I spend my days sitting at stop lights with the faceless, steaming milk and burning fingers, watching the laundry turn, getting lost in books and pictures, watching cat paws twitch while dreaming, late night laughing & pillow talk. And just when I begin to think otherwise, people tend to surprise me. I am surprised by the words that quiet and the eyes that widen, by the stillness of movement, the deep sighing sound and heaving shoulders, the cutting sound of careful release, truth surfacing from fear, the fight that somehow makes it's way from what was once hopeless. I am surprised when layers are peeled away in ordinary life, when I least expect it.
Just like the day she read her poem to her class of Creative Writing students, about ankles and pens moving, about the creative life and an inadequacy to teach us anything that isn't already a part of us. We sit in half circles, a group of students who don't know anything about the person to the left outside of this space, and she cuts through the comfort. She tells us - in an urgency that is almost mad - to never lose it. To remember the beautiful things when life seems meaningless: that hair can be interesting, hands in the ocean and light across the floor, words can inspire and be enough to keep a life from ending. Her words are heavy and dark as she pushes what we all know deep in our gut - that life is broken. That we can become utterly defeated and lose sight of passion. In this moment, we all love her as our own. She tells us she loves us all, that we are friends. That we are kin. The room swells with something that could make your head spin, and I know that the person on my left is my brother. That he can fight it out. We will fight it together.
Just like the day I spend with Jack, a tiny twelve year old boy with teeth he hasn't grown into yet and knobby knees. He is a swimmer in the summer and a boy scout in the winter. He fills his bathtub with water and rubber frogs for weeks at a time, his room full of torn transformer instructions and leggo parts. He locks his eyes on transforming parts of a whole to ignore his home that is unkempt because of his bachelor father, the man dating the girl with the red strewn bra on the hardwood floor of his dark cave bedroom. The boy follows older-kid-lifeguards on hot pavement, he becomes desperate to laugh like them, to talk like them, to hide like them. When we get home from a long day of swimming, he grabs the mail resting on the coffee table and runs upstairs. I peel a peach, and I hear a loud shredding sound. I run upstairs and he stands, back facing me, with his body angled toward the shredding machine. Knowing I am there, he holds up a junk-mail envelope addressed to his Mother who died 4 years ago. He turns to face me, and for the first time, his eyes are broken bottles. I ask, "why did you shred it" because I am quiet and I don't know what else to say. "Because she doesn't live her anymore," he says. And I want to tell him more, but all I can do is reach for the instructions manual for action figure Reptilion and say, "do you want to piece this back together?"
And it's just like the girl standing in front of me at the Avett Brothers concert at New Years, Her hands in the air, skinny wrists reaching and grasping. Her heart is pinned to every word that is sung, and she screams what she must know to be true with shaky vowels and fighting words. Her wrists and arms are scarred with stories of why she must believe - road maps of red lines and outlined cuts of everywhere she's been. Stories of why she must scream out. I want to reach out and grab her, tell her we're kin. I sing with her the words and know it's enough.
Head full of doubt, Road full of Promise
- The Avett Brothers
In the fine print they tell me what’s wrong and what's right
And it comes in black and it comes in white
And I'm frightened by those who don’t see it.
When nothing is old deserved or respectedAnd your life doesn’t change by the man that’s elected
If you’re loved by someone you’re never rejected
Decide what to be and go be it.
There was a dreamOne day I could see it
Like a bird in a cage I broke in and demanded that somebody free it
And there was a kid, with a head full of doubt
So I scream till I die and don’t ask for those bad thoughts to find me now
There’s a darkness upon you that’s flooded in light
And it flies by day and it flies by night
And I'm frightened by those who don't see it.