This is a collaboration between three writers who are excavating through writing. This is one of many sections to come as we tangle and untangle our histories.
I keep cleaning the rooms, sifting through you, a way to keep you alive. I like to think you are floating in our air. I wiped the dust from your frame yesterday and looked at your face. I realized I hadn’t seen you in a long time. That I kept you blurry in my memory. Maybe not wanting or not able to build the structure of your face. How do we put a body back together again?
What I’m trying to say is, there is always a piece missing. Your ashes have been mixed and separated and moved and there are bits of dust that have gotten away and I think about this movement of the dead often. The trails you have left. The ashes of others in the air, maybe even you, it was only the day before. Tiny bits resting on the printed fabric book bag they put your box in. They were everywhere and I thought we had to leave. Get on the plane, get away from this place, the grayness was suffocating and the barren slow passing of time would kill us all. This madness of grief. I was searching for you, along the stretches of road, but I knew you weren’t there. You were in the front seat, wrapped in your box with a name tag and everything. I thought of the people working at the crematorium, wondered who would ever want a job like that. The arrangement of the lost, the attempt at organizing a life after a cataclysmic puncture. Do they always smell like burnt flesh? Does the person who placed the body in the oven see its loved ones? What might that feel like, to look in the eyes and know you were the last person to see the body of their lost one? What kinds of secrets do they witness? How many spirits follow them around?
It is amazing to me, how structures hold together when everything else refuses. How our bodies continue to pump blood and breathe air when we are no longer capable of doing anything but lying on the floor.
To dream of you. To dream of a before. Of a time when this was never going to be part of our story.
There is also the girl, the woman. Looking to wane into ghost. Is she all of us. Is she the soft periphery that haunts us. Moves like a sheet hanging in the air between us. The her that is returning to baby. To child. I will hold her in the pit of a peach, to hear her speak a name. The hollow i’ve dug in search of your answers, are faulty at the rib. The blue myth wrapping her away from the family around her, pulling her wide, pulling her quiet face from the collar of a black and white photograph. A return to sepia, to skin.
She is my child, my memory making up stories. She is a return to the thread that began this story. She is a small boy left burning in the fire. She is a man standing at the edge of the earth, bound in water.
Here is where I dream of you. Now that the autumn has come and you have been gone for three years. Why your last words to me, haunt me. And by last, I mean the last words I can remember. You spoke to me for a year after these words fell like sand into my hands. Your moment of clarity and only I was there. The un-daughter, the niece, the sister, the never-mother. You said, you were ready. Then you touched the air, touched something that seemed to slide down over your body. Until the the static of the radio and your blood still thick in the vein, was all I could hear.
I could no longer,
This stillness of the morning allows me to think of you and all our moments. The slow etching into each other’s lives. I’m confused sometimes in the hazy moments after sleep, thinking I am in the apartment we all shared, that I will hear you in the other room, that you will emerge and see me and say good morning in between your soft singing. We hear songs on the radio that we think you would’ve liked, so we play them over and over. Turn the volume up without saying anything to each other. We are thinking of you and I like to imagine your face and the sound of your voice if you could have ever known this song and played it as you got ready for work.
I have a recording of you saying happy birthday to me. Thank you, forever. I should tell you that most days I am too afraid to listen to it. Too afraid to recognize your voice, maybe it’s better to let the memory age at the edges just a little. To hear your breath. But sometimes, late at night, when I am driving on the freeway, alone in my car I play your message and turn the volume up as loud as I can and your voice fills me so that for those moments I cannot even hear myself.
I don’t care about my birthday anymore. It is too close to your death.
I wonder if you ever listened to my old voicemails. If you ever had late-night moments like I do when you miss the sound of me. If you held onto my words and the moments that surrounded them. I admit that even as recent as a week ago, I played your old messages. Lights off, just before bed. I snuggled up next to your voice. Wishing I could feel the warmth of your body now, these years later. Your arm around me. The last time I saw you, your arm was around her. I slipped past the both of you. I don’t think you saw me.
In the recordings, you sound so youthful and full of boyish joy. Unashamed giddiness. Recklessly in love. “Hi babe. Hello beautiful. I can’t wait to see you. I love you.” Fragments of love captured in these short sound bites. These tears.
Find the ghost inside this echo, she says. The shrapnel from your war. I assume your body, lean in close to find you in an eye, in a knuckle, in the wedge of a wrinkle. The suture is a place for entering blood memories.
Wet alfalfa, the rooster’s timing so off that we wake before it calls day, the plastic amber light we filtered through your broaches. You are the last of our storytellers, you are the
last to know that I look like my father, carry his rage, his tongue hinged like fault lines in the earth.
Waiting to give way.