Hashtag Throwback Thursday. As I recount my youth on the east side of Buffalo, New York, I am trying to understand what it was then that somehow stays with me and makes me see the world in the way that I do today. I have touched on this before but only peripherally so I want to be clear. I want to make sure you understand that it was the emotional and physical strength of the women in my neighborhood that had a profound effect on me. Of course, at the time, my thinking was the complete opposite. Instead, the women of that neighborhood, my mother, grandmother, aunts, nuns, and the mothers of my friends were as rigid at the statue of Mary that graced every backyard. Their suggestions and directions were largely ignored once we bicycled out of the neighborhood and made our way into the fields and thin slices of woods where we hunted snakes and found the soggy cardboard mats of old hobo camps where waterlogged issues of Playboy or Hustler introduced us to another world. We turned those pages with a stick and talked big, piling lie onto lie. This was in the time of BMX, skateboards, and stolen bottles of beer from the refrigerators of our fathers. We built fires and poured gasoline on them. We swore at each other and made crude remarks behind the backs of the priests and nuns who taught us. We drank warm beer and smashed the bottles against brick walls and then we went home to a hot meal made from some recipe that was handed down through generations. We were oblivious until we weren’t. We were rude and cruel in the woods. We were nasty on the ice playing hockey. We spat. We yelled. We used our fists and then we didn’t because we had discovered the girls of our neighborhood. They were our equals in every way, except one, they knew, in addition to the ordinary vulgarities of the neighborhood, how to temper that hardness with a softness. They would say, in the scrub of woods where we played, look at that bluebird, and we saw. At the lake, they would float on their backs way out and when they came in they talked about the quiet way the clouds moved over them. They had knowledge in seeing and feeling that we didn’t and we found ourselves changed. My best friend, whose hair was fire and whose knuckles were raw was so overcome he made grand gestures. Once he bought a bouquet of flowers and walked through all of us and handed them to the girl of his dreams. We all laughed and moved aside uneasily. With those flowers his hands became soft, his hair glowing embers. I too was swept away from brutal things. Here, on the shores of Lake Erie, a photograph was taken. It is a photograph of me and my first girlfriend. She lived a block away from me on Roebling. She knew how to spit and swear. She could do little tricks on her bicycle. She stood beside me on the beach, and when in my awkwardness I stood oddly, she put her hand on my neck and caressed it before moving it to my shoulder as if to say it’s okay, pull me close I won’t break, and I did and I could feel her power and the water fell in sighs on the shore and the sun burned bright. It burned away the coarseness and then it began to slowly set and it cast everything in perfect light. All at once I saw everything clearly. It was the way my grandmother showed my mother how to make dumplings. It was the way my father listened, directing all of his attention to my mother. It was my mother canning peaches at the end of summer for those moments in the long harsh winter when she would open them up for us, and they glowed like a sun and tasted of the summer when a girl put her hand on my shoulder and made me realize the power of softness and how it remakes the harshness into something more beautiful, the bluebird in the scrub of trees. The embers at the end of a fire. The light. The light. The light.