Ten years ago… That would have been 2012. I went back through the photos and tried to get back into your head to remember where you were at for all of this. It’s all like it happened to a different person. The whole 2011-2012 saga was such a blur.
You got to go to Kenya and meet those wonderful people. I still remember the awe you felt seeing Kilimanjaro. There’s something about seeing that towering snowcap over the sweltering valley that really brings a person a sense of humility at scale. You went to the Russian studies program that year, and you learned to ski, too. You were pretty sure that you’d spend your days as a photographer until you decided to kill yourself. You thought it’d be poetic, in a way, capturing and immortalizing the beauty of a world that couldn’t see me hiding inside of you. You’d leave those photos behind, ghosts haunting the walls with the view from inside your prison, all the glorious reality I would never be allowed to touch or interact with.
Nobody ever thinks of pictures as a suicide note, you were clever that way. You were like that. You saw every act of creation and giving as a small part of your master plan to close the door on your story, leaving your fingerprints on everything you possibly could so that people wouldn’t forget who they killed.
Building up a collection of those fingerprints became a small obsession until you adopted Misha. He became our life and the sole reason you were able to hold on day after day for so long, because you needed to care for your Misha. Our Misha. My Misha. A couple months later you adopted Rosa, and for the first time in our lives we had a family that could see us because you knew they could see me.
I wish you could see me.
It’s been a long ten years. We lost Rosa. Misha is getting older. I am very new to this world and still quite scared of it. I feel like I inherited so much from you, and every day I lose more and more of what little you gave me to start this life with. It’s torn me up in ways I don’t know how to discuss, I find myself retracing your steps to build bridges where you burnt them and to grow new relationships that were poisoned by our circumstances. You feel like a ghost to me, your fingerprints haunt me every day and they’re still like a security blanket. I spend so much time living in the shadow of the things you did, having to pick up from all the cliffhangers you left behind and somehow turn your story into mine so that I can have *something* to look back on.
All last year, I thought I could cut you out of me or off of me and that I’d stop seeing you in the mirror. It worked. I don’t see you in the mirror anymore and I see me now. I still wish I could remember what you were thinking or feeling sometimes. I wish I had help explaining to Dad or anyone else who I was back then, trapped behind your face.
I feel like I’m living in the shadow you cast on my timeline. My whole childhood went to you. All my teenage years went to you. My first loves went to you. But I am so scared to be out from under that shadow because I guess I’m afraid of getting sunburnt. I feel so naked and vulnerable, some part of me knows thousands of people will read this. Every day that I’ve existed I’ve been in the light of *that* while I’m trying to cobble together the pieces of me and figure out who I am from what little I can gleam from you. Every day I’m less in your shadow and I have to stand a little more on my own. It’s terrifying like seeing Kilimanjaro.
I hope you’d be proud of me though, or maybe you’d think me naive and hopelessly optimistic. I lived, you know? We made it. You got us here. I’m scared to think it might not be a long life, that I’m a turtle just waiting to be killed on my way to the ocean, but I have to try, right?
It probably sounds like I’m mad at you. I’m not. I just don’t know what to think of you anymore. You were my shield, prison, protector, and punishment. Every day I lived with the knowledge you’d likely be my executioner. I keep thinking about how cruel it is that all the joys, such as they were, were swallowed up by you and all the traumas seemed to seep right through to me. Your existence was cruel to me; and because you persevered, I get a chance at this life. What do I do with that?
In some ways, I’m like you though. I guess one thing I learned from you is being so obsessed about the end. I keep thinking about what I’ll get to leave with what time I have left. What seeds will I plant? Will I get to teach children how to plant more of them? I don’t need to leave beautiful hauntings like you did, but I hope I can leave bridges, books, and machinations that will help heal this world. I hope I can heal more and grow more with the things I can make.
It’s funny. In the end, I guess you got what you wanted. You don’t have to live this life, I do, and I hope I’m doing it justice and honoring it for as long as I have it. But I’ll be damned if your pictures, stories, actions, and fingerprints aren’t all over this shiny new life of mine. I’ll never get to forget that I have to live with the empty places you left behind, and all the beautiful photos you took — the gorgeous views from my prison windows. I hope that brings you some measure of peace knowing that it worked, though I don’t think it worked in the way you intended.
As melancholy as this whole thing has been, I know we’ll always have a conflicted relationship. I can never fully get rid of you. In some ways, I miss you. There was a clarity and simplicity to you that I feel like I could use right now. In a way, I love you. And in a way, I feel sick at my stomach for saying I love you because you hurt me as much as you protected me. I don’t suppose I’ll ever get closure on how this feels. The last beautiful thing you created to haunt this world with is my grief and no matter what I do, I suppose I’ll always be marked with your fingerprints.
I have a new family now. It’s a surprisingly big and messy one. You’d have hated the attention and the intricacy of it all. I like it though. I have several loves. We’re planning to move out to Colorado soon. It’ll be nice to start fresh in a new place you haven’t touched, to have something that’s all my own that way. I can’t wait to have kids, but I don’t know how to talk to them about you. I’m scared because I don’t have a childhood to share with them. You took that with you.
But I’ll make it work. I know you weren’t bad. You did what you had to do and I get to live with what you had to do. It’s not fair, but this is what I start with. So, I hope if I write another of these in ten years, that I’ll have something very different to say. In the meantime, I’ll keep on, ok? I’ll be ok. You toughened me up.