Maybe it’s not that big of a deal. Maybe that’s why she pushes it aside, ignores it, lets it grow. Maybe the fact that her problem isn’t as severe as others’ makes it less important.
It’s not, but she doesn’t know that yet.
She’s gotten used to it. To feeling her palms become clammy in mere seconds. To sensing a thin layer of sweat coat her body after a tiny bit of adrenaline. To sitting on her hands to stop them from trembling. To taking deep breaths to avoid voice cracks. Her stress is not important. Everyone gets stressed. It’s a part of life.
She bites her lip, a bad habit, she calls it, but somehow, it always reappears when she’s out of her comfort zone. She blushes at the mention of her name, which is a new and rather unwelcome development. The feeling of heat rushing to her face is not a pleasant one. Everyone is going around and introducing themselves, and her brain scrambles to silently rehearse her response at least twice before she speaks.
She walks into the lunchroom on the first day, exhaling shakily, taking in all of the unfamiliar faces around her. She takes a few hesitant steps forward to sit down, with total strangers, no less, and ends up switching seats once, twice, three times, and once more, before finding a group of girls that actually speak to her. She relaxes slightly, but the sweat is still there, incriminating evidence of her shame.
She wears black on presentation days and plans out when she should volunteer to go. She speaks clearly, but quickly, quickly enough to not be remembered, she hopes. She wants to be remembered someday, but not now, not here, not in this class with people whose respect is none of her concern.
You see, it is not that she dislikes herself, nor that she doubts or doesn’t believe in herself. It is mainly that she... she doesn’t know what to call it yet, really. She just knows she doesn’t like the spotlight very much, at least not yet.
She tells this to others, her friends, her family, all of whom shrug it off and tell her things like, “you’ll get used to it with time,” or “it’s a matter of confidence, which you’ll build.” The thing is though, she has given it time, and her confidence is not usually lacking. “Then,” they say, “if that really is the case, what’s the problem?”
She opens her mouth to tell them, but she can’t find her words. She, who is used to being called smart or wise or mature, does not know the answer to a question about herself, of all things.
It’s the worst form of torture.
She tries to find loopholes, ways to muffle the problem rather than extinguish it. She showers every day, sometimes more than once, and uses anti-perspirant constantly. If she can’t completely stop the sweating, she may as well stop the odor. She wipes her palms on her jeans, which is somewhat ineffective, but at least no one can tell. She practices breathing techniques and tries to distract herself from anything and everything that may make her nervous. And most of all, she never, ever, uses the A-word.
It’s not her word to use. It doesn’t apply to her. She doesn’t need medication. She doesn’t need therapy. She’s fine. She’s just stressed. Everyone gets stressed. It’s a part of life.
She tries to sit up straight. She tries to walk with confidence, with elegance and sureness. She makes friends, eventually, and talks to them, loudly. She raises her hand and answers questions. More than a few people know her name. She is respected. She makes jokes that earn laughs. She speaks up and makes good points. She convinces herself that she’s fine now, that the A-word was never her problem, and that it never will be. She refuses to succumb to any stereotypes or signs of weakness. She is strong, and the A-word is not hers to use.
Until, after some peace and quiet, her strength is tested again, again, and again, and she finds herself surrounded by public speaking events. Suddenly, it looks as if all of those loopholes and strategies have evaporated, leaving her with nothing. She feels her breath catch in her throat, but she cannot remember even one of her techniques. She senses her palms becoming clammy as that sheen layer of sweat covers her body once more. She feels defeated, and as she realizes that her own body, her own mind, are defying her, it hurts her even more.
Maybe it’s not that big of a deal, she somehow thinks, for what seems like the millionth time.
Maybe that’s why she had been pushing it aside, ignoring it, letting it grow. Maybe the fact that her problem wasn’t as severe as others’ made it seem less important.
She knows now that it wasn’t. It still isn’t.
She thinks about all she will miss out on. She thinks about the first time she will have the chance to hold a boy’s hand and feels herself recoil at the thought of her own shameful, wet palms. She thinks about how wonderful it must be to not worry about every little thing. She thinks about how lovely it sounds not to turn bright red every time someone calls her name. She thinks about how dreadful the rest of her life will be, how difficult it has been to live with this pit in her stomach, and how tortorous it will be to carry it with her forever.
Then, finally, she thinks about treatment. She considers meditation, then remembers how quickly she fell asleep the first few times she tried. She considers pills, then blanches at the thought of the heavy chemicals. She lands on therapy, and quirks an eyebrow in interest. She thinks about going in to talk to someone, to remove even a bit of the burden off her shoulders, and it soothes her, much to her own surprise.
She tells her mother, then her father. Her mother supports her, trying not to show emotion, as if that will make her weak. She, like her daughter, does not want to seem weak. Her father scoffs at her, telling her she’s making a big deal out of nothing. Her father is old-fashioned, and believes that therapy is for the insane. It is only when she speaks to him with tears brimming in her eyes that he listens.
She tells him about the pit in her stomach, about the sweat that begins in her hands and spreads to her body, about the shakiness of her breath, about the trembling of her hands, about the ache in her soul. Finally, he listens, and eventually, he concedes.
She steps into the office of a kind woman who seems to not care that she walked from school, making her hair frizzy, or that her hand was soaked when she shook it. She introduces herself as Dr. Partha, and beckons for her to sit.
“Start at the beginning,” Dr. Partha says gently.
She exhales, not noticing that it comes out shakily.
“I have mild anxiety.”
She knows that not saying it aloud earlier was a huge mistake, that not admitting it to herself was wrong in so many ways, but somehow, she feels her lips curve into a real, bittersweet smile.
“Do you want to elaborate?” Dr. Partha gestures for her to continue.
She knows that building up this idea of the A-word was wrong, and that she should have addressed it earlier. She also knows now that it is never too late to address such a thing, and it is this realization that gives her a surge of strength. She used to feel weak for not knowing the words to describe her problem, and for not even realizing what her problem was. Now, knowing that she has righted her wrongs, she nods.
She opens her mouth to speak, feeling tears spring to her eyes as she breathes a sigh of relief. She has finally found her words.
To tell you the truth, I think that everything in Life stands for something. I've seen a lot in my day, and as someone who collects things when their time has come, I can promise you, Life and I have differences that aren't clear to the untrained eye. We may both be cunning, quick and unforgiving, but Life has a strange way of surprising you in a way that I have yet to learn. Everything about me is clear, straightforward, and bleak. In Life, not a single thing is obsolete. Everything, every tiny atom that you don't notice, has a meaning.
Every person you pass by on the street, every item that tempts you in a store window, every bird that chirps by your window at the crack of dawn; they all mean something that you don't realize at the time. It's not that you're too immature or aloof to notice these subtle hints, it's more that whenever humans go through something, whatever that may be, their brain reflects their emotions onto seemingly insignificant objects. That's when those motifs begin popping out in front of you.
The couple that walks past you in the street, hand-in-hand, remind you of what could have been with a certain someone. The scarf in the store window reminds you of a quiet night in the snow. The birds' songs outside your window remind you of how it feels to wake up next to someone you love. The older you get, the more symbols you notice. It's Life's game, you see, and you're simply her pawn. All humans are. Just take a look back through your life so far. You'll know I'm right.
You're a child and your mother explains the concept of wedding rings. She says that it's tradition to never take them off, to keep it with you, always. You think that's slightly idiotic, to never take a ring off, but she shakes her head and smiles. That's love, my darling, she tells you, and you notice that when your grandfather passes, your grandmother's ring remains untouched and shiny as ever on her finger. Love, you think. Remember?
You're in the fifth grade and your father takes a swig of his bourbon. Before you know it, he's had three glasses and is reaching for more. Your mother is sitting stony-faced on the couch, not saying a word. You ask her why and she tells you that he's an excellent father and a good man, but not an ideal spouse. You find that confusing, because all you've ever seen from your parents is smiles, laughter, and what you thought love was. You glance at your dad as he downs his fourth bourbon, watch as it makes him unapproachable and rude, and the only word you can think of to describe what you're seeing is destruction. Remember?
You're a teenager at the secluded park now, staring straight forward into a pair of deep, hazel eyes, wondering how the universe could have possibly created something so remarkably beautiful. Before you know it, the two of you are leaning in, and your heart rate is quickening, and the birds amongst the bushes behind you chirp gleefully. After a moment, you pull back, a flustered blush on your face and see a butterfly land on one o the daisies at your feet. You think about butterflies, then you look up again, into those captivating eyes, and feel those butterflies fluttering around inside of you. Remember?
You're on your way home from college and you're sucking on a stale altoid at the auto repair shop, waiting for your oil to be changed. Sitting in the dingy waiting room full of flickering flourescent lights, you watch the man and his little girl sitting on the metal chairs opposite you. He's a father teaching his daughter to flip quarters with just her thumb and after a few failed attempts, she lets out a tinkling laugh as the coin sails smoothly through the air. You think about seeing your parents again and feel your chest swell with emotion, and when the quarter lands on the ground with a satisfying plink, family is all you hear. Remember?
You're seeing it now, aren't you? Every little symbol, ones of romance, sadness, joy. They're all there; they always have been. You were just so swept up in your own thoughts that you didn't grasp what was right in front of you. And I know that the ones from your heartbreak hurt, just as heartbreaks generally do, but take it from someone who's been around for quite some time: all Life-related things end eventually. The symbols are souvenirs from your past, bits and pieces to bring you back to your roots, even if for a moment. To remind you that no matter how hopeless or painful a chapter in your life may be, a new one will always follow.
It may seem that the birds' songs outside your window will only hurt you, or that the scarf in the shop window and the couple in the street are taunting you forevermore, but that is now. Now is not forevermore, and forevermore holds a myriad of possibilities you've yet to imagine. Possibilities filled with rings, alcohol, hazel eyes, and quarters. I, of all people, understand how confusing Life can be sometimes, but if I can love her, not despite her mysteries, but because of them, you certainly can, too.
This is your story. You get to choose how this new, post-heartbreak chapter is going to start. I'm no expert, but I suppose, now that you've had all of these eye-opening epiphanies, you might as well start off on a high note. Keep your head up. Smile. Walk with confidence. Kiss that hazel-eyed beauty. Grab that drink out of your father's hands, buy the scarf, and sing along with those birds. Remember, I'll be by to collect you before you know it. Use this time wisely, take the end of this era in Life, and make it the beginning of you.
be unafraid of love, for it will revive you.
be unafraid of emotion, for it will consume you.
be unafraid of confidence, for it will change you.
be unafraid of change, for it will strengthen you.
be unafraid of uniqueness, for it will illuminate you.
be unafraid of sorrow, for it will devastate you.
be unafraid of passion, for it will shape you.
be unafraid of ambition, for it will inspire you.
be unafraid of friendship, for it will support you.
be unafraid of unpredictability, for it will astonish you.
be unafraid of pain, for it will sneak up on you.
be unafraid of death, for it will reach you.
but most of all, be unafraid of life, for its phenomenons will enchant you.
Happily Ever After
You ensconce yourself in fairytales the moment you open your eyes.
They meant everything, because they were everything, at least, as far as you knew.
You dream of magic, true love's kiss, and fantasias at night.
At day, you read about princesses, dragons, and wicked witches.
It's simple for your mind to formulate a conclusion about how the world works.
You form it clearly in your head, and soon, it morphs from a thought to a belief.
"One day," you declare, "just like everyone else in the world, I'll fall in love, get married, and have children, but no more than two. Then, after living a happy, long life, I'll die a natural, peaceful death, and I'll be remembered even after."
Surely, you think, bad things don't happen to good people. That's just not fair.
To you, "happily ever after" wasn't some unattainable pipe dream, but a beautiful reality.
You see only what you want to see, what others want you to see, and you later realized that most people, even the grown-ups, are like this.
You watch your cousin wrap an arm around his girlfriend and you call it love, not seeing him grimace as she talked of eventual marriage and children.
You look at the young couple eating pastries in the cafe and perceive the woman’s forced smile as a real one, not noticing the bruises peppering her body.
Your parents smile and laugh and kiss each other good night and that’s what you think love is: smiling, laughing, and kissing good night every night for as long as you live, because that’s all you see.
You don’t see the hurtful words they shoot at each other like bullets.
You don’t see the impact they have, the piercing wounds they leave as evidence.
You don’t hear the quiet sobs late at night, nor the murmured words of comfort that follow.
You see only the good. Most children do, you think.
You wish your life was a fairytale, and for a while, it's easy to pretend.
However, like all of the children in all of the world, there comes a day when you can no longer be called a child.
You grow up.
You see past people's elaborate masks and disguises.
You trust, but not easily.
You love, but not effortlessly.
You let go of the idea of "happily ever after," and the moment you do, the fairytale inside you dies.
Your mother misses your optimism.
You tell her that optimism is a fool's gambit, and that you prefer to be realistic.
There's no such thing as magic.
There's no such thing as true love.
And certainly, there is no such thing as happily ever after.
Still though, your mother's eyes shine when recalling her first date with your father.
He was the most handsome man in the world, she tells you glowingly.
She's always said this, and you've always regarded it with skepticism.
You think she's just complimenting him or being nice, because your father is good-looking and all, but he's definitely not the most handsome man in the world.
And then, one day, you meet the most handsome man in the world, and you understand.
He gives you color, light, all the good things you had lost when you lost your innocence.
Quickly, at the drop of a hat, the fairytale inside of you is awakened once more.
Your inner child squeals with glee, "You found your prince!"
He surprises you, challenges you, makes you laugh, and that brings you to life.
You love him effortlessly.
You trust him, for he has no mask for you to look past.
And after all those years, you reconsider the idea of "happily ever after," because finally, you've reached it.
these fingers have wiped (too many) tears
the snowflake landed on her nose. all i wanted to do at that point - all i could do - was admire her. i took in her smile, the same smile i had fallen in love with all those years ago. i knew it wasn’t for me, but, for my own sake, i pretended that it was, that he wasn’t the one inducing her joy, lifting her features and making them even more beautiful than usual. her green eyes shone brightly, showing no evidence of the pain i knew she’d felt before as she stared at the boy, reaching out to take his hand. he smiled back at her, using his free hand to brush the snowflake off of her nose, a tender gesture that softened her features. i clenched my fist, wishing i hadn’t stepped out of the pub for air. if i hadn’t, maybe i would’ve been spared from watching them share this quiet evening moment in a secluded snowy lane.
all i felt was jealousy and heartbreak. it used to be my fingers gently brushing her face, my fingers stroking her scarlet hair, my fingers wiping away her tears. it used to be me. he said something to her quitely, almost bashfully. the corner of her lip twitched as she nodded. i could see her breath catch in her throat, and then, he was leaning in. no. no. no. he pressed his lips against hers, with a feather-light touch that seemed to make her swoon. her eyes fluttered shut as she kissed him back, and even for me, the world seemed to freeze. save for the snow swirling around them, everything stopped. his hands were on her waist, those damned fingers hooking around the belt loops of her jeans to pull her closer, while hers threaded into his hair. eventually, they pulled away and after a moment of staring at each other and regaining their breath, they laughed softly. she smiled that same smile i had fallen in love with, and i knew, without even looking at him, that he was falling in love with it, too.
i stepped out of the pub for a moment, not intending to stay. curiosity tempted me, but i suppose curiosity really does kill the cat. the black wooden bench i was sitting on, acting as if i was really reading the pretentious book my grandfather had sent me, was starting to feel more uncomfortable and frozen than before. as if reading my mind, the wind picked up slightly, and with it, i shivered, finally standing up to leave. for a moment, i thought i saw those emerald eyes flit towards me, but when i turned around, hoping for one last glimpse, she and the boy were walking away, their cold, icy fingers entwined.
the reminiscence and nostalgia stabbed at me like a sharp knife. i tried to push it out of my mind, but seeing her made it all flood back. every smile. every kiss. every bit of pain. i knew it was useless to pretend that we were always good together; we weren’t. i figured that was the difference between him and i. we both loved her; that was clear as day. i had always loved her, wanting nothing more than her love in return. he had always loved her, too, but wanted nothing more than her happiness, even if it meant losing her. i remember being unable to bear the thought of losing her, which made the day i did all the more agonizing. as i walked down the deserted, snowy street, unsure of where exactly i was headed, i felt a snowflake come to rest on my nose. my fingers reached up and brushed it away, along with a fresh tear that had barely begun to roll down my face.
A World Without
Sometimes you find yourself looking back;
wondering, imagining, thinking.
This is what you wished for, you suppose.
Because you aren’t alive, not really, not anymore.
You are a walking, talking anomaly.
One person out of millions.
The only one who remembers.
The final one remaining.
Generations had dreamed of this;
a world without a miliary means a world without war,
a world without killings,
a world without fear.
No fear means no courage.
No rushes of adrenaline.
No fear means no emotion.
But you can’t say that, can you?
Without being thought of as a monster,
an advocate of death and war.
An advocate for the past.
There’s peace now.
But maybe peace doesn’t mean happiness.
Maybe it just means no war.
And what is a world without emotion?
You remember the days of whispered “I love you,”
the days of chaste kisses amidst battles,
the days of sorrow and joy and fright,
hurricanes of life, death, and everything in between.
You remember it all as though it was just yesterday.
You’re exactly ninety-nine years old now.
Older than most, teetering on the brink of death.
You smile gently, watching as the world rebuilds itself;
As a child takes his first step,
As a girl says yes to a kneeling boy,
As a family mourns the loss of a loved one,
As a couple falls in love, despite your belief that it was no longer possible.
Perhaps, you decide, love, fear, passion, and emotion have no bounds.
Perhaps, you think, people don’t need prompting to walk their first step,
accept a proposal,
grieve a loss,
ot fall in love.
Perhaps, the world is better without war.
And not just because less people are dying,
but also because people have more time.
More time to walk, accept, grieve, and fall.
Perhaps, just perhaps, emotions always prevails.
Whether in a world with war, or
a world without.
Made of Lilies
Her name was Lily, even though everyone always told her she was the essence of a rose. But James? James knew that she was a Lily from the start; he even said that she was made of them.
She was six years old when they had first met, back when their thoughts were full of wishes and fantasies, back when everything that mattered was within their reach. She didn't love, or even like him then, but he had admired her easily.
She could feel his gaze lingering on her; it had been for days now. She was getting tired of it. All she wanted to do was play in the flower garden in the park. So naturally, she did what any confident, stubborn six year-old girl would do when a boy stares at her for no apparent reason; she confronted him.
"Why are you staring at me?" Lily asked. The boy's cheeks turned red, a feat she had believed to be impossible due to his clearly prideful demeanor.
"I wasn't staring," protested the boy. "I was just... I wasn't staring, okay?" Lily cocked an eyebrow.
"Well, whatever you were doing, stop. You're very distracting. I finally found actual lilies in an actual park, and I was trying to make a chain." He looked at the lopsided, tangled lilies strung together laying atop her head. "I never said I was any good, did I?" She defended herself.
"What's your name?" He asked curiously. She told him, and he immediately smiled.
"What?" She asked, thinking he was going to tease her.
"Nothing," he said, his smile never fading. "It's just that everything about you is... Lily. Like you're made of them or something."
She frowned in confusion, then heard her mom calling her. "I have to go. And just so you know, people say roses suit me better. Because of my red hair," she added before walking away.
"Nah. You're a Lily through and through. My name is James, by the way!" He called out. She didn't know why it made her smile, and she didn't see him do the same as he watched her go.
It always seemed as though James knew Lily better than anyone else did, including herself. It was a warm feeling, to have someone understand you so deeply. She hated remembering their battles and fights over the years, but he claimed that they fell in love, not despite all of the arguments, but amidst them.
"What is your problem?" Lily hissed, leaning in towards James, who had donned his usual smirk.
The library was quiet, yet filled with noise: eyes flitting back and forth, secretive smiles exchanged from behind shelves, whispers and gossip, most of which Lily knew were about them. Him and her.
"I don't have a problem, Lil," said James, shrugging nonchalantly, his lips curving up slightly at her scoff. James was only thirteen, but somehow held all the confidence of an Olympic gold medalist. "Hey," he remarked, smiling widely, "your necklace is a lily."
"Yeah, I know."
"Fitting. You're made of them, of course." He seemed distracted as he fumbled with the buttons on his shirt.
"James," Lily interrupted impatiently, "how long have we known each other?" James shrugged again, inciting an irate exhale out of her. "We've known each other for more than half our lives. You know me well, better than a lot of people. So why on earth would you think I would ever go out with you?"
James opened his mouth to protest, but she raised a hand and he closed it, his boyish smirk remaining on his face. "James, please get this through your head: I will never, not even if you're the last person on Earth, or you buy me a dozen lilies, go out with you."
His smirk faded slightly, and everyone saw it clearly; he lost all of that arrogance in the blink of an eye. "But - I - why not?" He asked rather stupidly, his disappointment written broadly on his face.
"I don't think you even realize how arrogant you are!" Lily exclaimed. "You strut around town, thinking you own the place and everyone in it. You carry around a soccer ball everywhere you go, doing tricks just to show off. And worst of all, you tease people - and not in a funny way - just for the heck of it, for a laugh. You disgust me."
With that, she stood, gathered her belongings, and exited the library, without looking back to see his look of utter dejection.
Even so, the next day, a dozen lilies sat on her doorstep.
But then, Lily thought, with everything that happened, all the drama and the arguments, at least there were good moments, too.
She couldn't put her finger on it, but something about him was different. Maybe it was the pressures that came with being soccer captain, co-student body president (opposite her, of course), and a seventeen year-old boy, but he seemed weirdly mature.
Maybe that's what was so compelling about him, compelling enough to make her forget all of their screaming matches. Maybe that's why she had this swooping feeling in her stomach every time they spoke, which was often now, seeing as they were friends. Maybe that's why she was standing frozen in an empty chemistry lab, unsure as to whether or not she should awake this tired, overworked teenage boy.
She walked forward hesitantly and prodded him gently. "James, wake up," she whispered softly, He made a groaning sound and lifted his head slightly, looking up at her, then jumped up, as though electrified.
"Lily!" James exclaimed, running a hand through his messy hair. "What are you doing here?" He seemed nervous, which only made her smile.
"It's after hours, James," Lily told him. "It's eight thirty. I was here for debate team. What are you doing here?"
"Oh, God," he sighed, wincing. "I must've fallen asleep after helping Matthew with his chemistry project." Lily bit her lip. "What?" He asked, noticing the small movement.
"You stayed and helped a sophomore with his chem project even though you have your physics final to worry about, then caved into exhaustion and collapsed," replied Lily, her smile broadening. "That's kind of cute."
James blinked several times, miming shock. "Lil, am I imagining this, or was that an actual compliment?" She laughed.
"No, I promise you; this is real."
She wasn't sure how it happened, but suddenly, he was walking her home. As they walked, they discussed everything: school, family, failures, successes. Lily could've sworn that his hand was inching towards hers at one point, but instead of waiting for him with bated breath, she confidently intertwined their fingers.
He paused in his gait, a small smile dawning on his face, then continued walking, even when they arrived at her house. "Where are we going?" She asked as he dragged her with him.
"Do you really have to ask?" James responded.
He was right; Lily could have slapped herself for not realizing it sooner. The flower garden. The lilies. "Well?" He asked. "Aren't you going to sit?" He plopped down onto the grass. She sat next to him, and they both gazed up at the tragically star-less sky.
"I would tell you that you're more beautiful than the stars, but I can't see a single one."
They both burst into laughter, going on and on, until suddenly, they made eye-contact and their laughter slowed. They looked at each other, unsure and uncertain. Then slowly, as though time had reached a yellow light, their lips met, and all of the lilies she was made of came to life.
She remembers it all as though it had happened seconds ago. She looks around her home, filled with love, laughter and happiness. She reminds herself that with good comes bad, with laughter comes tears, and with love comes war. With love comes screaming, fighting, kissing, and sobbing. With love comes defeat, and with love comes victory. With their love, she concluded, comes all of that and one dozen lilies.
She knew it would be foolish to assume her life would be a golden path lined with them, but maybe, just maybe, it would be okay to fight one battle at time without not knowing what's ahead. Love itself is a battle, she decided. At least, it was for her and James.
He had filled their house with lilies the day they moved in, claiming they were an infinite good luck charm. He pecked her cheek, and told her she should embrace them; she was made of them.
She reckoned she should let him win that battle. Even though he occasionally used romantic, heart-melting strategies in order to win: slow kisses, exquisite compliments, corny jokes that somehow made her stomach swoop, even after all these years. Still, she supposed, all's fair in love and war.
The key turned in the lock, and the door swung open. "Lil?" He called. "Are you here?"
"Yeah, James," she smiled gently. "I'm home."
Time After Time
You had no idea how tricky it would be to have your own fate laying in your hands. It was only when you remembered the epiphanies that would come of messing around with time that you were glad you ever touched the shiny, brass pocket watch delivered to you in a box, amongst an assortment of other vintage items.
You smiled sadly as you took everything out one by one, the nostalgia hitting you like a tidal wave. Finally, after emptying the box, you left it on the counter and sighed, pulling out a bottle of wine and pouring yourself a generous amount. Amidst the items your grandfather had left you in his will was a dusty photo album. You opened it and began flipping through the yellowed pages, watching him age. You found yourself amazed at his exploits and adventures all over the world: growing up in Paris in the ’20s, spending the duration of the war in London, then returning, for Paris was his home. You saw travels, wedding pictures, children being born, grandchildren, deaths, sadness, and laughter.
You allowed the tears to flow freely down your face as you closed the album and softly pushed it aside. Your cat meowed quietly and pressed his face against your leg before jumping up onto the counter and knocking the box down. You scowled at him for a moment, then, against your better judgement, petted him quickly and knelt down to pick up the box.
You reached towards it with both hands, then pulled back. In the box, contained in a small, unnoticeable compartment, was a glittering, brass pocket watch. Curiously, you picked it up, dusted it off, and tapped it a couple times. It ticked normally. You pulled the crown and everything around you froze. Overcome with shock, you pressed it back into place and normalcy returned. Amazed, you winded it forward, then backward, and impossibly, the world sped up, then rewinded. Your heart nearly stopped as you realized with a start: time was now yours to control.
“Oh my God,” you breathed quietly. You clutched the pocket watch tighter, and your grandfather’s clever comments over the years slowly clicked into place.
You were always a tragic perfectionist, hustling and bustling about at every moment of the day, an anxious tug pulling at your chest. He would always chuckle, telling you that time is yours to waste. “Not all of us live grand, luxurious lives like yours, Grandpa,” you would remind him smilingly.
“You don’t need to live a grand life to change the world.” He would reply wisely. That was when your laughter would crescendo. and he would laugh with you, a knowing glint in his eye. “But,” he continued, “it’s also important to remember that everything happens for a reason. Darling, it’s all predetermined. Call it what you want: fate, destiny. Forces greater than us, greater than you can hardly imagine, have it all planned out. Every second, every glance, touch, moment; it all happens for a reason.”
You would shrug and continue whatever you were worried about at the time, dismissing his words as elderly philosophical realizations, never understanding or believing in their wisdom.
But in that moment, the profound intelligence behind his words was not what you thought about. In that moment, the one with you and your cat and the pocket watch, all you could think was, “I want to see it all.”
So you did.
You traveled to the estate of Napoleon Bonaparte and watched as he wedded his second wife, the beautiful and icy Austrian archduchess, Marie Louise. You danced in gowns of silk and lace, embroidered with diamonds. You frolicked in glittering corners of ballrooms, watching with a beam as couples joined hands for elegant, graceful dances. You smiled, laughed, and enjoyed every moment of the Napoleonic era. Then, with a few turns of your pocket watch and one last glance back, you moved on.
You reached London in time to watch a magician correctly guess the contents of your purse. You clapped and cheered, laughing loudly when he threw one of his flowers to you. You caught it in your gloved hand, blowing him a kiss with the other. You attended elite dinner parties, read first-edition novels, and went to historic conventions. You flirted, grinned, and enjoyed every moment of the Victorian era. Then, with a few turns of your pocket watch and single glance back, you moved on.
Paris was sparkling with lights, dancing, and champagne. It gleamed with the illusion of perfection and true love, but you fell for it headfirst, accepting its charms without question. You danced the Charleston, drank champagne out of shimmering flutes with Josephine Baker, and received a flattering compliment on your dress from Coco Chanel. You partied, drank, and enjoyed every moment of the Roaring ’20s. Then, with a few turns of your pocket watch and single glance back, you moved on.
You had skipped past the Great War, but decided to linger for a moment at the Second, perhaps to compensate for your previous indulgences. You knew that war was gruesome, cruel, and unflinchingly harsh, yet you went into it headstrong and confident, maybe because you already knew the results.
It was far, far, worse than you had anticipated.
Though you knew the war was only one month from ending, you saw dozens of beggars on the streets of London dressed in mere scraps of clothing, pleading for even a penny. The hospitals were overflowing with wounded soldiers and atrocious injuries. You ran around, trying hopelessly to save as many as you could, and held back tears at each death. You knew you were becoming more and more numb as the whole ordeal continued. You sobbed, broke down, and loathed every moment of World War II. When it was finally over and the streets were luminous again, you spared one glance back, then turned your pocket watch forward and left.
You felt a churn in your stomach as you reappeared in your living room. Looking around, you miraculously found it to be in exactly the same condition it had been when you had left, though you had spent at least one month in each era. You exhaled shakily, put the pocket watch on your kitchen counter, and sank into your couch, stroking your wide-eyed cat’s fur to dampen his shock, for he had exclaimed loudly at your return.
You traveled to time periods that historians, nostalgics, and well, any average person would die to visit. You danced at Napoleon Bonaparte’s wedding, applauded magicians in the Victorian era, drank champagne with 20th century icons, and served as a nurse in World War II. You experienced the life you had so desired in half a second, yet, you realized, you felt just as worn as you would have been if you had truly lived it. “Call it what you want,” your grandfather had said, “Fate, destiny. Forces greater than us, greater than you can hardly imagine, have it all planned out. Every second, every glance, every touch, every moment; it all happens for a reason.”
You stood abruptly, startling your cat, who rose with a surprised meow. You walked over to the counter, and as soon as you looked at the brass pocket watch, it all came flooding back. You smiled slightly; your decision was made. You laid your cat on your bed and closed the door on him, then retrieved a hammer out of your toolbox and promptly smashed the pocket watch, feeling satistfaction at its destruction.
You saw how history had been designed, as though woven by a skillful seamstress, everything eventually falling into place. Many times, you had considered staying; you always glanced back at the end, but continued on after a single hesitant look, for something inside of you knew that it was time to move forward. It wasn’t the past or the future that mattered, it was whether or not you made every moment count, whether or not you made your own life seem worthwhile. History happens during every seemingly insignificant moment, every apparently unimportant second that passes by; that is what makes the future.
Technology advances. Time passes. History writes itself. The past always remains in the past.
We remain, each in our own way.
You never really understood why you joined the army. Not then, as you eagerly signed up with all of your other foolish friends, and not now, as you sit on the shore of a bloody beach, tarnished by disaster and loss.
You remember reading adventure novels about bold heroes who were stuck in situations like yours, but of course, you fail to recall how they survived. Your mother always said how clever you were, how easy it was for you to talk your way out of unfortunate circumstances. If only she could see you now; stranded, awaiting help, or rather, a miracle, that would never arrive.
There are lines, dozens of them, with hundreds of soliders each, spilling into tiny sailboats that wield hope and promise for about twenty minutes before a fighter pilot comes along and obliterates them. You had gotten on three different ones, all of which sank, before surrendering to a feeling you could only describe as “devastation” and collapsing onto the hot sand.
France had been your dream. You would look at photographs in newspapers, frozen moments in time, of people in France. It was a country made of smiles and love and laughter. Paris, the city of lights, was now darker than ever; once filled to the brim with passion and art, overflowing with music and dancing and parties like bubbly champagne in a glass, now empty. Lost.
You never got to see it, and you likely never will. With every wave that rolls in and every boat that sinks, you draw further and further into yourself, until you doubt there is anything left. And it’s not like you hadn’t tried, hadn’t given up every bit of strength you had into escaping. You did. But nothing worked.
This stupid beach, this symbol of chaos and destruction that is practically shouting, “War!” is your only chance. These bloody seagulls crying above you are practically screaming, "You're doomed! Give up!" The leaflets that appear out of nowhere and fall at your feet, covered in drawings by the Germans, are statistics informing you that even science knows how low your odds of surviving are.
There are three different forces at work, all of which are failing. The pilots are outnumbered and fighting for their own lives, much less worrying about the thousands of soldiers below. The ships are bustling around, loading hundreds at most, only to sink and crash into the dock, killing more than they attempted to save. There are civilian sailboats on their way, but they won’t arrive for hours, maybe days.
It took you many long hours, several defeats, and a few near-death experiences to accept it, but essentially, there is no hope whatsoever.
Your best mate, Henry, still refuses to believe it. A scrawny, optimistic boy, he grins at anything remotely joyful and scoffs at your cynical, but realistic views.
“Why give up when there’s still a chance?” He asks you, absentmindedly digging into the sand with his left hand.
“Because there isn’t,” you protest. “Haven’t we seen enough, been through enough?” He shakes his head as his hand burrows a hole the size of his fist into the ground.
“It’s not over until it’s over,” he replies, his lips tugging up slightly as he pulls a shiny shell out of the hole. “You never know what miracles can arise, even in hopelessly dark places.” He waves the shell in your face.
“Yeah, well, I never said the beach wasn’t bright,” you respond, ignoring his deadpan look. It is a beautiful beach, you have to admit. The waves look like something out of a dream as they crash onto the shore, the foam bubbling at their edges. The sun is covered by a cloud, but it beats through mercilessly, blinding you nonetheless. If it wasn’t for the air of defeat and lack of promise looming over your heads, it would have been paradise at its finest.
“You know that’s not what I meant,” Henry says. “I know this isn’t the end. It can’t be! Not after everything. Not after hiking through valleys and fields just to get here, after boarding ships only to end up swimming back to the shore, after ducking to avoid being hit by bombs. It’s not the end. I won’t let it be.”
“Sorry, mate, but I think this one’s out of your hands,” you inform him, lying down and stretching your legs.
“You should get some sleep,” says Henry. “I’ll wake you if something happens.”
You know that sleeping is not an option, and you know Henry knows sleeping is not an option. It would start with a calm, relaxed feeling washing over you as you close your eyes and slip away, and end in heartpounding screams, horrible resurfacing memories, and snapping your eyes open in a cold sweat.
But you do it anyways, ignoring the voice in the back of your head that is cautioning you, warning you against it. You close your eyes and shift your body to a more comfortable position, trying to think of your family back home. You think of causing trouble with your mates at school, finishing homework assignments minutes before they’re due, taking walks in the rain with your sister, your first kiss with the first girl you ever loved.
You don’t know how long you slept; it could have been seconds, minutes, or hours, but you know, the moment you wake up, that something is not right.
Henry, bright, happy-go-lucky Henry, is sheet-white with terror, staring at something behind you. The soldiers in the lines are unmoving, as though frozen in shock. There are newly-arrived civilian boats behind them, and you are about to raise your voice and point them out, but Henry shakes his head in one quick motion.
You scrunch your eyebrows in confusion. Seagulls are flying in circles above you, an omen of great loss and disaster. It feels as though someone took a photograph of this very moment, stilling it forever.
Through his teeth, Henry mutters, “Turn around, very, very slowly.” Fear overtakes your body, beads of sweat forming on the back of your neck. You turn around, your heart rate multiplying as you see the scene laid out in front of you.
There are thousands, maybe millions of German soldiers, standing with their guns pointed at you. The sound of fighter planes coming from a distance fills your ears, and you don’t have to look behind you to see the German Navy boats veering swiftly towards the dock.
Besides the crashing of the waves and the seagulls jeering above, the entire beach, though filled with millions, is completely silent. Then, a whisper.
“Où sommes-nous?” A young soldier, who you hardly even noticed was sitting next to you, asked. You spoke very little French, only the small amount that was required at school, but you understood what he said.
“Where are we?” He had asked.
Henry looked at you in fear.
The German soldiers aimed their guns.
You whisper one word.
And then, in an instant, before you could say anything else; a goodbye to Henry, a comforting word to the wide-eyed French soldier, an “I love you,” to your family, though you know they have no chance of hearing it, the whole beach disappears.
In the second you have before it all fades away, you think of your father’s memories from the Great War. He would always say, with ghosts in his eyes, that even if you’re unlucky enough to survive war, you live with it forever.
“Live with what?” Your younger sister would ask.
“Death,” he would reply. “Death becomes you.”
You exhale sharply.
And just like that, it happens exactly as he said: death becomes you.
June 4, 1940: 400,000 BRITISH SOLDIERS WIPED OUT AT DUNKIRK! After days of failed evacuation attempts, German soldiers slaughter the entire army at Dunkirk. The United Kingdom and France are devastated by this loss. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, however, is still optimistic: “We shall fight on the beaches!” He declares! (full speech enclosed on page 7)
October 31, 1940: BRITAIN VICTORIOUS IN BATTLE OF BRITAIN! They’re calling it the Miracle of Britain, due to the clear fact that no one saw it coming. After losing nearly half a million soldiers in Dunkirk, British and French troops joined forces quicker than ever, making an even larger army, navy, and air force than before. Adolf Hitler to postpone invasion plans, giving the United Kingdom more time to strategize their next move. The Battle of Britain is sure to go down in history critical victory in Britain’s favor! (more details on page 5)
February 2, 1943: GERMANY DEVASTATED AT BATTLE OF STALINGRAD! Largest ever confrontation in the war as of yet, the Soviet Union defeats Germany and its allies and keeps Stalingrad after months of fighting. A key turning point in Germany’s tirade! (article continued on page 3)
June 6, 1944: SUCCESS AT NORMANDY! Nearly two years after the disaster at Dunkirk, the Allies successfully invade France! The beach landings, nicknamed Operation Overlord and “D-Day” are an astounding success on the Allies’ behalf. (further information on page 6)
August 25, 1944: PARIS FREE! Under German control for years, the capital city of France was finally surrendered after six days of fighting! The Allies are making tremendous progress! (explanations on how this could be beneficial to the Allies on page 4)
January 27, 1945: AUSCHWITZ LIBERATED! Soviets free thousands trapped in the horrendous concentration camp! (more details on Auschwitz on page 2)
April 30, 1945: HITLER AND WIFE, EVA BRAUN, DEAD! Suicide took place in an air-raid shelter! After swallowing cyanide, the hated German dictator shot himself! (more details on page 8)
May 7, 1945: GERMANY SURRENDERS! THE ALLIES HAVE WON THE WAR!
“Death becomes you,” your father would say. You and your sister would watch him as he sat silently, remembering.
“How do you get through it?” You would ask quietly.
A shadow of a smile would cross over your father’s worn, tired face. “Hope,” he would answer. “Hope.”
He reminded you of a mayfly, always living for the moment, as though it could all fade away in the blink of an eye. You were not quite so carefree, but whenever he looked at you with those glinting, mischievous eyes, you questioned whether anything in the world could ever be so right. Your story could have lasted ten seconds, minutes, months, or years, but you can only describe them as moments.
Ten. He's leading you somewhere. You feel the beauty of the nature surrounding you, the leaves crunching under your foot, the birds chirping, perched up in the tall trees. You hike uphill; he gets there before you do, but turns around and grins at you, outstreching his hand. You smile, take it, and pull yourself up. You open your mouth to say something, but immediately forget what it was. The world never ceases to amaze you, and especially not now; the hills are covered in flowers of red, orange, yellow, and pink, becoming almost iridescent under the sun's golden rays. You can feel his eyes trained on you, and your smile only broadens as you gaze back at him and lean in.
Nine. All you see is purple, purple, purple. It surrounds you, as though coming towards you in silky waves. You cheer along with everyone else, then stand and throw your cap in the air, not caring where it lands, but looking around to find him. He's clapping along, but he only has eyes for you, and you can feel your lips turn up into a proud grin. He mouths those three words, and you feel your eyes filling with tears as you mouth them back.
Eight. You never now how he finds these places, these secluded parts of the world that only he seems to be aware of. You lie next to him in a meadow of daisies, closing your eyes as the sun beams down on your face, and opening them to see him twirling a lock of your crimson hair around his finger lazily. He is made of smiles and laughs and bold declarations; he reminds you of fire and wind and the ocean. You rest your hand on his shoulder, and he looks down at you with that charming grin of his. You grin back, lay your head on his chest again, and close your eyes. All you can think is, perfect.
Seven. You work tirelessly and compliantly, loving every second of it. He supports you, he always has, and he works just as hard. Sometimes he comes home only minutes before you need to wake up, and sometimes you arrive just as he's about to sleep. Your schedules conflict, but he assures you that it's the little moments that matter. You spend every spare minute you can with one another, but it's not enough, at least not for you. He always says that one moment can last a lifetime, but all you can think is that you miss him.
Six. He returns after being gone for two whole days, and that is when you let it out. You can't stand it, you know he has to work, but you need him, and can't he understand that? He comforts you and murmurs apologies and promises that it won't be like this forever, and finally, you know it's the truth, because he lives for the moment, and this one is certainly not pleasant. You exhale deeply, sigh, and nod. Then, without another word, you crawl back under your covers. As you feel the bed dip under his weight, all you can think is that it wasn't supposed to be like this.
Five. You try harder, both of you, to prevail under the circumstances. You visit his office and are greeted by his welcoming lips. He brings you pastries from your favorite bakery, and you eat them together, enjoying each other's company, even if only for thirty minutes. He lives for the moment, and he makes the smallest ones last forever. You take a bite out of your pastry, and all you can think is, you're making it work. That's enough to put you at ease.
Four. You visit your mother for an afternoon tea every Sunday, and every Sunday, as you take a sip from your steaming cup of tea, she does the same routine. She insists that he is perfect, and you are perfect, and together, you practically ooze with perfection. You smile and agree; he is perfect, and together, you feel perfect. She asks if you are happy, if you feel right, and you can only beam and nod. You take another sip of your tea, disregarding the burning heat on your tongue, and all you can think is that this is what happiness must feel like.
Three. He brings you to dinner with his parents. You've met them before, but it always gives you a bit of a shock to see how closely he resembles them. You notice little fragments of him in them; his father's strong jaw, his mother's bright eyes, the tall height that both of them had passed down. They treat you like their own daughter, and his mother's knowing gaze does not go unnoticed by you. You look at him, and he blushes slightly, shooting a pointed look toward his mother. His father chuckles, and all you can think is, home.
Two. You stand on a rooftop, looking down at the city below you, the streetlights twinkling like stars. He hugs you from behind and you lean into him slightly before pulling away and turning around. He takes something from his coat pocket, and before you even realize what he's doing, he gets down on one knee and says those four words, the ones you knew only he was ever meant to say. You laugh and nod, and as he slides the ring on your finger, all you can think is that no moment has ever been more eternal than this one.
One. You return to that forest trail, the one you hiked with him eternities earlier. A small hand curls around yours, and you look at your daughter, smile at her, and help her up to the edge of the cliff. You see her eyes become alight with childlike wonder, and she lets go of your hand, stepping forward, completely entranced. You feel another hand in yours, intertwining your fingers, but you don't need to turn around to know who it is. You lean into him, feeling your lips curve up, and all you can think is, life is beautiful.
He reminded you of a mayfly, always living for the moment, as though it could fade away in ten seconds. You could not help but succumb to his carefree, spontaneous lifestyle, because whenever you looked into those millenia-old, gleaming eyes, you knew without a doubt, that nothing in the world could ever be as right as this mayfly. Life goes on. Moments last. You endure, together.