Sitting at my brother’s kitchen island typing on my computer. He is sitting on the other end, typing on his, preparing for a hearing (he’s a lawyer). We are eating toast, drinking coffee. Outside, a steady but gentle rain drizzles down, almost invisible. It looks more like static than rain, like floaters streaming across the eye surfaces. The branchlets of the dogwood tree in his front yard, tinged maroon, hold hundreds of drops and droplets of water, which glint in the flat light. Each represents the accumulation of dozens of raining-down almost formless particles. Every once in a while a fattened drop falls off to earth. Last night, my brother and I stayed up until 1 am, what seems an every five year or so ritual of recounting our childhood stories and weird memories, trying to make sense of the inexplicable nature of our father. We grew up with a troubled man, an immigrant of mercurial moods and haunting, half-baked stories of war, a man of secrets. He was a mystery to us, more so now that he’s dead. Do we think that if we add up enough confusing fragments, they would resolve into clarity? Accrue into something whole, a drop, a liquid bead, with form and weight? Perhaps we believe on some level that the bead will then drop from our arms and shoulders, leaving us cleansed.
It’s good to stand in the rain sometimes. Better to stand there together. At the end of the night all we could offer each other was affirmation our mutual unresolved confusion. I hear yours. Thanks for hearing mine.
One hour later, at the station, waiting for my train back to Providence, RI, I’m watching inexplicable stories in the Amrack station. A girl, maybe sixteen or seventeen, in heels so spiky and tall, she can’t walk a straight line, shoes held to her bare feet by a clear plastic band the color of head cheese jelly. Dirty blonde hair stringy against her skinny shoulders. Exhausted pale skin, some acne. Two men converge on her, one scolding and urging her toward the double doors leading to the parking area, another old and grizzled-looking walking beside her for awhile, telling some kind of joke. Someone’s daughter, I think. Someday, like me, will she stay up late, talk with a sibling, try to piece the inexplicable broken bits into some semblance of a whole? How do you tell such a story, with no narrative line? With no transitions or connective tissue? With too many tangled reasons? With missing pieces, big vacuous blanks, gaps, whole corners torn off. Is it right to make up a narrative line? My mother says tell it “in circles,” and that’s how she talks about her own broken, long-hidden memories of trauma. If the fragments circle around you, there you are, standing in the center. The solid trunk of yourself. Whoever you are, you have constructed this self/soul, grown it up out of chaos, muddle, shattering.
Healing is like that. There is no linear progression, no twelve consecutive steps. Even people I know who’ve joined literal twelve step programs don’t finish the twelfth and stop and consider themselves done. They circle back. Each circle perhaps closes in upon the self/soul, the thing that you are attempting to make, to create, to rebuild, out of what’s inborn and out of whatever’s happened to you. The title of a book of poems by Olena Davis is “And Her Soul Out of Nothing.” I have thought about that title for years. I love the idea implicit in it. I like to wake up every morning and think about it, the promise and responsibility held within those six words.
When I look at my brother, I do not see my father’s baffling, shape-shifting story thick around him, obscuring his features or his actions. When I look at my brother I see someone solid, vertical, a certain kind of tree. His children could tell you a pretty straight-forward narrative of growing up with that man as their dad. He burdened them with no secrets or sleights of hand. When my brother looks at me, I hope he doesn’t see breast cancer or childhood wounds. I hope he doesn’t see memories impossible to decipher or resolve. I hope he sees a tree-shaped soul, standing in the rain.