this is when we had to wait

originally published on great weather for MEDIA


I am younger than this moment. Maybe six or four or eleven years old. Tilted against my mother’s hip or arm outstretched for free sample of stale cheese or aged meat: there I am. Can you find me. Hair fainter than it is right now and much curlier. Longer, of course. My grandmother always begged me not to cut it. Why do we choose to forget how to listen during the times we should most.ah

I grab a ticket made of paper with a number on it and then stretch eyes to a neon screen. There are at least five numbers between the one I have against my palm and the one in lights. We must wait.

Of course, I am at Food Town or Grand Union or whatever New Jersey supermarket will accept the most coupons in this moment in this memory. My mother and I are at the deli counter purchasing processed animals and curds of milk. This is before I lost my ability to remember.

This is when we had to wait.

Remember this? When tickets told us when we could place our order. Doors, which closed and locked, led us far away from phone calls because phones were attached to long, windy chords attached to walls. Texts were on paper, not screens pressed into our over-priced pockets.

This is when we had to wait.

I remember—back when I still could—that I had a pen pal in Operation Desert Storm when that was the war of the moment. I felt strange curling my letters into cursive moments, telling this man—this soldier—about my day. Silly snapshots of lunchtime and unrequited love. Fighting with friends and the mess of my home life. I would wonder what my words felt like for him, when his sounds and mine were so divergent. Then I realized that was the point. We need to be reminded how others live in order to understand how to survive the war you’re in. And we are all in some sort of war. War of mind. Of body. Of political disagreements. Whatever the cause or title may be.

I would wait for his letter to get dropped off into my mailbox by the diligent postal worker. Sometimes, by the time his response reached me, I had forgotten what he was responding to. He’d answer questions I forgot I had even asked him, but the wait was always worth it.

Perhaps we have overlooked the importance of patience. Pausing for an answer. Breathing before pressing out our responses.

I’ve recently challenged this wait even more by exchanging war hero with deceased poet, several decades past his last moment of breath. I know that I will never get an answer back this time—that it is more than just waiting—instead, this time it is about remaining inside the questions. To know that sometimes words are most important when they are written, even if no one is around to read them.


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