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January 19, 2015

On Love, Empathy, Loss

An editorial note from one of our writers, Jessica Fenlon: "This piece touches the reality of our sometimes-fragmentary healing process, even in the how it is written." She expressed something I could not quite find the words for, but it does speak to the technical strength of this creative writing.

I easily identify with this piece by Tasha Raella Chemel. It is both fragmented and fluid. It touches on the real and the unreal, those side-by-side sensations that accompany loss. It breaks the boundaries between past and future, artificial boundaries, after all. It's like a long Haiku; it reveals because it depicts, not because it explains. Best of all, there is healing in it, if you read it well.

Throat Chakra, Visshuda, by RebelBam

the solidarity of the vulnerable

by Tasha Raella Chemel

1. My throat has been restless all week. Apparently, through some sort of mechanical mix-up, its chakra has become enmeshed with unacknowledged grief. Lately, I've become disenamored with new-age platitudes, but the shell of this one does not give way under my fingertips. 

2. It’s Monday, or maybe Tuesday. I can't tell. I'm talking to my dad on the phone. By this point, he isn't saying much. He's got his oxygen mask on. He sounds freakish, like a parody of a beloved cartoon character, and I just want to end the call as soon as I can. If he isn't going to be the dad I knew, then I don't want to speak to him. I tell him about my latest computer problem, an ominous clicking coming from the hard drive that I don't want to identify with too closely. I don't ask how he's feeling. My brain isn't flexible enough yet to bend around that particular question. I think he says he loves me. I know he doesn't say goodbye. 

3. My feelings for you are knotted; the kind of fiendish snarl that inevitably results when too many personal electronics are crammed into a tiny space. It is unfortunate that all the cords are the same thickness and color. You spend hours watching me trying to untangle my hope from your hurt from my limerence from your loss, from our mutual desire to be seen, until the time comes when I can no longer speak and you can no longer listen. 

4. My mom is at the hospital. There had been a conversation about whether I should be there too, but I don't want to go. Or maybe my mom doesn't want me to go. I like the glide of that story better. Blame is definite. The phone rings. It's my mom calling. I ask her if my dad is going to die. She says she doesn't know, and that she wants to speak to my aunt. She's aggravated, as if I've done something teenagery and stupid, like leaving my math homework on the kitchen table.

5. It’s been two years since I left. My throat wants me to write to you. I tell you how San Francisco summers begin and end in May. I ask you about the secret language of graduate school. You reply to my first letter, but not the second. I refuse to see you as a person who is capable of thoughtlessness. I am safe.

6. My memories of my father are neatly separated into two collections. The first I keep on the top shelf of my closet, in a cardboard box. Most of the time, I look through it dutifully, when we're watching videos of our family vacations. Everybody is too busy smiling. My father is too busy being happy and privileged and immortal. Occasionally, right about this time of year, when the first three notes of springtime get stuck in my head, and I breathe in a lungful of perfumed air from an open classroom window, I'll run home and I'll take down that box of my own volition. But I will always prefer my second collection, which I've artfully arranged on the top of my dresser, like glass animals that will never break. My animals are a therapist's worst nightmare. He can try to rationalize them away, but they will keep shining at him, obliviously, and sometimes I think that shine is the brightest thing I own, so bright that even my perforated retinas can take their pleasure.

A. "Never tell me to shut up again. If I said that to my father, he'd give me a hiding."
B. "You're selfish. You're always moving onto the next thing."
C. "You're spoiled. Do you know that? I'm already paying for your therapy and personal trainer, and now you want a new mattress as well?"
D. "Your breath is toxic. I'm not helping you until you brush your teeth. Your teeth are going to rot away, if you don’t' take better care of them."
E. "I'm done helping you if you're going to talk to me like that."
F. "Now I know you never can keep a secret."

Look at how paltry these things are, just sitting here on the page. Any parent could lay claim to them. But my dad said them to me. They are mine.

7. My memories of you are spliced and jumbled. It’s St. Patrick’s Day, briefly. We are hunched over my computer screen, as we ride the train from Providence to Virginia. Your love is indelible when you are reading aloud, when your alchemist’s lips are weaving the written into the spoken. Then it’s May, and the law of entropy demands its due. The last few days of college are collapsing in on themselves. You read to me, more than ever, but you are leaving for China in August, and the rhythms of that country have already crept into your speech. 

8. It's Friday morning. My mom sits on the edge of my bed. "He's gone," she says. There’s a draft in this sheltered, but poorly insulated place, a gap between two worlds where possibilities can still play. "Gone" doesn't always mean "dead." 

9. It’s a Wednesday at the cusp of December. I write to you again, to tell you that I will be in town for the holidays. I ask if you would like to have coffee. Your polite acceptance comes in the middle of my pottery class. The teacher comments on the prettiness of my rim. My hands are still shaking.

10. It's Sunday, or maybe Monday. It doesn’t matter which. I say that I don't want to go to the funeral. "Of course you're going," my mother says. We have to leave in ten minutes. She tells me to try to "pull myself together." I still don't know what that means. I had a dream last night about a stretched audiotape that wouldn't play. I took it out of the machine, and I knew it was working against me. The faster I tried to wind the tape back up, the faster it spooled itself out of its casing. Why is it so unwilling to submit? 

11. It’s the afternoon of New Year’s Eve in New York. The waitress is peevish because we have come five minutes before the restaurant has opened. I order a silly salad that I know I can't eat. I apologize for leaving, for taking what did not belong to me. You say that I had no ill intentions, that I did nothing wrong. Your reassurance scalds the tip of my tongue, but it is mother-warm when it reaches my ribs. You ask innocuous questions, and I hear my own recorded voice answering them. Once, I cut myself off in mid-sentence. I am caught by the decadence of your laugh, and for a moment, I almost remember what it is to be your friend.
Much later, when I am alone, I choose the ugliest of my glass animals, a demented rabbit, and I hurl it against the wall as hard as I can. Its right foreleg breaks off and splits in two, but it is otherwise unharmed. I cradle the two halves in my palm, wishing, absurdly, for the power to knit them back together. There's a drop of blood at the center of my left pointer finger, but I don't mind. The wounded rabbit goes back on the dresser with the others. The chips of pain in its eyes remind me that I am not quite ready to yield to the weight of your forgiveness.

Tasha Raella Chemel is currently a master's candidate in Arts In Education at Harvard University. She enjoys reading critical theory, seeking out the perfect chai latte, and over-analyzing pop culture. She lives in Massachusetts.

Copyright, Tasha Raella Chemel, all rights reserved.
Illustration by RebelBam. See more of her work here:  Baruška Anita Michalčíková. 

Description of illustration for the visually impaired:
The illustration shows a silhouette of a woman with a pony tail and bangs. Her mouth is open slightly as though she is about to speak. One arm is by her side; the other is bent at the elbow and its hand points upward. A blue circle hovers in front of her throat. The circle looks three dimensional, as though it were a globe floating.

The globe contains shades of teal, turquoise and sky blue. Emanating from the woman's figure are 12 ondulating patterns of many, varying blues. Their colors vary from indigo to turquoise. Surrounding and encircling all of these ondulations is a pattern of diamond shapes in teal and navy blue.