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Lost in the Light

by River Gilliam about a year ago in art
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The Ghost of You Inside Me

(Taken The Day Before He Died)

My Dad always said he knew I was going to be an artist because I was crying before I had even completely left the womb. He said he used to write down the words I would speak out loud before I learned how to put a pen to paper because he knew that once I knew how, I would start writing poetry. And I did. He was a writer too. Not a crazy famous one or anything, but his poetry did get published into a few books.

My Dad killed himself yesterday. And though I feel so debilitated by his loss, I understand why. Because you know, that’s the sad thing about poets. We don’t perceive the world the way everyone else does in black and white - we see things in such saturated colors. The ground beneath us is like quick sand and we are slowly sinking. What’s that line? “Let the poets cry themselves to sleep.” When we are born into the world, we are screaming before we even enter the atmosphere because we have such sensitive hearts and kindred souls and spirits. And it makes it so much harder to bear the weight of all the little things and the bigger things this life makes us endure.

And therefore, writing isn’t just a form of passion for me; it’s my form of release. Sometimes I get depressed or sad, and I write with the hope that I can just pour all of the emotions that I’m feeling out of my head. And when I’m happy, or when I’m in love, putting my pen to paper and spilling my feelings out with ink is almost as exhilarating as kissing the person I miss.

I have an Instagram account devoted to my poetry. And whenever people respond to things I write talking about how much they relate to it, it brings me a lot of peace knowing that I was able to write the words they weren’t able to quite fathom into words themselves.

I remember being in third grade and my teacher, Ms. Matlin, gave everyone in my class individual notebooks to take home everyday and bring back to class to use as journals to write about whatever we wanted - how our day went, a short story, something we learned in class, etc. She did this after teaching us how to write in cursive first, so showing off our new penmanship skills was also part of the assignment. I felt so proud and excited when she read one of my poems I’d written in my journal and asked if she could post it on the art wall for parent night.

My seventh grade year, I was 12 years old and started “dating” my first boyfriend. I remember feeling like I was so in love, and during my English class, we were supposed to come in the room and pull out a book and read for the first ten minutes of class. But I couldn’t help myself, I was taking every chance I could to fathom my new found love onto paper. And one day, I got in trouble for it. My teacher, Mr. Tarn, made me turn in the poems I had just scribbled down onto the paper in front of me. I was horrified. He didn’t give it back that day, or the next. A week went by, and I get to my second period English class, and the topic of poetry is introduced. Mr. Tarn flips the switch to turn off the lights and turn on the projector and suddenly, MY POEM appears on the screen. It’s all marked up with red ink like there’s a million things wrong with it, and I feel like I’m going to crap my pants thinking he’s going to put me on the spot in front of the class. But no, Mr. Tarn just said it was written anonymously and quickly stated it was marked up to show the detail and choice of words. He pulled me in after class that day and asked if it was alright if he showed my poem to his other classes, and he told me it was beautifully written.

I have loved writing poetry since I was a child, and I have only ever dreamed about becoming a published author. I may not have the kind support of my childhood teachers anymore, showing off my writing at school events, though, Mr. Tarn did come to my college graduation and he told me he still shows my poem to his classes to this day.

In a perfect world, my old favorite teachers would be my editors and help guide my way through getting published, and marketing would be as easy as posting a poem on a classroom bulletin board. My late father would still hear my voice speaking aloud and jot down my words for me as he mentored me.

But life can’t be that simple, right? Us starving artists still have to make a living somehow.

So I live a double life. By day, I am a licensed cosmetologist, and I spend my evenings under the Moonlight turning all of my thoughts into ink.

Some of you might remember or might have even gone through your own “scene” or “emo” phase when you were young and angsty. Well when I was in high school, not only was I part of the scene/emo crowd, but I also did everyone’s hair. All the girls wanted their blonde or colorful streak with the raccoon tail, teased up, with their extensions - everyone was coloring and changing their hair all the time, and I quickly realized that I could make my own little business fixing everybody up. So that’s where it all started, fast forward after high school, I took some journaling and psychology classes at the local Junior College nearby alongside going to beauty school full time and working as a server and a bartender to put myself through it. I ended up breaking both my feet and tearing my Achilles’ tendon in an accident during that time period, but it didn’t slow me down. I graduated Cosmetology school on time and made my way out into the world of all things beauty.

I don’t like to think of myself as a very superficial, materialistic person. I’d say the main reason I went into this industry is because I really wanted to make people feel good about themselves, and I wanted to find success in doing that. Every day when I go to work, I have a lot of clients come to me feeling really dragged down about their life or needing someone to talk to or feeling like they just desperately need a change. And it’s amazing how painting someone’s hair for a couple hours can bring me so much joy and allow them to leave the room with such a bright smile on their face too. I wanted to be a therapist for awhile when I was younger, but sometimes I feel like I got the best of both worlds with this job because I get to do people’s hair and make-up while they tell me all their life stories that make me laugh and smile and teary eyed all the same.

What a dream it would be to open up my own salon one day. My girls from beauty school and I talk about it all the time. I would love to have my friend’s paintings on display, like an art gallery. And each hair and makeup station would be an easel stand, with a big curvy mirror and those artist color pallet dishes on the side for hair color. Can you picture it? I’ve been envisioning it for years. And at the front of the salon, I would have all my books for sale, once I become published. And then when you walk through the side doors, it would open up to a whole apothecary, as well as all my dream catchers and macrame and crystal wire jewelry and art I make, and a cute little coffee bar for the clients and customers. And they would be serenaded by my guitar while their hair is processing.

It’s hard to know exactly how to carry on the memory of our parents in the right ways when they die. But I know that my father would’ve been proud to know that I carried him on through our shared love of art, music, and poetry.

art

About the author

River Gilliam

My dad always said he knew I was going to be a poet because I was crying before I had even completely left the womb. It’s always been my dream to get published someday.

She/her. Cosmetologist. Writer. Vegan. Dog mom.

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