Des souvenirs fantômes

story behind the photo

I saw this photo today, and it reminded me. One year ago.

You can look into the eyes of an old photo and almost not recognize the person staring back at you. Is it because that person was preoccupied, you weren’t yourself? Or time has a strange hypnotic way of distancing yourself from memories that may even be recent.

In my case a year ago I went abroad for the first time since I’d become sick. It was a test of sorts. I figured, if I could survive the travel, and the reminder that I had become first sick whilst traveling in 2017, I could become stronger, and endure more things, prove to myself I was on the road to recovery.

The other reason I went abroad was I was running away from the memories. Everywhere I looked, memories like unwanted confetti seemed to harness me to the horror of being sick, of all that it entailed. I often asked friends who were sick, did you suffer from PTSD or some type of horror post-illness? Did you keep returning to the memories without wanting to, as if they would not let you go? Des souvenirs fantômes.

When I was sick I recall being in hospital when SA had very bad weather, and a hurricane was predicted. I was alone in my room, the glass windows were shaking violently, and I was throwing up almost in time to the shuddering. I recall hoping the hurricane would hit my room and spirit me into the ether, it wasn’t an idle wish either, sometimes when things are very bad you really do wish for it to just stop.

Since those days, I have been reminded of health again. There are entire weeks I feel well and I never thought that would happen again. I was told by over 4 doctors I would be permanently sick, never recover, have to go on disability, never work again, and probably need a pace maker in my stomach. I would also never eat solids again and may need feeding by tube. Everywhere I looked, the prognosis was the same, dire, hopeless, terrifying.

If it wasn’t for a handful of my closest friends, I honestly know I would not be here today. I’m not strong enough. I can’t do it alone. Some can, and to them I say, you are incredible. But I am not that strong. I need people to justify carrying on. I need to know I matter. I need to have something aside myself to fight for. Without children, or family here in America it was hard. My family back home were pretty hands-off and my mom eventually decided it was a good time to call it quits altogether and leave my life. I’ve always been told, you are tested the most when you’re at your weakest and this is true, I would not have expected my mom to walk out of my life when I needed her the most, but that’s what she did and I had to learn to accept it.

The other day I had this horrible feeling something had happened to her, but I have no way to contact her or find out if she is okay. Many times I find myself breaking down and crying because I miss her, although I have to remind myself, why would I miss someone who could kick me when I was already down? The reason I believe is due to the abuse from my grandfather. When he abused first my mom and then myself, and my cousins, he ruined or tried to ruin all of us.

The saddest part is he did succeed in ruining my mom and I, because she grew to resent me because of the trauma she’d experienced and when I worked on We Will Not Be Silenced, I wrote a poem about the legacy of trauma and how it is generational and affects so much more than just one person. Unfortunately that poem was my mom’s reason for deciding to cut me out of her life. She had not been in my life very much since she left when I was six but I truly thought we would get closer as we got older and I did not anticipate her quitting talking to me.

If you have ever been sick you will know, you don’t have the energies to fight someone when you’re sick and so I didn’t really fight to keep her, I only told her, I don’t want this, I want you to stay, I love you, I didn’t mean anything bad by writing that poem, surely you know that. Surely you can forgive me. She did not forgive me. And now I know, she never will, because prior to that she had quit talking to me for seven years and she mentioned this time around, she’d never really forgiven me for that either, so it’s clear she will never speak to me again.

Sometimes I try really hard to think of what it was I ‘did’ seven years ago. I know she has a long list, some of the things are justified in terms of existing, I am not perfect, I probably am a disappointment, I am not always congruent or do my best, but … je ne suis pas une personne maléfique, an awful child to have had? No, and no matter what my ‘crimes,’ they are minor in comparison to so many people I know, and yet their parents would never think of walking out of their lives. I never did Heroin, I never stole, I never asked for money, I didn’t sleep with her husband, I did not skin and gut the cat or do Meth in her greenhouse.

It is quite something when a parent leaves you willingly and wants nothing to do with you. It is perhaps the most invalidating feeling I have ever had. On top of the illness it nearly destroyed me. I thought about dying for days. Je voulais mourir. I wanted to have never been born. I couldn’t write, and since she left, I have been fairly unable to write consistently because it took something from me and I suppose I let it.

But as you know, if you have experienced great pain or sickness, you have to live through it or die – those are your only two choices. I chose to survive this time. I didn’t feel I had much to live for, I felt terribly lonely. Terribly afraid. But I also didn’t want something I thought was grossly unfair, to be the reason for my demise. I had fought too hard and for too long for that.

Fortunately I had finally found a doctor who correctly diagnosed me and it turned out all the other doctors were wrong, and what I had, was potentially curable. So now, a year later, or more, I am doing better. I have awful days when I feel like I am ridiculously sick and I cannot function, and that frightens me because I have only myself to depend on, but other times I feel relatively normal. I have yet to feel exactly as well as I did before all of this began, and I also know some of it is psychosomatic by this point, you throw up every day for a year, it’s hard to completely get rid of nausea or a hatred of eating. It’s a bit like having an eating disorder without the reason.

What all of this has taught me is; True friends are rare but they exist if you are lucky. Love is the only reason to carry on. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you is probably the truest thing ever said. Avoir pitié! Have mercy. Because those who don’t, well they may succeed in hurting others, really hurting them, but is that something to ever be proud of?

I lost a lot. Financially. Physically. Emotionally. But I gained a knowledge that if you can get through the worst of it, and see the other side, you can look back at yourself and realize, you made it. So I look at this photo. I realize when it was taken I did not feel well. I was sitting on a corner café wishing I could have an appetite and wishing I would want to eat a tarte and drink a coffee, but instead feeling that horrible pit of stomach sickness that seems to permeate some days. I remember it was a cold day and I thought that day of all the days I’d sat at that exact coffee shop in Europe in that exact street and watched people walk around, and how so much had changed and yet, how so much never changes.

It is weird to sit in the exact place you know you sat twenty years previously. To imagine what you felt and thought twenty years before. To see yourself now, older, wiser (?), to watch the world change, to see all the differences and all the similarities all at once. I remember a certain theatre around the corner was playing something I had wanted to see and I hadn’t had the money to be able to go. I remember my mom coming into town and taking me to a restaurant préféré and our eating until we were stuffed and me drinking wine even though I was underage. I remember feeling sad when I left that we always went our separate ways, and how I had learned at an early age to say goodbye, many, many times and to accept somehow, that division of parents, of homes, of countries, of identities.

I remember my mother was so beautiful, she always had so much grace, so slim and petite and always immaculately dressed and I would try so hard when I met her not to look like a farmers daughter with my messy hair and my one good shirt and one pair of jeans and usually some old scuffed boots. In myself now, I carry around the pictures of her, this unassailable, untouchable, much loved woman, whom I have always on one form or another, chased, wished for, sought. And my father, cycling city streets, messy like me, si beau despite it, able to turn on the charm in a way few could, and how he would zip in and out of slow taxis and cars and I would see him streaking down the road and I would walk for the metro and all the while, feel this divide, two pieces of the puzzle in opposite directions, myself in the middle.

People say, you never get over things, you should get over things, the way to get over things is to get on with things. But as busy as I can be, I never forget. I am always still that girl sitting on the corner, her coffee now cold, her fingers blue with Winter chill, wishing someone would be running towards me rather than going away from me. What we are is who we become, our identities formed by the varied experiences we have or do not have. What if my mother had really cherished me? Wanted me? Needed me? How different I would be now, there is no denying it. There is no whitewashing the shifts and influences that swirl about us, at any given moment, causing us to act out and act upon those influences, comme des cordes de marionnettes.

It is not to say we are not self-determining. I am after all, here and I am not there, I am after all alive despite it all and I am after all not destroyed by her loss. Sometimes you can think you will be and when you find yourself alive despite everything it reminds you, very little truly destroys us, it just shakes us to the core and we change, in myriad ways, taking our baggage and our hurt lockers with us, into new things, with new people, who may never understand why we are who we are, what we are.

I always wore hats. It wasn’t because I hate my forehead although I do. It was because my grandmother said; “chapeaux donnent de la couleur à votre visage.” And I have a very wan, pale, longish face. So hats helped to give me a pinch to the cheeks I badly needed. My mom with her dark eyes and her dark hair never needed such accoutrements she was a natural beauty, with a finer brain than I will ever possess. When I told her I wanted to start writing she told me I was making a mistake because I didn’t have what it took and she was right about that and so many others things but maybe for the wrong reasons. And even so, we do what we do because we have to do it, and it is sometimes better to have done than to have only thought about and never stepped out and said; I’m going to do this anyway.

Since and still – I do it anyway. I feel the fear and do it anyway. Sometimes I fail. Often I do not succeed. I wonder sometimes if I am still at that corner, watching the varied timelines of myself, my mother, my father, my entire famille d’origine, walking these streets, living then, and now, up and down, sideways and inside, climbing the stairs of history, where once a good French restaurant existed and the young and beautiful went, and my mother told me stories of whom she saw there and what they did and we would all belly laugh and those days were good, because we were not apart.

One day I will receive a phone call from someone and they will tell me I will never see my mother rounding the corner again. She is limber still and walks like a teenager, light bodied, with hips that are not stiff. I wonder if I will walk like her at her age. I wonder if I will have anyone left who shares my blood or cares what happens to me when I am her age. I find myself obsessing over those moments, lost and gained, the blouse she wore with green and red, the puff sleeves and how I try to imitate and never quite … succeed. I have run after my mother since I was a little girl, calling her home just as I wished her well in her flight. I both wanted her happiness even if it meant not with me, and I longed for her to need me, to love me, to want me, this thirst that caused me to chase and feel shame for so many years, anyone who might replace or repeat, the pattern.

I don’t chase anyone anymore. I still wear hats. I still think of the dance classes and leaving them all sweaty and hot, how the city could be empty in those days, and you could walk into a little magasin de pain and stuff your face with hot dough. How I didn’t care about anything then, except this pretty belief all would work out and life would be beautiful. How naïve perhaps, but what happy memories, how lightweight they were compared to the darkness. I remember really believing I could dance for a living, I remember really believing I would find someone who would love me forever. I remember joking that I was not very good at doing things half-way and I was far too intense for just a short affaire d’été.

My love for my mother will always be with me. I am still somewhere in time sitting at the café, proving to myself I can recover from an illness, meet the love of my life, eat bread without a care in the world, return to a time when everything was unspoiled. I am still there watching the theatre close down and become a block of flats. I am still sitting there watching my old school friends walk their kids down the cobbled roads, telling them stories of when mommy and daddy were young. I am still a 16 year old running down the street in the night, the sound of music in my ears, trailing feather scarves between my best friend and I. All the time in the world ahead.

When do you say you are ‘better?’ or you are ‘recovered?’ when there are still days of lurching at sea? When do you stop giving thanks? How did you walk away when I was drowning and think I was deserving of that kind of betrayal? When does healing and recovery mean you have to get on with the rest of your life? Which means, getting up from the table, dusting off your coat, applying lip balm, pulling your hat to the side, shaking off your weariness and setting off into the distance.

Neither of us live in that city any longer, we are both tourists to the past. When you visit, you stay in the best hotels and shield yourself from the arms of the past in keeping preoccupied. When I come home, I walk with my arms open, down all the roads that carried all our blood and all our tears. I want to remember. I want never to forget, it’s my history, it’s who I am even as I wish I were not. There is beauty even in pain. Even in the remembering of you loving me briefly, of pleasing you once, of your deep laugh and the way we’d grin in collusion. Don’t you know those are the greatest moments I have? Why would I give them up? For an abatement of pain? I’d rather feel pain than be staring into nothing. il me détruit. C’est moi.

Mama. What are you doing today? Do you remember us laughing as we walked arm in arm back from the restaurant, high on life? And nothing between us? Do you remember when I brought you flowers every time I would visit, even as a little girl? Irises were your favorite. We liked to watch them come through at first thaw. Do you ever wonder what I’m doing? Where I am? Do you ever think you see out of the corner of your eye, a girl sitting alone at a café table, drinking chocolat chaud, dunking pain de massepain? I feel she would still, despite herself, get up and go to you if you ever called, if you ever waved your hand in her direction?

I was once told I love too much. I thought it was the nicest thing I’d ever been told.

Todays hat is burgundy. I gave up cigarettes and red wine many years ago. Sometimes I can taste her perfume, the one she wore when I was a child, as if it had briefly inhabited a moment, and then, just as quickly, retreated.

 

Ode to E — hijacked amygdala

I used to turn down drugs with frequent kiss of teeth from 13 years old when they came in the sticky palms of acne faced kids at parties all twinkly and bold, I said I didn’t need them, my teddy and my hope were salvage enough from any monsters, what need had I of medicated […]

via Ode to E — hijacked amygdala

FortuneTeller

People didn’t care

Just like with the Nightingale

The dead bird outside Starbucks

Didn’t warrant consideration

His feathers mottled by hot pavement

I felt

Bad I hadn’t noticed at first

But I’d been watching you walk

And recalling the depth of your coffee eyes

Whom of us lovers, has time

For dead birds

Finally a man thinks he’s brave to kick

Feathered corpse off to the side

Indicative of these times

I thought of the Happy Prince

Giving away his gold and jewel eyes

Enlisting a little bird to pluck

His riches to give to the poor

How I read that in school sitting

Elbow to elbow with sloe eyed kids who

Scratched their dry elbows raw

And the very same week we came across a dead bird

Its grave still beneath the weeping willow

Fastened by a Palm Sunday cross we’d kept unbroken in a book

Where children learn almost by hook and rook

Whether to practice compassion

Or not

I said to you; Oh look, it’s a poor dead bird

I wonder why it died? As if flung from the sky

And your eyes were hurt just as I knew they would

Because you are a grown child

I’d be bound to love

And we’d bury birds together

In every place they fell

Even if only a few care

Beginning in the playground

Watch them

Children will show you

Their future character.

Lace

32392084_477659045996610_4905939940182851584_o

On the outside

I button up well

zip my mouth in pink

comb my hair with calico

hold my faux ostrich skin purse close to chest

the powdered lady at the department store said;

yes, you will need to throw out your old bras and buy new ones

plumping her glossy lips as she showed me

a larger cup size and I

drank from my own, the last dregs of eleven am coffee

I couldn’t tell her

each one has a story, especially those broken

they smell of you still

their color is that of emotions I felt

when you unhooked them and took into your mouth

my wandering need

instead then, I nod acquiescent and purchase

three new bras for a stranger who is not me

black for night

white for day

violet for the hour

you again

lay your claim in my dreams

as I walk out, she waves and says;

you’ll be much more comfortable now

happy she’s done her job

dressing women with empty eyes in fine lace

she doesn’t know

for me, comfort is an emotion I have no need of

I like to feel your sharp ivory teeth

run across my skin and break

me open

spilling my seeds, red and glittering on the wet cotton

of our writhing impression

it’s more than bra size that cuts deep

leaving lines and circles of indigo and purple

colors for the bruises blooming inside

a field of damsons fallen from tree unpicked

for who now knows, how to make such wine?

I think of the times you tore

and rent and split

that wire artifice from my trembling frame

I remember the taste of blood on my lips

as I bit down in want and fire

for your fingers to beckon and curl

within the flexing circle of me

and that girl was smaller and opaque

like japanese lily she grew swollen with water

shedding her kimono stain beneath surface

swimming without need of air

to bend and contort like alabaster crane

between you and within you

her tongue no longer using words

to sate her impulse and your

hungering claim.

As I wait for the elevator

my head ever bowed in recollection

holding desultory purchase like fly swatter

I cross my neat legs and watch my shiny high heels

click together in tight voiceless longing

I am seen by all, as a demure, well-dressed woman

shopping without thought, her lips slightly open in musing

the mine of my mind is burning

for your take of me

and the memories

contained in

a crushed piece

of lace

Because you are not a stranger

Because you are not a stranger

usually I am too reticent, restrained, packaged away

in some hat box with a faded bow

to reach, to linger, to listen

I am a carefully tended garden without entrance

belies her wild interior and the need she has to be untamed

and still you spoke

tearing through the bower, the shrubbery, all my thorns

as natural if we had just been interrupted. having a long conversation

bounding into my life with that long-legged gait reminding me

of those California girls with skin you want to photograph

and ride on horses with until their cheeks get hot

no you are not a stranger

anymore than my French fatalism

is contrary to the opalescent sway of things

we all hang in some form or fashion

from our necks till light betrays our dreaming

and we must enter the sore lot of reality with something of

a bitterness

still tasting on our lips

that Chapstick kiss, faintly cherry

you have

known me before

we have existed before now

a familiar, in intonation and even

that shared day of birth

as if

the light

of the projector

and the quilt of screen

wrote us a history

far from dead ends that labor over hand outs

people who wear you down without

saying a word

with just the fatigue of their eyes

how they cannot see anything of that invisible world

we exist for.

You whisper; “with your eyes closed

you know the sound of my voice and its certainty

its pedantic, bordering on monotonous glee

because it is already familiar”

as something

grown before thought

had elected her bloom to

cover with fragrant reminder

every space of green with flower.

Sometimes even fear meets her match

in destined spots blessed by more than our

mortal hands

I think you have

some power of mind reading

when you turn the page

and set the needle to play

my tune of the winding road

I feel a circle

moving across my body

like a finger tip tracing

without permission and yet

necessary

the outline of my

shadowed self

brought into light.

You usher joy

spreading a scotch blanket

among simple earth and its undulation

though I would turn lobster red

obeying, the sun bleeds behind horizon as if

with the power of your intention

you had dimmed the switch.

Our hands wind together

yet

even if you hadn’t told me

even if I hadn’t known

your hands would have

given it away

as your mouth

a perpetual patient smile

looks to find

a way to speak

without words.

I would ask

what is your intention with my heart

like a concerned father

watching shifting eyes

only you stare back at me

unblinking and open

like a pearl within the care of its shell

it is always, you said, in the eyes

and I reply

how then did you know

before you found me?

when we had not yet

beheld the other?

To which you reply;

I wrote it first

I prayed for you

I dreamed it before

then you were there

holding me in your lonely eyes

like a lighthouse shall

dim only long enough

to light another wick

and surely

guide

sailors

to

shore

for the one who I know in my heart

knows me in hers

because you are not a stranger

and you never were.

Totems to that absence

It isn’t my weft to self torture

but on occasion, often bidden by

emotions tumbling from rusted cage

I try to restrain them

overtaking my control

then, you are there

in the sunlight streaming through paper blinds

hurting my eyes so that all but a whiteness

is felt behind closed eyes

the unceasing wetness of tears

cause my skin to feel chaffed

even in summer

you would think eventually

they would dry up, but they never do

just as you would think I’d stop

remembering so accutely or

longing so intensely for

things near and far away and closed

as to not exist

except in my urging of them

the you, that you were

confident, slick, arrogant

I have never liked arrogance

but behind it

a soul and a heart

I wished to conquer with my own

urge gentleness out of you

like impatient bird who cries

before it is morning

I often feel, if I allow it

that I was created for you

and despite this

you threw me away

because I could not survive, or pay my way in the world

if I did what you asked

you did not care about that

but only, what you would receive

and though I remember the light in your eyes

dimming and your kisses growing

less in intensity

there are days I wish only

to touch the moments

that for me, were happiest of my life

whether that is absurd or downright

sick

it really doesn’t matter anymore

now we are lost in time and space

spinning away from the other

more and more, with every passing moment

and that hurts as if it were a fresh wound

though it is old and many times healed over

that healing is a lie

because I am never okay

without you and this you knew

when you left, it was to take

the part of me I loved best and

the capture of my heart

the days afterward were

inconsequential even though I tried

to bring meaning back, it was as if

color and sound had fled

only the flowers I bought you

linger in my mind

their lovely pink and the way

flowers must always die

just as

time kills

but does not destroy

the original love

or its resulting

pain

I do not want to spend

more years sitting at tables alone

watching my tears grow cold as

the light captures me in a moment

of you

and how you were

when you didn’t yet know

you would always leave me

the radiance of your smile

still lights my heart

followed by a pain

knowing

that version of you

shall never exist again

that love for me is now

grown over and neglected

by irrevocable doors closing

we did not know, would sabotage

something as true

as the feeling

of us

I still believe if you’d

searched your soul you

would not have let go

for life gives us few

if any

perfect

memories

too often we remain

eternally haunted by

totems to

that absence

Back to life

What is this place that one returns to?

for some, possible, easy even

to put aside a person, shelve them with other memories

like a box of postcards growing yellow

whilst I was always the girl who climbing on top of boxes

found the postcards and brought them down

splayed like restless tarot on my lap

try to fathom, walk back into time

absent people, love letters sent to

girlfriends now married, unrecognizable

childish handwriting, burst of emotion scored in yesterday’s colors

I have always liked stories and wanted

to read the secret histories of those

who would not share them with me

so your letters I had to put

in a green river one by one

for fear if they were not wet and destroyed

I’d read over and over til you came back to life

finding myself

running lonely highway to your home

knocking on your still familiar door expecting to see

your living breathing face, cheeks infused with color

smiling in that way only you did

when I stood before you.

When someone has died

they steal air from the room

leaving behind closed windows

rattling against wind and chill

you have to go in with heavy shoes

make noise, shake cold from your bones

open them wide until pure sunlight

blinds primal darkness

I recall

how your hair looked when

sun stroked it in streams of light

how unbroken perfection of your skin

resembled fruit, summer time and children

lolling about in gardens upsidedown, tongue out

though you were older, I always felt

protective in that way I imagine a parent may

reaching for their child, smelling joy and motion

of their life laid out ahead in patient sillouette

I have always been remote and stood away

from frilled crowd with hidden daggers

content to observe and only participate

in flung arms of dancing and those raw easy things

not requiring sustained inspection

it takes a lot for me to wish

to share myself with another

to open up those parts of me, I struggle to reconcile.

unceasing criticism can close off even the thirsty traveler desperate

to sit by warming fire and stoke shadows to divination.

With you, we were two unsupervised kids

sitting on the dusty floor of my attic

opening boxes of memories with fearless hands

we talked without fear, then as

day began to show her pink slip in sky

I’d take your slim arm and lead you

into my bed where

light enveloped our heads like halos and we tasted the rapture of undisturbed acceptance

see in the eyes of one born of me

part of you

our mingled DNA taking lilac wing

in the electricity of love making

I could smell you on me afterward

and loathe to bathe

stayed writing by the window

watching you cycle away

the strong muscles in your skinny legs peddling like

knock-kneed urchin

turning the corner

always leaving

the circumfrance of you behind

radiating on the road

like a mirage

and in my hair and on my body

a ghost or whisper of

someone absent and close

if I could have kept you safe

or stopped time

but the heart is a closing flower

once damaged she ushers her dancers

fold into velvet, trap the dream

we were strangers, then siblings

of sorrow and laughter

like night and day play

on the fringe of their fading

your dusky skin against my pale

never enough time

to say what I wanted to say

in language untranslatable

to mortal minds

we existed as pollen

carried on high wind will

strike new life into that which sleeps

drousy and given over to liquid day

and I have never returned to that place

without a throat full of pain

wanting to call your name

hear your return

the indent of your existence

anything but

silence