Tag Archives: memories

Polaroids & Playgrounds

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She’s seventeen.

December is slipping through the spaces between my fingers and so is she.

So is she, head hung over the rubber tire swing, arms flopping at her sides, mouth agape. In a few months, I will have lost her completely to distance. But for now, she’s still young, still just a kid in a white and green knit cap, hair sticking out on all sides.

And so I take a picture. Because that’s what you do when you know it won’t last.

I wonder what we did before iPhones and Instagram, before Polaroids or picture frames. Those small moments, the ones where we were painfully aware of time, did they get lost?

Did we take mental snapshots before we knew what snapshots were? Did we know, more than ever, when time was just a thing we got to play with for a few hours on a quiet winter afternoon?

I’d like it back. I’d like her back.

I’d like to think that time is a thing to be won, a thing to be held, a thing to be saved. But it’s not. It’s a thing to be lost, under the sofa cushions and beneath the bed and behind the clothes dryer. It’s a thing to be wasted, sleeping into the afternoon and staying with people who don’t care about us, and standing stuck in ruts because it’s scarier to jump.

It’s scarier to miss her than it is to pretend it’s OK when state lines and deadlines and workdays and weekends get added up between us like bricks building walls.

You deserve to find the people who reach for your hand in a crowd of strangers, but more than that, the ones who reach for it in a crowd of friends. You deserve to grow up, and grow old, and grow tired sometimes of trying to make it work, trying to make life work, trying to make distance disappear.

But never giving up.

I decided when she was months old that I would never give her up, on a doorstep or a milk carton missing child ad. She was mine.

There are nights, plenty of them, when I realize I’ll never have to.

And I had not yet said, “Here’s mine.”

This blog began with a letter.

Exactly four years ago. That’s a story you’ve never been told.

It was the forty-fifth birthday of a man who stopped growing older. It was the morning after the first kiss with a boy who was shipping out to a third world country in six hours. It was the first time I learned what it felt like to lose something you only just learned to have.

It was a letter that didn’t see the light of day for two years. But in it, you could map my beginnings and endings. My nerves and regrets. The pain I felt thinking back ten days earlier to a boy in a leather recliner, away from us all because he had given me his heart and I had not yet said, “Here’s mine.” I had not yet said, “Here’s mind to trample for the next 457 days.”

It was a letter about all the things we do to ourselves.

The growing up and away. The people we reject and the places we forget to miss. It was emotional. It was nostalgic. It was written with the intention of never being read but needing desperately to be mailed.

A present never gifted because it still sits in the receiver’s future. It still deserves a place among the texts and tweets she’d rather read.

It ended up on this blog just a few weeks before I got serious about turning my life into a lasting love letter to the people who brighten me. Before I began writing truths that felt like poetry. Before I began growing people like plants with my words.

That is all this is: a place where I can magnify the good souls in this world who might otherwise never get a love letter.

And if there is one secret we must never keep, it is this: you deserve a novel of thank yous, a list of reasons why your smile will be missed tomorrow if it doesn’t grace us with its presence. You deserve the kind of love letter that gives people arthritis and sends us to Expedia for one-way tickets home.

The letters keep going. The letter to my parents, read by thousands, that never feels like enough of a thank you to them. The letters to strangers & friends who hold my heart in IP addresses and Gmail folders for when I need a reminder.

They have become my words, the calibration scale upon which I measure my actions. They are the actions behind those words and the only reason I have had enough strength to be honest when it hurts.

It is them. The broken man and the crying girl and the magic kiss against a long-ago sold car. The burn of the headlights on an intimate moment. The pounding in my chest when I remember that there will be no cake today. No candles.

Just letters. And words. And the images we rush to write down.

And girl, you're going so far.

Just to be clear, I am 16 or 17 here. Not 13. I may've burned all those photos.

Dear thirteen-year-old Me,

Thursday night I knocked on Brooke’s door and just started crying. And not the wiping-a-few-stray-tears-away kind, either. I’m talking full-on can’t speak crying.

Some things, my dear, will never change.

Brooke told me something pretty radical, something I still don’t quite believe, to make me feel better. She said I’d been through a lot more than most of the girls in this town. Like the two standing outside my neighbor’s house Saturday night, shrieking, the green strobe lights pulsating into our street.

She told me that and I shook my head, because of course it wasn’t true. The more I see of the world, the more the scale tips toward heartbreak. There’s just a sea full of brokenness rolling between Us and Them.

Kellie’s challenge made me think of the thirteen-year-old girl locked deep inside of me, still reeling from the pain she put herself through.

I know you’re awkward. And I mean, everyone says that when they’re thirteen, but it’s about sixteen times truer for you. I don’t know how you got out of bed at six in the morning and watched Fresh Prince reruns with syrup-drowned waffles and didn’t just want to go comatose.

By then, though, you’d already sworn off school for once. You figured you might as well go back again. I know. I understand.

You lied about a lot of things. I know you didn’t want to, but you felt like you had to. And that’s true for a lot of us, but sooner or later the truth has to free you. I think, eventually, you learned that. You lied about things that, seven years later, you cannot even dare to speak out loud. That’s how ashamed you are.

You lied about things you’re unable to write about; and that’s a big deal, because let me tell you that all your little stunts, all your little mishaps will find themselves again on the page. Even the ones that ended you in hospital beds. Even the ones that threatened, at times, to yank your bedcovers off you and take you right from this earth.

Don’t lie so much for so long, OK?

It’ll be eight years in December, but I can still see you standing barefoot on that cold blue tile floor, sure that something bad was about to happen. You didn’t know it already happened. You didn’t know that it could take three days to find the right kind of tears for a funeral you never anticipated. You didn’t know how to heal.

And so you gave up. It wasn’t your first funeral, nor was it your last, but you had seen enough.

Now, you look at death and see it backwards, each person falling closer and closer to birth. 57, 40, 17. You pray it starts going back up again. You pray your next funeral might not be for a 3-year-old, but a 98-year-old.

Mostly, you pray life at thirteen is more complicated than life at twenty-two. Guess what? It’s not.

But you’re fine. Obviously, you’re more than fine. You still laugh nine out of ten days and you still look more or less the same. You still know how to hold your chin up, even if those other girls in town don’t.

And girl, you’re going so far. You don’t even know it yet, but you are.

This world, your life, your mind is a magical place.

Your future self

Twenty one is just another barrier standing between her and the rest of the world.

Someone was looking out for me when they threw the hypochondriac four rooms down from the girl for whom “personal pharmacy” was a serious understatement.

the hangover hospital

via weheartit.com

It’s no wonder I want to take the Red Cross emblem from outside the Emergicare Center next to Hardee’s and tack it above her bedroom door.

I wish I could say there’s some other image I picture when I think of her, something sweet and welcoming like a smile or a handshake, but no.

No, it’s the hospital, the rescues, the always-here-when-you-need-me-and-even-if-you-think-you-don’t moments that stick with me for four years and threaten to pull me back to reality if ever my feet lift too far off the ground.

She found us on Facebook. And no, I did not change my name to Girl With An Endless Sea of Problems. She walked right into that door, my friend.

Walked right into our open oak bedroom door, too. Inserted herself into our lives, demanding those four years of us in just four seconds.

I have never, well not since kindergarten, met someone with such boldness when it comes to making friends. Few of us are daring enough to plunge into icy water and break back through the surface, refreshed and almost comfortable already, even though we know it’s going to be OK.

Brooke did that. And I needed that sort of reckless confidence lying around. I needed someone to waltz into my life, promising to stick by me when the going got rough.

And oh, how rough it got. How many times she had to talk me down from cliffs when I was sure I was dying. Sure death was lurking just around the next corner, ready to grab me with its greedy little hands and pull a bed sheet over my head.

The only time I’ve ended up in the ER since my freshman year, she was fortunate enough to escape the phone call that came when I woke up disoriented and wondering how, when someone takes you in an ambulance, you get back home.

Do you walk? Do you crawl? Do you sit down on the cold concrete outside the waiting room drop-out pull-through overhang of that empty, brand-spanking-new parking lot and pray someone channels your inner being to find you?

No. You call your roommate and when she asks where you are, when she asks where the hospital is, you tell her the truth: All you remember is seeing a Sheetz somewhere out the back window of a moving vehicle. And then nothing. Nothing except that absolute terror when you come to and realize someone is wheeling you in on a gurney. Like you really are on the brink of dying.

I am so glad I never put her through that, so thankful because I know she will travel – has traveled – leaps and bounds to help me when I’ve fallen.

I know all about those people, the ones for whom a phone call or a text message is not enough. Oh no, she has to trudge across campus in the middle of a hot afternoon when she has no time, really, to stop what she’s doing. She has to find the girl in the middle of a breakdown, any breakdown, and calm her down.

She is the youngest, if we’re going by birth dates. Turned the big 21 yesterday.

But something tells me that 21 is just another number, just another barrier standing between her and the rest of the world. And she’s conquered it already, moved on to something more urgent.