I frown to myself as my friend complains about her mother. It seems sinful to speak with such heat about the woman that gave you life and taught you how to live it best. I was unsettled by the familiarity of this heat, knowing it comes from the same venom I use to sting those I love. 

“I get mad at mom for crossing my boundaries too.“ I almost say, but hold my tongue. It’s an odd sentiment after all, what if it’s not shared?

The truth is, mothers cross boundaries, not consistently, not irreverently, but there are times where those boundaries seem to hold no weight.

Can you blame them? They see their child in danger and can’t help but run to tend to their every injury.

It’s the scraped knee from falling off your bike as a kid, it always is. She’ll spot you from across the park and come swiftly to your side.

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Why did I stay?

I don’t think that’s the right question to ask. I didn’t stay. I never stay. I always have to make the mistake of leaving. Maybe some day I’ll learn and make better choices. It took me a while to learn to come back. I’ll tell you why I come back.

I mess up often, so badly that I don’t believe I’ll ever feel well again. It’s like stubbornly running at a wall, believing that you won’t get injured. But you always crash, face first, into brick. You’re a little dizzy, you step back and stumble onto the floor and look up to see that the brick wall extends to the sky and horizons. The daunting red looks over you and you know you won’t ever get past it. You’re afraid to turn around because you’re certain that people are waiting for you to catch their eye before they start laughing at you, that the silence behind your, that seems so calm, is simply a cruel joke waiting to happen. That fear overwhelms you and when met with that impassible brick wall, all you can think is that you’d have to spend your days staring at red. You can’t help but scream. You keep screaming and crying out of the fear that whatever comes afterwards, you wouldn’t be able to handle. Maybe they’d laugh at you, how embarrassing. Maybe there’s no one there to laugh at you and you were alone all along, how lonely.

Eventually, when you are done throwing your tantrum, you hear a voice call out to you, not particularly loudly, “Did you hurt yourself?” And you remember what it was that you were running from.

It takes you a minute to answer. How could you possibly afford to lose your pride? It’s a silly question to ask at this point —you just ran into a wall, how much pride could you possibly have left? — but you always ask.


“Let Me see.”

You wipe your eyes and turn around.

“Aww that’s not so bad.”  He says, smiling, “What were you trying to do?”

“I wanna get past the wall.” You point to something in the distance. Your voice is still a bit wobbly, and you manage to sound five.

“Ok.” He reaches out for your hand, “Let’s go see this wall.”

Hopefully you take His hand.

It isn’t until months later, when you’ve met another wall, one made of stone perhaps, and you’re rubbing your hurt nose again, that you remember you never thanked Him for getting you past the bricks.

He accepts your thanks and apology and requests all the same, reaching out to take your hand once again.

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“Why do you like the beach?”

I said something one dimensional when you asked me. It wasn’t that I hadn’t thought about it. It was just that I couldn’t find the right words to answer the question. 

Maybe I have the words now? 

My favorite  place I’ve lived in as a child was California. We lived there for four years. We’d go to the beach often, so often that I can’t even remember it being significant. I remember for a science project in the fourth grade I wanted to compare solubility of… something, I can’t remember what. But I needed sea water, and after church we just drove to the beach. It wasn’t for fun, just for school, just for the sea water. The beach was that accessible, almost a staple, something needed but commonplace, taken for granted. 

We left when I was eight. I don’t think I saw the sea again until I was fourteen. 

I was at a beach in Kerela, India. There were too many people, a lot of noise, it was too cold and it had too much sand. I couldn’t for the life of me remember why I liked the beach so much as a kid. It was a rose colored memory, some naively beautiful story a child told herself, it had to be. I remember watching my mom and brother run toward the sea, calling after me to join them. They wanted to play in the water, not too far in, just far enough to feel the water crash against their legs and the soft silty sea sand wash over their toes. Maybe they thought it was wholesome fun. Looking out into the horizon, which drove waves crashing toward the shore, I was mesmerized by the turbulent, almost violent temperament of the water. How could you play like docile children before such a thing? Maybe it was a reality too large to comprehend, something to be ignored until it caused an issue. It brought me peace to realize I could relate. 

Later in life, when we moved down south, the beach became accessible again, not a weekend trip like it had been before, but with some planning and five hours of driving, we can make it happen. I think the first time I drove long distance was on a road trip to the beach, I can’t quite remember. 

Yes, at this point in my life, my family started going to the beach a lot again.

I remember sitting on a balcony one night at some vacation house in Florida, I don’t remember which one, and listening to the sea crash into the sand. It was too dark to see anything, but I could hear the ocean from a distance, beautiful beast. It must have been Christmas Break. Or maybe it was the day of? My mother had called her mother and, as I did a million times as a child, I listened in on their conversation. It was in Malayalam. Something about that paired with the sound of the crashing sea made me feel like I’m in my place. My ancestors lived in a coastal city. In another life, where different choices were made and different opportunities were presented, perhaps I would have been sitting by the ocean with my mother and grandmother, listening to them converse face to face as the Indian Ocean crept to the shore. 

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The Anti-Compliment Game

I look around me, watch smiling faces tease each other, and try to commit each of them to memory. This circle has been my company for the better half of the past month. They regarded each other with amicable familiarity, a sentiment I long to share. One day, not many months from now, I will be a familiar face to smile at, to tease affectionately. I would just have to bide my time. 

They were playing a game of anti-compliments, shouting out mundanities phrased as sweetness.  

“Kate, your nose is well proportioned despite your forehead.”

To which Kate replied,“Your IQ is quite adequate despite what your hair would lead one to believe.” 

It was a fun trainwreck to watch. 

A chair was pushed roughly into the circle, which parted like the Red Sea to accommodate it. Its occupant was a smiling boy, his light brown hair was matted down with rain and thin rectangular spectacles framed his smiling eyes. He interjected the jubilant chatter with news of his recent travels, of the delays on the Marta and the unfortunate weather that plagued his journey. All who listened did so eagerly. 

Someone else called out a jeer at his company’s expense. The retort that followed elicited laughter. 

When I heard my own name called, I sat up, scrambling for a possible response. The boy who called only smiled, “Don’t worry,” he said,“We won’t take a swing at you for a few more weeks.”

I smiled, relieved yet deflated. 

“Give it a month,” he smiled, before his neighbor stole his attention, saying he was well spoken despite his eyebrows.  

I sat back, smiling despite myself, and watched the mess I’ll belong to some day unfold before me. 

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Sleep won’t keep me from you. I may only see you as an afterimage in the back of my mind, but I refuse to allow these dreams to slip back into its darkness as if they were only a mirage of what may have been a memory. I won’t set you free so easily. 

You taunt me, still; six years have passed but I cannot hear the sound of my own name without remembering how you sung it coyly, a staccato at each syllable. That may be why I truncated it, cut off the dead weight that reminded me of you.  

So when you wander through my dreams, don’t assume you’re traveling familiar terrain. I will see to it that you stumble over the slits in my subconscious. I’ll gauge them in myself just to make you eat dirt.

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There’s Nothing Hiding in the Darkness

When I was a child, I was afraid of the darkness, of the terrible things that knew how to hide in its shadows.

As I grew, I learned to taunt the darkness, to turn off the lights in a room and trap whatever hid inside with me, challenging it to fight me.

Now, I’ve come to learn the truth: that the darkness is simply granting you the bliss of ignorance. You may believe it is an empty space, where you walk alone, that no company will join you here.

There’s nothing hiding in the darkness, child, for in the darkness nothing feels the need to hide. Take your steps without hesitation, nothing is waiting to prey on you, no-one will fight you.

There is no reason to shut your eyes or steel yourself, not until the lights turn on.

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Kindness is Heavy

The kind words you say about me cut the deepest.

You laugh at a joke I mumble sheepishly under my breath, throwing your head back, taking up space and sound at my expense.

I can’t shrink away when you tell me you’re proud of me. Though I wish to take that blow and curl against impact privately. 

I was too excited to run into you after many months apart. You smiled, more amused by my joy than pleased to see me. Or perhaps you were pleased, that would sting worse, that you were more pleased to see me in passing than I will ever be meeting my eye in a mirror. 

I am the girl who sits in the back of the class, distracting all who’d listen, and most would; who’d sit in the front, eagerly looking up, trying to decipher meaning as it flies overhead. 

I distract you, or so you say, yet I feel I go unnoticed: a shadow in the peripheral. 

It hurts to know you love me, because I don’t know what it is to love me. I can advocate my strengths and excuse my shortcomings, but I will never forgive myself for my humanity. 

You stay, hurling kind words at me, believing their weight will provide me with comfort. 

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You are about four years old. You lie in bed as a memory is made. Your father sings you to sleep. It is a song in a language you will take the pain to forget years down the line, then take the pain to salvage when sense settles. 

The air is dense, you can barely breathe it in and the nightly summer breeze does nothing to stir the humidity that clings to your skin like a damp cloth.

You realize this will be a memory as it is being made. You do not believe it completely.  Childhood is all you know. It cannot be fleeting. 

A decade and a half will pass before you are brought back here. On the other side of the line, you think about how you were a child just yesterday, being sung to sleep by Dad. Where have the years gone? Far, somewhere unattainable from where you stand. 

There is a narrow tube you can look through, somewhere in the back of your mind, that lets you dream. Dream about becoming a memory. Dream about your memories. 

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When Break Ends

Break has ended. Going back to school feels like returning to a hometown that I have not been to in a few years. The faces that roam the hall seem familiar, yet distant. The energy in the room is always uncomfortable. Noone wants to be here, yet here we are. 

I am  reminded in simple ways that I have been living out a blissfully irresponsible existence for the past two weeks. In opening my camera roll, I see the seemingly never ending list of vacation photos and petty selfies that still capture the joyful freedom that came to pass. I look into my own eyes to see if the joy they held was genuine. It was. 

The blissful existence has momentarily paused, it is true, but I am not completely saddened by the fact. This form of existence finds its value in its scarcity and I, for one, am glad to give it more value by leaving it. As I am sitting at school, I try not to long for it too desperately. It is more enjoyable when it comes to me as a surprise. When a long week of exams has ended and I look up to see several weeks of blissful irresponsibility ahead of me,  I realize my patience did not go in vain.

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