Enough for a Girl

I have 79.1 years promised to me, that’s the life expectancy they gave to girls born in 1996 like I was, which is longer than a mayfly gets, and a lot shorter than the life span of an Arctic whale, but enough for a girl, don’t you think. So many of those 79.1 years are still ahead of me, and I’m going to make a whole world of them, starting now.

Later, when we get to that next part, it won’t take long for a man with fingers at my neck to prove me wrong. He will mock my sincerity, laugh at the idea of a girl like me making her world. He will be so sure of his own right to that, he will leave nothing but the shell of me behind.

I’m so sorry! We’ll keep coming back to this part. No matter how hard I try, the streets and sounds of Manhattan will fade, the men with their fruits and their flowers will disappear, and we’ll end up down here on the rocks. It’s inevitable, no matter how much I try to distract you. Because this hopeful, heaving night is just one part of my story. The other story is this: there is a body of a dead girl, down by the Hudson River. The man who did this has left her there, gone home. And soon there will be a lonely woman who looks down, across at the dead girl. I can see this lonely woman coming, or see her already there, and she’s sadder than I’ve ever been, because all of her sorrow is simmering still. It hasn’t boiled over and scalded her life, which makes her feel that nothing important, nothing meaningful has ever happened to her.

Here, let me show you. I am about to happen to her.

~ Alice, The Weight of Her Remains

Illustration by Lauren Bending for Mixkit.Co

Where the water wants to take you

She thinks of something she learned when she was very young, growing up on the edge of a wild, open ocean. When you get caught in a rip, you have no choice but to acquiesce, to go where the water wants to take you. The force of the rip will eventually dissipate, but only if you let it carry you far enough out to sea. Safety comes from moving with the current until you are free of it, and then, only then, can you turn and swim like hell for the shore.  

Ruby knows how to navigate the natural phenomena that is a changeable ocean. Why should it be any different with a natural disaster like life, she asks Josh. No one ever ends up where they started from, but you do make it home, when the time is right. If you have kept your head while being tossed about.

Sometimes it is surrender, not struggle, that saves a life.

~ Ruby, THE WEIGHT OF HER REMAINS

Last year’s lessons …

The end is where we start from …

“You know something? Noah says. When a star dies, the dust and gases condense to form a nebula. Which is truly one of the most beautiful things you’ll ever see. But nebulae get even more interesting, because they can also signify regions where bright, new stars are formed. Stellar nurseries, they call them. Stardust then, is our reminder birth and death are not so very different.

I didn’t know, I tell him, truthfully, that stars could die.

~ Alice, The Weight of Her Remains

I stopped sharing blog posts on body, remember twelve months and a few days ago, after my father got sick. In the year since then, so much has happened, a complete rearrangement, and any time I went to write about this new world I found myself in, the words got stuck, generally somewhere between my heart and my fingertips.

Fortunately for me, editing comes a little easier than excavating. Since my Dad passed in September, I’ve been working hard on a new draft for my manuscript, formerly known here as What We Have Left. The new title is The Weight of Her Remains and with the story now out there in the query trenches, I figured it was time to come back to where it all started. In 2020, having survived the maelstrom that was 2019, I plan to share some of my favourite paragraphs and moments from The Weight of Her Remains* on this blog, along with what happens next in the bigger story of my own life and this little novel of mine. I hope you enjoy.

Or cry. Crying from time to time would be okay, too 😉

Illustration by Kika @ mixkit.co

When all that is left is your bones. I will still feel the weight of you. Your mouth on my shoulder, the world made small and true in the press of your lips.

I can survive the vast and empty roads ahead with this memory of you (and I) at its edges.

*Take everything you experience and use it!

She has no name

Something Elliott Jones starts doing from that night on. She begins to say the names of the dead out loud. Whenever she comes across a mention of a deceased person in the news, or trending on social media, or when she passes by a statue or park bench with a personal dedication affixed to it – new, old deaths, she does not discern. Instead, she stops over every single name she encounters, takes the time to speak it. If dates are also given, she quickly calculates the space between their birth and their death, so that when she says each name, she knows, too, just how long that particular person was here on this earth. Angela, 45. Glynn, 87. Boris, unknown. Tamir, 17. Gabby, 7. Baby Shiloh, 32 days old.

People lost to cancer, drug overdoses, school shootings. Kidnappings and war and little hearts with holes in them. Lists and lists of ways to die, and lists of names to acknowledge. Elliott sees the dead everywhere now, and for the rest of her life she will speak their names out loud, lingering over the syllables, breathing these strangers in and out. It is her ritual for the dead. A way to let them know that they have not been forgotten.

She has no name to speak out loud for me.

I’m Alice, I whisper to her many times. Alice Lee. But she can’t hear me over the car horns and the sirens and the doors slamming. I’m lost in the buzz of her phone and the sound of the shower running, the hiss of the coffee pot downstairs, and the pad of her feet against the ground. My voice is quieter still when she is laughing or crying or gasping against the memory of Ash’s mouth.

The thing is. When the dead speak back, we are seldom loud enough to be heard over the clamour of all that living going on.

~ What We Have Left

(Because there is still so much more to say)

Riverside Park NYC

As a lover might

There are people who know my body as intimately as a lover might. They know of the tiny mole in the arch of my left foot. The faint scar on my left elbow from a childhood scab that got infected. They know that my pubic area was waxed a few weeks before my death. Underarms and legs shaved, perhaps the day before.

They know I am not a virgin, had poor dental work done on two back teeth, and one or two of the men stop, as they catalogue my body, to think how pretty I am. How the sketches don’t quite capture the full of my lips or the honey of my hair.

Some men get obsessed with the dead as much as the living.

~ Alice, What We Have Left

WWHL

A whole week off to write … edit … write … edit … 

Construction

You say there is no meaning. And I want to lean over, kiss your moving mouth. To prove my point that even the smallest thing matters. To show you how something as simple as my lips on yours would tip the table, smash the row of glasses between us. You and I, met in the middle, would set this entire room spinning.

You think it is about what we construct. But I know it’s what we leave out that keeps a world intact (when you want to stay safe inside it). So I remain where I am. Bite my thumb. Pour another and another drink. Try to smile at you as I swallow. Knowing too, in the deepest down, just why I wanted this argument won.

alcohol bar blur candle
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

(Character building. Or revealing character flaws, perhaps)

Verge (revisited)

My body and the clocks say different things.

Last night I poured my vodka down the sink and fell asleep on the bathroom floor. I fall deepest when the sun comes up, and wake disoriented from my morning travels. Everything is the wrong way round here, or I am. So much corner turning, so much emerging from below, and it creates a kind of alert exhaustion, an expectation that something is about to happen today if I just get up and in it.

It all feels so possible, so utterly and entirely possible, this living on the brink.

“I did not belong there,” Joan Didion said of this city. And I recognise her words, because I know I do not belong here either. I do not know the rhythm and the rules. I am a step out of time, backwards dancing across these cracked pavements and sticky stairwells.

And like Joan Didion, I am in love. I am in love with this grimy, swollen, stinking city. With her teeming masses, and the bare-bone trees of winter, waiting.

They are anonymous, quiet like me.

And I too am on the verge of blooming.

underground subway staircase
Photo by Jamie McInall on Pexels.com

My first blog post from New York, back in April, 2015. And now …

Stay Tuned!!!

For my sisters, weeping

I woke up this morning and saw the news. Barely awake and suddenly weeping.

Grief was drawn from the well of me, pulled up from my girlhood, womanhood. An excavation from the deep of my experience, and yours.

I never, ever forget yours.

And then – this morning – I screamed. Mouth against pillow. Careful, even in my anger. Because that’s what we’ve been trained for, right. Self-silencing, lest we wake the sleeping.

No more.

I cannot take this anymore. I will not put my hand to my own mouth, or yours. I will be louder than I have ever been before.

And I will be quiet, when you need me.

When you need me. I am here.

I see you. And I believe you ♥

(I don’t know what else to do right now, but rage. And write)

TmeMagazine

“My rage could swallow whole continents. I suspect I am only one of millions of women worldwide who has finally unleashed her fury. We will never placate you again.”

~ Jane Caro

 

 

Can you imagine

Do you trust your instinct, Elliott?

Sue’s question feels as large as the room, and all three women pause to consider it. Thinking about the nights they’ve crossed the road to avoid a parked car with its lights on, or pretended to make a phone call as someone walked too close behind them. Remembering the longer routes taken to avoid unlit streets, and how they automatically take note of who gets off at the same station or stop they do. The way they would never leave a drink unattended at the bar, and how they always check who’s there before unlocking the door. Self-preservation as a replacement for instinct, because being right would be the real danger here.

Elliott feels her body arch toward this sudden realization, a shudder that almost lifts her from the floor.

I’m afraid to be right, she says, holding out her arms to examine the tiny hairs standing up from her skin. I would argue away the most obvious signs, if it meant I could be wrong about him.

Because if I’m right – my god, can you imagine what that means?

~ What We Have Left

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