This is a collaboration between three writers, Allison Harden, Rebecca Woolston and myself. We gather here to excavate through writing. This is one of many sections to come as we tangle and untangle our histories. If you would like to read Part 1 & Part 2, please visit the links at the end of the text.
I dreamt of you the other night. That inside my dream, I was dreaming, and you came to me to say you were leaving us. That it was time to go. I repeated what you said, asked how, said no, you can’t. We can’t lose you a second time. How does one understand losing someone twice like this?
Maybe this is all so selfish, to want to keep you lingering in my words, to keep you bound to the page like this. To try to recreate some part of your breath, to construct a body sheathed in paper skin to carry around in my pocket. A resurrection of sorts. But everybody knows not to bring the dead back to life. They simply have changed. But I think about how the seasons have flipped on us, there was so much loss in the spring, so much that tucked itself beneath our nails. And the fall is full of life, emerging from the early mornings and held in the heat of our mouths. Maybe this makes sense in the meaning of your name, black and white. It depends. That constant pull of opposing energies. Maybe this is what you meant when you said you were leaving us, that you found the seam between the colors to press through. That finally, there was a space that was comfortable, that felt right, that was home.
There is so much in life that is unexpected. So much that we plan for, that we try to be prepared for, but some days it is never enough. The events are always in motion, ready to hit when we do not expect. The scars are always returning, reminding, reshaping the way the skin was cut open and the blood ran and the frayed edges of flesh gathered together to seal the wound. A scar is a place of memory, of intrusion, of the unexpected resting in our bodies. A reminder of who we were and who we want to be. How do we seek the scars of the disappeared? How do we carry the names of the dead in our mouths without speaking with the weighted loss of you? How does the fabric of our skin fit everything that is inside?
When you moved, if I thought of you I saw the scar near your bicep. When I close my eyes to not see, for a moment, a world without you, the scar rises. A small mound of your pale flesh, healed over. I don’t even know how you got it.
Suddenly, I realize, I cannot imagine having a child in the year of your death.
I didn’t mean to offend my mom when I told her I couldn’t stay in the the downstairs guest room. Particularly this time of year, Thanksgiving, Christmas. There is too much turmoil. Too much loss. Too many associations with a time that still seems like a faded memory of someone else’s life. I find myself wanting to skip over this time of year, but every year it becomes easier. Every year, you are a little more distant. Every year there are new joys. Bing Crosby and peppermint bark. Laughter over the homemade ornaments from grade school. The snowman with the painted on red smile that is way too wide in proportion to the rest of his face. Every year there is someone else to imagine. Some glimmer to grasp onto amid the cavern of you.
She unwrapped the gift as if it were a child. The wild desire of it all. Inside, there were two silk bookmarks. One for the day she she was born and one for the day that she would die. They were wrapped inside layers of letters that her sisters had written to each other when they were teenagers. Whispers in the dark. The beauty of becoming and unraveling. When memory sat like stones to be touched and tasted and lit under water. This gravity. This brush of skin against the bark of their histories. The rings widening till even the memories touched each other.
A morning prayer against the still.
Her dreams of dreaming again.
Like my mother who says she never dreams. These women locked inside the treasure of a memory that will not open toward other stories. There was the one night in Cambodia, the bones in the ground were talking, the clocks in the hotel could not be baited to work, and my mother dreamed. This is the only memory her and I share of her dreaming. She had no words to tell me her dreams. Her language was burned to the quick. These are the dreams I would die for. Again and again until I am nothing but breath and desire. To begin again.
“In my end is my beginning,” these are the words from T.S. Eliot that inspire me. These words I remember first reading freshman year of college, under candlelight. I found them again on the streets of Oxford on a bookstore shelf. I shared them with a friend over wine and ocean waves. Our voices echoing in the dark. These are the words that consoled me through ending something that wasn’t supposed to end. That I vowed would last forever.
Somewhere along the way, we close our eyes to what is impossible for us to see. We shut out the darkness because we can’t imagine the light that will come next. We look the other direction when the sun is already rising to greet us. We forget.
I blinked my eyes open to a beginning that had already begun. Had been beginning.
We stand around the table in a circle and share one thing we are thankful for. I think of how I have begun and ended. And began. Again. And again.
We both dreamt of you last night and I thought that must mean you were in the room with us. That you came and rested with our bodies, whispered into our ears to create an image of you, threading secrets and desires of who you were. These dreams, the only way to create new memories. We watched home movies, sitting in the room with the family, your voice so loud, so clear. The familiar movements of you, the expressions of your face. To be on this side, reaching toward a screen for a lost reality. On the drive home, we shared the silence, replaying you in our minds. I said, it was nice to be in a world again where you existed.
Collapse the panorama of our home into a story. If only we could build something that wouldn’t tear and field grief, but swell away from loss. From the paper dolls that make up our myth and our twinning, we begin. Hidden in the walls of the home built from star thistle, butterfly wings, and the belly of the sky, we find the house burning toward water, till the air is so saturated with ash and skin and dust that water droplets form.
Until fire and water collide.
There is a bench near the water. I remember sitting there in the wake of you. It was August but the air felt like December. The first chill. I sat mesmerized by the eternity of the waves. How they would be always be there, have always been there, and would continue to be there. No matter what happened with me or you, they would remain the same. It seemed a thought too vast to comprehend, and I don’t know if it comforted or frightened me.
I returned to this bench the other day on a run and took a photograph of its shadows. Thought of the shadow of you and a time that has dissolved like whitewash sinking into sand.
It’s easy to think of you. And the holidays push you forward, press against the longing. I told your mother some days still catch me off guard. That somehow I forgot you were gone and suddenly I see your picture and remember everything. Remember the ashes, the days in your house, the holidays and foosball table games in the wide living room. It’s scary to think the time is moving so far away from your leaving; that it has almost been a year. Scary to think how quickly time passes and that this is our life now, without you. But that’s what they say about the dead: we are left with lives still moving, escaping us.
She leaves behind only the fracture of a memory now. The sisters all fading towards the dirt, towards fire. Will they wash your bones in the heat, scrub the scent that 90 years builds between skinnames, will the fissure left in the rock where you whispered the secrets of grandpa’s haunting still remain?
Your legs are crossed as you sit in the shadow, that is a rumor, that is a last kiss.
is an offering.
is your trace.
This story of you that I cannot finish. To keep you present, hanging from the threads of our lives, twisting around our bones. Replicate the sinews. To think how raw this is, how present the wound grows. This year, so full of extremes. The accordion of life spanning all these months. In the time since you left, a new life has emerged.
And there is the saying people like to offer, that it will get better in time, that everything happens for a reason. To say this will heal with time is to suggest your memory will fade, that you will blur and escape the wrinkles of our minds. That your photographs, too, will burn and your voice turn to smoke. To say your death had a purpose is difficult to understand. That, somewhere in another timeline, there was a secret, alternative fate worse than this.
How can we ever feel like you were supposed to die?
I find myself repeating similar sayings to console a friend. It will get easier. You’d be surprised how you might feel in a year. Words I rejected when they were spoken to me. Words I couldn’t hear because my ears my brain my head were ringing of only you. Impossible then to imagine I would ever go a day without thinking of you. That I had space left to be filled with anything other than you. The echo of my voice mouthing these words. The tongue of a flame lit from your ashes.
But no, everything does not happen for a reason. Everything happens because it does. We choose to find beauty and meaning in the sacred moments we are given because they are all we have. We continue because continuing is our only option. We try to make sense of what will never make sense. We dream. We bury. We bleed. We carry. We carry on.
Those beautiful cracks in the veneer that create caverns toward bone. Fold your story in muscle, slide the century into the folds of noon, and let the river return home.
We began remembering the day we were born, each other. We have the same dream of flying that is full of baked brown leather shoes, laces bound to each other’s, our bodies the binding. We lift the way leaves dream on the belly of the wind, just out of reach of our body religion. This dream is a whisper.
Loss utters its own sentences to replace, to refine, to fracture memory.
I remember you most in December, your beauty a howl, a thread left lingering, you body a trick of light.
But most important, I remember.
We used to have a box packed tight, resting high on the shelf in the garage. Full of a shared Christmas, but I didn’t like the colors. We carried it for years, only because it was tied to you. I can remember exactly where I placed it, what it looked like all those times we walked past it. But I cannot recall what happened to the box, except that it is no longer here.
Sometimes, I marvel at my ability to force a forgetfulness, to turn time over and throw all the leftovers away. As if I were cleaning out the fridge of my memory. It bothers me when stuff doesn’t have a place to go. But I am realizing so much of life is extraneous, doesn’t have a place, and we are all just playing Tetris and hoping the pieces fit together as long as they can.
I never had a desire to use what was in that box. But, like everything you left behind, I think about how it was another piece of you that we could have filled in your absence. I was pleased the day I packed it, everything fit together perfectly. Like the box was made to contain those remnants. If only our memories could be so clear. So neatly packed. So ordered, resting in a room lined with shelves. But they are jumbled, transforming, resurrecting through erasures in moments we realize we need them.
To say to you, I’m sorry.
This alchemy that stores and respires. The box grows gills, feathered pink fingers, what you hear you think is a voice before drifting off towards awake.
I piece together drifts of paper. Continue to piece them toward solace even though the box has been given to some third cousin or slipped behind an old mattress in the garage. Maybe it wills its resting place in the ashes that call your name. Not quite ready. Some smell like the earth in Tule Lake, branded by government stamps and cool recollections of a war that wasn’t yours. There was no line for you to stand beside. There was no side, just the coarse grain of the paper battered by old typewriters. And a single signature that you tried to rescue from your history. The one that said you would stay forever allegiant, the one that bound your name in distance.
It was dance I didn’t know that you hid behind laugh lines and dementia. I want to suture your story, but the only truth I have is my own. Would I slip you further into the shadow, if I told your myth without you.
It was folded only once in half, so not to be concealed, but beckoned. That article of the burning girl, that you kept in that box. She was not family, maybe a friend, her body fueled a flame that took her life. I feel the heat now, of what you must have felt when you held that old newspaper clipping. I see the jagged edge where the cut became a tear. Did you do it as you read her name aloud, the body violent in the fire of this loss.
My father wrapped his quiet eyes around a corner in the hallway.
It was more of an order, and an offering. Return to the dream.
There is a photograph of my father and I, wading in light, just on the border of shadow. My head against his chest, small child attached to the gills of my father. This is my last memory of safety. But there is no real memory, just a shimmer in the corner of the story.
This blood-letting towards life,
it’s a topography ever changing,
writing our ruins against the page.