Thursday - November 22, 2013

Words have been building in me all day and, still, I can't seem to release them. I tell myself that silence is a legitimate response to tragedy, that there are places words cannot touch. Even so, my silence shames me. Each day that passes without something written feels like a failure. It's hard to admit that words elude me, that I am silent most of the time, that I'd rather avoid the trauma of the past than write about it even though writing about it is the only way I can really cope with it.

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Vague thoughts have followed me around. There was another dream of my father, only it wasn't my father but a figure who represented him. I was using this figure, this man, to access my father. I still don't understand it. The dead become a feeling, like another sense. You know when you've encountered them even if they leave no trace, even if you're the only one who feels the pulsation. I want the dreams to stop. They devastate me too much.

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There was the recent anniversary of JFK's assassination and I remember how my father used to watch documentaries about it. It fascinated him, but I'm not sure why. I never asked him. Like so many things about him, it will remain a mystery.

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I've been thinking about his funeral today. It was so terrible. I try to block out my memories of that day but they are still very intense. When I learn about how other cultures deal with death, I feel a sense of deprivation. I wish I lived in a culture that valued the dead, that kept them close and celebrated them and publicly mourned them. Instead, here in America, the dead are hidden away, embalmed, laid out in funeral parlors where people gather and talk about everything but the dead person.

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I am haunted by my father's viewing. I can't forget his pale corpse in the casket, how he looked nothing like my father at all. I can't forget the people all around me who never spoke a word about him, who did not share memories. It was as though nothing had happened, like this beautiful man had not died. I wanted something else. I wanted an acknowledgment of the life that was gone forever. I wanted mourning and grief and authentic emotion, not performance, not stoicism.

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My father deserved better. At his funeral, the people who gave eulogies barely knew him. They spoke of a man who was not my father, and I sat there with my silence and my tears. I could not speak, and I'll always regret that. I just sat there, looking at the flowers on the casket, trying to comprehend the fact that my father was in that box and would soon be lowered into the earth, that I would never see him or speak to him or know him. It was shattering. My mother sobbed in my arms. There is no language for it. Nothing I write can place you in my body at that moment. Nothing captures it. My vocabulary is insufficient, but I still search for the words and I always will. My language is crude and ugly and rudimentary right now. Maybe that will never change. I lost not only a father.  I lost words, sounds, comprehension, the ability to make sense out of the world with my writing.

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Now, writing has to be something else, not what it was, not a way to understand but a way to reconstruct a shattered self that will only ever be fragments and yet those fragments matter, they imply that a whole once existed. It's okay to not have the words. The absence of language is as important as its presence. The void matters too, the nothingness, the emptiness, the shadow. We are made of that too. Perhaps that's all we are, all that we become at some point--the absence, the hollow where something beautiful left its imprint. We write  in order to bear witness to the space the dead once occupied within us. We feel the contours of that emptiness and absence. It's the source of all creation, and all destruction.