Our Word :: Week 3 Day 4 & 5 :: {Secrets} {Letters}

by Cassie

Hey Self,

Let’s just go ahead and do this, let’s talk about that secret code of sad shit, the secret handshake of grief, how your secret passwords are all lowercase-no-numbers tragedies.

Let’s talk about Scott and how you’d just gotten to the age where you could do things together, and how your stupid swiss cheese memory won’t even recall any specifics of that night at the bowling alley, just shoes and lights and the clanking of a couple of lucky strikes, how you guys used to pull his armpit hairs for no reason other than he was your big brother and he let you because he was born with a heart too kind to make it through, and he always let you win at tetherball, and that time you accidentally swung it right into his nuts and he dropped like a bomb going off and you stood in horrified silence until he waved a hand to let you know he was okay, except he wasn’t, he never was, and let’s talk about how you didn’t go to the funeral because you watched the little kids, and how you had nightmares for years about his brains all over the walls of his mother’s house, and how he was there and then he wasn’t there and then he was there again but only as a giant picture over the TV and no one ever talked about him anymore because it hurt too much but all that silence hurt even more, just a big ball of hurt in the back of everybody’s throat and when we couldn’t swallow around it anymore, we kind of stopped trying and so it just lived there, strep throat of the soul, and then we all just imploded and some of us crawled back towards each other and some of us walked away and all of us said his name in our sleep sometimes.

Let’s talk about six months before that when you hated eighth grade so much and felt so ignored and invisible that you almost wished you’d have some big horrible thing happen to you so at least people could tell you how sorry they were, and then Aunt Susie got cancer, lung cancer, not even forty and she never even smoked, and for years you were convinced it was your curse, your selfish need to be seen that invaded her body and shut it down from the inside out, and she was always your favorite, but when you went with them the last time you almost ran out of the room because all her freckles had melted together and her skin was yellow and her hair was gone under her obscenely bright scarf and when you hugged her it wasn’t that familiar sinking in sensation, all you could feel was her ribs poking at you like fingers in accusation, and you stood in the shower and sobbed so hard it felt like your neck would simply snap like the stalk of a top-heavy flower, and you couldn’t even tell her good-bye and you were fourteen and too old for this baby shit, but you just couldn’t, and you curled up on the floor of the van and tried to pretend you were asleep, and they whispered above you it’s okay she understands she knows it’s hard on her, and you heard that and wanted a reverse-wish to make it you instead, and then she died and nobody at school even knew because you never told them.

Let’s talk about that girl whose name you can’t remember, the one who came to youth group sometimes and you were maybe thirteen and she was a couple of years younger and her mom fell asleep at the wheel on the way back from Florida and they were all thrown out of the windshield and she died and you had to go to her viewing and you’d never seen a dead body before, especially not one so young, and her face so still and the makeup made her look so old, and it was the first time you really understood how fleeting it all is and it scared you so much you wet the bed that night, not her, she didn’t scare you, just the impermanence of life, of everything, and several years later you were at a performance of “Heaven’s Gates, Hell’s Flames”, and her mom was sitting right in front of you in a sleeveless tank top and her shoulders were a mass of road rash scars, and you knew what was coming and felt powerless to stop it, and she sat through a couple of minutes of the simulated car accident before the sobs washed over her and she got up and walked out, and you wondered how anyone ever got over anything like that, and you wondered why she wore sleeveless shirts, and you wondered why you were even there, and you never went again.

Let’s talk about Cristy, how everything about her was how you wanted to be, that voice like a goddamn angel, and that snub nose, and how she reminded you so much of Anne Shirley, and she taught you about tanning and horses and the three of you wrote your names in the mud with summer sticks about to break from the heat, you wrote C+C+C, and you loved her the way you can only love in childhood, and she got laryngitis the day of the talent show and sang anyway because that’s how she was and she had that white pantsuit, looking like a goddamn angel, and then that call, that Sunday morning, tear stained paper with everybody’s numbers, everybody calling everybody, everybody asking if it was true, and it was, and the details were just too much to take, all of them broken one way or another, and at the funeral home, how her brother stopped talking and moving, just stopped, and the men had to carry him out, and her coffin had three birds on the silk lining, and when you rode home with him,¬† you put your head in his lap and that was all there was for so long, your head lost in someone’s lap, and that first night, you dreamed you heard her walking up the stairs and you were too scared to see her so you buried your nails in your wrist and made yourself wake up, and later you brought a pair of her jeans home with you, and a shirt you never wore that still hangs in the back of your closet.

Let’s talk about your dad, Jesus God, your dad, and the way he swayed in the wind when he came home drunk, the day he told you the Navy was going to kill him, the way the light slanted in through the closed blinds, the way she slapped your face to stop your screaming but also just because she enjoyed it, getting to lay hands on you for once, no taking her frustrations out on her own kids this time, no kicking her four year old in between the legs until she bled and whispered to you in the bathroom at summer camp so you could help clean her up, no lifting her up by the roots of her hair, no jumping on her son, no this time she got to feel your skin under the stinging of her palm, and let’s talk about how afraid you were of the knives in the dishwasher when she was around because you didn’t know if she would use one, you didn’t know if he would use one, you didn’t know if you would use one, and you had to sneak peanut butter by the spoonful when she wasn’t looking because you were always hungry that summer, and you had to leave that morning and walk barefoot with your brother for hours on hot Virginia asphalt and when you come back, there was bewilderment and melted ice cream on the counter, and once he bought you a belt buckle engraved with the letter “G” and a cheap cowboy hat and it was a short phase but it seemed to please him so you pretended to be a cowgirl for a while, until he left again, left a post-it note above your light switch, “good luck,” but it never was, not until so much later.

Let’s talk about 9/11, fucking 9/11 that no one can ever stop talking about, can ever stop grief-masturbating over, how sixteen blocks felt like a single breath, how you couldn’t breathe, and all that tear-streaked mascara and all those phones that wouldn’t work and Grace with lipstick on her front tooth telling us we could come stay with her if we needed to, Louie and his sandpaper palms, realizing that shock feels like you’re walking through a dream, the way you notice all the little details, the wrinkles in your white uniform, the way metal hangers smell just like the bathtub faucet, ashes ashes all the ashes, in people’s hair and eyelashes, perfect blue sky so ominous and people jumping at every noise looking up like we were all next, and that person on the ground, maybe run over, maybe a seizure, maybe a man maybe a woman, the bus went by slow but too fast for you to tell, and then you had to walk and walk, and you tied your shirt up under your bra because it was so hot and you were going to give blood but they didn’t need any, so the two of you sat outside the hospital and then started walking again, temporary refugees, it took eight hours to get from Rockefeller Center to Fordham, and a week later, you were walking again, with a different him, and he wanted to know why he got the broken you, and that was the moment you knew it was over, because you’d always been broken and you thought he knew that and it felt like a lie now, like buyer’s remorse, like a lemon law, and you went to work every day, took a train into Grand Central Station, and you looked at all those posters, all those people’s faces, all the hope fading just like the ink, and you were drowning on land, lungs full, and you left a mess behind, but you left, because you wanted to live.

Let’s talk about the first miscarriage, bleeding all over your underwear in a chair in an overpriced Manhattan restaurant on your anniversary, or the second miscarriage, the one that made you a little crazy for a little while, the one that swallowed you up and kept you down in its dark belly the whole winter and the whole spring, how you only knew for a week but it was long enough to make plans and it was long enough to start dreaming dreams, it was long enough to acknowledge that spark of life inside you that went out like a match on the wind, so quick, so quick, and the bathroom at the hospital was so cold, and it was the first time you’d heard of a transvaginal ultrasound and the wand was like an invading army but everything was already dead on the battlefield, and the midwife in her midnight blue was so kind, and there were pamphlets, and there were crisis numbers, and there was a sense of a pat on the head, and he came, in the rain, and we walked to the house together, and I called work and couldn’t even talk because I was crying so hard, and I got in bed and could forget for a few minutes at a time, until another cramp came, and I was lost at sea on top of all my tears and how it took so long, so fucking long, to start to feel human again.

Let’s talk about coming home to find her frantic on her bed, shit everywhere, literal shit, all over the green carpet, all over her pink satin pajama pants, underneath her fingernails, those long beautiful nails you’d loved your whole life, caked there where she’d tried so hard to wipe herself and couldn’t manage, and you told him to call the doctor, and the doctor told him to call an ambulance, and then she started stroking out while you were on the phone and god it was horrible strokes are so horrible and you turned her over on her side and that noise that noise she made that noise like pain and confusion and fear in one long foghorn of a note and there was frothy spit all over the pillowcase and they had to move half the furniture to get the stretcher in the bedroom and then you got to the hospital and there was waiting and waiting and waiting and then he showed you the dead parts of her brain and there wasn’t really much hope but she held on for three weeks until they had the hospice talk with us and we knew it was the right choice but you questioned it at 2 a.m. on her second day home, she tossed and turned and youhad to change her diaper and you knew if she knew she’d die right then, and you were so taken aback by her naked body, the sweet soft tuft of gray hair over her fragile pubic bone how it was sinking in a little like an overripe apple, how her vulnerability inspired so much tenderness, like a baby, and her lips had gotten so dry in the hospital that a black crust had formed on the bottom of the top one, and the day before she died, you finally worked up enough courage to pull it off, afraid to hurt her, but then you were so relieved to have it gone, to have her look human, and once she spoke, only once, when you had fussed and fussed over her and asked her if she was alright, if she needed anything, and she nodded and said “okay” and we couldn’t feed her or give her water but we could give her morphine and we did and we did and we did, to keep her comfortable, to keep us comfortable, and it started snowing that morning, and it was only the four of us and we knew she was going, and you held her foot so he could be by her side and the world narrowed down to each inhale and exhale until there wasn’t one, and it took the nurse two hours to get there, and you took pictures of her, and her mouth wouldn’t stay closed, and you still think about that.

There. THERE. Remember when you said a few years ago that you could never write unless you were sad, unless you were in a dark place? That was a lie, you were just too chickenshit to tell about the joy and the laughter and the good times because after all that, you got so superstitious, like naming anything you love would lead to its destruction. And remember how for a long time, you thought you’d had enough tragedy to make you immune to any more? That was a lie, there’s no lifetime limit on loss, on bad things falling on your head like an anvil, falling on your life like a piano from a tenth floor window. You can’t just recite the rough stuff like a rosary. But now, okay? now the ghosts are sitting right here in front of you, and you don’t have to forget them, and you don’t have to write about them, but you DO have to start living past them, you have to start writing about the shit that makes you get up in the morning, you have to stop haunting yourself. This is a secret map. Your words are a circle of salt the ghosts can’t get past. Sit down inside it and do something worthwhile, asshole.

I say that with love.