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

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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

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(Character building. Or revealing character flaws, perhaps)

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

 

 

What We Have Left

The first time your heart shatters, you become one woman or another.

The first can only ever love the broken after that. She sees damage as her canvas, and she spends the rest of her life trying to make it beautiful. Cobbling together the lost and fragmented, soothing their sadness and their grief. She creates a mosaic from their stories and their sorrow, mends the pieces into something whole again. Because if she can love something back together, it means nothing, no one is too far gone for saving.

The other starts to sees damage as inevitable. So she strikes first, destroys anything that comes too close. This kind of woman will sabotage her own happiness, snap it clean in two, rather than let someone or some thing surprise her again. Her heart inured, she will be the one to lay siege from now on. For her, it is obvious people were never meant to stay whole. And to survive this world, we must learn to live with what we have left.

What We Have Left (A Novel)

grayscale photo of padlock

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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

Safer in the end

Very few people are all bad. Hardly anybody at all really. Maybe an irredeemable handful who were born with their wires muddled, missing. But the rest of us are works in progress. Reacting to our environments, growing or shrinking according to whatever light gets shined on us. It’s no excuse. Cruelty and ignorance cannot always be forgiven. But I guess, if we want to, we can understand it. We can look at it up close, we can examine all the ways there are to hurt someone. And we can decide what we will not do.

Perhaps the rest is all chance. You really can be in the wrong place at the wrong time. All those things they say when they want to blame someone for the bad things done to them. But not in the way of it being your fault, let’s be clear. A chance encounter, by its definition, cannot be your fault. And here’s the thing. What if you do change your behavior to avoid those chance encounters. What if you alter how you live in this world because there are those who would do to you what you would never do to someone else? It doesn’t make anyone safer, in the end. It really doesn’t.

Because let’s be clear about one more thing. If you change your behavior, and he does not, then you are safe.

But she is not.

~ Alice, What We Have Left

First draft done. Now to make everything better!