there’s a minty taste in my mouth as I climb into the rental car and wave goodbye to my grandparents. they’re standing besides the flowering mailbox nestled beneath the shade of a magnificent oak tree, hanging with the antique paraphernalia that seems to inhabit every corner of the old orange-stone house.
i can still feel the sensation of sliding my fingers along the leaves of the poinsettia tree; the indescribable, living feeling of every individual leaflet softly vibrating against my fingertips.
the names of eleven children are carved into the sidewalk and everywhere you can feel their vivacious presence, even when the fourth wild child is your father and he’s keeping watch over his own brood of offspring right now. new little faces with blue eyes sit on the porch steps asking questions and catching lizards with inexperienced hands that speak the language of the north and are more suited for catching snowflakes.
the house is truly magical, full of old photographs and vintage furniture; potted plants and paintings, bowls of mysteriously-wrapped mint candy (I can still taste it) and flora and fauna more diverse than my entire neighborhood up where it snows in the winter.
all of the stories you’ve heard from many different mouths drift through the air from room to room and linger longer in places like the old brown piano with the cracked keys. there’s fourteen ivory elephants marching across its top, one for the missionary who brought them back from Africa and the rest for the happy rambling family who stole his heart. you can’t help but wonder if there’s half-as-romantic a story behind every copper flamingo and painted porcelain doll in peaceful repose on a surface somewhere in the house.
you still don’t really believe that eleven children were raised here, in this one-story cottage with three bedrooms and a kitchen the size of your parents’ bathroom. and perhaps you are partially right – the flock of children really lived sprawled over the lakes and ponds and beaches in their little piece of Florida coastline.
but now you’re walking to the pond and marveling at how close the ducks will approach your siblings and you’re straining your eyes to see if you can find the turtles your aunt raised and set free popping their heads up out of the water.
you close your eyes to breathe in the air and you find yourself in the grove in the backyard, with lemons and clementines hanging over your head, little luscious suns swimming in the tropical foliage. before your feet is a patch of violet flowers, and cacti, frozen in dance, line the borders of the sun-drenched yard.
you close your eyes to inhale the perfume of fresh fruit still growing and you’re in the airport, dragging an enormous suitcase behind you and struggling to keep your polaroid photos from falling out of your pocket. little siblings running and singing in front of you draw smiles from the faces of the strangers hurrying to their terminals, and you suddenly feel flooded with the happiness of having such a beautiful family. you don’t forget your grandparents left behind in the enchanted citrus-scented cottage by the duck pond, though. the taste of mint is still in your mouth as you board the plane, clutching your polaroid photos to your chest.
you sit down in the aisle beside your two sisters and close your eyes for a second in relief at making the flight. suddenly you’re back in your beach house on new year’s eve. you’ve just snuck out of the house, where uncles and aunts and cousins are spilling out onto the porch overlooking the water, and you stealthily make your way to the edge of the dock. as you swing your legs over the surface of the water, you pull on your headphones and turn on the noise-cancelling, then press play. you turn the decade with tyler screaming “hello!” into your ears, and your heart is full as you realize that with God, this decade is going to be the best of your life. the smile on your face is bright enough to light the fireworks that explode into the air as uncles and aunts and humans everywhere kiss and applaud 2020 into existence.
you close your eyes as the song ends and you’re in the taxi on your way back home to your room and your record player and your puppy and your S.A.D. when you walk through the front door, the floorboards seem darker than you remembered. you realize that for the first time in your life, you wish you weren’t home. but when you collapse onto your bed and see your Christmas candy stash in the exact place where you left it a week and a half ago, you feel a warmth and a comfort. you turn your ocean waves playlist on and close your eyes.
you wake up the next morning and the sky is a beautiful blue, the sun is shining like it never does in the winter, and the bay is sparkling and laughing at you from your bedroom window. then you open your eyes, and see the records hanging on your wall and the suitcase yawning in the middle of your bedroom. it’s snowing outside and suddenly you feel grey, so very grey. you snatch your polaroid photos from your nightstand and gobble them up with your eyes.
you squeeze your eyes shut as hard as you can and suddenly you’re two weeks older. you’re sitting on the trampoline in the backyard with your siblings tumbling around you, wrapped up in blankets. they followed you outside into the little triangle of sunlight temporarily visiting the trampoline and now they’re little blanket burritos rolling around your criss-crossed legs.
this morning there were no clouds in the sky and there was something so very Floridian-blue about it that i knew i needed to soak it all up. perhaps it was the fact that there was sunlight, sunlight, shining on everything in sight. i followed the magical rays outside to a little triangle smiling sweetly on the trampoline, and the puppy followed as far as the stepping-ladder. for some reason mxmtoon’s melancholy ukulele songs were comforting as i wrapped myself in the blanket and sat down to write and absorb as much vitamin D as possible.
i looked up and out, into the blue blueness, into the deep fullness and complete emptiness of the sky. the only clouds obscuring the view were soft, spotlessly white wisps of marshmallow ambling along with the wind that whips my short hair around my face. not a bit of the dull greyness that reduces my motivation and productivity to a morbid, tasteless mush.
tonight i’ll close my eyes and it’ll be summer. there’ll be another wedding and all of my aunts and uncles and cousins will be together again, under the intoxicating influence of the sun. i only need to close my eyes and i’ll have left these months behind to fade away into the grey obscurity of the the winter sky; to emerge pale, sleep-deprived and gasping at the threshold of daylight savings day.
i only need to close my eyes and i’ll let life slip past, quickly and painlessly – except for a dull ache somewhere in my stomach.
suddenly i remember the lines i wrote one night in florida, when i was the only one awake in the house.
she will fight her battles armed with Polaroid photos, glass water bottles, packs and packs of gum and doubtful defense mechanisms. she’ll fight her battles behind a calm smile and chapped lips, dark purple shadows and golden highlighter. she’ll squeeze tears out of her eyes as hard as she can when the music has already unleashed a waterfall in her mind. she’ll fight her battles underneath noise-cancelling headphones and she’ll feel more understood between their big black ears than anywhere else. she’ll start humming when her insides churn too hard, and when she’s awake at night she’ll turn to the paper people of decades bygone who are always there to help. the dialogue in her mind will never cease, and the weather there is far too closely linked to the weather outside her head. but she understands now and she has powerful weapons. she fights her battles beneath a canopy of soft brown strands, of which He knows every single number. She is safe with Him and He is her greatest weapon.
every moment is precious. every. single. second. how can i just sit passively under my little raincloud and let it fly by me, lost forever?
i realize that i can’t just close my eyes. i can’t just make myself immune to the trials and joys that shape, strengthen, and define a person. i can’t just slip away into my own world when there’s hundreds of other people’s worlds that i can brighten, even if i can’t brighten my own. even if it’s hard to try for myself, there’s always others i can try for. even if it’s grey outside and in my room and in my head, i can still be light to others.
there’s those rare, beautiful days of light to live and hope for. there’s spring and summer and growth to fight for. there’s Heaven to live for.
and you’re never, ever alone. the stars are out there, no matter where you are. He is out there, no matter where you are.
i won’t close my eyes. i will face life for what it is, and what it can be. i will walk forward with Him as my guide, and an army of support before and behind me.
“i won’t fall in love with falling.” ~fall away
“i know we’ve made it this far, kid.” -migraine
“open up your eyes and see; the clouds above will hold you, the clouds above will sing.” ~before you start your day
“the sun will rise and we will try again.” ~truce