by: Aimee Herman
A lot can be written about a bag of rocks and shells.
The shells arrived from Coney Island, stuffed into brown paper sack, all crumbly like an instrument of papercuts. The day these shells arrived in this bag, I was with my father. Earlier in the day, we drove from Crown Heights to Bensonhurst, where he lived many years ago. We even rang the doorbell to see if we could see inside. An old woman in curlers and question marks opened the door. She spoke only Italian. We smiled and continued walking. My dad and I shared a pastry at a local bakery; he got a grape juice and I got a cup of coffee. Then we headed to Coney Island where he hoped I might find strength within the sound of salt liquefying into oceanic waves.
On this day, I felt like a collapsible ladder: screws removed, flimsy and hunched. Another break-up…and I won’t reference a heart broken, because the muscle inside me kept beating. Instead, I will speak on the hazel in my eyes, feeling burnt and long-winded. My blinks were wheezing and weary. My hips were bloodied and my appetite had been carved out, replaced by nothingness.
As we entered the beach, I took off my shoes and socks and reveled at the feeling of scratchy sand between my toes. My dad took his shoes off, but remained in his black socks with gold toes. This made me smile. He treated the beach like a giant, bendable magical carpet.
I picked up shells that felt whole to me. They needed to be unabridged and intact. I could not bear to see any cracks; I was cracked enough. I held each chosen one to my nose and inhaled the stench of seaweed and the Atlantic. Then, I put them into the brown bag, along with some sand and sea glass.
Two months later, I grab many of these shells and some rocks purchased at a garden store on Washington Avenue in Brooklyn. They were of various colors and curvature; all were extremely smooth and treated. I mixed them all together in a see-through zip lock bag and brought them to school with me. Today, my students were taking a test that they had worked all semester preparing for. I wanted to give them something sturdy. Strong. I wanted them to rock this test.
Each student chose their rock or shell and I tried to explain to them that these came from the earth, like them. And their resilience is a sign that even through the toughest of times, these natural elements remained. Sometimes (oftentimes) their shape changed, but so did these students. Their minds and thoughts and perspectives like rocks and shells, altering texture and configuration.
Many times in my life, I have been given rocks that have saved me like hardened life rafts. I keep them on my alter or in my pocket or by my desk where I mix up poems like linguistic tinctures.
One student rubbed his chosen rock between his palms and said: this rock will get me through this. I wanted to tell him how right he was. I also wanted to let him know that he is the rock. I guess I am too.