Eleven Years

Yesterday was the 11th anniversary of my father’s death.

I laid in bed, holding a locket that contained his picture and listening to Tori Amos’s “From the Choirgirl Hotel,” an album that deals heavily with the grief and darkness that Amos experienced after a miscarriage.

In “Spark,” Amos sings:

she’s convinced she could hold back a glacier
but she couldn’t keep Baby alive
doubting if there’s a woman in there somewhere

All these years have passed and yet no time has passed. Time no longer registers in my body.

I’m always surviving, not survived. It’s never set or final. I’m never done with survival, it’s never in the past tense. It’s always something I have to do right now and the next moment and the next.

Take your life and all you love and try to imagine it disappearing. Take away the person who loved you and that you loved. Keep taking it all away. What are you? What is left? Take away more people, take away your home, take away your health, add poverty and depression and anxiety. Then, maybe you can imagine what the past decade has been like for me. Loss after loss after loss.

Feel everything you love vanish and then tell me that time heals it. Tell me it gets easier. I will answer that time only brings more pain, that the loss accumulates, that your body starts to break down, that my writing is the record of a mind and body battered and pushed past its limits.

Doubting if there’s a woman in there somewhere

I know that so much of me is gone, that the part that survives is the part that you are reading, that writing has always been and always will be the way that I stay alive. It can’t be anything else.

I’m not sure who I am or what woman remains. I think of myself always as that sixteen-year-old girl at her father’s funeral, watching her life disintegrate, feeling herself shattered. I’m not sure who this woman is who writes these words. I’m not sure I know her all that well or even like or want to be her and yet I am her and she’s all I have, along with these words.

I said to myself today Keep writing, keep writing, keep writing. The last decade of suffering cannot have been for nothing. At least you can make words that can help someone else, that can voice this deep, intolerable aching. 

I guess that’s all I can do. Keep writing. Keep creating even though I am destroyed.

The Quietness of Grief

Screenshots from The Dream and the Silence (Jaime Rosales, 2012)

I think I like the quiet films about grief because they are the most honest. Grief is so quiet, it’s a kind of silence, punctuated by the occasional outburst. You feel a scream inside, but you’re never permitted to release it. For so long, I’ve just wanted to scream.


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.