I wake up to rain sizzling on my window. Bands of gray Seattle sun peek through the curtains, and hazelnut coffee wafts from the kitchen. January first. Another year and still no apocalypse. I act tough, but of course part of me is scared. Zombies. Nukes. Global Chicken Fryer? Statistically, we’re f*cked. Humanity will find a way to dance in the chaos, I think.
Happy new day, new year, new decade. I’d jump out of bed but my arm is in a sling. Shoulder surgery. Good start. “No 31-year-old should have a rotator cuff this shredded,” doc said. I’m used to it. Nineteen years of people telling me to slow down. I don’t mind the pain but it would be nice to know what it’s all for. “Happy New Year but you still owe me two articles, woohoo!” my editor’s email will say. I can write if I move my notepad back and forth under my immobilized right hand. Article one is a throwaway: “Seven poems to start the new year with.” Maybe change to “decade” for dramatic effect. Article two, I still have to write
My head hurts so I take a walk to clear it. I stop for coffee. “Every donut has a story,” says a chalkboard behind the register. I’m still looking for mine. I suppose I have the basics: person is me, perspective is my head, conflict is striving to be something I’m not. Place? How about this laminated table covered in chocolate crumbs. In my dreams I know a guy who knows what he’s doing. He wakes up with purpose, drive, resolve. What is the dream? Buy a house, says one. Find a mate, says another. But that’s chaff — there has to be more. There has to be something inside each of us that can never fail or be taken away.
The wallpaper behind me is scribbled with new year’s resolutions. Among the commitments to violin, fitness, and vacuous “follow my hearts,” Owen wants to “be more like a donut,” Rachel wants to “make puppet shows,” Brooklyn wants to “make new mistakes,” and an anonymous optimist wants to “give more hugs.” A kid comes up to me, no older than six. He’s wearing glossy red rain boots, a 2020 tiara and has chocolate smeared on his cheeks.
“Hi! I’m going to the park!” he practically screams, then runs off.
I still have no story, so I walk to the lake. There was this tree I’d seen, leaning over, dipping its branches into the misty water. Maybe I’d find something there. The sun comes out. I remember this fable about the sun and wind competing to knock off an old man’s cloak. The wind goes first. It howls and blows and the man huddles tighter. When it gives up, the sun shines until the man, sweating, takes off his cloak and looks for shade. The moral is that “gentleness trumps ferocity.” I see it as “mechanical air currents against solar radiation is an unfair match.” Still, I take my jacket off and remember how good the sunshine on my skin feels. The blue sky reflects on puddles on the pavement.
I find my half-sunken tree. I wonder: If trees could know things, and this one knew a future of broken limbs and drowning roots, would it rather not grow, grow without knowing, or know and grow anyway? There’s moss on the bench. And it’s wet. Squish, squish of boots in the mud behind me, all the resolution-ers promising to walk the lake once a day, once a week, once a month — okay, just on holidays. Is an unkept promise better than not caring enough to make one at all?
On the way back, I find a Little Free Library — a weather-beaten pink sidewalk shrine full of used books with a Darth Vader helmet on top. It’s mostly Danielle Steele and Lee Child, but one stands out to me: “How to Be an Adult in Relationships.” I need that. Where’s all this growing up they promised us would happen? I almost take it, then I remember the kid in the donut shop. He has no idea how ridiculous he looks, or what he would look if he were an adult, judged by an adult. And why should he? “I love my life, and want to share my excitement with you,” is all he wanted to say.
I come home without a story, dip my quill in digital ink and rest its feather on my lips. To be a real adult, I’m starting to think, is to be brave enough to stay a child longer than anyone else. When you’re hungry for affection, you ask for it. When you’re happy and excited, you say so. When you dream of something no one else can see, you act on it. You cuddle, kiss, laugh, hug. This is bound to go somewhere if I just keep going. But only if I keep going. The record of my life: scratching, spinning, broken, skipping. When it bounces back on, this is what I want — more carefree smiles, more shiny red rain boots, more chocolate on my cheeks.
Contact Nestor Walters at waltersx ‘at’ stanford.edu.