Captured Memories of the Dead and Buried

The dead haunt my photo albums.

There he is when his liver was not yet punishing him for drowning it in poison. The spark in her eye is still unclouded by deadly judgment. He poses with the suppressed cry for help just behind his upturned lips.

I am floating around somewhere past them, come to see the exhibit I pretend to remember as I flip through captured moments displayed against the inescapable glass that is time.

She’s there with them all, wandering through the pages like a gust of sandy wind.

Be careful not to breathe it in.

Subtle, really, how she became immortal. I am carried on the back of retrospect kicking, screaming my dissent. I do not wish to go there.

She beckons. I have no choice.

I cannot breach the glass. I am stuck between panes as I watch her float through these captured moments again and again and again.

Someone break me free.

She hears my whisper and laughs. Always mocking my need to be so serious.

Idiot. You are not stuck here. You are buried.

Buried beneath layers of disintegrated hope and threadbare ropes tethering me to empty spaces.

I am not stuck here. I am comforted here.

Wrapped in the softness of what was, I snuggle deep into her grave and watch the dead people come alive.

Here they are pure. Here they will not change. Here they will not leave. Here they will always remain.

Tomorrow, when the pressure of the living builds around me, I will dig through it all and take another step forward.

Today I am content flipping through the book of dead, watching my baby sister frolic in a field of captured memories.

Let me tell you my birth story…

Trigger warning.

Triggers everywhere, in the sheets, on the floor, in my hands… with a flutter, with a cramp, with ripping and a scream, we are triggering all the way to where I have been for 15 years.

I am bleeding.

We are racing towards the hospital. I am in the middle seat in the back of a taxi, bent at the waist as wave after wave wraps around me, tethering me to this moment in time forever.

I am 20 years old. My husband is 22. We are not ready for this, this thick and thin, unto death do us part bullshit we were told is our saving grace. Who’s death did they mean? The deaths of our rebellion? The death of our future? The death of the beating heart inside my womb?

There is no time to think about it. Through thick we race, pulling up to the emergency room.

Everything is spinning.

25 weeks is maternity, not emergency. Head on up the elevator, white and bright contrasting with the red red red running down my legs. I am unsteady, so unsteady, as unsteady as I’ll ever be.

Now I’m in a bed, and it’s moving down the hall as someone pries my legs open and asks me a question I can’t answer because she’s already yelling about 10 centimeters. I am helpless as the room forms around me, and people file in.

She’s tiny, the woman at my feet.

Mami, look at me… look at me, Mami… I’m going to need you to push.

And my legs are in the air, and panic is building because I don’t know anything, but I know that I don’t want to push.

The room is filling up, and someone is holding my hand, and he is wearing scrubs, and he has kind eyes, and he looks deep into my soul.

Take a deep breath. Just concentrate on me. We’re going to help you.

And I am crying and crying, and I can’t stop the pressure.

I can’t… I can’t… he’s not ready!

Those eyes pierce me, and he squeezes my fingers, and there is nothing he can say.

The woman at my feet is not going away.

Mami, you need to work with me. We get him out together, or I have to cut you. Mami, we don’t have time.

The man with kind eyes nods

Breathe.

And I push and push, and there is no scream, there won’t be a sound at all for the next three days until the beeping stops, and the machines are rolled away, and I am holding my tiny dead son against my broken heart.

For now, I look up at the only person who is focused on me.

Did I kill him?

He shakes his head and slowly relaxes the grip he’s allowed me to hold.

But I know that I did.

For Yael, when you find me.

You search my name on Google and find it.

Everything I write.

All my heartbeats and songs and moments when I cannot speak.

And you hug me and look at me with awe.

How do you do it? you ask, and I see a fire light behind your eyes.

I do not tell you about this place where my words are too hot to bear my name.

I know you’ll get here one day and find me.

I know that when you do, you will see something you always understood and you will feel a tenderness you are too young to bear.

I want you to be ready for that.

So I shift a bit and let the curtain down to give you room to burn.

I see your words, filling up the space around you.

I see your words flying through your brain as you retreat to a place where thoughts are loud and muted in a kaleidoscope of feeling you are not yet familiar with.

I follow the arc of your heart as it expands too wide and shuts tight and cautiously learns a rhythm set to wonder.

You are finding something of your own.

You are authoring a story and I am a step behind.

Too far behind to catch you when your pages wrap around you and you can not breathe.

Too far behind to wipe the tears you dry yourself.

Too far behind to stop your teeth from pressing deep down into your skin as you scratch the surface, looking for more.

Too far behind to find your beat and fall into the story you are writing on your own.

How does she do it? I whisper as I wade through embers I used to flame.

And the answers whispering through the wisps are old and new and still too far away.

The House Where Memory Roams

The depth of leaving Orthodoxy is hard to explain to you, and even harder for me to process. I hate that you can only know if you know. It feels like I am somehow perpetuating their exclusivity… no, but you wouldn’t understand… you don’t know how it is… and it wrings itself around my identity as a mark of Cain. When I see them in the street, and I hear you excuse them without really understanding them, I feel it tighten around me and force me into a familiar place of screaming into an abyss where no one will ever hear me.

*

It’s the old house feeling, the one where I enter a space I have repainted in my memory, and the souring of nostalgia wells in my throat as the colors assault me with their mismatched hypocrisy.

Where are the walls I remember? Where are the trails of my wandering feet? Where is the smell of familiar? Where is evidence I come from here? Who tampered with this scene, dotting corners with fingerprints that do not belong to me?

I know this house so well… 

I smell the stuffed cabbage simmering on the stove. I am rushing to get ready. I yell a warning through the hole in the floor to the kitchen below, accidentally knocking Q-tips down as I threaten anyone who thinks of flushing for the next ten minutes. I am excited.

I will be dressed and ready as we rush to get there before the curtains come down. The best seats are the closest to the men, within range of the candy man. At some point, I will take a risk and crawl under the table so that I am officially on the men’s side. I will eat too much candy and get hyper. We’ll be dragged home tired and hungry and scarf down a steaming bowl of stuffed cabbage that I will unwrap and splatter on my dress. I will fight with my siblings and probably get sent to my room and then be called down again to pretend to recite the blessing after meals. I have perfected the mumble with just a slight bit of enunciation, and perfectly timed page flips. It would really be less effort to recite it thoroughly, but I’m still only ten.

There is joy in the air, and it washes over me, cleansing the loneliness from my soul. Tonight, I belong. Tonight I am a member of the tribe. It won’t matter where my thoughts wander or that something is churning dissidence through my veins. I am part of something bigger than myself, and it feels wonderful.

And then the cold water jolts me awake as my request is ignored, and the downstairs toilet flush races through the plumbing of an old, familiar house and shocks me out of my dreams.

This house is falling apart, and I will be buried alive.

You know what I mean?

When Death Comes for Me

Dearly Beloved,

One day I will die.

I won’t be here to tell you what that means to me. So I write this in the shadow of Death, lurking over my shoulder as he pauses his busy, busy work long enough to say hello. He and I are friends, you know.

When I die, you will want to know about me and Death. You’ll find evidence strewn across these pages and wherever you see my name. My most intimate relationship is with his loving caress.

I have documented our dance well. He has taught me not to leave empty pages to fill. Start a new page every day with all the words that need to be said carefully etched into eternity. Do not live with any Unspokens. Death swallows them whole.

When he comes for me, I will embrace him. I am safe in his grasp. I do not fear the Reaper.

Today, dearly beloved, as the world dies in a coughing fit and we find it hard to breathe, I write Unspokens I did not know I had.

My lungs are strong, my skin is white but I do not play roulette with air I am still privileged to inhale.

Dearly Beloved,

One day I will die.

I would like you to be holding me when I do, to grasp my hand and whisper whatever you’d like.

I know it will make it easier for you.

Stroke my face, close my eyes and take the time you need to say goodbye.

One day, when I die, give my voice to my sisters to shout what they want across the empty space where I used to be. Their voices need to be loudest of all.

When I die, do not tell my children who they are because of me. Let them know I am me because of them and they can be anything.

And when I die, bury me with a sturdy seedling so that the memory of me will last longer than a whisper.

Grieve the way you choose but do not choose in my name. Your mourning rituals are meant for you alone.

When I die, let all of me be exposed; shame will not follow me to the ground.

When I die, live your life free, knowing that my heart does not need to be fed.

When I die, remember that whatever life I lived was every bit deserved to live.

Remember to sing.

Remember to laugh.

Remember not to be afraid to cry.

Remember to fill your page with words Unspoken until Death shines his light on you.

Starved.

My battle for self rages on.

I am parts of me and all of me, separate and whole all at once.

My mind, always racing, pulls ahead of the heaviness in my heart.

But my heart comes in a million broken pieces, able to extend beyond possibility. It does not know it has to follow any rules. It can be lagging behind while leading.

My body… my body has crashed and burned in a spectacular show exposing the fragility of skin and bones.

And I am left starved.

Hunger is a passion.
It sears and claws and begs…
Feed me… touch me… consume me…
Take this part of me that wants.
It is dying to be free.
Feel it, smooth and soft, and jagged.
Breathe in the scent of discontent.
Embrace the folds of tenderized skin.
There is beauty somewhere here;
it is dying to be seen.
Stoke the flame, stroke the shame
bring me to my knees.

Please.

My heart and mind race past my body, flapping in the breeze.

They do not stop.

They do not see.

They do not want it to be me.

15

When I was 15, I had lived forever.

“You have an old soul,” they said. “You are wise beyond your years.”

And I would nod knowingly because I had lived forever and seen a lifetime.

A lifetime of hurt and fear. A lifetime of loss and neglect. A lifetime of wondering what the point of a lifetime was.

When I was 15, I had seen a lifetime of living badly.

It didn’t get better. It got worse, but I expected that.

So at 20, worn out and weary from living, I created a file.

Compress a life, zip it tight and send it to the cloud. Be wary of exporting it; it may be too much for you to handle. Save it, though. Save it so that you can unpack it when you have cleared up the space you need to view it properly.

Don’t forget to label it. Categorize it under the past and add a description so that when you die, the world will know this is the life you lived before, the life you didn’t have a say in, the one where you were born and left to figure it out for yourself while poked and prodded and exposed for all to see. That life lasted forever.

When I was 15, I had lived forever.

You can see the file seared into my skin. I have clicked on it to view what it contains and spilled the parts I could not hold over these pages. But decompressing hurts, and I don’t have a lifetime to relive.

There is space between the life I lived and the door I closed. A small lifetime. Five years of something deeply wounding and healing. A lifetime most people never get. It birthed me.

I emerged with him.

We have been living another lifetime. We have gathered another 15 years. I am struck by the passing of time, how much can fit into the space of who we are together, how much is still left.

Love is not a story to tell. It is a journey to take, a moment to hold, a lifetime to live.

We are 15, and we have lived a lifetime.

A Painful Softening

My vulnerability is vicious.

Covered in thorns, it whips around me like a crusted bandage stroking open wounds.

Once, when I was someone else, it was buried deep where I could not go. It hid under cold black blood, waiting for me to remember. But memories are cheaply made, and mine always arrived broken.

How can you remember what never was?

And so the softness I never had remained lost to me.

You met me when I was bold, fearless, and empty.

And I was enough.

You held me when I weakened – when my voice cracked, and my words stumbled and felled by the realization that I needed substance, I found myself crawling at my own feet.

And I was enough.

No one could love me the way you do. No one could accept every sliver of broken glass trailing behind me the way you do. No one.

Not even me.

Especially not me.

And then my vulnerability rose from the dead. Birthed from loss and grief, raised on weeping pain, I filled with the fragile blood of the stranger I’m meant to be.

I walk around in my old body, pretending I am still enough.

But I am not enough for me.

And so if I am enough for you, how can you see me?

 

Isolation

It feels selfish to say how I feel, to let the world know that I am melting when the world is barely holding on.

But…do you need to have a sense of self to be selfish? Is it selfish if I am losing track of me and all the parts I thought I was made of?

Isolation is not new to me. I’ve embraced her wholeheartedly, craved her even! She protected me for so long, let me wallow and scream. She caressed my broken soul and told me it was ok to be away – good to be away…

Alone is where I find how I fit.

Alone is where I hear the silence.

Alone is where I cherish peace.

Alone is where I can finally be.

Isolation has betrayed me.

She is choking me, pressing into me, making me want to escape her comfort and explore who I am when I am not alone.

She is making me forget how safe she is.

She is showing me how vulnerable I am.

She is forcing me to see how RELIANT I am, how small and insignificant I am…

And I am so fucking scared.

Inhale…hold…2…3…

There is bubbling inside me

rising panic

calm pushing down

rising fear

serenity pushing down

and I am reminded of the breaths I forgot to take

as I rode the waves of birth

pushing

holding

pressing

rolling

squeezing

ripping

no air

no space

no end

until there was a scream.

But the first time

there was no scream

and I saved my breath

for round two

and only let it go

when I heard the second cry

the third time around.