Dear Diary

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The book was old, it’s pages swollen the way pages do when they’ve been used and lived in.  I opened it, meaning to briefly glance through it before moving on.  Something happened though, as I saw the handwriting and paused on the first page.

This was someone’s life.  What things had stood out enough for them to write it down?

The first entry was dated, her name written in the top corner like it was a homework assignment.  Irene Tribbler.  Every line was printed carefully.

Dear diary,

I’m supposed to write in here at least every week, but I haven’t the slightest clue what to write about.  I don’t do exciting things, I don’t go to curious places.  I have school, and I sleep, and that’s about it.

So if anyone reads this, sorry.  You’re not going to find any cool secrets.

Irene

If life had been so boring, what had she filled all of these pages with?  I flipped to the next page, dated a week later.  No ‘dear diary’ this time, just words that got messier and more scribbled out the farther she got.

The Night lasts forever,

For a mind like mine,

When my its voices only still whisper,

Of memories words thoughts

Brine

Fine  ?

Spine

Sign

Line  ?

Whine

Of everything that isn’t fine

That everything’s not fine

I sat down, lingering in the puzzle pieces of words she left scattered on the paper.  I wondered if she ever wrote it somewhere else, if she ever shared it.  If she’d ever written more verses.

The next page had little stars doodled around the edges, framing the blank middle as if she’d intended to fill it with a quote or a poem.  The date in the corner was just the year, which left me wondering how much time sat between the sheets of paper.

The next one didn’t have a date at all.  Just a coffee stain on the bottom corner and three words, printed in the middle.

I’m so tired.

The coffee stain made the next pages stick to each other.  I carefully peeled them apart, drawn into a time long since over.  Irene had taken a black marker to the lined paper, filling in every other line to make solid black stripes.  The upper corner had a small scribble, like she’d found a pen and was testing it.

A pressed maple leaf slide out next, orange veins fading into red.  I held it by the stem to look at it before putting it back.  After that, finally, there was another page with words.

So much for that every week thing.

It’s just that

My mind is so full of a distant buzzing of thoughts

That the page stays blank

And my pen shakes.

I wish she were sitting next to me now.  I don’t think there’s anything I could say to that, but I wish I could put an arm around her shoulders.  Maybe she would feel a little less of whatever she was feeling then.  I turn the page.

It is filled.  Every inch is covered with one word over and over and over, some printed, some in cursive, and others written skinny or round or capitalized or boxy.

Courage

I look at each one, wondering what had happened, what had made her need to say it, write it, think it so hard that she didn’t stop until there was no more room.  I hope she got it.  I hope the rest of the pages aren’t empty.

I think my fingers shook a little as I flipped to the next page.  It held pencil sketches of boxes and flowers and apples.  On the bottom she’d written her name a couple times in cursive, the same way I do when I have the urge to use my pen but have nothing to write.

Next was a double facing page of tic-tac-toe games.  Most of them ended in a draw.  A few of them were scribbled over.  Then came a grocery list.  A page of math problems haphazardly scattered and solved.  A reminder that she would babysit over the weekend, with a phone number in the bottom corner.  The next set of pages were blank, save for bleed through from the other side.

Flipping past the blanks, my eyes were greeted with bright yellow colors.  Yellows painted over both pages with broad strokes, and black lettering scrawled across it.

Sometimes, I fill my sight with the color yellow,

To get me through the days

That feel like

Static.

The pages were stiff and rippled from the saturation of color, like she had painted coat after coat until her static turned to glitter.  I stared and stared, I’m not sure how long.  I’m not sure where the words hit me, but there was something deep inside that reached out for Irene’s words like they were the first it had ever heard.

I don’t remember turning the page.

She’d glued some fortune cookie slips on the page then outlined their edges with a pink highlighter.  The quotes on them were bizarre, and I wondered if she saved them because they were funny to her or because they were the weirdest ones she’d found.

Money will come soon, just not to you

I’ve been freed

You have powerful teeth

I am only one cookie in a forest of sugar

The rest of the page was filled with doodled question marks of different colors.  After that came pages with another nearly identical grocery list, doodles, the rough stubble left from a page being torn out, a list of birthdays, and filled-in lines of different colors.

I realized with a jolt that I was nearing the end.  The daylight had shifted, telling me I’d lingered on each page longer than I thought.  I didn’t want to leave Irene, or the bits of herself she’d left between each sheet of paper.  So few pages held her written thought, but each one shaped a bit more of her world for me to see.

The last page was edged in dots of different colors, clustering tightly at the very edges and then spacing out as they reach towards the middle.  For the first time since her third page, a date sat in the top corner, dated nearly two years later than her first entry.  In the very center, she’d written one last thought:

 

I think I’m ready to be

Excited

And

Curious

About life

Again.

Crazy

Crazy

They left me the manor when they died.  It’s been three months since I moved in, and I think it’s burying me alive.

The house holds a fresh memory of what it once was, with the keen knowledge it is that way no more.  It is not a good thing to live in a place that grieves its past.  It does not take kindly to change of ownership while it feels undone.

I didn’t touch the shadows, they creep over surfaces and claim their space with mournful hissing.  The neighbors watch me whenever I’m out, I can feel their assessment on my back.  They wonder if I’ll manage to fit in.  They haven’t seen it yet, but I don’t think I will.  I don’t think this manor house will accept my presence.

There are sheets covering nearly everything.  I didn’t bother to lift them, I didn’t need much in the way of furniture.  After a few weeks, they became ghosts that one shouldn’t upset.

I sleep in the guest suite.  The door to the master bedroom was closed when I arrived, and I have never opened it.  It would be an intrusion.  I’ve come to feel like a burglar in a house that I own.

Weeds close in along the drive, the entrance, the walls.  Curtains drape heavily over their windows.  There is no more air, no more sound, no more space in this enormous house.

Today, I cannot stand it.  Today, I wonder how much worse it could be.  Today, I cannot feel the fear over my suffocation.

I run through the shadows, throwing them into a tizzy as I fling the ghostly sheets off of furniture.  I’m sick of this haunted place, I’m sick of the silence it blankets over me.  Sheets rise and fall, shooting across the floor as if struggling to deny gravity and its inevitable pull.  Some swirl around my ankles, but I’m moving fast and they cannot catch hold of me.

They’ll think I’ve gone crazy.  Maybe I have.  They’ve seen this house, they’ve probably been waiting for the day it breaks me.

I throw open the windows and then run up the staircase.  I burst into the room that’s been closed since I came here, and I yell at the startled dust. “I live here now!  Get used to it!”

I slide down the banister and throw open the back door. It squeals in protest, slamming against the wall as I tromp outside.  The neighbors will probably stare.  I don’t care anymore.  Let them stare and shake their heads at me.

I’m pulling the weeds and nothing will make me stop.  I’m cutting down the tall grass and digging into the garden soil.  The wind that used to beat at my window every night now lifts my hair to cool my neck as I work.

It takes days, weeks, months, but I fill the manor with sound and air and light.  I sweep the whispers and groans and hissing into the floorboard cracks and stomp them down with dancing feet.  I trim back the bushes and pull out the weeds and bring back the flowers to their full bloom.  Butterflies fly through my open windows, pausing to flutter around my head on their way back out.

I fill the rooms with vases upon vases of lilacs.  Their scent fills the manor house, every corner and closet, until it settles into the very structure.

Some nights the house rages in protest.  Branches scratch against the windows in screeching harmony, the walls shift and groan like they’re going to drop the weight they hold, and the dark black shadows whisper terrible things.  I hide under my covers when it happens, coming up with poetry as I wait for it to pass.  And it does pass.  Much sooner than one might think.

I’m climbing the trees and the roof and the porch railing; just because I can, because no one can stop me, because doing so can’t scare me anymore.  I whistle back to birds and talk to the chipmunks and sing to my kitchen stove.

There is too much light to be found for me to get chased into some dark corner and stuck there.

They’ll say I’ve gone crazy.

I’ll tell them it was the best thing I’ve ever done.

Valentine

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Snow is dusting the road as I drive into town to pick him up.  It isn’t quite noon yet, but we decided this would be a better time than trying to reserve a place for dinner.  Neither of us wanted to be out very long after dark anyway.

All the shops are decorated in shades of red, succumbing to the falling white flakes of ice.  In fact, if it weren’t for the pink hearts, it would almost look like Christmas again.

I’m wearing my warm boots, even though the snow won’t last long; the forecast merely said ‘flurries’.  We plan on spending some of our time outside, and I don’t want to be in a rush to leave.

I pull into the parking lot and park the car.  He’s waiting inside.

The air is chilly, but without the biting wind that would make it miserable.  Wrapped in my nicest coat, I take more notice of the peace that seems to settle with the February weather.  My steps are soft, not wanting to break the winter spell as I enter the nursing home.

Granddad is waiting by the check-in counter, leaning on a cane and wearing his Sunday best.  He turns as I come in, and his smile lights up everything around him.

“There’s my Rosie!  Prettiest girl in town.”

His smile is contagious, lifting my spirits even higher as I wrap my arms around his neck. “You look real handsome, granddad.” I pull away and smile at the lady behind the counter. “Hi Anna.”

Anna pushes the sign-out sheet towards me, and I fill out granddad’s name as he pulls on his coat.

There’s a local diner close by that has run since longer than I can remember.  Granddad says it’s the standing winner of the town’s ‘last the longest’ contest, and most of the locals are passionate about it holding that title.  I can understand why.  The place is a part of home.

We get a booth together and order.  For a moment after the waitress leaves, I watch granddad as he watches the last of the snow float down.  I can see the distant past flickering in his eyes.

Then the moment is gone, and we’re smiling at each other and talking about the now’s and the this year’s and the somedays. He tells me about his friends he’s kept up with and how they’re doing, and I tell him about the new things I’m trying and the new people I’m getting to know.  Together, we are years upon years of living that stretches into the distant future.

It is a strange perspective to have.  A wide view—and, because it’s granddad—a real yet hopeful one.  It grounds me.

When we finished our plates and as we wait for the check, he puts his hand over mine and looks straight into my eyes. “You’re doing good Rosie.  Things feel slow, but that’s because life is often long.  You just keep on and keep on.  You’re doing great.”

All the tiny buzzing voices in my head settle, and for once I am present and I am focused and I am okay.

We go to the florist next.

The shop is busy with last-minute buyers, but we aren’t in a hurry and I’m still thinking over granddad’s words as he picks out a bouquet.  He loves daffodils and I love roses, but we both know that today is a day for peonies.  Pink ones, with a hint of purple.

We get a bunch of them, and a small box of chocolates.

The snow has already disappeared from the road, fading into the cracks and allys of town.  There is one last stop we want to make.

I pull into the cemetery and park the car.

Granddad carries the flowers and I carry the chocolates, walking side by side down the well-kept footpath.  Clouds are starting to break up, just enough for the day to brighten a little before the sun sinks down again.  We turn, and come to a stop in front of a gravestone.

Granddad leans on his cane, the flowers shaking from a slight tremor in his hand. “Hello Rosealeigh.”

The love of his life.  The laughter to his smile.  The original owner of my name.

“Hi grandmum.”

She loved the colors of autumn, the cadence of poetry, the twinkle in granddad’s eye.  She loved history, and rivers, and she loved pink peonies with hints of purple.

Granddad carefully places the bouquet, brushing off bits of dirt from the lettering on her stone.

I watch him, letting him take his time.

Granddad has always been a patient man.  I’ve always loved that about him, how he never got frustrated or hurried.  The only time I’ve heard him raise his voice was when I’d caught a fish the size of my face and he couldn’t wait to tell grandmum, who was all the way across the lake.

I wish I’d inherited his patience, but I’ve struggled too much with a sharp tongue and rising pulse for it to be natural.  For me, I have to be purposeful.  For me, I have to practice over and over until it comes out smooth.  For me, patience will have to be learned.

Granddad brushes the top of the gravestone with the softest, featherlight touch.  He has always been my greatest teacher.

I open the chocolates and we eat them together as we talk about grandmum and memories and the flickers of the past that stay in granddad’s eyes.  We stay until our words fall into a thoughtful silence.  We stay until my fingers are numb.

We stay there until the sunset begins to stretch out across the sky and the wind stirs from its slumber.

Granddad holds my arm as we follow the sunset to my car.

 

Winter Nights

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What are whispers for but secrets.

What are moonlit nights for but enchantments.

What are dreams for but adventure.

We are the children of summer nights, born when the fairies were dancing.  When the winter came, we stared out the windows wide-eyed as flakes of ice drifted from the sky.  Prickling cold nipped at our ears and toes, sending us running to find thick stockings and warm hats.  We wished for our summer with chilled breath.

Winter days were piercing and cold and waiting, holding back the trees and grass and flowers as if putting them to sleep so they could wake in a kinder season.

But then the sun fell, and night began long before we would be sent to bed.

Summer nights were for falling exhausted into slumber, waiting for the day to come and sweep us off our feet again.

Winter nights, however, spread open welcoming arms, inviting us to a strange new world.  Winter nights were for doing without deadlines, they were for trying without thought of failure, and they were for questioning without fear of knowing.  Darkness came quickly and lingered into the edges of morning, and even so, we found ourselves sleeping less and less.

It was a fast discovery we fell upon, realizing how much we wanted to do and learn, how very far we wanted to go.

What are whispers for but to leave the sleeping undisturbed.

What are moonlit nights for but to pile into the same bed and tell stories.

What are dreams for but to chase after.

The chill air gave us clear minds, the growing dark gave us dreamy thoughts.  The biting days sent our blood racing, the lingering nights wrapped us in limitless possibilities.  It was a good thing for summer to come eventually, or we would become strange creatures, hungering after impossible dreams.

We are the children of summer nights, and it is important for us to return home after a time.

No longer was there doing without deadlines, but there was doing in the sight of everyone and getting it done.  No longer was there trying without thought of failure, but there was trying and trying and moving forward because of it.  No longer was there questioning without fear of knowing, but there was questioning with the satisfaction of landing upon answers.

No longer were there wakeful nights; but there were restful ones, preparing us for the challenges of day.

We were born with the love for warmth and light, but how quickly we have fallen into a love for cold and dark as well.  I wonder how it is for the children of winter, how strange they must have felt when they found themselves in unusually long golden days.  I hope they grow to love it like we do, for what are changes for but to learn.

What are seasons for but to press forward time.

What are differences for but to grow.