There’s a girl padding down her brick walkway, smiling and hugging her hands to herself as she rises up the steps of her front porch. In my momentary insanity, I want to call out to her because she looks familiar, she looks like photos framed on a black piano back ten miles; she looks like me. Blonde curls frame her face like the white sand of tropical beaches and her eyes shimmer not with any particular color—a dull gray— but rather they shimmer with the watery kaleidoscopic lenses of adolescence, the way kids will look at their father and see a tall, god-like figure of all knowledge, feel security and absolute safety in the arms that lift them, raises them above the roof and the sky.
I long for those lenses. I’m only fifteen yet I feel like one big shard of glass split from a large mirror showing the bigger picture that I can never see again, and as I get older the cracks only widen until one day I’ll be sitting in a nursing home nursing my own self-hatred disguised as loneliness like a cup of tea in my graying hands, remembering what it felt like to be a little girl walking down, down on the brick steps and down into the blades of grass that weave between my toes, down with the snakes and the beatles on a July afternoon with the sun setting and taking the moist heat with it, leaving only the scent of wildflowers and cool breezes
I want to call out to her. She’s watching me bike past and it’s so easy to pretend that we’re the same, that somehow I managed to petal so hard and sweat and cry so deeply that the tears took me back ten years, back to those lenses, staring at a girl in an oversized dress who smiles with her eyes rather than the gaps in her teeth.
She watches me and I can’t imagine what she sees; my pink, sweating face, hunched over the handles of my back and perched on the stiff seat as if grinding over a factory machine, the cranks and screws and the wheels and my fingers clasped around thin rubber and my feet pushing into the pedals as if I’m part of it, my hot palms melting the handles and letting in burn my skin and bruise my bones until the skin grows around the cauterized wounds and I can never separate myself from the metal monster. I wonder if she noticed the messy cut of my hair, the misshapen slopes of my eyebrows they used to tease me for in school, the way I pile on my clothes like they’ll hide the rolls of my skin as I hunch so far over my chin is level with cracked concrete. I wonder if she notices the way my clothes are one door over from fashionable, trends old and worn and mixed together in a mess of a draping shirt and old jeans; I could never keep up well enough to be noticeable for my clothes and my looks. Instead, I was always frayed, fingernails chipped and skin scraped from disasters on skateboards.
I wonder if she’ll see the delicate skin around my eyes puffy red, the same gray of my eyes matching hers but darker, the light color of them rimmed with a black outline that only grows thicker every day, growing darker along with the purple smears of insomnia under my eyes. I look at her pure, light eyes and think about my own, the way my eyes look a shade closer to my parents every day, darkening and darkening until one day they’ll be light glimmer on an oil lake, lights in the form of flecks shining down from heaven but incapable of breaching the void.
I wonder if she thinks I’m free because I’m on my own. I wonder if I think that, if I pretend my solitude is security in the form of harsh breezes blowing at my baby hairs. If because I’m alone on this boulevard, along with her, that I’m free.
I remember being her, being young and safe, being caged and looking out to the people biking or skating down with earbuds shoved in their head and their faces a tragedy of a renaissance painting, a scene from a movie; light shining down on their harsh figure set at the center of the frame, the setting sun behind them and illuminating their agony for everyone in this damn world to see, but it didn’t even seem to matter to them.
No, that’s not it; it mattered to them. It mattered to them because they seemed the types that everything would matter to, the frogs jumping in the reflections of street lamps in smeared puddles, the crumpled body of a dandelion. These are the things that mattered to them, and they looked at everything at once with their puffy eyes, as if begging for someone to reach out to them, begging for someone to just look at them and pluck their melted hand from the handle of the bike and hold it and say, “I see you.”
I think she sees that. I think I am them now, the shard of my figure shrinking, splintering—when I was young I wanted to be those people because those people knew how to feel freely, they knew how to laugh like it would be their last and cry like it was their first time. But now that I’m here, that I’ve reached the crest of the wave of my dreams and wants, I want to stop this bike, reach out my stiff fingers and pull on the brakes, and I want to call out to her, to me, because the only thing that can happen now that I am at the top is the fall.
But what would I say? The stupid adults are right, for once, and you’ll find this is the one thing that they’re ever, ever right about; you need to enjoy it, kid. Take those kaleidoscope irises and look at everything like the next day you’ll wake up without eyes; take in the sounds like the next day you’ll be deaf, taste that candy, smear it around your lips and allow it to stain your teeth like you’ll lose your sense of taste because adults are wrong about a lot of things but one thing they’re right about is that you should dread the day the sad songs resonate.
I want to tell her that it might look like the older kids in your school are what you want, with their perfect hair and their cool clothes, but their all shards from the same mirror you are and the older anyone gets the more they splinter, the more they lose the pieces of themselves that fall away and can’t ever grow back, and right now, kid, you’re the biggest shard in the whole building. That you should wear your jagged edges and cuts and bruises with pride because one day they’ll be pink and puckered scars that you won’t remember getting.
I want to tell her that growing up is great until you actually do it, because we’re all big wounds that can’t be healed, and every day you wake up in this world you bleed just a bit more until you’re drowning in it, and even getting the hell away from the house and your family and your problem won’t solve it because every inch of you is the wound and my dear, you’re bleeding. I want to tell her that the only thing that happens when you get bigger is that you get better at hiding the fact that you don’t know what you’re doing, and that your dad doesn’t know anything because he’s a boy in a suit that finally fits him right, dreams on his back and chains around his neck, and he’s the master at hiding it. Tell her that your mom is just a girl who cries because she can’t remember how to laugh like she means it, she drinks because she can’t feel if she doesn’t, and feeling pain so stiff that it makes it hard to breathe is so much better than not feeling at all; they aren’t mom and dad, they aren’t mama and papa, they aren’t mommy and daddy, they are just two stupid kids whose backs are breaking from the weight of pretending to know everything and their eyes are so dark because looking for a way out that doesn’t end up with a casket and a recent photo is an impossible search without ending. And one day both of our eyes will look the same.
I want to tell her that the only thing you learn as you get bigger is that you don’t know anything at all and no matter how hard you grasp for solutions they’ll slip between your hands and the adults will put on a sad smile and a hand on your back and say, “Life’s not fair,” because they know that feeling like an old friend, and that hopelessness has seared it’s mark into their irises, replacing the kaleidoscope.
I want to tell her I know her. That not knowing someone’s name doesn't mean you don’t know them, because at this moment, this very moment, I know who she sees me as, and I know she wants to take my place but I want to shake her little shoulders and tell her to go enjoy her day because every day is sacred when you want to wake up the next morning. I want to make her lemonade that’s a perfect combination of sour and sweet and read her the books my father read to me, sitting on the back porch and rocking her in my lap as she shifts and laughs and stares at the pages for the pictures. I want to tell her all the things I had to learn from pieces of people that they abandoned, all the little things that add up to the mirror that everything comes from, and maybe because she’s closer to it than I could ever be again she can tell me what really lies in the reflection. I want her to have honesty that isn’t for the sake of cruelty and a place she can turn to rather than shoving her fears down, so that when she’s in a dress or a suit that finally fits and she realizes that the kaleidoscope is gone and she doesn’t know where it went, we can sit on the porch with the books and the lemonade and try our best to remember.
Because that’s all I ever wanted.
She stares at me and I stare at her and I will all of this in one gaze. Three seconds is the extent of our interaction, but my life passes between the space separating us, the expanse of my pain and hers coming from both directions, mixing and melding in the air, waving and writhing like the air above hot cement. Three seconds that I’ll think about for the rest of my life and she’ll think of for the rest of hers, and I hope she takes a piece of what I shared with her and holds it close on the nights that the darkness bounces off the walls and shatters her sense of safety, the kind of fear that not even hiding under the blankets can chase away.
And with one final conviction, I whisper the words, “Remember me.” Because my parents don’t know me, my friends don’t know me, but this girl knows me and when I’m old and shaking in that nursing home I want her to storm the building like it’s an insurrection and I’m the president, and I want her to wheel me out of there and my hair will shine white and hers will still be blonde and though her eyes will be darker than they are now they’ll still be lighter than mine. And she’ll rock me on the swaying bench with her foot as she reads me stories, reminding me of the summers that have passed. And like a cricket, I’ll hop from this life to the next without a sound, and she’ll continue rocking, rocking, crying for the woman she knew and that knew her, crying for another spirit lost, another shard from the mirror ground to dust, crying and rocking . . .
She clutches her hands as she watches me go, and when our gazes break I allow the swelling tears to fall like a crescendo pittering off the sheet music.