The teacher lifts her chalk and a ribbon of cursive unfurls on the blackboard. My pen dips and glides along thin aqua lines, forming plump a’s and o’s and the elegant tails of y’s and g’s. Loops and curls for the gorgeous capital letters. My grade three copybook fills with tiny once-upon-a-time stories. Talking bears and princesses in faraway lands. Look at what I can write!
A teenage blooming of grown-up words. Dear diary confessions scrawled under the bed covers. Lists of favourites, dreamed in purple ink: the cutest boys (top heartthrob, Mark McKenzie), best prom dress choices (variations on sky blue chiffon), most exciting careers (Hollywood actress or heart transplant surgeon). Angst-filled verses about fluttering romance. My history notebook’s inside cover crammed with experimental signatures. Who will I be?
A new teacher’s jottings guided by the pulse of school. Struggling students lodged in my heart. A 13-year-old non-reader whose mouthy retorts mask his terror. My upbeat comments on his worksheets, reinforced with a sparkly sticker. Progress notes on a boy with Down syndrome and an abundance of joie de vivre. Stifling my laughter on photo day after he draws indelible red hearts on a classmate’s cheeks. Singing the mainstreaming mantra. Hand-lettering the workshop banners: everyone belongs.
Midnight kisses on my doorstep, the language of lovers swelling in my heart. Endearments spilling onto bits of paper, growing into wedding vows. Grad school at night, buoyed by his faithful vacuuming and pep talks whispered in the dark. A two-page list of camping gear. The stalled Volkswagen Beetle we push-start together like Olympic champions to catch A Midsummer Night’s Dream in Stratford, Ontario. The melody of our laughter and lovemaking at a seaside cottage transformed into life. A birth announcement.
Never-ending notes of maternal love. Recording my baby’s first year milestones. Pasting his toddler crayon scribbles in a scrapbook. My throat constricting when he labels his Halloween story in a six-year-old’s crooked letters: by Adam, ather and ilastrater. Carrot sticks and jokes about the veggie police slipped into his lunchbox. Help with homework, help with college applications, help with his first CV. Blink. Mementos tucked in a drawer. Texting him about Sunday dinner. Can you fit us in?
Middle-aged musings and do-good causes fuelling my prose. Earnest fingers skimming a keyboard. Everyone belongs—I can make it happen if only I find the right words. Impassioned pleas to bureaucrats for more funding. Autism newsletters phrased in dignity and hope. Emailing work pals about our August back-to-school ritual: egg salad sandwiches, teacher goodie bags, a gush of school gossip. A careful script for a friend trying to exit a difficult relationship. Wrapping her trembling body in my arms as we say goodbye at the airport gate. Pulling together my father’s obituary, a blur of words about my gentle, self-effacing dad. The aching tightness in my chest that, for weeks, can’t be hugged away. The mingling of joy and loss.
Looking-back thoughts for my journal when I turn sixty. Decades scrambling to help others, then creeping unease with retirement. My late start on a writer’s journey, new territory where everyone else seems younger and so damn clever. Mining and refining memories for the page, threads of my past laid bare for the world. My spunky 90-year-old mother decked out in red and white polyester on Canada Day. Scratching her eulogy on loose-leaf paper, reading it in a quivering voice with my feet squeezed into round-toed crimson pumps just like hers. The fading echo of her not-so-quaint advice: show up at the party and keep dancing.
Comfortable togetherness and everyday poetry of long-time love. Giggly private jokes and the still-sweet tingle of small surprises. Morning tea and a see-you-later note on my bedside table, snow cleared off my car. A slow-dance in the kitchen as Unforgettable plays on the radio. Writing an anniversary card to my silver-haired husband, my mushy message in private code. LYTBFE—penned with a flourish of loops and curls for all the gorgeous capital letters. How much longer will we have?
KAREN ZEY is a Canadian writer from la belle ville de Pointe-Claire, Quebec. Her work has appeared in the Brevity Blog, Crack the Spine, Hippocampus, Memoir Magazine, the Santa Fe Writers Project Quarterly, Prick of the Spindle, and other places.
Featured image: Johannes Vermeer, “A Lady Writing,” oil on canvas, c. 1665. National Gallery of Art.