Golden leaves flutter eerily across the vast expanse of fierce grey sky. A storm is brewing on the horizon, and the wind lashes across the landscape around me, tearing hungrily at the frostbitten ground. The world drains of color, growing pallid and ashen. I pull my soft crimson sweater tightly across my chest, allowing its velvety fabric to warm my frozen shoulders. Something about the fabric, the feel of the jacket, echoes within me. Suddenly, it is as if the storm is already upon me, flooding my body, drowning my thoughts in a river of memories.
This jacket was my grans. As I pull it tighter, I can almost feel her soothing voice, a vivid whisper in my ear as if she were beside me. My gran was a blazing fire, her spirit so alive, yet so easily extinguished years ago, like smoke in the wind. I can no longer feel her physical touch, but right as rain, I am forever touched by her gentleness and tranquility. The simplicity of the sun, and the stars, and each day passing, is monotonous to some. But I find joy in each second that flies into the endless arms of time. It is as if some part of my gran, some piece of the person she was, has set up permanent residence in me.
My mind slows to a screeching halt like the tires of a car. I can feel raindrops flow in rivulets from the crying heavens, plastering my clothes to my frozen body, raising goosebumps on my arms. This moment is far from beautiful, yet a grin spreads across my cheeks from ear to ear. My mama taught me this.
Oh my mama and her incandescent smile. Not easily earned, yet sweet and smooth as milk chocolate, exuding joy like birthday candles. My mama was steeped with passion like a helium balloon, and it is because of her that I never lose my zest and vigor. It is because of her that I have an eye for true beauty. Not the magazine covers, freshly polished kind of perfect, but the awe-inspiring view of sparkling water alive with cascades of vibrant sunshine kind of beauty, the kind that sneaks its way into your soul and tugs at your heartstrings. My mama opened my mind to the world around me, and in her misty sea blue eyes, I grew up, my corn husk hair darkening and my eyes growing wider still with wonder.
You see, those who we are connected to through flesh, blood or just plain old love, they change us, electrify our lives and paint them rich in vibrant colors. Their mannerisms, their actions, cling to us like an ever growing quilt, new patches sewing themselves into our own persona. They give and they take, and they foster our joy and steal it just as quickly. Surely as there are the brightest pinks and the most mesmerizing pastels, there is the darkness, the black, and the indigo that seeps into the crevices of our being, evils absorbing into our bloodstream, should we fall prey to them.
Suddenly, the howl of the wind intensifies, and the threatening crunch of splitting tree branches echoes like gunshots in the air. The disorder, the ear piercing noise, it reminds me of him. My father, with his tiger eyes and his sallow cheeks that would crinkle at the ends when he screamed, a sound like the fierce clamor of thunderclaps, reverberating through my very being. He was always screaming when I knew him. I don’t see much of his salt and pepper hair anymore. With my father, there was always a hefty price tag on his love, a burning fire at the tips of his cool demeanor. You see, my father was a broken man, torn by his father, and like a chain of dominoes, he broke me to. Shattered me, like plateglass, and forced me to pick up the pieces. A painstaking, arduous process. I was the current of a little stream, small and seemingly invisible. But the will to fight and overcome, it grew in me like a wildfire, spreading its passion and fiery determination through my being, shaping me into who I am. I am no longer that tiny stream, but a powerful river.
We cannot change who raises us, who grasps our sweaty palms as we leave our training wheels behind or who shares the black-coffee bitterness of life. But perhaps the most powerful choice we do possess is how we allow those around us to define who we become. I am my father, but I am his strength, not his unhappiness. I am my mama’s eye for beauty, my gran’s tranquil nature. I’m generous like my next-door neighbor with the cherry colored lipstick who arrived on Sunday’s with freshly baked cookies. But most importantly, I am the girl I choose to be.
I am a girl filled with passion, running across endless gravel, chasing down the highs and the lows of life…
As I come to this realization, I am caught amidst the haunting melody of the storm around me, an ensemble of sound and colors enveloping my soul in their fierce battle cry. I raise my head to gaze in awe as shafts of brilliant light transform the landscape. Iridescent beams cascade through breaks in the treetops, reawakening the war torn ground. In this moment, I feel powerful, I feel the thread of choices, the person I have become entirely my own. I am content as I allow my eyes to gloss over, as if covered by a sugared candy shell. My mind drifts silently into the wonder at my fingertips, and I lose myself in the shudder of the ancient maple branches, and the warmth of the golden light absorbing like a sponge through gran’s blood red jacket.