Attic-Leon Emphraim-faded.jpg

People are just layers and layers of secrets and he can see mine, I feel it. His eyes scour me, peeling away layer after layer and searching each one. I look into his steel-coloured eyes. I see nothing there. They’ve turned to glass. I feel my heartbeat everywhere and it has a thin, papery feeling to it, like it will make a crunching sound if pressed too hard. And then, and then, he steps out of the light, and shadows, like dark water, slip into his eye sockets. So, without a word, without a sound, and holding my breath, I turn and begin to walk away from him. I quicken my pace, pressing into the distance before me until everything between us becomes a vapour ~ all of it, the secrets, the lies, the suspicions and even the tender moments.

And suddenly, so suddenly, I collapse, as the whole of my grief flies out of my mouth in gigantic, mournful, wailing sounds. My vision goes black at the edges, then fades. When I open my eyes I see a swath of bodies, their eyes peering down curiously at me. After a few eternal seconds, I stand up, only to feel like I’ll collapse again ~ the heat of so many bodies pressing against me makes it nearly impossible to breathe.

Without warning he appears before me, his breath brushing my mouth like a kiss. The letters of his name sit delicately on my tongue, discreet in the alphabet like a wish. We find ourselves transported away to a silent and empty place, a place without language, a place where hearts just bleed red instead of words, a place where everything looks red, rather than static white. And my heart, wide open like a net, sits at his feet, hoping to catch the sparkle that had long spilled out of me, and into him.

White noise descends upon me and roars inside my head, crushing my thoughts until they splinter into slivers of themselves, and disintegrate into non-existence. Everything sounds like the snap and crunch of breaking bones. My heart crawls from its socket, up to my throat and into my brain. And my words? My words have become prisoners, locked behind my clenched teeth. So, I have become impotent, a sort of mute, a fizzled spark, like lightning in a bell jar. I sit, dazed, in the unfurnished place known as my mind, watching my sanity swing like a pendulum between reason and madness. I wrestle with the volatility of words, the uncertainty of feelings, and the impossibly of certitude. Guilt flickers. And the heartbeat of this space thunders in my ears.

Time pulls thin like taffy. He, once made of beaten gold, lives in the marrow of my bones. I find I cannot flush him out. And the stories, they linger inside me, urging me, like dying stars gasping for their last light, to tell them into existence. I contemplate questions, so many questions. And I wait for the walls to whisper their answers to me. But they don’t. I chew on my grief, which tastes bitter and stale. My throat smoulders. And the shadows, they tumble, as I fall out of the light. And into a pit of broken glass. My soul has become an orphan. The world looks fractured in my eyes, made of jagged, broken angles I can only measure with worming droplets of my blood. And so, I try to patch all the shards together, only to feel like a wounded child with scarred hands.

I love him the way people love faded photographs. He holds all the beauty of the world and feels like home. Only the photograph’s torn, the beauty, broken and that home, burned to the ground. Loving him makes me feel like Icarus, whose wings melted when he flew too close to the sun. My love has become a phantom pain, a spectre. And now the sky sags with rain it will not shed and my arms have grown tired of holding up the air around me. A war rages inside my mind. Can I find no way out of my mind? Will this grief ever stop clenching at my heart like an owl’s talon clenches its prey? I long to collapse into bed the way a corpse collapses into a shallow grave. And I long for the reprieve of a dreamless sleep.

Alas, I can find no reprieve. The warring factions of my mind will simply not allow it. The battle rages on. It rages on for so long that each side has all but forgotten just what they begun fighting about. Words pile up in the ether of my mind, trapped there, prisoners of war, the casualties of my grief, the casualties of my love for him. How many times can love kill me?

I don’t know.

The walls have no answers and I’ve lost the key to the attic of my mind.


It Is Finished


The full moon casts a burnished halo on the bed, their bed, the marriage bed, banishing any and all traces of rapture from the room. The stench of unspoken words populates the heavy stillness as the two undress. She looks up and catches him gazing, with longing, at her plump, ripe breasts. She gives him a stare that feels like a cold slap. His face burns with the colours of shame. She looks away, as if that simple act will erase the reality of him, of his longing for her. Outside, night flickers in the gentle eyes of a doe. And beyond, beyond, a cluster of grieving stars begins to fade. Her passion, her desire ~ once flaming petals ~ have burned themselves out like dying embers of a fire gone cold. She shrieks into the deafening silence. Her raw voice shatters. And suddenly, so suddenly, the air weighs a million pounds.

What happened to the us of us? We’ve become a dream, dissolved into the light of dawn. A dream spilled out of itself. I look at you, look into your eyes and see your soul there, languishing. What do you see when you look into my eyes? Calamity’s magnet? I think so. You’ve suffered, for so long, you’ve suffered at the cruel whim of my heart, which sometimes, often times, chose your brother over you. I thought I could exchange you for your brother. With no cost to anyone. With no cost to you. With no cost to me. I thought I could do this and still clutch you to my heart, never letting you go. It hurts to remember you, to remember us. It hurts every part of me.

And now, and now, I say the letters of your name, over and over again, and they tumble out of my mouth, jewels on the thread of my breath. And I think of how, like the shoreline with the sea, you refused to stop loving me, despite the many times I left you. A gaping hole separates us, as wide as the sky’s velvet expanse; it grows ever wider with the passage of time. A certain tension unravels itself inside my chest as cold phantom fingers wrap themselves around my heart. Guilt, I feel guilt, the kind of guilt that strangles and crushes, when I think of that beautiful thing between us which I destroyed. I remember the words you spoke, I want a divorce. And I remember that suffocating feeling in my chest, as each of those words you spoke piled there.

And now, I see you with her. And we throw around smiles like they don’t mean anything. And my blood feels like lead in my veins. Her gaze meets mine with a gaze that threatens to split me wide open. Why? She has already won, hasn’t she? I would make her head explode with only the power of my brain, if I could. I hear a sharp and deafening snapping sound in my ears. That’s the sound of death, the death of us. The sound of shifting from what is, to what was.

All the colours of the spectrum collapse into a few dusty greys as a hard and brittle laughter pierces the air. The cloud bank sagging in the eastern sky becomes a luminous bruise as lightning flickers without a sound. I stand, motionless, trying to catch my breath; breathing feels like swallowing jagged pieces of glass. I feel unreal ~ my surroundings have the texture of a dark dystopian fantasy. I look at the woman in the mirror. She has inky, soulless eyes. I feel quite certain that she’s had her soul surgically removed ~ she feels like such a hateful place. Where did that sinister laughter come from? It came from that woman in the mirror. It came from me.

I like to think it started with the crack cocaine. But then, perhaps it started long before that. We got lost in the dark spaces between the lights. And we couldn’t find our way back to ourselves or each other. Heat tears through my chest and tongues of flames press behind my eyes when I reflect upon how deeply I hurt you. I had to let you go, I had to, even if it felt like everything inside me would collapse into itself, like a black hole. Voices fill my ears, telling me that love still exists between us, and I cannot tell where these voices originate. From inside my head? Perhaps. From that part of my mind that has gone completely mad? Perhaps. I don’t really know. I only know that I see something there, in those eyes of yours, those eyes of melted steel. And it hits me, like a sigh passing through my body.

Oh, but it’s all wrong. Our time has come and gone. Leaving us with nothing but empty shells, dried up husks of memories, of moments long past. And all I can do is stand and watch as this all gets dissolved into the patina of time. I feel bare without the marriage skin which we spend so many years weaving together. My soul feels thin and papery ~ worn, so worn. And my arms ache as though they’ve had to hold up the leaden atmosphere that hung around us, in some strange kind of stranglehold. I sit in this empty room and watch as my armour of secrets fades away, screaming until my throat burns, screaming for everything lost to me, to you, to us. And my screams, they melt into the walls. Then I look up, at these pinpricks of light, which grow ever larger, until light pours in around me from all angles.

I find myself standing where the sea and the sky bleed into one another, and I can hear the hearts of angels sing. They sound like spun gold in the moonlight. They shriek into the wind as a violet dusk spreads across the sky, washing across the sea, setting it aflame. Night flickers on the sea, and stars, like eyes, glitter in the darkness. Those angels have carried you away to the land beyond the horizon, to where I cannot yet follow. I gaze at your photograph, the only thing of you I have left, and shudder to think what those last moments of your life felt like.

The words fly silently from my lips, It is finished.

A Topography of Disaster

paco s

Everything falls apart, crumbles to a fine dust that leaves a bone white cloud in its wake. This bone white dust coats my throat, making it nearly impossible to breathe. I gasp, my chest heaves as I struggle to draw air into my lungs. I cannot. I feel hungry for relief, a reprieve from this monster stealing the air from my lungs.

Your sister died.
What? I didn’t even know she was dying. How?
Stage Four stomach cancer.

Disaster. I didn’t know. I had a feeling, though, because of the lymphedema – mum told me about it. I don’t think Gail didn’t want her to tell me. She didn’t want me to know. She didn’t want me to know. She told our sisters. She didn’t tell me. She didn’t tell mum, either. I never got to say goodbye. She never gave me a chance.

We have to talk about your dad.
Okay. What’s going on?
He’s got Alzheimer’s.

Disaster. Mum never told me. I had to find out from my sister. Angry, I felt angry. And disenfranchised. Shut out. Living two provinces away intensifies the feeling of disenfranchisement. I can’t say find the diagnosis surprising. I certainly saw it coming. I can’t say exactly what tripped the breaker and when. I can only say that hearing the words your dad and Alzheimer’s in the same sentence shattered me. It felt like I’d lost him. Only worse, because I knew it was the beginning of a long series of successive separations from him, each taking him farther away from me than the previous one.

He’s deceased.
What? Oh. How?
Oh my gawd. How did he–?
In the park near his apartment. There was an apparatus.

Disaster. The guilt – inexorable, suffocating, profound. The grief – labyrinthine, eviscerating, the kind that finds me howling uncontrollably in the bath. My thoughts turned to morbid things – what did his last few seconds feel like, how long did it take for him to die? And my heart shattered to think of the despair that drives a person to believe death will make life better. When I ponder the 18 years we spent together, the family we raised, the life we built, I cannot compute the event horizon of this grief.

Welcome to some of the recent disasters of my life: events that have cast me into the frozen deep sea, banished me into the darkest forests far from all connection anything and anyone familiar (even myself), flung me over the edges of my world.

Alzheimer’s Disease

jess bowser

“She is leaving him, not all at once, which would be painful enough, but in a wrenching succession of separations. One moment she is here, and then she is gone again, and each journey takes her a little farther from his reach. He cannot follow her, and he wonders where she goes when she leaves.”
― Debra Dean, The Madonnas of Leningrad

My father – my brilliant, self-taught, highly educated father  – has Alzheimer’s Disease. When the doctor told him “… you have Alzheimer’s,” dad replied, “But I can’t have Alzheimer’s, I have a Master’s Degree.” After the diagnosis, he went to his go-to place – immediately denial. Dad always had a gift for seeing the sunny side, to the point of ignoring the thick, dark storm clouds hanging above like a Damocles’ Sword. He lends himself so easily to the surrender of acceptance. I used to find it jarring. Now, as I attempt to process the reality of his illness, I find myself in awe. It seems like such a beautiful, rare wisdom – this pure form of acceptance that has us surrendering to the forces of nature and the universe we cannot change.

In the wake of discovering dad’s diagnosis I dug deep, poured over as many books as I could find about Alzheimer’s dementia. I wanted to know, what did it feel like for dad? What does it feel like, when the Alzheimer’s fog begins to erode, where does the person go, in that labyrinthine brain? It seems like they journey to beyond a sort of event horizon – they cannot see out, we cannot see in.

Because we cannot follow them on their journey through dementia, does that mean they no longer exist, you know – socially, psychologically? Many think so; I disagree. I believe we can still have an identity without memory, without any knowledge of our personal history. When we forget the names and the faces of our children, spouses, siblings, friends, we still remain ourselves, if only on some hidden level. People afflicted with Alzheimer’s remain people, despite the fact that they remain shrouded. The known remains, nestled deep within the unknown.

I can feel dad slipping further and further into the shroud of memory loss. I hear it in his voice and sense it in the awkward pauses on the telephone during our conversations.  And I wonder what about the machinations of his mind, underneath the plaque of the disease. I imagine that somewhere deep inside the labyrinth of the self sits a tiny box containing the soul, the undefinable substance that animates us all, and that the soul remains uncorrupted by the ugliness of disease that ravages our bodies and minds. And that all those lost to us are not lost at all, merely out of view.



Bright. So bright. When I look up the light blinds me. I squint as I try and discern any shapes or shadows or colours that the future holds. I can see none, only a sight I shall describe as empyrean. I cannot say any one thing held by the future, for her arms overflow with a gush of possibilities. Trying to see into the future seems like trying to carry water in a basket. So many possibilities, so much intangibility, any attempt by our consciousness slips through our fingers. And so, when I look into the future, I savour the brilliance. And I turn my gaze back onto the now.

Objects In the Mirror

“Objects in the mirror are closer than they appear,” she whispered to herself as the wet road whipped passed and the urban panorama flashed and flickered like scenes from a vintage film. The world seemed to have cast itself in black and white today with very mundane shades of gray in between. The words “closing time” appeared in the mirror, far off in the distance. And she remembered. She looked again, just to assure herself. The words looked tiny, far away. She closed her eyes.

The surreal thing about sleeping is that time becomes a wormhole. You awaken, intuitively knowing that a considerable time has elapsed since you closed your eyes despite your awareness feeling as though no time at all passed. It can seem mind bending to those with friable minds. When is real? How does one tell the difference between sleep and awake? Because, at times the distinction can seem somewhat random. And, indeed, objects in the mirror are closer than they appear.

She opened her eyes to the sound of a howling sound that made the air bleed. A barbed tentacle thrust itself through her chest wall. Her sternum split into shreds, toothy like a tree branch torn apart in a windstorm. Her ribs snapped like large dry twigs. An inky darkness streamed from the gaping, jagged hole in her chest. The darkness contained all the dirty things that kept her from plunging head first into the oil slick of pain waiting for her beneath the surface. A stream of dirty things that once seemed so pretty, that once seemed like a kind of life support, had become a hemorrhage, exsanguinating her vampirically.

A malevolent voice whispered in her ear, “It’s closing time my dear.”

She tried to speak. The words formed themselves on her lips, though they had no sound. No. I still have time. I saw, in the mirror. It was so far away.

The voice laughed maniacally, then replied, “My dear, objects in the mirror are closer than they appear.”



When I think of faraway I think of the colour blue. The colour blue has a very short wavelength, scatters the farthest, reflects the most. The farther away an object, the more blue it appears. We strive toward blue, yet never entirely grasp it – like the horizon. Blue lies at the edges of what we can see. It represents longing, desire. No matter how much distance we’ve travelled, we never arrive there, at the edge of visibility, at the faraway point.

When I think of blue, I think of faraway, of where I am not and cannot go. I think of lost, lost to me, absent.