if at first you don’t succeed

I could tell you about the first time I was ever with a boy. He was 16 and I was 16 and we were foolishly, horribly, obliviously in love.

Or maybe only I was. After all, it’s hard to tell with 16-year-old boys.

But I’ll spare you that story as it’s anticlimactic (in more ways than one).

Life only gives us so many firsts. And often, those firsts don’t live up to our seen-it-on-YouTube, Instagram-filtered, hashtag-ridden expectations.

Which is why I never forget the ones that did.

Like the day I got my driver’s license. It was an unbearably sweaty Georgia-summer day. My dad and I drove to the DMV in dirt-road Villa Rica to avoid waiting in line at the more suburban locations near our home. And despite blowing past a stop sign toward the end of the test course, I managed to pass.

The first time I drove that cherry red ’96 Mustang with no adult riding shotgun, it felt like I’d just been born. It felt like freedom. I cruised through the fifteen minute route to my first lifeguarding gig—windows down, radio blaring Third Eye Blind—believing I was a brand new human being.

Or there’s the day I landed in Paris for the first time. The City of Light came with so many expectations. It was a movie for which the trailer was so good—too good—and you knew you’d only be left disappointed.

But I was not disappointed.

I turned 21 in France—eating fresh baked baguettes and cheeses with names I couldn’t pronounce and drinking cheap wine and gawking, wide-mouthed, starry-eyed, at the sparkling Eiffel Tower. Le Paris did not let me down.

Of course, there are the other kinds of firsts too: the first time I totaled a car (that same Mustang from sweet sixteen). The first time I flew alone (and managed, beyond all possibility, to actually board the wrong plane). The first time my heart was blown to bits (by the same boy from my aforementioned not-so-memorable first time).

Some of these were comical. Some devastating. Some embarrassingly legendary.

But all my first-timer mistakes were worth making. I learned something about me or life or choices or consequences. Definitely something about consequences.

So when it was time to drive again, I knew to make sure my foot was actually on the brake before turning into a parking space. When it was time to fly again, I knew to check that the plane at the gate was going to my intended destination. When it was time to love again, I made sure two hearts were ready—not just my own.

And it turns out that sometimes the second time is even better than the first.

Writers’ Block Challenge #4

Task: Write a story about the images on a roll of film. Use 12, 24, or 36 paragraphs.

Flawed Memories

He hadn’t crossed her mind for months when she decided it was time to clean out the closet in her adolescent bedroom. She dug through the poufy frocks and sequined skirts of old prom dresses, remnants  of a coin collection, graduation caps and gowns and tassels. She dug deeper and uncovered pictures that had decorated her college dorm. Art supplies long forgotten. An old broken iPod – lime green, clunky and heavy. She sorted through high school sports paraphernalia. Sweat shirts from swim team. Running shoes from track.

Twenty-two years of memories kept quiet and tucked away. Out-of-sight and nearly forgotten. But not quite.

Buried underneath a box of clothes that most certainly didn’t fit anymore, she found it. A shoebox. Wrapped in pink and purple tissue paper. And small cut out hearts. A memory box. Containing all the keepsakes a sixteen-year-old holds onto the first time she falls in love.

She ran her finger along the outside edge over the crinkled, stiff paper hearts and considered just throwing the whole thing away. Why rustle up all those old feelings, right? Surely there’s nothing in there she’d actually want.

But something sentimental got the better of her and she lifted off the lid.

Inside, she found delicately packed corsages. Dried flowers and ribbons and Velcro bands. Faded ticket stubs to movies and concerts and amusement parks. Cards and tags from every birthday or Valentine’s gift. Empty jewelry boxes. Letters  they wrote each other. Printed lyrics to their favorite songs.

She felt her heart tug as she flipped through the memories. Let them flash in her mind. Homecoming dances and football games. Break ups and make ups and a mountain of firsts. How earnestly she had loved him.

At the bottom of the box was a single roll of film. Undeveloped. She lifted it out and pulled at the fragment of film strip peaking out of the plastic black case, exposing the negatives. Holding it up to the light, she saw a sequence of happiness. A casual afternoon together with nothing better to do than laugh and cuddle and waste a roll of film.

She shook her head. That’s not what it was like, loving him. You’d look through this box and think we were perfect for each other – that we were meant to be. That we were happy. But we were no such thing. Sure there were moments like the one captured on that film. But there were other moments to. The terrible kind. The scream-so-loud-your-lungs-hurt kind. The weep-until-you-get-a-migraine kind. There was cheating and callousness and recklessness and selfishness and emptiness.

Where is the box that holds those memories? Where’s that roll of film?

We look back and we see the flowers and the letters and the smiles and we wonder, were we wrong to let it all go?

She put the film back in the box alongside the other happy mementos before replacing the lid. If I must remember us, I insist on that memory being true to what we were. With that, she added the memory box to the ‘throw away’ pile and moved on to sorting through the Art Supply bin. 

my bleed american summer

Certain songs take me back to places I don’t necessarily care to return. Dusty corners of memory I’ve boarded away on purpose. Shadows I’d like to pretend aren’t lurking inside my mind. Wounds that never quite healed.

It was Jimmy Eat World that wove its way into the soundtrack of my summer after graduating high school. When Bleed American washed over me like the Georgia heat. When I was stuck between a high school dreamer and a lost college soul.

I was serving coffee in the morning and ice cream at night in the middle of suburbia with A Praise Chorus and Sweetness on repeat every second in between. Working two jobs just to occupy my mind. So it wouldn’t slip up and find its way back to you.

Now when I hear any of those eleven tracks, I can’t help but go back to that endless summer. I remember that poor, sweet 18-year-old girl.

How she felt like she was finally going to move forward, but really she was just spinning in circles around you.

When I couldn’t sleep, I’d put earphones in so those words could keep me company in the darkness. If you still care at all, don’t go tell me now. If you love me at all, don’t call.

I’d let Your House and Cautioners and Hear You Me lull me into my dreams.

I played that CD as I packed up my things at the end of August. As I drove my little cherry red Mustang to Athens for the first time. Windows down. Volume up. As I made my great escape.

I said my goodbyes. This is my sundown. I’m gonna be so much more than this.

I never managed to escape you that summer. And when I hear these songs today, I sometimes wonder if I ever did.

the bravest girl i ever knew

I still dream about you. Three and a half years later and you relentlessly haunt my sleep.

I used to wake up in agony from those dreams. Feeling pathetic and defeated and lost. But no longer.

I’ve finally accepted the fact that you will never leave me. Those six years we spent together – holding hands and rubbing noses and discovering each other and ourselves – those six years shaped who I am. Those six years altered who I’ve become.

It’s because I let you so deep inside me that I am forever changed by you. My soul. My spirit. The way I think. The way I feel. The way I love.

My dreams of you do not mean I long for you still. They mean I loved you with all I had. They mean I gave you every drop of me. They mean I held nothing back.

Sixty-three and a half years from now, should I still wake up with thoughts of you, I’ll be proud. Proud of how honestly I loved. How eagerly. How fearlessly.

That girl who loved you for six years was the bravest girl I ever knew.