Screenshots from Solitary Fragments (Jaime Rosales, 2007)

When you lose someone and you try to pretend it didn’t happen. When three becomes two, when the whole is broken apart, and you try to convince yourself for as long as you can that you aren’t shattered, you aren’t destroyed.

I wonder sometimes what it would be like to imagine that you are just away for a little while, that you will return one day, and we’ll be together again. Could I ever fall for the lie? But what if the lie keeps me alive? I wish my brain would believe it.


I’ve been thinking about Jean Vigo’s underwater scenes in Taris and L’atalante. Of all the scenes in his films, I come back to those. I think it’s because water itself holds such meaning in my life.

For Vigo, water seems to function in various ways. It’s a site where the body can be free, liberated, and sensual. Think of swimmer Jean Taris, barely clothed, playing underwater, bubbles streaming from his mouth, a gorgeous smile on his face.

In L’atalante, water represents a connection to the beloved. The new groom jumps into the water because he was told that if you open your eyes underwater, you can see the one you love. His wife has run away. He wants to see her again. So he goes underwater to reconnect with her. The water creates access, a portal to the one who is lost, a way of reaching her.  

There’s a ghostliness about these scenes even though the actors in them were alive. The way water reduces bodies to light and shadow and the ethereal.

When I was a kid, I loved swimming. It was the only time I was truly free, my body no longer weighed down. I could do flips and handstands and laps. I could sink to the bottom and hold my breath as long as possible. I could float on top and feel the sun on my skin. It was a magical place–just as it is in Vigo’s films. A place of possibilities, a place of dreams.

I’ve never swam in the ocean. I rarely even got to swim as a child. Because it was a rare experience, I think I cherished it all the more. There was a local public pool that I sometimes went to. A family friend worked at a hotel and we got to use the pool occasionally during the summer. I’d always take goggles so that I could go to the bottom of the pool and then look up and see the sunlight streaming through the surface. I felt suspended in time, fossilized in beauty. The sunlight would make these tessellations on the bottom of the pool. I was mesmerized. I didn’t want to leave the water ever. I hated having to return to the real world. I always wished I had a camera to capture what I saw, what that watery world looked like.

After my father died, the only reprieve I felt from the grief was when I got to swim in the pool at a local hotel. My mom and I scrounged some money from somewhere and went for a few days. I don’t think we told anyone. There was no one to tell. We were alone, abandoned by everyone. We were mad with grief, broken apart. We still are. But I still remember swimming in that pool, floating on top of the water, my arms and legs stretched out. I felt released, reborn. The grief was still there, it’s always there, it’s still there even now, eleven years later, but the water held me and soothed me and gave me a few days of peace. I know I’m not writing it properly. I know you can’t feel what it was like to be inside my body underneath the water, just like you can’t feel the grief that throbbed in my veins and that lives inside me still.

I’m drawn to water and to the lives lost to it. Woolf with the rocks in her pockets in the River Ouse, forcing herself to drown when she could swim, forcing herself into death. Ophelia with her flowers and her soaked skirts, babbling about her dead father, maybe searching for a way to get back to him. Water as life force, water as death force.

And I remember my father in the water, a picture of him on a float, basking in the summer sunshine, so alive and so real. Pictures of me and him at pools or lakes, now only together in photos, forever separated.

I wish I could open my eyes underwater and see him again. I wish he was there, emerging from the depths, surfacing back into life, back into my arms.

Scenes of Grief: Testament of Youth (2014)



People are only what we remember of them. A sediment deposit of memory, an accumulation of scenes, flashes of light.

This lostness is so much a part of me. I never have it together. I never know what to do or what I'm doing.

Looking at the stars, I wonder what my life is compared to those lights in the sky. I wonder if I could be a light for someone else.

How do we make it from one moment to the next? I feel the miracle of each day.

After loss, you must be creative. You must create a hybrid life that integrates the living and the dead.

I don't want to be a body. I want to be a cloud or a river. I want to be beauty.

The pain didn't make me strong. It made me sensitive, reclusive, afraid, heartbroken. It took from me. It gave nothing. What I have is what I found in the ruins of myself.

I'm broken. Look at me.

When I write, the physical melds to the abstract and a world is born from this pain.

I have a recurring nightmare of a plane crashing into my home. I can see the plane coming. I know I am going to die. I can't describe the visceral fear that permeates my body. I try to forget these nightmares, but I worry that they live on in my mind.

Below the wound is the blood.

Writing is a fever.

I can't express myself. Since he died, I can't express anything because I can't write the catastrophe of it.

I read Clarice Lispector's The Hour of the Star, about a poor girl who can't cope with life. She has that not-thereness of Barbara Loden's Wanda. Of course, I understand it all.

My life ended at 16. Let the magnitude of it sink in. The descent started early. I ache to be carefree, or to just be free.

What did he want for me? When he held me for the first time, what where his dreams for me? I'm not living what he hoped I'd live. I can't be that. I can't be anything other than what I am.

Only the moon sees me.

My dreams keep me alive, but they also burden me. I'm burdened by the lives I'm not living, by all the possible versions of myself I could have become.

History happens and you realize you are helpless and you are a coward.

Knowing life ends and yet believing that it will never end, that it can't possibly end.

I take pictures of everything. I want to keep moments. I want to preserve something. Having lost so much, I want to stop losing, but I know that's impossible.

Most people bury trauma and don't feel it until years later. I haven't buried the pain of his death. If anything, I write about it too much, but it's always on my mind. His absence is constant.

These terrible moments of foreknowledge, of knowing that life always ends in death. There is no escape. At these moments, I feel like a prisoner.

You have now, and one day there will be no more nows, no more of anything.

The President's supporters love everything that he is doing. He never lied about his intentions. It only reinforces the fact that they voted  for him precisely because of his hateful beliefs. Their satisfaction in seeing immigrants and Muslims targeted is a clear indication of their own bigotry and hatred against anyone who is different from them. If they didn't agree with the hate--if, as the pundits claim, it was supposedly all about jobs and the economy--then where is the outcry over the Muslim ban? There is no outcry because they agree with it. They love all of him. They love the worst parts of him. There is no chance of changing their minds. The facts don't matter. Nothing matters to them except themselves.

His supporters cheer while the rest of us walk around dazed and in disbelief, We are an angry, violent, destructive, selfish nation. We are afraid. We are vicious.

But much of what's happening was happening before. Obama deported more immigrants than Bush and tore apart many families in the process. 30 million people had no health insurance and still don't. Drones were dropped that killed innocent civilians in other countries. Millions lost their homes after the 2008 recession while the rich got richer. Wages are so low that many struggle to make ends meet. Yes, this is an emergency, but the poor and victimized have been living in an emergency that has been rendered invisible for decades.

Often, I get caught in the could have been.

At times, I abstract his death in order to survive. But, at other times, I remember how he was once here. Those are the times I can't bear to be alive.

Get me out of this world.

I want to be heard, but I fear speaking.

You think the past was safer, but you have to remember that this world has never been safe or just.

The immensity of all the loss is stunning. I lived it and yet I cannot comprehend it.

All those things I wanted to be--I will not become them. My dreams will not come to pass. But I'll keep writing.

I don't even know what I want anymore. Nothing really seems possible for me.

By every measurement, I am a failure. All I can do is endure.

I would like to be inviolable. I'd like for nothing to affect me. But would I be me?

The extreme right has unprecedented power and influence at this time. We are being governed by a hateful, paranoid, ill-informed minority. Do I say "minority" because of fact or to soothe myself into thinking that there are more of us than of them? What if, in fact, there are more of them than of us? How else did we get here?

My life has become a vigil for him. Or maybe I'm a guard, standing watch over our past.

No part of me is untouched by his death.

I miss being in the places where he once existed--our house, the library, the park. It was painful to be in those places, too. You can miss what causes pain. After loss, almost everything is distilled into an aching pain. You know the source but lack a remedy.