Grief is a strange thing

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Booksie Classic
From my longer novella, "From This Shoreline"

Submitted: June 20, 2017

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Submitted: June 20, 2017



Imagine the path of any familiar narrative. The protagonist will describe himself as level-headed and even-tempered, even when he is not, and therefore, everything that happens to him is the will and fault of the external. He does not struggle or grapple or wonder within, and if he does, he is able to resolve any sort of internal struggle within 150 pages and say he has changed by the end.



Ay,” I can hear Mami saying, clucking her tongue as naive me finishes explaining what I have learned in school. “Pero nadie realmente cambia.” But nobody really changes.

It’s the last time I give her a synopsis of my education, the last time I go to her for advice. She is wrong I think bitterly, years later even, unsticking my bottom lip from a tangle of braces even though they tell me to stop chewing on them in the first place. I release my lip from its metal cage in the middle of physics class only to see blood - a bundle of severed nerves leaping beyond its cocooning of tissue. I hold several fingers there to try and dam the flow, and I look up at the chalkboard for the first time that period to see my high school teacher’s fatigued writing:


It may be that there is no such thing as an equable motion, whereby time may be accurately measured. All motions may be accelerated or retarded, but the true, or equable, progress of absolute time is liable to no change - Isaac Newton.


Maybe Mami was right, I think angrily, letting the blood drip down my thumb.


So maybe I don’t change, and maybe I don’t get a narrative, I resolve as I cross the intersection where Andy forcibly let me go. Maybe some of us travel in circles all our lives.

I am somewhere north of Miami, in a neighborhood I don’t recognize. The humidity blurs the already muted grays street, and the only passerby scurries along, hunched at the absence of wind or rain. I search for a payphone that I can’t find, and then realize I don’t have anyone to call. I turn a corner and find an older woman sitting outside a laundromat with a flickering neon sign. She has her knees drawn in and her head resting in the crook of her arms, one of which hangs loosely outstretched and holds a paper cup.

“Excuse me,” I say, but she doesn’t look up, she just continues to dangle her arm like an unstable clothesline. “Excuse me,” I say again, louder this time, but still she doesn’t look up. For a strange moment I wonder if she is even alive.

I reach down into my pockets for change. I find a couple quarters and a few dimes, and I gingerly put it into her cup. The weight of the change makes her hand bow forward.

“Next bus is in fifteen minutes,” she says in a hoarse voice, head still tucked in arm.

“I’m sorry, what?” I say, jumping at the addition of her voice to the space.

“The bus,” she says again, “across the street- it comes in fifteen minutes. It’ll take you to downtown Miami.”

“How’d-” I begin.

“You’re not the first one coming here looking for a way out,” she says, and it feels oddly prophetic.

“Oh, I -” I say, upturning the insides of my other pockets, looking for more change, but there isn’t any.


Imagine the rest of the story playing out in three different scenarios -- and I am in charge of all of them. One. My mother and I reunite, she apologizes for neglecting my brother and the rest of us when we all needed her the most. I forgive her. We are friends for a long time after.


But that would be too easy.


Two. They tell me my mother is dead - the causes are unknown (can you die of brokenheartedness?) - Rudi weeps and I put on a brave face and am suddenly swept up by nostalgia, and decide to devote my life to keeping her memory intact. I get in touch with extended Cuban relatives, I try and reconnect with Blue Line publishing in attempt to get her diary entries published.  


But that would be out of character for me.  


Three. My mother cannot be found. Police search for a few years, but eventually give up - there are more pressing cases: lost babies and runaways teens, to name a few. Perhaps my mother fled to Cuba; she misses the view of the shore from the Havana side. Because Rudi and I are naturalized citizens, we cannot go back to see her, and maybe my mother makes this move on purpose, or maybe she doesn’t take this into consideration. We live the rest of our lives in wonderment, hanging between threads of “what ifs” and “have beens.”


But that would be unsatisfying.


Or, this: Maggie takes the bus, thanks to the homeless woman’s directions, with a light head and a heavy stomach. The bus pulls away from the curb and Maggie watches the homeless woman become a tiny point in the distance, prominent against the empty backdrop for several blocks. Only another man rides with her in the back, untangling several plastic bags in his lap and leaning out the window every so often to cough. It is unnerving. To pass the time, Maggie counts every street sign passed, and organizes them by whether they start with consonants or vowels. So far, she has 17 vowels and 68 consonants.

Rudi had told her on the phone earlier to meet at the SunValley high-rise, a fancy condominium in the middle of downtown that he superintends. The police have often been meeting Rudi at his place of work to go over daily reports of nothingness followed by zero findings. Maggie has met her twin at SunValley several times before, and has been fascinated by the fake seashells jammed into pastel walls in the lobby not unlike the ones at Monticello - apparently this is a selling point.

Maggie gets off the bus right near Calle Ocho and forgets to thank the bus driver, which is probably a first for her. She only has to fight through waves of sticky exhaust for a moment; she is soon greeted by a blast of air conditioner that smells like a newly cleaned refrigerator and herbal tea. The doorman tips his hat to Maggie upon recognizing her immediately; Rudi keeps a picture of her at his desk, the second largest photo, outsized by the one of Luís.

Rudi’s office is on the second floor, but Maggie does not need to go that far to find him. Her brother, her twin, sits on the plastic-looking ottoman that shines with the highly polished tiling, and has no give at all despite the weight that Rudi has sunk into it. He keeps his head in his hands so that Maggie cannot see his face - his half smile, his dark, sparkling eyes, his long eyelashes. He is flanked on either side by a policeman, both Cuban. One is short and squat and has a thick mustache covering up most of the rose coloring in his cheeks, and the other is tall and long-limbed, with long hair almost past his shoulders. The tall officer is bent over Rudi, telling him something softly in his ear. The other officer stands still, simply watching, not unlike Maggie. The brass chandelier swings slightly overhead to the incessant churning of the air conditioner.

There could be a small excerpt of dialogue here, a quick exchange of words, but the truth is, Maggie will not be able to remember the names of either officer, nor the way in which one of them (the tall one?) delivers the news. All Maggie or Rudi will ever be able to recall is the clipped, final way in which they are spoken to, and the main idea of the message. Everything else does not feel as though it exists in real time, and thus, has no place in a story that tries to track it.

The mother has been spotted, apparently, at South Pointe Park beach, by a lonely woman who pours over missing ads and old milk cartons that most people just toss. The mother was said to be wading through the rip current area, and despite the shouts and warnings of the teenaged life guards who had not been trained for this, walked until the water was to her shoulders, fully-clothed, eyes closed. A glimpse of a buoy fighting against the waves, although the mother did not seem to put up a fight at all.



Legend has it that Virginia Woolf woke up one morning and decided it was time to die. She filled her pockets with stones and walked out to sea with a smile on her face. Even as the weight of the stones pulled her down and defied her body’s natural response to fight for life, Virginia herself did not protest. She kept walking. So it is said. Her mind was unafraid. Curiosity, perhaps, fought against nature. To see the other side.


Grief is a strange thing, working differently than any other emotion. Sadness only simplifies it, anger only pauses it in a small frame of time and space. Grief is when time seems to stop entirely, and the grieving person shifts in spite of the absence of time. When time continues, the person continues revolving with the earth’s pull, fated to see no more change. Grief eventually brings about the change that happens in a vacuum. 

© Copyright 2018 Melissa F. All rights reserved.

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