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Reminders by Victoria Rheingans

artwork by Ella Klinkenberg


I bring my hands up to my eyes and rub gently, then push a little more. Bursts of moving golden color spin around in the darkness of my closed eyelids. The sight mesmerizes me for a moment, my eyes grasping at the fleeting spirals of shimmer and little dots of color until they fade out and leave me in complete darkness again. I had hoped that the action would somehow, some way break my spell of sleeplessness.

It did not.

It never did.

Defeated, I think to myself “Ugh, this didn’t make me any more tired at all, it feels like it woke me up even more.”

It always does.

Night after night, time after time, I find myself unable to fall asleep. Night after night I find myself rubbing my eyes in the same way, hoping that this time it will do the trick.

I don’t think it ever will.

I think the inability to simply close my eyes and shut my brain off will plague me forever. Night after night I worry I will always lie with loneliness. I don’t understand the emotion at this time. The weight of worry sits upon me. I shouldn’t put myself through such big emotions so late at night. I don’t understand now, but I hope that I will begin to understand as I get older.

I will.

Right now though, the overbearing concern that I might be doomed to a night of staring up into complete darkness, not even getting a blink of sleep begins to consume me.

Tonight is different though.

I pull my hands down from my eyes and slowly turn my head over to the direction where my older cousin lies. Squinting in the darkness of her downstairs living room I can’t make out much, only the general shape of her body turned on her side, breathing in and out slowly. I can, however, definitely make out the sound of her snoring gently.

“Great,” I think, “she’s definitely asleep.”

I don’t mind too much though. My heart swells just getting to have her near me, even if she's out like a light. I anxiously balance the line between exhaustion and sleep, not able to quite make the leap into unconsciousness like she has.

I still like the company.

I turn my head back and stare up at the ceiling, my heart comforted after reminding myself that she lies right next to me.

I’m not alone tonight.

I close my eyes and take myself back to earlier in the day. She and I got to get our ears pierced together. Standing beside her then, just as I lie next to her now, both fear and excitement beat fiercely in my heart. Afraid to get the piercing then, and now, afraid that I can’t fall asleep. During both, just excited to have my cousin near me. She supported me then, holding my hand and making me laugh until I did eventually muster up the courage to climb up onto the tall seat that put me at the piercer’s level.


But I wasn’t really alone, I had her.

The sound of her voice joking and offering soft words of encouragement caught my attention and washed away my worries entirely. Just like her snores now, which as slightly frustrating as they sound, I welcome with so much relief. Because they remind me of her presence, which comforts me just as much now, maybe even a bit more than it did earlier.

I take a deep breath and remind myself that right now, I’m not alone either. I still have her, and I know that if I did wake her up, she would stay up and talk with me for however long I needed. Instead of shaking her awake though, no matter how badly I want to, I close my eyes and try to think back to her earlier advice when fear threatened to stop me at the piercer’s.

“Be brave,” she encouraged. “I know you can do it and you know you can too. C’mon, I’ll be right here with you.”

She supported me then, and she still is now.

I squeeze my eyes shut tightly one more time, and I take a moment to remind myself that I supported myself too, and I’m still here for myself now, so I’ll be okay. I open my eyes again and turn onto my side. A sharp pain shoots out from my new piercing. I reach up to hold it, and relief instantly washes over me.

I don’t know it yet, but holding my earring will become a common comfort for me. Twisting a stud in circles, or holding onto a hoop will constantly remind my teenage self of the advice, encouragement, and love I got from my teenage cousin on that day, and so many days after. The habit will also remind me of the strength I had in myself, to close my eyes and breathe until I eventually did fall asleep that night, and so many nights after, reminding me that I am never really alone.

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