One. Let go of all the ropes and ribbons and tiny knots of yarn wrapped around your heart. If you look closely, you’ll find a hidden spot where your fist is clutching tight to the ball of frayed ends, sweaty and stained red with dye from the prayer cord you picked up at a tourist shop in Kerala, or in a thrift store in Flagstaff. You can’t remember now, and it doesn’t matter. Unpeel your fingers one by one, and feel the strands begin to slip. It might even hurt a little, your joints tight from gripping, the thread-pressed grooves in your skin like trenches where some tiny battle line was drawn.
Two. Look up. There may be a crow or a seagull there, or a hawk riding the thermals upward.
Three. Exhale and touch the dirt you’re standing on, or as close as you can come through the urban layers of concrete and steel and wood. Lay down on some pine needles if you can get to a forest. Sink your mind deep. Be like stone, impervious to cold and weather and time.
Four. Sleep like your life depends on it.
Five. Take the step off the cliff. There’s no other way to do this. If it helps, bend your knees, and let your weight shift gently into the balls of your feet, then into the toes, until one foot shoots out on its own and your body stumbles on the loose gravel, and then you’ll be safely plummeting over the edge.
Six. Close your eyes. Once you adjust to the darkness, you may be surprised to discover what you see within the dark room of your own chest, soft light filtering in from between the ribs, the corners padded with heavy wool blankets and overworn stuffed animals, their pastel fur thin and faded. Under the table, sand and dried dandelions. Sometimes we lose things here, but usually not everything. I bet there’s an old record player still turning or a half-eaten tuna sandwich. Spend some time here, in the forgotten clubhouse of the heart, while you’re falling.
Seven. Get your shit together. This is an essential step. Taxes and calendars and clean sheets are the instruments of your craft. Don’t forget the chocolate, a journal, a tea cup, and a crystal ball. You might also want to pack a good story into your knapsack. Starting over can take a while-it’s hard to know at the beginning-and you might need a break halfway through. Stories are good for that.
Eight. Forgive yourself. You’re going to make a lot of mistakes, so it’s good to acknowledge this up front. You may even need to do it every day, like brushing your teeth. Or flossing, which I also recommend. The best way might be to have an extended family of butterflies swirl around you, their jeweled wings gently cooling the air along the surface of your skin, whispering away the residue of I shouldn’t have or I can’t believe I.
Nine. Make allies. This might be a haphazard and mostly accidental process, but you’ll know one when you see one. The shadow that follows you both around will have the same shape, or the same shade of smoke. You might see a few remaining threads dangling from the center of the back, right between the shoulder blades. They may have been dropped only moments or many lifetimes ago. In their place, you might see wings beginning to sprout, impossibly thin and nearly invisible in the light, like strands of spider web. Wings of silica, wings of salt.
An ally can be a hummingbird, or a joke, or anyone who has lost, or who chooses to get lost on purpose. You’ll know them when they toss you a pebble or hand you a bowl of rose-flavored ice cream or a clue. You’ll know them walking across the desert in a muted, gold cloak, leaving no footprints, or floating silently in a hot-air balloon, accompanied by a squirrel and a white crane. You’ll know them when you make eye contact. You’ll know them by their enthusiasm for music, for gardens, for dancing.
There will be no need to speak, but you may nonetheless stumble across new things together. A canoe full of books, a cocktail glass, a golden pocket watch, a prophesy, a pomegranate. An ally may hesitate just a moment before rounding a corner, so that you can discreetly follow along. You’ll know them by their wildness and by their poetry.
Ten. Keep going. The thing about starting over is that you tend to lose track of time. It can be disorienting when the path dissolves into crab grass and broken dishes. When you’re wading in the shallows as the tide is coming in. When the moon rises in the morning and it snows in the South. When banks fail. Keep moving, even if you’re moving very slowly, as in a dream. In fact, a dream is a great place to start over.
© Sharna Fabiano 2023