starts, of course, with a dream.
on the lights and the cockroaches scatter. I don't dream them, they're
real, like chocolate stains or blood on the red tile floor. I hear
the clicking sounds they make, like fingernails tapping against
a full glass of water. In the light the roaches are stunned; they
linger long enough to remind me that even when asleep in an empty
apartment, I'm not alone.
screams in the dream aren't real, they are muffled like accusations
shouted into cotton. That's the thing about dream screams; oftentimes
it's not what's said, but the way they contort familiar faces that
makes me so afraid. The last time I saw her, her face didn't look
right. Something about the way her mouth was pulled, fish hooked
from either side, a thin line lacquered in Cherries in the Snow
but stretched too wide.
they're screaming, she and my mother, screaming the things they
never said; although in real life, they didn't get along either.
I'm in the middle, watching the anger build in their faces, their
cheeks collapse and their mouths open wide like black holes. With
black hole mouths and vacant eyes they look like ghosts, the Halloween
boo-ghost kind I used to draw in my notebook margins. At the time
I imagined real ghosts to be willowy, paper-thin, like egg whites
in boiling water, like sheer skin stretched over an old lady's hands.
week, at the funeral, I felt alone. Not just because she practically
raised me, but because my mourning felt unconsummated, singular,
like no one felt sadness deeply enough to mirror my own. Like no
one noticed her mouth was hide over a drum, that underneath the
spray-paint she was a pallid grey-blue. That the eulogies couldn't
encapsulate how she read to me, fed me, pulled my first tooth and
taught me how to switch the lights on and say I did it when I was
barely old enough to speak. That even though she had seven other
grandchildren, her dementia released, in her hospital bed, long
enough for her to recognize my face, for the last words she'd ever
speak to me: "I love you, Rachelle."
night I wake up crying. Not just because I miss her but because
with her death, it seems, that ceaseless love has dissolved.
I'm a survivor. They say cockroaches can withstand nuclear holocaust,
and sometimes that's what this feels like, the worst thing that's
ever happened to me. It's only been a week or two, but I'm waiting
for the sadness to break, like humidity gathering in the air. I'm
waiting for the rain.
the dream, my mother's yelling "you did this on purpose"
and Grandma, passive, coy, coquette that she was, is giggling back.
Mom gets angrier and with that weight her face is melting, her neck
strong like a wrestler's but sinuous, like a ghost. Then, suddenly,
Grandma screams back, her breath resonant and hollow. It looks like
an echo. I've never heard her scream before, not in real life, so
when she does it forces my eyes open, jostles me awake.
still dark, of course, it's two or three a.m., and there she is
sitting at the foot of my bed. Watching over me as I sleep, wearing
the red and white polka dot shirt I'd have buried her in, if the
choice were mine. She's so tiny -- four-foot-eleven after the osteoporosis
set in -- and her hands are like parchment, the blue veins curled
like her perfect catholic school script. Her nails were always long
and red, even when arthritis froze her knuckles halfway. I'm lying
on my back and I look down at my feet, and then at her, sitting
by them, gently, quietly.
do I know about haunting? I know that as a kid, I was insufferably
lonely, wanting so bad for the Ouijia board to work, to float light
as a feather, stiff as a board. To believe I was different, that
I could see things unseen. Sometimes I'd feel things watching, cajoling,
the thinness of real life alluring, somehow. My mother told me that
love would transcend death, that she and I, so close in life, would
pick a code word. One day, when she was gone, it would appear, and
I'd know then that she'd be with me always.
one close to me has ever died before. I don't know loss like this.
Maybe I'm acting crazy. Maybe I want to believe, so fiercely, that
Grandma's not really gone, that the world is big enough for her
to die, and still exist.
was it my friend said -- the one obsessed with ghosts -- at the
diner a few months ago? That the most common vision, after a loved
one dies, is to see them waiting somberly at the foot of the bed?
I blink, still in the dark, she's no longer there. My toes poke
over my black down blanket. I look up at the window, facing my bed,
to gauge the progress of the night by the color of the sky. Recently
I've hung black and white pinstripe curtains that flank the window
on either side. They're still there, but so are two arms, huge,
translucent, encompassing. I see the fingernails, long and red.
The arms are poised for embrace. I blink again, and they're gone.
I think I'm losing my mind.
symbolism isn't lost. That she came to say goodbye. I saw her, almost
touched her. That she was reaching out to me.
on the lights and the cockroaches scatter. I did it, Grandma. My
goosebumps are like mountains. This isn't my average nightmare,
because those I can shake off. Now I'm frightened to the core. I'm
not scared of her; it's the profound anxiety over the slippage of
two worlds, the looseness of threads. I hate to say it -- it's so
cliché -- but I feel, undeniably, like I'm not alone.
always talked about our special connection. For some it was admirable,
for others, a source of jealousy. But it makes sense, I think, that
she'd make an extra stop for me. She knew, more than anyone, how
much I fear loneliness. That those I love being siphoned into death
would make my life feel reedy where it once was full. That my room,
small and buggy, would depress me. That I, more than most, seek
out those things that are strange, inexplicable, confusing.
know if she came to me, if I was awake or asleep. But I know, after
that night, she stayed.
version for easy reading
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