A few things you should know about me: I open the curtains right when I wake up, before doing anything else. Cloudy, rainy, or clear blue skies—it doesn’t matter.
I turn and look at the sticky notes on my wall, where my past self tells me wonderful things: That I love my family, and that my family loves me. That I have beautiful, medium-thick hair that’s now long enough to put into a short, puffy ponytail. That I have a great sense of humor and a big heart.
I remember you said that you have an aching feeling that hits the hardest when the sun comes up. A dread that exceeds yesterday’s knowing that when you wake up the next day, you have to do all of this all over again. How unfair, you said, that what’s supposed to be the most hopeful time of the day is swamped, almost immediately, with doom. I remember those words. I remember those thoughts. But there are a few other things I want you to know.
I wash my face and then brush my teeth with the new electric toothbrush my sister got me. When I turn it on, like clockwork, it shakes off the round dollop of toothpaste that I’d put there. But when I use it, it leaves my mouth feeling exceptionally clean.
I change my clothes. Deciding what to wear is a little tricky today. The seasons have changed, but it’s one of those days when it’s chilly in the shade, but absolutely perfect in the sun.
Then I head outside. I don’t live in the type of neighborhood where total strangers say hello, but there is a camaraderie here, a common pull we all have towards this place that makes us stay, and forces us to keep each other safe.
You said that when you walk down the street, it feels like something is pulling you down, tugging your heart toward the ground. You watch each of your steps along the brick path, and you sense all the other people around you, laughing, talking, or walking in silence. And when you try to look up, to maybe just smile at someone, that pull saves you from the feeling of shame of being seen, as you put it. A relief and a disappointment at the same time.
But today, Sam, who runs the coffee shop near my place, asks how my work is going, and shows me a photo of her niece who lives in San Francisco. She planned her birthday party and was stressed about the decorations. But it all turned out well. Her niece looks so happy, with pink and green frosting all over her little denim shirt, and her cowboy hat hanging on for dear life off the side of her head.
Cup in hand, I leave and see my neighbor walking into church, dressed in a bowling shirt with long, thick blue and white stripes and a white fedora hat with a feather tucked on the side. “Mi amor!” He smiles at me, raising one hand up in the air, like a royal proclamation. We don’t know each other’s names, so a “Happy Sunday!” and a wave from me does the trick. He tips his hat and walks inside.
And just then, the sun slips back behind a cloud, and I draw my light jacket closer to me.
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I remember you said that it felt like the world was slipping away. Not all at once, but piece by piece. You’d stretch out your hands, trying to catch the moments around you, but they’d slip through your fingers. So you’d clench your hands into fists and stuff them back into your pockets, close enough to feel their concealed warmth.
Everyday was like this, on repeat. Sometimes you’d lie on your bed, on top of your covers, all sprawled out like a starfish. The blinds closed. Then slowly, you’d open one eye, and your heart sank seeing that only 20 minutes had gone by since you last checked. You wished it was dark outside so you could slip into an eternal night.
But out here, I see families pushing strollers of kids with big, squishy cheeks. I see my friend out on her daily run, and we stop to say hello. She’s having me over for dinner next week, making her homemade lasagna. I’m bringing wine and empanadas from the corner spot. After we eat, we’ll sit on her living room floor, making paper collages of cut-out flowers, trees, and grass to hang on our walls.
When you go outside, the cold air is your blanket of protection as you look out into the distance, where everything is illuminated. This won’t last forever. One day, you’ll stretch out your hands and catch those moments, and keep them.
As I walk, I crush piles of crunchy leaves beneath my feet, like we did when we were kids. Burnt orange, candy-apple red, and a fire-glow yellow.
The sun’s back out, but I’m caught in the shadow of the houses on this side of the street.
It’s almost time to go back home. But before I do….
A few things you should know about me:
I will wave at people whose names I don’t remember.
I will stomp on the crunchiest of leaves,
And I will cross the street to walk on the sunnier side.
Like you will, too.
As usual, thanks for reading! This is my fifth story since the relaunch of Become All. I wouldn’t be able to do this without your support.
“Sunnier side” was initially inspired by a walk I took back in November 2020 during….*****election week****, aka that horrible stretch of time in which we didn’t know the election results (or the fate of our country as we knew it) for what felt like forever. Anyhow, horrible time for everybody, but walks helped get my mind off all the chaos for a bit.
I was living in Brooklyn, NY, in a neighborhood I really loved (and still do!). It was a warmer fall day and at one point I crossed the street to walk on the sunnier side to warm up some more. The phrase “I will cross the street to walk on the sunnier side” came to mind, as I wondered if this is something everybody does (probably, yes), but with so many of my inspirations, I didn’t know what to do with it besides write down the phrase in my phone and snap a photo.
When it came to writing this story, I thought about juxtaposing two different times in the same person’s life. The future/present self is talking to the past self, who is going through a very hard time. Like anyone else, I’ve experienced times of emotional difficulty. For this, I was thinking of a particularly rough patch I went through in college in which waking up everyday was particularly hard. Since college, I have gone through plenty of difficult things, but also have experienced plenty of wonderful things, and am happy to say that, through a lot of effort on my end and the help of family and friends, my general mental health has greatly improved and I am better at taking care of myself.
I am not a fan of what some people call “spiritual bypassing” or “toxic positivity”, aka stuffing down and glossing over negative emotions. I believe in working through it, taking the time we need to take care of ourselves, and asking for help. With that, it becomes easier to realistically envision yourself getting better, and feeling the warmth on the other side. And that when you’re ready, you can walk over.
Shout-out to you all, to all my friends and family, and to my friend Kaela who makes the best homemade lasagna (she’s Italian, after all….it’s the best lasagna I’ve ever had!) and loves to craft. She’s also, of course, been a great support. Oh and shout-out to my fave coffee shop in my old neighborhood and the owners who are terrific!
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Thanks for reading!
— Cynthia Betubiza. February 9, 2022.