but a number.

At 12, my body doesn’t always fit me quite right – expanding and arching, no longer fitting in spaces it once occupied – mother’s lap, my favorite summer shorts, the Thanksgiving children’s table. My shoulders are rounded, slumping toward a ribcage holding tightly to three-legged races. It betrays me as an outsider, a newcomer in a place I have lived all my life.

At 22, my body is a signature of curves and loops and raw ink; it is a calligraphy of primal faculties. It vibrates as a hastily tuned instrument, resonating and amplifying each blue note at the slightest trace. It carries me on stilts, with pyramidal shoulders.

At 32, my body doesn’t know me. We are poor acquaintances the morning after an evening of whiskey and wine, greeting at the bathroom mirror. Hello. Let’s go.

At 12, I worry if I have enough friends and become lonely when alone. I am preoccupied with opinions and potential – what I should, what I could. A murmuring vexation my mother will call at a moment when her daughter is a skin suit surrounded by smoke.

At 22, I worry if it gets too quiet, if I am having enough fun, if there is not constant kinetic energy. Empty spaces are filled with photographs, phone calls, rock songs on repeat. I fill bathtubs with boyfriends and confetti, trashcans with bottles. Today barely closes its eyes before tomorrow awakes, brighter, faster, louder. Hours glide effortlessly on my good-time abacus, and I become rich with distractions.

At 32, I worry if I have enough friends and become lonely in public places. I worry for the time she no longer calls.

At 12, my pace stumbles swiftly, indefinitely, holding tightly to cafeteria trays and loose change. Little things are big things since the big things do not happen yet. Everything and nothing is mine; the sun rises for me or in spite of me. I exist like Shrodinger’s cat, both immortal and expansive, and dying at the least provocation.

At 22, my pace is unmatched but heavy, oppressed by the weight of potential; time is my church and I am a worshipper of the glorification of busy. It is a pentameter – rhythmic, predictable, holding tightly to a cadence I claim as my own. Moving steadily onward as if I were on stage, as if the audience trailed my heels, I toe the line every time.

At 32, my pace is measured by the meandering missteps of yesterdays and lost causes: hallways are echoic, stairwells ache my knees and memories, but sidewalks are a reminder of the red dirt trails that stained my saddle shoes.

At 12, I am impressed by size, by color, by rebellion. The loudest makes the most and autonomy has pink hair.

At 22, I am impressed by ego masquerading as intelligence – sickled tongues against fields of listeners. I am wetted by poetry, broad vernacular and thickly framed glasses. I find myself melting into smooth descriptions, plucking seeds from my teeth left behind by flowery words, letting sycophantic stalks take root. I find myself lying along leaves of grass, enveloped with an impossible vision. I find myself lying. I find myself.

At 32, I am impressed, simply, wholefully. Woefully. Impressed by arrangements of atoms, by the collective conscious of humankind, by nuances of light and shadow. Impressed with the glistening of tears beneath lampposts at dusk, unconcerned with hour, unconcerned with pursuit of happiness. Just sitting there, I find myself less scared to be sad, less scared to be simple. I find myself.

 

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peach fuzz and apple cheeks.

Last night, I had a dream of you and the little one, all peach fuzz and apple cheeks, where you said terrible things to me just like the last time I saw you. This time I knew what was happening, and I hugged you like I should have back then. The little one slept on, a reminder that you will awake one morning warmer and happier than you were then. A reminder that I will awake one morning missing what I never said.

end of a summer.

As a drop of ink to water, a nostalgia spread through me, sudden, then slowly, then carelessly. It colored everything; it was changed, barely detectable but lingering. This low grade sadness tinged with yearning, it could not be mine. I could not be homesick for places I have never been, for footbridges and rolling pastures I have never called home.
But I became ill with it, broken-hearted for the need to love a place as I have never loved. I wanted to love it, I did love it like a picture of a memory, but I am flooded with the knowing the time for it has passed. I could not imagine this knowing away, as it altered every thought it touched – like the way the rusty sunset races across the ocean waves, tinting them amber and apricot, ochre and honey until it reaches the island.
The island is then, too, tinted by the setting sun and bursts with the warm hues of the end of summer – burnt oranges bathing along the red sand cliffs and rocks, the yellow birches become marigolds, coppers, and the red oaks deepen to carmines and siennas – before the smokey blues and navys of evening settle in.

Everything was colored with knowing it was the end of a summer, my summer, and no matter the daydreams and romances I once no doubt knew the future held, had already come to pass. They came and went in their brief time, or they never even came at all, and I have been left waiting. Waiting for a time which already slipped through my fingers like autumn leaves from branches, waiting for a youth misspent, for a mid-day sunrise, for a May in November.
The light vanished like a broken silence. A blooming twilight fell over me and I nearly cried for the missing moments, the changing season, the want of a love, of a coming-of-age. The need was too great, the loss too profound to be mine, to be grieving a life I have not lived, a story I have not told, a place I have not loved – yet it was mine. It will always be mine in the way it was never mine. Much in the way beloved books age from careless carry and use, the same familiar pages, same familar words are now dull and fragile, old and heavy with years; I was changed, barely detectable but lingering.

“It was November–the month of crimson sunsets, parting birds, deep, sad hymns of the sea, passionate wind-songs in the pines. Anne roamed through the pineland alleys in the park and, as she said, let that great sweeping wind blow the fogs out of her soul.” – L. M. Montgomery

31 years.

I started writing this list as a teenager, and each year I try to add one thing I’ve learned since my last birthday.

1. Don’t let “I love you” become a habit. Feel it when you say it.
2. Look up, and often. Don’t forget what the sky looks like.
3. You learn more about yourself by having your heart broken.
4. Find something to crave, something to yearn for, even if it hurts.
5. Paint the world, even if only with your footsteps.
6. It is impossible to not have expectations and to not be disappointed. The avoidance of either one only holds you back.
7. Only cry when you mean it.
8. Lock your doors but don’t keep the shades drawn.
9. Speak clearly, write vaguely. Only ever whisper or shout in bed.
10. Sweet nothings mean something.
11. There is absolutely no reason to have a favorite color, to keep something “new”, to make someone feel jealous or guilty.
12. Be healthy, and not just physically.
13. Join a group, club or movement that means something to you.
14. You mean the world to someone, so be easy on yourself – they’re counting on you. When you hurt yourself, you’re hurting them.
15. A book, song, or movie exists that is completely and entirely for you.
16. Money is important, but don’t make it significant. It’s the only thing that can’t be resolved by arguing about it. And if you can’t resolve it, accept it.
17. It’s called luck, but it isn’t.
18. Sometimes it is impossible to forgive or forget. When it is, you should leave.
19. It’s okay to change but only if you do it for yourself.
20. Try not to believe in anything more than you do yourself.
21. There are so many things to be afraid of. You should never have to explain yourself. These two things are related, and neither one should make up your mind for you.
22. Keep your own secrets, not someone else’s.
23. If you’re not here to follow your dreams, you’re following someone else’s.
24. Everything is funny.
25. “Living life with no regrets” is ill-advised. If you haven’t felt remorse, you haven’t learned from your mistakes.
26. People will not always show you love in the ways in which you are looking for it. Just because it is not what you would do, does not mean it is not good enough.
27. Make kindness your church.
28. Buy frivolous things for important people. They’ll know why.
29. Pick the ugly pumpkin, the lopsided Christmas tree, and choose the smooshed cupcake just because no one else will.
30. Make your silence meaningful.
31. Professionalism is a facade. No one else knows what they’re doing, either.