It was possible something minutely divine was at play, in the vein of spying the last ripe avocado, or ripping the tag off a new shirt. Life just seemed a little better for the sinfulness. A message here or there, a provocative dream, a craving late at night when they were each alone. If only they knew what was a beginning and what was a detour.
As the daughter of an artist and a pilot, my earliest experience with self-expression was uniquely visual and innovative. While other children were given a coloring book or set in front of a television, my mother cleared our dining table and covered it in shaving cream, our hands and imaginations our only tools. All in good fun, my siblings left creation to the table where it was easily wiped clean. I, however, began to see canvases everywhere; the white couch was the first to go, executed via finger painting with chocolate pudding. Food was an obvious medium, as were sheets, blankets, etc. Moving out of the suburbs and onto four acres of unspoiled Blue Ridge wonderland opened my eyes to the perfect visual mess of nature. To this day, I hold the image of those forests in my mind with unadulterated love; I named my favorite trees and rock piles, collecting characters with which to fill my wandering mind. All this was merely my soul’s preparation for that undiscovered lifelong dream, which caught me up unawares like a spotted gecko in young chubby fingers. My brother was flipping through Where The Wild Things Are, when I fell into the dream from which I’ve never awoken; the thrill of hearing a word and seeing the truth in your mind’s eye. Suddenly everything seemed to be locked into harmony, a silent dance for the soul. Each word unfolded secret worlds; this was it, my perfect medium. Language, with its endlessly reinventable forms, grasped my heart tenderly and desperately as if I’d been a wild thing.
Thus my love affair with Writing began, struck like a match at 4 years old and never extinguished. Over time our relationship has evolved, often coerced into new forms and directions as life delivered new preoccupations to my feet. Fear and Loneliness came early, as long trips meant constant goodbyes and reunions with my father. I knew where Depression hid each time he left; it hung in my mother’s eyes each morning before school and each night before bed, when Aaron and Hannah and I switched off sleeping next to her each night. Writing swiftly adapted these small hurts into whimsy, romanticizing my parent’s story despite absence. As time went on the absence seemed to come home with him, as if flying had emptied his bones of marrow and replaced it with an intangible distraction.
A change of scenery, then, an infusion of marshland and Spanish moss to animate the ghost of their marriage. Writing ran with this new world, rich with marronnage and wizened oaks, and I threw myself into her believing language could save us all. And yet Depression crept back in, and distance carved hairline fractures like tidal creeks in our bones. I was thirteen when we shattered apart, when my eldest brother, my anchor Aaron, was flooded and torn away. Suicide is a sooty rag which wiped our eyes blind, and no matter how hard we fought, we could never locate our target. My parent’s held onto Hannah and I like oxygen masks in a plane crash, but when the salt water began to chill our feet they looked at each other and had to let go. We’ve all survived on different rafts. My mother was carried away on Art, my sister on Religion, my father on Logic. Writing bore me to Baltimore, an Atlantis for the drowned and drowning. I’ve never stopped searching for Aaron, I hope to find him again clinging to magic, which perhaps carried him far away. Perhaps even to the island of the wild things.
Even now, as my heart still beats, I can feel the molt begin. Pavement under my boots crumbles into sand. My nightly hot showers mock the sea. My skin may as well be scales, or shell. I taste only salt. I look at her and am scooped into a bucket to be poked and studied and emptied dead into a toilet. If only my memory would follow suit, so that trapped in this bowl all my life would be only the last two seconds. Instead I’m cursed with the recollection of the scent of her shampoo, the curve of her hip under my hand, her sleeping sighs. We were barely anything, and yet in that moment, she was my only way of being.
In a matter of hours all that passed between us was turned to ash, just fertilizer for the real love of her life. The look on her face said that’s all it ever was. And yet she seemed sad. If I were a crab I’d have no sorrows. If I were a crab, I would have scurried myself sideways out of her life and my shell would peel off slowly and each atom of my time with her could be discarded into the Gulf Stream. Instead, my heart and my skin are all too soft. I am exposed. Her eyes pierce into my veins and halt the flow of blood. I’d rather be upside down in a tank, playing dead until pipes shoot me into the world of my birth.
It’s time to go home. My mother will welcome me with enchiladas and vodka crans and I’ll fall asleep on her porch swing until the humid wind rattles the palmettos. I’ll watch the bats reel after Carolina mosquitos and finally – finally – my blood will begin again to circulate. How does one come to life again if they’ve never been dead?
Tomorrow I’ll wake to the ether and seek the color of her in the darkness. Buttery red, the flush of pale skin mid-laugh. Her essence will be my only guide back to the earth, where I will take the form of wind in Spanish moss. Where she goes I will go. What she feels I will feel. She falls in love each day with her chosen one, and I will occupy rejection as though trapped in the hull of a boat, listening to the music and dancing above me. I hope she makes her happy. I’d hate to float through their shared life if it becomes miserable. Although, perhaps I will be able to provide her some comfort in ways I couldn’t while alive. I will manipulate the sunlight to shine on her face, I will play leaves across her path, ensure the rain never chills her, the wind never scorches her cheeks or nose. One way or another, I will continue to love her.
I don’t believe in angels, but I’m certain ghosts fill the marshes with their breath, the crabs scatter at their feet, and the burdens they bear bend the reeds. If not with her, I will haunt the swamps. Maronage will be my eternity and I will play in the pluff mud with the snails and serpents, one with the decay and growth of those living things the heartless humans despise. I will climb the reeds with the periwinkles. I will tunnel with the ghost crabs. I will wade endlessly aside the great egrets and at last learn the secrets of silent splashing.
The marshes where my mother molded me will again become my home. At least I will be at peace if not loved. When invisibility doesn’t suit, I can cover myself with silt and raze the swamp as an apparition of dissolution. The creatures won’t mind, I will be one with them. My limbs will lengthen and split, my palms will curl inward into great claws, my skin will harden with salt, my eyes shrinking, my nose withering and falling off. I will claim the ghost crabs as my heirs, we will rule the underworld of the marshes and the tides will be ours alone. Somewhere, she will feel the rhythm of the moon shift, she will be called to the ocean, where she will feel the sands tremble, and I’ll be there beneath her feet.
The events of that night woke me to the world a new person. New, though, suggests an improvement upon the old and that’s certainly not the case. That night I became less than I was before, when I had the hope of her.
I realized upon waking, that if I were to die this moment, all of my eternity would be occupied solely in finding her again – or pieces of her – in the remaining world. I’d haunt her. I’d follow her wife and their children until they too died, and then I would haunt their empty home as if to glean what happiness they had together, of which I know I’ll never be a part.
I stew in the inevitability of decline from this day forward. She is done with me, but each time I see her I am reminded of life she brought into me, of the soft kisses, the broken embraces, the apologies spoken but unintended. I am encumbered with the weight of her indifference. It pins me down and it feels as if the face of reality has slipped away and revealed the mask beneath. The dream has ended and the nightmare has begun…