Tara Prakash

How to Forgive Yourself in Five Easy Steps

36 ounces of your son’s love
11 teaspoons of denial
3 slams on your bedroom wall
15 steps in your son’s room
4 lines of minced excuses
1 cup of self trust

Step 1: Mix your son’s love in denial until fully dissolved. Do you remember how he would
climb on you in the morning, use your broad shoulders and chest as his own jungle gym? Or
when you read The Gruffalo with him, late at night, how he would push his face into your soft pajama shirt and snuggle into your arms? Or the time you built an electric red LEGO fire engine with him, and he picked up the father and son minifigures, and placed them side by side in the firetruck? No, you don’t. Of course you don’t. Tell yourself it never happened. Tell yourself he was simply a body entering and then leaving your life, flesh and blood and bones and nothing more.

Step 2: Beat the plaster wall, three times, one for each year he lived. Hit it once, hard. Feel the pain shoot through your knuckles, watch the soft skin redden. You forgot about him, left him in the car. Hit the wall again, harder. The pain comes faster this time, but it’s right. You went to work for three hours, just three hours. Rear back and hit the wall a third time, with as much force as you can muster. Your arm, your whole body, is on fire, knuckles cracked open and caked in plaster and blood. Hottest summer on record, broke a hundred degrees. Sink to the floor, lean against the wall. Now go to the freezer, rest a bag of ice on your throbbing hand. With time, the bleeding will stop.

Step 3: Follow your wife around your son’s room. Look at his blue framed bed across the room, the fire engine comforter draped on top. You’d just bought the bed a few months ago; his legs barely took up half the mattress. He had so much space to grow. You watch your wife divide up the book shelf, the drawers, the marble run. She’s laid out the Goodwill bags on the floor. You pick up a stray LEGO piece on the pale carpet, clench it tight. She turns, her eyes meet yours. Hear her say you were busy and stressed that day. That it was chillier in the morning, and how would you have known the temperature would rise that fast? That you must let it go. You drop the LEGO piece into its box.

Step 4: Pour self trust into the mixture. Stir it around, make sure it soaks into the love and the denial. Echoes of your wife’s words, your mother’s. Tell yourself they are true. Keep cooking. It won’t break this time. You won’t make the same mistake twice. Let the whisk whip the mixture faster. Faster. Faster. Faster. You’ll know when it’s ready.

Step 5: Pull forgiving out of the oven. If you leave it at a high temperature for too long, it’ll
fall apart. Let it cool for a few minutes, blow on it, perhaps; what you have made is powerful,
and you don’t want to burn yourself. Then take a bite. And allow yourself to swallow.

Tara Prakash is a sophomore at Sidwell Friends School in Washington, D.C. Her work has been recognized in Scholastic Art and Writing Awards (where she won a National Gold Medal), Blue Marble Review, Bow Seat’s Ocean Awareness Contest, The Daphne Review, and other literary journals and platforms. She enjoys writing poetry, flash fiction pieces, and creative nonfiction essays. In her free time, she enjoys camping with her Scouts troop, hiking with her dog, and playing soccer on her school’s varsity team.

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