My phone’s always pulling me back to pictures of my yesterdays. Two years ago, it reminds me, I was a lion-maned man watching the world from his windowsill. Four, much younger-looking and anxiously anticipating a move to the city. Six, madly in love with a man I didn’t yet know was packing his things. It’s a joy, the nostalgia, and it isn’t. Every old grief has kept its sharper edges somehow.
Sometimes I wonder if it’s worth it, keeping all these stories in this knapsack. I am, in some senses, a carrier of all my fallen selves. A keeper of all my failed romances, my broken pathways, my swollen wanting bruises. There are the happy memories, too, but I’ve long since learned that heartbreak and triumph usually inhabit the same room.
When I talk about the times my world has crumbled, my voice verges on breaking. I am fine, I know it, but the hurt still rises up, a tide in waiting. My eyes are saltwater, my hands oars shaking on the rippling surface.
Is this what it costs, I wonder, to be a storyteller? My arms and shoulders ache from the weight of all the tomes I’ve stowed along with me. But, oh, the spectrum of color I feel when I feel someone take a story of mine in their palms and hold it close.
Walk with me through the city and you’ll discover I’ve got a story on every street corner. I can’t help myself sometimes; I need you to know all the pages I’m carrying around with me. It’s an invitation, on my end, a welcome into a richly curated interior world.
I’m showing you the photos I’ve hung that make this life feel like home.
There’s the bar where my best friend lost his wallet, and the coffeeshop where I had the most ill-advised date. I used to go to this gym, and then to this bodega that used to serve smoothies. I used to run here in the mornings, I tell you, and I hope you realize it means my spirit was stitched back together along these pathways.
I’ll tell you some of them more than once, and some more yet. I’m sharing some meaning, some glimpse, and I’m aching for you to see it alongside me.
In a few ways, I am still the child that won’t hear ‘no’ without an explanation. I am the boy who hates when it’s time to head home from the park, heartbroken at the blistering grief that all good things end. I am the son who ignores his parents’ counsel that a Band-Aid won’t cure an earache, stretching the sticky edges across the borders of his ear.
And I am the thirteen-year-old who doesn’t know why his heart is picking up from the boy who just passed him in the hallway. An anxious early teen wearing the same three shirts in rotation because his body is comfortable in them. A high school Freshman finding no tears at the loss of his grandfather, until nights later, when everyone else is finally asleep.
I am the twenty-two year old falling in love with his best friend. I am the twenty-five year old shattering his own life and stubbornly finding his feet again. The man at twenty-seven, getting the word ‘BRAVE’ etched across his arm, reminding him to always try and do the brave thing.
All these selves are lost to time, perhaps, or maybe the people we become are cumulative. Maybe I am a walking, breathing village of younger selves. Maybe they coexist, in some way, in a stack or a circle, finding communion with one another and granting each other grace.