For Aethea

When we were 14,
we didn’t think about
or leaving the religion of our youth.

We wore the flowery dresses,
attended the camp meetings,
and ate the morning donuts.
We crossed the street
for daytime seminary
and let God nibble at our hearts.

The rage of teenagedom welled in me,
and I punched you at the party
after the football game.
We collapsed on the curb and sobbed
and talked.
I’d never seen you cry before.
I’d never felt worse and yet,
never better.

I helped you collect bottle caps
from under couches
after the parties,
and drag the chiming bags
to the trash
so your mom wouldn’t know.

We’d spend all our time with Mike,
trekking to and from the college,
to and from class.
Finance 101 was the worst.
We were 18.
We didn’t want to know
about credit card debt
and what life had in store.

We dove into the mud,
covered head-to-toe
champions of volleyball
during homecoming week.
Sheer elation on our faces
in the newspaper picture.

You were always the strong one.
The one who says it like it is
with a middle finger in the air.
Honesty continuously overflowing.
I liked you being the center of attention,
so I could quietly take up a corner.

You helped me carry boxes,
when I was moving
across the state line,
forced to start a different life.

You came to visit,
and met the Prince impersonator.
We shouted about Julius Caesar
when we ate at the feast
and swam in the backyard pool.
I smiled huge.
Something I didn’t think was possible

They say we’ve strayed,
and that we’re lost sheep —
that’s why bad things happen.
They’ll tell us bad things happen
to good people too,
that life is a test,
and something better awaits
in some distant eternity.
We should pray more
and recite scriptures from memory.
Make it all better.

I’m used to having words to say.
Something that makes life seem
less harsh,
less real.
Right now,
all I have are these,
and they seem insufficient.

All our memories;
they’re carrying us.
Pushing us forward.
More adventures
and healing await,
regardless of whether
you set foot in a chapel.

My heart swells.
I will grieve by your side,
and help you lift your burdens.

Thea and me