Remembering

A Bedtime Story

The air in my room is a little too still, so I crack the window and let the cool November night sing me to sleep. I bury my eyelashes in a soft pillowcase and wish for sleep to come quickly, just this once, a nightly ritual. It doesn’t, as has been the case all week. Despite the restlessness, my eyes are thankful for the rest the nighttime lends. Out the window I can hear cars pass on a highway a few blocks out, a murmur that blends with the breeze.

Clearly, distinctively, the sound of a train interrupts the rhythmic rustling of my body as I kick the sheets away, then pull them back.

I am a little girl again, burying my eyelashes in a soft pillowcase that smells of home, in a blue-walled sanctuary with soccer trophies on a bookshelf across from my bed. A train keeps me awake as it calls in the distance, warning the road of its presence. It’s strange how close it sounds, but it’s not close at all.

I know exactly how long it would take me to pedal there. It’s a long ride, one that takes me around Dead Man’s Curve, down the shaded street with speed bumps every ten yards, past the house with the mean horse, the sometimes-sweet goats, the streets named after flowers, and all the way down the big hill, the really big one with train tracks at the bottom. It’s not close. It’s a long ride, one I’m not allowed to make alone.

And in this new city, far from the room with the blue walls and a bookshelf now empty of childhood trophies, I’m having trouble remembering where I’ve passed a single set of train tracks, where a train could be running close enough I can hear it so clearly, so distinctively, warning the road of its presence.

Maybe it calls to me from the other side of the highway, where I only wander when I’m a little sad and a little lost. Maybe it’s a few blocks out, in a part of this city that remains more foreign to me than the rest. Maybe it’s far from me, past a set of streets named after flowers, at the bottom of a very big hill, a long bike ride away, one I’m still not quite old enough to make alone.

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Reflection

On Your Birthday

This time of year still feels haunted. Autumn feels like a gift that belongs to you, is overwhelmed with you, but absent of you. If you were alive, I like to think I would call you today. I like to think I would have apologized by now, that it wouldn’t take you leaving forever for me to realize how wonderful you are. I imagine I would call you and I’d wish you happy birthday, but I’d linger a little and stay on the line a little too long, even though you would have other calls to take and dinners to get ready for, because the whole world would be waiting to tell you how glad they are that you’re alive. I would ask you about work or some warmup question, one that doesn’t matter but feels essential. I’d ask about how your sister is, how home is, and you would say that everything is OK, and you’d tell me the most hilarious thing Victoria said the other day, and I would laugh with you because we both love her so much, and I would have figured that out by now. And I would tell you how I wish I was home to celebrate with you, to buy you a beer and give you a hug because I love you so much, and I would have told you that dozens of times by now. I would tell you about the boy, about the charm and the frustrations, and you would spout some brilliant advice, to be patient, to be sure to always be my brilliant beautiful self, and you’d say something perfect like, “I’m so happy that you’re happy, My Alien,” but a million times more eloquently because words were always on your side. And I would have teared up a little, even then, with you still alive and thriving and stringing words together perfectly on the other end of the line just hearing you call me by my favorite nickname, one no one has called me since you left.

Sometimes, I can still hear it, faint and far away and fleeting and full.

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Random

Season Sting

Today I ache for summer, for an open road with only one lane on each side, that weaves and winds and turns and stretches and couldn’t hold onto me if it tried. For time outside of coffee shops, for time with the stack of books beside my bed labeled “To Read When…” For a scratched CD scribbled “Summer 2010″ playing Sublime or Marvin Gaye or anything that sings to me from summers past through the warm wind that tangles my curls and reminds me that the glorious sun can heal everything, but stings a little. And I’ll take the sunburn and the Texas heat if it means I get to race to the lake after work on Friday and bury my toes under murky sandmud and stay up late playing music and eating snow cones because that’s what it means to me to be young and terrified of everything, especially growing up.

And I’m still young and terrified of everything, most certainly growing up, but everything else has changed.

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Reflection, Remembering

We’ll Be OK

The only recurring dream I remember having as a kid was of my house burning down in the middle of the night. In the dream I would wake to flames all around my bedroom window, and firefighters would carry me out of the house with me balancing in the middle of my mattress. I was, quite simply, afraid of large fires, and also of sleeping. I think the idea of sleep causes most children a bit of anxiety, which is why our parents, grandparents, and babysitters read bedtime stories and tuck us in and check for monsters and kiss us goodnight as we clutch our stuffed animals and blankets and do anything to make the ritual easier. Sleep has the potential to bring dreams and sometimes nightmares, neither of which are within our control. I remember sleep causing me a great deal of anxiety as a kid. And with the addition of the typical Texas storms that haunted the otherwise silent nighttime six months out of the year, the whole process was futile.

Luckily, I had an older sister just down the hallway from me who rarely resisted a Sister Sleepover, which almost always included a few rounds of Guess Which Song I’m Humming, a game I remember losing more often than winning. But on nights when I was on my own, I would watch the alarm clock on my bedside table for hours, the neon numbers that glowed onto the lenses of my purple frames. The time passing made me nervous, but I remember taking comfort in the fact that the time seemed to pass slowly late at night as I watched the geometric shapes shift from sixes to sevens and eights and so on until the patterns reset and repeated. And when I think about being a kid, I feel like I was afraid of everything. Sometimes I still feel I am.

I remember my mother recommending various tactics that occasionally helped (I did some serious counting, folks). But at some point, I took matters in my own hands and developed a way of pausing my neurosis just long enough to fall asleep. I would take my pillows, place them where my feet were supposed to be, untuck all of the sheets and covers, and I would sleep backwards on my bed. Maybe someone taught me this and I’m claiming as my own childhood brilliance now. Maybe everyone did this, but I saved if for the most dire of situations, when midnight would turn to 1 AM and my necessary-eight-hours-of-sleep opportunity had long passed. For whatever reason, this usually worked. And when I think about this strange habit now, I imagine it had a lot to do with control; it was something I could alter, something I could change.

The most overwhelming heightened moments of anxiety I’ve experienced in the last couple of years as a young adult align well with the experiences I had as a kid trying to get to sleep at night. And what all of those recent instances had in common was they occurred precisely at a moment in which I completely surrendered control, and the outcome of that moment I irrationally perceived as necessarily dreadful or threatening, when that wasn’t the case at all in the end. As a kid, I would always wake up the next day with no justification for my obsessive anxiety from the night before. But the cycle would often repeat.

As an adult, the fix may not be a simple one, and it may not be a complete fix at all. But I guess all I can do is try to make sense of the mess.

I’ll start small. I’ll place my pillows at the foot of my bed. I’ll rest easily. I’ll be OK. We’ll be OK.

We'll Be OK

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