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.

Brazen Hope

“Hold onto hope if you got it / Don’t let it go for nobody / And they say that dreaming is free / But I wouldn’t care what it costs me”

                                                                                             -Paramore’s “26”

 

I think this whole post can be summed up in a few words: the struggle to find hope in all directions.

Through loss, I discovered the work that scars can do if we let them; how reassuring and kind they may be after we allow them to shape-shift into something new and useful amidst all the hurting. How they will carry us until every last one of them loses their legs and cannot sustain our weight. How we will be grateful that, among everything else, we were carried by something that defined us a bit this year. I think I’m still on that ride—making meaning out of things that are out of my control in order to allow them a safer passage through my brain.

There were many moments of radical courage and love, both of which give me so much damn hope, even in a year where it felt like I had none. There were weddings and tattoos, bright adventures to new places, so much coffee and writing, and smiles, too, along the way. But with the most courage I can muster, I have to say what is the most genuine with my heart: regardless of all that brought me learning and growth, what follows me is an incessant longing for the kind of hope that is impervious. Unbothered by external circumstances. Unabashed.

There’s only so many times I can write about something before it feels like a broken record, like a skipping beat on endless loop; a coming and a going but always more going going going.

It constantly feels like I haven’t reflected enough. Haven’t written enough. Haven’t explored those depths in such a way that allows me to move yet. The moving on, despite all of this going, feels stuck in an endless rain, endless mud that is just as much familiar as it is foreign to me.

I’ve been more intentional with my joy, and keeping close all the things that matter to me, that which doesn’t simultaneously bruise me over and over again. In that process, it’s felt like I’ve stopped doing things for other people just for the sake of making them happy. All of that left with very little for myself and I’m only just now, upon reflection of the last 365 days, recognizing as such. When we stop doing things for others just for the sake of doing things for them, we realize just how much we were doing, how far we were going, how deep the water is that we tread to show up for others before ourselves. Maybe that’s why it’s felt few and far between; I am born over and over again every time I cannot find the light at the end of this unnamed tunnel I’m traveling through. With that birth, I am seeing my whole life on slow-motion replay; every excruciating detail laid side by side to one another so as to introduce two family members who haven’t met yet.

I can’t quite put my fingers on the exact moments of lacking hope. I’ve always been able to do that—moments of pure heartbreak or draining or lackluster bravery. This time, not so much. It’s an overall air settling on what my life has been this year.


With my age has come a hardening to the world. I’ve allowed this lack of hope to seep into me and dictate the manner in which I am able to open up to others. Always encouraging them to open but the moment it’s turned back to me, I’m quiet. I don’t know the exact moment when I realized this was happening but I can tell you that I’ve missed out on some of the very best opportunities to know others and be known by others as a result.

I say all of this to come clean to anyone who saw me as something different. I know I’ve let some people down, and for that, I’m (endlessly saying) sorry. For those who saw me as someone stronger than what I am or what I’ve been, I won’t cover it up any longer. I’m trying to feel warm in a world that sometimes feels like there aren’t enough covers to go around.

There were fleeting moments that enveloped me. Moments of unassured respite, ready to walk out the door at any moment. In many of these moments, it felt as if I was going to be choosing to leave them. Like it was all my own undoing, my own coiling. “I did this to myself,” I’d whisper aloud many times this year. “You’d think it’s what I wanted.”


Some things I’ve learned this year:

(I know this feels list-y. Stick with me for a second. This felt like the most simple way to put it.)

1- Everyone will have an opinion of what you do, and (sometimes wrongly) by extension, who you are. One of the easiest things for observers of our lives to do is make conclusions about who we are because of the mistakes we’ve made. For the most part, they’ll be wrong.

2- Writing has always been my avenue out of it all. Every problem, every heartbreak, every bruise I accumulate—writing is the most healing practice. I’m not saying it’s easy. It’s not. But creating sets of bones, of skin—flesh coming alive—is what builds the road of healing. Every time.

3- Showing up for one another will be the most radical thing we can do. For my students, for my family, for those I love the most, it’ll be what people need the most.

4- Storytelling is sacred. Follow it.

5- In the moments when we feel the most alone or when we’re going through something that is isolating, know that leaning into it will be what gives us permission to come undone and sew ourselves back up. It’s always going to hurt. But it must hurt before it heals.

6- There is nothing in this world that can replace the love that a really good friend offers. A love that is timeless and priceless and unbothered by who the president is or what pants you’re wearing or how many times you’ve made a mistake. The folks that stick around despite your moments (weeks, months) of waning, those are the folks that you want to be around. Those that will advocate for you when you’re not in the room, the ones that will dig their heels into the ground, those are the ones. Cherish the hell out of their magnificence. Encourage their hearts. Root for them. They’ll be doing the same for you.

7- There will be moments in time when you’ll be seen by others and you won’t really know what to do with them. You’ll go into every interaction with every intention of holding yourself together, and before you know it, all of your seams have unraveled. Just save yourself the trouble and let them see you. However brief of a moment it is, it’ll be a moment you both remember. Whether it’s an old friend or new, being seen widens your capacity to live and feel and most of all, love.


Who really knows what 2018 will bring? I’ll sit in a coffeeshop somewhere near home in a year’s time and wonder how I got so lucky, why I made that decision, how I let that person come into my life, or subsequently, how I let them leave. I’ll wonder how I got through that week and I’ll scrape hope from the bottom of my favorite moments. I’ll probably write more poetry and send it off to startup literary magazines. Maybe I won’t write poetry at all? Maybe I won’t buy blankets warm enough? Maybe I won’t know what to do with all the blankets I do have?

Endless questions and endless possibilities. I’ll surprise myself with what I do and don’t do. I hope that I find every reason to love, every reason to show up for people when they least expect it, and every reason to write what scares me the most. More than anything: brazen hope.

Litany of Fractures

One.

If the sound of your voice was the only thing that the people you love the most would hear for the rest of their life, what would you want it to sound like? What would you say? What words would persist no matter the wreckage?

There are distinct moments when my mind focuses on the voice with which I’m thinking in. There are several versions of the voice I’m most comfortable others receiving and several more I haven’t yet figured out. When I present in front of a room full of colleagues, my voice shakes. When I’m talking with someone close to me, my voice waits. It sees an open window and thinks three times before going through it so as to include contemplation in the way it moves. Both are important and valuable to observe if you want to know me.

 


 

Two.

When I think about what hurts, I’m almost never ready for the vulnerability it brings. I’m almost never ready for the heartache I’ve harbored, always looking for a safe landing, even if it’s lined with bricks I can’t see. There are mountains of dirt under the living room carpet that I’ve continued to sweep into a semi-neat pile. “Nobody will see this but me,” I tell myself.

Every morning, I make a pot of coffee. I brew enough to fill a to-go mug and exactly one cup of coffee to drink before I leave my apartment. There are small moments when I’m sipping that I wander around my apartment in contemplation of the day, the week, what is yet to come and what has already had time to be. I scan the books on my shelf and think about all the stories I have waiting for me when I come home. I pick one of them up—Catcher in the Rye, one I haven’t read in a whileand think about the first time I held it in my hands. I was an 11th grade mess trying to figure out why I had to take the ACT, never really considering the full weight that a book carries, never really making an effort to balance it in my hands. I remember seeing myself in the main character, Holden Caulfield, and feeling like I wasn’t so alone, even through some turmoil and angst.

Now, a 26-year-old writer, I hold the same book and feel a different heaviness. How changed I was after reading it for the first time and the last. How I’ve allowed it to be a story I’ve kept in my back pocket for the times when it’ll be useful to me or those around me. Something is different about all these stories I keep so neatly piled next to one another. I think about how many of them I’ve read multiple times, finding the ending only to turn it back over and start again, eager to find something I hadn’t seen the first time. There’s something new and old in these spines I’ve arranged, something I don’t always consider each day, particularly when I’m struggling to straighten my own spine.

I finish my cup of coffee and set it in the sink. For a moment, I stand lost in thought. There are photographs lining my refrigerator of all the people I’ve learned to love well—still learning to love well, I should add, to varying degrees—all these years. There’s a collage of folks neatly parallel to one another, careful to not let the pictures touch too much so they don’t steal each other’s magic. It’s representative of how much I’ve regarded their individual magic and not how, collectively, the magic bleeds into the frame and down my wall.

I only just recently put some of these on display. It’s not that I wasn’t proud of the picture of my mom embracing me when I graduated from grad school, or that I didn’t value the picture of me cradling my niece in my arms for the first time. It’s just that I’m not always good at showing the world what matters the most to me. I’ve thought myself out of joy more often than I’ve allowed myself into the heart of it. These photographs are reminders of some of the most intimate moments of joy I’ve experienced in the years leading up to this day. It wasn’t until I sprawled them across that which protects me that I realized how much they’ve left a permanent imprint.

There exists a part of me—the 15%—that I’ve dead-bolted to this body, burrowed deep in the marrow of who I’ve come to be. It’s unseen and unseeable. It has grown from the beginning as a part of my body held close, immovable, and only accessed by me. To open it and share with the world is to forklift heavy things from my soft spots to whatever landing areas others have made available; I am comprised of blood and water, harboring trauma and love simultaneously, and I don’t always know what to do with the fringes. They go into this box that I compartmentalize, stacked neatly next to joy and heartbreak and other things we’ve learned to wrestle with daily.

Sharing the 15% means cutting into seams I’ve woven tightly together to keep out the dark parts this world continues to dead heave into my bones. It’s in these parts that I’ve mined meaning out of, molded into the most distinct parts of my compiled identities, and handed away in quiet moments.

Sharing the pictures on my wall is to share the small fraction of me that doesn’t contain a self-defense mechanism naturally. It’s to open the window on each side of this chapter and shine light in its corners. Still a whole life ahead of me, I know that I’ll learn to use these fringes to transform my body, my headspace, and the love I have to give.

So it goes.

 


 

Three. 

Growing older means grieving that which has always felt like a gift. Love. Something that was once a rush, an anticipation, a sense of weightless living that is now heavy and infinitely more deliberate. And then it grows legs and walks out the door. What’s left is misery and healing, the two often being mistaken for each other. To feel something so deeply—something with which you believe you can reach inside of yourself and massage with your fingertips until the hurt you’ve come to know has softened—is a gift. The real work begins when that pain is given a seat at the table of your heart; invited in, given space to be heard, given a platform to make a case, bargained with, and eventually, albeit slowly and lacking grace, invited to leave. This sort of stubborn debating is a result of what mountains you’ve promised yourself that you’d move but only seem to exist on really old to-do lists. It’s a culmination of everything you’ve ever felt and nothing you’ve ever conquered.

Once it’s gone, the healing happens. Stitch after stitch, we are put back together. Never as we were, always as we are supposed to be. Broken and bruised but always getting better. It’s not the time that does the stitching. It’s the willingness, despite the cold and bitterness that exists outside, to get up. To layer yourself. To fight. To take a deep breath in and tell yourself you should go outside despite the grayness.

What is true about heartbreak is that you will always hold onto it and always know what it feels like once you’ve felt it for the first time. In everything that you do, you will carry it with you. People around you will come to know how it shows up in your life every single day and shapes you slowly each day. They’ll learn to catch the parts of you that you have forgotten about—eating right, sleeping, writing writing writing—and they’ll grow weary but never fed up of who it is that you are now becoming post-destruction.

They’ll carry the weight that you’re too afraid to carry and the heartbreak will eventually cease.

And then there’s the writer’s heart. It’s never really finished going through what it’s going through; always reimagining a beginning, middle, and end to everything. It will learn to put it through the spin cycle every single day. Much like a favorite album or movie, it will replay over and over and over again until the speakers break. Until the record skips. Until the silence comes.

It will go over the small details in an effort to convince itself that what happened was real (is still real) and that it happened the way the heart remembers it. That, if it could go back in time and change things, it would know exactly what to do from that point forward so as to never (always) feel this deeply again.

There’s a certain way to sort through the waves of heartbreak. I suppose I’m writing this to tell you that the litany of fractures are bruises and aches that we’ll learn to live with. We’ll write about them. They’ll matter. We’ll matter. And when the sun is at the lowest point in the sky and the moon spins circles around Earth, we’ll do the only thing we know best: keep moving forward.

 


 

Four.

There are reveries I’ve climbed out of where some of the deepest parts of me have lived unexamined. I stay there a while to make sense of them, moving slowly to observe as much as I can, and finally slipping into unconsciousness. Awake again.



Five.

I’m sitting across from a dear friend—someone who has grown to know much of the 15%—and I’m realizing this time next year, I won’t be sitting across from him. We won’t be able to drive to a coffeeshop to write and talk and laugh as we’ve done for nearly two years. He’ll be leaving soon—onto grander adventures than that which Indiana can offer for the chapters ahead. There are tidal waves smaller than the grief I’m already holding close for his departure. Funny how the body reacts in a visceral way when we anticipate loss, temporary and permanent, though we cannot know which will be true until it’s already happened. Things change. No two years are ever the same. Neither are we. And yet, amidst our treacherous fight to stay afloat, to find joy, to thrive, we find commonalities that will break ground in a part of us that someone hasn’t before. It’s the truest form of connection; to find a small group of people that you regard with the highest amount of withness, love, and respect, and to show up for them time and time again. I’ll miss this friend. Not in the kind of way that circles the idea that he’ll be gone from my life completely, but in a way that knows truly how we will see each other again. Time and time again. A friendship immediately renewed when one of us gets out of a plane or into a car in the direction of the other.



Six.

There are zip codes and timezones between some of the most important parts of me. Everything and everyone that has given me life is on a fast track stretching every direction away from where I’m standing. Though there are timely reminders from folks who love me deeply,  affirmations are not always my strong suit. Quality time—in person, flesh and blood, in-the-moment kind of presence—is what I’m gravitating towards. There are only so many miles I can run myself before my bones are tired from all this moving, all this evolving, the commotion of a life spent on roads, always showing up and always leaving. My veins haven’t felt this stormy since I came into the world; boiling and bleeding myself into existence. I’ve always wanted to be a love song to every ear that cranes itself in my direction.



Seven.

There are languages that we discard when the only person we share it with winds up leaving. Our own departures can be measured by the way the void left behind is internalized by the people closest to us. What leaving looks like is often a well-lit pathway with no traffic signs, nowhere to be and everywhere to go, and still no fuel for the moving. We will all be coming and going to someone else, intentionally or not. I imagine this is how Latin became a language considered dead, but always longed for by those who remember how it came to be. How many languages are born from one another, taking some of the best (and sometimes the worst) parts of each along the way to create something new. Something transfigured; adorned by something prettier than what used to be, still, but with a foundation of histories welded together.



Eight.

“And so it goes / one foot after the other / ‘Til black and white begin to color in / and I know / that holding us in place is simply fear / of what’s already changed”

–Sara Bareilles, “Manhattan”

I can’t decide what angle to take this. What reason? How do we write simply about the life of things that aren’t simple? How do we boil down—whittle away, create an outline for, summarize—the parts of life that are dense, layered, and, at times, not processed easily or quickly?


 

Nine.

A candle doesn’t lose its flame when it lights another candle.



Ten.

I’m piling up streets to give to you—every trail or parkway or avenue that has meant something to the both of us, together, in kindness and through laughter, with tears or hurt or healing. I don’t always know how heavy this will all be. But I do know that it’s what you’ve deserved. It’s what we’ve given to each other along the way: a conditional love that doesn’t feel like enough. We never feel like enough. So we keep giving and giving and giving into one another until there’s a better way out of all this or no way at all.



Eleven.

I don’t normally cry often. Usually there’s a build-up of hurt or misdirected emotions that become this conglomerate set of unkept benches that won’t dissolve until the tears come. When Joel passed, I didn’t cry deeply. I didn’t yet know what it meant to take on the loss, to feel it throughout my weather veins. I contemplated and felt many things, but eventually, I went about my life and didn’t think twice about the void building in me. When my grandmother passed, it only hit me when I received handwritten postcards sending good thoughts–among them, one with the lyrics of the Sleeping At Last song Saturn scribbled on it.

I fell apart. Tears streaming down, I laid my head down on the lap of my partner and felt that hurt throughout my entire body. She was here one day, gone the next, never breathing from then on. Still, this realization levels me. How fragile the human body is. How healthy we can be today and end the week with bruised lungs and a litany of fractures that our body absorbs.

With the fragility of this life, I reach out to my father and feel the most vulnerable I’ve ever felt with him, pouring myself into question marks around who he is to me and who we are for one another. Through all of the hate that I carried for him, I loved him. It resides in a place I don’t really know—a darkness that light can’t always penetrate.

And then more hurt. This whole life sometimes feels like scene after scene of bruising as a result of the things we do to one another. Each moment, a reflection of who we are that day. Each act, a collection of deep things. The gaps between one another that we didn’t see before. The fighting we continue to do—every day, every week—and the space we pretend to give one another. All this hurting. Never enough breath for me to understand how we got to this place, how we’ve ignored the way we both require to be loved, how we point fingers and are set on being right. How far away we’ve moved from one another and how the distance transformed the way we allowed ourselves to be loved by one another. But still, here we are. In this place. Feeling these things with depth. Not always understanding and not giving grace permission to stretch out very well.

How do we keep doing this to each other? This heartache dance, this room-with-no-corners approach to fixing one another?

How do we heal? What does ‘going on from here’ look like? How do we give ourselves the space to, instead of looking for an immediate resolution with urgency, look for the reason why the hurt is happening in the first place?

Pulling at roots that have taken to this ground we’ve built so much on. I cry because the grief is heavy. And I feel alone. And sometimes, all that’s left is to rest.



Twelve.

It’s still miraculous that, even after all this falling, the trees forgive themselves every year and find the courage to soon grow again.



Thirteen.

Love me Don’t / walk away.

These are letters I never thought I’d write. I’ve labored over them to give you the most honest responses that you require to be on your way. And you’re on your way. I’m on mine, too. There’s nothing we can do to stop the way gravity pulls things down–smack-landing, sweet symphony of electricity we used to feel when it didn’t hurt as much. I’m leaking things so the universe can do the rest. There’s a state between you and me; we don’t know how to minimize all these miles and miles of highways we’ve once traveled to shrink the distance. Even a few miles can make a difference. I remember coming to you and feeling lighter when I entered your orbit. Never too far out and off that we couldn’t find a way. Now there’s no way to find, no signal strong enough to split our distance in half.



Fourteen.

When I think of peace, I think of how simple of a life I want to live. It’s waking up on a Tuesday morning and feeling like it’s a Saturday. It’s a lack of something pulling me in different directions outside of myself. It’s being surrounded by stories and books and articles that I’ve discovered myself in and that will inspire me to continue to uncover parts of myself. It’s coffee and quiet. Nobody around, nobody questioning my whereabouts, nobody interrupting the soul searching that I yearn for each day.

It’s time and space unbound to think and feel and discover what a soul is and what it’s meant to be, what the world needs more or less of. It’s a mountain to climb but no timeframe with which it needs to be scaled. It’s a lack of noise crowding me and the space to create. Write. Breathe deeply and explore each passing thought until I’m at the bottom of them. To interrogate the ways I’ve hurt others, observe it, and let it go. To understand the person I was, the person I am, and the person I have yet to be.



Fifteen.

“What if, sitting there just then, I found myself truly caught up in belief? How would it feel inside a future like that?”

–Tracy K. Smith, “Ordinary Light”

I am reminded of my journey, how many interruptions to the soul’s work can pile on top of one another before it’s too much, too heavy, too alive to bury. There are days at a time when there is no true north with which I’m traveling towards, just that I’m traveling and that it should be enough. That I’m enough right now even if I’m not in the corners of my mind.

There are bruises we’ve saved for one another. Over and over again, we create soft spots for what we believe each other needs, for small moments that we’ve longed for since the beginning of it all.



Sixteen.

“We teach boys that in order to become men, they have to kill off their emotional selves. My masculinity is a well-hung portrait in a hallway of a crumbling house. And every time the wind blows, it’s the only thing I think to grab. Nowadays, I’m afraid it’s all I’ll have to hand down to my children.”Javon Johnson

When the young boy who I wrote about a year ago—the one who I found in the bathroom crying, hurting, changed by the words of a poet that vibrated within him—walked into the same coffeeshop I’m sitting in, I’m reminded of how such a grief can take us over. It’s something we embody without knowing it’s visible to the naked eye. I’m reminded of what it means to be a young boy in a world that requires manhood so early; we, as boys, are asked to fit into a box of broken things in an unbroken and unbending way. Crying is seen as useless and lacking any purpose at all. The humanness in such a vulnerable act isn’t valued. Instead, we are asked to stand tall, posture commanding presence, and be the strongest one in the room. Bold. Immovable and full of conviction for what it means to be a man.

I’m reminded of how imperfect it can be to embody that structure given to men. I resolve, instead, to support what manhood looks like in each of us, how different that can be, and with what heaviness we may carry, I decide how brave it can be to be anything at all. How courage can seep into us and out from all directions and how humans who identify as men can be who they choose to be or who they choose not to be.

Being a man comes with its many privileges that are sometimes too many to count. But when one man teaches a boy the toxic ways that men are “supposed” to be, further down this rabbit hole we go. Further we travel into the idea that to be a man is to be fragile most of the time, but it must be a secret well-kept. Further we venture into a reality where men do not share, do not grow emotionally in a healthy way, and continue to harm everything in their path because they’re told that they must. This, until breaking is all they come to know. Until broken is a life the have no choice but to live with.

I resolve to support human connection—body to body, mind to mind—in such a way that allows for all vulnerable things to rise to the surface, not judged, but welcomed.

When I see this young man in this coffeeshop, I am reminded of what strength is. How being vulnerable is not weakness, but a sign of healing, of confidence in the courage we carry, the energy we give, and the love we’ve blossomed in our hearts. This is something to teach our boys.



Seventeen.

And we, remaining honest to goodness, have felt what it means to be pulled, two ships no longer in the harbor, passing one another, anchors up, by the tide that once drew us together, away once more.