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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Spinning closer every second

Later, at the beach house she and her friends have rented for the weekend, Elliott takes a pillow and blanket and quietly pads out to the balcony. It is 3am and everyone else has passed out, couples curled into each other, or positioned back to back. She is, as usual the only single person here. Not that she thinks of herself as single. There needs to be some other word to describe the state she has found herself in.

Alone.

That would do it, she thinks, folding herself down onto a damp, wicker sofa. Someone has removed the spongy seat cushions, Elliott can see them stacked near the balcony railings, but she does not have the energy to drag them over. It has started to rain, and Elliott is glad for the discomfort, for the wet on her face and the unyielding sofa base, pressing into her hip. Back in her room, the world had started to spin. Now, she can see the black of the ocean, hear the inky water slapping against the sand. The sound feels as if it is coming from inside her, it is as if she is the one cresting and falling, and it takes a moment for her to realise that she is crying, out here on this balcony, alone with the rain and the waves and the starless sky. Soon she is crying as hard as the weather, all the accumulations rising up out of her. This is not where she intended to be.

Life, she understands in this moment, has stopped happening to her. She has stood in the middle of too many summers and winters, too many dance floors and other people’s parties, and simply woken up the next day older than before. For so long, nothing has happened. She has been on pause, while he went about making his life. Making the tiniest of spaces for her to fit into, asking her to make herself small so that he could keep her right there.

Here.

She doesn’t want to be here anymore.

The plan does not fully take shape this early morning, waves and rain and tears saturating everything around her. Elliott won’t even really know, days later, as she books her one-way ticket, as she scrapes together her savings, just what she’s doing, or why. She only knows that she can’t stay here anymore. That she needs, desperately, for some thing to happen to her.

In this way, our worlds are spinning closer every second.

~ Elliott, What We Have Left

WWHL

He has never been honest

She is supposed to be his safe haven, the place he can go to when he is exhausted. Didn’t he tell her once that she was the shore, or had she imagined that after he played her a song with such words? Has she afforded him a depth of feeling and meaning that he has never really possessed?

What would it be like if she could see him going about his day just now. The care he gives to others, the attention he bestows on anyone not her. Perhaps, just a little, he hates her. Despises how she has led him down a path he cannot return from. Cannot make up from. He forgets all this in her arms, of course, or when he is alone in another clean, wide-bed hotel room and he has had one too many wines to fall asleep. In these moment she is all he can think of. His dark-eyed lover, the one whose body he has traversed and drowned in and drunk from, all these years. Sometimes the ache for her is no different from thirst or hunger. A primal need her skin and scent satisfies.

Other times, like now, when she sends her SOS from across the ocean, he wishes she would leave him be, thinks of life before her, and after her, too, if he could just say the words he needs to. Why doesn’t she understand? Why does she keep coming back for more? She cannot lose him, he was never hers to begin with, he never offered himself the way she offered herself to him.  This is not his fault. What is he supposed to do? Leave his wife and children for a woman he barely knows, barely even likes, if he’s honest?

If he’s honest.

Thanks to her, he feels as if he has never been honest a single day of his life.

~ Elliott, What We Have Left

Jo Piechota at body, remember blog

What we have left, indeed!

When they know who you are

Here’s what happens when they know who you are. It changes. Everything changes. They begin to dig into your life. Because ‘Dead Girl’ needs a bigger story to keep it interesting. The fact of her loss could never be enough. So they pick through my past, sift through my bones, the reporters and editors who don’t get this kind of treat nearly enough, the shock and tragedy of pretty, dead, white girls.

I have made some things easy for these storytellers. No mother (suicide!), no father (where is he?), and there is a predictable small-town history to snack on. Enough people who went to school with me, or knew me when, to keep the theories coming. But most revelations come as a disappointment, no matter the digging. Good student. No record of trouble. Scant evidence of running around with boys. Not a single scandal of my own, until-

And here, Mr. Jackson sits in his studio, waiting for the knock. Charcoal fingers twisting, a package of photographs in a locked box under his bed. Knowing he can’t throw the package away, considering burial or burning, but never quite able to bring himself to unlock that box, open it up. Afraid to look at me the way he used to. To see me alive and vital, and to remember the way I used to look back at him. He knows these pictures are a ticking bomb, a catalogue of his errors, and he knows, inevitably, the knock will come.

Still, when they show up at his door in their blue suits, with their notebooks and guns tucked into belts, he is unprepared.

~ Alice, What We Have Left

Riverside Park

 

Stay like this

Did I think we could just stay like this?

Did I think there was a place you could land, and everything around you would retreat. Where nothing and no-one else would matter, no outside world impacts or time-changes, because you were exactly where you were meant to be. Finally, and irrevocably.

Did I think there was such a place, and such a time, and it would all stand still for me, because I was happy in that place, in that time?

How else to explain my surprise when it all came to an end? How else to make sense of my utter confusion to find the earth shifting beneath me once again, spinning me away just as I began to get my balance. When that was what I’d always known to expect, in my life before.

In my life before him.

#

We try to make sense of things because we’ll go crazy without the story; our most important moments in life can’t be things that just happen. Later, I see what he was doing, where he was leading me. Later, I am not surprised that he made me wait, prepared me. He needed to know he was safe.

As if my safety did not come into it at all.

~ Alice, What  We Have Left

… drafting all the things …

The space before

Knees slanting, coming closer. Bodies knowing first. That there is no real distance between them now, only the memory of it, a last holding on to the space they used to occupy. The space before each other. Thinking, one last time, that it might be safer not to touch, not to fall. Foolishly mistaking suspension for security, like so many do. But they are about to know better than most. They know death now, and desire. And it is impossible not to conflate the two. Once you know.

I push them closer. Knees, a nudge.

She feels the pressure of him, all that is below the surface. Above, she runs thumb and forefinger along the stem of her wine glass, pulls at her earlobe. He studies her hand, taps the table top. Doesn’t move, can’t move. Was that some kind of otherness that pushed his knee against hers just now?

Of course the writer feels it. Feels me. Even as he understands so little of himself.

I want to sit down between them. Show her the nerves that flicker wherever they touch. Shift her fingers from glass to his lips, say here, this place, is home. I think that if I whispered this to him just now, he would be the one to hear me. I try, but the words come out as a gust of wind, a stir.

This is your night. I say it louder this time, and the trees rustle my words out loud. Let go! I shout, and the candle between them flickers. My voice is trees and flame and wind, now that I know how to hear it. I am everything that touches lightly, and this new power is extraordinary. Feeling less and less like limbs and hair and teeth and bone. More like air and sensation and the spark that shoots a river of blue all through his body.

The man who killed me sits at home and feels it, too. Candles flickering, night air whistling. He thinks of how he loved me in that moment, and I cause a crack in the sky, thunder that shakes him in his chair. He is worried about limbs and hair and teeth and bone tonight. Because all that I was, I hiss in his ear, is going to lead them right to him.

~ Alice,  What We Have Left

… don’t remember writing this over the holidays (wine??) but a few quick edits and it makes *enough* sense to share. And to pick up and follow … 

 

It still surprised me

It isn’t that I think the sky will fall. Or that I wouldn’t know what to do if it did. I am not afraid of anything, you should understand that. But I don’t know that I have ever felt safe. Safe seems like a promise someone broke, and the worst part is that you believed them. With promises, it’s only a betrayal if you believed them.

I don’t believe I’ll ever be safe.

Do you know how aware we have to be? Girls like me? The man ahead who slows down, who disappears into doorways. The man behind who walks too fast, his encroachment felt on your skin, creeping. Vans with dark windows and streets with alley ways. A park at dusk, or just emptier of people than you thought it would be, any old time of the day. The teacher whose hand lingers, or the group of boys with beer on their breath. The door closing and the room spinning. Do you know how aware we have to be?

(I suppose I let my guard down. At the end. When the sky actually did fall. The crack, and the flash of light, and the wet like rain drops. Air heavy like a boot on my chest. Dirt, and metal and being pushed down, down into the earth. It still surprised me. The shock of how little you can mean to another. How an entire world can be discarded for someone else’s storm. I was right not to believe I’d ever be safe.

But it still surprised me. At the end.)

~ Alice, What We Have Left