One night I crossed a bridge, black water and shining streetlamp ripples below, and wondered if I dared to jump in. The water would have been cold, my jacket heavy, and I imagined kicking against the weight to surface for one more breath and one more look with my eyes stinging. A board creaked under my feet as my weight shifted -- and I shook my head, put one foot in front of the other, and walked on. Such is the seduction of rivers, and the grace of bridges.
One morning, I felt a sunrise, felt it in the drag of the waves around me and the warming of my eyelids as I floated, calm and joyous, until a fish brushed against me and it tickled. It is hard to float serenely while giggling. When I recovered, I opened my eyes to a sky bathed in gold and edging to softest pinks, and all that day, the world was a necklace of wonder strung with beads of awe. I handled it gently, and it reflected back love.
One day, I introduced a wide-eyed child to the concepts of soft and fluff. She giggled and wriggled her toes in the mess of down from the old pillow, and later we spent an hour combing feathers out of her hair, with no regrets for time lost.
I once picked up a thing of magic disguised as polished wood and metal strings, and, with a single note, stepped across the line of the soul that divides audience from musician. I carry no badge, bear no insignia -- but the heart knows. A friend told me that the only thing I would ever need to master in music was myself -- to learn to let the music flow from heart to hands and bypass my head entirely. I looked into his eyes and knew that he knew -- and, one evening, obeying an urge to accompany the music of a thunderstorm with a lesser storm of my own making, I began to understand.
It is not what I have seen, or done, or felt, that defines the space my life will occupy. It is not the impact my experiences have had on me that will endure. It is only what I manage to communicate, to express, to tell or show or help someone else to feel that will never entirely pass away.(You can find more at my personal website: http://www.tears-of-gold.org )
I remember days full of restlessness and fury;
I remember nights that were drunk on dreams.
I remember someone who hungered for the glory;
I remember her, but it seems she's gone...
There is a lot of me that is contained in memories only, in old hurts and remembered moments and flashbacks that almost never see the light of day. Those moments are me; they're my only link back to the girl I used to be. I think everybody knows by now that I grew up in the West Indies. My childhood was spent there; my adolescence and my adulthood have been spent in the US. This story comes from that earlier time.
I close my eyes and I can almost feel myself there again. I can feel bark rough under my knees, the soft caress of leaves against my bare feet. The grove behind my grandmother's house was my refuge, my secret not-secret space. I would climb my favourite tree, and hang from the branches, swing, cry, read, or whatever I felt like doing, until some call I couldn't ignore summoned me back to the house.
It seems, for the moment anyway, that most of my happier memories are centred around my time spent at my grandmother's house. I remember running wild in the company of my cousins ... if my older brother was my nemesis, my cousin Rodney was the knight in shining armour every little girl wishes for. He taught me how to fly a kite, pushed me to keep up with him and his friends, bandaged cuts and scrapes, and kept my secrets. Bought me bubble gum ... tried to teach me to roller skate. (I never have learned ... ) When he and his family moved to the States, I mourned the loss of my very best friend.
Towards the end of that time at home, there was actually a neighbourhood around my grandmother's home. Even so, I kept apart from the other children. I wasn't much interested in sports, and that seemed to be their main interest. The camaraderie would have been nice ... but I wasn't willing to brave the possible ridicule to get it. So I'm not quite sure what was on my mind one vacation evening, when I ventured out to sit beside the road and watch the girls playing with their jumpropes and the boys playing at cricket.
I sat and I watched for hours, until the sun started to set, and most of the kids drifted home to supper and chores. And just when I was about to give up, and I turned to go in, Brandy, one of the more outgoing of the group, called me. I hadn't known any of them knew my name. I, of course, knew all of theirs. The sound startled me ... it seemed like the world stopped, and I remember that curious double vision settling in. "I must remember this," I thought ... and went on to make a memory.
I had never owned a jumprope, didn't know how ... but they showed me, and once the chants began, I found the rhythm. "Miss Susie had a steamboat; the steamboat had a bell ... Miss Susie went to heaven, and the steamboat went to ... hell-o, operator, give me number nine ... " We played till there was no more light, until the first stars came out and it was too dark to see the jumprope, and their mothers, too, called them home. Picture four small brown girls, pigtails flying. I'm not sure who the girl was, that was me that evening. I don't know where she's gone. I doubt she exists any longer ... except in stories. Except in memory.
There's a moment, when you take stock of where you are, and you have to smile. Probably the same dreamy smile you've been wearing so often ... or maybe a rueful, wistful one ... here we go again. You know the symptoms.
It's not love ... not by the way we usually mean it. And it's too tender to be lust, though that certainly makes itself known, too. It's an ephemeral thing, born of being caught in the edges of someone's wake once too often, for a little too long ... a certain symptom of fascination.
You're not falling in love. You're not caught in the throes of a crush. You're planted firmly in the middle of a dream of what might be ... romance for romance's sake ... and if you relax into it, and make no rash moves, it will burn off as surely as morning mists in the sunlight. You get to see his flaws.. he notices your scars ... it's a graceful dance of discovery, cruelty hidden under pretty compliments and small liberties taken.
Don't take it seriously; it's fun, but not much more. But while it lasts ... such a pretty delusion.
Grandmother, they call me. Grandmother. I, who have never borne a child. I, who never will. Their voices are low, and sad, and frightened, and I... I have no comfort to give. Call me Achaia; it fits well enough.
I am the last.
There is a rightness in that: I was once the first. The first child born to my parents; four others would follow. Some of these persistent ones should by right be calling me Aunt. Or Great-Aunt, I suppose. My brothers and I were never close, and I stopped keeping track of birthdays and offspring long ago. Out here, like this, time is barely more than trivial, and the constant marking of days and weeks was not something I was unhappy to let go. Besides, age buys freedom, and I am entitled to a few of those. I allow them their fussing, their pokings and proddings every now and again, and in return, among other things, they remove the clocks, the calendars, the machines, and no-one carries a watch through these doors. But I see you looking around now, glancing at the space where your watch should be. This is not the story you wanted, you are thinking, and is she ever going to begin?
... As I said, I was the first.
I was ten months old when they made the diagnosis: rhabdoid tumour, they called it. Fast-growing, highly malignant, and it was causing paralysis on my left side. Two years before, it would have been a death sentence for me. My parents were poor... you are too young to know those times, but that was the era before Julint, before they declared free health care a basic right, and my parents could not afford the traditional treatments. An operation, first, to remove the tumour, and then, provided I survived that, chemotherapy, to make sure that it was truly killed. And even then, there would be no guarantees that I would see even my second birthday. You are cringing -- but that was my best hope. Still, they could not afford it, and so they did the only thing they knew to do: they turned me over to the state.
You must understand, it was not so uncommon, in those days. Their decision saved my life, in any case. As a ward of the state, I became eligible for a trial, a desperate attempt to save my life with a new and promising procedure. They meant well. They all meant well.
You are looking away from me. It is hard for you to accept, yes? Times have changed, and today no parent would ever do what mine did. I was angry, too, for a very long time. Forgiveness... was never one of my strongest traits. And, of course, today we do not experiment on the living, and you are outraged to think that anyone would. But then, had they not, I would have died. So I tell you again that they meant well.
There used to be a saying, many generations ago; the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. It fell into disuse sometime after the wave of probes dispatched to seek out other life in our galaxy mostly failed to return. And the one that did return -- well, but you know that story. It is only that the words sum up so well the road they set me on.
If this were one of your vids, I would remember somehow every moment of every procedure. I do not. I was one year old, I know, when it began. I was six the last time I walked through the hospital doors, and healthy. It was a grey sort of day, and it seemed wrong to me, because I was happy. Or perhaps I only remember it so now. It does not make a difference.
I was happy, for a long time. I wanted a family, of course. Every foster home, I was an outsider. At every school, I was the new child, always a little behind. I wanted a home where I would stay put. Where I would know that my room would always be my room, and there would be no social worker to tell me I was going to yet another family. When I was ten, they found me one -- and I came full circle.
I was readopted by my own family, introduced to my own brothers and reunited with parents of whom I had no memory. It was every foster child's dream, of course. The parents who disappeared, reappearing to tell you they wanted you all along. It was ... overwhelming. Glorious and frightening and hard. Rougher than I can tell you. Harder than you can imagine, because it could never happen now.
For the next few years, things seemed to go smoothly. I was difficult, I think, the first year or so. I stole, I lied, I cheated on tests. All the things you do, when you're back with people who sent you away once before. I wanted to know if they would send me back, if I wasn't the perfect daughter they wanted. I might have been difficult longer, except that, that second year, I developed a tremor. Just a little, nothing big, a little shakiness first thing in the morning. A little weakness at night, when I was tired. But it frightened us, all of us. We panicked. I was rushed back to the hospital one evening for a series of tests; we were there all night and into the next day. The only thing that was new was that, this time, I wasn't there alone. The bleach-white room was a swirl of colours this time, full of flowers and balloons and visitors. But, more than that, my brothers missed school to keep me company, and my mother and father stayed, too. We drove the nurses crazy with the bustle and the squabbles. After that, though, I knew, and I could relax.
All their tests found nothing unusual, and eventually, the tremor disappeared. I went through the usual trials and tribulations of growing girls. But you are blushing already, and I will spare you those.