Take just two minutes and read some fiction?
Something tiny and new.
The Light and the Hurt
I can remember certain May evenings in Minnesota when everything was made of light. Evenings when rays of gold dusk would surround the new buds on trees and our own sweaty brows. Warm six and seven o’clocks that called for as much shading of the eyes as the bright noons had before them. I can remember the echoless snap of my father’s bow as he practiced archery in our backyard and the dull hum of cars on the highway nearby.
On these nights I would race with my sister, who was then and still is now twenty two months younger, to finish our elementary school homework and run back outside into the empty lot beside our house. The lot was a wide, unclaimed span of grass and was a perfect venue for the games Sarah and I would play with other kids from the neighborhood. I’ve been told that the games started up not long after we all learned how to walk, and I know that they ended as soon as we learned to drive. But when I remember these bright evenings in May we are all nine years old give or take. We are all still sporting baby teeth. We are all outgrowing our shoes.
On the warmest nights we played water balloon war. Someone would show up carrying a fish bucket filled with a rainbow of bulging plastic, and immediately all other rackets, bats, and balls were dropped. How could they compete?
”I call Sarah, Aaron, and Lisa,” I said on one of these nights as we divided the balloons equally between us.
”I call Jake and Andy,” our neighbor Chris shouted back as he ran to one end of the lot with two water bombs in each hand. Once each side was armed and ready on their respective sides, someone would volley their first balloon at the enemy, and war was declared. But then, to call it war is a bit of an overstatement. More often than not our throws were woefully misjudged, and our balloons would explode on the ground in a harmless scatter of water and latex. The game for us was just that—a game. A chance to run around the lot, surrounded by light, in command of the last hour before dark and bed.
Except for that night when the hurt came. As I yelled “Fire!” and threw my last balloon with all my strength in a hard upwards arc, Sarah came running from the right, across the width of the lot, and directly into its ascending path. Just as it had left my hand. With an echoless snap the balloon burst hard against her left cheek. She fell to the grass in three dull thuds of knees, hips, and shoulders.
I can’t remember the sound of her crying, but she cried, and I can remember her chin as it trembled her tears away from their red wells. The tips of her blonde hair were browned by the balloon’s water. Sarah rolled onto her back and wailed at her hurt; her face twisted at wrong angles like a scrap of paper and she wailed. Our mother, who had been keeping an eye out, came trotting briskly out and into the scrum of kids. In one perfect scoop she had Sarah up in her arms and headed back for the house, softly whispering a hush in her ear. As she was carried away from us, high in Mom’s arms, her face was in full view and her cheek throbbed pale white, as if a light was shining from beneath her skin.
In the next two weeks her bruise would turn red, then bluish, and then finally a greyed indigo that always brought on the word “dark” when first seen by someone. It lingered like a stubborn stain for half of that summer, and the whole time I was never spanked, grounded, or screamed at for what I had done. But when I looked at her a short pulse of hurt would race through my own head, blurring the light in between us. And I had no sore bottom or razed ear that overruled it. What I felt then, real and for the first time, was the guilt without ample punishment that is shame.
It had been an accident. I had meant to watch over Sarah in the water balloon war. I had picked her first for my side. And in what might have been just another bright memory of growing up happy in the midwest, lost among all the others, instead I learned then that I could cause pain without meaning it. I learned how much it hurt to hurt another. That there can be sins, however small, that stick in the pulse beneath our brows.
FACT: There is far greater joy (and pleasure) in giving than receiving. Perhaps it is not so much the “intention” of nature ( I mean who really knows?), but the “will” of humankind (speaking optimistically, and with great hope) that contains this boundless capacity for immeasurable generosity and love (which is possibly irrational, against nature). Give more than you can take. Give everything you got. Even if it kills you. This is my prayer.
Yep. Very much-needed.
Johann-Johannson-“The Jewish Cemetery on Moellegade” // Copenhagen Dreams
This either ruining or rebuilding me and I can’t tell which but I’m going to keep going.
Had you been with me in Paris on that shivering wet morning, back in May, this is what we might have shared.
Canon AE-1 / Ektar-100
Pacific Northwest: Mt. St. Helen & Mt. Hood (I think?). We live in a beautiful world. God help us.
For the text, not the photo.
“‘I need a volunteer,’ declared the professor. Meredith raised her hand, and the man at the podium said, ‘Yes, back there. Tell us your name and the name of the animal you’ve chosen to become today.’”
—Donald Antrim, from “Elect Mr. Robinson for a Better World”
Photography Credit David Zilber.
There are opportunities in life for gaining knowledge and experience. Sometimes it’s necessary to take a risk.