Keep the Change, Ya Filthy Animal

Sometimes I feel like I live in the spaces between my memories.

I catch myself telling the same stories over and over again, because they are the only form of magic that I know to be true. A memory can make a mundane day feel extraordinary in a matter of seconds. It’s the way I stroll down the aisle of a 7/11 and see a Mars bar, and there I am, 8 years old, hair sopping wet from swimming lessons. I’m strapped in to the back of my sister’s old Suzuki, She has the top off because it is an Indian summer and she knows I love the breeze. She is 18, and the Backstreet Boys echo through the wind. I feel limitless. And I’m eating a motherfucking Mars bar. Best day ever.

I see the Mars Bar, and I start to hum. It’s always the same. “I’ll never break your heart, I’ll never make you cry.” I smile at the thought of 8 year old Karlee resonating with those words. There is something so innocent and soft about that time. I don’t know if it’s because I  grew older or because I grew harder, but these magic moments seemed fewer and further between as time marched on.

I’m not complaining. These small pieces of time are vivid. They are real and they are colourful. The day I cease to remember them will be the day I lose sight of who I am, the very core of my being. I don’t want to forget the little girl with loose teeth and firm beliefs, because I need her. I need her to carry me through the things that I’m trying so desperately to forget, but cannot. I need to be able to remember what she would say about these dark things that take place in the tall shadows between the dusk and the night.

I’ve done what feels like a very terrible thing. I’ve taken this box off of one of the shelves in my brain, and in it are pictures of memories that I promised myself I would never look at again. I’ve always been aware of the presence of this box, because I am not sure I could ever truly hide it well enough never to think about it. However, in the number of years that it’s been sitting on the shelf, I have done a very fine job of ignoring it as if it did not exist.

I took the lid off of the box, and I stared at the images one by one. There I am, and there she is. But she doesn’t look like me. She looks different in a way that I do not have the words to describe. She looks sad in some, angry in others. For the most part, though, she just looks blank.This was not my life. I shuffled through the stack and became furious in a way that I haven’t been in a very, very long time. I was fucking pissed at myself. It was a pole frozen and glistening in a Canadian winter, and I had just stuck my tongue on the silver metal knowing full well what the consequences would be. How very masochistic of me.

I  feverishly and frantically arranged the pictures and put them neatly back in the box. The only problem was that the lid would not close. I rearranged, I pleaded, I screamed, I used every ounce of mental force I could muster to close the box, but it popped open defiantly and startled me every time. When it became clear that this could not be undone, I placed the lid neatly on top and moved as far away from the box as possible.

The problem is, they’re not just images anymore. What used to be fragments of a motion picture of a life that I did not recognize as my own started piecing themselves together in my dreams. The smell, the faces, the feelings, I know all of them. I remember them so well that it’s almost as if it happened yesterday. The thick shame and disgust is back and lingering over me like a fog that refuses to dissipate. It occupies every corner of my mind as if it is holding me hostage.

I keep asking “What do I do? What do I do with these images? What do I do with these feelings? How do I get rid of them?”

I keep receiving the same answer. “See them. Feel them.”

This answer is equal parts exasperating and satisfying. I’m in pieces, and I want a quick fix. I want to run. But the part of me that is capable of logical thinking knows that this is the right answer, and I have too much pride to move. I know that my only choice is to let the memories break me down until they become less terrifying, less shameful; until I am not bothered by their presence. Until my brain expands to welcome them as part of its chemistry and fuel to reach beyond the limitations that the box set so solidly in place.

I haven’t figured it out yet. I don’t know how long this is going to take. All I know is that there are Mars bars and loose teeth and clouds that look like sailboats moving across the sky with the wind.

“I’ll never break your heart, I’ll never make you cry.”

*Insert Tom Petty Lyrics Here*

It’s midnight. It’s a new day. It’s a very important day.

I’ve thought a lot about how to introduce the people I love to all of you. I’ve tried numerous times, but it’s difficult to write about people that I love because words don’t always seem adequate. I find myself pouring over the post, knowing that what I see on the screen is not what I truly want to say. It does not reflect how I feel. It all feels so commonplace, and I just can’t have that.

Today is Red’s birthday. It’s ridiculous that you haven’t met her yet, since she consumes a great deal of my time, and a great deal of my heart. She is both the weirdest and the wisest person I’ve ever met, a truly old soul pressed against the spirit of a 7 year old. She has the discipline and emotional foundation of someone much older than herself, and yet she is still the only 20 year old girl I know who meanders along the edge of a riverbank and squeals when she finds a unique stone. Image

I call her Red because she’s a ginger, obviously. But she answers to many names, like a gypsy or a credit card thief. It is impressive to watch her balance this in conversation since I have only one name and still cannot tell that someone is addressing me a good percentage of the time. You know how people tell you that they have a “person?” Well, I do, and she is mine. I don’t know if it’s ever happened to you, but if it has, you’ll know what I’m talking about. It goes like this: One day you meet a person so similar to yourself that it is equal parts delightful and frightening. You could be standing in line, or waiting for the bus, or seated next to them in your workplace. No matter the circumstance under which it happens, the result is the same; They say something, and it resonates so well that you are almost positive that you’ve mulled over that exact thought verbatim. The next thing you know, you’re eating chicken nuggets and crying over some weird movie that nobody else seems to like.

It’s a strange feeling to know someone before you do. I mean, the details are usually what make the difference. In her case, though, they didn’t matter, because I already knew what she thought and how she felt about them. For once, there was no awkward “I’m sorry to hear that,” every time something that would normally be uncomfortable reared its ugly head in conversation. This was a girl who needed no charity, no pity and no smoke blown up her ass. It was clear that she had that shit handled and had no desire for cheap conversation. I got the feeling that she was an all-or-nothing kind of person. I liked that.

Now, while we’re similar, we are vastly different from one another. It’s some very complex shit. She feels a deep connection to nature and the abundant lifestyle that it provides us. In other words, she’s a damn hippie. She loves hemp and gets visibly agitated when somebody litters in her presence. She bleeds compassion and peace and kindness.(Unless of course you fuck with someone she cares about, in which case “zen” is not the word I would use to describe her.) She finds solace in the beauty that surrounds her, and that’s a neat balance, because I am a “realist” who tends to be disturbed by the world that I see before me. Even if what she’s saying sounds like total horseshit, it’s the kind of horseshit that makes me smile, because she truly believes it. And I believe in people who believe, because, well, they’re the ones who make the impossible happen.

Image

She’s also completely nuts. I know this because she hangs out with me and is never alarmed by anything that comes out of my mouth. I might say something like “If you could be half-woman-half-anything, what animal would you choose for your bottom half?” and without missing a beat, she might say something like “A dolphin. In a forest setting.”  I would ask her “Why?” And she would say “Because that would be fucking interesting.” These questions do not seem like mindless, childish banter to her. She might laugh, but she always takes them seriously and answers accordingly. She then returns her own, which often leave me doubled over in laughter.

Somewhere along the line, in the cracks between our ridiculous questions and the fake conversations we’d make up and play out for fun, we discovered that the two of us were very lucky indeed, because we were acutely aware of the fact that there was a firm hand holding us both in place, and that hand belonged to the other. Sometimes on Thursdays when she’d come by, my mind would be blank, my bones would be aching, and my heart would be tired. She knew that I didn’t want to talk about it. Instead, she’d distract me with light and funny conversation, all tied up with a Brooklyn accent for the duration of her stay. On the Thursdays when she’d come by and my mind would be brimming with information and my attitude larger than Goliath, she’d ask me about the Thursday before, because she seemed to understand that I was capable of taking it on.

She is my best friend in the world. She is the Simon to my Garfunkle. She is the phantom limb that I had no idea was missing, since all of my limbs are still very much intact. She’s the voice I hear in the morning before I decide that going to the gym would be a good idea. (“Don’t be such a little bitch, weasel.”) When my shoulders feel heavy, she takes the load and carries it beside me until I am rested, then gently sets it back down because she knows that it is a weight that I must face. And when I face that weight, she is the ear that hears what I feel, sorts through those feelings in her brain, and then she becomes the mouth that says what I need to hear.

She is an artist, and I am not. Where she finds peace in her watercolours, I find comfort here, talking to all of you. She says that this IS art, and so I figured I’d give her a piece, like she’s done so many times for me:

Happy 20th birthday, Red- here’s to fucking up like an adult. A real one, you know, not a kid stuck under the scrutiny that is the teenage lens. Here’s to a new adventure; to a new chapter that your inner 7 year old would appreciate, and to a new set of challenges that your old soul will be an asset in guiding you through. When it gets tough (and we know it will,) remember that my dog is really, really afraid of the furnace. (This is a stupid thing to remember, why are we remembering this?) Remember this because despite her fear, she crosses the big, ugly, noisy furnace since she knows that someone she trusts is waiting for her on the other side. That’s where I’ll always be.

Image