Of Dreams and Dragons

By: Karpov Kinrade


Two Words

Everyone has a word. That one word that encapsulates and articulates so much of who you are, that on a Venn diagram there would only be a sliver that falls outside the scope of that word. Most people never learn their word, but it's out there, waiting to be found. Waiting to be called forth.

I… I have two words. My first word, only because I learned it first, is hiraeth. It's not even English—though the best words seldom are, so that should hardly be counted against it. I initially discovered hiraeth on social media, and it made me suck in my breath as something stirred deep within me. It's Welsh, and there's no direct translation into English, but it's defined as a kind of homesickness tinged with grief or sadness over a person or place that is lost to you. It carries with it a sense of longing, nostalgia and wistfulness, and it's an emotion that has weighed on me every day of my life that I can remember. Discovering there is a word for what I've always felt does help ease the sorrow some, but only in the way that identifying the monster helps ease the fear. It's still a monster. It still hunts you. But now you know its name.

My second word is so closely aligned with my first that it maybe doesn't count. Saudade—originating in Portuguese and Galician—takes hiraeth another step, though. It is often defined as "the love that remains" after someone or someplace is gone—or even if that person or place is still in your life, but it has changed so much that you mourn the past or future.

These words are my ghosts. They haunt me, teasing at my mind as I go about my day. And they are directly tied to a life I can't remember, because I never lived it. A life that could have been.

If my father hadn't died before I was born.

If my mother hadn't married Pat.

If fate had taken a swing at someone else the day I was born, instead of setting its sights on me.

And today, my ghosts are more active than usual as I count the change for my groceries.

I usually shop early in the morning usually, when the crowds at Safeway are shorter, but today couldn't be helped. We're out of too many things and the kids are hungry, so I came after running other errands, when the lines are long and people are tired and impatient and ready to get home to their families.

Women are trained from childhood to be polite, accommodating and docile. To make others happy before themselves. To be self-sacrificing and humble. Which is why, as the line behind me lengthens, and tired shoppers check their phones for the time and sigh dramatically, I feel guilt. Guilt that I have to count out the quarters and nickels and pennies I found in the couch to pay for groceries for the three hungry children at home. Guilt that I have to keep putting back items that push my total too high. Guilt that I couldn't do all the math and taxes and weights of produce in my head, thus saving everyone the hassle of waiting on me. Guilt that I have to use food stamps to cover what my couch change can't.


Because I'm making the people behind me wait too long.

The cashier, Martha, is a middle-aged woman who's worked here as long as I can remember. She's always been kind, and fast, and I try to pick her line whenever I can. She doesn't shame me with silent looks and frowns that others sometimes do, even without realizing it. She gives me a small, sympathetic smile as I help bag my groceries in reusable bags that have seen better days. One is so frayed I'm not sure it will survive this trip.

"You sure you don't need another bag?" Martha asks.

"Gotta make these work till payday," I say, loading up my cart.

She nods in understanding. "Hang in there, Sky. You know what they say… this too shall pass."

I give her the best smile I can muster and nod. "Thanks, Martha. Sorry about this."

She's already scanning the next customer's food though, so I leave quickly, hoping to get home before the kids.

Fall has settled into the bones of the little city of Ukiah, and today is colder than usual. Winter is indeed coming, though we feel less of a sting two hours north of San Francisco than most of the country. The wind whips around my face, freezing my nose and ears, as I push my cart through the expansive parking lot to my car.

I can smell the rain before it falls, but I have no way of covering myself or my groceries, and the deluge of water soaks me to the skin by the time I pop open the trunk. I make quick work of getting the groceries into the car, but the last bag doesn't survive the experience and rips apart in my hand, depositing my food onto the wet asphalt.