Ashley Wilda


Category: Creative Nonfiction (page 1 of 6)

regret nothing, or you’ll never fly

As this new year comes around, as Christmas peeks its faerie lights around the corner, as the whisper of snowflakes to be begin to kiss the air… I find myself thinking of beginnings. and endings. and what I hope for and what I fear. and what I’m going to do with those answers I find.

I’m afraid. I can say that much. I will admit I’ve been scared out of my mind for most of the last year. I can admit now that I’ve been sad for most of the last year, and anxious. I can also say that I don’t want to be that way any more. I can also say I don’t want to let go.

There’s other things I can say about this year. Amazing things. Things so unexpected and warm and incredible that now that they’re gone they hurt to think about even as they make me smile. The absence of those things is what makes me sad. It’s one thing, and more than one thing. It’s one big thing and many things around it. I don’t want to leave those things behind in this year. I want to take them with me, but I’m scared that if I take them with me in the same way, they’ll keep on making life too heavy.

My mind keeps circling around to one night. When I let someone really dear to me hold me close for the last time. He said, “we’re going to be okay.” I wanted to believe that. Really badly. But when months rolled around and there wasn’t a ‘we’ anymore, not the way I wanted it to be, it wasn’t true. I wasn’t okay. And I’m still not okay.

For a long time I didn’t know if I could be okay. Someone would say, you’re going to be okay, and I kind of hated them for it. How could they say that when I didn’t even know? But now, looking into this next year, for the first time I can say it to myself and believe it. I’m still not okay. But I know that somehow, someday, I’m going to be. I don’t know when, exactly. But someday. And I want to be moving toward that, even though I know that some days won’t feel like moving at all.

But that said… I know that I can’t leave any regrets behind in this year. I need to say everything that’s in my heart, or at least make it available to be heard. I need to do everything I feel like I need to do. It’s better to regret doing something than regret not doing something. (at least, in most cases) If I walk into next year and find myself still alone, I need to know that I did everything I could do. I need to know it’s not my fault. I need to know that if there was even a sliver of a chance, that I took it. I can’t be confident in myself any other way. I can’t leave it to God and try to find my dreams again without that.

Does this scare me? Heck yes. Heck. Yes.

But in the end, my fear doesn’t matter. What I do, does.

Do I want to walk into this next year alone? Um, heck no. Do I want to find connection again? Do I want to hold tight to this big hope and not let go? It’s all I’ve been able to think about for the last year. And whether or not anything changes before the year’s end, I’m still going to carry that hope with me into the next year, along with my memories. No matter what happens. That hope, those memories, are part of who I am. I’ll just walk into January with the resolve that this year, I won’t let them crush me. No matter if seeds turn into saplings, or if the ground stays hard and cold. I won’t die with them, even as I carry the prayer of growth along with me. I’m done feeling dead.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t wish that I could return to that moment, and hear those words change… ‘we are okay.’

I’m scared to open my heart and reveal everything that’s inside. That’s scary no matter the situation. But, in a bittersweet way, I don’t have anything to lose anymore. I’m jumping off the edge. Either someone will catch me, or I’ll fly solo. But either way, this barren cliff won’t be my home anymore.

My Mom once told me, “God won’t let you lose true home.” That rings true. No matter where I want true home to be, no matter where I think it is, no matter who I think it is, God won’t let me lose it. And as I step into the unknown, that is something I can count on.

snapshot from a Monday afternoon

I’m driving from the museum and there’s this guy standing on the median. young, with a beard and floppy longish brown hair. and a sign. he’s holding a piece of cardboard that says something like, $1 for a burger. there’s nothing unusual about this; I see a lot of people like him driving  to and from work in the city. but he’s probably not much older than me. and he could be anybody. he could be somebody I know. or could have known. and he’s probably got something to be sad about too.

something inside me constricts, and before I know it a crinkled piece of green moves from my hand to his through the window. his hair is a little greasy and his nails a tad bit too long and his thank-you sounds sincere. I want to ask his name, feel a need to know it, but don’t or can’t, I’m not sure which, the desire gets stuck halfway up before it has the chance to turn into words. and the light changes and the car moves and all of a sudden I’m crying and I don’t know why. that in itself is not unusual for me. but often it has nothing to do with other people. usually it’s about the pain I keep bottled up inside and buried where it’s the hardest for me to see it until my body says that’s it. and this moment is about that. and it isn’t.

usually, pain isolates. at least, that’s what it does to me. it wraps me in an atmosphere of alone and helplessness and misunderstanding and I can’t–or won’t–reach through and no one else can, or I won’t let them. but I’m either a nonfunctioning rain puddle on a gray day or a vibrating mess of scribbles on a forgotten sticky note or a hard, hard shell of armor that’s as brittle and unfeeling as a bone found in the woods in last year’s leaves. but no matter what it feels like, my pain isolates. because it’s somehow too much to deal with and so my heart kicks into emergency protocol–stop feeling for other people. better yet, don’t feel at all.

that’s just how it is.


but I’m becoming aware that perhaps there exists these other moments. ones where, instead of drawing me inward, folding me into myself, pain suddenly flips my insides out, throwing off my plodding mental equilibrium, and all of a sudden it is the opposite–

I’m feeling for the whole world.

the whole beautiful, terrible world.

and it’s saying, everything hurts.

but then after a blinding second everything collapses down again and I am just left with myself, my own world, my own missing, my own hole that I can’t seem to fill, and I wonder, maybe I just imagined it. maybe I just wanted to feel connected to something other than myself again. because in the end, myself is simply not enough.


a few days in the mountains brings clarity.

two hundred feet up with the wind trying to pull you off the sandstone as dusk descends… yeah, that will wake you up.

rappelling into the black, hiker headlamps bobbing in the woods, heading toward the not-even-a-town that’s sprung up at the base of Seneca’s spire, just overhang and air beneath your feet… that will remind you you’re alive.

the brother you’ve missed for too long, hard cider bottles with broken tops, baring souls by the fire, sitting in the hot tub until the water is lukewarm and fingers are prunes, spontaneous hugs and back rubs in the morning… these things tell you that life is worth it.

laughing like I used to, feeling my brain stop its crazy spinning, quietness in my center, something deep inside me trying to wake up for the first time in what feels like years… I remembered that happiness isn’t utterly unattainable, worth straining for.

driving back into the city in the dark, hiding tears at goodbyes, the lonesome radio chattering in my car, solo–the sadness and claustrophobia and missing descends on me again. it feels like it’s crushing me.

a broken, lovesick heart. trapped in an anxious, depressed body. living in a house my childhood memories don’t recognize. stuck in a city full of people I used to know. holding once-upon-a-time dreams I barely recognize as my own.

what the heck am I doing here.

I’ve tried everything to run from my sadness. I’ve traveled. I’ve climbed. I’ve read. I’ve lost myself in Netflix. I’ve listened to music. and made music. I’ve written. and written. and written. and slept. and slept. and slept. I’ve sat in church and sneaked out of church. I’ve talked to people and refused to talk at all. I’ve cried and felt numb. I’ve let myself remember and forbid myself from remembering anything. I’ve literally run, tennis shoes on asphalt, my breath shaking my world.

the sadness isn’t going anywhere. I guess that happens when you lose your whole world, its center and everything orbiting it. everything goes dark, because everything that was shining just isn’t there anymore.

but I’ve got to try to make it better. I can’t change my circumstances. I can’t make choices for other people. I can’t wait on someone who may never fight for me. my stubborn heart might keep waiting, but the rest of me has to try to find a way to live, even as it hurts. I’ve got to tell myself, it will work out if it’s meant to. no matter where I am. no matter what I’m doing. no matter if I’m happy or not.

maybe that means quitting school temporarily. maybe that means leaving the city, turning my car into a home, hitting the road. getting a dog. maybe it means finding a job that gets me outside and close to the wild places. maybe it means finding people who don’t know me. maybe it means chasing down the people that do, in Brooklyn and Boston and Germany. maybe. maybe. maybe.

maybe this will turn out to just be another form of running. maybe it won’t. but I won’t know until I do. and wherever I go… I’ll take the memory of you.

thanks, even in the dark

this day emerges, glowing, from a string of dark moments, demanding–look, look–see the light even in this forbidding forest.

and yes, my heart does give thanks, reminders that God does still give good gifts.

I am thankful for friends who won’t budge, even as I try to push them away.

I am thankful for sleepytime tea and blankets with velvet tassels. I am thankful for cobalt and orange and new green. I am thankful for the smooth brown bird that rests beside my bed.

I am thankful for poetry. I am thankful for stories with happy endings. I am thankful for scenes acted out on screens that wend their way around my heart and give me moments of rest in the chaos of myself.

I am thankful for the ability to seek help. I am thankful for the bravery (I don’t know where it came from) to walk into unfamiliar offices and trust the heart of a stranger with my pain.

I am thankful for walls that don’t move, a vertical movement to steady my spinning. I am thankful for strong arms and fingers, for rubber shoes with hard edges, for the friction of chalk on polyurethane. For adrenaline, for falling, for the thrill of height and victory. For the ability to give something my all.

I am thankful for tears. For the ability to release emotion. For the comfort found in the fierce embrace of a brother, one found and not by blood.

I am grateful for psalms, for hymns. For communion. For the expanse of the night, the fresh breath of wind, cool concrete under my bare feet. Dandelions.

I am grateful that He hears my prayers, and treasures every one. I am grateful that the Spirit intercedes for me when I don’t know what to say, or am too tired to say it again, “with groanings too deep for words.” That He gathers all my tears in a bottle, not one are lost in the ground.

I am thankful that the Son died for me, took all my sins, just because He loves me. Just because. I am grateful that love is so powerful. If it can do that, what else is possible?

I am thankful for the familiarity of a few old friends. Thankful for laughter and nachos and trust in the hands that hold the other end of my rope. Thankful for the relief in not having to hide, not having to pretend. In the fact that tears and giggles are both perfectly acceptable.

I am thankful for honesty. I am thankful for the ability to reach out in a text and know the distance will be breached, if just for a moment. I am thankful for the ability to choose.

I am thankful for memories, even the bittersweet. I am thankful for the moment your hand slipped into mine. I am thankful for every moment with you, before and after. I am thankful that you exist in this world, and that I got to exist with you. That our stars crossed paths for even a little while. I am thankful for the hope that it could happen again, that where there is life, there is hope of new beginnings springing from feared endings. I am thankful for the strength of beautiful things.

and where there is thankfulness, there is joy, and where there is joy, there is hope. hope that cannot be drowned, even in the rivers of sadness that plunge through my bones. and where there is hope, there is a promise–that today, and tomorrow, and the day after, and the day after that, will be worth it.


I never realized how illusive it was

until I didn’t have you.

sure, I had felt dark skies before

but no thunder like this

no wind which forbids me

to remain on my feet.

it howls quieter now

if only because time numbs

but not heals.

and still, it howls.

I think, you might be happy

it’s hard to tell from the outside

but I think, just maybe, you might be.

there’s nothing to tell me

any different.

why does that hurt so much?

why does something break inside

every time I think

you might not need me?

I do want you to be happy,

I do, I do.

I know I do.

but I’m not happy.

I am so freaking far from happy.

and this distance makes me feel

like you don’t care

and you’ve gotten used to being

happy without me,

when every day I cry because

you’re so far away.

maybe that’s not fair to you,

but this is also not fair to me.

I would do anything for you,

anything you needed.

I know you care,

but the only thing  I need

is you.

but maybe the bottom line

is that when I see glimpses

of your smile, your laugh

something inside twists

and pangs

because it reminds me

of how absolutely wonderful

you are.


all I have are questions

haunting me tonight

did I do something wrong

did I just not

do something right enough

and where the heck

did all the hope go

why do I feel so alone

is it possible

that you just don’t

love me enough to look

for what you don’t think exists

maybe I just love you more

or could it be that for

some reason I’m just not

worth it

maybe you don’t talk to me

because you have nothing to say

or too much to say

or maybe I just don’t matter

like you matter to me

should I talk to you

or should I pretend you’re not there

are you happy

and if you are

why am I not happy

and why is your happiness

not enough for me

why can’t I let go of you

when sometimes it feels comparatively

you could let go of me

so darn easily

even though I know it isn’t true

if I remember you told me

how much you care

then why do I feel so abandoned

why does not seeing change

make me doubt

how much God loves me

when He loves me infinitely

will you read this

or never see it

and if you do

will it make any difference

and will I ever know

why does it feel like

I’ve lost you forever

and why does that thought

feel like a darkness

that will never break

why after all these days

do I just want something to hold onto


anything at all

and why am I still waiting

for you to give it

and this is the way I feel

okay, you know what?

forget hiatuses.

because when you’re going crazy

splintering into a million fragments

disintegrating on the inside

sometimes a frantic shout into the void

is better than making no noise at all

if just because it makes the pressure

bearing down on my shoulders

lessen by a millimeter.

should I be ‘better’ by now?


am I idiotic and selfish and unrealistic?

also probably.

can I change the way I am? the way I feel?

heck no. not right now.

if the past few months have taught me


it is that.

I can turn memories over and over

in my hands like pearls

or shove them in a box

and push that box into a dark corner of my mind

and nail the lid on tight

but the outcome is not much different–

I’ve tried both.

it’s still hard to breathe.

I still wake up and feel an empty wasteland

in my chest.

the lights still. won’t. come. back. on.

my dreams

both waking and sleeping

still lead me straight back

into your arms.

I wish I could tell you that I need you

that I’m not okay

wish I could say, please please please

oh please try

look, fight, pray


for me

but I keep my mouth shut

and tell myself that maybe

you already know.

and how can I say

that even after all this time

the lights that went out the night I left you

simply have not come on again?

how can I say

that I pray every day

that you’d be the one to bring them back?

how can I find the words

or the moment

especially when you’re standing right there

when I’ve missed you for so long.

I’m even scared you won’t understand

the intensity of these feelings

that just won’t let me be

that you’ll think I’m weird or weak

especially when you’re so good

at controlling your own

when mine control me.

tonight it takes

everything, everything I have

not to get in the car

just as I am

and drive to you

and wait until you open the door

and just say, ‘hold me.’

this canyon between us

all that yawning air

crushes me

but I know I can’t bridge the gap

because only you

only a change inside you

can ever do that.

and yet sometimes, I am so angry

raging, not at you, no, how could I

ever be truly angry with you

but no, at me–

sometimes I hate myself

for my own inability to do anything.

for my own helplessness to see inside your head

and know for certain

if there’s any hope at all.

because if you ever make the choice

to try to reach for faith

there is hope.

if you’re ever trying

I want to know

even if you’re scared of hurting me.

maybe that’s selfish

but I do, I want to know.

but something happens that still

makes me smile–

even in my saddest, most desperate moments

I realize…

what I want most is your safety in Christ.

what I want most is for you to have a life full of joy.

what I want most is for you to be fully you

like you were meant to be.

even if that’s not now.

even if that never means me.

you are the most important thing to me.

and that is what I pray for every day

now a reflex learned of living days without you

and yes, I admit, worrying

but knowing there’s a God that cares about you

even more than I do.

and that God cares the same way about me

somehow, even with all this messy hurt inside me

He does.

when I don’t understand myself

when the hurricane of pain inside immobilizes me

He loves me still.

and sometimes, that’s all

that gets me up in the morning

but it is enough.

but even with His promise, His strength

my heart still wants yours

and aches with all the things I want to say

all the things I want to do

the dreams spun under sun and star

and every full moon that makes me think of you

every dandelion explosion

and every quiet music strain

that talks of love

for it is written

“love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things

love never ends”

and this is the way

I feel

about you.

Wind. Ocean. Me.

The wind whips in a grey sky, intensifying as we climb the steps to the beach, diminishing again as we descend. Somehow warm and cold at the same time. Salty, moist. Sand ricochets in pale streams across the shore, minuscule particles stinging my shins. The pain almost feels good in a weird, sadistic way, like scratching an itch too hard.

The sea is in a frenzy, lines of whitecaps charging the beach, waves steely soldiers. Foam accumulates in burgeoning, beckoning piles at the wash line, round pieces of fluff pinched off and whisked away across the sand like evaporating tumbleweeds or dust bunnies.

I am drawn to the water, the open wildness of the surf and horizon, like I always am.

I run down to the beach and into the water, which is all at once cold and surprisingly warm. Soft. Surging about my legs, white and clear beige and transparent gray swirling about tan skin. Rule-less. I belong here. I am understood. I am free. The hollow place inside me is known and acknowledged and respected. Unhidden, Given a stern nod of recognition. Felt. Real. Who I am and where I’ve been and what I feel and who I love, validated. I don’t have to explain myself to anyone here. Don’t have to pretend. I just am. Like the ocean.

My bare feet step deeper, farther than the others are willing to go. I spread my arms to the wind, embracing the sea. I stand. I exist. The wind cleans me, takes me out of myself, out of my own head. I smile.

And I can breathe again, breath I didn’t even fully know I couldn’t reach, or that I was deeply missing.

Verdict: Broken, and Beautiful



Grey broad backs rising clean and wet out of the water. Gentle. At home. Just themselves. Graceful.

Seeing them makes me want to cry. I almost do.

Verdict: Beautiful.


The mangled thing inside my chest, like crooked pieces of machinery, the gears and rods that make my heart beat.

Crushed and left to hang, barely together, by a giant’s apathetic fist.

The hollow is silent, empty.

I don’t work anymore.

Verdict: Broken.


The soft way the brisk seawater foams and fizzles around my legs.

Delicate white infrastructure, poofy, like sponge cake or dandelion thistles blown in the wind.

I love the sound it makes, evaporating. I love the friendly hissing of a wave’s end, contentedly resigned to having reached its limit and crashed into little things, small ripples where children’s feet play, pretending to be horses.

I remember.

The ocean doesn’t feel sad, or angry. It doesn’t know. It just is.

Verdict: Beautiful.


Looking back at my footsteps in the sand, seeing them alone, just imprints, fast disappearing.

I remember a time when I could look back and see two sets of toe prints, wet on slate, one bigger, the other smaller, the one following the other, sometimes first, sometimes second. Or dirty footprints, coal black on quiet, echoing tile halls. Always together.

Lonely feet. It didn’t use to be this way.

I like to close my eyes and pretend it isn’t. But sometimes the comfort hurts too much.

Verdict: Broken.


And lastly (and yet), the sunrise–magenta, whole, clear and glowing, round.

Rising as if steadily pulled by a transparent string on a strong arm from beneath the ocean and into the pale purple morning sky.

The ocean is calm in breathing, respectful greeting. All is right.

The clouds mirror the rising glory’s brilliance, like small, happy cotton balls pulled out, stretched, misted glass to grace the exchanging of the moon.

Verdict: Beautiful.

I watch, and I (Verdict:) am Broken. Somehow together, the sunrise and I, are broken and beautiful. The tired, hopeful, bleeding thing inside determinedly beats its wee, shattered wings in miniature flurries, trying to break free and reach the home, the countersoul it has lost, although its cage is itself, an impossible prison.

Yet that small hollow shines, with good and beautiful gone-by’s, preserved in full as long as the little bird’s wings keep beating, no matter how crushed. No matter how alone.

I have found that all beautiful things now make me want to cry. Sometimes I do.

I guess, can this mean, maybe I am beautiful, and broken, too.

Your Turn

When you can’t follow your heart

‘Cause it’ll just screw you over

When you can’t follow your head

‘Cause it will trap you in a box

What will be your guiding star?

This ache in my chest

Drives me straight to you

The caution in my mind

Tells me to wait for your move.

What are the rules to the game now?

How can I find out, when I don’t even know

What game we are playing?

My heart doesn’t want to take turns.

My mind says I should avoid

Taking any risks with my love.

My compromise is to kick the ball

Into your half of the court

And when I get tired of waiting

For you to return it to me

I give it an extra shove for good measure.

If my heart reigned there would be

No separation between us

No recognition of any halfway line.

So I guess it’s good there are two of us.

But still I wonder

What’s going on over there,

On the half of the field I can’t see?

I wish I could just walk over and ask

But my head keeps me

To my half of the green.

I wish I could ask what you think

About the way things are now.

I wish I could stop pretending.

I wish for just five minutes

We could live on a field without lines

And just be us

Even if we have to go back

To being players after.

But that’s not my play to make.

And so I will have to be content

With sitting here

Looking at that ball

And waiting for whenever you decide

To kick it back to me

If I can only resist

Taking it back

And throwing it over to you again

In hopes of an answer.

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