed on tees to sell in the heart of New York City. I might never get the rose from another guy for as long as it takes for you to get here. I. Don’t. Care. Because if and when I find you, that is it.
Because we were never looking for perfect. And cardboard cut-outs melt in the rain. But they'll wrap us up in blankets, our legs slung over their lap, and they'll tell us they need a partner, a halfway, a commitment. A Thick & Thin Kind of Deal.
So that when you meet me your heart will speak the truth, "She is a good human being. She honors people. She values life. She is the companion you've looked for all this while."
I thought, with almost every brain cell that was in attendance during those long rationalization sessions, that he would leave her.
“I have feelings for her,” he said. “They’re real.”
Your shoes are by the door and I know I’ve done it again.
Only a lone pair of sneakers this time, it can’t be so bad. The last time this happened I unlocked the door and pushed it in to find hiking boots, dress shoes, sandals and a pair of slippers. All Size 11. Craterly & Mammoth to my Size 7 feet.
“I’m sorry,” I yell into the dark apartment. “I know why you’re here.”
“Do you really? And are you really sorry? I guess those are the questions on my mind,” you respond from the kitchen—a small space of pots & pans tucked tight and out of sight to the left of the apartment.
“I didn’t mean to bring you up…”
“But you did.” I wait for you to come into view. Wait to see your tousled hair. Your black ankle socks. Your casual, boyish attire. “I’m worried because you did.” You don’t show.
“Go ahead, explain it to me.”
“Alex was having a hard time. I brought you up. I told her about us. Our story.”
“Babe, how many times do I have to tell you that…”
“ I know, I know. We don’t have a story… or at least not one that I need to keep telling over & over & over again.” I walk past the kitchen, throwing my coat on the sofa and heading for the bathroom.
I play with the sink knobs. The water gushes out quickly. Soon enough, the hear pours out, collapsing and cloaking my tired hands.
“I only say it for your good. You know that, right?” Stop whispering, please stop whispering to me.
The tears stay pent inside the crooks of my eyelids where the gold shimmer faded nearly two hours ago. Not looking up. Not letting my eyes drift back to the sneakers at the door of the apartment.
“I only ever say it for your good because you and I both know that...”
“That I’ve got to move on. That I’m wasting time. That every time I bring your name into a coffee date then I am only hurting myself,” I steady my hands. I try to keep them from shaking.
You stay talking. On & On & On. As if you were the damn genius who invented conversation. And it does no good because I cannot see you and I cannot feel you the way I used to.
I abandon the towel and the light switch. I stay in the dark and crawl my way to the floor where the sofa’s legs kiss carpet and crook me into cushioned safety.
“You don’t get it… it’s not this hard for you,” I say into the darkness. “You are the not the one who has to live without me. I am the one who does that, every single day. In the best and only way that I know how.
And don’t you know that you are everywhere? You are in the trees. In the leftover slices of pizza that you should’ve ate in the middle of the night. In the side of the bed that makes me want to stay filthy forever if it means I’ll never have to lose your scent on the sheets. You don’t have to go through any of that…I do. I do. And I know, I know that every time I bring you up in conversation that I am going to come home to your shoes & nothing else, just the memory of you that doesn’t hold me right.”
I don’t hear you anymore. Nothing but the clicking of the clock all the way in the bedroom.
My hands are wet and down on the floor beside me. Clawing in the darkness at what I know is a shade of maroon that you picked out back when Carpet mattered & Salad mattered & Sunday Football mattered.
I put my head down on the floor and imagined what you’d do next. I know if you were here right now you’d pull me into your lap and you’d change my mind. You always did that. And not because I always seemed to melt into a pile of bones when I your arms wrapped me in, but because you were just one of those people who could explain the world for me. You plugged in lamps where I could not find light. You strung Christmas lights in the darkest of places throughout your whole fight. And so you say I’ve got to be stronger because you refused to leave me sitting in the dark. But it feels like dark. It feels like dark without you.
“Sometimes I hate you,” I whisper through clenched teeth. You know I am lying, right? “I hate that you left me here to do this without you. I hate that I couldn’t fix you. I hate that I’ve become some town tragedy where people treat me like a fogged up window that they can look through, apologize for the loss, watch me sway back & forth a bit and then head back to their own lit home. That I feel pathetic without you. That so much of this doesn’t matter without you.
I hate that I couldn’t go with you. That you left me standing here with all these secrets & things we told one another when the rest of the world fell asleep, things I was supposed to whisper back on a day when I wore white just for you. And now I’ve got to let it all go… I don’t want to let you go…. I don’t know how… I don’t want to learn.”
I cry. For your arms. For a blanket you’d place over me. For the hairs on my head I know you’d stroke. For the tears you’d wipe. The things you’d say. For the thought of you, up in the clouds, hanging your head over an image of me rendered Helpless & Heartbroken.
“Come home… Just come home again…I cant feel you anymore…” Your shoes are already by the door. I can leave the light on. “I’m sorry… I’m sorry… I’ll try again tomorrow.”
"Clothes," I say.
"Plans," he rattles back.
"Lady Gaga's hairdos."
"And you know that how?" I laugh.
"MTV... They showed a documentary on her. It was actually good."
"Surreee.... Ok. The weather."
"Your father... when he is trying to figure out where he wants to get his coffee in the morning."
"How did you know that one?"
"I pay attention. I remember more than you think."
I push off what he's getting at. We're not touching it today. I'm not the kind of girl who can sit beside a boy who remembers her favorite color and the way her hands shake when she's trying to button her coat. I'd rather he turn and say semi-politely, I'm sorry, what did you say again? That was the last one. The Boy Who Forgot Birthdays & Flowers & all the things a girl will claim she doesn't want nor need until the day he forgets. Those kinds of boys are easier to walk away from.
"That's deep," he pauses. "Real deep."
"I meant north and south kind of things... Keep going."
We go back and forth, ricocheting off one another with only the roaring of the washer and patches of unclaimed air between us.
"Shoes fall under clothes. I win."
"Not true," he rebuts. "Changing your shoes is completely different than changing your clothes. Next..."
"Good one," he says, pulling me in with a smile that took us to this battle from the beginning. This playful banter that would keep us going for days, as long as we never approached Us. And how often we fit into the category at hand: Things that Change.
We were changing.
Even in that very moment.
Dancing around the growing bonfire lit with the Woods of the Things We Didn't Want to Talk About, shrouding the conversations with trivialities that wouldn't hold. Term Papers. Things on the To-Do List. All the things you never force into the Talk of Two when there is still so much to say about the Eyes of One Another and How They Swear They'd Been Searching for Years.
"Seasons," I double back into the game.
"Kind of like the weather but I'll give it to you," he softens. "Your coffee order. Will it be a skim latte today or will you go for pumpkin?"
"Life," I cut him off.
The room goes quiet. Just the washer. Just the air. Just the curtains hushing the window panes. Just the end tables clamping shut the mouths of the wood floors. Just the clock. Ticking.. Ticking..
"You win," he whispers, sliding his hand over mine. He doesn't turn his head- he knows he'll find the tears burning on my cheeks. Knowing I'd be gone tomorrow, with a suitcase in my hand. My life in its tender suede belly, zipped full.
"I should have said that one first," I swallow.
He squeezes, harder than I hope for. "There would have never been a game then."
“You aren’t a superhero,” he said, and lingered in the doorframe for a moment just to see what she would do.
To see if she might find the courage, within a chest pumped full with pride, to admit she knew it too.
For she really was no superhero and her heart did far more breaking than her arms ever did holding. She scaled the sides of conversations that never invited her in but she could not scale a building.
She, well, she was a girl who got all tied up in the saving—tightly wound like the cop that meets the robber in the old cartoon shows—too tied up to remember she was really just a human being.
A human being. How peculiar. So small. So fragile.
No Superman. No Batman. No Wonder Woman, just a Woman prone to Wander.
Just a girl left to find out, after all the wreckage had fallen from her shoulders, that even heroes need something far more super than them. Something greater to hitch prayers to at night. Someone far greater than a silly man in lycra pants to handle the swinging and swaying of the Milky Way, as it has no choice but to rock the world’s sorrow to and fro. Back & forth.
And the hurt was in her hair that day. All up in her hair like yarn strung into braids. The hurt was on her face. It lived in her toes. It paid rent to her elbows and made roommates with her kneecaps.
The boy could trace the hurt in every crook of longitude and latitude of the girl he’d known since the days when chocolate milk and grape Pop Rocks could heal her.
He turned—foot to foot—and found solace in a space where the girl wouldn’t find him. He closed the door and uncovered his knees. His prayerful knees that were made to kiss the floors on days where girls take off their Heavy Superhero Capes.
“Papa, Papa,” he cried to the sky. To a God who thought that ceilings that concealed Him were nonsense. “Help her to discover her hands. Her terrible, unreliable hands. The ones that want to hold so bad, even when they know they must be held for a time.”
Hold & Be Held.
Hold & Be Held.
“One requires more surrender than the other, Papa.”
Hold & Be Held.
One asks Control to curtsie at the door.
“Let her hands Be Held so that she might Behold someone as wonderful as You, someone who stretches far beyond the reach of her Tiny Little Hands.”
The boy believed in a God who kissed frostbitten fingertips. Who whispered in the morning while his children still pulled sleep in with both arms. A God who wept to see his children struggle and ached to say, “That world on your shoulders does not fit you. Let me take it. Here, let me take it.”
The boy believed in a God who hated to see His children in capes. For children in capes forget the ones who made the capes for them, the ones who knit them before the cape and packed a heart tight so carefully with all the ways they would learn to soar one day.
One day. One day.
The girl knew the boy. Though not all the longitude and latitude of him. She never knew the way he crept into closets and found ways to place her at the front of his prayers. Because she was worth it. She had always been worth it.
The girl did not know the God who kissed the frostbitten fingertips, who took worlds off of shoulders and hated to see His children in capes. But she wanted to. She wanted to.
And so how does the story begin? How then, oh, how does the story begin?
The girl waited for the boy who had known since the ways when chocolate milk and grape Pop Rocks could heal her. She found him lingering in the doorway. She patted the ground beside her and motioned him to join.
He did, for he loved her so. He loved her so.
And together they began—with trembling fingers—to unknot the cape tied so tightly round her neck. And let the heaviness fall down. Let the heaviness fall down all around them.
And all the while, through every knot and tremble, the boy whispered tales into the ear of the girl. Tales of a God Who Knit Her so that She’d Never Need to Knit a Cape.
I wrote this post several months back, inspired by the brilliant Cory Copeland and his post "The Good Girls." Somehow buried in trails of email drafts and word documents, I can finally pin this piece to a home.
We’ll stop purposely leaving high heels on subways with name & number tucked into the bottom in our best cursive, hoping that someone will find us in a fairy tale fashion.
We’ll stop nodding our heads in agreement over the conversations caked with heavy laughter and future plans when we hear our girlfriends say with confidence, “They aren’t out there.”
We’ll refuse to be another light switch turned off in a town that has already grown too dark.
We’ll wrap our hair in buns, wrap our hands around warm mugs, and wrap our prayers around a God who wants to let his best girls know, “They are out there.”
The good guys. A rarity, so we’ve been told. Sitting alongside fossils in the “Museum of Things We’re on the Brink of Losing for Good.” Pinned somewhere between the ones who don’t know how to value what they have in their arms and the ones who balance several tiny waists at one time.
They are noble. Honest. True. They don’t lust over our legs before looking into our eyes and seeing something more. A vulnerable stare. Eyes that say, in Hints of Hazel and Gold, “We are looking for so much more. We came here looking for so much more.”
They are out there. And they get it: There are Things to Chase in this Lifetime.
The Affection of a Good Girl. The Heart and Trust of a Mama that used to sew that Good Girl’s dresses. The Approval of a Daddy that once lifted that Good Girl up to the ceiling, up to the solar system.
They are kind. Loyal. They wring passion from the dreams that once hung on their Little Boy walls. They harness morals and values, roping them into their dreams for a family that still believes in dinners at 6pm and king-sized beds with two tousled heads of hair but also the possibility of five bodies when the lightning and thunder roll through.
They are out there and they far outstretch the expectations we’ve pent up for them in beauty magazines and chic-lit rule books: Hold the door open. Bring her flowers. Tell her she is beautiful even with no makeup on. Never, never, NEVER tell her she looks fat in that.
They take our chivalrous boxes and break right out. They transform the term Gentleman as if they’ve been asked to recreate the Classic Mona Lisa Smile.
They are the ones who ask about the longer days or know when not to bring it up; they treat us as we are: beautiful girls who only want one set of eyes upon us. One stubbled cheek to kiss. One pair of arms to fold us in when Tragedy comes to Huff & Puff & Blow our Hearts Down.
Beautiful girls unafraid to say that if there is lipstick on his collar, we want it to be ours. Only, only the burlesque shades of a woman that adores that man too deeply to declare it with silly, stuffy, dictionary vocabulary.
They are out there and they'll say it straight to us, "I'm far from perfect. I've got this going on, and this happened last month. I am dealing with this... and that stemmed from this." Because we were never looking for perfect and cardboard cut outs melt in the rain. But they'll wrap us up in blankets, our legs slung over their lap, and tell us they need a partner, a halfway, a commitment. A Thick & Thin Kind of Deal.
They are out there. Growing the bones of one-day fathers, harvesting the strength it takes to be a provider, learning what it means to Hold a Girl’s Hand Down an Earthly Wedding Aisle and far Into an “Earth”less Forever that we only close our eyes to imagine on days when the Metro runs late.
They are out there, coming to their knees for a Maker who still craves to do so much more than a good work in them. A stunning work. An unspeakable, sacred work in his Good, Good Men. Making them ready for the day when paths take to crossing and life takes to shifting us from the things we learned of fairytale love when we first cracked open books that taught us how to lose shoes and find princes.
It took me fourteen years to accept Adam & Eve.
Fourteen years not to cringe when someone ushered the first couple in the entire universe, the design model for Brad & Angelina and Elvis & Priscilla, into a conversation.
The pair irked me. Made me itch. Bugged me in a way that only the first human beings ever to be created are capable of bugging a person. Nothing like the 76th human being. Nothing like the 10 thousandth being with Ten Fingers and Ten Toes.
I wanted to rip them from the felt boards in Sunday school. Pull apart Adam's paper limbs. Bury Eve somewhere in the garden. Throw them both into the lions' den. If you are gonna be a sinner then you'll be a lion's dinner.
I think I thought they were boring, a Mom & Pop story. A yawn coaxer for the front of the mammoth book I now read most mornings on a southbound train. Why not some action first, Cain and Abel? Why not a real juicy love story, perhaps Samson and Delilah?
Why, oh why, did God rev up the engines of creation with two naked people who screwed up all of history five minutes into paradise?
Adam & Eve were on my target list until about 10 months ago when I read backing thing, there must be something beyond the First Light, the First Raindrop, the First Furious Clap of Thunder & a Butterfly Shimmying Out from the Cocoon.
And then it hit me, square in the face. You get this picture of God making Adam probably in a Geppetto & Pinocchio fashion. Except Adam was a real boy, and his nose didn't grow when he lied...
And the world was probably really cool for Adam for about a day. I can imagine if I were the first human being to ever be created I’d be like, “Heck ya, I am going to do the world’s first push up. The world’s first vine swing. I’m going to learn to doggy paddle… HA HA HA! Whooooo is that stunning human being in the water? Oh, tis’ me! HA HA HA! I’ll call that a reflection.”
Yup… that would be cool, to play all by myself, for about 5 minutes.
So then I’d probably say, “Hey God, can you beam down a friend?”
“Ehh,” He’d boom down from the clouds he just formulated from his massive Craft Store in the Sky. “ I’d rather teach you your very first lesson instead. How about a job?”
"Si," God would say (because God is absolutely bilingual).
I can picture Adam, slunk over on a tree trunk calling out names to animals as they roll on through a conveyor belt. "Cow.... Chicken... Moose... Antelope... Come on, God, are we done yet? UGHHHHHH. Hippo. Crocodile. Kangaroo. Seriously, this is getting old. Chimpanzee, Spider, Dog... no wait, Cat! Definitely Cat!" And that story went on & on until Adam realized, not a single one of his creatures had the capacity to pull up a tree stump and ask him about his day. Offer him a cold drink. Whisper a secret into his Brand New Ear.
If I were Adam, I'd be a little devastated at that point. A little hopeless. I'd write sad Pablo Neruda poems and talk about darkness all the time. Even with the newly created Sun, I'd talk about darkness a heck of a lot of time.
And I'd look up a lot and ask why. And I'd quit somewhere between the octopus and the sea urchin. I'd think it was not fair. To watch each animal trot & slither & jump & skitter off with a companion, a Somebody that Knew Their Skins. Their Quirks. Their Little Mysteries & Unsaid Wonders. Like the elephants and how they cradle. Like the spiders and how they spin.
I'd want myself an Eve at that point. A perfect, little Eve to hold when the sun dropped down to rest behind a hill. A perfect, little Eve to get tangled up in my Adam Head.
And if I were Adam, I'd already be creating a playlist for Eve: Hey there, Delilah. Angel. Hold you in my Arms... Or at least I'd say to God, "Hey, could you beam down Ray LaMontagne, Jack Johnson and Frank Sinatra a little early? I'm going to need my buds when it's time to serenade this Eve girl. She's a special one, I already know it. And God, you can keep Hanson... no need to ever beam that boy band down."
And I mean, I am thinking it was a Titanical moment. Minus the Grand Staircase. Minus hunky 3rd class Jack Dawson all dolled up in a suit. Minus Kate Winslet looking gorgeous like always. But something like that where Adam saw Eve for the very first time and even though he had found the names for tens of thousands of animals, he needed a moment to catch his breath and name her: Beloved.
And maybe we can edit that part into the Bible... that moment where Adam found Eve. And God said, let there be butterflies in the stomach. And so there was. And God said, let there be heads over heels. And so there was. And God said, Let Him Know Truly. Let Her Know Madly. Let Them Know Deeply. Unconditional. Everlasting. And So They Did.
And I think they talked for maybe a few hundred years. And they said to one another, “When texting comes along, let’s never do it. When email shuffles through, let’s hold off. I always want to know your voice… and the way it sounds when you say my name out loud.”
If I were Eve, I hope I'd have some kind of First Woman Courage, to ask my Adam, "What was it like? Before a Me? A We? An Us?"
"You know, Evey (The World's First Pet Name). It was me and God. And He's stellar and bilingual, but he's on a whole different level. And he wanted someone to level with me. And so he brainstormed beside a vase of lilacs and daisies and you were conjured up. I think he knew it all along, how perfect you might be... But he made me wait, and wait, and wait until I really understood it: That I was made to have you and hold you for my entire life, all through the sickness and all through the health. Eve, he needed to teach me that you are the kind of girl who I can never take for granted. Evey, Evey, I'm sorry it took so long."
Meet Adam, Ladies. The first Heart-Throb.
And Eve, Eve, Eve... I can only imagine how it might feel to be the Eve stepping on Adam's toes while dancing. To show up, and know instantly, that he was mine and I was his and we were somehow made for one another by a Man in the Sky Who Already Wrote a Love Story Among Comets & Stars.
And that he & I, WE would be that way forever. Not some yesterday kind of dust. No, no, it would be reliable like a blue dress, reliable like a recipe for banana pancakes, that he would be mine and I would be his and he was going to love me into every morning not for who I was or am or will be, but because Someone loved Adam enough to make for him an Eve. And that was very special.
“No man is ever gonna chase you through an airport,” my mother told me on my 25th birthday.
At the time, it was 25 years that I’d managed to live just fine without you.
“He might wish he could chase you through an airport, you are certainly pretty enough for that. But he won’t dare stand at Gate 16 and lose all his manhood for a girl who’d never stay.”
Little girls learn to suck and swallow their mothers’ words like throat lozenges. You should probably know now, I gritted my teeth into those very words nearly every night of knowing you, wondering in the dark when you’d turn to leave. Turn and slam the door and leave me breathing or maybe some kind of breathless on the other side, saying, “That door has never quite sounded this way before.” Never so hollow. Never so cold.
But my mother was right, because of who I am and what I won’t sacrifice, I’ll be the kind of girl who has to stand at Gate 16, staring down at her shoes, asking a part of her heart if it will still remain when the plane’s wheels kiss Beijing’s runway.
That part of her heart that’s sitting in a window seat right now. Ordering a glass of wine to take the edge off. Inserting ear plugs. Left. Then. Right. That part of her heart that is already learning that holding on was a foolish thought to begin with. That part of her heart that is reversing steps and spelling words backwards: oG reH teL reH TsuJ
I’m about 600 yards away from you right now.
A few gates.
Two security guards.
A couple of steps.
And a long aisle away from you.
It’s not really romantic. I didn’t expect to catch you at the last moment. You are so prompt, so timely, that you make these kinds of “don’t go, hurdling over suitcases in an effort to get to you before the gate closes” kind of scenes impossible.
But I am here, 600 yards away from you. Feeling like I’ve already placed a couple countries between us. Uruguays of Unsaid Words. Senegals of Stupid Fights. Mexicos of Mixed Emotions. Koreas & Chinas & Japans of Where the Heck Did I Go So Wrong?
And I am sorry. Like Africa. Sorry like Montreal. Sorry as the whole Indian Ocean, bloated after swallowing the Pacific for a midnight snack.
Sorry because I don’t need you. I really don’t. And the last thing I want to tell you is that I need you. And so I’ll tell you that I don’t. I. Don't. Need. You.
Stop, please stop.
Stop and decide to stop right there. Go back on me like a road map that one gave you a hidden turn. Read me one more time; find me in the lines one last time. Find that I don't mean it, under the apostrophe like rocks in the garden. Climb to the top of the “d” and jump down to the “y,” to see the strength it's taking me to Slip from my Pride like a Silk Dress and stand Needing before you.
I don't deserve it. I know. I shouldn't have you. I get it. I'm barely breathing here. It's scary. I'd like to walk away. "Like to" is a keyword. I'll let you down? Probably. You'll do the same? Surely. But I am better with you. I actually believe that. Better needing you.
And I am standing here. 600 yards away from you.
I didn't get to chase you through the airport. No hurdling the suitcases to grasp you. But I'd be willing... for the first time, I Am Willing. If you'll have me.
Q1: Will the world stop turning?
A1: Absolutely not.
In fact, I think she might spin even quicker with one less name to weigh down a diary at night.
She’d command the Sun to rise up as always, leading & guiding us reckless children throughout the day, letting the Stars take a shift in teaching us how to dream at night.
There’d still be Places to Go and New Faces to Learn. Memorize Them until they fall into some kind of “Familiar” in the Accordion File Folders of the Soul.
No, no, the world would still find reason to turn, even without you.
Q2: Will you still have reason to live?
A2: Reason to live? Well no… Because, well, what is living anyway besides standing here with lungs that operate and a heart that beats so unreliably?
Living is for the boring creatures who think breathing is the kind of thing you scratch off the to-do list each day.
But I’d find reasons to wake up and place two feet down on the floor. If that’s what you are asking? Reason to walk outside and greet the people at the bakery, secretly imagining myself with all the pastry makers laughing, saying over breakfast croissants, “We found reason to get up today!”
I’d find the same old reasons to greet the doorman and say please when asking for the morning paper. I’d find reason to still stop and watch the street performers, wishing I could follow them when they close up their guitar cases at the end of a day. Watch them purchase pears & tobacco from the coins they get as gratitude for making angels come out the trees in Central Park. It takes a special kind of person to lure the angels out in Central Park. A special pair of lips, blessed to blow the heck out of a music note.
I can surely assure you, I’d still have reason to live, even without you.
Q3: Will you find another?
A3: Another? Another? An. Other? Oh absolutely. In no time. An. Other. On the street corner. An. Other. In the market.
Darling, you are not another to me.
If it were possible, I’d surely take the “O” and the “N” and the “E” from within that faceless word.
That is what I think when your name comes up in conversation and I am suddenly stumbling over envy because someone had the chance to bring you up first.
One. None like you. Singular. Like the plural ran away, as street children run from the cops, the second you scrawled my first piece of homework at the top of a blank composition notebook.
We had August.
That’s what I always think. August: a month where I didn’t memorize a single vocabulary word. Though my mother hired you for that. But I memorized the Grooves in your Grin. The Lull in your Walk. The Way your Eyes Stayed on Me, Hours After Parting. They stayed like sweet cherry stains on my fingertips.
Yes, yes, I’d uncover One Million Others… but never the One that was You from that very first day.
Will the world still turn?
Will I still find reason to live?
Will I find another?
You’ve asked me three good questions. I think I’ve answered them well. Now answer me my one before you slip to the door with your suitcase packed tight:
Did staying ever cross your mind?
“They still smell pretty good but I don’t think I am going to keep all of these,” she says.
7:30am on a Sunday morning that calls those without rain boots back into their bed sheets.
My eyes have barely unlocked their doors to open shop for the day and already my mother is spreading dead roses across the coffee table.
The decrepit petals are crumbled, like leaves I’ve crushed in walking through the folds of a fall day.
Five crinkled corsages wilt on the table. Giving testimony to proms. Daddy daughter dances. Homecomings & Balls.
Testimony to the first times in a girl’s life where she felt radiant. Like the only one.
And, if just for a moment that pokes its head from the day, I can feel the silk hanging off my hips again, the bobby pins tucked at angles into my heat roasted, curled hair, as he slips the little ditty onto my wrist and rests his hand on the small of my bare back.
And you know his mother picked the corsage out, pulled a twenty from inside her wallet and told him to go pick it up at the florist. “You’ll be slipping that corsage onto her wrist at five and the pink had better match the beading.”
And she played the role of any mother, teaching her son to be diligent with the moments at hand. To set them perfectly in time, as perfect as we can possibly make them at least.
And, if she had known the way time would unfold us in the next few years, like linens from the top drawer, she probably would have sat us down to give lessons on holding tighter and loving more. On simply enjoying the company of a person who knows your favorite color and all the backstories of your missing teeth while you have them around. While you can still captivate their attention. And to ask for nothing more in those moments.
Do we welcome these moments into daily life often enough? The ones of perfect simplicity and elegance? Where nothing gets questioned because suddenly there’s so much goodness in a single stitch of time, enough to make us believe that we’ll never need another answer again.
To get us thinking that we’ve found the answer. In a pair of eyes. In a head resting on a chest. In lifting a child up in the air, her feet propelling towards the solar system.
I know these Perfect Moments are strung like Christmas lights somewhere in my soul but I would be lying if I didn’t say it sometimes takes pushing boxes aside and tying back curtains to see their shine.
Time. When, oh, when will I ever nail you down and get you right?
You would rather have us dec flowers on ours wrist & glitter in our hair, sand between our toes & fingers in the spaces of other hands, than to ever drape you with the Cotton of Complication.
You beg to see us spend all of you on Playing & Laughing. Kissing & Jumping. Indulging & Thanking. Yet, you already know that we will waste you away. Don’t you?
We’ll waste so, so, so, so many precious pearls of opportunity turning a House of Cards Problem into a Grand Ol’ Glass Castle of Disaster. We’ll tarnish a moment to bring up drama. We’ll break the silence to start a fight. We’ll get hurt by another who promised never to hurt us and we’ll lash back. Smashing into pieces the secrets we kept safe for them.
Perhaps that’s why we keep the corsages, six or seven years after they’ve been slipped off the wrist. Maybe it’s why we keep all the memory boxes and old love letters, even when the endings weren’t so happy.
To keep a perfect moment preserved. To keep goodness at the forefront. To shush the “what went wrong” and “how things could have turned out.” To shush the whole “ION” Club: First the President, ConfusION, then the VP, DelusION, next the treasurer, FrustratION, and lastly the secretary, ConclusION.
We’ll look back at the end of all this and we’ll only hope to recall the best of this run that we got. This short run called a Life.
Not the fights. Not the tears. Not the leaving. Not the going.
But the Best Moments.
Where he saw you and you saw him quite perfectly.
Where it all fit together.
Where we asked no questions, we just danced in answers.
Where we whispered into the ears’ of one another, capturing the moment with a five-syllable sentence, “You are my best one. You are my best one.”
I am willing to travel across the country to show up at your door and tell you this: I’ve got camping gear.
Yes, that’s right. Camping Gear.
I know I have it somewhere cramped up in the attic. Wedged between a few lawn reindeer and some worthless pieces of junk that my father insists on classifying as antiques.
A tent. Two sleeping bags. That’s all we need right?
Can I have five minutes? I just need five minutes to find the dumb camping gear.
You are shaking your head. Like that won’t do? Like we cant pitch a tent somewhere between my backyard and yours and, for once, let Distance slip away before your hand slips from mine?
Target then. There is a Target right down the road. We could pile into the car right this second and be there before that little hand on your watch even laps the bigger one twice.
An air mattress. We’ll buy one. Blow that sucker up. I’ll even let you take the bed and I’ll sleep on the floor. Does that sound better than the camping gear?
Please don’t turn. Don’t walk away just yet. I have other ideas. Jeepers, I’ve been filling notebooks with all sorts of ideas.
You’re saying it won’t do any good to hear them. I know that. But could we just pretend for a moment that it might do us some good? That we might be capable of sticking our heads together and coming up with an excellent plan where Miles and Stones and Milestones wouldn’t get between us.
You know, it’s really easy to tap out how much I miss you over the phone. Tap. Tap. Tap. Done.
But I need 140 characters and then some kind of eternity to show you how it feels to know I won’t be seeing you soon. That it’s already been too long. I don’t think I like it very much, saying those kinds of things.
I. Won’t. Be. Seeing. You. Soon. It feels all kinds of awful rolling off the tongue.
This whole growing up thing, I don’t know how much I like that either. It would probably be easier, better, if the automobile had never been invented. Or buses. Or trains. Or any kind of thing that left us gripping a map and going separate ways.
Or cellphones. Or pens to write letters. Or stamps to mail them with. Or any kind of method that left us staying in touch without the touching.
If we never got the crazy idea that life would be bearable on different sides of the country or in separate parts of the world. That’d we’d be ok as pen pals or friends who only see each other once in a while. I’ll warn you right now: the Once shows up a lot more than the While. I’ve been waiting for you by the door.
I mean, Boston is pretty on you. You make Chicago look damn good. You wear San Diego like a scarf. And I’m just a girl who got New York to coo in her ear louder than any other set of skyscrapers but I’m still not over the fact that we cannot just smack the cities together and play neighbors for a while.
I’d bring you sugar. You could borrow flour.
And we could stop talking about Growing Up as if he were a Lover, a tall and handsome Lover, who’s already broken our hearts six thousand times and yet we are still crawling back to try it out again.
You know, there are certain bones within me that want to see you fly, and find my wings too. And then there are other bones, the not so funny bones, that wish you and I could just find some moment to call our own.
A moment where we wouldn’t be leaving. Or walking. Or thinking at all.
No going. No planning. No growing at all.
It wouldn’t need to last long. A few seconds or so. Just long enough to believe that one day we’ll stop scratching this itch that tears the “You” from the “Me” and find ourselves sitting on some front porch with sweet tea in our hands saying things like this.
It was good to see the world. The Whole Wide World. We learned quite a lot, wouldn’t you agree? From all those Miles and Stones and Milestones between us. But look, look, we have finally found an Us and I don’t want to see it go. Us. It tastes sweet, sweeter than anything I’ve tasted in a while. It tastes like some kind of tomorrow that I've been looking for.
So I’ll tell you one more time, I’ve got camping gear somewhere in my attic. It should only take me five minutes to find it.
I wonder how we’ll dance. All of the time. I wonder if we’ll fox trot or side step. Shimmy or Waltz. If the music will come endlessly. If the record player will turn.
I picture a pearly floored ballroom. Mozart revived and stunning on the piano. God showing off his hidden talents with the strings of a cello. Mr. Blue Eyes Sinatra himself, captivating all of heaven’s dance floor with his debonair swagger and the alto roar of his voice.
But, if I want to talk about Heaven and the epic chance to finally toast my glass with Billie Holiday, I need to rest my fingers on this keyboard and tap out what comes first, the very thing that we may never come to understand for as long as we sink our feet into earthy ground.
I’ve thought a great deal about death lately, as he seems to be coming up in conversation more than I would like. Linking arms selfishly with people I believe still needed more time. I don’t even like typing the word "death" because it seems to come weighted down with all sorts of tragic connotations. As if Sadness & Stuffiness & Discomfort are all sitting down on my keyboard, refusing to get up.
It is always when I see someone pass away, someone who seems too young or too needed in this world, that I find myself attempting to slip into God’s shoes. Try as I might, my feet don’t even take up an inch of space in his massive Converse sneakers. I cannot even pretend to clunk around for a mile in his shoes as if I were back to the days of being Little and Girlish, playing dress up with Grandma’s night gowns and chalky, burlesque lipstick.
But, ironically, it is also always when a beautiful soul takes her leave on this earth to swoop across clouds up to Those Gates that I feel God coming up behind me-- clomp, clomp, clomp--in his converse sneakers, to whisper in my ear. “I made you for many things, child. Understanding the way my world operates was never one of them.”
And once again I fall back under His Unmistakable Power. Knowing little. Understanding less. But still wishing I could explain why several Grandmas get pulled back up to the clouds before lunchtime.
I'll never know why God plants the best grilled cheese makers and advice givers all over the planet. I don’t know why he sews us into daughters and sisters, lovers and friends. Why he pulls us off this earth when our work is done. It’s a glorious thing, but it leaves holes in the human hearts, of those who loved us all the days of our lives; the ones who seem to need us here on earth, sitting beside them, holding our hands. Seeking our shoulders.
A dear member of our church passed away this week. Sitting in pews on Sunday morning, a thick layer of sadness rose up to the rafters and rolled down the aisles. Suddenly there was no denying that the world gets heavier with one less mother, one less grandma, one less distinct laugh to fill the space that calls us all to worship.
My mother visited her in the hospital a few days before her passing . She showed off her favorite photograph. A picture of she and her husband diving and dipping across a dance floor. “Look,” she told my mother. “It’s me and Fred dancing.”
She passed two days later. Some believe she was a victim to a broken heart, her husband passing away ten months prior, but everyone knew for certain that she was ready to dance with Fred again.
Ready to dance. Beyond this world. Because standing here in heels that hurt my feet by the end of the day, I have no choice but to believe that we were made for something more beautiful, beyond this. That, up there, somewhere over those Rainbows and all that Judy Garland once sang about, exists a place for us to dance. And jig. And wear the best red shoes. And take the hands of ones we loved and lost to finally be found over & over again. For all of eternity.
And perhaps this is the reason, poking up like sunlight from the cracks of tragedy, for being here. Maybe God shuffled us down here so we could do our best, and learn the etching of our own footprints in the sand. So we could stumble and fall and lean on him when we lose all stability. And search this life all over like blind men on the boardwalk, looking for dance partners to know our steps. Know our shuffle. Our hop. Our skip.
To practice dancing on the ground. To learn the hands and eyes that we'll go searching for long after we've parted on this earth when we get to that pearly dance floor. The piano cuts. The crowd clears. And finally, the word “forever” will exist like we have never known it before, as we are reunited with those familiar hands. They'll clasp our cheeks and pull our faces close to theirs and dip us down to touch the ground, whispering softly, "I told you darling, we'd be dancing again."
I expected to walk away from that day with Two Elbows caked in the sheer leftovers of salt water, Two Feet covered in a thick layer of sand, and Two Eyes quite ready to lock up their doors and close for the night. Instead, I walked away with a handful of rocks and what is surely the best lesson I have learned on "Holding On & Letting Go," taught to me by a four-year-old geologist in a frilly red Dora bikini.
She and I had been walking down the endless stretch of beach for hours. Long enough for a sunburn to begin teasing the backs of both our necks.
Her Tiny Hand found a suitable hiding spot within mine; her fingers stealthily hidden within the folds of the embrace.
“This one, this one,” she squealed, breaking away to pick up yet another Ordinary Rock. She placed it amongst a collection of similar Sand Stranded Siblings, now piled into the fold of her Beach Diva Satchel, newly converted from my grey tank top.
“Audrey….” I hesitated, the load starting to weigh me down. We now "owned" practically every rock on the beach.
“Wait, wait. I know,” she said, putting her hands out in front me. “Sit here.” She motioned to the grounding, sitting first, and then proceeded to instruct me in dumping out the pile of rocks onto the sand.
There we sat for fifteen minutes picking and choosing our rocks.
Bringing some home.
Leaving some behind.
This one but not that one.
That one but not this one.
A process intricate enough to compare with the patterns of Marc Jacob as he picks a final line-up for his runway shows during Fashion Week in Paris.
Remarkable. Scientific. Intentional.
It is when I watch a girl—one who has only played on this earth for a little more than a thousand days—bury rocks in the sand as if they she were tucking each of God’s children into bed that I realize that life is a delicate, delicate thing. That letting go is essential. That holding on is sometimes worse. That picking between the two is hard. And I choose to type “hard” instead of “arduous” or “troublesome” because it is only four letters. And four letters is simple. And keeping the adjective simple is a way to underskirt all the complications that really come with the acts of Letting Go & Holding On.
I would adore the chance to kid myself, to make myself believe that mastering the art of efficient emailing and text messaging will enable me to hold every single person I have ever met in the palm of my hand; a way to possibly hold onto a person forever just by dropping a line every once in a while. I'll make believe that I would rather attend ten thousand coffee dates instead of ever folding for the one who memorizes my order: Grande Skim Misto with a Shake of Cinnamon.
Satchel Every Human Being That Crosses My Path.
I could squeeze close friends into side flaps, lovers into secret compartments, strangers into the netted pockets made for water bottles.
But I tend to believe it would get Too Heavy. Too Full. Too Much. And I would then need to unload; find ways to spare my heart from splitting into 5,000 Too Tiny Pieces in order to give Big Chunks to the people who really deserve them.
Big Chunks (noun) (plural): stories; childhood memories; unflattering bad habits (i.e. snapping chewing gum); thoughts on food; dreams; life longings; quirky cravings, see: ‘peanut butter at midnight’ and ‘falafel on a Sunday morning’; ambitions; doubts; secrets; secrets intertwined with vulnerability; secrets intertwined with shame; best jokes; baggage; insecurities; etc.
Big Chunks. Jeepers. That’s absolutely petrifying.
But in a world where we a) wonder so much b) do so much c) cry so much d) talk so much e) live so much d) fear so much, it is only sane to allow a certain few to read us & hold us like paperback novels. Read all the parts of what often looks like a misshapen story.
And then take us in regardless...
After that long day. After that hard winter.
These are the people who value the ways in which we make room for them and they, in turn, scoop us up into their satchel and choose to never let us down. They are the ones who become our Rocks. Our Support. Our Reason to Wake Up, Stretch, Send a Prayer Upward for them and Then Walk Forward because of them.
Delicate, I say.
Beautiful, I believe.
Risky, of course.
Heart Breaking? In some ways.
But Only in the Best Way.
Some days my creative nonfiction techniques and fiction story lines get sassy together. On these days I think I write the best. Or at least I have the most fun.
I spent all day looking for the Bridge. You know the bridge, the purpose. A reason to sew this whole thing together without seeming too pathetic. A lot of us are building bridges though, scrounging up relevance so that we can pour our heart out onto a page and then feel more like Artists than People who wish for more "just seeing how you are doing" phone calls. Trust me, I am not the only one in this city keeping her eyes wide open for something to mention to someone who matters at the end of the day. I am not the only bridge builder.
So here it is: 2 minutes and 32 seconds. I thought you might want to know. That is the exact point. Right There. Two Minutes and Thirty-Two Seconds. Then hit the back button.
Thank me when you side swivel the drawn-out chorus on repeat. We all know that I would only listen to the first 43 seconds of the song if I had the choice. Some days I do . Lord knows, all I really need is the familiar bell sounds and the a capella of her voice. The rest is just gravy. But go back to the beginning at 2:32. You won't get sick of the tune as quickly.
You know, for years she has been telling me that she does not want a lot for Christmas but this year I really get it. I really do. She and I are on the same page, I only want you too.
Don't roll your eyes, I already pinpointed the spot in this letter where the first infamous rolling of the eyes would come in. At the very point where I mentioned Christmas. You want to say "too soon." Might I remind you, this time last year I had the apartment fully decorated with a 5-pound box of cotton that turned out to be an obnoxious proponent in turning the bedroom into a Winter Wonderland. So don't criticize me for starting the holiday season before Thanksgiving. Macy's started first, so there.
I am sitting in a Starbucks window right now. It is the awkward spell of time between the briefing on food security and the Working Group for Girls meeting. I am choking back tears, sipping my Gingerbread latte, smiling at my red cup.
You want to tell me that I have cried a lot this year. I guess so. But welcomed tears, they are. Good & Welcomed Tears. Pampered by my eyelashes and cheeks, really. They are about as careful with the tears as an Italian Grandmother who hears you are hungry, or maybe a Greek one.
But oh yes, that song. Mariah. You think it is ridiculous already, the thought of me donning my snow-white ear warmers and combat boots that I have managed to fit into my Gap poster child wardrobe, tapping my feet at a busy intersection to commercial holiday music. But it is better than the Nutcracker, give me two more weeks for that one. And I bet you wouldn't be so shotty if you knew it made me happy. That it makes me love the city a little more, to have a holiday soundtrack in the background.
Sure, there are days where loneliness is my only company. But Loneliness Is Not So Scary. Nothing to be afraid of. I am starting to see it is very much like when I used to connect my freckles with a Sharpie marker to make pretty pictures. Loneliness is a Connector between People. A feeling that freckles all of our timelines.
You'll say I am pathetic for supporting such a capitalist cause like Starbucks but its the red cups at the holiday that make it all worth it. Every Bit of Capital. Because no matter where you find the red cup, you always feel like you are holding a bit of home between your hands.
This year they are harping on the notion of Strangers. Funny right, I thought that was my platform all along. Strangers is such a silly word. Silly before. Even Sillier After. Sometimes Sad. Sometimes. Sad.
I really want this to have a point. To prove to you that I am not just stringing together weak sentences these days. No, no, my sentences are strong. Like Strings of Christmas Lights. Like Boughs of Holly. Like Fa La La La La, which an extra La to prove some point.
So here it is: I am doing well, thank you. I am safe, thank you. The Bronx is not so bad, you should really come by sometime. The coffee is cheap, no coffee shops, but the coffee is cheap. I am taking care of myself. I am finding my way.
No, please don't join the already assembled Chorus that is my mother, best friends, and a slew of others who believe that I need to do something for myself once in a while. I hope you know it too, putting myself on the back burner was the best thing I ever did for myself. One more stove top metaphor: I really believe that it is only when we put ourselves on the back burner do we find the real flame to life. I am helping people, and that is good. I really only need a hot cup of coffee and these ridiculously comfortable socks made for men who work in the cold all day. I wear them with everything, even under my dress boots. They make me smile.
And that is really the only point of this letter. The only Decent, Valuable, Valid Point. The Take Away. To remember to smile from time to time. Your smile is brilliant. da Vinci would have dumped Mona for a chance to use his palette on your smile. Seriously. The world misses it when it hides behind a furrowed brow.
So yea, scrap the Christmas song reference. Trash the mention of the Starbucks cup, and my pathetic mentions of loneliness and stove top metaphors.
And just smile. Would you?
Funny. This whole thing would probably be much more powerful knocked down from 1030 words to seven. Just Smile, you are doing just fine.
She is teaching me how to make wishes on hot tub bubbles in between rounds of singing "Kiss the Girl." "You have to close your eyes and blow hard," she says. Purple popsicle smears the edges of her mouth as she demonstrates, holding up her cupped hands full of quickly dissipating bubbles.
"What do I wish for?"
"Either a princess crown or a princess dress," her words tote a tone of matter-of-factness.
"Well, why not a prince? Maybe I want a prince."
"You cannot wish for a prince. You are not a princess, Hannah. You are just a babysitter."
Audrey is a lover of princesses. Her heart does an enormous tap dance over Sleeping Beauty and Ariel. She has a pair of plastic pumps with the faces of each damsel adorned on the tops of them.
This summer I have gained a sense of sympathy for these princesses. In just three days of babysitting I managed to force an apple down Snow White’s throat seven times. I made Cinderella lose her slipper a good eight times. I will more than likely plop Jasmine down on a magic carpet three more times before the week finds its ending. The sympathy grows as I flip the pages of books with crippled bindings to tell Audrey the same story of Jasmine or Ariel six or seven times a day.
Each time I see her scooping up the romance, the prince and princess riding off into the sunset, the kiss that all little girls hinge their satisfaction on, and then she moves on. Onto the Next Story of the Next Princess with the Next Happy Ending.
One day she will grow up, plastic shoes will no longer fit her and she will gain her first glimpse of a love song that does not come accompanied by squirrels and birds as the percussionists. But I pray she won’t want to write off the fairy tales forever, for lying to her and leading her on.
We only need to look a bit further into the same stories of our childhoods to realize that adversity did exist in each and every one of them. The stories were not solely about love and princes. We just chose not to pay too close attention to this at the time.
My mom and I had an argument about this the other day. And she won. Yes, that is right Mom, you won.
"We are teaching young girls that if you leave a glass slipper behind then some prince will return it, or that some guy is going to save you when you are locked up in a castle. Little girls should be embracing their own happy endings, not relying on a guy to do it for them.” Yes, that would be me turning on my Raging Feminist side at the drop of Cinderella’s name.
"If you forgot Hannah, Cinderella was abused by her step mother and step sister. Snow White ran away from abuse as well, and she loved those little dwarves and they loved her." Touche, Mom. Those princesses did their best for the circumstances they were given, what is the point of criticizing their definition of a happy ending?
I know that at the age of seven I would not want to be lulled to sleep by a storybook about a broken heart and broken dishes leftover from a fight that took place at midnight. I would never want to read about the sound of a car door, how this time the sound was different, it was the sound of Leaving. Who knows, perhaps Snow White found cheating text messages from Prince, maybe he got bored with her and wanted to try out Ariel. For all we know, Jasmine may have fallen out of love with Aladdin but she deemed it better to tell a perfect love story, the one of a street rat meets princess, than to make things messy and make people talk. I don’t know. Either way, I think I like the stories I was made to believe better than a less than magical reality to fill my bedtime story time slot.
Some might say that we are naive to accept promises of “happy ever after”s and kisses that wake us up out of deep spells. But maybe it is best that we learn to believe in this kind of fairy tale magic at a young age, so that we remember to dream. And Believe That Our Dreams Can Come True.
I sometimes must beat down the urge to tell little Audrey that she does not need a prince to make her happy. But then I think about it, maybe she will grow up and pine for a great love story. Maybe that will make her completely happy, and who I am to stop her from that?
Hey Audrey, if you remember anything beyond the fact that my favorite princess is Snow White, remember this from your babysitter when you grow up: Not every story in your life has to be a love story. And trust me, not every occurrence will resemble a fairy tale. Adversity will be important. Hardships, Hard Times and Hard Lessons Learned will be just as essential as that kiss that might one day make your little heart melt.
Just remember to be happy. Have the courage to change a situation if it needs to be changed, whether that means employing the help of a fairy godmother or finding the resilience deep down inside of yourself. If it means running, then You Should Run. If it makes you happy to fall in love, then fall, baby, fall.
Don’t go out in the world to be the next Ariel, Jasmine, or Snow White. Be Audrey. Tell the world of a love story that only Audrey can tell.