Social media terrifies me.
I struggle with social anxiety (self-diagnosed, of course, I'm too afraid and broke to go get a real diagnosis), so maybe a fear of anything public comes with the territory.
Or maybe it's due to the fact I'm a cusp baby, born in 1997, right between the Millennial generation and Gen Z. So maybe I didn't fully inherit the natural and fluid grace with which most Gen Z'ers handle their Snapchats and TikToks.
All I know is every time I snap a picture and cue it up to post on Instagram, I am seized with the palpable desire to fade into inexistence.
I type, and re-type, the caption until it becomes a jumbled mess of barely coherent words,
I just delete it.
I watch as my friends share their exciting news, strong beliefs, and beautiful images with the world and I think
How did they get so brave?
When did they overcome their fear to be seen and heard, where did they find the faith that people would watch, listen, and care?
Maybe they didn't.
Maybe they do it, regardless.
Maybe they choose to live in the spotlight in fear
Of not living at all.
The wood I hold in my hands is rough. Edges jagged and skin torn, a fragment of what it used to be. A grand willow, simultaneously reaching for the sky and bowing to touch the earth. It was beautiful, sitting with you under that tree, watching as the branches swayed in the breeze, scattering the sunlight trickling through.
My knife slices into its flesh, scraping away the bark. Little slivers curl into small spirals. They used to fall into the prickly grass beneath us as you worked, crease forming between your bushy brows as you searched to find the form within the wood. You would nudge my arm and tell me to shush, it was whispering, and if you didn’t listen closely you might make it into something it’s not. Then you would hold the piece of wood to your ear and shut your brown eyes, squeezing them tight to make me giggle.
My fingers shake as I push against the grain. They are slender and soft. Your thick, calloused hands used to cover them completely as you showed me how to dig scallops with the knife. You always tucked the cigarette between your lips so it wouldn’t ash on my skin as you taught.
The knife slips and draws a red line across my palm. A gasp. Then I grab the chunk of wood and hurl it. It clatters against the concrete floor of the shed, sliding to a stop in the corner. You warned me to be careful. To keep my hands clear of the knife so I wouldn’t cut myself.
It’s funny how fast the mind forgets. It’s a soft thing, not like the hard wood that remembers every year as a ring, every obstacle as a knot. I have to close my eyes to see the way your mouth quirked when you smiled. I saved an old voicemail so I can hear the rhythm in which you spoke.
I pick up the wood. A splinter slices into my finger.
It was windy the day the willow had finally fallen. For thirty-two years, it stood in our backyard, tranquil. None of us knew the battle that raged inside until it cracked open during that storm, rotten at the core.
I stare down at the salvaged piece in my hands.
You would have known how to make it beautiful again.
I set my knife down on the bench.
I’m not ready to listen yet.
I started using a brand of natural deodorant.
Aluminum is nasty, they say. It will clog your sweat glands and poison your blood.
Do you know how many products contain aluminum?
It is not a small number.
It’s in our pots and pans and silverware.
In cans and foils.
Sinks, faucets, ladders, cars.
Our drinking water is treated with it.
It is added to our foods and medicines.
It is even present in fireworks.
Do not tell me a little antiperspirant is going to give me Alzheimer’s.
“Oh deary,” she would say.
She had the sweetest laugh,
And made the best darn cinnamon buns I’ve ever tasted.
She crafted a beautiful quilt for me when I was young. I don’t know how she chose the fabric but the colours sing to me. It’s like she had peered into my soul and sewed what she saw. There is a tag stitched in the corner that confirms it was made with Grandma’s love.
It started a few months before I began high school. We were chatting on the phone and she said, “You’ll be starting Grade 4 in the fall then?”
“Grade 9, Grandma,” I said.
Over the next few years our conversations became more circular. The weather became a popular topic. We would discuss it thoroughly, sometimes reviving the subject several times in one phone call. I didn’t care. I knew those talks were limited.
The last time my grandparents travelled was for my sister’s high school graduation. The night after the ceremony, my grandfather was having trouble breathing. The ambulance was called, and he had to stay in the hospital for several days. Grandma was confused. “Where’s Billy?” she would ask.
“In the hospital, Grandma, but he’s going to be alright,” we would say.
Our reassurances never stopped the tears leaking from her eyes. Then she would calm and fifteen minutes later the cycle would repeat.
After that my father insisted my grandfather get help.
“You can’t take care of her when you are sick, Dad.”
I learned my grandmother had started wandering at night, which was concerning as they lived in a tiny house on the edge of a highway.
My grandfather was terrified of moving her. He said it was because the change would upset her, but I think he was afraid the thread she used to find her way back to him would be stretched too thin. That it might break, and he would lose her.
My father came to visit me this weekend. He told me he is drawing up a living will. Putting everything in writing so that my sister and I won’t have to make difficult decisions if something were to happen.
“I don’t want to live if I can’t remember you or your sister,” he said.
I keep thinking about this TV episode I watched a while back. The protagonist’s mother had Alzheimer’s and she was debating receiving a medical test that would determine if she had the gene.
What would I do in her shoes?
I would give almost anything to rid myself of the tightness that grips my throat every time I forget my keys or can’t remember the name of my Grade 6 math teacher.
I don’t know how I would live if it came back positive.
When I was seven, every wish I made on a penny, a star, or birthday candles was “Please let me get a dog.”
Now I wish
For my grandmother to remember my name,
For my father to keep his memories,
And that I won’t lose mine.
But I no longer believe in the power of wishes.
I started using a brand of natural deodorant.
My reflection stares back, judgmental eyes roving.
I poke, pinch, prod.
You could use some definition. Toned muscles look good on a woman.
You need to eat more, you look anorexic.
I reach for an apple only to find it has gone soft and shriveled. Cookies beckon from the cupboard.
You should get more sun. You look pale, pasty, sick.
You can’t be in the sun with that complexion. Cover up before you burn.
I slather chemicals onto my skin. Avoid streaks and patchiness. No one can know this isn’t natural.
Your hair is so frizzy, it looks much better straight.
You better not be using heat on those curls, you’ll ruin them.
I pull my hair back, strands breaking.
The voices are thunderous. They drown me; squishing, squashing, squeezing. Shrinking me until I am small.
Please don’t notice me.
When I step out on the stage, my body moves in such ways.
Sensuous, tantalizing, desirable.
My feet are light as I flow, the jazzy notes washing over me.
Curly tendrils caress my cheeks.
Skin luminous in the spotlight.
Curves shimmying gloriously.
Emerging from those dark depths, I am no longer small.
I am tremendous.
The band leads up to the final crescendo and I unclasp the last lock, springing free from my cage.
The roar of the crowd is deafening.
And the voices are silent.
There are those who doubt gravity’s authority to hold them to the solid ground and there are others who believe if they threw themselves from a cliff the very molecules in the air would catch them.
(Both are dangerous notions.)
I was seven years old when it happened.
I was asleep in my bed. Morning had already broken, and the sun beamed down on me from the skylight above.
To this day, I remember vividly the strange sensation I experienced just before I awoke. It was like I had fallen from my body and was plummeting down to the dark pits of the earth, and then—
The bungee cord, whatever was tethering my soul to my body, went taut, and I shot back up towards the little girl lying on that twin mattress.
Except, I think I picked something up on my return journey.
Perhaps it was a piece of another soul that too was wandering. It latched onto me like a leech, clinging to me as I hurtled through space.
I reconnected with my body and sat up, gasping. Opening my eyes, it was as though I had put on a pair of glasses. Everything looked different, more vibrant. I felt clean, whole, new.
I shook off the feeling and went down for breakfast.
But that leech, whatever it was, began worming its way up my spine and into my brain.
That’s when the obsession began.
Don’t get me wrong, I had always loved books. My mother is a librarian, so I grew up surrounded by them. I recall being dropped off at the library by the sitter and I would fly through the shelves, flipping through colourful pages as she finished work. But it was only after that strange morning that reading slowly became an incessant need. A hungry appetite for words.
When I was younger my parents used to read us a chapter from a book before bed. I was soon sneaking out of my room once everyone was asleep to finish the novel.
I got caught quite quickly. It became very apparent I knew what was going to happen next when I would squirm impatiently as my mother slowly read up to an exciting plot twist. I was scolded and told I was not allowed to stay up past my bedtime to read. It didn’t stop me. My mother has convinced me the reason I need glasses is from straining my eyes trying to read in the dark.
By the time I entered my teens I was reading a novel a day. My parents were concerned about my lack of a social life, but I didn’t care. I was more than content to sit in my room and escape into my fictional worlds. I convinced my parents to buy me a laptop for my thirteenth birthday. They got me a little one, perfect for toting around as I started experimenting with placing my own words on my own pages. It was an exciting time.
Eventually puberty caught up to me. I started wanting to go to parties and boys suddenly became very interesting. I accidentally stepped on my laptop and cracked the screen, something my father had warned me would happen if I kept leaving it on the floor. My reading and writing dwindled. I was told I had to decide what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, and I was pushed in the direction of math and science because I happened to be good at them. Life became busy and my desire for words got lost somewhere in the mix.
Seven years later I have graduated with a degree in engineering. Suddenly life is a lot less busy. And I can feel something stirring in my brain. I think I may have found the lost piece. Or maybe it was never lost and just quietly resting until I was ready for it again.
Now it is waking up.
I hope that soul doesn’t come back looking for it. I’ve grown quite attached to my little leech.
She gazed up at the twinkling cosmos, the Milky Way smeared on the dark horizon. Then, a flash of light and movement streaked across the inky expanse. Her breath hitched; heart stopped. And, in an instant, it was gone, leaving her with only a feeling of wonder and joy for the infinite universe.
In the early morning haze, birds chirp and whistle, swooping from tree to tree in search of food. My eyes track them through the water-stained window as they fly, longing to join them. A loud crash startles me from my thoughts, and I almost lose my perch on the windowsill. Raised voices follow the sound, joining the flurry of activity that is happening a floor below me.
My stomach growls, hungry. My nose twitches in distaste. I don’t want to venture down to the chaos that is the first floor, where big strange men are bringing in boxes from a van parked outside. But my stomach protests, louder this time, and I stand, relenting.
I stretch, muscles stiff from lack of movement. The bedroom that stands before me is fine, elegant in a way with its lacy wallpaper and four-poster bed. But it is not my bedroom, the one I had grown up in. It does not have the small bed that I used to take frequent naps in or the colourful curtains I had accidently ripped while playing one afternoon. Seemingly, my parents had decided they had outgrown that house, and decided that I had too. I wrinkle my nose. At least our old house hadn’t smelled so musty.
Wandering out of the bedroom, I start down the long, winding staircase. The old boards creak when I step in the middle, so I stick to the outside of the stairs.
I sit down on the bottom step and poke my head around the bannister, peering towards the kitchen. I can see Mother stooped over a dust bin, sweeping up shattered glass fragments. Small light curls have escaped her messy bun and are beginning to frizz in the late Autumn humidity. Her brow is furrowed in harsh lines.
No one else seems to be in the room, so I slip through the doorway. Mother doesn’t notice me as she stands and empties the dust bin into the garbage can. I sidle up and lean against her tall frame, looking up questioningly. She looks down and her lips spread into small but strained smile.
“Hi, Daisy, darling. Are you hungry? I know you haven’t had breakfast yet. We are just unpacking the dishes now; the moving van broke down halfway here, so they didn’t arrive until this ungodly hour. Here,” She reaches over to grab something off the counter and turns back to hand me one of my old stuffed animals, “Can you go play for a couple minutes until we finish? I’ll get you some food as soon as I can.”
I pick up the toy and start out of the room. I pause to look back, but Mother is already opening another box. The squeak of the screen door sends me scurrying from the kitchen, unwilling to meet any of the strange moving men.
As I run through the hallway, I lose my hold on my stuffed animal, sending it sliding across the hardwood floors before vanishing into the living room. I skid to a halt. When I had gone exploring last night the living room had given me the creeps, with its dark drapes and dusty furniture. I stand there, frozen, staring into the dim doorway. Then I shake my head, breaking me out of my paralysis. There’s nothing to be scared of in there.
I tiptoe forward and scan the room. Empty. I snort at my foolishness and look around until I find my toy. There, by the television. I saunter over, pick it up and turn…
A cold, prickling sensation rushes through me and every hair on my body stands on end. I drop my toy. A hissing sound escapes through my teeth as my brain tries to make sense of what is in front of me.
A woman sits in the rocking chair by the fireplace. Her white hair is pulled back in a tight bun and she wears a frilly pink night gown. She is knitting, a pair of purple glasses balanced at the end of her nose and a ball of red yarn at her feet. She looks up in surprise at the sound.
“Oh my, well, hello,” She smiles, “No need to get all riled up and puffy. It’s just me. I know I’m not supposed to be here, but—oh you must be Daisy. Annabeth told me all about you. It’s a shame I didn’t meet you before, but I was quite ill for some time. You’re as cute as a button just like she said.”
I stare, tilting my head to one side.
“I think my time here is short. I managed to slip away for a minute, but it won’t be long before I have to return. This isn’t my place anymore. I just want to see Annabeth one last time. It was just her and I for a long while, did you know that? Yes, her father was a kind man but not one for responsibility, so it was just Annabeth and me,” Her eyes glisten, and she looks back down at her knitting, quiet for a moment.
I inch forward and touch her foot tentatively. She smiles down at me sadly.
On the other side of the house I hear Mother call, “Daisy! Daisy, where are you?”
The woman gazes down the hallway wistfully, “I think my time is up, my dear.” She starts to fade, ebbing away into the darkness around her.
Panic clangs through me. I strike out at the ball of yarn. It tumbles down the hallway, unraveling a trail of red. I hear Mother cry out in surprise and then footsteps sound. “Daisy?”
Mother steps into the room, the remaining ball of yarn in hand. The woman in the rocking chair utters an “Oh” and a tear slips down her cheek. She reaches out and rests her hand on Mother’s. “Thank you,” She whispers to me as she vanishes into the darkness.
Mother stares at the ball of yarn in her hand, a bittersweet expression on her face. Tears well in her eyes and she swallows. She turns to me, “What were you looking at in that rocking chair, huh? Were you seeing ghosts?” She lets out a choked laugh, “Did you know this used to be my mother’s house?”
She wipes away her tears, “I think it’s about time we open these curtains.”
She gently places the yarn on the rocking chair and crosses the floor to pull back the dark drapes, letting the sunlight pour in. It gives the room a glow that reveals traits I hadn’t noticed before; the glint of a swinging pendulum in the grandfather clock, the vibrant colours in the patchwork rug, the gleam off the framed photographs decorating the walls.
Mother points at an armchair in the corner, “Did you know I used to do my homework there every night when I was in high school? And I would practice for the music festival every year on that piano,” She gazes at it fondly, “Even won once.”
Mother wanders out of the room, picking up my toy mouse along the way. I follow close on her heels. She goes upstairs to the bedroom, “This was my room growing up. I didn’t pick the décor though.” She gestures at the lacy walls, “I used to hate this wallpaper. My high school boyfriend and I even carved our initials into it in rebellion,” She crouches and smooths her fingers over the worn letters in the wall behind the bed, “Don’t tell your father.”
I meow, flicking my tail. She smiles, reaching over to scratch behind my ear.
“Beth? Where are you? The movers are done, and the kids have arrived to help!” Father yells from somewhere in the house.
“I’ll be right there!” Mother calls back. She looks at me and sighs, “Suppose I should stop yammering away to my cat. You want some food, Daisy? Let’s go get some breakfast.” She heads back down the stairs.
I look around the room, at the water-stained window, the four-poster bed, the wallpaper. I suppose this will do. I turn and follow Mother down to the kitchen.