Sometimes words are my gift, and I sit patiently twisting the sentences, plucking words that don’t add to the bouquet, trimming and rearranging until it’s my version of perfect. Until the words are bent at the perfect angle so that I can hear the rhythm rolling through them down their stems out in to the air and into my lungs. Sometimes I hand these vases of words to people I love. Sometimes I hide them. I’ve got hundreds of half empty vases, sentences stuck at odd angles, or single phrases starkly jutting into the air, or vases that have tipped over with too many words, thoughts spilling out across the floor.
Sometimes words are my weapon, a razor I use to slit the throats of others, quiet and neat, leaving little blood and tremendous damage. Or I hold those words up in the air over my head while I’m shaking in rage, an axe I wildly swing with my nostrils flared, blind in my fury. I am careful because I know their power. I have hundreds of word scars, dotting my body like moon craters.
Presented or brandished, words are my air. Whether I am shouting with joy or army crawling from one day to the next, it’s often words that I reach out to. But sometimes I forget to inhale. I hold my breath, sure that I can get on without them, until I wait so long that I end of gasping to get them back to my body.
This year has been a difficult one. I am molting. I’ve done it before, shed old skins that no longer fit. Habits, patterns, or trains of thought that could no longer stretch to cover the curves of my body, the angles of my mind, or the arcs of my soul. Molting is painful. Mostly because I insist on hanging on to parts of that old self that don’t fit. I thrust the threadbare self, hoping it will cover me as I grimace red-faced behind it. But if I could just let it go, instead of holding on white knuckled, it would get easier. The words help me loosen my grip.
The hardest part about molting is loosening my grip on the people. No matter how long they’ve been gone from my life, it’s hard to look at a photograph of those that I once loved with all of my heart and wonder when it was that they were lost to me and me to them. For others I can remember the exact moment they slid from my grasp, the irrevocable minute they left forever.
The most important lesson I’ve learned so far this molting season is that people are never truly lost. They are still winding through life’s reddened canyons. And while I may not be there to see it, I take solace in knowing that they have people to help them float along, paddle over rapids, swirl through eddies, or pull them over to the banks when they are too tired to go any longer.
Those that have truly passed are not beyond the reach of memory. The words I breathe, the stems and blooms I carefully arrange can bring me back to them – to the gap in their teeth, their vanilla smoky smell, the soft, tanned leather of their skin. These simple things, knowing the people that you love are happy or at peace, make the metamorphoses just a little bit easier. Loosening a grip doesn’t have to mean letting go.
Back to the words. I’m wondering where they will take me. I’m hoping to fill up a lot more vases. I’m hoping I can line them and follow their shadows back to where I should be. My new skin awaits.