Inside the Greenhouse

I’ve been hitting the ‘snooze’ button on this writing thing for a number of weeks now.

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While I’ve missed the discipline of frequent documentation, I don’t regret having taken a step back from the keyboard. It’s been nice to rediscover that a moment doesn’t need to be eternalized via the written word to be real, or meaningful. On a similar note, it feels so, so good to hit the sack at the end of a hectic day without first feeling compelled to extract meaning from the week’s messy details. It can be nice to just let yourself get caught up in the chaos, you know?

Besides, I haven’t had to look too far to find a sense of purpose, lately. It’s all around me.

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We’re at that pivotal point in the race where summer hands the baton to fall, and fall takes off sprinting. When I stop and think about it I know I’ll eventually long for the lazy spontaneity of summer, but right now I’ve got a hankering for all things autumn. I love the cooler air, the richer colors. I love that everything seems to be marked important. I love that my agenda planner has a serious deficit of blank calendar squares.

Oh, did I forget to mention? I’m back at college, cue the sighs of relief. Every morning that I wake up in my room that sits five stories above quaint Bowling Green I think: there are far worse places for this chapter of my life to be unfolding. This town may have a reputation for being a windy wasteland during the winter months, but it is absolutely lovely mid-September. An added bonus: It’s home to my favorite coffee shop (within walking distance!)

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I had all summer to think of ways to revolutionize the college experience, and when the time came to pack my bags for school I had formulated my plan, even boiled it down to a mantra: Get more involved. Establish a routine. Get enough sleep. Take chances. Work out daily. Do whatever it takes to be happy.

Needless to say, I’ve been taking my own advice, for once. I’m renting a cozy little space on the corner of life’s pretty much perfect and there’s always room for improvement. I’m also trying this new thing where I state out-loud the things I’m grateful for, whenever those things occur to me. (On today’s list: charcoal skies, warm croissants, having a Saturday all to myself.) To the people around me this might sound something like bragging, sorry, guys. To me it feels like a necessary step toward being unguardedly optimistic.

Being the cynic that I am, I’m not without doubts. I know there could come a point in the winter when I’ll abandon the desire to overachieve and run for the hills; revert to survival mode. It’s happened before. But next time around, I’d like to think I’ll be kinder to myself, more forgiving. Wilting flowers don’t grow new blossoms when stomped on.

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The important thing is that right now my flower garden is well-watered, flourishing, free of weeds. And I’m happy, and I’m working hard, and I’m writing again.

 

Stay nutty.

whirlysquirrel

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Help, I’m Alive

I think if I could be anywhere right now…I’d be standing alone on a rocky overhang, toes curled trepidatiously over the edge, preparing to plummet into water as dark and glossy as silk.

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There would be no rush. I’d take advantage of my hyper-awareness, reveling in the sensuality of the wind as it kissed the nape of my neck. I’d breathe in the fragrance of fresh water, breathe out all things toxic. Perhaps I’d do this until I was filled to the brim with pure, untainted oxygen.

I’d try to immortalize that anticipatory feeling. That indescribable sense of power, vitality, freedom. Of timelessness.

And then–with my heart beating thickly in my chest–I’d spread my arms, and fall.

Can you imagine the adrenaline rush? Transforming veins into live wire, fingertips and toes sizzling with electricity. Every atom screaming with life; not a single cell left unconscious, if only for a few fleeting seconds.

Gray sky, murky depths. Everything blurred together, like paint blended on a palette. Shrieking, hissing, biting wind: no longer a lover, but an enemy.

It must feel incredible, to relinquish everything to gravity like that. To hurtle deliriously toward a liquid abyss, a flailing bundle of flesh and blood and joy and fear. Of humanity. To challenge the transience of existence with one act of senseless bravery.

And then AND THEN the collision! The pressure! The air, ripped from lungs! No time to think. Just a velvety heaviness, every which way.

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The cold, so pure and overwhelming and utterly heartbreaking. The immense darkness, paralleled only by the darkness that exists within the womb that surrounds a fetus.

There would be a moment, multiple moments, of chaos–possibly panic. And then a resurgence of instinct, a cluster of kicks in the right direction. Finally: blinded, resurfaced. Triumphant.

Glowing. Effervescent. Reborn.

 

Stay nutty.

whirlysquirrel

A Series of Little Leaps

Peering through window panes: I’ve been doing a lot of that, lately.

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Before there was a lot of ambiguity about what lay ahead, beyond the glass. A lot of squinting at indiscernible shapes and cloudy images. But mountaintops are coming into view. Waiting to be scaled, conquered–If I dare. And through my unsmudged aperture, the sky looks bluer than I ever dreamed it could be.

There’s a catch. (There always is, isn’t there?) The more I gaze into the distance, the more unsatisfied I become with my vantage point. With my increase in potential energy comes a painful awareness of how stationary I’ve become. Unfulfilled in my daily routines, restless–to the point where I don’t feel like myself. I feel my limbs turning to lead when all I want to do is run, climb, soar. The planner, aching to trade places with the do-er.

I feel as though I’m damned if I do, damned if I don’t. If I indulge in a string of nothing days I tell myself I’m being unproductive; if I spend time mapping out my future I’m soon convinced that I’m missing out on the present. Guilt follows me everywhere I go. I want so badly to have it all–to be able to live happily in the here-and-now while still keeping an eye on the bigger picture. But more often than not I find that I’m engaged in a wearisome, mental tug-of-war between the two. Striking the perfect balance often feels impossible.

I think it’s difficult not to get torn, nowadays. Society loves a good paradox, and it’s easy to become the monkey in the middle between two mutually exclusive concepts. It’s easy to have the best intentions and still wind up a hypocrite. Me, for example: I bend down to smell the roses, fretting all the while that I’m missing out on something Bigger and Better happening behind my back. The end result looks a lot like neurosis and self-deprecation, I’m ashamed to say.

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I had a perfectly synchronized moment, a couple of weeks ago.

It was as simple as traipsing barefoot through a quiet, wide open space with my best friend. And maybe it was the scent of roses on the breeze or the easy bliss stitched into the fabric of a summer evening, but suddenly everything crystalized in my mind’s eye. I pictured my life as an arrangement of stepping stones, and all I had to do was find the ones marked with an H for Happiness.

Follow them, in a series of little leaps.

Forgive myself, for occasionally missing the mark. (Try not to cringe too much, at the resulting SPLASH. )

But also: recognize the value in staying put, sometimes.

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And later I thought to myself: Why did it take me so long, to reach such an uncomplicated conclusion?

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There are days where I’ll wake up with just the right mindset. I’ll feel light, limber. And my metaphorical window will be cracked open, wide enough for me to stick my head out, smell the fresh air, feel the sun. Almost wide enough for me to slip right through, run toward those mountains. There are days when I’m happy with the curtains drawn. There are a lot of days where I’m frantically pounding at the glass, praying for it to shatter. Frustrated, exhausted when it doesn’t.

On those days, I try to remind myself of what I know for certain. That the greatest curse (and blessing, as the optimist will remind you) of the human experience is awareness of one’s own existence, and the need to fill all empty spaces with meaning. We are all just creatures wandering the Earth in search of something more. Occasionally, when I find myself spiraling into a state of anxiety, I think about how I am nothing more than an arrangement of cells capable of self-analysis, and that my anxieties are shared by the entire human race. I laugh at the time I waste thinking about all the time I’m wasting. It seems so silly, when I spell it out like that.

The notion that we need to strike the perfect balance between the present and future is nothing more than a fallacy, one that I get lost in all too frequently. But I can forgive myself for that. I know that I belong to a flawed species, one that collectively spends a lot of time worrying about theoreticals. It’s just in our nature.

I can’t time-travel. I can’t simultaneously exist in “right now” and “down the road”. But I can still find purpose. In writing, in running, in loving. In thinking. In wistfully watching the clouds pass by. In being an imperfect, emotionally-driven, mortal being.

In existing, whatever that entails.

I just have to keep telling myself that’s enough.

My very existence is more than enough.

 

Stay nutty.

whirlysquirrel

 

 

 

 

 

Unexpressed

Tangles of damp bronze hair strewn across pillow and face. Hands with chewed nails hiding red eyes, fringed with salty lashes.

I’m channeling all of my energy into keeping this emotional drizzle from evolving into a torrential downpour. How did I get here? I ask myself wearily, not for the first time.

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Tears trace hot patterns down cold cheeks, are brushed away by tender hands. The harmonious scents of shampoo and soap linger on his fingertips. I burrow a little deeper into the warm space above his collar bone. Inhale shakily, taking in small sips of his skin. I close my eyes, appreciating the tightness with which he is holding me. The physical proximity is helping to bring my mind back to the here-and-now, to extract me from past and deposit me into present.

We are horizontal on a bed that is not my own, in a small room vibrating with the whir of an air conditioning unit. Movement feels impossible; my own inertia is overpowering. I find that I am suddenly exhausted.

I’ve been gripping onto him too tightly, as if he were a flight risk. (As if I were in danger of drowning.) I work on unclenching the hands-turned-claws, smoothing over the ten crescent-shaped marks on his back with a gentler touch. I am so grateful for his patience, his palliative presence. I love him for it.

Concentrate on breathing, I instruct myself. Back to basics.

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I was happy-crying, at first. We were cheek to cheek and tuned in to the same frequency of I love you/I love you/I love you. But at some point the emotional current carried me into deeper, murkier waters. Under-explored territory that I generally choose to steer clear of, sail around rather than through.

The tears triggered the gnawing unhappiness, even though happiness triggered the tears. It began with I love you so much (and I do! insert 50 more exclamation points here) but it ended with Jesus, when will this ocean of psychological distress finally start to dry up? 

The past year has involved a lot of unlearning old survival tricks, ones that I’m finding I can live without these days. Trick number one: hold in tears at all costs, so to preserve the veneer of invincibility. To be honest, it’s going to take a while until I can cry without feeling a little bit embarrassed and guilty and weak. Until I can be upset about something without quickly becoming upset about everything. It’s just that, well, I’ve turned down so many chances to cry throughout my teenage years. I’ve been saving, compacting, internalizing all of the things I should have been releasing, voicing, admitting. I have years of raw, acrimonious, tangled-up hurt to sort through, and often when I’m overwhelmed with emotion on the surface I can feel the full weight of what’s beneath.

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But hey, I am taking baby steps toward being able to own and express my emotions as they come, even if only to one person, not counting my small leather journal. And every time I allow my misery to manifest via crying, another drop of my residual sadness evaporates and is gone for good.

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I’m wondering when is the last time you quietly asked yourself: Am I alright?

When is the last time you held onto something heavy and harrowing, and when are you planning to let it go?

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He inquired with calm, guiding questions about my feelings that night, (and again the next morning over donuts and coffee) prompting me to put words to my woes. The best I could offer was a tiny smile and an apologetic shrug, palms turned upwards. I hadn’t fully understood what happened in that hotel room, and I still don’t. But–if I had been gifted with the ability to vocalize my thoughts as well I can scribble them down or type them out– this is what I would have said.

What I wouldn’t have left unexpressed.

 

Stay nutty.

whirlysquirrel

Prelude

We met in October, a month of changing colors, clean air, and new beginnings.

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We lived in the same building, two floors between us. For a few weeks we were nothing more than acquaintances who bumped into each other during fire drills and in laundry rooms.

But then something happened. A conversation happened, to be specific.

I was passing through your hallway, and your door was open. Even before we really knew each other I’d already figured out that you were an open-door kind of person, a trait I admired. I had decided to come in and say hello–only for a moment, I told myself. I was on my way to Elsewhere. But somehow I wound up lounging on your sofa (used, homey, covered in flowery fabric–out of place in an otherwise nondescript dorm) and we were listening to your music and having the best time. You were so attentive, so earnest, so kind. So authentically you, so unapologetic about it. After ten minutes of talking to you I had forgotten all about my other plans and was well on my way to convincing myself that maybe this had been my final destination, after all.

There was just something so shocking about the intensity of our connection–it felt as though we had already met in a past life. Like our souls were old friends, finally becoming reacquainted after several thousand years of journeying on separate paths across the universe.

Maybe that’s what I found so mesmerizing about your eyes that day, aside from their earthy hues of green and gold and brown–as I looked into them, they shone with a comforting familiarity. They told the story of us before it had even begun.

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Your sofa was where I let you tuck me in, later in the week.

I was drowsy and ready for bed; you were getting ready to explore the city’s rooftops with a friend. Our paths crossed. I could’ve gone up to my room, but you offered me your couch as a makeshift bed. Already dozing off, I kept my eyes closed as you covered me with a blanket that was warm and just-shy-of-scratchy, and the weight of it on my shoulders felt like a hug. And you told me, in a voice that soothed like a lullaby, that this wasn’t just an ordinary blanket, but a valued possession of yours. It was special to you, and in the last moments before I fell asleep I abstractly hoped that I would one day be special to you, too.

I woke up once that night, blinking groggily in the dark and feeling momentarily lost. But as my eyes adjusted I spotted a note on your desk addressed to me, scribbled in your impatient handwriting. I remembered where I was. And I felt a warmth emanating from my core that wasn’t entirely unlike love.

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In the days that followed we got closer, to say the least. The boy with the blue jeans, thick-rimmed glasses and warm smile found a permanent residence in my thoughts. Your name was suddenly a commonality in my journal entries, each one overflowing with hope and optimism. I could sense change in my future and I welcomed it.

Which is why a few nights later, as I stood waiting in the hall outside of room 1213, I was calm, my heart steady-beating in my chest. You let me in; you closed the door behind me.

We each had a beer, but I’m not sure mine ever touched my lips. As we talked it became less of a drink and more of an anchor to cling to as the room was flooded with emotional memories, the kind stashed away in the mental filing cabinet labeled toxic and do-not-touch. I’m not sure what my justification was for unburdening onto someone I barely knew, but suffice it to say that I did. I guess you just seemed like the sort of person I would want keeping my secrets. It felt easier, having you hold on to them for me. And I was happy to hold on to yours for you, too.

The rest of that night was a blur of honesty and compassion and hearts-worn-on-sleeves. Hold out your hands, you said at one point. So I did. You took them gently into your own, you looked at them closely. I remember thinking they looked very small and pale in comparison to yours. I think hands say a lot about a person, you said, and I think yours show elegance and strength. And I wanted to tell you that yours spoke of determination, of resilience, of tenderness.

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I’m of the belief that any activity can become an adventure when you’re in good company. We wandered all around our building that night and I never grew bored, not for a second. We sat in secluded-stairwells and in plain sight. We danced in a dimly lit lounge. We talked, for hours and hours, about all sorts of things. We confessed mutual feelings.

And oh, how glorious it felt to be eighteen and invincible and falling in love with you.

The night ended, because suddenly we realized that it was morning already. I think it was something like 4 a.m. when you walked me up to my room (taking the stairs, dragging things out). But in my head, our time spent together was eternal, along with all of the memories we’ve created since then. Filed away in a shiny new cabinet, labeled best-of-times in bright, bold letters.

Do you want to know the best part? At the very last second, we kissed. And it was breathless, and the room spun, and there was an inferno in my chest, like my blood was kerosene and you were breathing fire down my throat. And amidst erratic heart beats and burning, feverish thoughts I discovered that you were what I’d been searching for all along.

Stay nutty.

whirlysquirrel

 

 

 

Vacancy

Are you happy to be home?

The fourth time this week I’ve been asked this question, and it’s only Wednesday.

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I’m sitting on my bed, my legs pulled protectively to my chest, while she hovers expectantly in the doorway, one hand placed on its frame.

My suitcases have been unpacked and tucked away, but the room still has just-returned-from-college written all over it. Two new precarious stacks of paperback novels on my desk, a royal blue journal with golden-etched suns and moons on the floor beside my bed. An organizer bin heavy with things I haven’t found homes for just yet: lab goggles, a hefty psychology textbook, crisply folded sheets.

I have an answer ready, well-rehearsed, but behind my customary facade of nonchalance I’m drawing a blank. Home? I’m not even sure I know what that word means.

…Okay, sure, I’m accustomed to the traditional definition of the word, the one people are most often referring to when they use it. Home (n): The place where someone tucked you in and read you your favorite story before bed each night, once upon a time. The place where, if asked, you could point out all of the best hide-and-seek spots. Where the meals are made from scratch (except for when they’re mac and cheese). Where the cabinet above the bathroom sink contains your toothbrush, where the attic contains your old Halloween costumes (oh, and where there are embarrassing photos of you lining the wall along the staircase).

Technically, I have one of these places. On days that I choose to view the world through rose-colored glasses, I could tell you singular things about it that I find familiar, even comforting.

The cat’s eyes, shimmering yellow-y green in the headlights when I pull into the driveway late at night.

The smell of liquid lavender soap, tendrils of steam dissipating into the air as I meditatively wash the dishes.

Non-serious, nonsensical debates with my brother. (Because why not?)

The leafy canopy that stretches solicitously over the backyard, making a time capsule of the viridescent enclosure.

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But. But, but, but.

Am I happy here?

Every time I try to come up with a truthful, organic response to that question (one that hasn’t been practiced to perfection fifty times in the mirror) I feel a heavy ache in my chest, a hitch in my throat. And I have a sneaking suspicion that those two symptoms of something’s-not-right probably speak for themselves.

To be entirely honest, it is very difficult (often impossible) to find any similarities between the tiny red house I was raised in and the Hallmark version of what a home should be.

After all, I remind myself bitterly, a home isn’t a place where sickness is in charge and logic constitutes punishment. Where restriction and religion are inseparable, a toxic cocktail. Where a child must be the adult while the adult indulges in a deranged daydream. Where being yourself is against the rules.

I found ways of distracting myself back then, while things were bad. While I was suffocating in plain sight, but hiding it well. I was in my own dark little world, I once wrote in an angst-filled letter to an entrusted teacher. I was angry all the time and I loathed my parents for what they were putting me through. The secret they were forcing me to choke on.

I’ve been able to breathe easier, since those days. Freedom tends to associate itself with the purest of air. Once I put roughly 140 miles between myself and my heartache, I slowly began the process of re-learning how to exhale properly. After that I was even able to mend a little bit, to grow and develop (see Maslow’s hierarchy of needs). But right now I’m back in the house that once doubled as a prison, and even though it’s only for the summer, I feel a little bit like a fish on dry land–flopping about in a panicked frenzy, desperate for water.

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It seems that I unpacked questions along with my wardrobe when I moved back in with my parents. Enormous, intimidating ones with unclear answers.

How do I begin the process of forgiveness?

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When will I be able to hug my parents without cringing internally?

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Why is all of this so damn hard?

The truth is, when I think of the concept of “home” in a broader sense–a place of refuge, acceptance, unconditional love, et cetera–I don’t think of this place at all. The truth is, returning from college feels a little bit like taking two steps forward, one and a half steps back. The truth is, I’m a little bit trapped between wanting to feel better and not being ready to let go of the past.

The truth is, I’m not quite sure where to go from here.

In terms of forgiveness, I’m just not there yet.

I think that some people grow up with the luxury of never having to mentally untangle “house” from “home“. I think that those people are really lucky. I hope that one day I’ll get to share a nice little place with the person I love most, and maybe then I won’t have to distinguish between the two, either.

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My favorite person visits me on weekends. He wakes me up, shaking my shoulder, and we giggle like the happiest goofballs alive. When we’re barrelling down the highway, racing toward new adventures at ten miles over the speed limit, it’s easy to talk about all of the dysfunctionalities I’m leaving behind with a flippant, light-hearted tone. They feel trivial, insignificant.

But our reconciliations last two days, my week lasts five. And the emptiness always finds its way back to me eventually and settles in to my stomach, its standard residence. So I embark on quests to find the missing pieces of myself. I go for long runs on shady paths, I take photographs of trees and ferns. I buy tiny trinkets at shops with extravagant names. I sit in my favorite booth at the library (the one with red leather seats and natural light) and write, attempting to pin down my run-away thoughts. I sip tea, I lay in the grass and read books. I tell jokes to make my friends laugh. I run errands.

I’m trying to come to terms with the fact that home, for me, is not what it is for other people. Some days it is a hard pill to swallow, one that leaves a bitter after-taste in my mouth.

Lately I’ve been stuck on this habit of taking the longest possible routes back to my house. There’s just something vaguely reassuring about a city as it’s closing up shop for the night. After a trip downtown I often drive in an erratic pattern of lefts and rights, passing by a park, a book store, my favorite coffee shop. I’ll circle through out-of-the-way neighborhoods, I’ll weave my way through the college campus just to kill time. I’ll cruise along windy stretches of road illuminated by moonlight. Sometimes I park next to the soccer field two blocks from my house, just to watch the different hues of twilight blend together.

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I don’t know what it is that I’m looking for…or maybe I do.

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Maybe I’m looking for pieces of a home–the unconventional kind, my only kind–to last me through the night. Maybe I’m looking for pieces of this town that I can tether myself to. Maybe I’m looking for secluded spots where I feel a little more me, a little less lost. Or maybe I’m just putting off the inevitable return to the place where I’m the smallest version of myself. I’m not really sure.

All I know is that some nights as I drive through the dark, the moon looks as melancholy as I feel, and it helps me pretend that I’m not alone.

That I’m not the only one with a vacancy in my heart, instead of a home.

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Stay nutty.

whirlysquirrel

 

Fond Reminiscence

I guess journaling feels something like being my own mood ring.

(Today’s color: hazy orange, not unlike an August sunset.)

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I woke up blanketed by the soothing color of fond reminiscence, of something once-brilliant now just a bit blurred. Something delightfully nostalgic, if only slightly smudged. I enjoyed the tranquility of a day not yet touched, a silence not yet broken as I emerged from my slumber; I breathed in the air infused with the flowery fragrances of past pleasures to be savored all over again. Like a handful of cool glass marbles, I marveled at the smooth surfaces of these moments, their individual swirls of color, their aesthetic as a whole. I closed my eyes and sank back down into my still-warm pillow and allowed yesterday’s happiness to temporarily serve as today’s reason to smile. I remembered.

Have you ever watched the sun set?

It is very likely that you have, and if you’re like me, you’re always the tiniest bit in awe of (and occasionally vexed by) the way the light drains out of the sky with so much subtlety, so much grace that you never truly see it happen. It always seems as though the sun and moon wait to do their nightly hand off until you’ve closed your eyes for a moment too long, or averted your gaze for a split second to look at some other element of the natural world. The particles of pinkish-gold sift to some other section of the globe and leave you to admire the universe’s starry black backdrop, (and let it be noted that there has never been something more worthy of admiration than this glorious display of far-away radiance) but this change always occurs too indistinctly for you to track. The artful transition from day to night adds to the ever-present mystique of the skies.

After revisiting the events of this past weekend I am of the conviction that life’s sweetest moments are similar to the setting sun. Fleeting, bittersweet fragments of the best that life has to offer: so full of belly-aching laughter and eyes-closed contentment that they always slip away a little too swiftly, while you’re too busy appreciating them to worry about the fact that all good things must eventually end.

Or maybe you’re all too aware that they are passing you by, and this is the source for a slight heaviness in your heart, even during your most amazing adventures.

This afternoon, as I stretched out on a clean towel cushioned by a bed of clovers and overgrown grass, I allowed the sun to seep into my skin as I thought fondly of my favorite snippets from a now-immortal, magical weekend.

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I thought of a long overdue hug, of a spontaneous change of plans (actually, several of those). Of a shared sack of french fries, eaten in a parking lot. Of hearty, tears-in-your-eyes laughter.

Of an out of the way trip to a pet store (related: of falling helplessly in love with the wiggliest puppies, shivering with excitement).

Of a never-ending quest for new experiences. Of a dinner date, an evening drive.

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Of a let’s-take-our-time kind of morning spent writing in a library. Of appreciating the little things: a cup of tea, a handwritten note, a forehead kiss.Of not quite perfecting a tricky dance move but damn, you should’ve seen how much fun we had trying.

Of a million I love yous, each one unique and so, so sincere.

Of a much-needed cry, of holding on tight. (Of wishing that a moment could be suspended in time.) Of laying hand-in-hand, side-by-side on a wooden dock, enjoying an almost-chilly evening.

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Of a prolonged goodbye, of being unable to look as the car drove away.

I am not a believer in leaning heavily on the past (the fondly remembered good-‘ol-days) as a primary source of elation–I cannot endorse that, not in good faith. But I do believe in using memories as a means of embellishment, kind of like a smattering of sprinkles atop an ice cream cone. They are pretty, then sugary as they melt into something sweet and indistinguishable on your tongue.

Yes, the greatest experiences can only be treasured briefly before they are translated into mere mental images. Just like the elusive sunset, they end quietly, beautifully.

But the sun will set again.  And you will have so many more lovely moments, which will become lovely memories. You will be sad when they’re over, but you’ll find new adventures to embark upon.
And in this manner, life proceeds.

 

Stay nutty.

whirlysquirrel