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Coming of Age




To build the perfect campfire you need to consider a few things to achieve rampant, bright flames. Practical people will look up how to build that perfect fire online. These lists on how-to-build a campfire will include words like, ultimate, perfect, and roaring. This implies that making fire is an act of power and demonstration, but it goes without saying that making a fire is to create a warmth around you to sustain comfort. Once you’ve committed to the steps of creating fire, your end result will be heat and luminosity. My Ya-ya was the beginning of the campfire, she is where the building began.


I was once a tiny piece of tinder in the matriarchal lineage in my family. Ya-ya told me once that when a girl is born, she is but an egg inside of her mother's body. The mother is also carried inside of the grandmother's body. I was inside of Ya-ya so many years ago waiting to join the rest of them. We were like those little nesting stacking dolls. We existed in the safety of Ya-ya’s body, one inside of the other until the lid's removal. We were safe in the dark until it was time to come into the light. 


Ya-ya was the foundation of our fire. The main kindling anchored to the ground prepared to teach her own daughter Amara how to set the world on fire. Building a campfire requires clear-cut elements in order for it to burn at just the right temperature. 


Ya-ya named her daughter- my mother, Amara. Her name meant grace or bitterness. Of course Ya-ya was hopeful that her only daughter would lean into the grace component of her name, and not so heavily into the bitterness. All good mothers have these types of wishes for their children. Mother, like any element moved through life in these exact two characteristics. Her fire either lit up the entire sky and heated bodies, or it blistered those who dared touch it. There was no middle ground, she was not a warming fire often leaving those of us around her to take two to three giant steps back. A good campfire shouldn’t burn too hot or too high up.


By no means was she a teenage mother as I arrived three days after her twentieth birthday. My arrival left my mother feeling suffocated with smoke. A baby means a mother's light should shine brighter. I didn't bring radiance to my mother the way that her own flare illuminated Ya-ya. Instead I barged into her world wet and all sorts of messy with a sudden need to be the tiny tinder bundle held up by her. According to the campfire lists, tinder catches fire fast. Wet tinder does not.


I remained nameless for four days after I was born. My sturdy and precocious greek Ya-ya persuaded my mother to name me.


“Alina, it means light. She will bring you great brightness, daughter. Look at the violet in her eyes, such beauty.”


The naming of a baby is significant. It says, this is what I see for you little one.

The first Mother's Day gift I ever made was a yellow sun with big eyes, with a smile from accordion creased rays.


I wrote on the back, “You are my sunshyne mommy!”


“Alina, you spelled sunshine wrong.”


I tried so hard to give my mother light, but she showed no interest in my brightness, sparking more than her very own. 


Mother placed the cumbersome piece of art in the buffet drawer in the informal living room. My love was not allowed to burn for my mother. It was Ya-ya that snuck the sun from the drawer into her room, and taped it to the mirror on her vanity. Ya-ya had a way of moving the light to right where it belonged, in places more visible. I was often blinded by the golden love she exuded into our family. A good campfire allows people to gather around and gives warmness to all who share in it.


Ya-ya would say, “Alina. It is up to you to gather what you need to blaze your own path. But know this, there is a fine balance between scorched earth and warmed hearts.”


Ya-ya always held my love in a safe dry space. She carried me through life in the same way that she carried my life in her body, like seasoned firewood she needed to keep out of the elements in case of potential ruin. Ya-ya knew what happened the last time a fire in the family was not contained. “Only you can prevent forest fires,” is what all the campfire sites say.


When Ya-ya died the connection between the matriarchs was put out. My mother became the bucket of water in which my natural light was dimmed. Ya-ya never did tell us that she was the control line between me and my mother, or how to contain a wildfire. To put out a campfire one must sprinkle water on top of it if there is even the remote chance someone might use the campfire ground in the future. Sprinkle the water, do not dump.


*******


I regretted nothing. There was likely plenty to regret in the eyes of others, my mother for example. She’d say that the muddled tribal tattoo on the small of my back was me signing my name to the “I’m a tramp,” sign-up sheet. Not that she could talk.


“Hey. My name is Alina. I’m here to sign up for derelict behavior and the frequent bouts of nudity with random strangers.” Amara convinced herself that this is how I lived my life now that Ya-ya was gone.


Amara used to be a fiery brightness. Somehow she still marked us all as a darkened pile of ash with her words. The wildfire that roared in her when Ya-ya was alive lulled, as there was no longer any terrain to fight against. Wildfires cannot catch, if there isn’t anything for it to burn.


In all my 26 years of life I thought of all the times I could have chosen regret and I came up empty handed. The way that the wind rushes through your hands when the windows of the car are down. Although that air comes like a force there’s no way to catch hold of it when it blows through your fire. Ya-ya showed me how to keep the fire going even if the winds came. 


Amara told me to regret the guy that slept on my couch for 3 months rent free. What she failed to understand was that this guy was instrumental in my healing. He told me my eyes were as blue as the ice trays in his grandma's freezer. I learned later that his grandma loved Pepsi on cubed ice every night at 6pm when her programs came on. I didn’t love him. I loved the proximity of the luminous love for his grandmother. Ya-ya never told me that I could see a fire from very far away without feeling it’s warmth.


He loved fetching the trays from the small icebox. Popping ice cubes into a frosty glass was a visual I needed. It showed me that not all things that have the potential to extinguish are bad. His love language was saitiating thirst. He'd fill retro colored blue ice trays to say I love you. One look at my eyes told me he wanted to fill my heart with more water than my body was already made up of. Every campfire needs an emergency water source. My mother saw him as a damp tinder. I saw him as a time to rehydrate myself.


“Mother-Amara, I know you don’t understand why I want to do this. It’s okay that you don’t.” 


I dropped my shoulder to the hallway wall. Preparing Amara for the months that led up to my departure brought no peace to her or to myself. The campfire building lists suggest placing the back of your hand near the ashes of the fire. You must check for embers. Careful not to actually touch the ashes, one must stay put if there is even the tiniest bit of orange or heat. It’s not until the fire is completely put out that you can leave it. Amara made the mistake of not checking me for embers, and relinquished any notion she might have at getting me to stay.


“At least if you stay here, we will have each other.” It was her last ditch effort to keep me.


“I know you think that suffering together is much better than suffering alone but I can’t stay here. It’s too hard without Ya-ya.” 

Our fires had burned one another out, it was time to leave this fire bed alone and move the ashes elsewhere. Wildfires can burn one another out.


********


I placed my worn sneakers on the side railing of the semi truck as I lowered myself down onto the semi frozen ground.


“Miss, you know there’s no light out here. Nothing. A bear comes and there is no one to call for help. You’ll have to truck your own food and water in.”


He didn’t say his name was Carl, but his logging shirt tipped me off. The cab of the truck smelled of limonene and apricots. A funny mixture that was an attempt to mask engine oil and tobacco. Carl means to make a point about darkness as a warning. His glasses showed me the tiniest glimmer of the moon amidst the blackness around us. 


I could see that it was dark. The dark is what I came for anyhow. Darkness can be a penance if you let it be. According to the how-to campfire lists you’re not to leave a fire bed full of old ashes. It seemed only right to gather Ya-ya’s ashes up and spread her around the soil here, as I was her last burning ember prepared to patch up new ground and lay a new fire.


May 08, 2021 00:16

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14 comments

H L Mc Quaid
19:42 May 10, 2021

Really quite trippy, and I liked it. The imagery, and contrasts, and some of writing was like poetry. One small thing, a few times mothers should have an apostrophe (mother's) when it's possessive (eg. my mother's body).

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Shea West
19:55 May 10, 2021

Thank you, I need that eagle eye too. I mentioned to someone above that I started this story and stopped it about 30 times and then pounded it out on Friday before the deadline. So I'll go back and check those out, as I'm not shocked I missed those! Thanks Heather :)

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Claire Lindsey
16:34 May 10, 2021

I love the campfire imagery in this one, the way it ties the whole story together. And I especially liked how it’s contrasted with Alina’s bf, whose descriptive element is water. You do an excellent job of showing the complex relationship between these three fiery women. It’s a really touching and vivid story. Nice work!

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Shea West
16:54 May 10, 2021

Thank you Claire. I must've rewritten this one about 5 times, and then almost didn't even post it. I'm working on leaning into sharing stuff even if it doesn't feel like it's the best. Thank you for your read and words!

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Shea West
04:09 May 08, 2021

Super rough. Heavy grit sandpaper needed😂 Editing will commence manana!

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Nina Chyll
14:57 May 13, 2021

A very extended metaphor indeed! I would watch it closely as it drifts through the story to make sure it really all gels together. I can’t point to anything in particular that I found jarring, but I feel like there were moments I had pangs of doubt because of something I’d read before and it didn’t quite add up. Other than that, it’s a very cool story, both warm like the fire and cold like the water that puts it out. I love the name yaya, I think it’s the best generic grandma name ever. You have a very special type of sensitivity in your s...

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Shea West
15:38 May 13, 2021

Nina you really expressed something that lingered with me after I finished this story. There was part of it that felt simple and easy to write and there others that felt more clunky. I admit I struggled like the biggest struggle bus of all time while writing LOL. I have always loved the moniker Ya-ya! In my loose research it's typically a name used for Greek grandmothers. Your last bit of praise is so significant to me, thank you. It's comments like those that encourage me to keep trying at this whole writing thing!

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Nina Chyll
16:03 May 13, 2021

Stick at it no matter what, you've got a very gentle touch which not many people can pull off, going instead for heavy-handed fiction with lots of blows and twists. I feel like I could do with a lot more softness in my writings so I envy you immensely because none of yours seems forced! I think if you do ever get back to this particular story, write out what the wildfire / campfire / ember / glow / water is in your story, trying to cram all the meanings you can find, and see if any of them conflict at all.

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Shea West
17:10 May 13, 2021

You just gave me a good challenge to come back to this story at some point. I'm such an extrovert in real life, but in my line of work I'm able to find varying levels of gentleness with the human spirit. I think that might be where it comes from. Many thank you's!

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Larry Rhoton
13:50 May 12, 2021

Great story, I enjoyed the contrasts, it was a delightful story. This is great writing, you should be proud of yourself, GREAT JOB!

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Shea West
14:36 May 12, 2021

Hey thanks Larry!

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Yolanda Wu
04:36 May 11, 2021

Wow, this was such a beautiful story, Shea! I found myself totally entranced by the protagonist's narration, and the delicately-crafted relationships between the characters. You perfectly captured the love between the main character and her Ya-ya, as well as her mother through the light imagery and the campfire. Like Claire said, I love how the fire imagery contrasts with her boyfriend's descriptions relating to water. Your writing is so beautiful, yet so real and poignant, but that last sentence rekindled a new spark of hope! Wonderful work...

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Shea West
15:56 May 11, 2021

Thank you so much Yolanda. I have a strong fascination with the family dynamic between women. I can't say I completely understand all of the nuances of these dynamics, but sometimes in writing I like to explore what I think it might mean. Your feedback is so generous thank you!!!

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Yolanda Wu
22:44 May 11, 2021

Yeah, sometimes you don't quite know, but I think you captured it perfectly!

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