The quiet rage of women

Someone organizes a candlelight vigil at the park. News of the intended gathering is shared on social media, and on the night, more than 3,000 people make their way south, down to the fields near the pier. Mostly New Yorkers, but some women come from other cities, from their own dark places, called forth to memorialize one of their ilk, one who didn’t, couldn’t make it. The crowd is punctuated by these survivors, their pain red-tipped, fierce, as the faithful from many denominations hold forth, one grasp at comfort after another offered into the night. Candles quiver, wave, and when the talking stops, someone steps forward and softy sings Amazing Grace into the silent, head-bowed congregation.

From a distance, 3,000 candles held high is a beautiful thing to observe. A glow of stars drawn down into people’s hands. Faces are soft, warm, as people lean one lit candle into the wick of another, connecting each new flame until the whole field flickers. Until the crowd appears to breathe light, a collective inhale-exhale of grief and prayer.

There is no name for the girl they mourn here, but she is known to every woman present, clasped around their lifted hands, heavy on their hearts. She is their fears, and their lucky escapes, and their anger, and their wariness. She is their vigilance and their yesterdays, the shadow version of themselves on all those nights they have spent looking over their shoulders, or twining keys through their fingers. A man speaks to the crowd, entreats his fellow men to do better, and people clap, cheer, but it is the silence of the women that binds up the candlelight, sends it skyward, a flare in search of every sister who never made it home. So that when the politics and passion are spent, it is the quiet rage of women that lingers, can be seen glittering from above. Long after all the little fires have been snuffed out, and the people moved on.

Elliott does not attend my vigil. She sits in her studio a few city blocks from the park. She has lit her own candle here, one lone flame weaving, pulsing in the dark. Cross-legged on the bed, she stares at this candle and feels nothing. Grief, she is learning, can be as quiet as a whisper when it wants to be. When it all roils inside her, when it spills out like a swollen river breaching its banks, or when the waters still and she floats upon the surface, numbed – it is all the same feeling in the end. One of utter helplessness. Knowing that so little is in your control, knowing that you cannot claw your way back to the ignorance of safety. Sometimes she rages against this loss. Tonight she acquiesces. She is alone in a lonely city, and – this part Elliott is ashamed to admit – lodged in her stomach, nearly as deep as her sorrow for an unnamed dead girl, is the realization that she herself might just as easily lay unclaimed one day. Because no one will think to miss that she is gone.

~ Alice, What We Have Left

art blur bright candlelight

Photo by Hakan Erenler on Pexels.com

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I am not allowed to forget

Is he dead?

I can see now that it’s a boy. He is lying on his back and his shirt is open, exposing a smooth, impassive chest that I see in glimpses between arms, legs, shopping bags, coats. I push through the crowd of people, going sideways against the throng, and then I’m standing right in front of him. Over him. I can’t tell if he’s breathing. His eyes are closed and his lips are pressed together. They’re not blue – I want to lean down and put my hand to his mouth to feel for air, just in case, but I can’t make my arm move. It’s as if my body wants to obey the same laws that keeps everyone else walking. Danger! Stay away! This is not safe for you! But up close, he looks like a child. If my arms won’t move toward him, then my feet won’t let me walk away.

And now it’s just the two of us. A young man laid out on his back, and me, hovering over his body, unsure what to do next. His feet are bare, dusky pink soles caked in mud. He must be freezing, I think this at the same time that I reach down, remove my sneakers, then my socks. They’re white, sporty, and now I’m thinking of Walter, of the way he tipped his hat at me when he first opened his front door, and how I knew I was going to be alright, even before he welcomed me in. I’m thinking of this gesture as I wrestle one sock, then the other, onto this young man’s feet. He doesn’t stir, but I can feel the warmth of his skin. I know what dead bodies feel like. Not like this. Emboldened, I kneel down and pull his shirt closed, fumble with a middle button to fasten the threadbare material across his chest. And then I lean back on my now-bare heels and start to cry. Is this all I can do? Give him my socks, cover his chest?

This is somebody’s baby.

Someday soon – it’s coming – I’ll think, doesn’t he know I’m somebody’s baby? Doesn’t he know that I was once loved? But right now I’m crying for this passed out boy, lying on a slab of concrete, halfway underground, that I can’t do much else for. I take the $10 emergency note out of my jacket pocket and gently tuck it into pocket of his shirt, and then I turn, run up the stairs and out onto the street, as if I am being chased. It’s dark, but you wouldn’t know it from how illuminated it is up here, above all of that grey below. It hurts my eyes. I walk a block with my hand up to both, trying to push back my tears.

I need to go home.

I don’t want to be in this world tonight. Not when it has revealed the true ugliness of itself so clearly. As if there are some things I am not allowed to forget.

~ Alice, What We Have Left

Subway

Real life. Spun into fiction. We are all better there. Right?

I will remember what it means

The day I die.

Where do you want to start? What would you like to look at first? I get up, I have sleep in my eye. I make a bad pot of coffee, the water hisses over onto the element, spits at me. I can’t get the water temperature right in the shower. Sometimes I think the faucets are switched from day to day, just to confuse me. I eat a banana, the texture struggling in my mouth. I step around dog toys, kick them into the corner of the living room, and open the window to the day. The street is its usual mix of bloated rubbish bags and scaffold frames. You could swing down them, if they didn’t always seem on the verge of collapse. The sky is blue, there is dog hair creeping across my big toe. The day is light, bright, ordinary.

I get up. I have sleep in my eye. Bad coffee, water hissing. Temperature wrong. Banana slick on my tongue, and the squeak of a rubber bone. Rubbish bags and metal and blue, blue sky. Dog hair itching my toe. The day is light, bright, extraordinary.

The morning passes. I make a cheese sandwich, leave the plate and knife in the sink next to my coffee mug. I should do more to help Carl, I think. Thinking too, I have forgotten how grateful I was. I am. I press down on another post-it note and write the word Help, before a large bang outside startles me. My ‘p’ wobbles, shoots off the yellow paper as I drop my pen. I had intended to write this: Help more around the apartment but the pen has rolled under the dining table now, and I don’t want to reach down to find it. Help will do, I think, sure I will remember what it means, as I place my last fluttering debt on Carl’s fridge door.

I do not realise, could not have realised, I have just left my first clue.

I have made a mistake, by the way. This isn’t the day I die. Not really. But it is the last light, bright morning of my life.

~  Alice, What We Have Left

NYC Morning

A quick bit of novel-ling before bed. It’s good to be back. If only in this way.

Everything I know

I grind the past to dust the first time you make me come. The way your hand slides between my legs, and your words. The electric shock of your desire.

I want to kiss you here.

I forget everything I know.

I bare my teeth at you, a snarl that wants to catch your flesh; for the first time ever, I want to leave my mark. Whatever bound us to the rest of our lives shatters in the explosion that ensues.

Our landscape is forever altered, and you map it as I come.

I will soon covet your body with the intensity of one who borrows and must give back. This constant reaching, this constant touch – it is a need for tactile reassurance that consumes me. You have a wall around you – was that what they used to say? With you I smash this wall myself, frantic, fingers pulling at any barrier between us. I can never get close enough. I bite and scratch and wrap my arms and legs around you. I tell you that you are mine.

I invoke possession as the law.

Together, we draw roads and rivers across the skin, an intricate topography laid down through the trace of thumb, the pressing of palms. Territories are charted, mouths and hands as our guide. You map my heights and my depth; you are the first to discover the parts of me that reside below sea level, and the parts containing the highest of mountains. I spend a hundred nights raising my indelible flags against you, too. Landmarks I can claim as my own. I was here first, this kiss states. I was here, this sliding of my hand declares. I was here, this touch of tongue to nerve blazes.

Those who conquer are so desperate to be known. To be remembered. They forget that maps can disintegrate and borders can change. They forget that with time, every landscape alters.

And how often, where a civilisation once thrived – now, only ruins remain.

~ Maggie Valentine

joanne-piechota-rock-bublitz

Darkness lets everything in

Should we ever be trusted to tell our own story? I am supposed to tell mine here, let little bits of light into the past 7 years so that others can find what they are looking for. Here, the clues, and here, and here. We are all operating from the same motherboard of wants and needs, aren’t we? It should be easy to figure where something went wrong. We just need the details, a light shone into corners, and all will be revealed.

But what if there are gaps in the story? Empty spaces that cannot absorb light, cannot reflect it, or send it, scattered, back out into the world? What if there is nothing for the light to bounce off? People want to shine their torches, they want to find some defining experience that will illuminate what happened – how it happened. But what if I cannot show them what they are looking for?

The truth is, they just want to make sure it doesn’t look like them, what they see. They want me to tell my story so that they can clearly see it is not theirs, that it never will be. They want me to say that here is a girl who lost her little brother. Here is a girl whose mother forgot to love her. And here, a girl who controlled her body so tightly that it became a machine, a mix of parts that could be replaced or mended any time something was broken.

They want to see a girl who let a man put her back together every time she broke apart, because she thought it was love. Some kind of love, where before there was none. Here, and here, and here the causes. The reasons, the missed opportunities, the damage. All laid out and particular to me. If they can collect enough evidence, enough light, the past will come out of the shadows; it will reveal what has been hidden out there in the dark. And then everyone will be safe again.

The thing is, we are all afraid of the dark. It is where we go to disappear – when we step into darkness, we fear it will never end. We need walls, we need something to hold us in, something to keep others out. But darkness lets everything in. It isn’t the light at all, in the end. All great truths live in the dark. That is why no matter how bright they light this hospital room, no matter how intense the glare from Detectives and Doctors, I still cannot be found. Not the truth of me, the truth of it. They will keep asking me questions, keep searching for answers, but they would have to climb down into the abyss to come close to understanding what people can do, and what can be endured.

We would light everything if we could. I sometimes think we would even stop closing our eyes if we thought this could hold back the night, and the truth that we find there.

**

Always light and dark at body, remember. Now it’s Lucy’s turn to explore the difference.

Running

I want to hold on to the anger. It is the third stage, and the easiest. It is fuel, a white hot rise in the blood that ensures you don’t stay still when the world goes on around you. I barrel forward for a week after seeing that magazine, I start running, literally, every morning, when the sun hangs out with the moon and the black recedes to blue. You blazed into my life Mack, you altered my direction, and in these early mornings as my feet mark time on the gravel I know I am trying to run away from you, from Lucy, from a pregnant Anna on the cover of every women’s magazine.

Some mornings I am chest out, pounding the ground proud, having my own little revival – I can do this, look at me go. I can be strong alone. Other days, head down, I feel the soft sadness creep back in like a new morning rain and I run through it and in it, so slow as to almost stand still.

And some mornings I want to stop, right there on the river that watched you die. I want to let my knees buckle from the weight of my history, I want to lie down amongst the rotting leaves and yellowed grass of early winter and put my cheek against the dirt.

But I know that if I do this, I will never get up again. If I lay down the world will keep moving, it will not adjust its pace just because you and I have stopped. Anna will still be growing the baby you made when I loved you most, even Lucy will start to heal over, just like the scars on her hands she no longer hides. If I lay down now, people will simply run over the top of me, they have so many places to go that eventually they will not even notice that I am under their feet. The day will give way to a week, a month, a year, and I will not have moved from this spot. Everything around me will be in constant motion and I will be left behind. If I do this I will never get up again.

I keep going. I get up the next morning and I run with a little certainty, and the next morning, and the next. I keep going. Chest out, pounding the ground proud, I keep going. Even in the soft sadness I keep going. I sometimes think it is running that saves me.

***

Running Track at body remember

Eidyia’s Note: This now belongs to Maggie Valentine, but the piece first appeared here, very early on, as my own experience:  

https://bodyremember.com/2012/02/19/fight-or-flight-i-want-to-run-to-you/ 

It is so obvious now that all I needed to do was write. Just write. Even if you don’t know where it will take you. Just write. And keep going. It will all make a wonderful sense in the end …

We are not the same

Sshhhh!

I put my hand to his lips, his voice has been rising and I don’t need a string of expletives to wake Ollie up.

It’s okay Joe I say but it isn’t, because my fingertip pulses when I touch him and suddenly, inexplicably, I imagine placing it in his mouth. A flush rises up my neck at the thought and I press my thumb hard against my finger in an attempt to focus on something, anything other than what just happened.

It’s perfectly normal. I tell myself this over and over after Joe shuffles home, after his boyish grin takes my breath away when he waves goodbye from the driveway. When he kissed my cheek as he was leaving I could smell the sharp mint of vodka on his breath, and a smoky remnant of cologne that settled on my skin. It’s hormones, it’s just pregnancy hormones making me tune in to this frequency, suddenly, inexplicably. And he looks enough like you, just enough that I’m obviously mixing up the signals, crossing and jumping wires in my head. That has to be it. It can’t be anything more. This is Joe, your Joe, my Joe. The white knight of this tragedy.

I want him to come back. Ah, fuck. It has to be the hormones.

I lay in bed with his smell on my lip, the way his scent feels like a hand at my neck. I run my own down and over my full breasts, these little hills of flesh that have taken on a life of their own these days. They ache from the centre out when I run my fingers across them, but I am used to this now, the fine line between pain and pleasure. My body traffics both, growing this child of ours, and doing it without you.

Joe. The first man I have touched who isn’t you. The thrill of it does not escape me tonight, laying here with my hands resting under my belly. I will allow myself the thoughts that have crested in, I will let them wash over me because it’s just hormones, and I’m lonely and he looks enough like you for this to be okay.

I have not thought of sex since you died. And yet I have been saturated in it all the same. Your affair, it permeates my life, it settles over my sleep and flares throughout the day. I have re-read those emails a hundred times these past few weeks, it is like I have my hands on one of those illicit novels we used to pass around in school, only this time I’m in it somehow, it’s my own story too even when I only appear as narration.

I am jealous of you Ben. I am angry and jealous of your second life, lived so fully and successfully on the side. Did it feel like that, the first time? Did your finger pulse when you first touched her, the way mine turned to an electric current tonight? Did you back away like I did, but feel it just the same? That inexplicable something, the realization that there is another layer under the skin – for everybody. Are we all just waiting our turn to betray? Have we betrayed ourselves first by settling for only one kind of love when there are other worlds waiting to open up? Fuck. I don’t want to understand this. I don’t want to see how easy it could be.

How long before you pursued it, this something? Did you fight it, or did you lay in bed next to me and roll the memory between your fingers, did you play it out across your skin the way I am now? I have my hand between my legs, it is the first time I have done this in years. The sin of it sits tight in my chest and throat, yet the heat feels like some kind of preparation as my fingers move in slow circles and I close my eyes against their pattern. Is that what happened, Ben? Did you solidify the experience by coming against an image of her face, did this imprint on your brain so that one little spark turned into an explosion and you were there burning away at its centre? I can see Joe’s face now as the waves begin, I have my hand on his lip and it isn’t you as my orgasm is wrenched out of me. I do not even bother to stifle the guttural cry that comes up out of me. My body has betrayed me for the first time in my life and I feel a kind of triumphant terror as my eyes re-adjust to the dark.

It is just the hormones. I am flush with pregnancy hormones. It is nothing else and it is not an understanding. I do not understand what you did, Ben. I do not forgive what you did. We are not the same.

A certain calm settles over me when my breathing finally slows. It is as if I have dived into the ocean, the way the shock of what I did gives over to a yielding, to a silk-like feeling of surrender.

I used to love opening my eyes under water, searching through the deep. I liked to swim away from the sureness of the world, out into the endlessness awaiting. I never looked back to the shallows where feet churned sand and bodies broke the surface. I would hold my breath and swim out as far as I could go before the tug of fear pulled me back. The endless blue sometimes felt safer than the shore.

This kind of calm, it is a return to that feeling. A remembering of how to swim out and away, to fix my eyes on a limitless unknown. You are behind me, Ben. I sense the turbid waters you have created, the way you thrash against the waves. You struggled against this safety so long you inevitably went down with the ship, Ben. I see now what happens when you don’t take that breath, when you won’t dive under. So many people drown in the shallows because they are afraid of the deep. Why did you never once swim out to where I was waiting Ben?

We are not the same. Now I know we are not the same. I was always going to love you better. Your best offering – your wedding dance, your earnest vows, your dedication – that is how I did it every day. And I would have loved you in this way forever – it is easy enough when you do not fear it. That is my love, and that is not how you did it. It is my swimming into the depths whilst you broke against the shore.

I am not the same as you, Ben. This certain calm reminds me. I will send Jane a card tomorrow, a thank you for all of the love and support her family has given us since your passing. I will gently remind her to love her husband because he is a good man. And I will never, ever think of this night again.

****

A little more of Anna’s story to share today. Thanks as ever for reading these drafts!