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You ever had a perfect day?

A laugh-filled, legs-hurting, heart-expanding day full of walks and talks and sights kind of day. Memories in the making, best friend to your right, sky blue with clouds pillow fighting as they pass through one another. A sun tan in-the-making, the trees scattering across the horizon, the water slapping against rock, calm in places, returning again. A family on bikes passing on the left, concert soundcheck in the distance, people aching for shade, a bit of a reprieve from the 85 degree weather. No agenda. Just sky.

If someone were to ask me what makes the perfect day, I’d describe this one. How we ate Creole food and adventured in the city. Carried our laptops in satchels searching for coffeeshops we could write at. Talking about the love we give, who gives it back, how important those people in our life are and how we’ll need them tomorrow. Skin glistening with sweat, but not a care in the world. Today? It’s for best friends.

We found ice cream that was made in front of our own eyes. A blend of raspberry and strawberry and custard, sweet and full of whatever it was that we needed exactly in that moment. Adventured to a bookstore and found a few gems amidst its stacks. Stories already consumed, waiting to be discovered again, hoping for a new home. Picked three to come home with me, helping me build this life three or four pages at a time. Jokingly talked about getting tattoos. Gave it some minutes to scramble through our mind. “So let’s get tattoos.” Just like that, we’re getting home stitched into our skin—places that have undoubtedly shook us to our core, flipped us upside down and stole all our lunch money, hung us out to dry. Places that brought us joy, gave us peace, inspired hope with every stubborn step.

It wouldn’t be home without the parts that didn’t quite add up. Without the bruises we accumulated trying to be loved again and again by people who didn’t have the capacity to, couldn’t see us well. Wouldn’t be home without the mile markers we follow into it, the lights we count as night falls, the people that stayed, reminding us how we got here and where we’re going, to never forget where we’re from, to savor the moment before it passes. To let it go when it does finally does.

Michigan. Land of the Great Lakes. Home of the automobile. It’s where my mother was born and raised by her mother, the only place either of them ever settled long enough to take root. The place where I met my first girlfriend and my second (and third), where love was a lost and found bin I rummaged through at least once a year, hoping to find something worth keeping, coming up empty. The borders that I traveled—up north, Kalkaska, Traverse City, Petoskey, Mackinac Island—and the people I traveled with, all tracing lines of friendship and deep life talks. The cities I’d find pieces of myself in—Flint, Detroit, Bay City, Saginaw, Rochester, Brighton, Frankenmuth—and the forgiving and open sky beckoning me back time and time again.

It’s where I learned what family means to me. How I had to leave imaginary lines to know just how much of who I am is wrapped up in the street signs, porch swings, corner stores, and high school hallways. How, every week, rain or shine or snow, I’d clean the garage and mow the lawn. It’s where I first got detention, first learned how to throw a spiral football, had my first double on the baseball diamond and made my first fielding error, and where I ran my first session of hills.

It’s where I first was given an opportunity to advocate for someone who’s voice isn’t often heard and where I learned what good mentorship looks like. It’s where I learned to write, where the first person outside of family told me “I believe in you” and meant it. The place where I first had faith that the sky could actually open up and a god could take my hand. The place where I first doubted that, too. Where I wrestled with belief in general and participated in my first spelling bee. Where I wrote my first of many letters to an ex-lover, marched to her doorstep in the snow, asked her mom if she was busy, hand delivered it to her, and made the trek back home with periodic glances back, hoping to see her coming after me to tell me she wanted to be with me. She didn’t. The place where I stopped believing in real love. The place I decided to love again and where I believed I was worthy of it. So many firsts. Probably some lasts, too.

I come back time and time again, get off the interstate, and am flooded with memories. Remembering how I’d spent years wishing to make it out so I could see the great big world. Now, wishing I’d spent more time at home with my grandmother, my mother, my sister and brother, my niece and nephew, my dad. Wishing I could have one more conversation in my childhood home. One more walk to the bus stop. One more mow of the lawn, one more tree climb, one more race from the bottom of the house to the top, turning off all the lights on my way, just quick enough to not be caught in a shadow. One more conversation with my Yia Yia to tell her that I love her, that I’m proud to call her my grandmother, that she is one of my heroes. One more time wrestling with my brother, who is graduating from high school soon and growing up. One more time. One last time.

If I could go back, I wouldn’t change the small parts. Like how, as a young boy, shy and curious, I made an insect graveyard in my back yard. I can still picture the small mound of dirt, moss covering its top, signaling the resting place of once-alive fliers and crawlers. How accomplished I felt in being gentle with some small dead thing, but how one day long after its creation, I mindlessly mowed over its contents, only remembering after I’d finished the whole yard. How, odd as it is, this would become a metaphor for the way we like to honor our dead, how Buddy Wakefield’s line looms over me every time I come across it: “Cemeteries are just Earth’s way of not letting go. Let go.” How that taught me about death well before death ever came. How it still does.

There are whole days when I miss the way the Michigan air enveloped me. Mixing quiet and loud never felt so comforting to me on the days when I didn’t feel like myself. Trips to the bread store with mom to use our food stamps before they were gone, driving down roads in Redford saying “Yia Yia, where are you?” Even when she knew exactly where Yia Yia was: sitting, waiting for us to reach her, open arms and heart in the direction we came from every summer. How I can remember the painting of ships at a distance against the horizon—water reflecting back, every wave a mirror—hanging in the house she had built for her family. How the painting now hangs in my apartment in Indiana. How I pass it every day, sneaking a glance when I can, remembering what I can remember, digging deep to see her show up long after she is gone. All things disappear if you think hard enough about them. Their edges fading, center soon to go, and so, too, our bodies.

Home.

It’s where the soul expands, bursts, and rebuilds itself with the rubble. That’s what Michigan means to me. Long after I’ve gone away, I will return. Though the air will feel differently, the people will change, the monuments will transform, and the whole state will feel foreign, there will be familiarity that settles into my bones. I will see things new and old and be reminded of the reason why this place means so much to me. It’s forever home. A part of my forever story. No matter how far away I go, the open sky will beckon me again, turning its porch light on one last time to see me drive the distance all the way home.

 

In closing

In closing

I always tell people that the week after school ends each spring is the saddest week. It feels much like mourning the loss of someone, only they aren’t gone forever. Just for now. This year is no different. I’m learning how to say goodbye in what feels like several languages I haven’t fully learned.

Looking back, I wish I could have known when the people I care about most were going to change me. I wish I could have witnessed it from their eyes. How, with each day of struggle and wonder, we grew together.

It’s true what they say about endings: they never get easier. We get older and sometimes wiser, which means that we begin to learn how important people are to us, how their presence changes us, gives us life, saves us. I wish I could have known every single time I failed them. How I told them I’d be there and wasn’t. How I took frustrations out on them at times or how I couldn’t create a space for them to be themselves sometimes. Now that they’re gone, I’m wondering about all the times I shortchanged them or gave them words I thought they needed but they didn’t ask for. I’m also wondering how lucky I am to be able to work with such bright people who allow me to make mistakes, to fail sometimes, and how they still hold me with positive regard despite the bad days.

This is for you.

For every student staff member I worked with this year, every student I met with, had lunch with, shared stories with, sat with through bad days, wondered about the future with, or got coffee with. This is for you, friends.

This is for every 5:45AM staff meeting that you stayed up all night for. For every one-on-one that went well over an hour (and sometimes two). For every story you shared with me about your lives: about heartbreak and love, family and relationships, the things you’re passionate about, the people who make you feel the most alive, and the hard things you’ve gone through. For every time you listened to me go on and on about something and held that space for me.

This is for all the times you struggled to see the light in yourself. How, at times, you would stumble through the days with heavy things in your heart, not knowing how to ask for help. How, despite the heaviness, you still showed up. Stayed up. Gave love to one another endlessly. I am still learning how to marvel at how beautiful you are. How beautiful we all have the potential to be. How to soften despite every moment the world gave us every reason to harden.

Nine short months ago, we moved in for training, each of you wide-eyed and full of nerves, but excited for what this journey could be about. I told you that I was invested in you, that I was going to show up for you and see you through this year with hopes of challenging you in ways you hadn’t been before. I didn’t know then what I know now. How brave-hearted you all would become. How much you’d let me guide you down dim-light paths, trusting that I wouldn’t steer you to danger.  How genuinely funny and clever you all are, and how witty. How you let me be there with you, for you, by your side when things got really hard, and when you felt like you climbed a mountain. There was no way I would’ve known how much you were going to change me. But here I am tracing all the ways all the days I got to spend with you made me feel lighter and full of a purposeful life.

What a year.

My hope is that you’ll find the time to be where your feet are. To put your phones down and talk to people genuinely. To commit to the journey of growth you’re in the middle of. To recognize when you’re wrong or have made mistakes and to allow yourself the luxury of changing your mind. To create things you’re proud of but not before creating things that you think are imperfect. To say sorry first, even if you’re sure you won’t get one back. To say “I love you” first because you mean it and because life is too short not to tell the people in your life how loved they are.

My hope is that you will remember each other. This team. These people. This community that brought us together, gave us a reason to push past the rough parts, and allowed us to be with one another for a brief but spectacular moment in time. I hope you look back on our time together with a grateful heart and a smile.

Thank you for all that you’ve done to give others a chance to experience joy. I’m with you every step of the way. I’ll miss you every day, and I’ll love you tomorrow more than I did yesterday.

Now go be great.

Until next time,
-RFW

A year backwards, light becoming

A year backwards, light becoming

I’ll admit it: the moment the needled etched the first line into my skin, I panicked. Before I could yank my arm back in protest, three more lines scratched across my skin, each slightly longer than the last. When the man carving into me took a small break, I marveled at my own changing. Ink-dipped and buzzing, the needle traced a longer line, another, another, another. Longer now, then shorter, then longer again, and finally shorter with one last stroke. A realtime transformation. How my skin, reddened and swollen,  buzzed with excitement and wonder, pained with a new hope of something to carry.

I don’t remember saying much in the 15 total minutes I spent in the shop that afternoon. It was a rainy Tuesday and my nerves had been steadily agitated. With each passing hour, I thought about this secret I was holding. I’d only told one other person—a friend whom I trusted with something so close to my heart. It reminded me of how a body can keep hidden things hidden. Small realities shared with a select few, so far away from everyone else, manifesting itself in the actions we take with one another. A memory lived over and over again with habitual repetition.

It was my grandmother’s birthday. October 24th. She would have been 94. I can’t imagine living that long I’d say to myself, trying to make meaning out of a life lived well into the decades of heartbreak and adversity, never driving a car or smoking a cigarette. A death that came so slowly and all at once.

My grandmother walked everywhere. The grocery store, bags hanging off of her arms all the way home; the park, watching us playing on the jungle gym for hours; down the street and back again. My grandmother. My Yia Yia.

There were moments when the walking would get her into trouble. When I was 8 or 9, I remember a sewer cap bulging six inches above the sidewalk being enough for her to just barely catch her foot on, her body falling, and her face finally smashing into the concrete, blood rushing down her face. She still managed to stand and walk home, washing off her scrapes. I can remember feeling so disturbed to see someone I loved so much hold in the hurt so that my sister and I weren’t more alarmed. She always found a way home.

It wasn’t until she was much older that she would fall and couldn’t get back up. She was a stubborn woman. It always seemed like there were unchartered waters in her eyes and she insisted that she had to travel them alone. Wouldn’t let anyone help her if she could help herself. I imagine this is one of the biggest parts of her that shows up in me. How I bottle things neatly and put them on a shelf for safekeeping, harboring energy not always meant for me. How I dig my heels in someone insists on helping me, especially when I don’t believe I need it.

My Yia Yia was a fierce defender of everything she loved. It didn’t matter that someone was bigger or stronger or quicker than her—if you came for someone she loved, she always found a way to stand between you and danger. Even when the trouble kept coming and she knew it was going to hurt, she’d rather feel that than you feel it. That’s how you knew she loved you. She didn’t always have to tell you. Somehow, you just knew. I got this from her, too.

Part of who I am today is predicated on the way she loved me so fiercely. I hear grandmothers aren’t supposed to have favorites, but if she did, I was definitely it. I can remember times when it was evident that my sister and brother were treated differently by her than I was. It was sort of an unspoken thing in my family. Something I didn’t fully recognize until I left home for college. I’d come home for visits—Thanksgiving, Christmas, a random weekend in May—and each time I was about to head back to school, tears would stream down her face. “Leaving so soon? When are you coming back? Don’t worry about me, I’ll be alright.”

I admit that there were times when I felt a slight pull by this. “Why does she cry every time I leave?” I’d ask my mom.

“It’s what love looks like, son. One day, you’ll understand.”

I can’t remember the last time I left her for the last time. I can’t remember what she said to me that last time. I can’t remember the date or what time it was or the last time I held her hand. I know that she cried but I can’t remember if I cried too. I can’t remember the things I can’t remember. Her laugh so quiet that right in the middle of it, you’d swear she was at a full stop, time suspended. Her look of concern, of questioning, and of wonder. Her hugs. How, over time, each of her mannerisms withered away, existing in my memory so vividly. These are the things I hope I hold onto for a long time.

I did not know what I had in her until she was gone. Someone who lived love into existence, who remained tender when you were hurting, who didn’t have to say the right thing because she was doing it instead. Someone who knew that the best parts of life are lived when you are loved well by those you look up to. When they believe in you so deeply that, even if you don’t understand it fully, you know it to be true. That’s the grandmother she was. That’s the Yia Yia I knew.

Much of what I aim to do well in this life is show up for people, to love them better every day, and to give them a reason to believe in something. Just like Yia Yia did. The weeks leading up to her passing, I didn’t show up. I didn’t give myself the space to realize that her last days were her last. I was afraid of what I would see if I went home. So I enveloped myself in my office, burying my nose in paperwork and spreadsheets and email after email until time stopped. Mom called. “She’s gone.”

Silence.

Gone.

All of my shortcomings came alive that day. All of the things I wanted to say to her but couldn’t. All the moments I had a chance to show up and be with her but didn’t. All of the times I wished I would have spent more time with her, drinking a cup of coffee or watching a TV show or talking about my mother’s health. We never know that the last time we spend with someone is going to be the last time.

I’ve lived with a heart broken in pieces for a year. But with each day, I grow closer to a truth I was never certain I’d reach: how love, understanding, and unabashed gratitude can be tools to build a life. Each day is another opportunity to be leveled by all that wrecks me, and to lean into that means stretching every truth I’ve ever known so that I can see how many times I can fit inside of it. How I can know it deeply and be changed by it. How I can finally let it go.

When the man etched the last line into my skin and wiped it down, I sat silent. “It’s beautiful” my friend said. Beautiful, I thought. How, even though I’d spent months in what seemed like endless darkness, I could finally carry the weight of her words with me. How it felt like light entering all the fractured parts of my heart, love swimming through, cutting the cold with a tenderness I hadn’t yet known. How I started recognizing the horizon of better days ahead. Days of forgiveness and hope, of light and love, of feeling like I could enter every room brimming with good news. Days of finding my way out, of stretching again, shaking loose my knotted muscles, finding hope in these bones again. It’s my forever story.

Every single day, I am reminded of the words she said to me and what they mean. How love, despite darkness, can free people from keyless rooms. How we can give people the time and space to be their full selves. How we can show up for those who matter the most to us despite rain clouds. How so many brighter days have yet to happen; thousands of suns will break the horizon, looming large above us, making us believe in better things despite all that sets out to break us. I can’t think of anything more beautiful.

 

Arriving.

Arriving.

When I was a boy, I would take 45 minute showers. Something about the hot water hitting me that made me savor that kind of warmth as if it were the last time. I would spend 35 of those minutes covering my ears and slowly walking through the water—back and forth and back again—simulating a brief rainstorm hitting a shaky roof. In this story, my head is the roof. My brain, the interior with which I took up the most space. I suppose that hasn’t changed all these years.

I would close my eyes tight and fold my ears into themselves, leaving little room for either sense to live freely in the world. Standing at one end of the bathtub, I would slowly walk to the other side. The water falling would gradually climb up my lanky frame, the sound of the steady stream getting louder with each inch of movement. Eventually the water would pile on top of itself, pooling for small moments on my head, water unrelenting, and I would stand drowning the senses, hoping to feel it intensely all at once and and not at all.

15 years later, not much has changed. I don’t take 45 minute showers anymore. But the feeling part? That’s where I live a little.

The Robbie everyone knew all those years ago carried so much hope in his heart and so much despair in his lanky frame. He would have never known what was coming next in his life; all the hurt and all the growing into a body that he never understood would eventually feel less like a burden and more like a gift, no matter how awkward. Life brings bigger things: high school and love and loss and scars and love again and loss again and college and the greatest of friends, some not so great, too, and writing writing writing writingwritingwriting and brief moments of peace nestled between an anxiousness that would become a fluid state of the way life is lived and so many books and more love and loss and death and an ever-present sense of urgency and grief and, among many more things, a self-love that always feels like building. Always construction. Never finished and never intending to be. Building that always feels like arriving, every single day, to a structure that creates a space where love grows.

I still learn from that Robbie. He walks with me along the water, remembering the way he used to be. How afraid he was, a young boy, to let his words peel off the of the walls he built and let someone see him. He doesn’t say much in these moments. He’s where I learned how to leave no stone unturned in learning; how some of those rocks have lived inside of him for years without having ever been given a shot at being something more than just something to skip—not a mantle, not a road, not a decoration or trophy. He was where 27-year-old Robbie learned solitude as a way of breathing again, mask off, shield down, sword holstered.

Walking ahead of him now, I look back and see his eyes flicker, hands in pockets, chest pounding, and I think for a brief moment about the distance between us now. How grateful I am to have known him as he fades into my memory, slipping out of sight, and this is what peace is where the water falls.


There’s no real way we can know exactly what we’ll be doing in this brief and wonderful life, not a year from now, not a month from now. Our life twists every day—we are on the cusp of something bigger than ourselves. Whether you believe there is a higher being or a series of higher beings or nothing at all, there will always be an increasing urgency within us to love better, ourselves included, and to find hope whenever we can. Wherever we can.

 

Now and Not Yet

Now and Not Yet

I wonder how many minutes I’ve spent mourning in advance all the things that I’ve yet to experience—how death has left a profound impact on me, how it will again, how trees are rooted but lose to the elements every year at the same time. We see the weeping coming and we prepare our shields to deflect inevitable feeling. There’s a sense of depth with which we’re able to extend ourselves in order to not

grieve what we’ve lost
and what we’ve yet to lose.
And we will
lose. Everything.

Thank goodness I think to myself that we will lose it all. We will loosen our grasp on everything we once thought would never fall, never break. The unmendable will lead us back to ourselves. We may never know the glue that holds us together, but we will always bend towards the cracking and craning that we create a space for in ourselves.

Thank goodness that, as fall comes every year—as the day begins to lose the battle of darkness and light—the sun becomes a distant memory. The cold creeps in, invades our spaces, leaves us reeling, fixed on finding anything that can bring us feeling in our fingers and toes again.

Thank goodness I say to myself that spring finds us after every new year. As we thaw, we are new—open to this side of forever, trading in our jackets and boots for sun on skin, all the beautiful things blooming.

Despite this, I’ve come to understand how life will forklift heavy things onto my shoulders, lungs breathing deeper now, and I will follow the sunset every day into each new morning, every moment that mourning brings. It’s how I’ve come to understand the grief in my bones. As a circle: as one thing happens, we know the opposite arch of this bending line, how it’s honest and good, and how we will be back in this spot again soon, with varying degrees of familiarity and mystery. As a ladder: how we take steps with conviction, yet still feel the iron in our boots wreck havoc on everything we leave behind. And we do leave things behind. On purpose and accidentally. We scuff memories and choose what we see, what we remember, what we value in that process.

It’s the grief of the body, the vulnerability of the way we move—stretching and folding into itself. Consider this flesh, how, in all of its complexities we make simple, it bends naturally towards rest. How, with gravity, we suspend our senses to connect at the belly, the hips, the mouth, in an effort to rush towards warmth—all that we seek. It’s what’s beautiful about love: it brings us to cozier heights, new beginnings over and over and over again in our bodies. Fragile and giving, nuanced and breathtaking. We open ourselves to every good thing we can imagine, even when things aren’t as we imagine.

When love leaves, warmth slowly dissipates. It’s not a part of our breath, our bodies, our minds. We work to accommodate ourselves, seeking new and sustainable ways to not allow the frigid in. We become transactional in a sense, even if only for a short time, so we don’t experience cold.

I hope that the next time you crack wide open, you allow all the light to come in. It’s how the magic happens—all this growing, the salt of the Earth, the rain—it’s nothing without the light. Neither are you.

On Stillness.

On Stillness.

The air was simple and pulsing, so much so that it wasn’t. Not really. It may have just been my mind—prone to seeing commotion in all things, easily identifying chaos at the brim of every step—tricking me into believing air could have a heartbeat. That it could take up a life in showing people what it means to move with intent and with none at all.

When the doctor told me I was a good boy, that I was going to grow up to become a man—a good man—I didn’t always believe him. I’m not sure when it was that I started narrowing my eyes whenever someone said good things about me. In each of these moments, I stutter into ‘Thank You’ and change the subject so as to never internalize someone else’s perspective of me. What I never knew is how the stillness afterwards would rattle me into second-guessing all good things, not just the words spoken in my direction.

It was always this stillness that I never intimately knew; I hadn’t considered letting myself be in the company of me and only me, no screens or glowing devices, no other humans, nothing to distract me from myself. Through the lens of a broken heart, the whole world is cold. Bitter, even. And full of despair. It’s through this lens that I’ve always found words from within that have brought a certain kind of solace. I’ve always believed that I could muster enough courage to be myself during the brokenness of my body. Just never around others. Not yet. Not until I could find a home inside of myself.

At the local coffeeshop, a man next to me takes his headphones out, leans over, and tells me not to think too much. Says that there are things that he wished he didn’t know, says that there are brief moments when he glosses over these things and then the monsters create themselves out of thin air. There’s a stillness in this man’s voice that doesn’t shake or tremble, doesn’t quiver when his truth pours out; he has spent many even months behind self-made bars hoping someone will stop long enough to see him again in this life. I think of what this means; how any of us create the quiet we seek or if the quiet itself seeks us, or perhaps how it can be true that mourning/morning sits with us unlike anything else.

The moment we arrive in stillness, everything ceases. Pico Iyer talked about this in interviews. How he sought a few days spent in a Catholic hermitage. How he drove on narrow roads up a mountain, bending and weaving, no rails to keep him from toppling over. How he fought with himself endlessly on those winding pavements—the guilt of leaving his mother behind, of leaving his work behind, of not being able to be reached as he sought the reaching of himself. But when he arrived, the stillness of it all reminded him that taking these three days would allow him to be a better son, a better worker, a better friend, a better him. Just by showing up in stillness, in kindness, in contemplation, he could resolve to disconnect with everyone and everything in order to make better connections.

This arrival, with all of its nuances and complexities, is made simple. As Iyer would say, it washes us clean—takes us out of our bodies for a moment, wrings us of our excess, and puts us back again. This is what it means to be still. It creates models with which our world can be deconstructed, emptied, and refilled in a way that is new and exciting and genuine.

Here I am saying a lot and not saying much at the same time. Here I am, a man made from all of my father’s mistakes, wound just right to believe that there is something in the sky beckoning us home when the streetlights come on. My mother’s voice—a song I both once knew and am still in the midst of knowing—clears fog on the lost sidewalk, the Devil strip I find myself wading against, walking along. I’m side-stepping into an infinity I do not yet know. There is no home inside every man who cannot recognize the hurt they harbor. We are not built to be society’s definition of strong, whatever that may be; there are edges we haven’t yet explored enough to know their stretch marks, the depth with which they’ve rooted into our grounds.

We forget what weaving means, how the bottom breath of this life exists regardless of the top, and perhaps in spite of it. Good to have a poem you wrote in the basement see the light of day; worn on a friend’s face over coffee black, I am enamored with the fascination this moment carries with it, soon to be gone but never forgotten. We are all this poem in a way. Good to be alone with itself. Good to be a safe zone for crash landings. Good to show up when least expected to. Good to clamor against machinery that builds defenses around hearts.

Here I am saying that you do not have to believe. You do not have to wade in the water that is not flowing through you. Here I am saying every essay is a poem in disguise just learning how to exist on a page long enough to survive the cuts, the bruises, the bent breath we carry for it.

Everything can be an example of celebration if we learn to let enough light in. I stand staring at the edges of my soft palms praising all that is good and somewhat holy about the way we get to exist in this life together. There’s a hum steadily climbing in the background; a familiar white noise I’ve never heard, a house built of stacked bricks but not cement perishing lightly all at once.

There can exist a world where, in every room you enter, you are surrounded by all that you love and all that loves you back without fear of exiting. You do not have to be a warning sign for destruction in every heartbroken moment. You can exist and be loved and that can be enough. We all can be enough.

Maybe They Will Sing For Us Tomorrow

“I could hear my heart beating. I could hear everyone’s heart. I could hear the human noise we sat there making, not one of us moving, not even when the room went dark.”                                 -Raymond Carver, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love”

 

After Hammock’s song.

Littered across the idea of the existence of Universe in the plural sense (the more-than-one, more-than-a-few, more-than-many sense), I have alternative stories with every person I’ve loved:

I. The one where we were childhood friends and we grew up learning how to love each other in different languages, how to care for one another, how to be a companion and cultivate withness. But you find the love of your life in the middle of our story and I’m left wondering, hoping.

II. The one where you always loved yourself and demanded those around you to love you well. I lived five states and two timezones away and never even knew your name.

III. The one where I longed for you after seeing you in a coffeeshop. I never walked up to you; we only shared glances and the same space 20 feet away from each other. The next time I went for coffee, I didn’t see you. And the time after that, and the one after that. Maybe you moved or maybe our schedules never allowed for us to be there at the same time. Maybe you didn’t like the coffee anymore. Eventually, I stopped looking for you. I stopped going. Maybe we weren’t meant to be more than a few glances.

IV. The one where we met at a high school pep rally the second week of school. I carried your books for you and you came to all of my baseball games. The one where I asked you to prom by spending hours on surprising you in the parking lot. Nobody was around to see it. We loved each other until we couldn’t, until college, until our separate ways meant different paths and fading from one another’s existence.

V. The one where we met at an Open Mic night. You sang a song after mustering the courage to get up in front of friends and strangers. I read poetry in front of people for the first time. The bravery enveloped us. Seven years later, we found each other again. Ran into each other in the market. You’re engaged and I’m working on my Master’s degree. We exchange numbers to keep in contact, walking in different directions from the cereal aisle, never seeing each other again.

VI. The one where we were forbidden to see each other but still chose to. “I’m going to a friend’s,” you’d say to your parents. You were really seeing me. We loved in whispers and quiet footsteps. Until the whispers hushed. Until the steps ceased. 

VII. The one where we had been together for a year before people actually knew. The one where we found love in places we hadn’t thought to look yet—right in front of us. 

I still get goosebumps thinking of the time when we first met. You, a self-identifying epiphany waiting to be seen and heard by someone who would knock the wind right out of your lungs. Me, a doubting-but-hopeful meaning-maker drunk on the feeling that I have never been loved the right way. There are stories in the universe about the time we spent a snow day on campus. Sitting. Waiting. Seeing one another without being seen by others.

There are stories being read about how you’d keep me company because it meant I was keeping you company, too, or about the oversized crew necks that I’d eventually accumulate at my apartment.

Somewhere in the ether, people are enjoying the story of us coming together. It wasn’t always easy. Is it ever? 

I still feel the small thorn on the soft spot in me when I know your mouth is trembling, when you’re holding tears in, when your throat becomes a home for that thing everyone feels right before the levees break. I still get to a place of immense vulnerability when you ask me why we can’t just be together, when you tell me that it shouldn’t be this hard to make this choice, when you tell me you love me, even after all that we’ve been through. Even after all the small moments where I hurt you inadvertently, but with such a depth. I imagine that’s the darkness in me reminding me of its presence. Reminding me about the hurt we will inevitably share for the foreseeable future.

Foreseeable as in predictable. As in to be expected. As in we are to be expected, to be measurably weighted when someone asks us how the other is doing, knowing very well that we are gravitating around who we used to be to one another. How we used to know each other. How we used to know. And love. And loved.

I still don’t know what it means to lose something well. Or how to find the good in goodbyes. I don’t know what kind of love there is that can be held and the holder won’t feel guilty about it, won’t feel deeply about how they maybe don’t deserve it, won’t ever wonder how it is that they can ever be given something so delicate. These hands know the beauty and fragility in this. They have built great big things. Never without love but never knowing it when they see it.

For however brief our infinity was, we were delicate with each other and we found a way to minimize miles between us. Even when we couldn’t—when the miles were heavy and beneath sheets of snow—we loved each other gently. That’s something that I will carry with me wherever I go.

Even with the storm rolling in from the sea, these words will be a light. Let them pull and bend you through every hard day you’ve piled into your existence; life is not short. As Hanif would say, it’s longer than we ever expect it to be.  Everything we’ve ever loved will double in size the moment it’s no longer in the same space as we are.

This is what love is. To know and be known, to see and be seen, to extend and be extended by something that is invisible when the light is shone in every direction it sits.