May Days

by Amy Turn Sharp


The day that I graduated high school I spent swimming in an old quarry in Southeastern Ohio. It was hot that May and the sun kicked us and we fell through the air like bricks. The water was so cold that as soon as you submerged your body it would seize up and goose pimple and stiffen like a board. We would burst upwards like dolphins shouting out like demons when we gasped for air. People were yelling and screaming into the wind. We were madmen for each other. Isn't it strange that things can feel important when we are so young? That anything can be magical if enough children pump their fists and encourage it to be so.

I was with someone who is now dead and we drank from aluminum tallboy beer cans and ate Doritos and never talked about the future. There were more important tasks at hand like jumping off these open pit mine mountains. We needed to do these things that they warned us about. We were still cocooned by the ignorance that time was always going to be this slow. We were unrushed and focused on the immediate. We did not know pain or love or fear yet. We only thought we did.

On the ride home I changed into my white dress for graduation night in the large backseat of someone's father's large sedan. I raised my hips and pulled off my bathing suit and looked into the rearview mirror where I met a set of eyes that I almost forget the exact color of now. I smoothed myself and tamed my wild hair into a ponytail and put on my Birkenstock sandals. The leather backseat was so big and my legs were so tan and I felt just fine.  When we got out of the car and I went to meet my family for one of the most important events of my life they told me- I laughed at my sunburned face in the tiny Covergirl compact that I held open in the parking lot.

And I kept laughing even as I walked down the aisle and shook hands with the principal and felt like every single eye in the stadium could see the bright red sunburn across my face. I just kept laughing because everything was funny and not quite real and I had not yet developed the vocabulary to describe the way I was feeling. I only knew that shit was exciting and people were putting hands on my shoulders and pushing me towards the next thing. And everyone was crying and so I felt like that was something I could do and then no one would know that I was so confused. And people cried because everything was changing. The funny thing is that as I stood there in the gloaming I realized that I had no idea how to be me.

And in another year that will have been 20 years ago. I know this because my best friend who was standing with me back then in a white dress also- she has told me this.

She says that we have over a year to become faster thinner smoother versions of the truth. She tells me that it is almost time to go back there again.

To the place that I worship and reject simultaneously.

To the place where my father is now becoming an old man.

To the place where the quarries are closed and the streets are quieter and people still think of me as an oddball.

To the place where there are graves with bones that used to be my friends.

To the sunshine goddamn beautiful green hills.

To the place that made me a writer.