BY W. S. MERWIN
Your absence has gone through me
Like thread through a needle.
Everything I do is stitched with its color.
When a woman gives birth to a child, out of her most profound suffering, comes life. The excruciating pain results in beauty. Fresh life. Out of our deepest suffering, we also give birth to ourselves. Just as we meet our child upon birth, we meet our true selves in the darkness of our suffering. We do not know the self we will give birth to, just like we do not yet know the child emerging from our womb.
Sandra sat in an old, ripped fake leather office chair completely and utterly stunned her body tingling with a grief she had never felt before. She was feeling something that had no words. The edges of it were raw, they were nebulous. She could not find the ends of it. She felt sick. She walked slowly down the orange hallway of the police station toward the bathroom, so disoriented it felt as if she were walking on a trampoline. It felt hot in there. The closer she got, the more urgent her need to vomit was. She could taste her mouth salivating as the bile rose in her throat. She started to run. She threw open the bathroom door and vomited profusely onto the closest toilet. The answers she had gotten from the police were far more disturbing than she could handle. Harriet was dead. She had been murdered, the police had tried to cover it up at first by telling everyone that the woman had been mauled by a mountain lion.
She did not just see the body, she saw the destruction of her future, she saw evil she saw hopelessness. The officer’s intention clearly was to get information out of Sandra, he tried to ask questions. She did not hear them. She looked down at the scene of him sitting across from her. She looked down at the old, metal table, scratched and scarred by those who had come before her. She was no longer inside of her body and the reality that she had so often questioned, was as she had always feared, a hallucination. She was no longer in this world but hovering at the edges of it.
She woke up at home, in her bed, covered with sweat. She had no idea how she had gotten there. It was days before she would get out of that bed again. It was days before she could somehow enter back into the agreed upon hallucination she called life. In her mind, she was living outside of it in a way that was so far and so profound it could not be considered life, but it could not be considered death either. Her house ceased to be a home and became a place for her to fight her demons, and it was exhausting. Purgatory exists for the living as well as the dead. In the same space or in their own alternate universe, it doesn’t matter. Nothing mattered to Sandra. She would not know that she was alive had it not been for her body sending base, humiliating signals every now and then. Hunger, the need to pee, thirst, acknowledging the life inside of her body felt disrespectful. How could she listen to the life moving through her when Sandra’s had been so brutally taken from her.
It was days, she sat in respect of her grief, it demanded it. It sat across from her and shouted at her. It touched her. It wanted all of her attention. She fought with it, told it to fuck off, but it stayed and there were times where she would cry simply because she could feel the hot breath of grief bearing down on her. So much so that the hair would rise on the back of her neck and she would scratch and scratch at it. Only accepting that it was gone when she felt blood on her hand.
Two weeks in, Sandra’s physical body screamed too loud for her to ignore. She got out of bed and looked at herself in the mirror. Her face, somewhere between the living and the dead would have scared her had she had anything left inside of herself that needed to be protected. But as it was, there was no need to fear, her walking corpse meant nothing to her. But then again, maybe there was a little something left, because she peeled off her clothes, the same ones she had worn to the police station weeks before, and stepped into the shower. The hot water took her breath away. She felt a tiny little flicker of life in her stomach as it clenched against the water streaming down on her. She hated herself for feeling the flicker of life. She hated herself for being alive when Harriet was not.
She washed her hair, her face, her wasted body. She felt the place where her soft stomach used to be, concave and hard now. Rigid with tension. She felt her arms and legs and the rise and fall of breath in her chest, and knew they were hers but was terrorized by the life inside of herself, how dare she breathe when Harriet could not. The water ran down the sides of the shower curtain, down the walls of the shower, down her body and she knew that it didn’t matter where it touched, it was all going to the same place.
After her shower, she put on a pair of old gray sweatpants and a tee shirt. She got back into bed and started to close her eyes when out of the corner of her eye she saw her phone flicker. On the screen screamed a list of messages and missed calls. She fell into a deep sleep. Dreams or nightmares overcame her. It was inside of those dreams that her subconscious or the evil from the abyss told her what to do. She obeyed.
It was days later when the whispers grew into a roar and she knew how to stand for Harriet when Harriet could not stand for herself. She felt a warrior spirit rise up and breathe meaning into her wasted life once again. She ate her first real meal in weeks. She drank coffee and put on real clothes. She looked at her phone, deleted all of the texts and voicemails, no longer willing to bother with other people asking her to forgive them for their grief, asking her to comfort them for her grief. The physical life returned to her body, but the real, deep life that animated it was distorted and changed irreversibly. She no longer inhabited the conscious space that she once had, it had shifted.
It was a Tuesday when she returned to work at the paper. When she walked in, she didn’t notice the compassionate gazes of her co workers. She did not hear their faint whispers. She went straight to her desk, sat down and began typing frantically. Because now she could exist in a space that she never had before and it gave her a fire and a drive and access to something in another conscious dimension, she had lost her space, and moved on to another.
Her consciousness had lived in the same house for her entire life, her tragedy had burned that house down and she was left to wander, in hunger, in thirst, in perpetual pain as she no longer had a place inside to rest. Her old house was comfortable and filled with the stories and memories that she had made throughout her life, all of that was lost now. Sandra was a person who’s entire sense of reality and consciousness had been lost overnight and though her body was in the same physical spaces it always had been, she was now a homeless, comfortless restless wanderer.
She never stopped to consider what such an abrupt shift could do to a person, all she knew was that she was driven in a way that she never had been before, there was a deep fire propelling her onward she had never had before. She was living in a trance somewhere between life and satanic possession. Into the search bar of her computer, she typed, “Murdered women in Los Angeles” the starting gun sounded, and with the crack she started running a race that she would die before she lost.