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About the author: Rhiannon Conley is a poet and writing instructor living in North Dakota. Her work has appeared in Occulum, Literary Mama, Longleaf Review, the Penn Review, Rust + Moth, Exposition Review, Stirring, Sidereal and more. She was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2016 and 2018 and for Best of the Net in 2018. Her first chapbook, Less Precious, was published by Semiperfect Press in 2017. She writes an irregular newsletter of short poetic essays called Smol Talks and more regularly Tweets @RhiannonAdmidas.
Like every other parent with a young daughter, I went to see Frozen 2 at the end of last year. Perhaps not like every other parent, I also went to an opening night showing with my fellow adult sister, sans kids. We grew up on Disney, and we both have a special love for the Frozen franchise.
What we didn’t know then was how Anna’s lament, and the way she talks herself into taking one little bit of action at a time to move forward in the face of great devastation, would take us through the first through days and weeks of 2020.
My dad passed away very suddenly on the morning of Jan. 1. There were no signposts, there were no clues, there were no hints whatsoever for any of us that this was coming. As soon as I ended the call from my mom, delivering the news, I dropped to the floor and screamed, as if someone had physically gutted me. So if you’ve ever wondered if people really do that sort of thing like they do in the movies or on TV, apparently they do.
So when Anna sings, “I’ve seen dark before, but not like this. This is cold, this is empty, this is numb. The life I knew is over, the lights are out…” I get it.
My family started visiting the Disney parks when I was barely more than a toddler. I have film-strip memories of meeting Prince Charming and Snow White when I was barely old enough to remember. I’m sure seeing the magic in my eyes then was a big part of the reason why my parents took us repeatedly over the years, enough times that I long ago lost count. It’s why we were planning another trip together later this year. I grew up on Disney magic, and a big part of that was my dad.
But my dad didn’t just deliver grand gestures like Disney trips either. He was a constant presence, not just for me, but for dozens of girls over the years, thanks to his devotion to coaching youth soccer. He was at every practice, every game, despite working a corporate job at a high level. When he retired in 2013, it was as a vice president, and I remember person after person after person getting up at his retirement party, talking about what a wonderful manager he’d been, how he’d taught them so much, how he’d mentored them, how he’d cared and encouraged and been a light in so many lives. How they’d been made better because of him. So it wasn’t just us, I’d thought.
So again, when Anna sings, “I follow you around, I always have, but you’ve gone to a place I cannot find. This grief has a gravity, it pulls me down…” Again, I get it.
Eventually you run out of air and energy and have to stop screaming, it turns out. And that’s the moment when you have to decide what the hell it is you’re supposed to do next. What is you can do next. So maybe it’s silly, at the age of 37, to admit, but I heard Anna’s voice then too, the same way she convinced herself to rise from the floor.
“Just do the next right thing. Take a step, step again. It’s all that I can do. The next right thing.”
It’s her refrain that I hear when I get to a moment and don’t know what or how to move forward. I find the next thing that seems right, and I do it. I grab a note pad. I make a list. I cry. I find account numbers. I make a spreadsheet. I cry. I cancel things. I erase plans. I undo intentions. I cry. Because nothing feels right, not the way it used to. But then again…
“…A tiny voice whispers in my mind, ‘You are lost, hope is gone, but you must go on and do the next right thing.’”
So I get it. I can’t do this, but I do it anyway. For my mom. For my sisters. (And them for me too.) And for my dad, because he always did. And because it’s the next right thing.