March twentieth, at five fifty in the morning, I am walking down 42nd Street with a backpack strapped to my back and a duffel bag slung across my body. I’m no longer looking for where the sea and the sun meet. No longer looking for her to appear and save me from a place where I’m alone and afraid. A place she told me to wait for her because she was my person, and I was hers, no matter who else she had in her life.
She always made me feel special that way. Always. But now, a year after she took that step off the edge and left me where the water never really meets the sun, I know that she was never healthy enough to be someone’s everything. And I know I’m not going to grow and become my own person until I let go.
I can let go, finally, because she did.
I chose this time of day and mode of transportation out of the city that haunts me for a reason. Neither the sun rising or the view of the waters will pull me to look for something … or someone who isn’t there. Something or someone who will always be beautiful in the most confusing way. Something or someone who isn’t here and isn’t real anymore, who is holding me back from growing, and God how I wish to grow.
Stopping at the corner of Park Avenue and 42nd Street, I reach up and untie the pale blue ribbon from my hair. Then I close my eyes and rub it between my fingers, soothing myself, feeling the silky softness that I have felt since she gave it to me. She told me that this scrap of ribbon had once run around the edge of the blanket that a man, who she assured me I have met before; a man she said wasn’t strong enough to be what he truly was supposed to be—my father.
She insisted I always keep a part of him, symbolizing that I was the best part of him, the part he didn’t even know he held. To me, that part of him, that scrap of nothing, has been a hindrance to me and her.
I remember a day playing in the sand when, by chance, I looked out of the corner of my eye and saw it had somehow come untied and was flying in the breeze.
Panicked, I looked around as I jumped to chase it. Mom was talking to a man, smiling from ear to ear for him, engrossed in the attention he gave her, and he was smiling back at her the same way.
That day, I chased a blue ribbon, knowing it meant something to her and, in theory, meant something to me, as it wisped through the air. I panicked, thinking that, after she was done with her crash after that man had broken her smile, she would notice it was gone when I lay next to her, when she would rub the ribbon between her fingers like she always did, soothing herself with its silky softness, just like I did.
Looking up at it, I ran right into a boy who was running along the beach, holding a kite string.
We both jumped up, and then he ran toward the kite string as the wind blew it away like my ribbon.
“Oh shit.” The little boy with black hair laughed as he jumped high in the air, grabbing both the ribbon and the string in different hands at the same time. Then he fell onto his bottom in the sand.
When he looked at me, he smiled and reached out his hand, the one holding the string, not the ribbon. When I didn’t take it from him, he looked at me like I was odd, yet he was still smiling.
“Go ahead; it’s yours.”
When I still didn’t say anything, he looked away from me and at his hand.
“My bad,” he said, then stretched out his other hand. “This is yours.” His smile grew bigger, and then he shrugged. “You want the kite instead?”
I looked behind me to see where my mom was, to see if she was worried. She hadn’t even noticed I had run off.
For a brief moment, I wanted to say yes. I wanted the kite, and I wanted him to take the ribbon. But then he would have to carry the burden of responsibility, and that would make his smile fade. I was sure of it.
Before I could answer him, he pulled off one of the kite’s tail ribbons and stood.
I cupped my hand over my eyes as I looked up at him, shielding it from the sun’s blaring glare, wanting to know if he was still smiling.
He thrust his hand out, the one holding my ribbon and now a part of the kite’s tail. “Here. Now you can have both.”
I took it and looked at the thick orange ribbon, inspecting it. There was a round, orange cartoon character all over it. Then I looked up at the kite, seeing it had the same orange-looking cartoon character on it. I looked back at him to see he was smiling … still smiling.
“His name’s Otto.”
I couldn’t help smiling back at him. But then, I didn’t want to smile at him, because that meant he could take it away—the smile—and make me crash, make me sad.
“Looks like a Lou to me.”
He started to laugh, and it was so loud it startled me and made me jump.
He grabbed my hand. “You fall, you’ll end up with sand in your suit. Don’t fall.”
I nodded as I steadied myself. That was when I heard her call my name.
“I gotta go.” I tried to hand him back the ribbon, but he shook his head.
I looked at my hand, at the blue ribbon, and pondered whether to give it to him or keep it when I heard my name again. I looked from the ribbon and back to the tall, smiling boy framed in the sun.
“You better go.” He nodded toward my mom.
I nodded. “Thank you.”
“Anytime.” He smirked. “Lou.”
Back in the now, I hold the ribbon up and look at it as the wind blows its end about. Then I close my eyes and think of that day as I release it and watch the wind whisk it away.
Like the kite, it blows higher and higher until it’s gone, and with it, the last of what has held me back. All the burdens, all the responsibilities I had put upon me, knowing they were more a weight than a means to grow.
Turning, I walk into Grand Central Station and take in her beauty as I walk toward the track that I pray will lead me to a place where smiles are in abundance and life will begin.
Sitting in the cushioned train seat, I close my eyes. The fear of the unknown takes ahold of me, but just a little.
When the woman beside me taps my hand, I open my eyes. She hands me a tissue, and I force a smile and thank her.
A total stranger showing me kindness.
While I wipe my eyes, she asks me what my name is as the train leaves the station, as I leave behind my past.
“My name is Keeka.”
And from that moment on, it would be.