What I Wrote Was Congratulations What I Meant to Say Was by Rachel Lincoln Sarnoff

part of hot spring - a geological feature with colored rims

We never thought we would stay in this city, did we? But I’m still turning the same corners – although there is now an actual train on the tracks where we once ditched school to smoke weed.

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I finally found my mother; she’s a poet, which puts me firmly in the nature camp. Our smiles are the same, but I can’t call her by anything other than her first name. And my dad – remember? Twelve houses on two continents before I turned 18, chalked up to faulty jobs and failed relationships. Turns out, he’s bipolar. But that’s growing up, right? Seeing your parents as human, rather than gods. Recognizing their missteps in your own.

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There’s a star tattooed on my wrist. Oh, that conversation on the beach and so many renditions of the body electric and the sudden understanding that we are all just energy and return to energy when we die! But it’s all I believe in, now. I feel like an imposter in church, even as my lips move with the words. Every time I see a priest I think about the children. I didn’t baptize mine. Will you?

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I have “joy in repetition” on my right forearm. Remember that song? We listened to it together, the first time – your right headphone against my left ear – and then over and over and over again. Today, the words are a reminder to find happiness walking the dog and reading storybooks at night and packing lunches in the morning (so many lunches, you have no idea). Joy in the repetition of yoga – down dog, chaturanga, up dog, down – and building strength after years of feeling weak and small.

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I thought longevity could be found by standing on my head. And then, a few years ago, doctors detected a blocked carotid artery just hours before I would have had a stroke. I am fine (no more shirshasana). But while I imagine you marveling at the poreless perfection of your new baby’s skin, I can see the hairline cracks in my form that will eventually fill with light until it dissolves.

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And in time, and in time, we will all be stars.

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Still, joy in repetition. One foot in front of the other. Recalibration. Gratitude. For my son who talks about philosophy like he invented it, and my brilliant daughter, who looks like me but celebrates her hips. And for the surprise of my little one, the sweetest gift of all, who sometimes still wants me to rub her back. All of them smart and creative and loving. None lost, as so many of their friends are – as I was. Were you? I don’t think so. Maybe that’s why you were able to wait so long. Because surely you know this by now: They are compasses, children. They are maps by which we find our way home.

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Three babies in eight years. I met my husband after you left and we got married the following fall and had our son a year after that. Sometimes I dream about the time before them, when I knew you, and I don’t recognize myself. That girl is a two-dimensional character in a story.

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Albert Einstein once wrote, “The sum of all our evolution, our thinking and our accomplishments is love. How on earth can you explain in terms of chemistry and physics so important a biological function as love? Put your hand on a stove for one minute and it seems like an hour. Sit with the person you love for an hour and it seems like a minute. That’s relativity.” My husband and I have been with each other long enough to have moved past the point of staring into each other’s eyes for what feels like a minute and makes you late for work. But even after two decades, there are still flashes of the current that once bound us together like impossibly strong magnets. Then, it ignites.

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So this is what I would say to you, if the opportunity was more than a comment on your feed. Keep holding on to each other. Send those roots down into the rich, red earth. Lift your children up until they stand on their own and continue to keep them close even when they push you away. Give them your brilliance so that they shine, like you did, like we all did, as they spread their wings across the world.

Meet the Contributor

rachel-lincoln-sarnoffRachel Lincoln Sarnoff is a senior editor at The Northwest Review and is pursuing an MFA at Pacific University. She mentors young essayists through 826LA, a national nonprofit that empowers student writers, and is an active member of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association and (too) many Binders groups. Rachel is also a climate and conservation expert whose experience informs her writing: She is fascinated by how the past shadows the present and aims to help readers imagine a different future – less dystopia, more hope.

Story Image Credit: Flickr Creative Commons/a dombrowski

  4 comments for “What I Wrote Was Congratulations What I Meant to Say Was by Rachel Lincoln Sarnoff

  1. “They are compasses, children. They are maps by which we find our way home.” — I so love this! Wonderful essay.

  2. You made me cry – that’s not the first time. Rachel, your writing finds a way of revealing and making beautiful what is in my heart but I didn’t know how to say. And of showing angles and perspectives I hadn’t considered.
    thank you.

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