Wednesday, February 10, 2016

favorite essays: it will look like a sunset

One afternoon, a hummingbird flew through the open door of the apartment to the window in the corner and beat at the glass. It was panicked, trying to turn glass into sky. I wrapped my hands around it, the hummingbird heart pulsing against my palms, then released it on the stoop.
From It Will Look Like a Sunset by Kelly Sundberg

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On a Saturday early in December, I went alone to a bookstore. All day I had been with friends doing fun things, and yet I'd been carrying around a sadness I couldn't shake, and which source I didn't entirely understand. It was the rare kind of sadness that sharpens senses instead of dulling them. That kind that feels like a fire in the heart.

I wandered around, admired book covers and titles. I opened a book of essays by various authors and my eyes settled on the title of the last one in the collection: "It Will Look Like a Sunset." I bought the book and took it home with me and skipped to the end to read it.

Before I started reading, I didn't even guess what the essay would be about, though the title made me think of summer nights, when sunsets come late and bring warm colors. Or, at this time of year, when the sun is setting over the freeway ahead of me as I drive home from work, and the clouds and sky seem to be showing off.

But sunsets are endings, slow ones that bring with them hours of night. In this particular essay, the ending comes to a relationship. There is love and commitment, and also abuse and apologies and false hope. Near the end, a doctor tells the author that her fresh injury will change color and heal over time. "It will look like a sunset," he says. Which you, as the reader, come to understand is also how leaving looks: bruised and final.

There are many things I love about this essay: the structure, the way she handles time, her images. I especially admire her ability to make the reader understand her love for her husband. Why she stayed. Domestic violence stories can be told with so little empathy for the abuser, and even for the abused. As if leaving should be an obvious, easy choice. You forget about the love. At close of the essay - after we know that she has indeed left - the author recounts simple memories of family-hood with her husband, and her mother's advice to try hard because living without him will be hard. You get it, why she tried like she did. Why she put up with all that hurt and fear.

It will look like a sunset, but then it will heal. During the night, as the earth makes its turn, the sun still burns. Eventually, you see it again.

(Oh, and that's what happened with that sadness I was carrying around, too...)

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