The sunset is violently pretty: pinks and purples flecked with gold. The heaviness has worn off. In its place is something light and bittersweet. After you’ve held onto something for so long, something so heavy – hatred and bitterness and resentment – is this how it dissolves? Suddenly, then all at once, a sea of memories, cotton candy dunked in water?
I wanted to do a project where I photographed the places I had grown up. A mosey down memory lane. But when I drove past the old barn – I mean, school – I felt an unexpected wave of emotion. Flicker of memories overshadowed.
I wanted to ask myself: if you were happy for ten years, angry for two, why do you only remember the anger? Why do you only remember the bitterness? Why do you only see the faceless strangers, all of whom you’d forget? Whose hollow laughs you would not hear on stage as you improvised your Valedictorian speech, riddled with jokes, that you wrote the night before, because you couldn’t bring yourself to lie to all the teachers and all the parents, but you did, and said You Were All A Family, when Family wasn’t supposed to mean Hate, but you Hated them, you really fucking did?
But what about the times in art class when you’d get to go on the trails to draw, and the trees would be so barren, and you’d be so stocking cold, but you’d be so happy, because you were with your friends? And what about the time you meditated in the field with your friends, and pretended to be Stargirl, a fictitious free-spirit who owned a pet rat? And what about the time in the stairwell, you were with the person you liked, and you thought your heart would burst from your chest?
And what about the cartwheels on the playground you’d turn after school with the friend who was held back one grade and made you laugh so hard you cried? And what about the Halloweens where you’d go trick or treating in the gated neighborhood because that’s where you got the best candy, full plated bars, Snickers-Twix-Three Musketeers? And what about the time-outs and lines you’d write in a corner, endless, because you ate snacks when you weren’t supposed to spoke out when you weren’t supposed to talked back when you weren’t supposed to? (“What’s wrong with being a smart aleck? Don’t you want kids to be smart?”) What about the time you all got suspended?
And what about dancing in the rain? What about Fuzzy Blue Lights? What about that day at the lake, staring at riverweeds, the sunlight reflecting off the surface of the water? What about dying your hair red? What about mid-summer swims? What about dancing in the school talent show? What about Sonic drive-thru’s in early July, pink shoes on the dash? What about flowers in your hair, wearing your best friend’s floral dress to graduation? What about deep conversations on the P.E field, religion and politics, like you knew a damn thing? What about plaid skirts? Cracked Oxfords? Crisp linen? Scene hair? Nine in the Afternoon? And what about the boy who asked you to go to prom, during homeroom, and you said, “uh, sure,” which your English teacher witnessed, his lashes fluttering, his mouth agape?
Remember the International Parade? Every year, the school would dress up in cultural garb – borrowing saris, swapping hanboks, slipping on qipaos, wearing kilts – to wave the country’s flag and snake the parking lot. Remember freezing in the cold and rain? Because girls had to wear skirts and tights, while boys got to wear sweaters and pants. Remember sweating unbearably in the start of the school year? Marched up to your friend’s mom’s car because your churches were merging and there was an event and you were bestfriendsinseparable. And even though you drifted apart, from her and all the rest of these people, that was one friendship that you still kindofsortof miss, although you would never admit it out loud.
When did you forget all of this? When did you let go of all of this? When did you decide that a single wave of bitterness was enough to overshadow a steady stream of joy?
When I ask myself this, back in the car, I’m not really sure. But maybe this realization, in it of itself, is closure. I mean. Maybe this is closure, or something close to it. My eyes refocus on the highway, the road, the stoplight. And the sky. The sunset is violently pretty: pinks and purples flecked with gold. When I come back down to earth, I think I feel lighter. As if on cue, Move On, by All American Rejects, plays on the radio.
We move along
Go on, go on, go on, go on
Right back what is wrong
We move along