The pyramid rose above her and engulfed the small party she suddenly found herself with. She wondered where she had fallen from, and if the sky hadn’t vomited her out. And why the desert when she had wished to drown? The sun seared. The travellers trudged forward. She eyed them placidly. Weathered, battered earth people who smelt like sweat and man and decay. It was remarkable how she somehow looked like them. They soldiered on noiselessly, footprints melting in the sand. She noted hazily that she wasn’t wearing the correct shoes. The dunes shifted rapidly and she tripped and sank, toes clenching and unclenching. Trying to remember what she had done before the sky had spat her out, she— A sandstorm. They fought onward. She couldn’t see what was before her, only the outline of the massive effigies of eternity, looming nearer and promising something sweet and poisonous. The winds forced her to her knees and someone she dimly thought she should know dragged her forward. Why should she have known him? Perhaps before the sky had— His eyes. She suddenly recalled language. The depths of such subterranean things were so hard to fathom. There were within her thousands of words she had used on this man’s eyes alone. The unthought words submerged her, shape-shifting things she had used to make love and trample him with. Language made her feel faint. She decided, in his grip, that he should be a stranger for now. The travellers battled the storm. Dimly she wondered at the unnatural focus in their eyes. Where were they going? The pyramid rose like a mirage before her. She smiled a vacant smile, the stranger silently dragging her along.
It was only at the cavernous entrance that she stood still, enchanted by the darkness inside and wishing her mother were there to whisper to her the way newborns whisper to the earth before their entrance into the world. She held her breath as they walked along faded hieroglyphics, her mind on those effaced beneath them. The only language she could permit herself, those gone forever, those that could not be read anymore, those that— A vast room. Fallen obelisks. She heard someone throwing up, someone praying—
The sarcophagus. All of a sudden she felt like dying. She didn’t know how dying felt like but life just suddenly felt so intolerable and she needed to die. The stranger let go of her. He was staring at the sarcophagus, lips moving silently. Vaguely she noticed the travellers hovering around, hands clasped, some prostrate, some crying. The paint on the sarcophagus smiled gently at them, that gloss, that face! The travellers fell into each others’ arms, thinking about death. Someone pushed her violently toward it and she screamed but—
She knew once she touched it. She looked at its coloured face. The sarcophagus could never be opened, and why should anyone open it? It beamed at her and she wept without knowing why. It didn’t occur to her to think of the person inside, all that mattered was the painted face with its bright smiling eyes. She studied it, entranced, eating tears. It smiled at her and all she could do was clutch childishly at it. It seemed to her a kind of lost hieroglyphic, and she imagined stars and babies dying with no one to hear them. She wished to dissolve into the sand, to ossify into history, to be part of the strange new earth she was now on. Perhaps then she could merge with the painted face, become part of it, understand it, know it. Though she grasped at it, the distance she felt was more than she could bear. It was sanctified, royal and she irrationally ripped her veil in the hopes of— The travellers filed past her slowly and began to worship it, spilling reverent tears. Painfully, she smiled brilliantly back at the paint. That beautiful face, petrified forever. Its smile crooked in a severity that made the travellers tremble in both terror and awe and which made her want to crawl back into her mother’s womb. That face— It was like someone she had known and lost before the sky had aborted and spat her out onto the sand. Eyes wide open, she began to whisper to it, singing songs from an age long past, songs from— that she had learnt from— who had taught her that— who had held her and had whispered that she— her, she— her, she— her.
I sit in New York and imagine myself tense, on edge, driving through the neatness of Singapore. The trees grow so densely along expressways that I don’t get the sun. My heart pounds. I see the ERP gantry looming before me; that familiar sense of catastrophic failure when I realize I forgot to put in the Cashcard to pay. I panic, my face goes cold. I hate myself. I pass the gantry. Beep. I imagine the fine that will arrive at my doorstep. Impassioned self-abasement. The feeling of mortal inadequacy. My knuckles go dead white on the wheel. I hurtle on, not breathing.
What’s the big deal you ask. It’s a moral failing, you say. Just leave the house a little earlier, you advise.
I see your impatient face. Are you as exasperated as I am?
I don’t imagine those I make wait as I anxiously speed across my congested little island. I have no sympathy for them. The thing about having an anxiety disorder is—I know you don’t like me talking about it—that I—; this is awkward really, let me try again.
I don’t think about what would happen because of my lateness.—That’s better.—I just focus desperately on the sheer stupidity of the present failure instead.
I focus on the lack of oxygen in my lungs, the fear of a heart attack. I meditate on them. I curl around them in rest.
Finding a lot in a darkened underground carpark, I finally draw breath—to run to my destination, armed with servile and profuse apologies. Apologies I don’t mean.
I once wrote up a list: Self-Improvement for Excellent Living. The first thing? “Be not just on time, but early”. It succeeded once. Being the procrastinating perfectionist my neuronal systems destined me, I bury myself in the ground in shame, again and again.
You don’t understand, it’s impossible to plan my time just right. I can never be early. I can’t. I’m trying to explain. I see the catastrophe if I’m early, and don’t see the one that happens if I’m late. You don’t understand. I plan. I try. Honest! I always think I can make it. I always think I’ll be on time. I always believe myself.
It never works. You were right. You’re still right. I’m sorry, I know you don’t like me talking about this.
I’ll always be late. This one did it. I can never be early again. I’ll always be at the arrival hall, screaming. I’ll always be holding my breath the twenty four hours it takes to reach the other end of the world. From now on, I’ll only ever draw breath—to scream. I’ll always scream, profuse and servile; I’ll scream something I don’t mean. I’m screaming now. I’m there, finally.
This is awkward really, let me try again.
The person in mourning was in a terrible and confusing quagmire, and the difficulty that he had in articulating this to both himself as well as other people was not only an essential component of this dilemma, but also contributed to the blind terror of living that he suddenly found himself in.
Mourning then, or describing the process of mourning, the person in mourning thought, would at least help set the stage and context for understanding the aetiology of this quagmire. Mourning consisted, for example, in the person in mourning waking up each day; a seemingly unremarkable thing unless one considers the deceased, who would never wake up again, and one feels the guilt and wonder and sacrilege that accompanies the simple act of waking up. Sacrilege, — the person in mourning would politely insert, is a word that he liked to use because of his religious background— a word usually used for those who doubt the existence of a non-being, but which the person in mourning liked to —cleverly and sophisticatedly— use for the indignation expressed that one should be instead, given the disbelief that accompanied living at all, since the deceased was now no more. The person in mourning also found himself sleeping a lot, an awful lot, which worried the people around him also in mourning because it isn’t right they say, to be sleeping so much. To which the person in mourning decided to see someone to appease the other people in mourning, much to—he was sad to observe— their chagrin and consternation, for to see someone implied something wrong with the person in mourning, when effort should be placed on remembering the struggle that the deceased had gone through instead. It was unhealthy, the person in mourning felt, to be sleeping so much, when he wanted to be awake to mourn, he told his psychiatrist tiredly, and all he wanted, was —very simply, straightforwardly— some drugs that would make him better. His psychiatrist—who had earned both degrees in psychiatry and psychotherapy and had a subspecialty in suicidology— listened patiently to the person in mourning with a face well practiced in patience and understanding, making little uh sounds when the person in mourning lost his train of thought and felt language leave him. It was normal, the psychiatrist with the subspecialty in suicidology said, after the person in mourning had finally finished his plea, to feel this way, perfectly normal, that the person in mourning had given him such a shock, just turning up at his office like that, but it was normal to be sleeping so much, it was just a natural way of coping, nothing to worry about at all. Furthermore, the psychiatrist with the subspecialty in suicidology said, the person in mourning should be glad and thankful that he had had a good relationship with the deceased, that at least the deceased hadn’t died suddenly and unexpectedly—for that was the worst you know—, and to take comfort in the fact that the shattering and living terror that the person in mourning was feeling was all very perfectly normal so no! there was no need for medicine to make things better, for the person in mourning would be back up and about in no time!
I lagged behind and dimly saw
your receding back
and the nearing glacier
Springing over crevasses,
you flew with the invisible wings earned by
praying so hard for your existence to be mythical
I stared into its depths and
dissolved and became
streaming down sliding
passing glacial caverns
until I saw the volcano beneath
and wished to die or to be
vomited out to sea
reacted with the elements
and ossified instead;
for the rest of history
while you still stand there,
terrible and sublime.
It was her who saw me off at the airport, but it wasn’t her any more when I returned and screamed tormented at the arrival hall. Just off the plane, I struggled against my new and terrible world like a newborn calf half-out of its mother’s womb; my feet still kicking listlessly in Manhattan, my body still in the air above oceans and monsters but my vision locked on the scene illuminated by the glare of the nightmarish sun that hung above Singapore. I laughed, cried and fought to free myself from the folds of the disconcerting moist darkness that carried me. When the strangers started pulling the coffin out of the van I screamed and had to be cradled. When they gestured for me to look at her I shook my head, held my ground, and had to be gently led. When I saw that petrified, waxed face, I stood enchanted. At night, I crept down to talk to her; the way children whisper earnestly to their soft toys in the dead of night, believing that they can hear and understand them.
She lay there. It was day outside but her room was dark and she knew she shouldn’t be in bed. She rolled over. There was a frozen image of a once-real person on her computer and she silently punched his pixelated, unreal nose. When he didn’t move, she punched him again and stared at the ceiling. She agreed that it was real.
The window was open and she had woken up because of the loud noises of children screaming. She lived on the eighth floor of a real building in a very real city. She wondered what floor the children were on and why she could hear them so well. They were still screaming and she couldn’t go back to sleep. She loved babies and children and all sort of young, unreal lemmings. She snuggled into her blanket as the individual voices of these unreal, disembodied creatures slowly merged into the leviathan roar of a very real monster. It sang her real lullabies to sleep.
After a few hours, she pulled herself up and read a book. It was by an unreal person who she had to meet next week; a poisonous book about real people who did and felt unreal and terrible and beautiful things. She felt a bit nauseated but thought the book was lovely, but stories unreal and words neither and so she shut the book and lay there and fell asleep again.
Or perhaps she was awake. She walked into a very real hospital carpark and got into her mother’s car, which was also very real. An unreal man sat inside. She didn’t know him. He said her uncle hired him as a driver to take her home. Home seemed like a real place so she let him. They cruised down a familiar but unreal highway. Halfway through she suddenly panicked. She didn’t know him. What’s my uncle’s name, she asked. He looked at her and stabbed her shoulder so she flung herself out of the car and trailed blood back to her surprisingly unreal home. Her unreal father tried to be real and got mad at her. You lost your mother’s car, he yelled. He drove her back to the very real hospital to look for it while she bled her unreal life out.
Later she got up to go to the supermarket. She walked out into the very real city, passing all the unreal people to be with all the realness of packaged food and fluorescent fruit. They made her happy. She stepped out of the supermarket and back into her unreal bed, which floated her real world horizontal. She decided she liked that, and closed her eyes again.
I have to constantly remind myself I don’t have a mother anymore. If not I trick myself into thinking I do, and perhaps that’s more damaging. Actually it doesn’t matter whether I think I do or don’t, because the world is so irrevocably battered right now. But wait, I should clarify: when I say I don’t have her anymore, I mean it in a possessive, relational way; to hold, to talk to. I used to have her, now I have to remember to wear her; like a shawl when it’s cold, or like a hairclip when I feel like it. And so I have her but do not have her. But whatever. That was unnecessary. Language doesn’t matter anymore. She taught it to me, the jolly yet austere teacher. Pronounce the duhs at the end, follow me now— shuddered, birthed, grieved, good girl. I know she named me Kathleen so I would pronounce my ‘th’s. No, she didn’t tell me. I just know. Duh and Ths. That’s it. But all this is irrelevant now because nothing is beautiful anymore. I had been lying in bed when this thought arose and I couldn’t get up for hours. Nothing is beautiful anymore now that she’s gone. My first thought in weeks. Before, I refused to think. I repeated it in my head, listening to myself. Nothing is beautiful anymore. Nothing is beautiful anymore. Nothing. Is. Beautiful. Anymore. When I finally pulled myself upright I was a ghost living in the world. I float around now. New York is ugly. Singapore is worse. Unhealing city to unhealing city. Ugly to ugly. But now, alone and motherless. Nothing is beautiful anymore. Everything reeks of bad taste. The skyscrapers, the streets, the traffic lights, people, dogs, my desk, words. Writing is the worst thing one can do right now. How can one write about this? Perhaps she could have taught me a long time ago, before she abandoned language as well. She learnt earlier than I did that “nothing is beautiful anymore”. And so she stopped drawing, stopped writing, stopped teaching. I used to read books by people devastated by illness and wonder how writing could have saved them. Bah. Now I stare at the covers and refuse to open them. Now I glare at anything that softly asserts that narratives are our friends, our allies. I do not get out of bed. I only write when necessary, and hate myself when I do. I make sure my words are short and devastating. Indeed, writing is the worst thing one can do now. Will it save me from death? Will it bring her back? Will it reveal to me whether heaven exists? No more writing for me. I lie in bed and remind myself I don’t have a mother anymore.
I’m lying and I’m telling the truth. I know writing will save me but I don’t want it to. I hate it and I think I need it. I believe in it and want to destroy it. It seems horrendous to continue living and make sense of things when I don’t have her anymore. I want to break language. I want to shatter it against the wall of my brain. It’s both phony and real and hateful. She taught it to me. Duh and Ths. I don’t know what to do with language anymore. Perhaps if she were alive she’d tell me. But I don’t think so, she hated it too. I read Gillian Rose’s Love’s Work today and felt like she was there. No, she didn’t know who Gillian Rose was. Yes, I had explained it to her before and she hadn’t cared. I found her in Love’s Work in the careful evocation of my hero. Rose, who kept her mind in hell and didn’t despair. I found her. I don’t have her, but I found a bit of her. But still. Nothing is beautiful anymore. Rose was, in her removed resistance against death. But she was too, in her hopeless despair. Perhaps I can make her beautiful with twisty words. But no. The reduction, the travesty. Help. What do I do? I remind myself I don’t have a mother anymore, and write.
best birthday present ever: the acceptance letter from my dream school, what i’ve been working hard towards and praying about so desperately. while it’s exciting and all to be moving to nyc, i’m more pumped that this validation represents the first step out of the many needed to be taken in achieving my dreams, and am now even more determined to live my life pursuing the causes i’m passionate about. (at Le Mont-Saint-Michel)
things are still shaky, but a lot clearer after a week of insomnia, temporary neurosis, and a good irrational bawl.
this paralysis is slowly killing me. so. i have my ‘road map’. if the route doesn’t work, i need (i must) have the drive to find another. accept that whatever the route taken, it will be arduous. the most difficult thing is to summon the drive, but it must be done. do my best, God will take care of everything else, and make the labour a happy one. imperative: above all, do not lose sight of who i am, why i chose this path, and why i would chose this road again and again, again and again.