Meet Me by the Lilies
It is there, across the river. It is with the maple trees and lilies. There are swans, I think, and newly painted park benches. A lifeguard sits by the riverbank, overlooking the water, dotted with children alight in their glee. There are ice cream sandwiches and a painted blue sky. Gingham blankets flutter in the breeze with soft, flowing hair that looks like what was once mine. It’s beautiful.
I’ve been across the river before, with ice cream dripping down my chin and with sandaled feet crossed on a park bench. I’ve watched the children play in the water, splashing with invulnerable serenity. I’ve traveled there before, sluicing through the current with a steady rhythm, the oars leaving the water each stroke with a plop that sounds almost like mirth. “I see land!” I’d exult, a chuckle leaving my throat as the children grew closer.
There is a footbridge you can take to get there if you want. I can’t. Not yet, at least. But you can, probably. Tell me about it when we meet by the lilies, okay? Could you wait for me there?
For me to get there, I must row. It is difficult, but I have done it before. Climb in your boat, secure your feet, one hand on each oar. Keep your eyes on your destination and don’t look back. Breathe with each move you make. Keep a steady pace. You will get there soon.
But now I can’t seem to find my boat.
And I was never very good at swimming.
It rains a lot here, but I’ve gotten wet before. It’s nothing that I can’t handle. Although now my boots have holes in them and the roof has sprung a leak, I’ll get some tape and find a bucket. Each water droplet will fall into it with a plop that sounds almost like purpose.
The trees on this side have no leaves. Their branches are bare with what must be sorrow, but I’ve learned to see the beauty. It’s calming, how strong they seem.
I’ve been here before. More times than across the river. Its familiarity is haunting and it mocks me. But “Better the devil you know than the one you don’t,” they say. Well, I know this devil. So here I am.
My boat is broken, anyway.
I find a puzzle piece. It’s a corner one. One of the ones you start with, that you could do with your eyes closed, that makes you forget about the middle piece you’re sure will be missing later. The one that makes you forget that you haven’t begun the hard work yet.
Still, I place it on the corner of the table firmly, with a glint in my eye.
A drop of water plops into the bucket. Children laugh across the river.
I look for the next one.
Sadness has burrowed and seeped inside, but it is not what I am made of. I am made of fervor and of feeling. I am made of my mother, and her mother, and many mothers before. I am made of the Earth. I am built of both here and there and everywhere in between.
I have spent more time lately with my rain boots and buckets than I have with sun-kissed cheeks and flowing hair. But I have been in the water enough times to know. I have held the oars in my hands so many times that I have gotten blisters, yet I have felt no regret at the stinging. Even with bloodied hands I know that the sun is always shining fiercely and flowers bloom with purpose. I know that snow falls as paint does to a canvas, that the wind chills to tell you of a renaissance yet to come. I know that your life is in unparalleled motion.
My calluses have taught me that capsizing does not mean drowning. That you haven’t yet gotten what you want because it is being saved for when you need it most. I have learned that your joys might be latent, but still they are extant, growing and waiting to burst forth and consume you.
I have learned that I will sit under a painted blue sky.
I will be bathed in sun.