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In-Between: Writer's Digest 2nd Annual Personal Essay Awards Winner

Congratulations to Alyssa Rickert, Grand Prize winner of the 2nd Annual Writer's Digest Personal Essay Awards. Here's her winning essay, "In Between."
In-Between: Writer's Digest 2nd Annual Personal Essay Awards Winner


by Alyssa Rickert

I lay my blanket down on the grass and slowly lower myself onto it. One knee down, then the other, then both hands until I flop over onto my side. And breathe. The autumn sky is so blue, with the wispiest of clouds stretching out from behind Castle Crags.

I might look alone but I’m not. Tiny hiccups bouncing around inside me remind me that there’s a boy, a very little boy, hopelessly close but invisible to me. And the gravestones around me are markers of bodies all around that lived full lives, bodies that carried hopes and dreams and love and anger. There’s one body, deep in the grass beneath me, that I know so well.

This body’s hands held me as a baby, this body’s voice sang to me the sweetest songs. This body charged into giant ocean waves alongside me and swam out to get me when the tides tried to rip me away. This body’s eyes are green. And those green eyes saw the world and put those hands to good use and found a way to put that voice to bring peace. This body had a heart so big and a heart so strong that it beat out the loudest song until one day, it stopped.

That body is close, it’s right there, just 6 feet underneath me. I can’t see the body, but through my memories, I can see the body’s life. I can’t see the life of this new little body inside me yet. I don’t know what his voice will sound like, what work his hands will do. What color will his eyes be? I hope he loves the ocean.

These two bodies are just 6 feet away, and these two bodies are worlds apart. One body leaving, one body coming, and then there’s my body in-between. My own green eyes can see the blue sky. My own hands are dry and cracked from the work I’ve found. My heart beats strong with longing, both for the tiny heart drumming inside me and for the bigger heart that lays quiet. I long to be held by one, and long to hold the other.

The blanket is wet now, from the dew seeped up from the Earth and the tears poured down from love. I put both hands on the ground, then one foot, and with a grunt, finally stand up. It’s hard to say if my spirit or my joints hurt more.

It’s time to leave now. I’ll carry one body with me, the other will stay stagnate under the grass. Soon the little body will become separate from me. For a while his fresh eyes will see what I see. His small hands will hold onto mine as we charge into the ocean. I’ll sing him songs and hold him close. I’ll cherish those times until they end.

Eventually, my son’s eyes will start to search for sites beyond me. His hands will reach out for work, and a new kind of love. His body will go away from me to find purpose. And my body will be left behind, without him close, separated from his body by miles just as it is separated from my father’s body by earth.

Once again I will appear to be alone. But even as I take steps away from my father’s grave and breathe through the tightening in my belly, I know I could never be truly alone. I am the memory keeper of all the life I lived with my dad. I am the hope harnesser for the future of my son. The invisible force of love beats stronger than a heart of any size. Three bodies, three people, three lives. One gone, one coming, and me. Just me, carrying the honor of being the in-between.

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