We are reaching for each other. There is so much space between us, and yet still we are always reaching for each other, even if we’ll never quite manage to bridge the gap between our fingertips. We are reaching, although we are very tired. We are reaching as best we can.
Do you have a moment?
Afternoons used to be the longest part of any given day. I remember the span of them. Time would stretch out warm and elastic. Either there would be a lot to do and a lot of time to do it in, or nothing to do and an endless expanse of hazy hours to fill. This was true for a long time—even during the part of my life when I woke before dawn to head to the first of my three jobs. Back then, the morning started so soon after the end of the previous night that getting into bed felt like an inside joke I shared with only myself. I saw about as many of the early hours as I saw of the later ones, but that didn’t matter: in the middle of the day, time somehow ballooned. There was more room in it. I’m far from nostalgic for that time in my life, but I am curious about it in hindsight. Something has changed since then. Where did that feeling of elasticity come from? What happened to the time I had then, that I’m so sorely missing now?
I promise this will not take long.
There’s so much to do. There’s laundry to wash and laundry to fold. There’s an envelope from the bank that says ‘open immediately,’ and it might be a misleading advertisement for an exploitative loan, or it might be the kind of problem that will eat up the rest of the day. There’s a looming pile of deadlines that lurks in the corner like a malevolent haystack, hissing about commitments that must be fulfilled and timelines that will not bend. There are friends to check in on and emails to return and bills to pay. There’s that big wracking heart-crunching cry that’s frankly overdue. And all of those things need to be stacked up around all of the grief and all of the fear and all of the work of reaching out from one lonely place to another. It’s too, too much for anyone to carry.
I know time is in short supply.
The problem is that grief is at once profoundly individual and profoundly communal. We must grieve alone, but we do not ever grieve alone. We cannot possibly share the burden of loss, nor can we keep it to ourselves. The same is true of the kind of fear that has lately seeped into everything, everywhere, all the time, thick and invasive as fresh-flowing sap. We calculate our risks together now in a way we never have before. Those risks are constant and they change by the minute and we can’t trade off who attends to them because it has to be all of us. We share the fear because there’s no way not to share it; it belongs to everyone, all at once. So we share with each other because we must share; we reach for each other because we must reach.
Only, wait here with me a minute.
We can’t make it all the way to each other, not quite, not with the space we need to bridge and the distance we’re able to span. There is so much work required to close the expanse between me and you, and we are both too exhausted to meet each other halfway. So we miss each other, wonder after each other, worry about each other. We have our thinking of yous and our hope you are wells and our let’s catch up soons. The love and the longing are real. But there’s that envelope from the bank, and then everyone in the house needs to take a test because one person might have been exposed, and still the specter of the long-overdue cry is hovering at the edge of everything, demanding attention more and more insistently by the hour. And so we reach and we reach and we hope the reaching will be enough, because it’s all we’ve got in us and we don’t have capacity for anything more.
There is time for this, though.
What if there was something that could fit in the space between my reach and yours? What if there was a resting place for both of us, where we could linger for just long enough to feel everything else fade a little? I am thinking of a secret pocket in the cosmos. A tiny nook we could tuck ourselves into, without everything following us—not the fear, and not the grief, and not the laundry. It’s not that we won’t talk about the fear and the grief and the laundry. But maybe we can talk about those things differently, when we’re tucked away together. Maybe we can talk about them as if they belong to someone else. Maybe then, it won’t be so hard.
Just for a little while, you understand.
Hell, we don’t even have to go there together. I would gladly give you a hideout all to yourself. My colleagues and I spend most of our time crafting them. There are little crevices that are made for rest, and there are larger alcoves that are made for staring down old monsters. There are shadowy corners where, if you need to, you can finally have that big cry, or at least a piece of it. Sometimes it’s best to have a big cry in pieces, anyway. Maybe when my reach can’t make it all the way to where you are, we can bridge the distance with a handoff. I have a gap in the world precisely big enough for you to slip into when you need it.
Maybe you need this more than you realize.
It’s all too, too much for anyone to carry. We are terribly tired and sore, and things seem to keep getting heavier and heavier. Come and rest for a moment, then. Come and meet me in a story that understands how heavy things are, or a story that will let you imagine a world in which things are lighter, or a story that will simply remind you that your burden isn’t the only thing in this great wide universe. It’s okay if you don’t have time for a lengthy journey into a story that will take you hours to read; it’s okay if your heart’s too heavy for you to carry it down a winding road hundreds of pages long. You don’t need to make that kind of commitment.
I promised this wouldn’t take long, and I meant it.
In a world where everything is constantly fraught, it can feel like there’s no room for error. When you’re stretched nearly to the breaking point, the smallest complication can create a disaster. It makes sense that committing yourself to a journey you can’t quite know the shape of might feel like too big a gamble. It can be hard to trust that you’ll end up where you need to be; it can be harder to trust that you have the stamina to get there. But you deserve a place to go. So why not try this: a story short enough that you can stand at the beginning and know for sure that you have the momentum to make it to the end. You can be tired and distractible—that’s okay. You can be busy. You can be impatient. You can be picky. You can be precisely the person you are, with no goals or obstacles standing between you and a much-needed rest. If you decide you don’t like the path the story took you down, you’ve lost nothing but a handful of minutes.
Give yourself this.
A short story is not going to fix everything. It isn’t made to fix everything. It is made to give you a place that isn’t here. A short story can offer you comfort or challenge. It can give you a chance to hide or a chance to be seen, all in the amount of time it takes to eat your lunch. You can discover and inhabit and love and destroy a whole world while you wait for the bus. You can share a short story with someone you’re missing, and in so doing, you can tell them: here is a place I think you might like to go. Here is a break from the things you are carrying. I think you deserve this. I think you deserve entire worlds. This is the gift we give each other as writers and readers: the gift of being transported.
We are reaching for each other, but it’s hard to find a place to meet.
I’ll meet you in a short story. It will only take a moment.
© 2022 Sarah Gailey