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Creative Nonfiction Teens & Young Adult Sad

Don’t you remember?

I was young, and the sun was yellow on the grass. We were chaotic children, traipsing with scraped knees and bulging pockets, in the meadow between the library and the brick museum with the two-headed lamb. I don’t remember the other tents on the edge, but I remember the cool of the shadow as I sat crisscrossed, slowly peeling leaves from the grass, as I listened. I don’t remember her face or her voice, but I remember the softness of her sheep and the warm wood of her wheel. And she gave us a clump of her wool to keep. But I forget until I touch it again.

For you, it is tangled lint that I should have thrown away years ago. You’re just trying to make me organized, make me into a neat child. And I don’t need it, there’s nothing I can use it for.

But for me, it is sunshine, warmth, softness, the curiosity of childhood, and the old ways surviving. All in a fuzzy pocket clump.

Do you remember this bracelet?

I’ve almost thrown it away a thousand times. It’s broken, and even if I tried to fix it, it wouldn’t fit any more. The shiny is peeling off the beads and it couldn’t have been more than 50 pesos. Only a dollar. But it is Rhealyn, Rosalyn, and Charmaine and when I thought they loved me. It is dangling our feet over the church balcony, over the red abandoned house next door, watching the wind swirl through the rice paddies. It is popcorn and movie nights every Saturday. When I thought maybe I wasn’t weird anymore. Maybe people could actually want me. People who weren’t my family. People who like me and who didn’t have to love me. Maybe, I could be someone beyond Alexie’s sister or Tom and Lisa’s daughter, “another one of those A girls.” It is my birthday, laughter, and playing Twister, and knowing exactly who to invite, and their present to me.

But it is also unexplained silence after, its thinking maybe they moved away but seeing them around town, it’s inviting and them not coming. It’s wondering what I did wrong, how I messed up, if any of it was even real. Or was it nice to watch movies and have free food and I was just the price they had to pay?

Six months of sitting shoulder to shoulder and then nothing.

Was I just an amusing oddity? A status symbol? Did they just want to brag that they had an American friend? If my skin was a different color, would they have even bothered?

It is a shadow spread over all the relationships afterwards. It is my sisters shutting everyone off as insincere.

But I was too desperate, too lonely. I knew that people talked to me because I was foreign, because of my skin and my height. But if they were talking to me, maybe eventually it would be more. People didn’t talk to me in the U.S. They talked to my sisters because they were pretty, active, exciting, and knew social signals. At least, here, I had a chance.

I didn’t know about the loan. About their brother asking you to pay 200 pesos for his school fee the next day. And how you said, “no”, because he waited until the last minute so you couldn’t give him a small job to pay for it and you wanted to be friends not wallets. I don’t know what I wanted you to do. Whether it would have been better to pay and keep it going but then it would have still been insincere. Either way, my friendship was only worth $4.

But I wish I would have known it wasn’t just me.

This bracelet is hope, heartbreak, and loneliness, and I can’t throw it away.

This? This is only a scrap of ridged cardboard, probably used to carry coffee before being tossed aside on a playground. But Yoyo wrote “Tree loves Miss Maxwell” on it and now it is her squinched up smile and Olivia’s giggles. It is walking back in the dark, sky pink with streetlights, lonely in a foreign city. I’m in over my head but still trying, and it’s worth it because I will see “my kids” again tomorrow. It’s Jessie teaching me Chinese. It’s Steve and Jack Chen’s hamster comics. It’s Sky diving through the layers of the earth for months after my geography classes. It’s love and childhood imagination. It’s thinking “Maybe one day, I do want to be a mom.”

It’s teaching and it’s not easy work but it’s good.

And it’s sobbing together in the parking lot after seeing pandas because, of course, I can’t stay and everything has to end. But, sometimes, when my heart is brave, I pull it out and remind myself that it happened. 

And I wish I could have done better. I could do better now. But that was my best back then and I gave them all of it. 

And I hope they carry the same excitement they did when they rushed me at recess about the “earthquake” crack in the playground when the news said nothing happened. We all grabbed our rulers and our geology notebooks, observing and hypothesizing until we realized it was probably from the hole for the new hotel next door. Or when they saw me writing in cursive and begged me to write them cursive alphabets to take home and teach their parents.

But they know I love them. And that is the most important thing.

And they loved me, too. Even if sometimes, they had a tree say it.

I’m scared because time keeps slipping and I can’t catch it in my head. Sometimes, it seems like yesterday, sometimes it feels like a story you read to me long ago in the red couch with the white coil phone.

You keep your time in order, trap it in tight calendar boxes.

I tuck my memories into objects. Keep them safe, I plead, don’t let me forget. Remind me.

Because I don’t know what I’ll remember. I still get irritated when people say butterflies come out of a cocoon, because I learned that cocoons are for moths, butterflies come from a chrysalis when I was 5 years old. But the teacher I worked with for two years, it was weeks trying to remember her name. I remembered her smile, remembered that she was nice, that her grandfather loved cardinals. I knew I knew it, but I couldn’t find it.

I am haunted by faces without names and names without faces. I know they were important, but I had nothing to hold them.

You like things clean and neat. “Spring cleaning” refreshes you, removing clutter, making a clear path. But it hollows me out.

I’m the one afraid and fighting “Over”, continuing the chapters in my head after the last page is read.

I remember the dress. I was new-18, coming back to the U.S., terrified of a nightmare of cardboard in a grocery store covering blood puddles, worried about my scholarship competition and being in college half the world away. I wanted to be a grown-up, to go past the awkward little girl, always sure I was doing something wrong. 

I was promised a teenage know-it-all phase and the bliss of ignorance, but I still haven’t received it.

But in my fear, at least, I would be there for my grandparent’s 50th wedding anniversary. Because those are important. And 51 isn’t the same, the numbers do matter. We can celebrate any day we want, and we still have holidays. Because when you set a day aside, it matters.

My Grammie gave me an emerald dress to wear to it. It was wool and long sleeves for the winter with lace around the collar and shoulder pads. It was pretty but it wasn’t new. That’s what made it important. She had gotten it for a date with my Papa before they were even married and now, they were almost at their 50th, too. It was my emerald princess dress, made me feel a little taller, a little steadier. 

I was carrying on a legacy.

But you said it was too old. That I kept dressing like a grandma. That I needed to dress more modern, $20 t-shirts that don’t look their price, shave my legs, and start using make-up. That you’re just trying to help. You don’t want me to be lonely. This is America. I need to fit in. But it made me feel pretty. And you threw it away.

We don’t always remember the same.

You don’t remember waking me up to put the soap away. It was on the bathroom sink, no dip or dish to put it in. You said it wasn’t that hard and moved it two inches. I still don’t understand the difference. You said it never happened. I remember it happened at least twice. It’s in the heaviness of my blankets and cracked ivory soap.

But I don’t remember growing alone in a house, making supper and changing my older brother’s sheets while he was out with his friends. I don’t know holding the whole house on my shoulders, having money, but a mom too busy to be at home, and a dad who never said, “I love you.”

But I once was in that tiptoe house, cold with air conditioning, dimmed by heavy curtains, no lines in the carpet and no room for my shoes.

I can imagine, where affection required perfection, bleaching yourself into acceptance, still tiptoeing around “no’s”, and waiting for nods, where the house had to be clean because you were good. It’s different. And I'm sorry.

Why would you carry rocks in your pockets? They’ll just tear up the washing machine. 

You don’t need it. 

It’s just a clump of lint.

But I tie myself to memories with things, so I don’t blow away and lose myself.

And I’ll keep gathering my wool.

July 30, 2022 02:55

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1 comment

Gloria Bartone
21:18 Aug 03, 2022

You use some very effective similes and netaphors. You seem to have a good grasp of the effect of words. I was still a bit confused, trying to decide if you were talking to a parent, lover or friend, but I liked the overall feeling you presented. I make typos so I never consider them unless they alter the meaning, like a misplaced comma could. It flows smoothly from thought to thought, and I love the ending. Keep on writing.

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