Thursday, May 21, 2015

Life, Isolated

            Sometimes Alice couldn't help falling in love. It wasn't the type of love that had been worshipped in hundreds of years of literature and music; it was different. There weren't any romantic declarations or practiced speeches. There was simply what she felt, and that was all.
            It was always unexpected. She would be sitting in class and suddenly there it was. Someone would raise their hand and say something so worthy of her respect she couldn’t help it. She began to love them. She would go to great lengths just to be near them, waiting for another gem of irreproachable wisdom to hold onto for a few days. Of course, they would never know; they would never even suspect how she felt or what she did. She formed attachments that lasted for years without the other person having the faintest idea about them.
            Other people’s words were not all that affected her in this way; their actions served just as well. Anything that required more bravery than she possessed was, in her mind, worthy of admiration. But that wasn't all it was. Alice was capable of loving someone she did not know. Really loving them. She could hold them in her bones, withstanding any kind of injury they might do her. She could be exposed to the worst character flaws imaginable and still be able to remember the spark of good she had once witnessed; the spark that led that person into her life, unknowingly changing it forever. How could this person ever be unworthy of her forgiveness?
            She hated it. Who wanted to be that person, the one that others could walk over? The one that couldn't hold a grudge? Wasn't obstinacy a sign of strength? Alice wanted to believe that she was independent, but it simply wasn't true. She needed people to be good more than she needed anything else. Thus, she let those in her life get away with murder.
            Every morning she woke up hopeful that it would finally be the day of her breakthrough. Maybe she would get the recognition she so desired, the value and respect that she herself often gave away for free. This was what she thought about when she got dressed in the morning. This was why she continued to spend so much time on her hair and makeup, despite her total lack of human contact. Her day-to-day experience was disappointing, but the possibilities remained endless. There was still enough hope to get her out of bed.
It took a little while for it to set in that she was still alone. Doubts began to fill her mind as she walked to class. Her hand reached to open the door. There was that small feeling of mystery, the idea that the unknown awaited on the other side. Maybe today things would be different.
            As she entered the room, people looked up from whatever they were doing. It was so brief; just one moment in time. Their eyes connected with hers and her stomach flipped over. Please see me, she thought, Please just see me. Please smile or say something or even glare or frown. Please just acknowledge the fact that I am really here.
            But as quickly as they glanced up, they would glance down. She would have to accept her status as a specter in the corner of the room. Alice made her way to a desk as distant as possible from everyone else. She sat there and pretended to have something else to do, something like reading or studying. People chatted with each other as they waited for the professor to arrive, laughing and generally raising their voices. For the most part, Alice could tune them out; but never completely. Her discomfort continued to rise. Then the lecture would finally begin and she could hide behind the enforced silence.
            When it was over, Alice raced out. She didn't stay behind to remark on the topic of discussion or ask the professor a question. She didn't want to face her solitude any more than she had to. When she got back to her room, she could pretend that she was okay with the way things were. But she had to make it back first.
            Northern California wasn't always as picturesque as it was presented to out-of-staters. While the climate was usually fairly mild and predictable, there were periods of winter that were almost unbearably bleak. The sky remained grey, and the wind blew the rain sideways. Alice had difficulty functioning when it was like this. The water soaked through her clothes and affected her insides in a way that she had never been able to explain.
            She made it out of the storm and up to her room. When Alice closed the door behind her, she shut out a world. She peeled off her wet clothing and left it in a heap on the floor. She would deal with it later. Fighting her way across campus had drained all her energy. She wanted sleep. It was the middle of the day, but she wanted to curl up in a ball and feel nothing for a little while. She slipped into her bed and pulled the covers over her chilled skin.
            Alice had a particular way to organize her thoughts before she fell asleep. It involved her incredible imagination and voracious capacity for story.
            She had never had a safe home to return to, or even somewhere where she felt she could be herself. Her reality had always revolved around shame and repression and staying isolated so that nobody was forced to see who she really was.
            Instead of forming connections with other human beings, Alice constructed new realities. She created her own false history that became steadily more elaborate until she almost believed it. Then it simply existed. It became its own entity, one that she could visit on a whim. It was especially helpful in times of distress, when it became a place she could go to escape for a little while. Alice eventually grew bored of any one story and discarded it, spending the next few days crafting a new one.
            First she is mysterious and strong, the girl that everyone wonders about. People pass and can sense her pain, but don't know how to reach her. Finally, a guy about her age sees her and tries to find a way through the obstacles she has constructed. He looks like everyone and no one, and she knows how he feels about her. He loves her, the way that she loves people without really knowing them. He has found something incredible in her. At first she resists, but then she lets him in. She tells him everything that happened to her, and he is shocked because he had no idea.
            She turns over in her bed as she rides this wave of emotion. She hears the crack of desperation in her voice as she speaks the words, feels tears fill her eyes. As much as it hurts, she can't let it go.
            But then Alice reaches the point she always does with this story. She hears her father's voice in the back of her head, pulling her down. She shouldn't want to have a white knight. She doesn't need to be rescued. If there is one thing that she has learned through the years of living under his influence, it is this: she does not need to be rescued.
            So she switches over, discarding the fragments of this persona and assuming another. This one is more vivid. It is one of her favorites.
            It begins with some natural disaster, a hurricane or an earthquake that causes widespread destruction. Somehow, Alice makes it out alive. Stripped of all her loved ones, Alice wanders through the wreckage of the city, feeling lost in her immeasurable grief. Then she comes across a house. It is filled with a varying number of children who need her help. She doesn't like children, but the choices are easy. She will take care of them. She will advocate for them. Everyone will make it out alive.
            And she'll do it alone.
            It occurs to her that, even in her most outrageous fantasies, she is still alone. She shifts uncomfortably at this thought. She wonders what this means about her, this relentless need to prove that she can make it by herself.
Alice drifts away on thoughts of devastation and imagined heroics. She begins to let go and the line between truth and all-consuming fiction blurs as she falls into the oblivion of sleep.

Dripping Hands and Scorched Feet

My love, this is the last thing I will make for you, and I promise it won’t be as bitter as the rest. We have been separated forever (hopefully), but these thoughts still pool in the back of my mind.
            You were everything to me, the whole world and the rain in California. You took my hands and filled them with energy, took my bones and filled them with promises. Part of my brain still wanders in the wilderness, looking for you. Your soothing eyes are still where I left them, but they don’t hold me anymore. I walk among clouds and through rivers and sing of the things that have gone.
            Be off, then. Go out into the world and fill it with compassion until everyone drowns. You split my palms open and left me to bleed, but my wounds have long since healed. Find your voice, your real voice, and use it to call the lost back from the dark. Paint pictures and hold mirrors until the monsters can’t bear to open their eyes anymore. Love someone else, love many people, and try not to betray them. There is a space waiting for you.
            Go fill it.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

The Girls in Apartment 3

            There are no dreams here, not this deep. This deep there is only silence. For a moment, I lose track of where I am; of who and what I am. I can hear my heart beating so I must be alive. The silence becomes peaceful and I float along on it until I start to fall. My head drops first, leaving my neck and torso far, far behind. I don’t remember needing to breathe, but suddenly I need to. I gasp for air that won’t fill my lungs and the panic begins to set in. There will never be another moment but this one, and suddenly I know it’s true.
            My eyes snap open and the warm darkness floods around me. I’m not off in the ether somewhere; I’m in my old dorm room. My roommate sleeps five feet away, draped gracefully across her bed. A shock of blonde hair peaks out among the folds of her fluffy black comforter. The presence of another human being soothes me, and I relax back into sleep.
            The bouncers don’t know who they have, but a smile helps me evade the “No Sandals” rule. My roommate glides past, asking them their names and repeating them as though she has known them for years. I hear them, but forget them instantly. She holds out a manicured hand and two of the men reach for it. She steps inside, turns around, and says, “We’ll be back soon.”
            “We will?” I say. “I thought we were here to dance.”
            She laughs. “But it’s so early! We can dance later.”
            We descend into the underground bar and she walks more confidently than I do, even though I’m the one who has been here before. I stumble over ordering my drink, but feel better once the whiskey burns into my stomach.
            “Come on,” she says.
            “What? Where are we going?” I say.
            “Back upstairs.” She turns and marches across the room, drink in hand. She glances back over her shoulder and I hurry to catch up.
            It’s a slow night at the bar and the bouncers seem glad for the company.
            “What are y’all doing back up here?” one says.
            “We’re here to hang out with you guys,” she says. “What did you think we were doing, Chris?”
            The man is taken aback by her recall of his name. A smile takes over his face. She tries to step out into the night air.
            “Hold on, ladies,” one of the other bouncers says, “we can’t let you come outside with those glasses.”
            “Alright,” she says, and leans against the doorframe, “then we’ll stay here.”
            I take another sip of whiskey. Then I start to laugh.
            “What’s so funny?” the third bouncer says.
            “You,” I say, “all of you. Why do all of you need to be here? There are, like, three people inside.”
            The second bouncer stiffens and says, “Just wait until 10 or 10:30. It’ll get crazy then.”
            She looks at me. “Oh, we’ll be long gone. That’s way past our bedtime.”
            I fall into conversation with the third bouncer and insist that I could do his job. He looks at the empty line and laughs, offering me the stool he sits on. I prop myself up on it and cross my legs. The first bouncer ogles my breasts.
            “If we had ladies like you out front, we might get a few more customers,” he says.
            She brushes past him. “No jokes, Chris, this is serious,” she says. A couple passes the line, clearly uninterested in coming inside. “IDs?” she yells after them.
            The first time I see my college roommate she is the picture of tiny blonde frustration. I walk into the room that we both have already moved into, passing each other by a few hours, and see her hunched over her bed. Her right hand is wrapped around a remote control and she is staring at the television sitting two feet away.
            “It’s still not working!” she says to her father, who is full of energy mixed with mild irritation. Both he and our housemate see me come into the room.
            “Hi!” he says. “It’s so nice to meet you!”
            I shake his hand. “Um, you too,” I say. I look up at her expectantly.
            “I don’t know what else to do at this point,” she says, “I think we’re going to have to call CSC.”
            “Hi,” I say, stepping forward, “I’m your roommate. It’s nice to meet you!”
            Her eyes flicker from my enthusiastic smile to my awkward demeanor. “You too,” she says, and quickly shakes my hand. She mashes a few more buttons on the remote and says, “I just don’t know what to do!”
            It’s only Tuesday night and I’m already on the verge of tears. I walk into our room and can’t stifle the feelings that are crawling up from my skin.
            “Hey, how was—whoa, what happened to you?” she says.
            I throw my bag on the ground. “I don’t know what I did,” I say. “I don’t know what I did wrong.”
            “Um, weren’t you at—I mean, didn’t you just come from bible study?” she says. I nod. “What happened?”
            I shake my head and cross my arms over my chest. “It’s not me.”
            “What’s not you?”
            “He said it would be me, but it’s not . . . it’s her.” She waits for me to complete my thought. “He chose someone else to lead this time . . . I couldn’t . . . I don’t know what I did . . .”
            She sits there on her bed and contemplates the shape of my brow. This is a role reversal for us. “Do you think you could ask him?”
            “Do you think you could ask him if there was something you could change? If you did something wrong?”
            I shrug and feel my bottom lip tremble. “I don’t know . . . Maybe. I just . . .”
            She takes a deep breath. “I’m so sorry,” she says.
            I wipe the tears from my eyes. “I don’t know,” I say. A few moments pass. Then I say, “I’m going to take a shower.”
            She nods.
            I take the longest shower of my life. The hot water scalds my skin but doesn’t let me forget the things that passed only a few hours before. I feel the betrayal like something has started eating at my intestines. I get out of the shower and towel off my body. Wrapping my hair up onto my head, I walk back into our bedroom to get my pajamas.
            My roommate’s blue eyes are wide and filled with tears. She’s clutching her phone to her ear. “Okay,” she says. “Okay. I understand.” She nods her as though the person on the other end can see her. “Love you, too,” she whispers, and hangs up.
            “What—what was that?” I say.
            “It’s nothing, it’s not important,” she says, and shakes her head. Tears start rolling down her cheeks. “It’s just . . . I don’t know—it’s something with my boyfriend’s frat . . . I can’t . . .”
            I cross the space between us and hug her. We are not the hugging kind, but this moment feels important. We pull away and look at each other. Then she reaches for the handle of tequila we have left over from a night of partying.
            “If you take a pull, I’ll take a pull,” she says.
            I smile, grab the bottle, and put it to my lips.
            I’m back home for spring break and a Snapchat from my roommate pops up on my phone. I open it to see a low quality video of our housemate’s off-key singing. The video was shot around the door to our living room and our housemate has no idea. Ten seconds pass and then the video disappears from beneath my thumb. Then it only exists between us.
            It’s Halloween night and I have nowhere to go. Truthfully, I’m too sick to be out anywhere for more than an hour or two, so it doesn’t matter. But my roommate has an invitation and is trying to decide what to do. I know she wants an excuse to stay in, so we start talking about ways she could refuse. She picks up the scraps of poster we have left over from a doomed art project.
            “I can’t . . .” she writes in big block letters, “I’m busy.”
            Suddenly the stakes have been raised so I run to our room and grab a neon green trucker hat, a long brown wig, and some sunglasses. It takes us four tries to film her riding in on our housemate’s longboard, holding the sign and wearing the props, but we finally get it. I send the clip off to her friend.
            We then sit down at our kitchen table and spend the next two hours filming ourselves lip-synching to songs we have long outgrown. We never share the results with anyone, but it is one of the funnest nights of the year.
            I pull out of the parking garage and turn on my blinker. I have just left a particularly unsettling therapy session and I’m having trouble following my thoughts as they collapse into one another. My phone starts to ring. It’s my roommate. I slide my finger along the answer button and put it on speaker.
            “Hello?” I say, my voice tired and strained.
            “Hi!” the cheerful voice on the other end says. “Did you just get done with therapy?”
            “Yeah. I should be back soon.”
            “Do you want to maybe come home and go get frozen yogurt with me?” she says.
            I laugh and relief floods through my body. “Obviously,” I say. “When has the answer to that question ever been ‘no’?”
She laughs, too. “Good,” she says. “I’ll see you soon.”
            I’m sitting on my bed, staring at my computer and trying to distract myself from the feeling in the pit of my stomach. I don’t know it yet, but in a month I’ll have my heart broken in this very spot by someone living 400 miles away. I hear the front door open and feel the shake of the apartment as it closes. I know from the pace of her steps that it is my roommate, just returned from class. I subconsciously track her movement as she makes her way upstairs to our room.
            “Hey,” I say when she appears, “how was your day?”
            “It was good,” she says. “Although I had a little thing with one of the other students in my class. This guy thinks he can correct me every time—“ She stops. “What’s wrong?” she says suddenly.
            “What?” I say. “What do you mean?”
            “You’ve been crying,” she says.
            “What? How do you know?” I say. “That was like two hours ago.”
            She shakes her head as if this is a silly question. She sits down on my bed. “Of course I know,” she says. “You’re one of my best friends. What’s wrong?”
            I shake my head. “Just thinking,” I say.
            “About . . .?” she says, and we both fill in the gap.
            I nod. “I don’t know why,” I say. “I don’t know why.”
            But she looks at me knowingly. “Because you think, maybe, things could have been different if you had met at another time.” It’s not a question. “It’s hard when you obviously have strong feelings for each other, and it still isn’t right. And then you have to leave. Of course you’re sad about that.”
            I nod. “I wish I wasn’t,” I say.
            “Me too,” she says. “It hurts my heart to see you sad. It makes me feel like I don’t know what I’m doing.”
            I smile and say, “The bonded pair.”
            The light behind her eyes is joking, but her mouth is set in a serious line. “Libby, it’s real,” she says.
            I always thought I wanted to live alone, but I know better now. The difference is subtle and significant. It’s as though something in my DNA says it’s safer to live among numbers. I don’t notice this until my roommate leaves for the night and the emptiness becomes so palpable I have trouble sleeping. Humans weren’t meant to be so far apart; we cover our ears with our hands and call out to one another across the void. 

Second Sweater

            My violent heart shakes the way these walls shake. If it’s time to move on, why does it feel like my life’s unraveling? Why do I pull at the threads of everything I know and love, only to watch them slip away before me? This heat is unbearable, but the rain is even more so. The woman in front of me sighs and fans herself with her program. We’re all here now and we can’t leave. Truthfully, we could never really leave. Behind closed eyelids are a million more universes, like and unlike this one. There is nowhere where it is just quiet and dark, and that might be the problem. I cough into my hands as the line in front of me continues to move.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Conversation in Threes

            It was 8 PM and the banging noise still hadn’t stopped. Katie was starting to hear it like a pounding on the inside of her skull. She wanted to smack her forehead against the kitchen table over and over, anything to make the noise stop. Instead, she walked to the wall and began hitting it with her right hand.
            “Hey!” she yelled. “Hey! Quiet! Stop! Can’t you take a break?”
            She wasn’t expecting an answer and she didn’t get one. Katie sat back down at the table and felt the anger course through her. She wanted to stop it, wanted to be a women like her mother, filled with endless patience and decency. But Katie wasn’t that person, and she didn’t know how to explain the anxiety she felt building inside her.
            “What are you doing?” Derrick said from the fridge. “Just ignore it.”
            “I can’t,” Katie said. “I don’t know why, I just can’t.”
            “Well you pounding on the walls doesn’t make it any better.”
            “Yeah,” Katie said, drawing her knees up to her chest. “I thought it would, but now my hand just hurts.”
            Even though he was technically standing in the kitchen and she was at the table, Katie and Derrick were only separated by a few feet. When they had first moved in, Katie had hated the tiny amount of living space. She had glanced around and deemed it unfit for the lifestyle to which she had become accustomed. After a few weeks had passed, however, Katie felt this space grow into her. Every edge of it was right for her, and she didn’t know why. It seemed that their apartment contained her in a way that no other home ever had. It was hers, and that was all that mattered. Or, well, it was theirs. But today Katie resented the apartment’s thin walls and the fact that she couldn’t get away from them.
            She dropped her pen onto the page in front of her and sighed.
            “It’s not that big of a deal, sweetie,” Derrick said. “Just take a deep breath and try not to think about it.”
            “I hate when you say things like that to me,” Katie said. “I’m not being irrational.”
            “I didn’t say you were.”
            “It was implied by your tone.”
            “Okay, then I’m sorry.”
            Katie rolled her eyes and glanced back down at the chemistry textbook in front of her. “No, don’t be sorry.”
            She looked at Derrick’s face and found him confused.
            “I just mean, you didn’t do anything wrong,” Katie continued, “so you don’t have to be sorry. I’m just annoyed.”
            He shrugged. “The sound will stop eventually. Or do you want me to march over there and demand that they keep it down?”
            Katie laughed and shook her head. “No, don’t! That would be too embarrassing. Of course, if this continues past 11 o’clock I’m calling the police.”
            Derrick sat down at the other side of the table. “Don’t say that, babe.”
            Katie examined his face, all hard lines and easy confidence and said, “Why not? They deserve it at this point.”
            “You don’t know that. What if there’s something important going on over there?”
            “What could possibly be so important that they have to bang on the walls for two hours and disturb the whole complex?”
            “I don’t know, but something. Maybe it’s a couple who are finally having the argument they need to save their marriage, and he’s so worked up that he keeps hitting the wall?”
            Katie raised her eyebrows. “In that case, I better call the police sooner rather than later.”
            “Seriously, Katie, listen to what I’m saying. You don’t know what’s going on over there. Sometimes people need to make noise. We’re animals, after all.”
            “Whatever,” Katie said. “I need to focus on this.” She gestured down at her textbook.
            “Okay,” Derrick said, “but I’m telling you, it could be anything. Try not to let it get to you.”
            Katie smiled and shook her head. She looked down and continued reading.
            Bang! Bang! Bang! The sound continued.
            Isaac found himself wondering whether the neighbors could hear it, but decided if they did, they would probably let him know. In any case, he paid for this apartment, didn’t he? He had the right to do whatever he wanted within these walls as long as it didn’t cause bodily harm to himself or others.
            He pitched the basketball as hard as he could at the floor in front of the living room wall. It hit hard and ricocheted off the wall, then the table pressed against it. Brian ran to his right and caught it.
            “How long have we been doing this?” Brian said.
            Isaac shrugged. “It doesn’t matter. Two hours, maybe. Why? Do you have something better to do?”
            Brian laughed and threw the ball back at the wall. This time it barely missed the lamp on the table to Isaac’s right. “Close one,” Isaac said, immediately pitching the ball back.
            Brian caught it and glanced at the clock. “Wait, dude, don’t you have somewhere to be?” he said.
            Isaac looked at the floor and ran his fingers through his hair. “I dunno,” he said. “Not really.”
            “No, you do,” Brian said. “You have that date with that girl. You told me about it. I thought you were into her. What was her name? Isabelle?”
            Isaac tapped his foot and said, “Yeah.”
            “You’re not gonna go?” Brian said.
            Isaac glanced at Brian and shrugged. “I guess we’ll see.”
            “We’ll see what?”
            “We’ll see if we’re done with this game before she gives up and leaves.”
            “Come on, bro, that’s stupid.”
            Isaac’s stomach twisted. Brian was right, it was stupid. All the thoughts in his brain collided with one another and told him how stupid it was. His body, however, was paralyzed with a special kind of fear. Three years ago, he never would have done this. He would never have willingly stood up someone he had promised to meet. That wasn’t him. That wasn’t the way he had been raised.
            And yet, he was different now. He had learned that you could be everything for someone, every single thing, and it wouldn’t be enough. They would be capable of ripping out your still-beating heart, smiling, and showing it to you, and they would do it. So while the logical part of his brain told him to stop being such an ass, stop wasting time and make it to the restaurant while he still could, the other parts told him, fuck that bitch. He could do whatever he wanted. He reached for his beer and poured the cool liquid down his throat.
            Brian was staring at him with a weird expression on his face. His jaw was pronounced and his brow was extra furrowed. “Well?” he said.
            Isaac pulled the bottle from his mouth and said, “I don’t know what answer you’re looking for, dude. I’ll go when I’m ready.”
            Brian stood there a second. Then he threw the ball as hard as he could at the wall so that it bounced straight at Isaac. Isaac tried to catch it with the one hand that wasn’t holding his beer, but it glanced off his fingers and flew to his right. He watched in slow-motion as it headed towards the window. He could feel the smashing sound in his bones before he heard it. Glass went everywhere. It continued to split apart into new shards as it fell to the floor. In that moment, Isaac didn’t care about the mess. He just wanted the mistake to be over.
            Brian put his hands on his head in an expression of cartoon horror. “I’m sorry, man!” he said. “I’m so sorry! I didn’t mean to.”
            “It’s all right,” Isaac said, setting his beer on the counter behind him. “Get the broom.” As Brian ran to the closet next to the bathroom, Isaac tried to steady his shaking fingers.
            The glass shards glinted on the balcony outside their apartment.
            “What the hell?” Laura said as she stepped on them. She shifted the bag of groceries onto her hip and tried to avoid this new obstacle. She felt the glass lodge into her shoe and briefly closed her eyes. This wasn’t what she needed, not after the day she’d had. Laura opened her eyes again and picked her way around the rest of the glass. When she finally got to the door at the far end of the landing, she shuffled her shoes on the welcome mat. Hoping this would mean she didn’t track glass into the apartment, Laura balanced the bag against her body and tried to reach for her keys. She could feel the paper shift downwards, but pulled out the key ring just in time to catch an orange with her free hand. Somehow managing to keep it all off the ground, Laura jammed her house key into the lock and turned the doorknob.
            She pushed the door open with her body and hobbled in, setting the bag on the ground. Laura sighed in relief and rubbed her right shoulder. At least she was home now. She felt the familiar arms wrap around her legs and tried to force a smile onto her face.
            “Mama!” the tiny voice said.
            “My love!” she said. “Shouldn’t you be getting ready for bed?”
            “I waited for you!” the little boy said.
            “You did!” Laura turned and bent down to pick him up. Each time she felt him in her arms, Laura thought Ethan was a little bigger. She remembered the way her boss had screamed at her that day, the way he had made her feel two inches tall and worthless, and Laura wanted to fall apart. She wanted to cry and say it wasn’t fair that she had to do this, had to go out every day for money when she wanted to be home with her son. But she knew the choices and she knew what she had signed up for. “Where’s your other mama?” Laura said.
            Ethan pointed to the hallway leading off the small kitchen and Laura saw Harriet standing there. She had a sheepish grin on her face that told Laura not to be angry about Ethan’s missed bedtime. Laura shook her head, but then felt her son’s tiny heart beating against hers and was unable to be upset. She hugged him harder. She wanted to remember him like this, always.
            “Well, it’s time for you to brush your teeth, little man,” Laura said. She set him back on the ground, then watched as he grabbed her legs again.
            “No!” he said, and squeezed her. “I want to see you.”
            “Mama will help us read your story tonight! Won’t you, mama?” Harriet said. Ethan glanced between them. “But you have to be quick! Your mamas are real tired.” Ethan’s face became focused and he scurried off to the bathroom.
            “What are you doing?” Laura said, unloading the temporarily forgotten groceries. “I’m dead on my feet.”
            Harriet crossed the room and touched Laura’s face. “It’ll be good for you,” she said. “Seriously, it will. Besides, I miss you all day when you’re gone.”
            Laura felt the tension melt from her body as Harriet pulled her into an embrace.
            The tap of a pen against a textbook, the banging sound of a basketball against a wall, the crunch of fresh glass underfoot; these are the sounds of the world speaking with itself. It goes on and folds under its layers, only to reemerge whole and more broken. There are whispers that float through night, only to disappear without really being heard. They must be important, but it is difficult to say why. They disintegrate between the tips of two fingers and are nothing before anyone realizes they were there. 


            Daughter, you that stands with her hip bones pressed against that cruel railing. Don’t climb over; this isn’t your time. But look down anyway. It’s important that you understand what we are clutching to our chest. You will remember this moment forever, feel that splitting feeling you feel when you walk away, but it will be with painful relief. There is nothing I can tell you now to convince you it will be better, but it will be. Even when you feel crushed under the weight of too many medications, when you hold glass soaked in the blood of your loved ones, and when you cannot bring yourself to forget the way your hair smelled the morning after, you will be grateful for the air in your lungs. We have what we have until we don’t have it anymore, so don’t give it away so soon. There will be a day when the future doesn’t feel like days of endless nothing; when instead it stretches before you like the land you were always promised. So go ahead, my love, walk back out into the light.