1) The wind walloped him. An invisible enemy, but he didn’t mind. The noise quieted his restless thoughts.
2) He looked out into the ocean, the same color as the unlit sky, blending into one another seamlessly.
3) Seamlessly. He searched for it. What exists within that invisible seam, between the ocean and the stars? The wind pushed him forward.
4) Not yet. He wasn’t ready yet. He held onto the rail of the peeling red bridge and looked out, noticing the cold of the summer air.
5) He noticed everything. Felt everything. Remembered everything. Fresh-cut grass. Ex-wife’s lips, wet with salty grief. Baby shoes, unworn.
6) As his foot lifted off the ledge, he thought “this is a mistake.”
7) As he floated through the seam of the ocean and the sky, he thought “this is all that’s left of me.”

 

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He stood, watching the sun burn out. Well. In his mind he stood. He remembered what it was like to stand. He remembers standing. How his legs felt, which muscles engaged, he never noticed. What is it to stand, anyway?

He sat in his wheelchair, aware. He felt the cold. He saw the cold. He saw the nurse leaning down next to him, looking out. There she was. And where was he?

He sat in his wheelchair, trapped. His legs were there. He used to will them to move, and they would. He’d try to figure out exactly how it happened. Move, legs. And they’d move. How? Move, legs. And they didn’t. Did he ever have the urge to sneeze? He didn’t know anymore.

Trapped.

In his own body. There he was, reduced only to a thought. A thought that could not manifest. If a person is a mind, he should have been a person. But a mind without a body. Well.

A year ago he had been skiing. In Aspen, with his wife—his sweet, beautiful wife—three vibrant kids. The first day of a two-week trip. The snow was groomed but icy. He took caution and stayed on the greens. His littlest son, fearless, tireless. Just one more run, then they’d all meet up for hot chocolate.

He heard the noise behind him, but it came too fast. The deep carve of a snowboard. It overwhelmed him. It passed. He slid into the column.

Then.

He watched it hit his son, who cried, but sat up expectantly, waiting for his father to come console him. He watched his son, and began to stand up to ski over to him.

No. He didn’t.

He thought he did. He went through the motions in his mind, but his body was far away. He called out to his son. Silently. He looked left, then right. Yes, his eyes moved. How did he make his eyes move? He had to know. He had to do the same for his legs.

He felt no pain. He felt nothing. He lay in the snow facing his young son, crying, crying, alone. Twenty feet away, watching, he could not console him. Father.

“Hey kid, are you alright?”

A voice from the chairlift.

Minutes later, a sled. An ambulance, a hospital. They cut off his clothes.

Where is my son? He asked. No one heard him. Where is my son? He asked, louder. He heard a small wheeze, and the nurse turned to him. Effortlessly.

They rarely came to visit. His two teenagers uninterested in witnessing their father wiped like a child, his youngest never seeing clearly through his tears. An unrequited hug for his abandoned wife.

“Are you ready to go back?” asked the nurse, standing up beside his wheelchair. He wanted to hit her. Why does she ask him questions she knows he cannot answer? He looked out once more at the fading sunset before his chair was turned away. He had been ready to go back for a long time.

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1. A broken butterfly on the ground quivers in the wind. Its colors, once thick, dull. A hovering shadow reaches down with weightless fingers.

2. The wings: gossamer, shredded, discarded. Separated from their body, whimpering an inch away. The shadow: corpulent, a child. Laughing.

3. He holds the body, now flightless, grounded. The legs, protruding. No more. The antennae, alert, removed. Laughing. Years pass. Wings shred.

4. He holds the body. She struggles, silenced by words. Threats. She quivers on the floor. He reaches down, ten fingers around her neck.

5. His thumb, holding down a beating artery. His cracked index enwraps a tendon, smooth and tight. Between them, a ridged trachea.

6. She looks up; her eyes pulse. A little boy stands before her.

7. “Fly,” she wheezes, and he lets her go. “Don’t hold so tight next time. I almost couldn’t say it.” “Sorry,” he says. “I got excited.”

 

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I find it absurd: your face, straight-on.

          There I am, inside of you. What are you made of, tell me, that my penetration is so unobstructed. So smooth. I slither around, my movements imitated. Is there a time lapse between my movements and your reflection of my movements? There must be.

To be inside would be to break me. But to look: without your world, mine would not exist. I reflect just as emptily emptiness itself. Every night, when the light turns out, in the black haze of windowless brick. Three floors above your bed I sit. I wait. You come.

          Every night I come. You wait. Three floors above my bed you sit. Every night the light is lit. Each side of my face is dissimilar to the other. My irises swell and contract when I look at the left, then the right. It must be the hallway light coming from the doorway on the right. It is hot in this attic. My skin glistens. My face is flushed. My lips, full.

Pulse. Pulse. It’s in your eyes. Night by Night by Night. Waiting. For what? What do you see in me that you can’t see by turning around? You cannot see yourself without me. I know. Can you see yourself with me? I cannot see myself with you. I cannot see myself without you. My reflection, a reflection, only.

          I find it absurd.

 

 

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1) Christmas. The fog was too thick; the rain, loud. “Pull over,” she said. “Wait for it to clear.”
2) “We’re already on the highway. Almost there,” he said, patting the ring in his pocket.
3) He never listened. “I want to tell you something before we get there,” she said, hand on stomach.
4) The car jerked to the left, the windows shattered. Stop.
5) The other driver was fine. A cut. A bruise. The accident woke him up. “Sarah…” It rained.
6) He called from his hospital bed, desperate for her voice, her hand, her breath. “SARAH!”
7) “I have some bad news,” the doctor said. He never listened. The fog was too thick.

 

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If I had said, “It’s OK, we will be alright,” would that have made it easier for him to let go?

The plane went down. And he was alone.

I wasn’t there. And yet, it’s so present in my mind. He felt the force of the nosedive press his back against his seat. Or was that his arms, pushing down on the armrests, throwing his back into the musty blue seat? He tries to keep far away from the nose of the plane, diving into the night-lit ocean. Only an inch did his arms push his back into the chair. Only an inch further away from the nose of the plane. He knows he’s going to die. And he starts thinking.

None of us were there with him. No wife. No son, no daughter. Does he love anyone else that wasn’t there? Dying with a bunch of strangers, thinking of his family. When he thinks of us, does he think of us in the present? Am I a little girl when he thinks of me? Were those the best days? When I reached out and grabbed his finger with my whole hand as a newborn.

I think his eyes are wide, but they’re always wide. Was he scared? For us? Of course we will be upset. But the worst part, perhaps, is not the loss, but knowing his mental tumult before his death. That we weren’t there until the end.

Once my father and I got into an argument. He left the house angrily, and I didn’t follow. He was right to be angry. My mother got upset and told me never to leave in the middle of a fight, or let someone leave in the middle of a fight. Because they might not come back. There might be an accident, and the last things I will have said will be words of anger.

We were in an airport once, waiting to board a plane. A man in army fatigues came up to us and told my father that he could see how much I loved him, just by the way we interacted. I was young, and we were playing. No toys, no games. Just my father and me, sitting on a chair in an airport. If it was crowded, I didn’t notice.

As I got older, I used to joke that I’d still sit on my father’s lap after dinner when I’m 16. Sixteen is far passed now. I don’t remember when I stopped. I wish I hadn’t.

I wish I could have told him we would be alright. I wish he didn’t feel guilty about dying and leaving us all behind. Did he?

I wish there hadn’t been things unspoken that should have been said. Things like “I’m sorry,” and “I love you,” and “I don’t know how to live without you,” and “We will be OK.” But, is there anything that could really have been said that would have made the moments before his death a little more peaceful? Is it really leaving in the middle of angry words that shouldn’t be done, or is it leaving in the middle of unspoken words?

Perhaps he was happy that we weren’t there, that we would go on living. How selfless does one become in the face of death?

His heart beats faster. My father, a god. A god who is always right, always has a solution–the strongest, the smartest, the undefeatable–helpless.

We haven’t always had an easy time communicating, my father and I.

It’s because we are the same person.

If I could have been there in those last moments before his death, as he sat alone, knowing he would never see us again–knowing he would be eternally alone, and that we would forever be without him–I would have told him not to worry. He did everything right. I would have held his hand and said, “I’m sorry, I forgive you, and I know you forgive me.”

But I wasn’t there. He was alone on the plane, with unspoken words. With unnecessary fears and guilt and regrets. I know. I know everything that was never said.

If only I’d had more time to say it. I had years.

If only I’d had the words to say it. I had books.

If only, if only. I would have said:

 

 

 

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Phase 1. I am little. I learn to play the beginner’s version of “Sunrise, Sunset” on the piano. It’s fun. My father brushes my hair. I ask him, “How do we know that we’re awake and this isn’t a dream?”

Phase 2. I’m working the summer before college. I missed my mother’s call. She wanted to have lunch. I realize it’s probably the last time we would have been able to do that, since I’m leaving for college.

Phase 3. I’m a freshman. I walk around Washington Square Park and think, “In four years, it’ll all be over.”

Phase 4. Two years after graduating college, I realize that I’ll probably never live with my parents again, and I haven’t for six years.

Phase 6.

Phase 7. I missed Phase 6.

Phase 8. My brother is married.

Phase 9. I’m single again.

Phase 10. ‘Why is this happening?’

Phase 11. My company fails. Phase 12. Half my life ago, I wrote this. Phase 13. It’s too late. Phase 14. ‘Why is this happening again?’ Phase 15.Phase16.Phase17.Phase…

 

Phase N. My granddaughter plays “Sunrise, Sunset” on the piano next to my hospital bed.

Phase N+1. The sun sets.

 

 

 

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