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The Courage of Stars

“Hope almost always shows up disguised as heartbreak.”

I wrote this in 2016 with the kind of confidence that I now recognize only comes from hindsight, maybe even naivety. Otherwise, I know that this is exactly the kind of platitude that Amanda hates. Who would actually say this in reference to a woman who’s had a miscarriage, and lost both her father and brother in the span of months, only then to have her daughter diagnosed with cancer, then relapse and receive a bone marrow transplant from her sister?

I would never have presumed to say this had I not been there, had she not been so open to a perfect stranger coming into their lives with a camera, sometimes a cup of coffee, and also zero fucking clue what I was doing. And I definitely wouldn't have tried to put my own words to their impossibly complex story had it not seemed as if that particular chapter was closing in the best way it possibly could have under the circumstances.

I couldn't have known how this would become more than just a project or exhibit, or that the number of photos I have of Katie would rival that of my own kids after nearly eight years of her on and off battles with cancer. While I have very few pictures of her when she wasn’t sick, when her hair wasn’t either falling out or coming back in, when she wasn’t being held captive in a hospital corridor- or her own body, it didn’t make her any less captivating. Her eyes always held a certain truth that, in the days after her death, had me sifting through my external hard drive for any photo of her I might have accidentally archived, as if that could somehow alleviate the ache. I also have very few pictures of Katie when Amanda wasn't also in the frame, and that was its own revelation- that the story I was supposed to write back then wasn't actually about Katie as much as it was about her mother.

What is hope disguised as now? This is the question that's been turning over in my head this summer since Katie died. And the truth is, I don’t know. Maybe if I did, I wouldn’t still be looking for it in Taylor Swift's lyrics or the bottom of my salted caramel cold brew or the worn out soles of my chucks. Maybe it takes the shape of writer's block, or the blister on my left heel that festers, still, on every run, forcing me to acknowledge it if only for the fact that it means I'm showing up. Maybe it's making a donation to Mile #111 in Katie's memory to fund her dear friend, Tattoo Tom's Moab 240 Mile Race for Childhood Cancer.

Maybe hope is tucked away inside every labored intention and thin space, and we wouldn't even know it's there if it weren't for grief. I'm still figuring it out. And I think I'll always be mystified about it.

"You taught me the courage of stars before you left How light carries on endlessly, even after death With shortness of breath You explained the infinite And how rare and beautiful it is to even exist

I couldn't help but ask for you to say it all again I tried to write it down, but I could never find a pen I'd give anything to hear you say it one more time That the universe was made just to be seen by my eyes."

Atlas: Year One Saturn


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