She’d graduated without laude but with writing awards, with friendships, experiences, & a confidence she’d lacked before. She learned that it was okay to be an introvert, even as she tried to perform exemplary work to make up for it; she learned that it was okay to be a team player rather than a leader— to follow what worked & fix what didn’t. And, in her new, post-graduate life, she stayed on where she had learned so much, but when her last article for the college newspaper came into print, she experienced a “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” moment. She learned that no one could hold the presses, no matter how much they had or chose to give away, & she was reminded of a wise little girl named Pollyanna who had said that “Nobody could own a church,” for there was no place for censorship at a school where critical thinking was a prerequisite to finishing.
When she’d been LDS— a Molly Mormon on the outside & some kind of nondenominational, free-spirited Christian on the inside— she’d had friends, good & plenty, but when she’d lost her testimony of Joseph Smith & returned to her Protestant roots, she reclaimed her creativity. When she went back to school at a liberal arts college, where she was often the red elephant in a room full of donkeys in varying shades of blue, she realized that the life she was living wasn’t a remake but rather, a sequel.
She didn’t yet have a name, but she had a job— to someday watch over the sister, whom she would never outpace in age, after their parents had returned to Heaven; to watch over the sister who some saw as a cute little dot on a wide spectrum— this blitheful child who wrote in smileys & spoke in echoes & laughed at movement, not jokes, & whose dreamlike gaze noticed the page numbers but not the words. But as the mother looked at her rapidly expanding belly that contained an entire universe of being, she wondered if this unknown quantity would outpace the one outside her body; for every parent’s worry about their child whose needs were different than most was Who will love them when I am gone?
Missing the days of summer activities coming to a close in air-conditioned oases; of falling asleep on cool sheets under ceiling fans to Alexa’s thunderstorm sounds; of resting in peace & dreams, knowing that the Ring will BOLO for trespassers, porch pirates, & all manner of opportunists. Missing the days of piping hot food & ice-cold drinks; of barbecue leftovers in the oven & banana pudding ice cream, frozen solid; missing the days of being blasted by the cold dark from the freezer & bathed by the cool light from the fridge. Missing the days of glassware that sparkles & freshly-laundered clothes. Missing the days of entering a warm shower & exiting a cool one. Missing the days of switches instead of wicks, the security of half-full gas tanks, & streetlights that banish the creeping, creepy night-dark. Missing the days of waking up recharged, with devices fully charged.
Life seems to stop when the power stops: For some, it does, for others, time simply passes more slowly: broken up by weather updates & neighborhood watch texts— like x’s on calendars or dots on a timeline. Some serve others, while others wait for service; still others simply leave because they can, taking their face coverings with them to avoid the Godless wrath of Covid— an unseen force jockeying with this other unseen force to be the star of the 24/7 news programming. In the back of our minds, we all are pacing in Life’s Waiting Room— that most frustrating place to which we all go, discovered in the lab of Dr. Seuss’s imagination— except this space is muggy-hot & pitch-black, dispelled only by the whisper of a breeze or the flicker of a candle, & we are suddenly aware of all that goes on behind the scenes to improve our quality of life.
Because she believed that she wasn’t smart enough for college, she’d quit, toiling away in dead-end restaurant & retail work, soaking up life experience, which was often greasy. When a little bun was placed in her oven, she found it in herself to believe in herself again, or maybe even for the first time, for being little more than the miller’s daughter who turned words into gold.
A bottle of White Diamonds perfume next to the last paperback you were reading, left on your crowded nightstand with something as completely random as a piece of junk mail serving as a bookmark; a Coca-Cola in the fridge, half-full— “an accident waiting to happen,” as Dad would say; a half a pack of cigarettes with the lighter inside, every book written by Lori Copeland and Kathleen Woodiwiss, a hutch filled with Coca-Cola memorabilia. So many reminders of the things you enjoyed in life remain, their disuse telling the story that even though you don’t live here anymore, your memory does, for it is protected from the elements of decay, even as it is preserved in the minds of those who knew you best.
Life had gotten hard when her husband had gotten sick, & their gender roles had, out of necessity, reversed. There were the days that he felt like he was withering away in isolation, becoming Mr. Mom & Mr. Dad; there were the days she felt like she was stuck somewhere between Office Space & Groundhog Day. But when they saw how far they had come from almost becoming cardboard-carrying members of the cardboard box brigade, saved only because they were not alone in the world, they knew they were each doing what they had to do to have the life they wanted— not just for themselves but for the daughter who walked between them.
When Sarah went back in time, she faced herself at age 17, but the young Sarah didn’t recognize the older Sarah. The older Sarah, now Sarah R., wanted to tell the young Sarah that it would be 20 years before she figured it all out. She wanted to tell her not to wait— to do what she’d missed out on the first time all those years ago, until she realized that to change a minute might change everything. Had her child not been born, she could’ve done just that, but she had to let then Sarah B. find her own way— just as she had. This old Sarah who was the young Sarah looked her way once more, & the newer but older Sarah saw a gleam of admiration in that brown-eyed girl she once was. And it was then that the 37-year-old Sarah suddenly remembered seeing a woman who looked like her all those years ago.