SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES©Elizabeth Levett Fortier, 2014

She woke up in the early morning and listened to the sounds. She heard her parents talking in bed and felt a moment of comfort that always passed even as it seemed it could go on and on.

She tried hard to eat all of her breakfast before the cereal got soggy. She tried to finish her homework before it got too dark to play outside. She loved the lonely moments of early evening games of kick-the-can when everyone else was hidden and she forgot what she was supposed to do. Then the streetlights went on and there was her mother’s voice again, calling her to come in.

She rode her bike forever and ever, rode it straight through the wobbling stage to the speeding, no-hands and then falling down stages. She went for walks with her father and watched the light slowly change in the late afternoon sky, trying to fill herself up with the smell of the damp fields around them. She lost teeth, caught cold, and collected rocks and feathers. She threw up, got an “A” in spelling, and popped a blister when no one was looking. She taught herself to whistle and to turn over and over on the monkey bars. She rode in the backseat on summer evenings and watched the light change the color of trees and water. She picked at a monster-sized scab on her knee and held high hopes for a good scar.

She sat in church and wondered if the priest could tell she’d lied to her mother.

She got a job in the summer, bought really cool shoes and learned to drive. Everything seemed to stay the same forever even as she vaulted forward.

She listened to people and savored the things they said, and the way they said things. She sang along with her favorite songs loud in the car with the windows down. She went to clubs and kissed boys and men and tried to remember there was no going back.

She grew up and fell in love. She rocketed through the stages of liftoff, the friction of flight, the touchdown. She went to college and felt really smart. She went to work and felt really stupid. She took care of her bills and her teeth.

People died gradually, a little at a time, then suddenly and all at once.

She got married, so married she couldn’t believe it. She would walk with him and watch the late afternoon sky slowly darken to deep evening blue and then suddenly become night. They would lie in bed and talk until it was time to make breakfast. She would look away from him, close her eyes, and then look back just to be sure. He was still there. But she knew, no matter how long she stared, no matter how she held on, he would be gone someday and so she drank him in. She filled her nose with his scent and her mouth with his taste and her eyes with his gaze that heated her so. They went to work, planted trees, made dinner, and painted the house twice. They made each other laugh and took care of each other when they were sick. They worked, read, played, and ate together thousands of times.

After years and years that blew away, she saw the gray arrive and heat begin to dry away. She saw her eyes begin to shrink into a canvas of lines and pouches and she sometimes felt confused about whatever it was she meant to say. She felt the comfort of knowing how cool it is to not care anymore if you are cool, and the lovely certainty that her experiences sometimes gave her a voice that could be very clear.

She watched the younger ones. They moved with a confidence she couldn’t remember and certainly couldn’t begin to summon now. She noticed how a day could pass from breakfast to dinner with only chores to do in between. And there began to be in her an urgency that made sleeping in impossible.

She wanted to swim and ride her bike. She wanted to go back to a cool green yard and lie under a tree where she could smell the dark soil and look up into the leaves to watch the light change. She wanted to feel cool mud and warm sun and forget that everything leaves.

She came to a place in the woods where the yellow leaves had fallen one at a time until all the ground was covered and she walked on a cushion of gold. She listened to the early morning whispers in the branches overhead, like the voices of spirits. This was not the creek bed she’d explored those afternoons before it was time to go do her homework, before it was time to grow up. She let it stand for that place and filled herself with the smells and the quiet. Then she heard the birds begin to scratch around for breakfast.

The light changes, the morning moves on. She felt the soft ground underfoot and ran all the way home before she ran out of breath.

©Elizabeth Levett Fortier, 2014

Elizabeth Levett Fortier teaches kindergarten in San Francisco’s Richmond District. She is the author of Beauty Secrets of the Stars, a memoir of love and friendship, and is a visual artist, too. Elizabeth is also a songwriter, sings, and plays percussion in an acoustic three-piece group with her husband, David. Their music is available at She can be contacted at

One Response to “Everything Leaves by Elizabeth Levett Fortier”

  1. Amy Says:

    Lovely and captivating.

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