Hallway

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PHOTO: Marat Gilyadzinov, Unsplash

Dear Bryon,

I’m writing you here because I can’t write you in real life. You have too much going on. The days between our correspondence grow alarming, like a warning sign before a full stop, so I’m pretending you are here and you care about me (when we both know the truth).

You care about yourself, your family, your friends, and sometimes, maybe in passing, in relation to everybody else (and her), me.

That’s okay. I understand.

Today, I dragged myself out of bed to my husband’s gig up north. Million-dollar scenery, rich man’s repast (dragon fruit, that’s a first), relaxing vocal jazz, a few short, quiet solos to break up the conversation… I listened, took notes, drank coffee, crocheted.

Mostly, I tried to keep my mind focused on what was going on in front of me. I wished I could with all my might be like those imaginative people who could transport themselves into a wonderful fantasy about flying, spirits in the material world. I wish I could feel the spirits of those I knew and loved pass through me.

I saw my husband pull out a bottle of Stevia. I asked whether it felt weird for him to drink coffee and iced tea without sugar. “I’ve gotten used to the taste.” I filled in the blanks in my head, “since the cancer.” I saw his life in a graying arc, a before and after of the boy he used to be — carefree, wolfing down junk food after another late-night gig — and the man he’s forced to become — the oldest in his department, studying to receive an upgrade in his position, battling time, drinking kale smoothies now.

Our son is sick. He thinks it’s another stomach bug. He seems to get them twice a year, this last one around May. Like clockwork.

One of his friends joked, “It’d be funny if you got hurt again” on social media, after he posted a photo of himself with the JV squad and, “Next year will be different.”

Breathtaking cruelty.

They don’t know the many times my son went to the ER, the precious moments between “I can’t breathe” and “I love you, mom,” how even making the team was an act of heroism. Every day is a miracle.

Of course they don’t care. Why should they? They’re “normal,” normal goes on, normal jokes about MCL injuries like it’s nothing.

Even when he feels nauseous, I’m waiting to make the call.

I remember this hallway, rushing him down the stairs to the nearest walk-in clinic in the middle of a deadline, following the firemen carrying the only man I ever loved on a gurney, our only child asleep 13 feet away, only a door dividing us.

Everything stops, Bryon. And I am sick to my stomach, afraid to sleep, counting the hours until the next alarm goes off.

3:25 a.m. so far.

I hope you’re well.

-C

 

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Time Travel is People

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For Dmitri.

When I first heard him play, the notes beneath the notes sparked a small firefly in the back of my memory, behind the rushed marriage proposals and the late-night radio sessions — after trading SuperMan for Casper and before my first broken heart in Linda York’s unsanitary, birdshit shed.

His voice sat with me in the dark, with only these memories of past sunsets taken in flickering doses on the way to the woods where I waited an eternity for the fateless basketball player to whisper a kiss on my right cheek and would pay dearly with a split lip.

We pick up on the conversations of other people’s children: comic book superheroes, detective novels, the soundtrack of our youth poking holes in the fatty stars above us every summer. It’s like he never left.

I’ve forgotten so much already, just as he holds on tightly to every passing year.

In my mind, we are young again, chasing the dimming light in a field of cattails and honeysuckle, racing death. We are two Peter Pans in a dozen, outliers on a hunt for a second chance at NeverNeverLand.

He is my time machine.

Tent Revival

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PHOTO: Seth Doyle, Unsplash

We were split into groups on the first day of camping with the Campus Life organization. I was a junior in high school then, a nobody save for my role as editor of our award-winning (since I came on board the previous year) newspaper.

Nobody knew my original dream of becoming an actor. I’d pretend in the safety of my bedroom while the world outside raged on, my parents often bickering in the downstairs kitchen. One night, my mom came at my dad with a knife, slicing into his shoulder, shrieking like a banshee.

I disappeared into the roles I made up (as the young, budding writer I would become instead). I felt beautiful, loved, valued, if only in my mind, if only for a few minutes before mom called me down for dinner, or I had to do my History assignment.

Every so often, we experience a moment so profound, it changes us. If we’re lucky, we experience several in our lifetime.

This was one of those moments, at the second Campus Life camping event I attended by Waimanalo Beach.

Campus Life is a Youth for Christ organization. It thrived in Hawaii in the 1980s. I was a part of it for three years. I attended the banana split parties, the Bible sessions, the Coming to Jesus revivals, and these semi-annual camps.

None of my friends went to this one in Dec., so I was scared shitless to go. I really had nobody to talk to during our off times, save for one or two people from my school who weren’t in my group.

Groups participated in contests: singing, sports, and drama.

I didn’t know I excelled in drama until the final night, when our group performed and would go on to win the entire competition based solely on my performance as Linda, the outcast who begged the most popular girl in school to learn more about Jesus Christ.

I didn’t have much time to work on my character, whatever the fuck that meant. We didn’t even have a script. Our group kind of winged it, agreeing on an outline for improvisation within a certain time frame.

Me and the funny girl came out in the second scene, set in a bowling alley around an imaginary pinball machine. All I remember was her messing up her line, catching herself in between two names, “Cer-Linda.” Then, everything went very, very quiet when I responded.

Truthfully, I blacked out. As we walked over behind the makeshift stage under a tent in the middle of the campground, I thought I heard sniffling.

Then, they called us back “onstage” as a group. When they introduced me as Linda, I heard a roar so loud, it startled me. I looked around, blinking a couple of times, when I saw that they were all looking at me with tears in their eyes, including the jocks, football players who wouldn’t be caught dead showing any emotion. They looked like they wanted to rush over and give me the biggest hug.

We won, of course. These strangers regarded me like a demi-god for a few days after, then they all forgot and I was a nobody again.

Except I’ll never forget that night when I was somebody, anybody, every body, and I made magic happen.

That was the day I discovered my wings.

Church in a Mall

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PHOTO: Shravan Vijayabaskaran, Unsplash

I think he begged, or I called. I can’t remember.

But the worship team arrived, putting on their service smiles and filling up the awkward silence with their white man bullshit, the gardening stuff ordinary people say to ward off evil spirits.

I couldn’t. Two more days, so I told them off. I said all of the things I could not say. I looked the paper pastor dead in the eyes, the one who seemed to want me inside of him, and denied his church three times, just to be clear. His wife looked away, glancing down at her 1,904 friends — an arm’s length away from redemption.

The rage shook until I freed it with my verbal dagger aimed straight into their hearts. I remember clenching so hard one of my teeth broke free, then I left them with their shock and outrage, and him to make his polite apologies. Such a familiar story.

I walked into a random not-so-random store where Christina showed me around the Pandora’s box. She took the trinket I not-so-accidentally held onto.

None of it mattered. They’re currently on a boat, bathed in the glorious light of His unconditional conditional love.

 

Heart Collector

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PHOTO: Joel Filipe, Unsplash

“That means so much to me Carol. I’m honored to know it’s made a difference.” -Donny McCaslin

Thank you so much for these wonderful pics throughout the season. I have saved a few that we will enjoy for generations!” -Merrill Leonard

“You’re an inspiration—keep us posted on your journey.” -Lululemon

I was submitting my writing the other night, feeling like shit, feeling overwhelmed when a thought entered my head out of nowhere: I am a collector of moments that feel innately, incredibly, quietly, deeply human, a heart collector if you will.

I’m forever captured by these moments that stir my own heart.

Today, I walked around my wooded neighborhood for an hour, racing the thunder storm and lightning show. With five minutes to spare, I made it back home, the back of my right foot opening in a Nike blister, head awash in music meant to love me back.

Along the way, the beauty of nature struck me, like scenes from a movie or me scrolling through online contact sheets after a lengthy photo shoot: The scent of spring flowers, lilacs, clean, fresh Magnolia with dew forming around the edges, a man and his dog fetching mail in a shower of cherry blossoms, the way the pink blossoms hung low over the blackstrap tarp of the road, one branch flung away from the others, reaching out toward a sky heavy with slate that I could almost smell, and suddenly, out of nowhere, that faint familiar smell of Bobby the summer of ’77.

These moments stir inside me, waiting to get out. Maybe in a story of my own, buried in the sidestepping riddles of a forgotten poem, or a word-for-word transcript masquerading as an important interview.

When I am with people, I sit back, wait, and watch for those moments, taking pictures of the images and the feelings they evoke deep inside my well-covered heart. I painstakingly take each picture out in my mind for later, in the safety of my windowless room, aching with loneliness and self-loathing.

Your words add to my collection. The praise serves as a balm for my battered soul. It’s ridiculous how much I hunger for recognition, validation, just for one person in a crowd to see me standing there…

Every so often, when I feel brave, I am able to reach out to someone with my collection, sharing pieces of these moments, so the person will not be sad, or borrow the strength of my conviction for the five minutes it takes to go on after a terrible blow.

I am that singer in a B movie who is known for copying others but afraid to show herself. I am the patient recovering from major surgery, clinging to the idle gardening conversation of masked strangers waiting for their lunch break.

They forget my name as soon as I say it. But, I forget theirs. I don’t forget their smiles, the funny little laugh of recognition, a pat on the shoulder in between my patches of psoriasis, the things that matter.

I am a heart collector, waiting to be reborn.

Mochi

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PHOTO: Gaelle Marcel, Unsplash

Boots on the ground. Someone asks for breakfast. All I can find are one or two eggs sitting on the counter at this favorite diner in the middle of Tokyo Town in the Mid-West. I look down on my eggs frying in an ashtray, as the old Japanese lady lay dying by the open window 12 feet away.

She ran the diner with a firm, gentle hand, singing out her bento orders, surrounded by the small talk of young people ready for bigger things. Small and frail, she would always make room for me, saying my name in Broken English, “Ca-dole” very carefully.

On Fridays, I’d find pink, heart-shaped mochi in my pocket on the way out.

I could feel her last breath fill the room as the sound of those boots pounded in my head, surrounded by the love of the weak and the helpless, drained by compassion. I am sickened by my servile design, desperately searching for another egg that will not crack the yolk. I am running out of time.

(But I only wanted to sit quietly by her makeshift bed, with a handful of the others, waiting to die.)

Fugitive

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PHOTO: Derek Liang, Unsplash

Dear Diary,

I had that dream again, the one where I run for my life — what’s left of it.

Like Bobby Axelrod in “Billions,” he went to all the places he knew I’d go, waiting around for me in Maui at the end of our chapter.

I ran because I broke his precious laptop, the one that cost him so much time and money to jury rig. I was doomed the moment I stood up, pulled the gray metal box away from him, then carefully, intentionally slammed it against the hardest part of the nearest wall.

I heard little tiny pieces of glass shatter inside the machine, as I eyed the nearest exit. Before he could rise and roar, I left the room grabbing my purse.

Suddenly, as he stood waiting to mafia me somewhere between Lahaina and Kaanapali, I sat huddled in the corner of a random bus. The tail end of a parade passed, green and white leis, a waft of sweet through the half-open window, reminding me of eighth grade. I dare not breathe deep. The Merrie Monarch Festival, in a blur. Keauhou, I must be close.

This would not do. I pictured myself in a nowhere town in the middle of Texas maybe, Nebraska, …

I woke up thinking about South Dakota. You never hear about South Dakota.

But there is no beach.

“Zealous in the beginning, unfaithful in the end.” —a recent sermon somewhere in Everett