mine before anyone else's

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Death has a way of making you larger than those you’ve left behind. Your absence is a vastness that grows every year in the lives that must somehow move on without you, lives in dotted lines drawn around the space you filled. For the longest time I wondered who would walk me down the aisle. Whose was I to give away?

They were picked off, one by one, the men in my life, by sickness and choices and disappointment, the space growing between us until they disappeared. But, there’s always you. The north star, the place where all this dying began, until I cordoned myself off behind an imaginary red brick wall, inaccessible, indestructible. I couldn’t be touched. It is no way to live—being in the world but not of it, unable to see what others see, unable to touch or feel or be fully present. It’s a lived in death. And, though self-inflicted, this isn’t who I am.

Knowing that is a revelation. It’s a start to the necessary reminders to speak myself back into existence. Even my name, Saida (sy-ee-da), means joy. Like a prayer, it’s a reminder of the thing I am made from. Even in pain, I am joy. It is the greatest gift you’ve given me.

I used to look at your faults, absorbing them until I became them too. But your legacy is one of a blinding love that absolves. I hope you’ll forgive me for forgetting that the most beautiful thing about this life is that in a world constantly trying to redefine who I am, I must remember I belong to me, that I am mine to give away, that I am mine before I am anyone else’s.

after the storms

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You can adapt to almost anything. After the storms, the unending chaos of helicopters above and humvees on either side of traffic, became a new kind of normal. As horns blared when cars created lanes where lanes shouldn’t be, we’d find ourselves sitting in an abstract silence. It was becoming white noise. The thing you craved when you were fighting sleep. When all you could hear was the nothingness of night. Sometimes the wind. Always mosquitoes buzzing through the tears in the screen doors ripped from the seams by hurricane gusts and a rain so fierce it peeled the paint off doors. Ripped doors off hinges.

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The first time we left the house, they’d lifted the curfew. Said it was safe to travel slowly. But safe was driving to avoid down power lines dangling just above car roofs and nails strewn across the road like gravel. If your tire was punctured it would be hours before a tow truck came. Nothing could be done that day. The second time we left the house, it took six hours to get gas. We barely made it back before curfew ended. Eventually we hit a routine. In the mornings, we sat on the bed, listening to the radio, to the governor’s press conference from the night before, him holding in a giddy laughter at all the money about to come his way in federal aid. Aid that should have been going to rebuild houses and replace roofs that flew off entire homes and landed on lawns half a mile away. We’d pick lemongrass from the plant that was, somehow, still standing on the balcony above us and brew a fresh pot of tea on the gas stove in the kitchen. Some mornings, neighbors brought freshly baked johnny cakes. Other days we scrambled the eggs that survived a night on ice. After, we’d pick a task. A thing a day. Return to the now disheveled home, save what we could salvage and pack it in the car for the next day’s task. Put the salvaged things in storage. Discard the food now rotting in the unpowered fridge. Take out the trash. A thing a day. At night, the four of us lay in bed, a jigsaw puzzle of thighs and asses going every which way until we fit together.

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You take deep breaths. Return to mundane tasks you took for granted. On the days you stay at the house, you mix a mask of bentonite clay, apple cider vinegar and water. You let it seep into your face until it cakes, have a cup of tea in the mug you managed to save from a friend you still love even though you don’t speak anymore. You wonder if she still loves you too. If she cares if you’re alive. You rinse. You breathe. With your sister’s help, you wash your hair. She holds a cup of water over your head as it hangs over the balcony. You take turns. You look at the homes with the bedrooms spilling into the street. You take in the sun and the sunset. You smile for little things.

Later you are grateful for walls and doors and a bed you have to yourself. You are grateful for the hum of planes flying by and the jazz album with trumpets blowing in the room beside yours. Because you could still be in the chaos. Chaos would be the new normal. And hope would look differently. Maybe you would have never left. You know this after leaving. After not being able to stay and having no home to return to when you see how much things have changed outside of your little world. How easy it would be to retreat. How retreating is a slow death.