Writer Jalynn Harris’s dad holds her in Cape Canaveral when she was just a few months old. Photo courtesy of Jalynn Harris.

Every year, once a year, it happens. Outside my window, the birds begin to sing the blue light’s rise into yellow. The flowers begin to open themselves up like hugs. And the rain comes down in beautiful blankets covering all of us in life’s most critical resource: water.

May makes everything feel different; even more: transformed. Just ask mothers, who of all the many thankless days, get one gushy day dedicated to hearing from those they raise. Or ask any graduating senior leaving the bleachers of that education only to enter the dorm rooms of this education. Or consider Corinne Bailey Rae’s song “Till It Happens To You” in which she sings “It used to feel like heaven/ It used to feel like May”–the “it” no doubt referring to life’s most disruptive and delicate substance: love.

Admittedly, I am partial. I was born this month. Alongside eight other family members. In fact, every Saturday in May this year there was someone to celebrate and another someone else to celebrate halfway through the week. Besides my own personal relationship to May, the collective consciousness agrees with me and what the late environmentalist writer Edwin Way Teale articulated in “North with the Spring”: “The world’s favorite season is the spring. All things seem possible in May.”

This year, in true transformative May fashion, I got dumped. After a year and a half of dating, I found myself crying on the living room floor of Then-Partner’s place wondering how, of all mule-headed and mundane Tuesdays, this was the one to break my heart.

I went home to an emergency therapy meeting. Fortunately, due to Then-partner’s exhortation, I had already scheduled one over the weekend because I was slowly losing my shit after my dad popped up for the first time in 5 years.

The session, an accelerated train of tears and snot, zoomed by in 45 quick minutes. At which point my therapist, as equipped in mirroring my statements as getting paid, proffered “So, now that I own my own practice, it looks like your co-pay went up, is it okay to charge you the money now?” No, I thought, nothing is okay. Weren’t you listening? Can’t this be an email? Can I have one transaction today that doesn’t charge me?

I called Imani, my forever bestie and roommate. She offered to bring Chipotle home later. I got in bed, resolved to only rise to the smell of beans and rice. I looked fearfully at my phone to the same message I had been struggling to respond to for days. It was my dad: “Do you want to meet up on Wednesday?” My eyes caught like a shirt on a wire over the word “want”–confused if it meant something I eagerly desired or something I eagerly sought to heal my attachment wounds. I drafted my seventh response and finally sent: “Sure, tomorrow works.” Tomorrow? I questioned into my pillow.

In 5 years, to be fair, I had seen my dad. Each time by accident. Something about the perks of living in the “Smalltimore” he raised me and the biological confluence of our orbits colliding again and again–even in our distance, only a mile. Oh, and the library. A very likely place for two nerds to bump into each other. Out of only 3 or 4 occurrences, mostly in the stacks of Woodlawn Library, I had seen him, approached him, and spoken to him. And in turn, he would either turn away as if he didn’t hear me or, better, start walking away–like some cold, distant star I meant to follow. My words would spin around me like giant alphabet blocks–filling the space, but not building anything coherent. “Dad?” I’d hear myself say. Silence, I’d hear in his look.

To go back to the incident that incited this silence would require 20 years of backstory, so I’ll keep it simple by saying: setting a boundary can end a relationship. (I’d be remiss not to mention Lindsay C. Gibson’s “Adult children of emotionally immature parents” is the hand that led me across the bridge of this understanding).

And 5 years ago, I had set a boundary, a hard one. One that I had sheepishly and concretely voiced on my undergraduate graduation day, that no, despite his stubborn fixation of monetizing chess education, I would no longer give, raise, or send him any money. And, furthermore, as the youngest of three, if he needed help he must ask someone with a job. Or better yet, do the thing I was charged to do now that I had a degree: find more work. He didn’t take the news well.

So for 5 years, I’d hobbled around the city hoping not to run into him again, lying to people about his whereabouts–because frankly I had no idea where he even lived anymore–and anxiously daydreaming about the day I’d get a call from some mortuary saying that I had to come collect a body. Our relationship over, my heart buried deep in the sands of that rejection, I decided to not think about him until or if he even thought about me.

But, because of May, because of the breakup, because of my heart and how it was already being dragged across the cement, I decided I might as well grab the strings and help it along. So when Wednesday came, I rolled my skinny ass out the bed, wore something a little less gay, and met up with him at the Rotunda in Hampden.

At the Rotunda, I was terrified– my whole body shaking like a leg with a heavy bladder. I couldn’t eat the tin pan of king oyster tacos set before me so I decided to focus all my feelings into my breath.

He looked the same as he always did–delightfully chubby, with stubble that was too self-aware to go another day unchecked, and eyes that sunk into his face as if the awning of his forehead could keep all the water out. He told me about the car accidents he’d been in and the concussions he’d had and the physical therapy he had to do. He told me about his new teaching job and his 367 day Duolingo Spanish streak– to which I quickly chimed in about my 130 day Portuguese streak. He said he had to give me something. And then quickly explained some weird new piece of technology he had bought me a few years back and was waiting for the right time to give me.

I had forgotten how smart he is. An IT grad from Towson State University in the ’80s, he had spent his life in computers. I remembered binary numbers before bed and his impassioned rants about arduino and mother boards; and how so many weekends were spent grazing from booth to boring booth at whatever computer show was in town. I had too forgotten our tension between STEM and creative writing. How what seemed useless to one of us was critical for the other.

“I tried to buy your poetry book,” he said between sips of water.
A whole 2 years later, I thought. “Oh,” I said.
“You knew that right? Why didn’t you send it to me?” He asked.
It’s dedicated to lesbians, I thought. “There’s a lot of other things we need to talk about.”
“Bad girl. Bad bad girl.” He remarked.
Yes, bad. As bad as you raised me to be. Forthright and headstrong, overly invested in my interests despite the lack of promise to my income, and smart in that awkward way that makes social interactions, and oftentimes me, hard to understand. A lot like you, I thought.

I took his gift–a crypto-related accessory far beyond my literary explanation pay grade–and noted his list of “to dos in case I die suddenly,” all while reassuring him that “I am the least bit eager for you to die.” Then, I went in for a mousy hug and left.

On the way home, I had a new feeling. A strange twinkling in that soft space around my heart. For some reason, despite what I thought would break me– my romantic union disintegrated; my daddy issues resurrected like the Antichrist– I hadn’t died. In fact, I felt more alive. As if that cold star I had been chasing had finally decided to stop running and give in to its own light. And this all because I had decided to finally sit in fear and find out what the meeting of cement and my heart were made of. What then did this mean about the possibilities of healing? For one, it seemed to assert that healing was possible. For two, it meant that if I breathed into the pain then I could also breathe out the shame and fear I had been hiding behind. Humph. That’s weird. Maybe my heart is strong? Maybe if I keep focus on the paths of my longing, I can only gain? Maybe through embracing fear, I can grow closer to myself? Maybe instead of losing to rejection or fear, my heart can expand around hard feelings? I decided I’d see him again.

By the time this is published, I’ll have already entered into my new year–made more beautiful and more complete by the sweet rains of May. This last year has been full of unexpected firsts.

A short list:

  • Got exposed to acupuncture & now my body is restoring in new ways (!!!)
  • Got accepted into poets.org’s Poem-A-Day series
  • Got accepted in the Best American Poetry Anthology 2022
  • Moved in with my longest and oldest friend, Imani
  • Went to the beach for a full week–3 states; 3 beaches baby
  • Planted and kept alive a lot of plants (did I mention my African violet is blooming without any medicine?)
  • Started nerding out over fungi & growing lion’s mane mushrooms
  • Went to AWP. Met & shared my work with so many of my literary icons
  • Conquered my disdain of taking out the trash
  • Got rejected from countess literary mags & residencies
  • Conquered my emotional (disgust) and biological (allergies) fear of cats
  • Became a cat parent to the cutest cat in the world
  • Started teaching at my high school (note: two of the courses I teach were taught by recently dead teachers. The future is freaky)
  • Officiated my best friend’s wedding (no, I’m not a minister)
  • Saw James Blake, Corinne Bailey Rae, Valerie June, and Khruangbin in concert after live music died for a year.

And the list goes on.

Some people hate change, but I embrace it like the guy holding the door open for everyone to walk through. Like him, I want to go inside and let someone else hold the door. Also like him, I will thank the passing on of hands; be forever grateful for a new way to experience myself.

In Haruki Murakami’s “Norwegian Wood,” he writes, “In the deepening spring of May, I had no choice but to recognize the trembling of my heart.” And as my heart trembles, it expands. All because melodic May digs me up from the root. “May I?” I scream into the void. “Yes, you May,” she answers, her rain pounding the concrete.

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Jalynn Harris

Jalynn Harris (she/they) is a writer, educator, and book designer from Baltimore. Her work can be found or is forthcoming in Little Patuxent Review, Feminist Studies, Poem-A-Day, The Hopkins Review, The...