I remember falling down. I twirled and twirled until I couldn’t stand upright. I was giddy and swooned and hit the ground hard. But I laughed. I always laughed. What was it about twirling around and around, breathing in the fresh air and falling into the soft, cool grass and a rippling sea of yellow dandelions? What was it about making yourself dizzy and seeing the world all wibbly-wobbly that was so amusing? So liberating? So fun? And pleated skirts, they were a twirling girl’s dream and a parent’s nightmare. “Put shorts on under that before you leave this house,” she would call out to me. I could still hear her voice in my head, still feel the grass between my toes, still see the blue sky above me.

“Are you alright?” His New York accent was thick.

I blinked. The sky was grayer than I remembered.

He bobbed his head to the left, then to the right, staring deep into my eyes as he stood over me. “Ma’am, are you alright?” he asked again, as he pulled off his ball cap and knelt beside me.

I blinked a few more times. There was definitely no soft grass beneath me. I looked around, trying to figure it all out. I could see the rear bumper of a yellow taxi in front of me. I craned my head around to look over my shoulder. There was a knot forming on the back of my head, it hurt. Behind me I could make out the grill of a Mercedes. “I didn’t jump,” I said. “Oh, but I wasn’t pushed either.” Or was I?

The man continued to stare at me, hat in one hand as he ran the other through his salt and pepper hair. He looked confused. Lines crinkled around his eyes and over his brow. His voice was hard, but his face was soft and kind. Other heads appeared around him, strangers, all staring at me. “Maybe we should call an ambulance,” he said, to no one in particular.

“No. No,” I replied, sitting up. Oh, there’s the spinning, but it wasn’t the same. It was awkward, all the staring eyes. It wasn’t liberating. A couple people took pictures. I didn’t feel like laughing. Where was the grass and the fresh air? Where were the bright yellow dandelions? I wondered as I rubbed my head. My eyes found the curb. “I guess I missed a step.”

He smoothed his hair back before slipping the ball cap over his head. “You ready to try to get up?”

I nodded. He stood and held out his hand. I took it and he helped me to my feet. I wasn’t wearing shorts beneath this skirt. People applauded. I’ve never blushed before, but I felt weird and as I tugged my skirt back into place I wondered if this was one of those “first time for everything” moments. A couple more people took pictures as the small crowd of onlookers dispersed. And there’s the wibbly-wobbly, I thought, forcing myself to remain upright. I had a skinned knee and elbow and a small rip in my skirt, in addition to the bump on the back of my head. I didn’t think I had a concussion, but what did I know? I wanted my sea of dandelions. What I had was a sea of yellow taxis.

“Thank you,” I said, as the man helped me up the curb.

“You sure you’re alright?”

“I am, yes.” I tried to believe it so it would sound believable.

He tipped his hat and disappeared into the tide of people pushing along to all the places they had to be. Where did I have to be? I took two steps across the sidewalk and leaned against a storefront. The heel on my left shoe was broken, I couldn’t walk on it. I looked both ways, like I had been taught to do before crossing the street. A long, narrow path stretched out on each side. I slipped off the broken shoes and started walking. Red, strappy heels dangled from my left hand. I wasn’t a native New Yorker, but I’d visited enough to know that Battery Park was six blocks west.

Why did I long for the hard-packed dirt I had walked barefoot over so many times as a child?

I walked past shop windows. Beautiful shoes were everywhere, but none of them enticed me indoors. I was walking the streets of New York City barefoot, shoes in hand. I knew my feet were filthy, but all I could think about was the grass in Battery Park.

My phone rang. I could hear it crying out from the bottom of my purse, feel the vibration pushing against my side. I didn’t answer it. I knew who it was. I stopped and looked at my watch. It was twelve twenty-five. I had asked for three hours. I had asked to think about it until three o’clock.

I resumed walking, but at a slower pace. Rushing wouldn’t get the dirt off; it wouldn’t change the past. A little dirt hadn’t bothered me then. Why did it bother me now? A man in a dark gray suit spit on the sidewalk in front of me. I skirted around it.

Where were my dandelions?

My head was throbbing. Jillian Jonas had taught me how to make necklaces and wreaths out of dandelions. I had spent hours sitting alone in the field tying them together. Gifting myself with long necklaces of vibrant yellow. Crowning myself with their rich gold as the breeze played with my hair until it was a tangled mess. Unconsciously, I tucked a strand of hair behind my ear, then felt for the bump at the center of the throbbing. It was larger than I expected and sticky. I stopped abruptly. The man behind me almost knocked me over. He called me an “idiot” right into the phone he was talking on, but I was too busy staring at the blood smudged across my fingertips. Without thinking, I wiped my hand on my skirt, three streaks of crimson stretched down my right hip and thigh. I didn’t want to see it, the blood. I didn’t want to wonder if I should be worried. I just wanted to get to the park and stand barefoot in the grass. I needed to stand barefoot in the grass.

I hurried on, practically running. The trees came into view. I was running. A few people stopped to stare. Fine, I thought, as my feet pounded over the rough, dirty pavement and then I was home. The grass was cool and soft under my feet, between my toes. I was that little girl in the field again, happily playing before everything changed. Before everything broke apart. Before my life and family were shattered.

My phone was ringing again. I glanced at my watch. I still had two hours. I considered checking the caller I.D. Maybe it wasn’t her? Maybe it wasn’t my agent? But I knew better. This was my fault. I knew that. Accepted it. I had written the words. No, nothing with malice, nothing mean-spirited, but the truth. Yes, it was fiction, but the facts were there, woven into an imaginary character’s life. Someone strong and brave, who I wanted to be, but simply wasn’t. Still, it was all there, my life. That was undeniable. It contained the hurt, but no anger. The people who knew me, the ones who loved me, they would know that. They would see it all. Why couldn’t I let it go?

My agent had worked hard, really shopped around to find the right fit for the manuscript, and now I was asking to change things before I signed. She was less than thrilled. I was less than thrilled. “It’s your best work,” she’d said, yelled really. I knew she was right. “And now you’re asking to take out the knots that tie it all together?” I was. That was exactly what I was asking. I wanted to make the stones smooth, so they didn’t cut so much, but…

I wriggled my toes. Had that field, the one behind my childhood home, really been the last time I had stood barefoot in the grass? I searched my memory. I strained through the details, making the throbbing worse. It couldn’t be, I thought. But it was. I knew it was. I looked across the park green, it was well-maintained and freshly cut. There was no room for weeds like dandelions. My heart sank. The daffodils were beautiful, but they didn’t fill the void. I knew nothing would though. It was crazy to think otherwise.

Slowly, I walked through the green, making my way to one of the benches by the water. I write fiction, but it comes from somewhere doesn’t it? It’s the deepest cuts that ooze the most ink. A fact I knew all too well.

I sat near the Mariner’s Memorial and stared out across the water, my broken red heels on the ground by my feet. The irony that I was sitting in front of a vast body of water with dirty feet I couldn’t wash clean wasn’t lost on me. I laughed. I laughed long and hard as I sat alone on the bench. When I was all laughed out, I cried. When the tears dried up, I tried to clear my head. I tried to push it all back, but it wouldn’t go. It wouldn’t fit on the inside anymore.

I had worked hard for this moment, this opportunity. Why was I retreating now? Asking to remove two chapters, plus three odd paragraphs and five lines scattered throughout the book did seem unreasonable. What had I said to that man? “I didn’t jump… but I wasn’t pushed either.” It was true, I didn’t jump and I wasn’t pushed, but I got here. I climbed and, more often than not, I crawled, but I got here. I looked over my shoulder, back toward the park, but all I saw was an open field and a little girl tying dandelions into a crown. I had spent years and years trying to pick up the pieces, trying to tie them back together, knowing they’d never again fit. Why had I felt so compelled?

The wind picked up. Spring was heavy in the air. I sneezed. The pollen was visible. I closed my eyes, sneezed again, and waited for the wind to die down. When it had, I brushed the hair out of my face and dusted myself off, but something was stuck to my cheek. I swiped at it. One little dandelion seed fell into my lap.

I smiled in spite of myself as I twirled it between my thumb and forefinger, spinning its white, fluffy top around and around. For a moment, one last time, I was a little girl again, twirling and carefree in the open field. My family was still contained within the same four walls, beneath the same sheltering roof. I didn’t want to hang on and I didn’t want to let go. I just wanted to breathe in the fresh air. I wanted to live with myself, to be my best and give my best without guile or falsehoods, without fear or resentment.

I put my heart into my work, my writing, and there was nothing to be ashamed of or embarrassed about. It was what I had. It was fiction, carefully crafted, but I worried someone might over-think it, that someone might get their feelings hurt. Yet, no one had asked about my feelings. Not once. No one had asked if I was hurt. Instead, I was told how I should feel amid the animosity, the lies and manipulation. I was told that it was about perspective and that mine was off, that my hurt was wrong. I ached in the abandonment. I cried alone in the silence and ruin.

That was then. Now, I couldn’t hold it all in, not anymore. I wouldn’t. I had to put one foot in front of the other and move on. Slowly, I exhaled as I stood and gave the dandelion seed one final twirl before letting the wind carry it away.