outside this house: where i was taught how to balance a blue bicycle. once, i accidentally rode over a tennis ball. surprised and emboldened, i tried a second go. that time, i fell.

outside this house: where i was taught how to berate my beautiful body. once, my friend said, “if not for your legs, you would be a perfect angel.” that time, i fell.

inside this house: where i brought those lessons home. did my homework. scrutinized, scraped. scabbed. and scarred.

. . .

the night before i flew back here, invisible fireworks boom-be-boomed. they sounded so much like thunder, my favourite kind of rumble. something that never happens in vancouver, but always happens here. in the summer. maybe something to look forward to. or maybe a warning. turbulence, looming. waiting to welcome me home.

i play a Dance Hits from ‘93 CD to work out in the basement gym because sweat in the nineties was fluorescent. everyone smiled. my mom was a ballerina with a beautiful neck and every day called for a party. and fruit slices. and jump ropes.

now, my memories are sewn into the seams of this house’s upholstery and every feeling feels precarious. if i sit down, they engulf me. if i keep moving, they buzz straight to my ears like autumn-frenzied wasps. my brother’s face soap smells just like the pack of gum i chainchewed before my first french kiss. sickeningly tropical. the bathroom counter where it resides will never not smell like nervousness and dried toothpaste. the sofas, of a house since sold.

if not for these relics, some of my longings would be long lost. without these shelves, i would never remember the names of the books i’ve read or the colour of their spines. without these letters and ripped notes, i would never remember your words. or your handwriting. without this stretched out swimsuit, i would never remember the shape of myself. coming back here, i cannot help but recall. but i am also ruthlessly reminded that i am allowed to forget — a luxury that growing up has afforded me. one i’m not sure i’ve done anything at all to earn. i get to not be constantly confronted with chronic illness; instead, i only briefly see how it distorts their daily routine. their abnormal normal, their quietly quaking quotidien. and then i get to leave. my little brother’s response to waiting long hours for a ride is a nonchalant “i’m used to it.” i am not. i am not used to feeling so helpless so up close. everything feels like too much. and i feel like i am not. enough. my eyes are wide open and i am a crevice. hidden from myself in my own layers and folds. hoping to never be found.

but. for all the pain perched on bookshelves and wafting waywardly in corridors, there is something inarguably good here. there are my two thesauruses and the kind, creaking floors. our old jokes. our new ones. the costume closet. my dad, who remembers not to put an air conditioning unit in my window so that i can rest on my copper roof even in the summer. my personal patio, whose blackened fire escape beckons. an opportunity. one i never took advantage of (save for the time i sneaked out to take pictures of the stars. i still have the scar in my armpit from climbing silently back up to my window, its gaping depths veiled by my curtains’ white shroud).

my mother finds me. she quells my quavering lips. brings my head up to water infused with the juice of one lemon and a finger’s pinch of salt. (“to recharge your adrenals,” she says. palm stroking my forehead. smoothing my skin. “does it taste good?”) a lemonade recipe. a ritual. for those who need not pretend that life is always sweet.

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