Dina L. Relles

writer. editor. curious + common.

I found myself on a flight to California the other day to visit family. As we boarded the aircraft, touching our fingertips to the fuselage, these could be my last steps on earth, I think, and then again as we slowly taxi down the runway, these, my last moments in life. Morbid, maybe, but I think it all the same. Conjuring worst case scenarios is my mind’s way of making sense of uncertainty.

I settle in between my mother and youngest son, look across the aisle to my husband, flanked on either side by our older boys. They’re already engrossed in their screens, heads bent, eyes cast downward. They don’t see me stealing a glimpse of their sandy skin, the hair framing their sweet faces—no longer wispy, no longer white blond.

What have I left behind? I wonder. If this is the end, what will remain?

On the two-year anniversary of this blog, I question, perhaps now more than ever, why I’m doing this. Why any of us are. Why we feel compelled to record, to share our stories, to put words to the moments of our mundane lives, to mold meaning out of them.

And yet. Simply by being human, you have a story to tell. I couldn’t believe this more.

I sat back as the plane reached cruising altitude and thumbed the pages of my new book. (New to me, but I’d actually bought it used, as I often do. I love that someone else’s hands held it before my own—the book like a link between two disparate lives.

On this copy of The Art of Memoir, there is a small coffee stain on the back cover, roughly the size of a quarter and, aptly, shaped like Texas. I run my fingertips over the warped paper and wonder about its prior owner, that other life, now seeping into mine.)

Memoir writing begins, Mary Karr writes, with “a curious mind probing for truth . . . a fierce urge to try re-experiencing your own mind and body and throbbing heart alive inside the most vivid stories from your past.” We don’t let things go, we couldn’t if we tried. “Nobody,” Karr continues, “can be autonomous in making choices today unless she grasps how she’s been internally yanked around by stuff that came before.”

We spent the day hurtling against hours, moving backwards across a morning that, it seemed, had no end. The plane pushed against time’s passage, crossing from Eastern Standard into Central, then Mountain, and finally, Pacific. Perhaps if we kept flying, the day would never grow old. Time, temporarily, had nothing on us.

It has been a long, full year since I marked this time last December.

There are the beginnings of a book and a fourth baby.
Several published essays, several more submissions.
A shelf lined with books whose authors I feel I know.
Two months living in the Pennsylvania Mountains with my sons in a beloved camp bunk.
School buses and packed lunches and outgrown shoes and boys who grow bigger and older and read and play and cry and think and fight and love.
Prospects for a move to a town where we might settle, and stay.

It has been a good year in a little life.

When I feel that familiar reluctance to letting it go, I gently chastise myself with these words recently read, “Perhaps all anxiety might derive from a fixation on moments — an inability to accept life as ongoing.”

I stood on the beach last night with my family—four silhouettes in fading light—as the sun slipped behind the sea for one of the last times this year. It was as beautiful as it was irretrievable. You could no more stop its setting as you could wrest it from the horizon with your bare hands. We all must move on, every minute, but we can also make our mark. Line up the words one after another—the days too. Marching together into the unknown. With, at once, a tight grip on our past and palms open to what lies ahead.

So I put pen to paper, make my small, seemingly insignificant imprint on the slippery sands of time. Like the sharpie-scribbled names on backstages or the quotes on camp bunks. Like the initials I dug into the wet cement of the driveway that led to my childhood home—that still remain. I’ve been back, I’ve checked.

I was here, these words say. They evince a dogged determination to make sense of what was—pulling it along like a Radio Flyer wagon—connecting it to what will be.

As I deplaned, past luggage-laden passengers swapping coasts, I turned back toward the aircraft that shuttled us safely across the country—a last look at what I was leaving behind. And then walked on, the wheels of my suitcase sliding over the thin airport carpeting, leaving an ever so subtle trace.


Look at me, dancing my little dance for a few moments against the background of eternity. – Sarah Manguso


20 thoughts on “Leaving a Trace

  1. lemead says:

    I love this so much. Why do we do this? Scribble on the shifting sands of time? Because we can’t help it, somehow. At least I can’t. I’m looking forward to reading your book. xoxox

    1. I can’t help it either. I hold on however I can. This is just one more way…one I’ve come to welcome. Thanks so much for reading, always. Happiest of years ahead to you, Lindsey. xox

  2. Dana says:

    Oh, Dina, I relate to this so much, the worst case flight scenario, and all the wondering over the point of my musings, but simultaneously knowing they are indispensable to my soul, no matter how small of an imprint they may leave behind, if any. I look forward to more of your words in the new year. They never fail to leave a mark on me.

    1. Thank you, thank you, Dana. I could say the same back to you. So happy to have found each other and hope our paths cross in person sometime soon. Happy new year to you, dear. xox

  3. Beautifully written. Thank you for sharing this.

    1. Thank *you* for reading!

  4. Lovely! And congratulations : -)

    1. Thank you so much, Sarah! Happy new year to you. xox

  5. Your words always get to me but this post…it’s where I’m living right now. I just don’t know that I’ll be as gracious as you or as kind to my process as you have been to yours. This is beautiful, as always. Happy New Year. ❤️

    1. Oh this is aspirational, love. There’s push and pull, always. Wish we could hash it out together over a coffee. But in the meantime, I’m happy to know you’re out there–keep on keepin’ on, friend, and thank you, always, for your kind words. Happy new year to you! xox

  6. Lovely and breathtaking, as always. Congratulations on your personal and professional success. I look forward to your poignant words in 2016. Happy New Year! xo

    1. Thank you so much, Rudri. Congrats to you too on all the good that 2015 brought you. Looking forward to sharing this next year with each other. xox

  7. patricia says:

    This is so beautifully thought out and written, Dina. Down to that delicious last line! Some of us just feel compelled to leave marks behind, don’t we? I have highlighted so many lines in Mary Karr’s book. Some chapters don’t have much for me, but others–wow. I feel like she’s whispering straight into my ear.

    Best wishes for what’s sure to be a wonderful year for you and yours!

    1. Thank you so much, Patricia. Your kind words mean a great deal. And yes, yes, yes. For some of us, that drive to leave our mark in some way is inevitable. I’m still early on in Karr, but I’m loving it. I look forward to picking it up each night and I’m going slowly so I can savor each line. Looking forward to reading more from you in the year to come, and wishing you all the best…xoxo

  8. Nina Badzin says:

    So happy to read about “where you are” these days. Loved this: “And yet. Simply by being human, you have a story to tell.” Yes, so true. And I listened to Karr’s book. Was so great to hear it in her voice. She has such a great reading voice and the book was superb. Wishing you a great 2016. I KNOW it will be fruitful in many ways. Hope you’re feeling good, too.

    1. I’ve never listened to a book before! I’m glad you enjoyed it. I just registered for HippoCamp 2016 (next August), where Karr is the keynote, and I can’t wait to hear her live. She’s definitely my latest crush ;). I can’t wait to see what we both do with this coming year & look forward to cheering each other on. Very grateful for your friendship. xox (oh! And yes, feeling great…albeit big 😉 24 weeks today!)

  9. bam says:

    oh, dear dina, i feel the goosebumps rise up and down me as my eyes fall on your words, and i think, oh my gosh, she’s peeked inside my soul, heard MY words, the ones that animated every step of my last two airplane flights, that followed me to london, where i worried to pieces as munich’s train stations were cleared on new year’s eve because of “imminent terror threats.” i too ask “if i go now, what will i have left behind?” and always, always, it is words that bring me comfort, that allow me to take the next breath, knowing that at least i have carved a piece of who i was — what i live and breathe — on the landscape i have loved. this holy blessed life.

    but most importantly, as i got to your list of the year, i nearly cartwheeled when i got to “a fourth baby.” dear darling, is this news? have i missed this? are you having a baby? soon? oh, blessings, blessings!

    waiting for word. and so deeply grateful you have etched your beauty and your tender heart here for all of us kindred spirits to find commonplace……

    blessings upon blessings……

    1. Dearest Barbara! You’ve been in my thoughts so much lately–perhaps simply the turn of the year, the inexorable passage of time, calls you to mind? That awareness that all is ephemeral, that perpetual desire to sink in and soak up and grasp each moment with two fists to shake the goodness from it before it passes…these sentiments lead me to thoughts of you–you who captures slippery time so very well and brings all it has to offer into your own life, not to mention generously sharing its gifts with all those around you…thank you, always, for your beautiful reflections here. I savor and cherish every word.

      And YES, there is another baby on the way! My 4th is due mid-April & we’re thrilled (and tired ;)). My three boys are anxiously awaiting the arrival of their brother or sister (we don’t yet know) & I’ve been feeling great. I will be sure to keep you posted with news ;).

      Thank you, thank you for your kind words and sweet blessings and for being there, out there, halfway across the country but always in my mind and heart. It brings a warmth and comfort beyond what you know. Happiest of years to you, dear Barbara. xox

  10. Dakota Nyght says:

    Oh Dina… I needed that quote about anxiety so much today. Thank you for sharing it here. Your words, as always, are such a lovely journey to take! ❤

    1. Isn’t it most wonderful? I think of it often. Thanks so much for reading, Dakota, and for your incredibly kind words…happy days ahead to you. xox

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