Tag Archives: Writing

If They Saw: A Story

She’s not one to drink straight liquor during the day, and certainly not when she’s alone. She’s been a lot of places and that’s a place she doesn’t like. But late in the afternoon, sipping rum, putting black silky pen to the creamy paper of an artist’s sketchbook . . . well. Sometimes we get here, don’t we.

If they could see what I see. This is where we begin.

If they could see what I see, they’d see the child playing behind your eyes. They’d see the sand, the beach. Grasses. They’d listen when you wax poetic about scent, about fragrances we all know and about the raw living in a world that forces one to look and call it by name.

We are crumpled behind walls, preserving the vestiges of who we think we are, torn out and disentangled from who we thought we ought to be, folding into ourselves to protect . . . what?

Sometimes it’s hard to keep track.

If they could see what I see there’d be no end to the hands running across your face, your hair, along your back. No end to skin on skin.

Electricity.

There’s no waking from this dream but she doesn’t know she’s in one. Sometimes it happens like that. She’s lived a long time.

I can still see the hardness that shows itself around your jaw when you’re upset, a tightness that silently screams out to be heard. My stomach drops, just as it always did. And there’s the relief of a laughter that’s real, that comes from deep down where children chase fireflies. I could cry if I did that sort of thing.

The child behind your eyes looks uncertain, afraid. Disappears, runs back. A game of hide-and-seek but we don’t know who’s playing. Sometimes I can reach out and catch you but sometimes you’re gone to places I can’t follow. And so I wait, exhausted with tension, darkness closing in, for you to decide it’s time to return, sometimes with a vengeance and sometimes keening. I flip a coin.

I know when you’re hiding from me. I know when I’d like to do the same, and I know why I won’t. Why I never will. But there are days when you’ve already decided: There will be no smiling today.

When we float through the cobalt sky there’s magic and I have no doubt. But it’s never been about doubt.

A lifetime it has taken me to know you. A lifetime in a few short months, unnoticed. And in just as much time, you’ve pleaded, cajoled, and gone. There’s no place for me out there and I do not look for one.

She looks at the empty glass. The papers crumpled on the floor. The time. Her eyes widen. Memories of moments have taken hours. Too late for dinner and now the internal prohibition against liquor before sundown has no place. Glass is refilled.

If they saw what I saw they’d ask all the questions that were never mine to ask. They’d travel with you the world over and they’d hold your hand without letting go, the hand that was never mine to hold. If they saw what I saw they’d join you when you sang, they’d drink in the timbre of a voice that glides. I am reminded of skis over fresh powder. Do you know that sound? You, who speaks of the sea, do you know the sound of an open mountain with no marked trails? If they saw what I saw, they’d take you there.

But I swear I can hear you. I don’t always know where you’ve gone, in fact I only know the pictures I’ve painted on my heart, but I can hear you. Sometimes I busy myself to shut you out, to remember who it is that I am now that you’re a memory.

You’d vanish, wouldn’t you, if they saw what I saw. You’d breathe, settle, find the light that you used to tell me about, late, when you were supposed to be sleeping. You’d float gently away, so softly that I wouldn’t notice until you were gone. Or at least that’s what you say about me.

She doesn’t remember tearing the sketches but she has. At least they don’t bleed.

But can I blame them? Can I blame them for failing to see when seeing would require that of which we are most afraid? For if we see, we are responsible for the soul that has mirrored ours. I know what the ancients say about this. So can I blame them?

Rather than blame, and I think you’d like this, I’d like to teach them. To hold them while they cried and to encourage their tightly closed eyes to let in some of the colours we read about in stories. To hold them when it became too bright and take one step, together, one step at a time. I’d like to guide them to see through the tears and to hear, to hear that child singing. I’d be there the whole time, you know I would.

If they saw what I saw I never would have known you. You would have been beyond my reach before I even knew you existed. It is because, and it is always this way with me, it is because they did not see that I found in you something you’d forgotten.

Do you remember when I first made you laugh?

In the morning, she is surprised at the mess on the desk. She has fallen asleep fully dressed, a first since . . . a first. There are blank pages shredded all over the floor, faint markings erased. Drawings. Of what? She reads the neat words on creamy paper. These are not her words and not from her hand. But these are words she knows. These are words she believed a long time ago. These are words she fought until they disappeared.

These words are mine and I hear you laughing.

You Can’t Erase the Internet

Something we talk about at school is being aware of our digital footprint. Young people today have an enormous digital footprint, which means the choices they make now may have consequences far beyond what they can reasonably be expected to imagine. (We know that much about frontal lobe development, after all.) We talk about this with students in the context of university and job applications. If the people reading your applications do their homework, we say, you need to be prepared for what they’ll find.

Fairly recently, I started looking around to see if I could remove items with my name attached from the Internet. (The book A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki has been floating around my mind.) Altering posts on my blog, for example, is easy because all I have to do is edit, unpublish, or delete to my heart’s content. There’s nothing I can do about content that others have previously copied, saved, or disseminated, but removing information from my blog is very easy. However, editing is much more challenging in parts of the Internet where I am not the sole owner of a document, or when other parties share document permissions.

This is interesting to consider when written evidence exists to suggest that my ideas have changed. As authors, journalists, and publishers have known for as long as publishing has been around, it’s nigh impossible to take back something in print. What is written is written and people have seen it. Changes may occur but the record itself remains. People who speak in public know this, too. In fact, we all know this. Inconsistency and evolution are easily visible to anyone who bothers to look.

In a situation when change is discovered and pointed out, there are largely two choices. We can condemn one another on the basis of what was once said and shut out difficult conversations and opportunities to learn, or we can consider that evolution of ideas is part of being human. Rather than hoping our old words will vanish into the ether of cyberspace or memory, we can make the choice to stand up and say, “I’ve changed. Here’s how.”

This is a big deal. Psychology tells us that it will likely be uncomfortable to recognise and admit to inconsistency. To protect our self-esteem and make it easier to cope with the every day, the human brain rationalises cognitive dissonance. Unfortunately this ultimately prevents us from actually looking at the very things that need examining. We don’t always like the past because it might not reflect who we are now, or perhaps it highlights aspects of ourselves that we wish weren’t there. When the brain senses this conflict in us, it helps us rationalise our behaviour so that we can save face and feel good. This is a protective measure, but not a particularly helpful one for those who want to live honestly, openly, and with integrity.

Just like we cannot erase the Internet, we also cannot erase the past. We cannot pretend to be faultless because we aren’t. We have all made mistakes or behaved in ways that we may not be proud of, or that may not reflect how we would behave today. If we really have grown and if we really want to be better people, we cannot deny what has been. If we really have changed, the past will not define us. Who we have become should be obvious from our current actions. If you see such a change in me, your role is to judge the present on the basis of itself rather than holding the past over my head like a sword. No one can heal if old wounds continue to reopen.

At the same time, however, actions speak louder than words. I may claim to have changed but it is my actions that matter.

It can be confronting to ask challenging questions and then act in accordance with what we have found. But actions ripple outward and if we can learn from the past, if we can see inconsistency and evolution in ourselves, we can lay the foundation for a life lived honestly and with integrity.

This is the kind of life that makes a difference.

Demons Lurking: A Story

So yeah, that’s what’s new, he says before taking a sip of his coffee.

Sounds okay, she replies. Her smile is easy and playful.

He nods.

There’s a lull in the conversation earlier than expected. Both take a moment to stare into their cups. As suddenly as it came, the spell is broken and they talk like old friends; some laughter, some teasing, an admirable effort to make the present feel like the past.

But then they land where they always do – at the end. Experienced here, they stop themselves before they really get started. They’ve been down this road before.

Simpler matters occupy them and she thinks for a moment that the sharp distance might grow softer. But only for a moment.

The jangle of bells at the door announces a new customer who looks around and spots them with a wave. She places her hand on his shoulder as she reaches the table. He smiles broadly, introduces the two women, moves his chair so the newcomer can take a seat. The second woman’s greeting cracks the quiet of the space and the first woman returns it politely but with an emotionless smile, eyebrows raised at the man in an unspoken question.

The first woman waits. Time stops. Distance reshapes itself as a valley between mountains.

The second woman’s smile widens, an almost giddy grin. She opens her mouth to speak and changes her mind.

The pause is too long.

The first woman takes one last sip of her already empty coffee. She checks her smile and finds some warmth. Great to see you. And she means it. Nice to meet you. Take care.

And you.

The pleasantries are exchanged automatically, the next steps determined without notice.

When she leaves, it is with the barest hint of hesitation. Bells jangling agin, I follow at a distance. She’s distracted and doesn’t notice. She walks quickly and I stay carefully behind.

She travels several unseeing blocks before pausing to get her bearings. She’s been here before. So have I.

She checks her watch. After some hesitation and with controlled deep breaths, she begins walking again, this time with purpose instead of flight.

A few more blocks and she enters a small bar. I’m not surprised when she takes her usual seat at the high top counter stretched across the window. When a server comes over, she inquires about happy hour, selects a glass of wine, and hands back the menu with a smile that reaches to her eyes.

We’ve been here before.

I sit not far behind and watch her pull a notebook and pen from her bag. But rather than begin writing, she leans back in her chair and stares out the window. Shapes and colors pass. I sip my drink and wait.

The arrival of her wine awakens her from her reverie and her body relaxes. The wine does what wine does and soon she’s writing, writing, writing. I’m sure she doesn’t notice that the glass is empty, but then there’s a second grateful smile to the server who comes to offer her another. She checks her watch.

Her writing slows with the second glass and I watch her stare out at the world in between flurries of pen on paper. I’m nursing my beer. The notebook and pen are put away before the last sip of wine is drained.

For a long time she looks out the window and I don’t know what she sees. Her body is quiet; feet usually restless remain still and hands sit folded on the counter. Occasionally I watch her shoulders move in a sigh. I settle into my seat. We’ll be here awhile.

When she pays the bill, smiling once again at the server, I take this as my cue and follow her out the door. She crosses the street before I’m ready. I wait for one more light and by the time it changes, I’ve lost her.

No matter.

We’ve met before. I’m sure we’ll meet again.