This is part eight of our series called “Inspired By Sound,” where writers use a song as the muse for their story. This piece by Paola de Varona takes influence from an acoustic version of “Craving” by James Bay.
“What’s the most you’ve ever felt? What was the most emotion you’ve ever felt at once?”
I find myself thinking of every cross-country family road trip in my mom’s Toyota minivan. My dad driving late into the night on the serene emptiness of the interstate road. Staring out the window, watching my own personal grayscale drive-by movie.
I go back to a hospital bed where a burly man, with strong hands, grabs my shattered right arm and snaps it in two with the effort of a 3-year-old crunching over tree branches.
I watch myself standing in the stillness surrounding Marco Island, beside a girl who’d seen me grow since the age of 12. Watching as the sun melts on a year we thought we could keep forever, the salty tears mix in with the water pruning our skin.
It would be rude to the memories I’ve become so acquainted with to pick just one.
Memorial Day weekend in Panama City. A nine-hour daytime drive, the worst kind. Driving was made for sleeping roads. Before getting to the strip of boardwalk and ferris wheel skyline, backdropped by seagulls and sea foam, you travel first through the sheds with peeling cotton candy pink paint. The mom and pop liquor store that some 15-year-old is flashing a fake ID in. The streets with stray flip-flops, the ones conquered by spring breakers every year. The town I’d heard about through a Lee Brice song.
A weekend escape. I spent the day cooking under the kind of sun that makes you find six new freckles on your face the next day. The kind that makes you regret not wearing sunscreen.
Once everyone closed their umbrellas and folded their chairs for the day, I climbed the two flights of stairs to our beach-front apartment rental. Looking at my tangled hair and permanent sun blush in the mirrored sliding glass doors to the right of the living room. There’s something about walking into an air-conditioned room, with sand-covered feet and warm cheeks. Something about laying on a worn ‘90s-style striped couch, in nothing but a bathing suit, with the feeling of cold tile still lingering on your skin from your walk from the door.
I dozed in and out of a sun-induced sleep, hearing the muffled noise of TV from the other room and the faint sound of waves falling coming from the door cracked open leading to the balcony. An hour or two later, I was woken up by a push on the hip, and within minutes I was pulling on a red plaid shirt with holes on the shoulders and wrapping myself in the blanket off the couch. I hurried behind my sister out the door, back down the stairs to the now-cooling sand. The sun was going for a skinny dip, leaving behind her violet clothing haphazardly strung across the sky.
I never really understood why we celebrated Memorial Day. But sitting with my sister, feet away from the indigo stained-shore, I wasn’t thinking about why we celebrate the things we do. To our left down the beach was another group: louder, raucous, asking to be seen. Us two, we were blending in, trying to be shy about our intrusion on the sun’s swim.
Then straight into the open air above us, the first firework shot off from the sand a couple of feet away. Close enough to watch the ashes sprinkle on my sister’s hair. One after another, like gun shots, they impatiently pierced the sky, falling like star showers I thought were close enough to burn my skin. "Is this legal?" is my first thought. Then I’m thinking of a time when I used to watch from the front windows as my sister and cousins set off firecrackers in our driveway on the Fourth of July, covering my ears with my small palms. A time when I used to cry in Disney World stores with my mom by my side, as the New Year’s fireworks danced at midnight, set to princess soundtracks. One day I started standing on the porch. The tears dried and I could watch from a door.
Now I was sitting under the fire, popping like champagne, that I once thought could burn me. Smiling. Because what a silly child I was, refusing to hold sparklers and running from the things I thought could hurt me. Little did I know one often learns to love what will inevitably bring pain.
I could see my parents watching from the balcony. My sister suggested we move down the beach, just in case. But I wanted to stay right there and catch the ashes in my hand. I’d never seen snow, but this was as close as I’d get.
Memorial Day weekend is coming up. We’re still celebrating, I’m still not sure why. But this time I’ll be sitting by a lake, hoping I can feel something again, like fireworks in my chest.