You often paddle with your children, in the ancient riverbed, near where you live now.
All our family photos help me to imagine this part.
You try to land pebbles upon the jagged, giant rock that stands in the middle of the always-moving water. Since you were but a toddling dot, you have loved to throw stone after stone, into that endless flow.
You will never see a stone land successfully and remain upon that rock – and you will also never stop trying to make it happen. You feel like you are living in our family photos, when you are at the river.
The visual memories of our family photos intermingle, with your present days, whenever you dip your toes in the river’s cold flow.
You will sometimes deliberately go there, just so you can feel the past around you. Sometimes you will stay away from it, wanting to be free of all that’s happened before.
Which brings me back to now, which I guess we could describe as the middle of this story. Storytelling Tip: I’m the writer, I get to decide.
So many people panicked, pulled out, fled too soon. Or they put up with where we were, afraid to ever make a needed change – like the sayings go.
But I waited, calmed my breath, assessed daily the situation and regularly called the people who run the farm, where we’ve so often holidayed. That is why now, when we must, you are able to go and live there, upon their land.
And you are well prepared – I have given you all you need to survive, physically, in the outdoors.
But are you ready mentally? Emotionally? Within yourself? All the times you’ve rolled your eyes, saying:
“Yes, I know!” Or:
“I can do it myself!” Or:
Did you know, those are all the things children say to adults, when children are growing up?
It makes me also think of all the things adults say to children, when children are growing up.
And then I think about all the clichés, “wisdom quotes” and the way the sayings go.
I used to think these kinds of things were a joke – now I grab them quickly, snatching back time – in the five minutes I have left to tell you everything. Storytelling Tip – we’ve covered a lot in five minutes so far, haven’t we?
I think of all the other things I haven’t told you about yet. The only way I can get these across, in the time I have left to write, is by passing on lists of all my favourite things – books, films, songs – things that say something about me.
Maybe, if you can spend some time with the things I love, in a place we loved together, you will feel that we are side-by-side again. You will feel that I am there with you, as I am at The Beginning, quickly writing you this story.
I can imagine you, wide-awake, in your tent, working through the lists – when you should be asleep. I can write about this, not because I really know your, “Once upon a future time“, but because I remember our family photos, which I can use to represent our whole past – Storytelling Tip.
I remember times, when we have lain awake, chatting in our tent. I can easily recall the feeling of our sleeping bags – pulled tight, darkness all around us. I can burrow into the detail and create descriptions of torches, lighting up our chins, while we shelter cosily under canvas.
You would demand more stories and I – my tired, adult eyelids drooping in the dark – could never say no to you. And when you visit the lists of all my favourite things, you’ll work out that I borrowed from the ideas in many of my favourite stories to tell new stories to you. Storytelling Tip: This is what writers do.
And so, this is one of many other stories that exist.
And, by the way, you won’t always enjoy reading it.
At times, you will feel angry that we are not together. Other times, you will believe that reading this is the only way you can feel close to me. Neither, and both, of those things are true.
You will spend too much time looking at our family photos, until you won’t know if you’re an adult or a child anymore.
You will look at your own children and realise – as adults eventually do – that the things you thought separated you from me – time, age and experience – are the things that will later bring us back together.
It will all become clear. We will be but a breath away, from once again reaching out to touch and hug each other. You will think, what if you knew me when I was a little? How would we have played together?
Storytelling Tip – you can imagine a different future, or another version of the past, by telling yourself a new story about it.
In a future dawn – like my present one – I write that you rise.
Meanwhile, here, at The Beginning of the story, I let the dawn light into my eyes.
In the future, you step outside and remember me in our family photos – always out of the tent early, drinking tea in the porch.
I know, I miss you too.
In the future, you stand, look up at the sky, stretch, head out to the toilet, then back to dress. You ‘forget’ to clean your teeth, again. But then you remember me, nagging:
“Brush for two minutes, look at your mouth, reach to the back.”
You smell your own breath and grin, remembering how cross I could become, about the little things you didn’t think were important.
You will think of what you might have said back to me, one of those things children say to adults, when children are growing up.
Then you will honour me, by going back to the campsite washing place, to brush your teeth properly.
Your morning sun creeps upwards in your sky – like it does for me, at The Beginning. The birds, which were singing so much, in my dawn, just a few of my moments ago, are calming down now around you, in the future.
As you enjoy your clean teeth and the morning light, you realise you have come to the love the sunrise, just like me. You wish you could tell me this. Don’t worry – I already know.
At The Beginning, once I stop writing, you will wake in our house for the last time – in your room, next to mine. You will pull on socks and clothes, layering your daytime outfit over your pyjamas – the amount of times I’ve told you not to do that.
You’ll think of me in the room next to yours and enjoy ignoring my imaginary voice in your head. Ignoring whatever I say, of those things adults say to children, when children are growing up.
You will imagine yourself replying sarcastically, with one of those things children say to adults, when children are growing up.
Later, you will regret not listening to my imaginary voice in your head, as you walk six miles – from the crossroads where you are dropped off – sweating hard, in your layers, your pyjamas stuck to you.
You won’t enjoy hearing my imaginary voice in your head, saying those things adults say to children, when children are growing up:
“I told you so.”
The midday, midsummer heat will shimmer above the sticky, tarmac road. You will be scorched, as you travel up the centre of the valley. And you will have a little one to carry for the last part of the walk too, remember?
Imagine me now, at The Beginning, shaking my head – knowing this would happen – which I am.
Remember, how I would get, when I would give you a list of all the things you hadn’t listened to me about?
Well, I knew you would regret not charging your phone last night.
I knew, on the journey, you would feel wretched that you can’t text me, or check if you have any messages from me.
When you eventually switch on your phone, you will see After, Words.
You will read my story once straight through, then read it again slowly, many times, clicking on all the links.
I’ve tried to stretch time, make ten minutes of the written word speak of a lifetime of me – far away, but also next to you.
The sun has again risen,
I am letting the light in
Once upon a future time,
You’ll get lost in your story,
You’ll feel lonely without me,
It’s going to be okay.