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.
We sit at tea, you rubbing the ends of your index fingers to loosen time, then pour the hot leaf-laden water to warm my hands. It rained last night and now the kitchen smells damp, tastes heavy. You run your hand over the tablecloth and lift the skirt to peer down at my feet. You smile. We have the same wide, strong feet. Bones that reveal that we have walked into streams and tucked our toes beneath rocks to anchor ourselves during the storm, our ankles just-numb, just memories away from dissolving into the silt and skeletons torn deep by water.
When you drop the pale pink skirt, almost peach in color like the babies your babies have born, you slide your chair back and lower to your knees and slide beneath the table.
You tell me that here it is safe.
That at least here we can talk without the fear of our ghosts hearing us.
Rub our stories together, you say. Yours against the skin of mine.
To be honest, some days I want to erase the story. Flood the ink of it with my tears until it blends like a watercolor. Nothing left but a damp blue hue. I want to completely erase you. I want to go back to the time before there were any pages. Before I knew how the story would end. Before I knew what tears were for.
I don’t want to cry any more.
But there never seem to be enough tears to dissolve you.
Some nights, I startle awake and wonder if I imagined all of it. I reach for you and graze my fingertips against the skin of your ghost.
It’s late October, your favorite time of year, and I wonder how the autumn air can smell the same without you.
The scent that holds everything, thick with water, thick with fable. Our truth. When the earth’s frequencies are just right and the thick dust of our city settles in the rim of our eyes, I see our sunset the way it should be. Lift a face toward the mirror-wrapped sky and I see us. I see us before we knew each other, when we could only taste each other’s stories. I hear us as children, as each other’s first words. When the eye can finally focus and the first image is seen. That is when we met, and when we lost.
If we could take our memories and tie them around our feet to bind us to the ground, I would choose the riverbed. The place of everything. The place that has disappeared with you, but I am waiting for the flood. Waiting to sit up in the trees and watch the waters come and tear away everything we have lost, everything we have forgotten. Revealing moments only to have them turn moldy, perhaps even rot in the bends of our bone.
This sensation of loss transforms every day. The reality of loss burrows deeper into the body. Sometimes I find myself stopping, caught in a moment where talking about what happened might help, but these are strangers in front of me and I don’t want to give you away. Sometimes, I carry you like a secret that rests beneath my skin, at the edge of my tongue, pressing.
I have noticed there are certain days when none of us will speak your name. I’d like to think those are the days you’ve returned, that we don’t have to call you back because you already are there. The presence of the missing.
I returned you to your manila envelope after I emptied you. I never fully sealed it. Then I moved you to the guest bedroom closet, worried that rainwater might drench you. I never could find the source of the leak. At first, I thought it was in the roof. It made sense. Vaulted ceilings, an old house. But then, days later, I stepped in a puddle in the middle of the floor. I found particles of wood lining the perimeter of my lingerie drawer.
I washed the silky pinks and lacy blacks, the sheer blues once worn for you. Even after two cycles, they still smelled of mold and dampness. Thinking it was odd to keep you in my bedroom, I moved you, again, to the hallway closet.
But no place feels right. I don’t know how to trace the distance of water. I don’t know how to bury you.
There is a plant outside my door, a petunia that blooms pink flowers. You picked it out. In the heat of summer, in a place near the bay where we could forget about the lack of water. The blossoms bloom and fade, a cycle I tend to. I trim the spent leaves and branches. Should we trim death from our lives? There is so much missing some days. There is so much to say with no language to fill the caverns of our mouths.
I realized the other day that the year is almost over. Thought about how I have hesitations about the new year. To be in a time where you no longer exist. To touch a dimension of time you will never touch. 2016 will not have your fingerprint. It occurred to me that this is what the rest of our lives will be like. A moment, always, without your breath.
We brought you to an island, to the edge of the sea, high on a cliff where the world disappears. What I’ve always liked about the ocean is that you can look out and even if you don’t see anything, there is so much life there. Beneath the surface. There is so much living beneath the surface of our skins. The soul seeking a rupture to burst through. Our bones creaking at the pressure. The body is so light an object. The tendons and muscles and skin. We are weightless, really. And we float into the horizon, seeking the life between. I’ve always preferred the middle. It’s the perfect temperature. It’s the best of both worlds. It’s a negotiation point.
I am your perfect beginning. Memory-years fall like leaves from beneath your skirt, from the loose threads that encircle the buttons on your blouse. They drape down through your hair and settle on your shoulders, whispering last efforts to hold deep, to hold close, to hold color and light, before slipping off into a trail of breadcrumbs behind you.
We meet again anew. I, the familiar face, the warm body speaking. I, a resonance, the flicker of the barely-generation. When I sit next to you and remove the bell from your fingertips you talk about the children, the ghosts painting your bedroom walls. They are so loud you say. They scream to be heard through 60 years of barbed wire fences, bombs, green fields in woodland, stories of Momotaro and Yama-uba, the crippling oak, our song. Each time we meet I am new and old in your eyes. Just threads of a story spinning away from your heart. My father’s child.
I am the beginning of a story each time we meet. We play roll call. You search my lips and eyes and thick knuckled hands for the trace of our family. Sometimes you find it and your body shudders. Other times you sense it and fall asleep to un-dream.
I am your periphery. Your small girl wrapped in tree, not a body, not a face. But something remembered only just now, and then gone. Just a trace of your memory.
I imagine what I would tell my future daughter about you. If she would find you, flipping through my photos. Looking through boxes in an attic closet. In a journal entry, maybe. She might ask me why I kept everything. Why I have every letter, post-it note, drawing, ticket stub, even one of your socks. I imagine she will ask me if they are daddy’s. “Daddy’s name doesn’t start with a K,” she might say.
I hope I will face her, sitting cross-legged, and tell her everything. I hope I will smile, tilt my chin slightly to the right like I do when I’m thinking about the person I love, and recall that they belong to someone who had a force like the ocean. Eyes like something I know I won’t be able to describe. Someone who.
Someone who bears the weight of a name. All the what if’s that rest inside the curves, all the stories that curl their fingers around the roots of your letters. My first real thought after finding out you were gone was, “Our children will never get to know him.” I think about this often, but try not to. This always mourning a dream that seemed so simple, and yet was not clear.
Unearth the hollow daughter. The one that reaches like the vein of grass towards the sky. Not here yet, but reaching. The daughters we are, seed the daughters we will have. Our echo is a return. The momentum of our stories bearing in, and down, to lift the breath from water, the secrets between our stones. Our bodies sound like fire. The crackling of our bones as they light the way for the body myth. The body building like the blue flame. A whisper against the night.
The husk around our voices, a gift against the dead, against the leaving. Those always here, but already gone.
This is not our denouement, but a storm inside the page.
I joke with your brothers about you and it’s as if you were still alive, just not there. Like you had other plans that day and couldn’t join us. Like it was fine that you weren’t there. Like all of this is normal and nothing tore through us in the eruptions of spring.
I heard your voice last night. We were all together and hugging, saying goodbye, drive safe and then we heard you. The breeze picked up, carried you to us. That warm breath of yours inside a cold breeze. To wrap around us. To not let us forget. To say, sorry I’m late, but I made it. Everyone is together. It’s fine. And then you’d walk inside the house, and we’d follow, and I’d be the last one in, because I stood watching, caught in trying to remember exactly the way you move. I know your walk, but sometimes my mind won’t play it for me. Won’t play the sound of your voice, the movement of your smile. The reel has run out and your memories dislocate.