A Little Piece of Love

He stands straight, attentive; and he looks. Fifty-two middle school students remain silent. It’s Wednesday night, and I am a part of this. A mentor and a friend – I hope – to the kids. I am a youth group leader, expected to be happy and pure and honest and outgoing and wise and responsible. The stage’s light and the room’s darkness punctuate the corners and edges of his face. He carries a backpack. It bulges from the pressure of the things inside; odd corners and bulky shapes that don’t make sense and create imperfect shadows and mountainous terrain on the blue canvas. A shoulder leans, and the humpback with straps thuds directly on the floor. Sharp and loud, in a room deafeningly silent.
Silence. It makes you think. I thought. Flashes of faces, events shaping my life; images of reasons why I didn’t belong.
When the backpack opens the zipper is the sound going right from the back of my tongue to the pit of my stomach. From the backpack he pulls rocks. He carries rocks. For school and activities. For friends. For families. For peer pressure. For feelings of failure and joy and shame and… too much. He wants us to cringe as the tremendous weights strike the floor. To examine each weight we carry as a child might search for a skipping stone on a rocky beach. Crouched, with nose close to the briny smell, thumb pressing into each rock, the sensation of the smooth surface against the skin, aimlessly and determinedly probing; he picks a rock up, cherishes it for a moment, and moves on.

Each rock I carry I feel, ummph, as they drop into my stomach. Furrowed eyebrows: I am not supposed to need this lesson, it’s for the kids. But the images are no longer flickers in the back of my mind, but shaky, flecked movies projecting behind my eyeballs. Years of dark, late nights filled with screaming and crying that the walls of our house soak up. It seeps under the crack below my door; and my carpet and my quilt and my pillow absorb the pain; the exhaustion.

A list? Record a list of what I carry, what burdens me. Is that what he said?... The need to repair my family, prevent it from splitting down the middle, like a torn rag, leaving millions of threads left dangling. The guilt of what I said I would never do, but did for him. The burden of supporting them, when they need a smile, no bad days allowed. The pressure I feel from previous success haunting current failure. The emptiness of the blank left after the question why?

Then he utters a word that whiplashes me into the present. Here, he points, we find one thing we forget to carry with all the others pushing at the seams of our backpacks. I strain to focus my weak vision against the weight of the rocks that pulls my sockets and tendons in one continuous line down my esophagus and gut.
Now, this is anti-climatic, because I bet you already know the word. But it’s great because, I had no clue. Until he said it and placed that little piece of fake wood in my hand. All sanded down and smooth. Therapeutic to feel the texture against the minute lines stamped in my thumb. The word is etched into the pale, linear surface. So tiny, beautiful and fascinating, so simple. I hid it in my pocket. I could feel the slight pressure of the tiny circle against my leg. A reminder, that when I carry this little piece, I carry nothing else.





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