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.

 

SMITTEN authors share their favorite poems in SMITTEN – Lynne Burnett

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So far, my favourite poem is by Jennifer Mathews: “What He Gave Away” on page 75/77 (depending on your version). It’s an honest narrative with a light touch, grounded in good childhood memories about her grandfather and then the reality of her grownup life and love, apparently at odds with him (‘Four years since I’ve been told not to visit”).

What’s difficult for some families to address or acknowledge tends to erase the person they loved from their minds – until, as in the poem, she shows up unexpectedly and can relate face to face with her grandparents, who actually welcome her back into their lives.

This situation is relatable and Jennifer’s grandfather is entirely believeable (and humourous) and the poem, with just the right amount of earthy detail and voice, ends on such a lovely, redeeming note (“I am back in the family”).

And it’s interesting to me too that the grandfather’s gifts of imperfect fruit, stale bread, wilting flowers suggest he’s able finally to take his granddaughter back into his heart exactly as she is, as we all are—perfect in our imperfections.

By Lynne Burnett.

Lynne Burnett is a SMITTEN author and published Poet and Writer. You can purchase her collection of poetry, IRRESISTIBLE, here. Lynne’s poetry website is https://lynneburnett.ca/

To read more SMITTEN poets purchase a copy in time for the holidays and share this incredible project with someone you love. SMITTEN is available via Barnes & Noble, Amazon and Ingram for any independent bookstore. Consider supporting SMITTEN each purchase COUNTS and lifts up the visibility of 120 incredibly talented poets and artists who created this beautiful collection of poetry and art.

Encroachment

You saw your disintegration

In the shrouded reflection of a store window

Already losing custom

And for years prior

Women adjusted hose and children’s grubby faces wiped

In that smeared glass

It held

Decades

Like high cheekbones

Will shore up time in a beautiful face

I saw my eyes fail me

In the encroachment

Of some uninvited color

As if the sun

Greedy for attention

Had left a permanent marker
The doctor

With his accentless voice

And starched finger tips

Probing my retina

For answers like a tarot card reader

Will shuffle and cut her deck

Declared me blemished

Stained by time

Imperfect

Possibly going blind, wrapped in news print

And I laughed

The same laugh my grandma had

When terrible news was delivered

Along with cold dishes and

Empty seats where once our ancestors sat

Filling the roost of our quaking bones

Marking time and Advent

She would raise a thin lipped glass

Of “this n’ that”

To Gods and Monsters

To Plato, Communism and Woody Allen (before we knew we was a paedophile)

There should be a preface to every memory

She said; toasting velvetine shadows

Swilling away the horror

Like a rinsed mouth will always be

More kissable

And come New Year’s Eve

We’ll forget our enemies and join shoulders

Kicking our long legs into space to the chime of twelve

Not yet knowing

What will become if those flung into the future

To forge ahead alone

Unsupported in ancestry

Just the sound of voices

A snatch of tune

The smell of half finished dinner, paused forks suspended in song

Stewing pears over cheap white wine

Her hands red like mine

From scrubbing too hard

That blemish

It won’t come out

So it sinks

Orange streaks of sunlight beneath green orbit

And a stranger in a bar once remarked;

You have gorgeous eyes like they came from the depth of sea

All green and lost

And I think of loss

A stray button, a missed appointment

Maybe I won’t return

To the doctor who found my stigmata

Bleeding like a fish cut on rocks

Into the very bones of earth

See? I don’t anymore, my eyes look inward

In the old days we toasted with pink cut glass

It was all anyone could afford

And I remind my American friends of this

Poverty after the war

A tendency to never feel

Safe

Like city foxes

Scour

Empty streets

For scraps

And squint

At the harsh glare of street lamps

Attracting insects

Bleached yellow

By the piercing quality

Of their intent

Auction

Our love

is a silent auction

I raise my hand

and bid

on the deep of your brown eyes

falling each time

we piroet about the other

orbiting stars catching up

for the lifetime we spent apart

I cannot get closer

though each time, I try anew

to become the parts that are not me

when you are absent

my world dims as if cateracts

attach instantly

robbing me of clarity

out of focus

I can stand the temperature

of this betrayed land

the sorrow she buries

beneath each leaden day

If you continue to exist

grace me once or often

with the warmth of your regard

you see, I am born to live

only by your word

and when you put me out and say

make your own way now girl

I turn to filament, to pencil lead

crushed beneath the dismissal

fade away

only seen

by your gaze

waking me from loss

bringing life in your gaze

like a black cat

stalking gently

convinced the game

of hunter and prey

is beautiful

SMITTEN

For the sake of SMITTEN, a project I believe in more than anything I have ever done before, I have asked close friends to take over my social media rather than close it down, so that SMITTEN can continue to flourish and succeed.

In my absence, due to my severe eye-sight-issues, my friends will be running the SMITTEN Facebook page and all SMITTEN related materials. Our goal is to ensure SMITTEN is successful in all ways. Sales are one way of legitimizing a project and ensuring its authors are HEARD.

Obviously LGBTQ projects are harder to sell than others, but it is my hope SMITTEN can continue its success through the rousing support of all those who believe in LGBTQ equality and the rights a woman has to love another woman. Please consider supporting SMITTEN – each sale helps raise visibility and gives SMITTEN authors another opportunity to share their unique and beautiful voices.

SMITTEN news and updates can be found here

SMITTEN is for sale at Amazon and Barnes and Noble. If you support local bookstores please ask them to stock SMITTEN using Ingram. If you cannot afford a Kindle copy or hard copy please ask your local library to get a copy of SMITTEN via Ingram. It doesn’t take much and it means everything to the 120 authors and poets of SMITTEN. Indie publishing doesn’t flourish without our support as a community!

Goodbye for now

In the New Year I am going to do something drastic. I’m going to close all my social media down and take the majority of my books/work offline/out of bookstores. The work that will remain is what I’m most proud of; SMITTEN This Is What Love Looks Like (an anthology, 2019), We Will Not Be Silenced (one of 4 editors/contributors, 2018) and Pinch the Lock (Finishing Line Press, 2016).

When I began, I really believed I could contribute something valuable to the world through the medium of writing. I saw many other people trying but I did not know how many and since 2015 I have seen that there is a glut of people all self-publishing, indie publishing, small press publishing, all with the same ‘dream’ of being a legit writer. Mostly wasting hours on social media futilely. I realize 99.9 percent will never be. The only ones who can do it are those on disability, who get a cheque without needing to work, or supported by husband/wife/family or you’re a retiree. If you DO have to work for a living then it’s rare you can put in enough work to even get to the indie publishing stage.

There are exceptions. One of my real friends whom I did meet on social media works full time and is one of the hardest workers I know. She will succeed I have no doubt about it. She goes home from a hard days work and produces consistently some of the best work I’ve read online. People like her are rare. They are one in a million. Others have the talent to do it but it will depend upon if they have the time to make it happen (you know who you are) but the vast majority have neither the talent, nor the ability to make it happen.

When I began writing I thought I was a pretty good writer. When you read some of the stuff online it’s easy to see why I thought that, a lot of it is really poor quality. On the other hand you need to be either absolutely brilliant or someone who is in the know, to get a really big publisher. I am neither absolutely brilliant nor ever going to be someone who is in the know/networked up to the hilt. Even those who everyone talks about as having a ‘good publisher’ actually don’t. They just secretly vanity press pay or exaggerate how much they actually earn. To earn a living wage as a writer unless you are an editor, it’s the 1 percent of the 1 percent.

I don’t want to be an editor. It’s a thankless job and underpaid. I have qualifications and I am going to use those and return to my previous career, hard as it is, it can earn me what I will need to take care of myself in the future. Maybe no job will be different, maybe I will always be taken for granted and used but I want to do it on my own terms. I have always supported myself from the age of 18 and I always will until I cannot any longer. I have never had any help.

Lastly, most of you don’t know but I was recently diagnosed with a very serious eye-condition that means I am losing my sight. I realize I have to adjust NOW rather than when it is completely gone. I doubt I will still want to live if I go completely blind and I have decided if that day comes I will elect for euthanasia as I am not someone who wishes to live as a completely blind person. Especially as I have no family who will care for me. However, if that day doesn’t come or it gives me 20 more years, (which is unlikely) I still need to change my life to ensure my eyes do not worsen.

As some of you know I had battled a serious illness in 2017 which radically changed my life. It was caused by a virus and I am still sick with it but I have learned to live with it and am high functioning despite it not having completely gone. I believe it will one day completely go but it is a long painful battle. I thought that was enough to deal with but in addition to this my mother told me she no longer wanted me in her life ever again. She and I have had our ups and downs but naively I thought as she aged we would get closer. I have always loved her very much even though she was not in my life that much. When she told me this during my illness, effectively kicking me when I was down, it was the last straw. She knew she’d hurt me as badly as she could ever hope for. She succeeded. To protect myself I accepted what she said and have tried to get on with my life knowing she will not be part of it. It has hardened me and I am bitter about it but I will never be as cruel to someone else as that. I will never succumb to cruelty to deal with my own pain.

On a positive note, I am stronger for all of this. But having the eye sight issue on TOP of all of the above, was just too much. I do have it in me to change my life. I have decided to once more change my life. I am not going to carry around the rejection, fear and grief of her hate of me or anything else, anymore. When I began my blog/writing in 2015 I felt it was a chance to try my hand at writing. I don’t regret doing that but I see now realistically I have to move on.

If you know me, truly know me, and have my number and my address and we talk, then I am bound to call you real friend and will keep in touch. When you get sick you realize who your friends are and it is a good clarity. For those of you I call friends thank you for your friendship and I hope we keep in touch. We may not as we may no longer have anything in common but I wish you all much success.

SMITTEN will be my last personal project in the publishing world for the foreseeable future, although I have also been involved in YOU DON’T LOOK SICK and hope Indie Blu(e) recognizes me for that when it is published next year. SMITTEN is a wonderful ending to this chapter in my life. It is a testimony to the talent of women when they come together. Just because we are minorities doesn’t mean we support each other and lift each other up. I hope projects like SMITTEN help future women do JUST THAT because THAT is what is needed. We need to be good to one another! To support one another!

I want to personally thank the following whom I have met on WP for their loyalty, friendship, goodness and inspiration. I think you are incredible human beings; Mark. Eric. Derrick. Bob. Crystal. Erik. Jane. Karen. Raili, Rita. Susi. Anthony. Laurie, Tony. Nicole. Tara. Helena. Philip. Sarah. Tremaine & Monique. Thank you to Christine and Kindra for letting me work for Indie Blu(e) I really hope all the work I did helped and you succeed. Rita.

RIP Natalie Scarberry you are loved.

Thank you to anyone who read anything of mine. I appreciate you. I wish you only the best.

Candice Louisa Daquin

Stay

The hand of darkness

Swallowing me whole

Time leaves no trace

Perhaps we were never

Two souls beating in tangent

Urgency flooding veins

A build of want till

All is naught, begun again

My hand outstretched

Your mouth, oh your mouth

Red for pressing closer

Embrace loss before she damns you further

Every day hence

Your eyes in my head

The shapes of trees bending against wind

I ache within myself

For your solace and brand of hurt

Like match struck on earth we burn

Fumes and fire, the careless touched by scour

Here you left your mark my breast bone

Exposed to cold, your lips devouring skin

What colors we make unknown

As moon is echoed in deep dark water

I am restless, destroyed, parched

Without your sustaining force

The weight of your need, absorbing air

They say no one feels that long

We all give in to loss eventually

I turn in my mind to the memory

Only yesterday, only now

Slow removal of touch, still the impression

Like shadowed dream crosses from one place to another

I follow

When you are lost

I uncover

The hide of us

Secreted in promises broken

Still the shards of glass glitter

I see you hold one to our throat

I see you cleanly slice us through

Division and sewn for next season

Deep in fecund earth I stay

Your taste on my lips, your smell infusing

For I am a thing of your interest

Existing when you create

The words whispered in darkness

Come here, come closer, stay

Oh stay …