This Time

She spoke softly. She spoke just above audible, her voice grave. She told me to change it this time. She told me to choose differently, to follow the words into the light, instead of turning around to the familiar. She gripped my hand, unusually strong for someone so sick, and spit out the words, “Promise me, Taylor.” The words were strangely biting as her fingers dug into my skin, “Promise me, this time you won’t let me die. Promise me you’ll change the past so I won’t have to die.”
_______________________________

I open my eyes to another day as I sit up in my dorm bed, my alarm music playing subtly in the background, a lifting tune to get me out of bed. But the burden is still here, always. Mom died last week. The cancer took hold and continued to eat. She had survived through the fevers, through the pain, just to deliver that puzzling message to me. I still have bruises from her fingernails on my wrist. I don’t want the impressions to go away; the marks prove she’s still here, holding my hand.

As cryptic as her last words to me were, I have no way of knowing what the hell she was talking about. The doctors said she was delusional at that point, but I remember how her blue eyes burned; she looked real and raw in those few moments. She didn’t seem foggy or crazy. She made me promise, and I had promised, like a good little girl, not understanding what I was promising. Promising to give her hope, maybe? At least in my dreams, she wouldn’t die.

The school counselor said I should take more time off, but I insisted I was okay. I insisted I needed to get back to normal. And so today is my first class day back. My writing class is in an hour, and I’ll have to hurry to shower, dress, and make it there in time. I won’t forget my journal this time, never again. Mom taught me to never take moments for granted. You never know when you’ll get another chance to observe and transcribe that perfect moment.
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The cancer had attacked aggressively, severely. If she had known the warning signs and gotten checked earlier, she could have beaten it, if there had been enough time. But my parents and I had all been oblivious. We made our way through our regular routines of work, school, friends, appointments, and parties. Mom had started getting sick more frequently but chalked it up to work strain. And I was too focused on my freshman year of college-all the classes, events, some cute boy whose name I don’t remember now. He had asked for my number and we had planned on meeting up, until Mom got the news.

Dad, focused on writing his next novel, How to Find Time, was out of town when the call came through. Mom told us the news over the phone. That first week she was alone, too late for treatment. I had found her curled up in a ball on one side of the bed, glassy eyed, in extreme pain, tears streaming down her cheeks. She told me she was waiting for someone to come get her and bring her to the hospital. Dad would be home tomorrow. I held her until then, until we could all go together to check her into the room that would become her tomb. She had waited. She was always waiting.
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Her last words come back to me, pulling at my heart strings, and I have to choke back a sob. Promise me, this time you won’t let me die.

I pull my journal out, flipping through, looking for that note I wrote Mom and Dad the day I left for college. I had been sitting at the desk in the living room, window open and breeze rolling in. I could have spoken directly to Mom and Dad in the other room, but there were things I could say in a letter that were too hard to say face to face. Even though in my life I hadn’t wanted for much, there were dreams I needed to pursue apart from them, apart from this home they created for me.

I could hear Mom’s laugh and Dad’s witty comment in return. I had finished the letter and made sure it was placed so they’d find it after I’d left, and then I went into the kitchen to join them. All smiles, the three of us. The sky was a clear blue, and there was a light frosty bite to the air, the crispness of autumn making its way through our jackets as we took a walk in the diminishing light.

My hand rests on the letter, carefully caressing the words I have to go.

I can’t help it. I can’t help the tears, but this time I don’t hold them back. I let them slide down my cheeks, trying to purge myself of the past, trying to keep the guilt from crushing my brightness. Maybe it is too soon to go back to normal. And what is normal, now?

Promise me, this time you won’t let me die. Promise me you’ll change the past so I won’t have to die.

I feel a pulse under my fingers, and look down. Heat begins spreading up through my fingers, and the pulsing continues. The words on the letter are focusing and re-focusing, as if they are being re-written each time the tears hit them. Startled, I push the letter out of my hands and the ink darkens to its usual color, but not before I notice the light behind the words.

I immediately grab it back up. The tears are still coming, not as strong. Mom had told me. How did she know? She had told me to follow the words into the light. I look around at the familiar, but then turn back, focusing on following to somewhere new.

I place my hand on top of the pulsing mix of ink and light, and feel a sensation of being drawn inward. There is a flash of pain and a searing burning across my hand.

What the hell is going on?

My whole body is vibrating painfully over the letter, the colors going in and out, and I feel as if I’ll faint.
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And then I’m back to that day. I see my old living room. The letter is on the desk, only partially written, and my hand is poised halfway through, ready to write the next words. Mom is laughing from the other room, but the sound is coming in and out. There is a loud buzzing surrounding me, and dad’s witty comment makes it way to my ears. My focusing is coming and going, and the letter in front of me is vibrating, like it did in my dorm room. Promise me, this time you won’t let me die.

A severe pain across my brow shatters my thoughts, and I will myself to focus on the present.

There’s the breeze, the light, the feel of the crisp air; my senses can make this real. And the throbbing lessens and the buzzing fades.

I feel Mom’s arms around me, “Honey, whatcha writing?”

Something has changed. I didn’t get to finish the letter, and Mom and Dad are already in here, ready to take that walk.

“Grab your coat, love. We’ll meet you out front.”

I turn around, reaching for Mom. A sob breaks free, and I bury my head in her chest.

Startled, she gently says, “Honey, it’s okay. We’ll still see each other plenty. I’m not going anywhere.”

I can already feel myself being pulled back to my present, like a rubber band. This elastic reality will only last another few moments.

The ink is spilling from the pen all over the paper, creating designs, all leading to the last word I’ve written.

I can change my words. I can change the end of the letter. I can warn my mom and change the end of her story. I have a few seconds left. The room around me is shifting back to my dorm, and the ink under my hand is drying before I can get the words out. Mom’s face is starting to fade.

Just enough time for a warning, just enough to change a few words.

You’re right, Mom. This time you’re not going anywhere. This time I’m not letting you go.

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Goodbye

We stayed on shore
As you floated past us
In your restful bed

The end wasn’t as you expected
You didn’t suffer
And we didn’t cry

But I smiled
To know that things
Would be different now

The leaves changed from pink to
Gold when the lights danced over
Them on the dark water

And my breath caught
In my throat
As your blood swirled with the tide

Salt mixing with life
Preserving it, holding it tight
Until I see you again

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Uncomfort

We do all sorts of things we’re uncomfortable with. We become all sorts of people we’re uncomfortable with. We keep changing, so slowly at first that we never notice until one day, we look in the mirror, and the eyes staring back are unfamiliar and glazed. We’ve not noticed that person before. That person with that look. How unbecoming-to look so real, so raw, so lost.
Do we grab the concealer, shake it off, and continue on, another act-like everything is okay?
Do we omit this strange and unnerving feeling from our daily conversation, so as to not disturb or confuse the flow of things?
Keep ignoring and you will explode. Maybe not now, but eventually you will see that face in the mirror, really see them for who they are: you pleading with yourself to notice what you need. You’ll finally take notice, maybe because it’s been years since you really said yes to that person, maybe out of guilt, maybe out of longing, but mostly from regret. That you were too stubborn or blinded to notice yourself sooner. Who else feels what you feel? Who else can possibly check in and feel what you need, better than you? If you learn how.
What about the why? Why do we find ourselves stuck like this? Why do we compromise so much of ourselves, our voice, our likes, dislikes, desires, and freedoms? For the smiling faces of others? Don’t fool yourself: behind most smiles therein lies the same disquieting thoughts that make it impossible for you to really be you. When people smile back, what are they really smiling at? How many times do we act a part in any given day?
No, don’t give excuses for why, just focus on the question: How many times do we play a role? Spouse, child, parent, guardian, teacher, businessman, writer, devotee, singer, caretaker, etc.
Is this our own decision, or are we prodded by the choices we’ve made to continue to make the same ones, in a revolving circle, so that the first choice we ever made to get us here is blamed for all consecutive choices since? Oh, if I hadn’t married him, I’d be happy, you might say. Or, if I chose a different profession, I’d be someplace different now.
That one choice does not define you, and that one choice has not led you here. It’s a compilation of millions of choices day after day, minute after minute, second after second that has led you here. In any given moment, tens of thousands of inconsistencies or moments within moments can happen, spurred on by all different moments, leading to the one you’re experiencing. Walk out the door and thousands of things can happen, all brought about by a thousand other things, some in your control, most not in your control. So no, that one choice did not bring you here.
But that one choice is keeping you here. That one choice is keeping your mind so locked up that you aren’t able to process the moments now differently enough, so you keep making the same patterned choices you made before, leading yourself to believe it’s because of that one decision. It’s not the decision, it’s the way you’ve patterned your brain, it’s how you think, not what.
Now, clean out the how, change the pathways, and your choices will be different because your fundamental thinking pattern will be different. Hopefully, more attuned to you, and less attuned to projections, flashbacks, and stagnation.

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Last Image

The cabin air feels tight
Depressurizing
And as I sit here not yet realizing
What’s happening,

A picture pops into my head
Of you, eating grapes
At our table

Laughing at the ordinary moment
Of me dropping my milk
“Typical” You smirked

And that smile lingers
On the horizon as I
Softly go to sleep

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Release

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My burdened mind
Into the now
So I’m no longer haunted
By my past

The voices that judge
The sounds that disturb
My peace
Give way to nothing

And I’m here.
For the first time in my life,
I’m really here.

Photo Credit: Giuseppe Milo (www.pixael.com) via Compfight cc

 

Jump

To serve others was all she’d ever known. Bred for a purpose, now she would become a housewarming gift for a lucky gentleman.

“Make sure you know what he likes to eat,” scolded her mother, “or else you’ll always have an irritable man.”

Other dictates were issued: never argue, always placate, match his affection levels, and be ready when he is.

All her life, she was prepped and pressed and readied for the day when she would become a wife – subservient, gracious, lovable, and finally beautiful. And, today was the day. She could finally say she was living with purpose.

What other purpose existed? Whenever she thought to question her fate, her mother’s words always drew her back in – this is what you were born to do. It doesn’t matter if you want it now. You will grow to want it, as you will grow to love.

She wondered, wasn’t it unnatural to have to learn to want something, to love it? Wasn’t that a betrayal of your true self?

“Now stand still while I put the final touches on this hem,” her mother’s hands forcibly twisted her hips straight, interrupting her train of thought.

Three giddy women gathered around her bouquet, whispering and then shushing each other about handsome boys and grown men – wondering who would make a good husband, who would have attractive children?

A goblet of wine was passed around, and the women took turns gently sipping the burgundy colored libation. When it came to the bride’s turn, she held the glass for a moment, letting her thoughts swirl with the deep dark liquid, and she saw the boy’s eyes. She let herself dream as her lips touched the glass for a sip.

Her mother noticed the wine and hastily grabbed for it, accidentally hitting the outstretched bouquet of tulips from another woman’s hands, knocking them to the floor.

The women went back to fluttering this way and that to tie this, fix that, steady this, place that. “Beautiful, just beautiful,” she heard someone say. All the while, she stood, holding her breath, trying to keep the feeling of panic from taking over.
“Mother,” she hesitantly asked, “what does he look like?”

“Hush, now. You know you aren’t supposed to meet him until the ceremony. Stop asking questions.”

Things continued moving too quickly. Someone went to fetch water so the women wouldn’t faint. Her mother promptly opened the window, and an immediate breeze rolled in, carrying with it musical accompaniment from the courtyard. A decadent array of greenery decorated the outside of the window, and a few leaves wandered in.

She took a step towards the fresh air, but her mother’s nails in her arm stopped her. “We aren’t done here,” she hissed, causing an embarrassed blushing from the bride. Just as she turned away, a few beams of sunlight caught her eye, and she reached out to touch the beautiful glow of his hair.

The bell rang for the audience to sit down, all formalities finally met, and the crowd in the room deflated until only an echo of diminishing chatter was left. As an unearthly stillness settled, she realized this was her prayer time, a chance to meditate and prepare for the Union of Flesh.

All this pomp and circumstance for the performance, and no one besides her mother had even spoken to her. No one had even given her a mirror so she could see her beautiful self.

She gathered up the long folds of the dress and heaved herself over to the mirror, timid and wary of meeting her own gaze. This was the moment of re-introduction, the moment to see the wife in herself and to make herself strong for the Forever, if that even existed at all.

Pale, small, and trembling, she was powdered an unadulterated white. But something had to be done about those red-rimmed eyes, imposed her mother’s voice.

She tried to hide her shaking hands, down low, under her shawl so that her new self wouldn’t see her fears. A sob escaped her lips, surprisingly forceful, and she arched forward, clinging to the edge of the mirror.
_______

As a child, she’d played by the pond behind her house. The grass was high, never cut, perfect for hide and go seek, or building secret camps. It was then she had seen him – her first boy. Before that, she’d heard talk of boys and men, but more as mythical creatures in a far distant future. But here, amidst the calm and green of her natural paradise, he sat, head cocked, arms out, listening for some sound only he knew.

She began to step towards him, her family’s warning sounding in her head. But, as she stood still, watching him for a moment, observing the way the sun danced golden across his hair, there was no hint of malice or unkindness of any sort in this boy from another world.

Her footsteps rustled the leaves, and he looked up from his meditative task. No hello was issued, no formal greeting. He just regarded her, quizzically, then playfully, and his eyes, deep and dark, invited her over to join him at his special rock.
He had been collecting flowers of various kinds and had six or seven laying in a row. Daisies, tulips, roses, and a few she couldn’t name. He picked the tulip up and handed it to her, gently. “For you,” he said with a smile.

Her eyes widened as she heard the deeper tones of his voice. She raised her eyes to meet his for the very first time and noticed a peculiar half smile making its way across his lips. Unconsciously, she met his smile with one of her own.

But she wasn’t smiling now. The final bell rang signaling the end of the ceremonial introduction, and soon the Song of the Brides would start. A single tear marked a roadway down her powdered cheek.

Over the years, there had been times those same eyes would come to her in a dream, playfully inviting her to pick flowers, an outstretched hand re-affirming their connection. As time passed, she tried distracting herself from that afternoon, from the moments in time that ignited a curiosity in her heart. But, no matter how much she tried, she couldn’t shake the new feeling of freeness she felt that day, or the knowledge that she had given her heart to this boy. He was her true husband and had been since that afternoon.

She needed to go find him. She wouldn’t be held without a voice any longer. She would find him and tell him that his smile had made her believe her life could be different, her life could be happy. She would smile and hug him. She would give herself to him fully, let herself go completely, for him. No one else, just this boy from the pond who had made her believe in the possibility of forever.

She pulled herself high onto the windowsill as she heard the wedding song start. She took in a deep breath, felt her heart come alive in her chest, and counted one, two, three. She felt the sunlight on her face, whispering For you. And she jumped.

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