By Lauren Jonik
My body curls next to the large speakers on the floor of my parents’ living room. The texture of the green rug rubs my bare leg as I am unable to resist movement. Music floods from the turn table on the stereo. I want to climb inside and spin around. The heat of the summer of 1986 envelopes the room, but the fire coming from within is stronger. I am ten years old, filled with joy, impatience and a holy yearning.
The days are long—torturously, deliciously long. Word, melodies and imagery are everywhere, overwhelming my senses. I feel the world intensely, but the earth grounds me. I need the gravity of the grass and dirt under my bare feet to pull me down into the space where I can endure daily life. I ride my bike on an empty street, around and around in circles pretending I’m going somewhere. I already know that we all are. Only the methods of transportation vary. I examine the petals of dandelions and small purple wildflowers I never learn the name of.
I am fully in my body and fully aware that I am not only a body. My soul dictates my desires. I don’t yet know how fiercely she always will—at nearly any cost. Three more decades will have to pass before I understand that, really know it and am willing no longer to compromise. I don’t yet understand time. I am too busy wanting it—willing it– to pass by.
My father would take my brother and me for walks through dark, empty, winding roads. He would point at the ceiling of stars and teach us the names of the constellations. I wonder if I will ever know as much of the world as he does. The moments feel like the night sky– so bright against a palette of darkness. They are creating their own light, not merely reflecting it and making it stand out against the tapestry of the rest of my life.
I am hesitant, but I want to give Mother Nature a chance to heal the vessel she had broken. It is 1996 and for six years, I avoided nature. The tick that bit me locked me in a prison of my own body, of my own home. I left school at 14, completely left the life I had known as if shedding a skin I could not be in anymore. Now, at 20, I am ready to trust again. Believing in nature might help me believe in my body’s ability to heal. Nothing else has worked.
The faint scent of honeysuckle lingers just beneath the surface. The air is thick with greenery and oxygen and life. It feels different just a few feet away. I want to stay here. I find my spot by climbing over piles of sticks. I shove past loose tree branches that hang too low and move a bush with barbs that poke my right hand. I lift my sneaker out of a small pit encircled by grass clippings that looked firmer than it was.
The meadow, my momentary Walden, is owned by a famous singer and borders our property. On occasion while growing up, I’d catch a glimpse of him walking around. Now, I hope no one will see me. I want to be alone to heal, but I soon realize this is impossible. Birds chirp excitedly. An orange and black butterfly lands on a long, lean stalk of green grass that bends upon its own weight. I hear a meow—my beloved calico finds me and is thrilled to see me outside, presumably ready to play. Why else would I be at her playground?
Inhale slowly. Exhale slowly. A bug lands on my calf. I recoil and quickly brush it off. At least I feel this bug. If only I had felt the tick. . . I catch myself before I slide into the what ifs of self-pity. Possibilities only matter if they are ahead of you. What might have been possible in the past is pointless to contemplate. Inhale. Exhale.
I crave the energy of concrete and eight million people. I trade solitude and open space for coming home to my small Brooklyn apartment at three in the morning after nights that cover me in music. I have the job in the music industry, the musician boyfriend, hang out at bars and clubs. I feast on loneliness, hope, possibility and my own hunger to have everything all figured out. It is 2006. I’m 30 and tumbling around between buildings, running from shadows and dancing in spotlights that fall into the audience. I’m no longer a spectator, but want more. I spend my new-found health trying to make up for lost time, palms on walls, spinning between the past and future like a movie heroine cast in an indie film whose plot doesn’t make sense. The numbness is intense, but so is the joy and the fulfillment from coming into my own as a woman. I don’t know it then, but wish I could have understood that life is a perpetual becoming and that I don’t have to know what I don’t know—what I can’t know. Stars don’t need names to light the evening sky.
I see women a little older than I am pushing strollers along the sidewalk. I watch them pick up their older children from the brick elementary school down the street. I imagine they have financially stable, happy lives with men who love them. I am envious. I wonder what I have to do to earn that. These kinds of things puzzle me. I can create art more easily than a life. Maybe I create my own hunger, but the desire that underlies it has always been there. My love needs somewhere to go, somewhere bigger than I am. I am waiting.
My body curls on the twin bed in my childhood bedroom. I need help getting between the cool sheets and getting out. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. I loved him with all I had, but he broke my bone and my spirit and I had to run away, to retreat from concrete and stone. I hesitated a moment too long, believing I could try hard enough, love hard enough and he fell harder on me, than for me. It is the Spring of 2016. Instead of celebrating my 40th birthday with a ring and baby, I celebrate starting over, being alive and the kinds of love that don’t hurt, don’t destroy, don’t silence. It is enough. Music floods from my computer. Words swirl around the room like fireflies faster than I can catch them. I want them—us—to be free. I am filled with patience and impatience, joy and sorrow and contentment and a holy yearning– still. Still. Inhale. Exhale.
Lauren Jonik is a writer and photographer in Brooklyn, NY. Her work has appeared in 12th Street, The Manifest-Station, Two Cities Review, Artemis, The Oleander Review, Bustle and Ravishly. She currently is at work on a memoir about coming of age with a chronic illness. Follow her on Twitter: @laurenjonik