all i can say is that my brain broke. beyond that, i don’t know how to describe to people what grief and trauma sensed like to me. first i convinced myself that i was a ghost; i had to be dead, i haunted, i passed without sensing or being sensed. then i determined i must exist on a plane parallel to the one all else occupied and thrived and moved and lived. i could move alongside them through gossamer, being with them without being with them. then i thought my mind must be vapor, hovering above my body but not of it. everything became vapor i could not condense or collect on my fingertips. i could feel everything and nothing at every moment the size of water molecules.
i used to like the malleable routine and conceptual existence as a student, working in and from my wondering/wandering body. but as something not of her body, conceptual became too corporeal. as vapor, i was encapsulated and nebulous. everything and nothing in harmony.
embodying oneself again is a painful process. slipping back on rough skin and electric nerves and heavy head and form (intent) and pressures that prick and push and insecurities that puncture and anxieties that pick apart. embodiment is everything hurts. embodiment is sleeping and not sleeping. embodiment is constants and lack. embodiment is space in/out. embodiment is a sense of time. time is nearing two years since her body stopped breathing and i exhaled myself out of my body and she and it and everything became vapor that couldn’t be moved through. became vapor i wanted to remain in because it meant not losing her molecules. embodiment is progressing and accumulation and loss. but it is not always heavy, and i can drop as i can carry.
[a note to myself that labors to unburden myself of guilt in progressing in my studies/degree because doing so moves time forward and away from her. that respects what my mindbody has been through. that refuses linearity and progress as forward. that appreciates more and more what it means to mend but not fix.]
happy i got out last friday for a zine workshop at the central branch of onondoga county library facilitated by syracuse in print [ jason luther & patrick williams ]. i didn’t have an idea in mind && let it emerge by scissoreye/unarticulated sensations. i created “ghost stories”.
I am sitting at my desk. This seems worth noting, momentous, because it means I’m sitting still. Stillness is anything but—it brings a too strong sense of body of which every nerve feels. In stillness I am covered in delicate cilia responsive to every vibration wave particle. The realization of stillness ruptures. I try to spend each day in a blur of non-consciousness, refusing to be still. Sleep is still. Quiet is still. Alone is still. Work is still. The realization of stillness brings panic.
I can inventory the last month in miles put on my car, hairs fallen from head, coffee cup rings, and the learned topography of packages in the twenty four hour grocery. But I can’t account.
Perpetual motion takes its toll. Raw nerves, eyes that water, a body that aches, a mysterious rash in the shape of a Christmas tree, electric migraines, blackouts. An inventory of body that refuses the account of embodiment.
I am sitting at my desk, but my leg shakes and my fingernails dig their way into my palms and my jaw cracks.
I want to remember her laugh and not the sound of her teeth cracking.
(I readied myself for her passing but not for her dying.)
The law of the conservation of mass requires that during any reaction in a closed system, the total mass of the reactants or starting materials must be equal to the mass of the products. The vibrancy of her living had to be equal to the violence of her dying.
(I told myself as she slipped in and out of seizures (seven). As I tried to keep her molars from cracking. As I tried to remove dried blood from her lip.)
In the moment, I was the only one in the living room. The hospice nurse had come early after a fitful sleepless night (three). Limbs bent back at angles acute lay soft. Breathing of her own volition calm shallow rhythms.
The law of conservation of mass implies that mass can neither be created nor destroyed, although it may be rearranged in space, or the entities associated with it may be changed in form. I told her she is not her body. That she would be redistributed equal to her serenity.
(I told myself as she ceased in this form with soft breath. As I felt the air around me move.)
[and I can’t make you understand why it is that I can look at my hands for hours and not lose a moment]
[I watched them fall asleep on the couch, my mother’s legs across my father’s lap (hyperreal). Such distant intimacy felt as though I was looking at a hologram depicting mundane life of the past (a work of daily art). My museum shrine home.]
[Friday my shower timed with the mounting afternoon thunderstorm. I tilted the angle of my head until the sound of water cascading had the same sound as rain hitting the roof as I lie in bed listening at the ceiling.]
[I met my parents in a Love’s truck stop parking lot outside of Toledo on my drive from Madison to Syracuse. As my dad transferred my cats from their truck to my car, I talked to my mom. It was the first time I saw her wearing a headscarf. A few days earlier she sent a photo my grandmother took in the hallway—the juxtaposition of her small frame with the doorframe, her smile with surfacing sickness. I stood in front of her thinking of that photo. She was smiling. She hugged me; as she stepped back the wind caught her scarf, blowing it off her head and across the parking lot. She started to cry covering the top of her head. The distant back lighting of fluorescent bulbs in the dark and the tight shot of her face made by my proximity made the moment feel cinematic.]
my mother’s hair is falling out. she collects it in handfuls, remarking each one before laying it tenderly in the small trashcan beside her bed. i looked in there, it gathering her. i cried each night on my visit home at pieces of her lost, mourning the her that is lessening. but she is everywhere in the house: loose strands, used syringes, imprints of her form on pillows, and the rhythm of the bodies around her.
I look to my sewing kit as though I could embody knotted string pulled through insides taut. When asked, I already have “I’m okay” poised on tip of tongue and face tight. I make lists so as not to forget; everything gets an annotation tightly kept. At times I get lost looking at photographs; chest relaxes in breath and I remember I can smile. I must inventory and archive. Tick. I receive litanies of food tray items and object markers on slow walks. I thread together combinations of words and phrases sent to me across text strings: tropical atrium, leukocyte count, box of chocolate, Müllerian adenocarcinoma, “mom sends a big kiss”, epithelial tissue, “her spirit is high”, subcutaneous drain. Every update brings loose tears but I type tight statements emphatic. I mark days passed on my calendar and press back those we await. Tick. Tight. I oscillate between detachment through preoccupation and through lying prostrate. Let loose/hold tight. I exist in the limbo that is this room turning into that one, in time that passes without passing. Diagnosis too loose, no time. Tick. My dad sends photos that I can’t differentiate from hospital bed and plastic tube and day; I let the background blur liquid until myopic I see her smile. I try to speak smile on speaker as nurses come in and out, adjustments are made (tight), and utterances become ambience (loose). Tight voice frays, eyes loose. The corners of my mouth too tightly lifted, I talk to the insurance company about BRCA screening and try to laugh about the phrase “genetic counselor”. The joke is on them. I daydream tight string cell borders loose as we become that which flows between shared smiles. Unraveled but bound.
As someone interested in visualizations of information and composing image texts, I have been thinking about what I would create to illustrate (make visible) the cancer that consumed/s the women in my family. It seems morbid, or at least uncomfortable, to want to depict the disease without emphasizing narratives of overcoming or resilience, that letting it be seen as it is disembodies the bodies that have nurtured it. I have watched videos of surgeries on women that exist only as torsos or of cartoon monster cells sneaking throughout the body, and images that are illustrations of tumors forcing tissue into distorted asymmetries and photographs that look like alien fruit. I can see my own diagnosis as typeface and an exercise of balance and white space on the page, as calendar tickmarks taking inventory of days and anomalies in patterns of pain, and as Rorschach bloodblots that I am too fearful to interpret. I could show my family tree with attention drawn to deep bark carved, extending back, to the bough my mother and I now share. I could show each type of cancer with its corresponding woman/body: breast ___________, ovarian _____________, uterine ______________, cervical _________________. Not to forget the nodal tissues connected to these networks of disease as they thrived and spread: pectoralis major, kidney, colon, liver, fallopian tubes—trace the intractions. I could create charts that depict the age of diagnosis, comparisons of treatment undergone, or the duration of the disease. Or perhaps an archive of the women (of which I am living materiality), or poems and paintings of the affective dimensions of the rhetorics of silence and pain and disembodiment. Of strength and resilience. Or faces of women I love.