Poetry & Prose

there has to be a better way of getting into cold water than just jumping in feet-first, but I haven’t found it yet / learning to get along with hydrangeas III

The streets are narrow in this part of Massachusetts, in front of each house a big bushel of hydrangeas. In the cool, start-of-August breeze passing through, they almost look like confetti, waving around as individual petals fall to the browning grass left flattened and scorched by the drought. They’re most usually that same creamy shade of white, with the occasional taste of blue that must hold some gentle secret or another; some suburban gossip, a blue which I’m sure could’ve felt nostalgic to me if I had grown up a bit further north. \

But it’s a special kind of confusion for the psyche to play this game, to learn to call two places home—this sort of oscillation between missing the familiarity and comfort of the sun you grew up with while being grateful for and excited by the sun you’ve come to know here. The sun back home was intense. It showed you its love through the choking humidity of your youth, nursed you on thunder, hibiscus, and sunburns; it lit in you a fire that told you to throw everything you had at what you wanted, to give every last bit of yourself to all of the things you admired. It was Sundays upon Sundays all spent with the family, kissing everyone goodbye at the ends of parties; lips touching skin in a cramped, hot car on the first date, or a much-needed movie after dark. Maybe it was fighting, a few slaps across the face, but a lesson learned each time nonetheless; it grew deep into you, gripping your lungs like mangroves rooting into peat. The sun rising over the New England coast is not like the one you left. It is gentler, more patient, less severe; it glows off the white blossoms on dogwood trees in spring, kisses your face when the cold air bites you to announce the arrival of snow. It’s Saturday road trips into small, nearby towns, morning-afters in sleepy cafeterias; going no further than a kiss and regretting it a week later anyway, but never wishing you’d done anything differently. But it often leaves you wanting more. Laying outside in the grass swallowing all the sun you can catch; in chasing that light, you never stop running, never fully know when to settle down. Moving, pulling up roots, becomes more than just what you take with you or what you leave behind; it’s always searching, learning more, but never being sure how long to stay. 

And a lesson you learn all too quickly when you move across the country like this is to be careful of which sun you carry with you––that not everyone was raised in that kind of heat. The same brightness that lovingly browned your skin, warmed the seawater enough to replace your blood, would kill most flowers up north. You find out the hard way, baptized headfirst and sizzling in the ruthless new chill of the sea. You stumble but, budding and bloody, you always get back up. Crashing through branches, you crack a few stems, give yourself time to break out into blossoms and let the light pour down your petals like nectar, like sweet opportunity, like joy. You learn to slow down, to take the Massachusetts summer for what it is and not what you’re missing; you learn to find that warmth you’re chasing in an overfilled shot glass passed around between friends, or in the huge, noble surface of a shoreline traced wholly in stone. And after some time, you learn to love the cool breeze that embodies early August in Rockport, or the bushels of hydrangeas shining pastel greetings across nearly every front yard you pass. See, this dance, this constant cycle of living between suns, isn’t easy; in the reconciling of two lives, trying hard not to let yourself prioritize one or the other, you border on hating one version of yourself to fully embrace the second, and it can feel like shattering. But in the moments when you move between them, transitioning between life under a hot Florida sky and a frigid dawn looking out at you from across the Salem Sound, you’re in love with both, so full of sunlight you feel like you could burst into a ball of fire yourself. So you sit back in that Jeep with the top thrown back and think about what to do next. \

And I’m nearing twenty now. I can almost taste it on my tongue like sugar water from the little red flowers we used to suck on outside of the church. And I wonder about the you that you were when we started out up here. What did you think of me then? Of yourself? Was I immature, too loud? Insecure, or a little too proud? Did you think I could stand up for myself, or am I still that person even now? And are we maybe more similar than either of us would like to admit? I have so many stories I wish I had the time to tell you, but instead of exhausting myself trying to find the right words as I too often try to do, I’ll follow the example I took from the hydrangeas and simply hide all of those memories in a very particular shade of blue. I’ll love this sky for the sun that shines in it, the kind that brings me flowers on sidewalks and leaves me begging for warmer weather all winter long, only to miss the snow a few days after I realize that suddenly I’m alone and it is June. And the growing up comes in time—maybe out on a paddleboard or under the fluttering leaves, that springtime rustle of a season’s rich forgiveness that finally covers the Lawn. And maybe in time, like me, you’ll find that home is more than just what you grew up on or where you end up living—that maybe it’s behind you, on the road somewhere, that maybe it’s somewhere up ahead. Maybe it’s hidden in goldenrod, or in the bits of seaglass we carefully picked out of the rocks. Maybe it’s in finding a way to like hydrangeas again, this time for nobody but myself. \\