A few days before my boyfriend’s birthday, I asked him to attend a reading of my work at the Story Cafe of Grand Rapids. Hosted by both the lovely Marsha and just as lovely Annette, this cafe has grown to be one of my favorite stomping grounds just outside the city. Their support of artists, writers, poets, musicians, actors and filmmakers has been an utter inspiration to me which, in turn, bestowed upon me an idea for Nick’s special day.
After practicing a pseudo piece to Nick a few times in the days ahead, I was certain he was completely unaware of what I actually wrote for him…not to mention that I would be reading that piece in front of a room full of people. And so last night, surrounded by Nick’s family, my friends, my employers and other kind strangers, I faced my fear of public speaking.
Suddenly everything became clear. My voice slowed down. My hands stopped shaking. It was in this brief but bittersweet sliver in time, after meeting Nick’s eyes across the room, that the rest of the world disappeared. There was only him. And me. And my words. And I mean it when I say that this was one of the most beautiful and breathtaking moments of my entire existence.
So here is the piece I wrote for Nick…my boyfriend, my best friend and one of my greatest loves:
“Then there was the darkness.
A steering wheel through my father’s chest. Polished plastic into the bones beneath my mother’s face. Over broken glass and bodies bent backward, an ever-widening puddle. Thick like syrup, we floated out into an always-ebbing ocean. Small spirals that wrapped tightly around our ankles. Slowly solidifying cords that snaked through my lips and between the gaps in my teeth. With an intimate ache that surged up from the fluid around my feet, I watched my parents prolapse. Yet into my raft I cowered, and in my raft I stayed. And through the sea of boiling blood, I reached out my hand and touched the face of Death.
What once was white was now, and always would be, red. Smeared and coalescent; so viciously red. And as Death fell to the boat beside me, laid next to me and wrapped his arms around me, I knew I was going home. For it was there, I was sure, that the hollowness would be whole. Where the mutilated would be mended. Where the ribs would be replaced and the teeth would be collected. I would one day return to the season before Death found me…before he ripped into me and ruined me. However small, there was hope for home. There was faith that my father would come back for me.
But still dawned the darkness. Still swelled the sea. And I grew to be a callous girl. An exasperated and volatile girl, long lost between two tiers of concrete and cartilage. For the hope had faded. Vigorously and thoroughly, the belief was buried.
Emotion became difficult. Affection felt strange. Love seemed, all at once, both alien and ignorant. And this filled me with a very irrevocable and endless frustration…and left me feeling disabled in such a way that my heart longed to die another dozen deaths out at sea. For I was but a ghost. A shadow drifting atop a burning Buick. And all I could see, over and over and over again, was the side of civilization as it sunk into the surf.
Thus I lived a life that thrived on feeling nothing. For those of my past that tried to love me only inconvenienced me…and infinitely infuriated me, driving me to a depression much deeper than the darkness that surrounded me at sea. Yet still I was driven to understand love. Still I was determined to find that which I had not been able to find in another person.
And so I carried on against the tide, solitary and saturated with mucus, and tried to love with everything that crawled out from that car accident. With fingernails still caked by blood and soft gashes like tiny crescents at my temples, I rowed myself to shore. For the ocean would always call out to me…it would always want for me…but it wasn’t until you that I knew Death was not the one for me.
Still was the time and empty was the hour before you. The wake of the world slicing through serotonin. The climax of existence. The culmination of eternity. I knew very little before you, and that which I knew meant nothing.
And as the rain rolled across the earth…shadows stretching long across frozen fields and withering streams, I felt your hand in mine. Rain into snow into ash. Gentle waves of mania that washed over my waist and burrowed into my back. Little leaves that floated down from the hills and rested delicately on my shoulders. There was nothing left for me along the cove…for what life was to be lived without you?
For it was you who found me.
A husk. A shell. A casualty. You pulled me from what was to be the beginning of my end. You took what was barely left of me to the window and, for the first time in all my life, I saw the sun. Soft, yellow rays that smoothed over my skin and tunneled deep into my pores. Together we met the morning.
It was then that I fought the dark.
It was at that moment that I crawled out over cracked pavement and clumps of hair.
And it was there that I found the strength to walk alongside he who I loved…in the light.
For though I may sometimes still be blind, you gave me something to see.
Though still I may be hard, you showed me to be soft.
And though most of me died twenty-two years ago both in that car and beside the ocean…you gave me a reason to live.
I am reborn. I am released. I am rescued. Because of you I am alive.
I am alive.
I am alive.
I am finally alive.”