To the fireflies and the light they abandoned


Natalie Mix

I think it hurts too much to do it again, to ever take a photo like this one again.

I’m unraveling knots, flipping through pages, dipping my brush into every bucket of paint. I’m scared to tell this story wrong, scared to distract from the point, scared to make something from nothing at all. 

The past year has stolen so much from me; I’ve said goodbye until my voice was gone, and I anxiously wait for the words to steal my voice again—that is if it ever comes back to me. But all of those goodbyes felt temporary, bearable like the future could exist without exactly what I lost, like the future would bring back some of what I lost. And at least everyone was learning how to say goodbye. 

But this goodbye feels different. Maybe because it feels like I’m the only one saying it. Maybe because only now am I realizing it’s goodbye. Maybe because I never said the words, although I always planned it, saw it as the closing of one door and the opening of another. 

One phase of my life would give way to another, and the fireflies around the glowing orb would merely shift—some would stay, some would go, but it would all make sense. The light wasn’t supposed to fade. 

It was always a flickering light, and I prayed upon it to become steady, to grow until it was my lighthouse. Everyone promised it would; every sign pointed to yes. 

I was always aware of its instability, aware of its moments of strength. When I needed it most, the light was at home, within and without the bars of my heart. 

But I wasn’t aware of its fading, wasn’t aware of every blight that extinguished a bit of the glow until suddenly it was too dark and all the fireflies had gone. 

Now I can see why it all happened, every decision that led me to this place. I can see how the pain distanced me from that light as I gave it the power to do so by tethering myself so tightly to that orb when it wasn’t strong enough to withstand the storms. I can see how I willingly let go when I wish I would’ve held on, but it didn’t feel worth it. And how the pain came again, dousing the light and leaving me stranded at sea with no lighthouse in sight to guide the way. 

And I must acknowledge that I think I would’ve ended up floundering in the waves anyway even if I hadn’t let go, even if the storms hadn’t raged outside, because the torment inside was only lying dormant, waiting for a catalyst in any form. But I can’t deny that it would’ve been nice to have the lighthouse. 

Now here I am, willing this light to become brighter but lacking the energy I’ve convinced myself I need to give it. Every day, the words in the frame on the wall become harder to believe. Every day, I understand less. 

It’s no easy feat, with the beacon as faint as it is, but I’m holding on to its remaining luminescence, letting it fuel my belief that someday, that light will be the sun once again. 

I’m not sure if there’s a “meant to be.” But I believe in a higher power—even if the light is frail—that tells me this was always going to happen. Somehow those feel different though they sound frustratingly similar.

I think I know, though, that those fireflies will never be the same. 

And they deserve a goodbye, but I can’t give them that. 

I can only say hello to the memories of them. I can’t give them up. I need something to embolden the light.

So hello. 

Hello to the memory of periwinkle dawn and dewy lawns, bags packed too full, the circle of bodies, the anticipation of adventure.

To the memory of bus rides, sitting on the floor when I wasn’t supposed to, falling asleep because the excitement exhausted, playing bloody knuckles and concentration and other silly games, begging to have the aux. 

To the memory of late nights, pizza and popcorn and lemonade, the bleachers that we spilled many drinks on, the lights that hung from the ceiling, feeling so contentedly at home. 

To the memory of campfires, outdoor music, dinner under tents, complaining about hikes until we reached the peak and realized it was worth it, Bluetooth speakers hanging from backpacks, constant reminders to drink water. 

To the memory of sleeping in pews, playing card games and making friendship bracelets, getting to know myself in small groups, journaling in quiet places outside. 

Hello to the memories that are fainter in detail but just as heavy in my heart. Hello to playing your music in my car, to realizing I’ve grown so much since I lost it all, to wishing you could all see it. 

I still hold onto hope that those fireflies will return. I still wish for them to fuel the fading light.

But maybe I can let go now, now that I’ve said goodbye.