when it gets dark
written for the harry potter alliance’s ‘happiness in the darkest of times’ compilation album.
summer 2018, two a.m. in dallas, texas:
andrew and i weave through an extravagant and labyrinthian apartment building to get to olivia’s patronus party, following instructions she sent me across seven text messages:
“1115 south ervay street / punch in code 123 on the keypad / down the stairs / take the elevator to floor 7 / apartment 721 / be quiet on the journey / think of your happiest memory to get in.”
when we make it to the apartment, my finger hovers over the doorbell as we try to do as instructed.
i am in texas, and my life is falling apart, and it is without question the worst week of my year, and still: there are too many new patronus memories blanketing everything like fresh snow for me to dig too deep.
olivia opens the door, makes us close our eyes, and tells us, again, to think of our happiest memory. it occurs to me i do not have one.
i have, instead:
a fire made of smaller flames, indistinguishable, inextinguishable.
i have, instead:
a time-turner vial’s worth of sand, each grain a memory; always losing a few when i pour the little pile into my hands.
i have, instead:
a museum i keep in my mind, full of all the shoebox memories i’ve tried to hold on to.
take a frame from each moment and throw it into a collage, glue down the edges so everything overlaps, and it reads like a summer movie montage: laughter and adventure, friendship and magic, feasting and dancing, year after year.
but zoom out on each image, hit “play” on each still, and you’ll find a grimmer context. most of my happiest memories are nested in disaster, gleaming among rubble. there’s something about your life falling apart that brings your walls down, something about rock bottom that takes the choice out of vulnerability long enough for you to remember how crucial it is —
how good it feels to take off the mask —
how lucky you are to be surrounded by people who will meet you at your lowest and help you stand back up, or else keep you company until you can.
there is a journal entry written during the worst week of my year that reads only “i am going to have a good life.”
there is a video of me recorded during the worst week of my life, and i am jumping around at the edge of a stage in california, front row, surrounded by friends, weightless.
a few days before that, there is a moment i return to, again and again: fall 2016, a parking lot in minnesota, a handful of hours after a phone call that pulled my world out from beneath me: i am sitting on the curb, crying, on the phone with paul, who is states away. i give voice to what i’ve been thinking all day, since that morning, and tell him that i don’t know if i have a future. he says: “of course you do. of course you do. i’m not worried about you.”
so i try not to worry, either.
and i keep going.
it is never an easy endeavor, but it is an easy choice.
i’ve learned to dig myself out. i’ve learned to welcome every new low as a priceless opportunity. i know how to go through the wringer again and again and come back stronger, and softer, and still here.
sometimes, it is hard to see the light because you are the light. or because it is coming from within you, like harry potter book three, protected by a patronus he does not yet know is his own.
and like harry, i spent years on privet drive, sheltered in what might be called, by some, safety: locked away in a room, exposed only to the dangers that house and the people in it held. the dragons and devil’s snare and dark arts would find us when we left. and find me they did.
but, like harry, i’ve never wanted to go back. not for a moment. none of my happiest moments happened beneath sturdy shelter.
so here i am, again and again: making patronus memories even as the dementors close in.
when my days grow dark, i do not despair. i know there is a brightness waiting for me when the clouds clear. i know there is a brightness within me even if i cannot see it. i know how to find my way home when the lights go out.
all my storms are more silver lining than cloud. i am more certainty than doubt. this life is more happy than not.