My epistolary poem, “Miss Amelia Skye” (“Dear Amelia”) was just published in Bella Grace magazine. Amy Krause Rosenthal’s book, Dear Girl, was the inspiration behind the format. I have since created a Mixbook of this poem for my daughter (who will be turning 5 months in a few days); this book will go into a time capsule for her to open at the stroke of midnight in the year 2042 (which will make her 21, if my math is correct). 🙂
Time was money: Hours were dollars, minutes were cents, but there were no firsts before seconds were gone forever. Dr. Samantha Beckett, idealist extraordinaire, traveled through time to the future at the same rate as everyone else. Though she could not change anyone’s history, she built the history her children would remember— changing their futures for the better. And so, Dr. Beckett, having not leaped abruptly from life to life, but stepped seamlessly from one stage of hers into another, learned that human beings fought time but never won, for time was an uncountable noun that had no meaning except that which people gave it.
It was the child who wiled away the time reading under a blanket with a flashlight & the student who stole time from sleep to study under fluorescent lights; it was the unscrupulous sort who made time with married women, the couple who shared their time as they shared their responsibilities, & the returning soldier who tried to make up for lost time; it was the patient who killed time waiting in recovery & the amnesiac who lost time; it was the disgruntled worker who stole time; it was the blackmailer who set the time & the person being blackmailed who tried to buy some time; it was the firefighter who raced against time, the cop who got there in the nick of time, & the prisoner who served time or was awarded time served; it was the saint who gave their limited time, the sinner who took their sweet time, & the martyr who sacrificed their time forever; it was the millionaire who saved time & the poor who spent time; it was the keen who used their time wisely; it was the photographer who captured time, the writer who documented time, & the historian who depicted a time; it was the parent who invested their time, the mother who made the time like she made everything else— with love— & the father who found the time that his father had given away; it was the grandparents who passed the time, even as time passed them; and it was the lover of life who made the most of her time by having the time of her life, for she was the patient living on borrowed time.
Who will be there to read the latest story I wrote, however unaccredited? Who will be there to share my newest find from the bookstore? Who will be there to listen to me at a poetry reading when Dad cannot?
Who will be there to call, worrying when I haven’t phoned in a couple of days?
Who will be there to binge-watch Big Love with me when I finally have the time? Who will be there to say, “If I hear that one more time . . .” when I claim I am the Energizer bunny? Who will be there to keep me company on the deck while Hannah is being a leaf-gathering and nest-making mama bird?
Who will be there to make lame-o “mom jokes” that were only funny in the way that Alice from The Brady Bunch is funny? Who will be there to give me a reason to pray the car doesn’t break down somewhere because she’s wearing her zebra housecoat? Who will be there to shake her head at me when I brag about not having tan lines?
Who will be there to yell at Dad about his driving when no one else is in the car? Who will be there to yell “Be sure to tell them ‘hot fries!’” at Dad while he’s in the drive-through? Who will be there to yell at Dad when he tries to pull the bait-and-switcheroo with off-brands from the grocery store? Who will be there to yell at Dad?
Who will be there to eat Dad’s overcooked and underseasoned food? Who will be there to ask me to get her a cup of ice because she doesn’t know her way around the refrigerator? Who will be there to try my Grandmother Bernadean’s chocolate roll recipe, when I’ve finally perfected it?
Who will be there to outnumber Dad when he insists he’s right about some obscure fact? Who will be there to remind Dad on how he’s hardly ever right about anything because he’s as stubborn as a Missouri mule? (We come from the “Show-Him” State, you know.) Who will be there to ask, “Is there an echo in here?” when my dad and I say the same thing simultaneously, being on the same wavelength and all?
Who will be there to go with me to the World of Coke and the Campbell Peach Festival? Who will be there to stay with me in the hospital when I am sick while my husband takes care of our daughter?
Who will be there to tell me I am beautiful, just because I am theirs? Who will be there to tell me about myself, before I remembered myself? Who will be there to tell me about Dad, before I was a gleam in his eye?
Who will be the proud mama when I finally graduate from college? Who will be there for the Hannah Boo birthdays yet to be celebrated? Who will be Grandma to my Hannah Banana?
Who will be the other mother to see me bring my Ryan or Madeleine into the world? Who will be there to see them not only be good but do good in it?
Who will be you?
There were so many roles you filled that no one will be able to play the way you did; some, no one will be able to play at all.
There will just be your empty chair, for you are neither here nor there, but elsewhere.
Yet the distance between us, between hello and good-bye, is simply a wrinkle in time— a wrinkle that will be ironed out someday, after I have lived my life— the one you taught me to live.
*I read this poem—originally titled “Who Will Be You?”—at a student poetry reading at Pensacola State College in March 2018, one day after my mother, Betty Ann, was buried.
Christal had grown up as the replacement child, the third of Mr. & Mrs. Lord, for their first had been taken & given back to God. When Christal broke that barrier & turned back time to have a chance to rescue the girl whose death had given her life— she saw her own life floating away before her eyes & drown out of existence. She thought of all the memories that would be wiped out, even her very existence, but in that last second, she knew it was better to save a life by curing a death, even if it meant preventing a birth, & so she pulled the girl whose face she knew as well as her own, but whose face had remained frozen at the age of eight, from the dark waters that now engulfed them both. Flooding in tandem with the memories of living in her dead sister’s shadow, Christal had lived, in another life & dimension, in her living sister’s light, where she was no longer the replacement child, but the surprise one.
When the world no longer aged, learning did not cease but development did. Husbands loved their expectant wives with their rounded bellies & tiger mom stripes, & the mothers loved their little one(s) within, who floated as if in a state of suspended animation, the mothers, in suspended celebration. The babies born were loved for who they were & who they would never become. Developmental milestones became a thing of the past; educational milestones became the next big thing. There were no more birthdays— just calendars marking each day since the last birthday had been celebrated; there were anniversaries, however, for Time continued marching on, leaving a lighter bootprint with every passing year.
It was an era of endless childhood: of childhood sweethearts who would never marry, of teenagers who would never know wisdom, of young parents who would never become grandparents, & of grandparents who would never pass away. Those who loved their age loved their lives; those who wished to be young again would be old forever; & those who wished to grow up would never know independence, for no matter how much they learned, they would never mature. There were no more conceptions or births, no more deaths from old age but unnatural causes. Those who loved what they did would do it seemingly forever, & those who did not could not bear an eternity of hating their livelihood, so they went back to school in acknowledgment & the reclaiming of their perpetual personhood, for they had all the time in the world.
In this reverse Groundhog Day, where the days changed, but the routine did not— the world began to live in an almost hypnagogic state, for the only promise of tomorrow was that it would come. For some, this cessation was the spring of eternal life, for others, a never-ending winter. And for those who were too young to know any better, it was all they knew.
Her childhood had been sweet, filled with marshmallow hugs & chocolate kisses, of butterfly, angel, & Eskimo kisses, of kisses that flew from her hands like cosmic dust to decorate the sky, & of kisses from Grandma from that gold-paved paradise over the rainbow; of stork bites & tales from the Cabbage Patch, & monsters in the closet & under the bed that disappeared with the always precise aim of Mom’s crafty glue gun; of make-believe games & make-it-yourself puzzles; of art class with junk mail scraps & broken crayons, & a refrigerator that had become a museum gallery, with Lego magnets holding up hodgepodge collages; of music class with the laminated lyrics of hymns, folk songs, & Christmas carols; of PE in the park, field trips to everyday places, & lunch where cookie butter & Nutella sandwiches were always on the menu; of science class on the beach & Sunday school under the trees; of math class with numbers that had special significance— in her life or the lives of others or the history of the world; of a 24/7 library with fairy tales, folk tales, & tall tales, & thick scrapbooks that told the family history— the history she would end up repeating— that of happy marriages & childhoods, with written instructions & real-life examples on how to make them happen.
The frazzled, second-time mama, whose nerve endings were frayed, grieved for the time she robbed from Penny to spend on Polly, for the times she snapped at Penny because of Polly, & for the times she did not even hear Penny because of Polly, whose color of hangry ranged from tomato red to beet purple. As the principal of Sally Jane Richards’ Homeschool for the Housebound (& wife of the dean) cradled her colicky cuddlebug, her other hand reached out to reassure her doodlebug— this shiny new piece of change who had come into her life without a heads-up & put her into a temporary tailspin— that Book Club & Reading Club, Math with Monopoly Money, A.M. & P.M. Bingo, Wheel of Fortune-inspired Hangman, & Alphabet Soup & Word Salad with Bananagrams, had to wait for the not-so-secret formula to do its disappearing noise magic trick.
Her somewhat purpose-driven life had been collaged in snapshots, headshots, & group shots— in publicity poses, private portraits, & random selfies; in the stories she told about herself & about those who had known her before she had lost her name upon marrying & after she had found herself in Jesus’ name— these stories to which she bore false witness of herself, friendly witness to those who had righted her, & hostile witness to those who had wronged her; in the texts— sober & slightly tipsy— that she had sent to friends, enemies, & frenemies; in the filtered & unfiltered social media posts & comments everyone saw; in the footage that had captured this vain weather girl, this false prophetess who wore rain boots on sunny days, & this sometimes-misinformed meteorologist. Her life had been cataloged in the memories others had of her— from the barroom & the college of her twenties to the breakroom & the church of her thirties. And the patchwork life of Summer Storm was pieced together after her mysterious disappearance— when she could no longer defend herself— becoming a legend only because, like a hurricane, she had done her damage & vanished.
Since reaching late thirtysomething, Anne had wanted to know what it was like to have a child who would tell her she loved her without prompting, & the awareness she saw in the weeks-old bundle was sometimes more than she had seen in the years-old bundle who was crawling towards the age of accountability. As she looked at her children, one cradled in one arm, the other, snuggled under the arm that had yet to fall asleep, she knew there was not one daughter she preferred over the other, for how could one choose a right eye over a left? This mother— a family tree whose feminine, blue-eyed branches reached for the sun in opposite directions— brought the fruits of her labours closer to Solomon’s twin fawns. When Anne of the 1000-plus days looked to her husband, the king of her 900-square foot castle, she saw confirmation & absolution of her beliefs, reflected & shining from within the deep green pond, for to this ageing former head-banger now headmaster, they had the best of both worlds: a child who may never leave them & a child who may know well enough to do so.