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Top ten moments i thought my 
heart would burst in a good way

by Beth Gilstrap
  1. 1.At the beginning of the year, my personal life was in shambles and I needed to be with friends—writer friends, people who understood what it’s like to live in a brain similar to mine—so I flew to Philadelphia the day after a blizzard. I needed to feel comforted because frankly, it’d been a long time. Over the weekend, I watched this couple tend to one another, how they’re always conscious of each other, of me, their cats, the bracing wind, the want. The high was 7 degrees. My southern blood couldn’t handle it. We ate empanadas. We listened to records. Watched comedy specials. I taught them to make biscuits and when it was time to leave, I felt like I could survive winter.

  1. 2.I have always believed in the magic of books finding you when you need them most. It keeps me from beating myself up over my “to be read” stacks. On a lonely night, I picked up Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro and haven’t quite been the same since. I had no idea what I was in for. For someone who has spent much of the last two years helping care for someone who is very ill, following Kathy H through her duties as a carer and back into her memories of Hailsham, her childhood school, was an uncanny coincidence. The language. The atmosphere. The characters and the tragedy of their short lives. The inevitability of death. It was a pulsing, flashing light of a reminder that it’s these little, stolen moments that make a life:

    When I think of that moment now with Tommy in the little side-street about to begin our search, I feel a warmth welling up through me. Everything suddenly felt perfect: an hour set aside, stretching ahead of us, and there wasn’t a better way to spend it. I had to really hold myself back from giggling stupidly, or jumping up and down on the pavement like a little kid. Not long ago, he told me he’d felt exactly the same. That moment when we decided to go searching for my lost tape, it was like suddenly every cloud had blown away, and we had nothing but fun and laughter before us.

  1. 3.Seeing Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal in the theater again. I saw it originally in 1982 with my brother. I cannot recall which adult accompanied us. My memories during the height of my parents’ divorce are hazy at best. My grandmother took us to most things since my mom was single and working full-time so let’s say she’s there, sitting between us, sharing her popcorn and keeping us from fighting. My brother and I were both smitten by all things Henson. When real life is frightening and unpredictable, it’s good to escape into a world of puppets. I loved the Gelflings and the Mystics and feared the Skeksis, but was enthralled with the idea of good and evil coexisting. Of course, I didn’t have the language for it at that age. I watched the film at least a hundred times. In college, I had the soundtrack on vinyl and a limited edition poster on my wall. So, that night I sat alone in the theater thinking how it’d been too long, how we’d been so lucky to share the same planet as Henson, how I’ll never regret my muppet quote tattoo or how his work, this film in particular, helped me cope with loving a father who seemed so cruel and a mother who’d been his victim. What kind of person is born of this?

  1. 4.AWP Tampa
    Every goodbye hug.

  1. 5.In the height of my grief over the loss of one of my dogs, my parrot tulips bloomed, reminding me of the day I planted 36 of them last fall, him trotting around the yard with the others, me filthy and cold and crying, and how much he’d made me laugh.

  1. 6.My birthday while on residency at Sundress Academy for the Arts in Tennessee. I have a long history of sadness on my birthday. It has to do with feeling invisible and unimportant so when I applied for the residency, I picked my birthday week to try to change the narrative. A cabin in the woods. Quiet, save for chickens and coyotes, rain and wind and the chirp of small rodents. The sweetness of new growth in the holler. I read. I wrote. I slept. All by sunlight and lantern light. On the day itself, I went to Knoxville for veggie tamales. I am always in search of food. I drove into the country for ice cream. I chose lavender honey, the gooey drizzle dripping down the side and ate it on the sweeping veranda of the historic home. I was alone but content eating and listening to a group of teenagers who’d just graduated high school, giddy with possibility.

  1. 7.After a particularly bad mental health day, when I’d drunk one too many glasses of pink wine, and Bonnie (my 60 pound dog) climbed on my chest and laid there until I stopped crying. Her weight. Her breath. Her muddy, grassy smell sank into my heart.

  1. 8.Hamilton! I managed to grab a last-minute single ticket. Having purposely dodged every article about the show for the last few years, I only knew the basic history behind it. Experiencing this for the first time—sobbing next to two sets of girlfriends on either side of me—the rain—the plastic cups of wine—the crumbling tissues—the unopened M&M’s I gave away. Isn’t it glorious how in the midst of so much heartbreak, one can harness so much joy?

  1. 9.Bringing home a puppy I fell in love with. Naming him Bruce Pupsteen. Watching him and Bonnie fall in love, too. The idea of them snuggling for life.

  1. 10.Getting hired to teach first year writing at Queens University of Charlotte. Being able to share the work of writers I love with folks still new to it. Having people believe in my ability to do so fills me with hope.

Beth is the managing fiction editor here at LF | BT. I don’t know what I can say about Beth that I haven’t already, but I can definitely repeat it, because it deserves repeating. She’s open, honest, fearless, talented, and kind. All the things you want in a fiction editor. Or at least all the things we’ve ever wanted.

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