“Sunflower, bullshit. I want everything beautiful to burn.”
Tiny yellow pedals point outward like triangular rays of sunshine. The face of the blackened middle, smiling to the sky, turning to drink up sun, sleeps in the darkness. Maybe it tilts, just a little. I recall singing a school song, rather a song at school, for a spring concert, at Lacordaire about a sunflower. The whole thing is on VHS somewhere. I might’ve had a dress too that I wore with a sunflower on it. Might’ve been navy blue with black and white checks. Some song and dance routine where we move toward the rhythm and sing songs about how God is the sun and we are just all sunflowers turning toward Him. My mom really liked the song. It was in the sweaty gymnasium, which also doubled as an auditorium. There was a stage in it and everything – bigger than Good Shepard for sure. I still remember that gym, that was technically in the high school. There might’ve been cookies and fruit punch afterwards. A combination that never makes sense outside the context of being a kid. When Hawaiian Punch and Juicy Juice ruled. Capri Sun and Sssips and here I just going on and on about juice. Hi-C! So many flavors, so much cardboard and aluminum and high fructose corn syrup. Plastic straws attached. Parents really put up with a lot of our bullshit, huh? So much commitment, so many activities; Birthday invitations and playdates. It’s a lot. I realize that now. But when you’re a kid, you don’t understand it. It doesn’t make sense. There’s no context because there’s nothing to base it off of, there’s no experience. You’re so fresh and new in the world and everything is just happening to you all at once. Aging is annoying. Just when some things stay the same, other things are always changing. Like my eyesight. I haven’t seen a legit sunflower in awhile. Pictures, of course. I think my great-grandma had a singing sunflower that may she got from my mom when she used to sell Avon. They always had strange electronic things in the early aughts. But this sunflower had a face in the middle and when you pressed a button it would sing you are my sunshine. And she got a real kick out that. And that was all it did. That was the gag. And I guess when she was feeling blue and no one else was around, she’d hit that button and laugh out loud because that was the kind of person she was. Back before she got dementia, back before she had to have her car keys taken away, back before she had to walk around with a name tag that also had on it her address and who to call if she was lost. Back before nursing homes in Kenilworth that we dreaded to go to on a Saturday. It was a lot. I get that now. My dad always made us go though, despite it all. And I think that was the right thing to do.
There is a long pier that runs down toward the ocean, veers off from the main boardwalk. Doppler effect sets in, where the music and din of voices, families laughing and arguing and crying and joyful exclaiming - They all pitch shift down and decrescendo, still carrying. The sun has mostly set now and I can see a golden glow creating halos around purple clouds. I can still make out the water and the waves and the beach. I sit on the edge of this wooden pier and dangle my feet over the water. My hands at my sides, on the wood, balancing and supporting. A friend comes by and announces her presence by putting her hand on my shoulder before sitting down and replacing her hand with her head. And we sit like that, calmly and alone. Listening to the tide carry our thoughts away to distant buoys and marine life, feeling the cool breeze that makes me grateful I brought my windbreaker - and grateful I have someone next to me. My hand slips around her shoulder and I pull her a little closer, gently but intentional. Time has stopped all around us. Cool summer evening where you could live off the air and not eat for days. We are naive kids. We know nothing about the world except for this unspoken moment. The pier creaks, like it's jealous and wants us to remember it's still there, holding us up. And then it's like I cannot resist, and I smoothly turn my face into hers and peck her lips with my own. There is no surprise. We know how we feel about each other. We are stuck in some Zen eddy, some breathable rip current that has taken us out of the ocean of time. We know it's only a matter of time until we make our way out, or rather - get pulled out against our will. We know this and accept this. I remove my hand from her shoulder and thread my left hand through her right. I feel whole and secure. The golden halos have gone away. It is getting harder to see past our feet. The cool air starts to pervade my jacket. Kissing her again, just a nanosecond longer, I ask if she wants to go find some hot chocolate.
Cardboard haven fort pops up abruptly after Baby Owen stands while inside his structure. He grins, his eyes opens wide, and shouts surprised. Christmas Morning. Little toddler in pajamas. Nothing matters more than the giant box. Toys be damned. They can be played with later. But the box – The box is where it’s at. Mindlessly teething on the fort now, Owen’s parents adoringly gaze and pick him up. A head of light brown curls bounce has he now sits on his mother’s hip, sucking his thumb, and gazing at his wrapping paper mess, running like a river throughout his cardboard town.
Jakob stares lovingly at his wife and son. The house smells of coffee and toast, as well as chocolate and peppermint. Santa’s tired this morning after being up all night wrapping presents and loving his wife. He stands and embraces her, kisses her tenderly and closes his eyes, the Christmas morning scene temporarily melting from view, the flashing star and multi-colored string lights dipping to black. There is a small fire crackling in the grate. The room is warm and cozy. Stockings hang from the mantle. Owen received all his gifts with excitable joy and sweet confusion. As Cindy walks away, he breaks off a piece of leftover cookie and chews on the chocolate chip morsel, awakening his tastebuds with cocoa and sugar. A bird calls outside.