We’ve entered the thin place again, where the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead feels as if we could rip it open with a breath.
We make altars to our beloved dead, arranging flowers and symbols around their fading photographs.
We talk of them almost obsessively now; this time of life is another kind of thin place. We, with our minor maladies, our thinning lips and hair, our sore knees and bouts of vertigo, our newly intolerant guts, return again and again to stories of how we got here. And our dead, our versions of them, accompany us into the past, cast as slightly different characters with every retelling.
Our father was gentle with us when he was around. He told us stories and held us patiently when we hurt ourselves or got sick. He left home a lot but always came back eventually, until the time he didn’t.
Our mother baited us and compared us to one another. She had a cruel tongue and a sharp wit. Sometimes we were her victims, sometimes her audience. She got headaches and took naps. She went to work and paid the bills.
We joke ruefully about the remarkable number of loved ones who are no longer here with us. We want so many of them back, especially the young ones who didn’t have a chance to wake up every morning to a mysterious new ache or twinge, who don’t get to moan about their gray hair and gum disease and wrinkles. We want to hold them again and tell them their pain will pass, that they will find ways to live in this hard world.
We want them back.
We want the versions of them we knew, the ones we talk about as the sun seems to recede and the darkness falls on our hearts.
But what if they refuse to come to us?
What if our father doesn’t want to listen to us remembering him as we do, but would rather hover over the old home place in Kansas where he rode horses and swam in the river? What if, freed from the web of our wanting, he floats back to a village in Japan or Tahiti? What if he jumps on the motorbike he loved at twenty and rides it north, up Highway 1 to Big Sur, where he can sit on a cliff and look out at the Pacific and write those poems he never got to finish in life?
What if our mother’s spirit is weary of the many contradictory ways we remember her and refuses our invitation in favor of a USO dance with some boy she used to write letters to during the war? What if she wafts into the Broadway theaters she once yearned for and stands onstage during some Chekhov revival, moving her arms and mouthing dialogue? What if she finds herself as a nine-year-old on the high limb of an old tree, hiding from the world with her book and an apple for later?
What if, for tonight, all our beloved dead get to roam, to be who and what they most wanted to be in life? What if they get to please themselves? I wonder if they will come here. I hope they do. I want to remember them with the kind of love I have for my own buried selves, all the girls I didn’t get to be in this life. I want them to be free.
Start Sunday morning with a flash essay in your inbox. Enjoy short works hand-selected from the Creative Nonfiction, Brevity, Diagram, River Teeth, and Sweet Literary archives, as well as the occasional original work.
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