the gathering kind {part 5}: the things we carry

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They carried all they could bear, and then some, including a silent awe for the terrible power of the things they carried. And in the end, of course, a true war story is never about war. It’s about sunlight. It’s about the special way that dawn spreads out on a river when you know you must cross the river and march into the mountains and do things you are afraid to do. It’s about love and memory. It’s about sorrow. It’s about sisters who never write back and people who never listen. ― Tim O’Brien

In the summer we’d race up the stairs, taking them two by two. Back then we were fearless; we never held on to the railing and our feet rarely touched the ground. They called us sisters, told me always that I was a photocopy of you — down to the bone-white skin and the thicket that was your hair. When we cried, which was never, our lips paled down to blue. When we shouted, which was often, our face was flush and hot. I wrote my first poem, a haiku, when I was seven, and in it I likened your voice to thunder. Women on the verge, we colored outside the lines, ripped up the book and made new ones. We were of the difficult variety, our stock and trade were words and how we could use them. Who needed a scalpel? Give us a book and we’d carve out your still-beating heart. Deliver us a pencil and we’d burn your house to the ground. You spoke, I wrote, we ruined.

They tell us we’re strong. Our words made us a fortress and we spent the great part of our lives in construction for we had a lot to protect. But in the end it was me who realized that while we conquered and vanquished, while we were women people always remembered because we shone perhaps too bright, we were always alone. And what we carried was the massacre that we’d left behind. Dragging the carcasses of our former lives behind us. Bearing the burden of those we tried to love on our backs.

Sometimes I want to go back. All the way. Back to when my knees knocked and I wrote about a sky that would never be blue.

Fast forward to another sun, another beach, another year in passing. A storm threatened, and the sun plunged into the waves which had begun to blacken. You asked me if I wanted to leave, to go back inside, into the hotel, back to New York and I said, not yet. In a small voice I wondered why we were always in the business of leaving. In my head I wondered if I drank too much. A week later you drove cross-country and years later you became a woman who impressively lunched, while I gave up the sauce, preferring the desert. We’re from the desert, you see. We like the heat. We carried the memories of all that had come before. The bricks of our fortress encased our ankles like shackles.

Sometimes I wonder if you think about going back. Or whether you regret any of it. Do you think about it at all? Or is the weight of what you’d done too much to bear?

Years later in Malibu we sped through all the flashing lights because the power had gone out. I took a photo of you standing on a pile of wet rocks and you asked that I delete it because you lead an edited life. You asked me what I wanted to do next — because you can do anything, that’s the strange thing about you — and I said I didn’t know. Both of us carried the weight of our options.

This time it’s winter. The bone-white skin becomes a body chilled down to bone. In front of a fire we speak in half sentences, knowing that the other could easily fill in the blanks. You tell me that we’re going to have a time. Quietly I laugh and consider the word time, how it’s something that we never gain, only lose, and I think to myself that we had our time. Both of us now have to carry the weight of the hours that follow.

Today, I sit in Frankie’s 457, quietly savoring a lunch alone. I wonder if you could see me now. If you could see how I’m using words to build a kingdom where everyone could gather. And all we’d care about is the here, the now, and the love behind the words we share. And the fact that the only weight is from one another as we buoy ourselves up, carry us to our new home, our new life.

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