Category Archives: Nostalgia

Teacup Reminder

It’s just a cup hanging there. It’s one of the last few that Jackie gave me.

It can be filled with delicious bitter coffee or a small serving of wine. Or it could be a reminder of how much time I spend here, a huge chunk of my life.

It will probably fade into the periphery of my vision and observation. That’s the problem with so many of our keepsakes and possessions.

I’ve left these cups in a variety of places. To mark my temporary presence, to take a picture and remember.

I’ll run out of teacups. But I won’t forget Jackie or the moments the tea cups mark. Most people think they have an infinite number of teacups and moments.

X
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You Want Personal? A Rusty Nail Is All I Need 2.0

Before reading this post, you should read the original post from 2014, at least on this website.:

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My favorite cousin and a friend conspired to make me this etch-a-sketch rendition of my grandparent’s porch. It was a beautiful and creative piece of work, one which I loved. Such personalized gifts are rare indeed in this life.

It was destroyed in a fit of anger. Not by me, of course. That I would dare to write about it might trigger a couple of people. It’s my tarnished truth to share.

The strange thing is this: I’m different than most people. A memory of a thing is just as precious as the ‘thing’ itself. The destruction of this beautiful gift only amplified the memory. That someone let anger gain so much control of them is unfortunate; they were possessed by the demon of a lesser god. I didn’t feel anger when I saw that someone had destroyed it. I felt only disappointment. It’s a reminder that anger is relative and that its justification is a sign of a larger problem. No matter what someone has done, it is very hard for me to imagine letting myself destroy something so personal and precious to spite another person. Or let someone else do so. Even if I deserved it or – or even if they do. Anger is the worst filter for reason. It justifies everything in its wake. It is one of the slippery slopes of life. I watched as my parents and a few other family members allowed that to consume them.

Regardless, the loss of this reminded me that everything is transitory. We don’t really own anything, no matter how many decades we clutch them close. It will also be lost, destroyed, or left behind when we depart this world.

All of it.

No eternal monuments can or ever will be erected because the Earth itself is limited by the laws of physics.

I still have the picture of the shadow box and etch-a-sketch.

Until recently, after a couple of near losses, I still had the rusty nail. It grew to become my most prized keepsake and possession.

Now, I have a picture of it.

I have passed it along to someone who might appreciate the depth of my giving it away. I placed it inside a collectible silver cigarette case, one which was salvaged and saved from the wreckage and the remains of another life. A cigarette case in itself has meaning to the person who is receiving the nail.

I did the same with my hand-transcribed copy of Ecclesiastes and a couple of other of my remaining treasures.

I don’t plan on departing soon. That itself is part of the lesson. I will one day, perhaps tomorrow. All the things that I find to be precious will be treasured no more. None of my precious things were valuable per se. Their worth only exists because I see it and experience it.

I’m passing along the rusty nail to my sister Marsha. She’s had a rough life. Even if she doesn’t treasure the nail and its anchor into my memory the same way that I did and do, I will release it into the world for it to find new appreciation or not.

I have this picture of the nail, one I will treasure. It’s not the nail. But the nail itself wasn’t the experience I shared when grandpa and my uncles put the porch swing up.

I hope she understands that it truly represents everything in myself that I find to be worthy.

Grandpa was an incredibly hard man when he was younger. I didn’t know him when he was full of piss and vinegar. And alcohol and violence.

It’s just a nail.

It will soon be in the hands of my sister Marsha.

I’m just a man.

But everything is so much more than the simple sum of us.

I don’t want to preach the idea of minimalism and appreciation for moments and people and fail to live it.

It’s all an illusion. Things are not us.

We need each other more than we will ever need a house filled with gadgets and keepsakes.

Love, X

P.S. My wife who died, Deanne, years ago while I was working one Saturday, she decided to clean. Though the nail was in a special box, she threw it away. I had to empty the dumpster for an entire apartment complex to find it. That too became part of the long story of “the nail.”

Already The Past

Already The Past

The headline is I have covid. None of my symptoms have been unmanageable. I, of course, have had every available shot. Not counting the tranquilizer darts at work, the ones they hit me with when I’m overactive. I would like to say I’ve been taking it easy. But that’s not the case. One of my memories on social media this morning is of me standing in the mirror, taking a picture of my huge scar a year ago. One of my principal complaints, other than being alive still, was that I couldn’t take long walks because of the surgery. Unfortunately, my scar has faded. I don’t ever imagine that I’ll forget the anxiety of waiting for my bowels to start working again. It’s one of those things that’s hard to explain to someone who’s never experienced it.

I woke up this morning around 1:00 and decided that today would be the day for an ultra-long walk. It’s been glorious. With no plan in mind, I set out walking, having decided I would walk until I couldn’t anymore. Even if that required an Uber to get back. It’s been a while since I’ve done that. The days are blazing hot, but the mornings are always filled with a light breeze and the dead quiet of early morning Fayetteville. This city is an entirely different place once all the bustle dies down.

Yesterday morning during a decently long walk, two young people came into my sphere. Against my better judgment, I intervened right on the street on Sycamore. A domestic dispute and a baby were involved. I bluffed the young man involved. He seemed to listen to me. But I thought about them on and off the rest of the day. Lord, to be that young again when everything seems to be a life-or-death situation!

After a few miles, I crested the interstate. I stopped only for a minute to watch the scattered vehicles pass under me. It’s a little bit zen to do that at 3:00 in the morning. That was a handful of miles back, and it already seems like yesterday.

I walked along the road that leads to Mount Comfort, remembering the scarcity of that stretch just a few short years ago. At the outset of the walk, I listened to music, but after a couple of dozen songs, I pulled off my headphones and let the night sounds be my melody.

Recently I got the great news that perhaps my dead cousin Jimmy might have a daughter he never knew about. The possibility makes me happy. Both for the daughter in question and the memory of Jimmy. He would have been over the moon to find out he had a daughter. I can’t help but overlap the memories in my mind, remembering the feeling of finding out I had a sister I never knew about for 45 years. It’s just biology, of course. Family is mostly who we choose. I would love to have all the people who died sit with me in a room with food, coffee, and probably a few shots of whiskey. I shared my massive family tree with the potential daughter. I try to imagine what it would be like to go online and see a full history of a family you never knew you had. Just like I try to imagine my cousin Jimmy laughing in that special way he did when something tickled the crap out of him.

I can almost hear it here in the darkness.

The long straight stretch of Deane Street was deceptive. After crossing under the interstate and traversing the 90° turn, I could see the lights far ahead of me at Garland, and they seemed to be closer than they were. It’s a beautiful stretch of road in the darkness. The small lazy crescent moon, the aura of city lights along the cusps of the horizon, and the ear-shattering chirp of September insects. It’s somewhere around 1.5 miles along that straight stretch. That surprised me. Distance, like memory, is deceptive.

I think I will remember this morning for years to come. I hope it won’t be my last ultra-long walk. But I don’t take my stamina for granted anymore. All of us stand as witnesses to people being surprised by the mechanics of their bodies failing.

Regardless, I will have the memory. And that’s what life is mostly about, stripped away of the exciting intervals.

My cat Güino was unimpressed by my long walk. He demanded cat juice upon my return and then seemed to judge me for being absent for several hours.

Love, X
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Arrogance Of Circumstances

It is true my apartment, absent my presence and decorations, has the ambiance of a Yugoslavian prison camp.

However, I don’t remember riches being a prerequisite
for great ideas. My grandma Nellie had very little education and never a lot of money. Yet some of the wisest words and kindest gestures of affection came from her and spoke to my heart and mind. It’s true she often threatened to box my jaws or get a switch after me. Unlike others in my life, she didn’t do so unless it was one of those rare occasions I wasn’t listening to her. It was an amazing example and juxtaposition to experience her brand of loving discipline in comparison to my mercurial and unpredictably violent parents. Grandma was always poor. But the place and home I hold dearest in my heart throughout my entire life was a shotgun house built with tar paper and tin roof.

To discount someone or insult them based on the condition of their living space is to negate any possibility of being open to learning from any source. To do so is to inadvertently reveal an understandable but also snobby attitude. I’m living proof that profound things can come from the dumbest person. Besides, if you don’t have someone like me to roll your eyes at, it is tantamount to being iron-deficient.

My place is better for my presence. Weirder, too. Improved, though, simply because I don’t believe that one’s current living situation is necessarily a reflection of their personality or character. It’s true I sometimes forget this and catch myself making presumptions about those who live in such places.

Any of us can lose everything at any moment. Or have to start over.

Given that I’m poor, it’s a good thing that I live so much in my own head.

Love, X

PS The picture wasn’t originally in color. It’s of my maternal grandparents. They aren’t happy in this picture. Though I don’t trust my memory, I believe it was taken at the house near White Cemetery, the one that preceded the happy place that I recall with love and fondness…
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“I Can’t Believe I’m Here!”

The now and before coalesce together into memories.

Deanne used to drive me crazy. She was an animal person and never met a cat she didn’t love. That sometimes meant we had eight or more feral cats outside the trailer in Johnson. My job was to find homes for them, or pay the adoption fees to help ensure they’d find a home.

Deanne was kind-hearted but also brashly aggressive when she wanted to be. I knew better than to complain too much about buying a bushel of cat food and hauling it home.

I have dozens of pictures of the cats she “adopted.” Some of them, I do remember the names she gave them. She named them all.

The first picture is of her and a human cat. She loved that picture of her. We were at our favorite cabin and accidentally participated in a parade near Holiday Island.

The second picture is of her and Travellin’ Jack, a local homeless cat that initially hated everyone. Travellin’ Jack could jump 15 feet in the air. Deanne domesticated it, and I paid the adoption fee and went and met the new owners afterward. Jack ended up a couple of blocks over from where I would live next. I saw him a few times on my walks in my next life and always thought of her being responsible for him still being alive.

The third picture is of her and my deceased cousin Jimmy’s labs. She always sat where animals could reach and nuzzle her.

The fourth picture is of her discovering a cat near the library. She lost interest in the outing entirely to pet the cat until it was damn near bald.

The fifth picture is of her with a “few” snacks for the birds at the hospital. It could be 10 degrees, and she’d say, “Those birds need us.”

The sixth picture is the last one ever taken of her. She’s looking off into the distance.

The next picture is of us in Mexico on the first morning. She was the baby of the family and worked hard to get to be able to take a trip she never imagined she could. “I can’t believe I’m here!” she kept saying.

She’s been looking off into the distance now for 15 years.

I always drone on about forgetting the lesson she left me.

If you have a secret Mexico, you better get off your ass and do it now.

Any of us could wake up one morning to find that everything that once was is no more.

Don’t wake me up when September ends: make me appreciate the fact that time is limited, stuff is nonsense, and we need to stop anchoring ourselves needlessly.

“I can’t believe I’m here!” might be the best possible attitude you can have, even if your day is just drinking coffee and sitting on the couch. You’re here, and that’s a lot more than we should take for granted.

Love, X

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What A Life!

What a beautiful morning. Despite the rain and lightning moving in, I went outside and started hanging more painted tiles on my fence project. This week, I painted 20+ more tiles and a couple of dozen wood samples to attach to my out-of-control art project out there. It was sublime feeling the wind howl through the vertical slats of the fence boards and the light rainfall across my face and neck. I woke up with a reservoir of energy and enthusiasm. Nature repaid me with its light caresses as I stood there in the dark, loaded with washers, screws, and tiles leaning against the old boards. I know I looked foolish, standing there with no shirt on, smiling. The temperature dropped 10-15 while I was out there feeling the storm front coalesce above me.

I missed a couple of phone calls last night. I called my sister back around 4 a.m. She, of course, didn’t answer. I hope she’s fixing her hair. I know that such an endeavor will take her literal hours. Lord help all the people who don’t have their do-not-disturb turned on. Everyone lives a different life and schedule. I wake up with the same enthusiasm at 2 a.m. that I have at 4 p.m.

I thought about my cousin Jimmy’s son Noah. Jimmy died nine years ago, which seems like a lifetime ago. Noah is graduating as valedictorian of his high school class. I can’t help but imagine how proud Jimmy would be – and that Noah is going to college. Jimmy would want his son to be happy much more than he’d worry about finishing college. As someone who died in his early forties, Jimmy would be right to do so. So many plans, so many assumptions about the seemingly endless days ahead to love, laugh, and do the things that are within our grasp. It’s been quite a while since I’ve seen Noah. He’s grown unimaginably and has the youthful looks of someone who reminds me of a young Matthew McConaughey. I hope he keeps that handsomeness. Otherwise, he’ll grow into a jowly-cheeked Englishman like his grandfather, my Uncle Buck.

In the graduation picture, Noah is the one on the right. (ha!) The woman on the left is Alissa, my cousin Jimmy’s widow. They were married about a month before he died. I could write endlessly about the complexities of that, and of lives forcibly derailed by an unexpected circumstance. It’s a lesson I know too well. I’ll limit myself to saying that if you want something, grab that sh!t while you can. Tomorrow is never promised and plans for the future are all predicated on the false belief that there is always time and that youth is our protector. The other picture is from 2004 when Noah was a beautiful little baby. Jimmy and I had such fun watching Noah’s mind react to shenanigans. He smiled a LOT.

I included a picture of Noah’s mom from the first time I met her at my trailer in Johnson, in the part of my life I refer to as ‘the before.’ It didn’t work out with her and Jimmy. They had chemistry. Jimmy had many demons that would have made it almost impossible for her to make him happy. It’s no disrespect to Jimmy’s memory to share that truth. The Terry side of the family unfortunately is prone to shattering opportunities by succumbing to vices. Jimmy, like the rest of us, could sabotage the best things.

As the rain started, I looked up to the apartments. One of my neighbors had covered the railings with sheets. I went and pulled them down and took them to the dungeon/laundry room and stuffed them in the dryer and turned it on. When the neighbors exit and see that their sheets are missing, I’m going to say, “The Fayetteville police just issued another warning to advise everyone that the Infamous Sheet Bandit is up to hooliganism again. I saw him take the sheets.” I might as well use my act of consideration as justification for a little verbal pranking. I’ll let them think their sheets are missing for a couple of minutes before letting them know what I did. After the wife goes back inside to tell her family about the Infamous Sheet Bandit. It’s Fayetteville and such a miscreant may be indeed running loose on these streets.

I took a picture of my right hand a couple of days ago. Ribald interpretations aside (I’m left-handed, by the way), putting almost a thousand screws into boards in the last couple of weeks using only hand tools has given me an artists’ scar, one of tough callouses in the palm of my hand.

I rescued a really old tiny rocking chair from the hospital dumpster a couple of weeks ago. I don’t have the skills to make it beautiful. But I do have the enthusiasm to fix it and paint it and give it new life for a child I know. I so badly want to paint it a beautiful rich color. We have enough unadorned and practical things in life.

Though it’s not done, I also added another picture of my dead tree project. I put one living branch on it, as well as three bright songbirds. Since I’m a fan of sentimental metaphors, I like to think it symbolizes that even dead trees provide beauty, comfort, and the possibility of adaptation to whatever comes next.

Love, X

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The Laugh

I dreamed such vivid dreams last night. I’m not sure what fueled them.

Even Barb, Mike’s mom, made an appearance. She woke me up, laughing. She reminded me that I once thought 4 a.m. or 5 a.m. was early. She worked hard and one of her jobs started incredibly early. It was my ‘job’ that summer to get up and go to Mike’s to be with him and his brother after she left for work. In my dream, she handed me a cup of coffee and sat and talked to me. She’s been gone for almost seven years. Over forty have passed since that summer I was paid to babysit my best friend.

I dreamed of Jimmy and Noah. Time has skipped fifteen years somehow. i posted this clip because it starts with Jimmy’s infamous laugh. If Noah inherited anything, I hope it’s that.

Love, X

Good Morning Mofos

A special message for today, written on a 2′ x 3′ container lid.

Yes, the word “mofo” still amuses me.

As I amused myself with this sign, I listened to my downstairs neighbor rage and scream for several minutes. I went out to the landing and stairs and recorded a little bit of it. I hope he is not screaming at his very young daughter again. That kind of behavior at 4 a.m. signals that he is out of control. It wouldn’t be better to listen to it at 2 p.m. but it somehow is much worse at this hour. He’s the one some of us call “Shirtless Guy,” because he goes shirtless when all evidence clearly indicates that he should not, at least from the standpoint of “things people want to see.”

I hear the train whistle in the distance. It will soon approach, roaring past. As loud as it is, it’s one of the things that is endearing about living in this area. As for the volume, it’s no louder than my mom, whose voice cut could through the apocalypse. Trains connect me to my childhood past, parts that are worth remembering. My grandpa used to tell me stories about jumping trains, even as my grandma Nellie would holler at him: “Woolie, stop telling him those stories!” I wish grandpa had lived a few more years to tell me stories I could remember. As for the train tracks, if you touch the rails, you’re connected to 140,000+ miles of them across the United States. I love that idea.

The train horn grows loud.

The day grows near.

The neighbor is silent.

Good morning, mofos. I wish you could experience how it makes me feel to recall sitting on the wooden porch swing next to grandpa.

Love, X
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Amaranthine Memories

This is a post in two parts. I didn’t know how to separate them…

She reached out to me in November, her heart dreading what I might tell her. Sheena and Deanne, my wife who died, were once inseparable comrades in friendship and a little mischief. The early 90s were their heyday. Both Sheena and Deanne were outgoing and beautiful young women.

They’d lost touch. I don’t remember that Deanne told me why other than she often told stories about her friends and the shenanigans and moments she lived before meeting me. As anyone knows, the first few months of getting to know someone is a sublime pleasure filled with stories and insights. We immerse ourselves into the unknown universe of someone else’s life as we get to know them. Deanne was almost ten years younger than me. Despite that, she had a lot of stories to tell and a large family to fill the spaces of her life. I already knew her brother Mark thanks to our jobs at Cargill.

Sheena said she’d seen Deanne once in April of 2001 when Sheena was giving birth to her daughter. Deanne worked at the hospital and surprised Sheena with an impromptu visit. Evidently, it was one filled with smiles and quick words. Sheena did not see her again. But she always wanted to and wondered where Deanne was in the world.

As so often happens when we get older, we think about the people who once touched us. Some of them drift away purposefully; others drift for other reasons. The truth is that some people have a room in our hearts even when we no longer see them. It’s one of life’s bittersweet lessons.

Sheena found an obituary for Deanne. I’d dutifully left a trail of her life and some of her stories on Ancestry and other places. People need to be remembered. Sheena told me that she cried reading it, knowing that her hopes of reconnecting were gone forever. I felt an immense pang of regret on her behalf. Deanne would have lovingly hugged Sheena had she had the chance. She loved a good grudge, but she loved connections more. One of Deanne’s foibles was how quickly she could get irritated. It was a blessing to her in some ways, too, though. As I grew to know her, her ire often made me laugh. She’d punch me in the arm and laugh, too, once the ridiculousness of the situation became apparent.

Sheena ultimately revealed that their friendship probably ruptured because she had told Deanne that we were not compatible. Deanne made up her mind about me very early on. I’m not sure I was consulted!

Sheena reached out to me on Ancestry, and I shared my entire picture collection with her, thousands of pictures – and every picture I owned of Deanne. She was able to sort through Deanne’s short life, as told in pictures. Later, I shared a few stories with her, ones some people have never read or heard.

More importantly, I gave Sheena peace. I let her know that she should feel happy that Deanne and I found each other and stayed together, even when it wasn’t easy. We all do and say things when we’re younger – and often continue the same when we’re older. And if she said the things she said to Deanne with an authentic heart, she should not be accountable for sharing her opinion or truth. That’s the risk of being genuine with other people.

The truth is that Deanne and I weren’t compatible at first glance. Or probably second glance. In that sense, Sheena was definitely not wrong. Deanne was an outgoing, buxom, active soul, almost ten years younger than me. I had no clue she was interested in me. Until she insisted I come over for a homemade meal. Believe me, I was not the one wearing the pants at the beginning of the relationship. Call me oblivious.

Sheena got to see Deanne’s life because I am committed to sharing every picture I own with anyone interested. I’m just the custodian. I love pictures, and I love knowing that people always come full circle with wanting to see every picture of someone they love or loved. Avoiding the soapbox, I will limit myself to saying that unappreciated or unseen pictures do no one any good.

I still feel a bit of remorse for both Deanne and Sheena. They could have reconnected. Had I been aware, I would have asked Deanne to look past any past words and find Sheena again. I did the same with Deanne’s dad. Deanne doubted she could forge a new beginning with him. Through the years, though, I encouraged her to try from a new foundation. And she did. I still count it as one of the best things I’ve ever accomplished. More so because she died so young.

I hope Sheena found a way to fill her life with new souls. She seems like the kind of person who deserves it. Her words to Deanne so many years ago would have been received differently had I known at the time.
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After Deanne died, I didn’t have a big interval of time before I met Dawn, my ex-wife. Whether you can understand or not, I made the choice to plow through life and not let myself get overwhelmed with the loss. When we first got together, I had her meet Deanne’s brother and his wife. I wanted them to know that me getting on with life didn’t negate Deanne. Quite the contrary. I had to make a choice, one that wasn’t really a choice at all. Things could have ended very badly for me. If you’ve lived a life with loss, you can imagine what some of those endings might look like for me. There’s no shame in acknowledging them.

It’s not a choice a lot of people might make. I make no apologies, though. Dawn and I were together when we were very young. She’d had an intervening marriage, one that fizzled and ground down into apathy. We were happy to find each other again.

Deanne never was between Dawn and me. At least not for me. She wasn’t a ghost, but she was a catalyst and reminder for me, something that people misunderstand. When life snatches your optimism through mortality, there are a lot of impossible feelings. This amplifies when you consider how capricious life can be; anyone or anything can disappear at any moment. Deanne deserved more years to continue her journey. She was substantially different from the time when we first met. And that was a great thing to witness. I try to remember to be grateful for the years I had with her. The song always ends, leaving us with a melody we can replay in our heads through memories.

At the risk of repeating myself, one of my biggest mistakes in life has been to occasionally forget the lesson that Deanne’s death dealt me: life is for the living, obstacles will always punch, and love is never wasted, no matter how it ends.

It’s true I shared fewer stories about Deanne than I should have. I did make the mistake of not writing all the stories of adventure and mischief I had with Deanne. And also some about our hard times. We definitely had them. As Dawn and I disintegrated, she seemed to switch the narrative on me about how it was with Deanne. Whether that’s true or not is in the eye of the beholder. I made a choice – as did she. I’d make the same choice again because a choice to live and love is a positive choice; fearing another loss and avoiding taking the risk is a negative choice.

Someone reminded me this morning not to veer. Since she’s a disguised writer, I’m obligated to heed her warning.

Every love is forged with expansiveness and optimism. That we can’t navigate the treachery of daily living and one another’s messes isn’t a knock to love or vulnerability, though. The problem lies within us. Familiarity breeds contempt. We assign motive to actions or words, usually based on our faulty filters. It’s hilariously evident that most of us want the same things.

When love has drawn its last breath, it is easy to focus on the things that were wrong.

When a person draws their last breath, all the doors are shut forever.

Whether you are 31 or 71, the door is always about to shut. We just don’t see it coming. That helps us to forget how precarious our lives are. That same forgetfulness affords us the ability to live our daily lives but it also has the reciprocal defect of failing to focus on what lights us up.

For Sheena, for Deanne, and for anyone who no longer walks the Earth, we can do our best by choosing optimism over despair, deliberate risk over comfort, and for being ourselves, even as the world madly surprises us.

Deanne would tell us that all these years she’s been gone that she would hope we were squeezing the absolute hell out of whatever life has to offer – and shame on us if we aren’t.

She would have loved to be alive and make a lot of mistakes. We should be too. She’d be the first to call me out for being an idiot. And she’d mean it.

Love, X
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Deanne

things often go awry, as they so often do
that unimaginable morning, it was you

nine years my junior, with a lingering cough
your energy ebbed and your spirit diminished

i watched my love and life wither
it can’t get that bad, i foolishy hoped

life had a hard lesson for me, again

i sat on the floor next to you
our albino cat standing guard,
as he had all night
before i made the horrible call

life had fled, from you, from me

promises made, hopes shared
became mist and floated away

a little piece of me stayed there, forever

another piece of me, the vibrancy you shared
found a way forward

i can’t believe i’m still standing
filled with love, expanding

sometimes, in moments
i’m back there, remembering the lesson

you said i was love
even in impatience
“my muffin,” you teased
and I? pleased

i try to remember the helplessness
hopelessness and despair

not to drown in them, no

but to live the knowledge
that we’re all closer than we think

it’s all here or gone in a blink

in those crevices of experience
we thrive or subside

with each new self-genesis
i take a long moment
to swallow the risk

and i remember

life knocks, i answer

it is not a question

it is life, moving

Love, X
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