“i put on handcuffs and leg irons
and now i sprint.”
– anna swir
there are years of my life that still make my hands shake. if i told you in person you would hear my jaw tremble as my teeth click together. if you took my hands you would feel them go cold. it is something you cannot see in my pictures. there, there is only the hope left after the fire. my stories during that time are the backdrop to this gritty and mystical love i know in my bones tonight. this love that i call my life now. the back story gave way to grace. without it, there is only the sweet hint of the truth.
i was married, years before i met my husband of beautiful now. he sparkled and seethed at the world. a magnet and a hammer, dancing between the two, moment to moment. he was born a triplet, an enormous baby boy, to a wisp of a woman with a sailor’s tongue, two stillborn siblings with him. when i first heard him tell the story, i felt such sorrow. every time from that point, i saw it as his first act of violence. the pictures from this time would lie straight to your face, without a trace of a blink. protecting the life i wanted to shed took up all the space in me, a biting contradiction that hurt more than the ugly words and white hot flashes of force against my flesh. i lived my life in a box that someone else made for me. every day i sat on a lit fuse. it is impossible to say when it blew, or how many times. survival as a shell. bones cracking, eyes closed, broken doorknobs, black eyes and birthday parties, endless apologies, boots in my back, phones off the hook, a faraway life. i was good at leaving, and speeches in court, and feeling like sisyphus unhinged. nothing ended the last time i did. a new kind of terror uncoiled. but i survived, as a shell, and began to fill it by the drop. there are years of pictures i can feel, if my mind’s eye fails. as cruel as this will always be, it taught me to see from the inside, what was ON the inside. it taught me to feel everything as a blessing, even as it stung my eyes, and pressed up against my spine.
i talked to my dad today, from across the country, and he was able to hold my hand from that distance, as he read me letters i wrote him years ago, from the eye of the storm. and i wanted to talk to myself too, to reach back in time. to hold my own hand. this life will always be a giant reframing. each photograph, just as each ordinary day, gives me that chance. every picture i take is proof of this new world. every breath is taken with a weight and freedom that dance together in a way i could not have known.
we are pieces of stories, woven through time. i am the fabric worn in the darkest times, falling apart, threadbare, like parchment. i am the softest, brightest clothing of childhood, still smelling of love and summer air upon my skin. i am the pieces of clothing i wash together many times a week, all spinning and folded together, a family. i am the dresses i wore on days i could not bear to remember, balled up and boxed and pushed so far inside myself i could almost pretend there were not pictures of me wearing them. and i know i probably pass someone each day who still wears the anger belonging to someone else. i cannot know, but i try to see.
i tell my daughter, “i loved you first.” because the brand of love it took to rise all the ghosts of courage, resigned and hopeless and too tired, in my heart, was revolutionary. it was a prayer and a primal scream. and the love for her was the child of the love i needed for myself. it is a story with a beginning that will never have an end. tonight i am writing this after an accidentally deleted draft, with the echoes of a loud and trying and beautiful and busy day ringing in my ears, with so many tasks and lists and dreams of sleep falling away. i am writing this purely, as a wall of protection, as truth, as healing, as a belief that no one is alone and i am not alone in this. i am writing this because it is the darkness that anchors my light. i am writing as a beginning to the longer story it deserves. the buzz beneath my skin will always start to burn, when i think of the fear that blazed through who i was. that could come back at any moment. but the buzz will sting and turn to static, the static will still and turn to peace. because that is what i guard with every bit of abandon. because the ordinary is a miracle i have earned. it is a stone, cool and smooth and real in my pocket, as my palm finds this moment. i was bleeding inside. but we are all bleeding inside. it is what keeps us alive.