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Rochester, NY, 14620


The Afternoon Light

Andrea Burke

Once upon a time I felt prolific. Then I started typing.

I don’t know what I plan to do here, kicking about half-written entries and half-thought-out ideas inside of Google Drive documents, my head and my desk. With the return of September, routine finds its way back into our lives. I’m sitting at a newly built desk with the hum of a fan and the sound of a child in a red wig playing in another room. The wig makes no sound, but the personality does.

I’ve been wrestling with the shadow of contentment for more than a few months now. It’s devilish. And the absence of writing has left me without a place to as Stephen King said, "...find out what I think."

I need the outlet of words. Several fiction pieces spilling out of my mind and onto screen have been revived and I find myself desperate for an hour or two of writing silence. I crave the evening hours when all is silent and for a moment, I can see a form of something, someone in the shadowplace where my writing once stood. She stands there with a lantern. Her voice haunts me a bit. I think it’s me.

I’ve been thinking about this culture who dresses up their dead after they’ve been long gone, and then I see ads for anti-aging, and I read about Seneca the Elder who said,

The final hour when we cease to exist does not itself bring death; it merely of itself completes the death-process. We reach death at that moment, but we have been a long time on the way.

I wonder if we’ve become so comfortable with this world that we forget our bodies are meant to die. I want to write several lines about how we’re painting corpses while there are withering hearts in the houses next to us. I want to ask why we are plumping up our skin with fluids while there are eternal souls are dying of thirst. I want to, but then my daughter comes in to the room to declare that the watermelon herbal tea I’ve made her is not what she wanted. This is the end of all things, it would seem, and she is in tears asking for another cup.

“I’m not making a different kind of tea right now,” I say and she throws me the look of absolute devastation. Or perhaps more of deflated loss. She knows I won’t change my mind and I wonder how much I’ve just disappointed her that I am not bounding out of my chair for the umpteenth time today to make sure she’s happy. Sometimes I can’t worry about whether or not she’s happy. Sometimes it’s a lie to teach her that her happiness is the most important. I want to write about that.

I want to write about being married, and how nine months feels like a lifetime of learning and how going from a single mom to wife has been more difficult than I anticipated. But then I think we’ve only been married nine months. No one wants to hear anything about marriage from me. I don’t want to hear marriage thoughts from newlyweds. I want to read things from people who are seasoned. Who have some years under their belt. That’s not me, so I turn and kiss my husband instead. I can’t tell him enough how wonderful I think he is. He’s broken too, as am I. The brokenness sometimes sits with both of us in painful ways. But we’re asking God to heal us. As our pastor told us in pre-marital, we need more people championing good marriages. We need more people talking about how marriage is hard, but also fun. It’s a broken reflection of a perfect thing, but the perfect thing changes us day by day into something more beautiful if we let it.

I want to write about a friend who sincerely asked me if marriage fulfills me. She wants to know, “Is that it?”

“No,” I tell her. “It’s not.”

She tells me how she’s waiting for that thing. That moment when she can breathe with relief for just a moment having arrived at that exact place she always hoped she would. That the gnawing ache within her that is ravenous and screams in the silence and longs for something more will just *poof* be gone when she achieves the next thing.

“It won’t,” I tell her. “As soon as you arrive there, it will disappear and you’ll find it’s moved on to something else. It won’t come from marrying the man of your dreams. It won’t come from having children. It won’t come from traveling or writing, fleeting fame or losing that weight.”

She's clearly disheartened. She knows this to be true, but to hear it again, well it's a sober reminder. “Then what will make me feel that way?” she asks, almost begging. “What is going to fill that thing within me? Is there anything that will take it away?”

“Jesus!” I laugh. I laugh because it seems too obvious, but I laugh too because even then, it won’t go away. “Even then,” I say. “We see just a dim reflection. I don’t think we’ll ever feel completely at rest until we’re home. This world, and all of its limitations, will keep us running after false things or longing for the real thing.”

I want to write more about this. Because I know as easy as it is for me to tell her this, I'm still convinced I'll be the happiest person in the world once I lose 50lbs or publish a book. The mirage has moved. 

I want to write about my dear young friend who said to me, innocently and without judgement, “You could’ve been something!” as she listened to my CD from when I was 20. Maybe, I say to her. Maybe not. Sometimes it all feels so random. But then I realize I’m inching closer to my mid-30s, the novelty of fresh-faced 30 a few years behind me now. We live in a culture that celebrates youth, perhaps to a fault. Because I know a whole slew of 20-somethings who walk around panic-stricken as if the clock of success is ticking for them. As if the tipping point is 30 and after that, well, you could’ve been something. But now you aren’t. You won’t be. It’s ending.

I want to write about all of the changes. The moving. The marriage. The decision to homeschool. The radio silence on my memoir that is now collecting dust.

I want to write about the neighbors we’ve met. The faces we’ve nodded at. The strangers kissing pennies and throwing them into wishing wells.

But my daughter comes into the room to ask what "The sleeping fox catches no poultry" means. This brief moment of lifting my head away from the screen is enough to pull me out of the writing world. I am not disciplined enough to hold my breath and come up for air. Each conversation, each noise, person pulls me out of the water and when I come back I’m swatting at waves that don’t make sense.

Once upon a time I felt prolific. Then I started typing.

Being a writer is a strange disease. The desire to write is never gone. The words with which to do it are. Until the right afternoon light strikes my desk, its slanted rays falling across letters to be mailed and insurance cards in a small pile, and somehow I feel the chair begging me to come sit. We have made it through a morning of homeschooling. Volcanos drying with plaster of Paris on the dining room table, minds full of stories about Leif Ericson and “Vinland” and “Thor” and short proverbs to teach both spelling and manners. A half-eaten apple pie sits under foil on the table top, the dog is napping at my feet, and I have this moment, right here.

I want to write, and this fall, I have every intention of spilling out words again here. Words of incomplete thought and of a faith that is being worked out. Words of a woman who is still finding her place and also finding her nearly-mid-30s to be a place of a little more ease. A little less “What will they think?” and a little more "I can't really worry about that." Words breathed at 5 am over tea, during autumn afternoons and those few brief minutes in the evening when I can hide here after the day has swelled.

"I'm going to cut the fox out," she says, startling me out of my words. "And glue it. And then cut the other words out. And glue those too." 

"Great plan!" Time to step out of the afternoon light. It will return tomorrow, as will I.