Category Archives: Writing

A portfolio of Alexandra’s creative and academic writing.

When the Sun Stopped Shining Into our Living Room.

31st March 2014

You’ll know the good bits when you read them. The stuff before it happened. Like the day we decided to down six cans of whipping cream without stopping, three for me and three for you until I almost choked and you ran to the sink and threw it all back up, the white gooey mixture floating around the dirty dishwater, me laughing and you holding your stomach and somehow laughing too. They said you didn’t mean to do it, that it was an accident, and I knew that was a lie but your mother was there, sobbing into her sleeve and I just couldn’t tell them that you’d been sad for a while, that in the back of my mind I’d known all along that this was a possibility. Your mother blamed herself for enough of your problems already, and I knew this truth was one that would sit in the pit of her stomach and resurface when she would least expect it to, like when she was brushing her teeth or looking up a word in the dictionary, just as a reminder that it was still hers to keep, something that would never change no matter how hard she tried not to believe it.

Your mother never liked me, and I’m still not sure why. Maybe because, like you, I had no direction except my love for painting, which was something she never understood. But you did. You would watch as I swirled my brush into globs of yellow, green and reds, standing over me as my brush hit the canvas for that first stroke, trying to guess what I was going to create. A tree, you would say. It’s definitely going to be a tree. No! The human body! That has to be the beginning of a spine. Really, you didn’t believe these guesses were right, you knew I only painted abstract. When I was done, you’d look over my shoulder again and say See? I knew it. A perfect, beautiful tree.

You stopped going out on Fridays about a year ago. At first I really believed that you were just tired after working at Sobeys all week, cashing out customers who didn’t find it funny when you spun their cantaloupes on your index finger, or pretended the green spikes of their pineapples had gotten stuck in your palm. Ma’am, I think you’re going to have yourself one bloody pineapple when I manage to get this thing out. You’d pull really hard and dramatically fall to the side, and later that night, when I’d be in hysterics you’d tell me that the customers hadn’t had the same reaction, some with dead pan looks on their faces, their eyebrows knitting together, others sighing loudly like your game was severely wasting precious seconds of their lives. Everyone just needs to slow down, you said. Take a joke without thinking that the happiest five seconds they’ve had all day is keeping them from pre-heating their oven, or going to kill their dog that needs to be fed. Everyone is always in a rush, catching what I just don’t know, you’d say shaking your head.

You had a thing for fruit. You’d bring me home something new every evening after your shift and I’d find them during the week, dispersed throughout the apartment. A tangerine sitting on top of the mirror in the bathroom, a dragon fruit blending in with flowers on the balcony, sitting in the potted tulips. Once you left a strawberry under my pillow thinking I’d somehow notice it before I put my head down. I didn’t, and the red juice stained the sheets, seeping out the sides of my pillow, making it look like I had bled from my ears during the night. Another time you placed cherries carefully in a line from the door to our bedroom on our anniversary. I don’t think I’ll ever forget finding you sitting there, waiting for me, eating a papaya.

That day you didn’t come out for Hilary’s birthday I knew something was wrong. I just don’t want to go, your voice muffled through the cocoon of blankets around your head, nothing exposed but your nose. There’s no reason, I just don’t want to. I went anyways- it was Hilary’s birthday, I had to- but everyone could feel my uneasiness, even when I plastered a smile on my face, feeling like I was walking precariously on a balance beam, teetering more towards the floor than the centre, trying so hard not to fall. When I got home I was angry at you for making me go alone, everyone asking me where you were, me saying in bed, them asking why, me saying I don’t know, them not understanding just like me. I’m sorry, you’d said, letting this out in a breath filled with exhaustion as if talking to me was equal to climbing a mountain backwards wearing steel-toed boots. Fine, I said. I’m sorry, you said. For what, I asked. I don’t know, you answered.

You didn’t come out of your cocoon until Tuesday, which meant you missed your Sobeys shift on Monday and when they called I pretended you had food poisoning and said that I was sorry, I thought you’d already let them know. I considered feeding you grapes through the new hole you’d made, a gateway to your mouth, because you hadn’t eaten much all weekend. I also considered running my hands through your black hair but it was greasy and I decided against it. Until you had an explanation, I wasn’t going to play this game. What’s wrong? Are you sick? Sobeys misses you. I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know.

Do you remember when they turned off our power because you hadn’t got many shifts that month, and I’d spent all the money we did have on new paints for my art show in October and we lit candles all over the apartment and wondered how many people would look through the window and think the living room was on fire? You walked to the corner store and bought those frozen hot dogs that looked like brown sticks of waxy Play-Doh and we stuck them on forks and tried to cook them over the candles, knowing it wouldn’t really work, but eating them after they were mostly thawed and having so much fun we didn’t even notice the chunks that were still cold. That night it felt you really loved me, and I felt that I really loved you and then you said I want to make love to your words, to your body and to your being and we both burst out laughing because you could never be romantic, even when you tried, but a part of me, somewhere deep down inside, ignited.

It got really bad in November and you had to quit your Sobeys job and I picked up some part-time hours at The Drop down the street. I think it was then that I realized this wasn’t a game. That you really didn’t know why you felt the way you did. We argued a lot, I told you to get help. I threatened to phone your mom and tell her what was happening but you told me you were fine, that everyone gets depressed once in a while, that it would pass. Sometimes I’d stay late at the coffee shop after my shift and talk to Dan while he made lattes and one day I found myself wondering what it would feel like to be held by him because he had really muscular forearms and I liked that he wore small spacers and denim shirts. Once he slid behind me to reach for the milk and my body buzzed as if it had been electrocuted, and I stood there and let his body heat wake up the parts of me that also slept during those months you felt sad.

Sometimes I blame myself for not calling your mom like I threatened to, or for not dragging you into the hospital but I convince myself that I was paralyzed by fear, that I trusted you when you told me you would be fine, that it was a phase, that everyone feels sad at some point in their lives. It was easier to leave you alone in your cocoon and make myself busy and pretend everything was okay and wait for you to get better and act like it was normal that no one at my new job had met you yet and to try and forget that sometimes I stayed up all night waiting for you to put your skinny arm around me, replaying over and over in my head what that would feel like. And when you didn’t I’d picture Dan behind me reaching for the milk and think about kissing his tattoo-covered arms until the sun rose and I’d go to work and you’d stay in bed not moving at all.

When your mom came to pick up some of your stuff the week it happened she saw that portrait I painted of you a while back, you know the one that’s made up mostly of forest green and auburn strokes except for your head which is a lemon painted in a hue of electrifying yellow. It was the only painting she stopped to stare at, and I told her it was you. When she asked why your head was a lemon I told her about the time in the dead of winter you walked in the door with two cases of them and said, Look I brought the sun home, and stacked them on the windowsill carefully, one on top of the other until the entire window was covered with lemons and when the grey winter light shone through a yellow glow filled the room as if the sun was setting inside our apartment and you started dancing, reaching out for my hands.

Tributaries.

19th February 2014

I am sitting on the subway listening to the pressure of air squeeze against the stainless steel train.

When I look across to find my reflection I notice the woman sitting beside me, a crease of concern between her eyebrows. The lines on the woman’s face stand out against the black of the tunnel, like tree roots against the glass. Something deep inside of me flickers, like a match that almost catches against emery, and fades.

I’ve never met grief face-to-face, but I can easily pick it out of a crowd full of memories; when you rested your wrist on the side of the bowl as we mixed and watched the raw eggs and flour clump together. Why are you tired? I asked. When your eyes misted and then flowed over, the tears resting in the dark cushiony clouds underneath. Are you crying? is a question I never asked out loud.

You used to bake cookies for every person on our street, and even when you were sad, this made you happy. Sometimes I would come home to cookies overflowing off the counters, stacked on top of each other like cookie sandcastles. The image of you in a pink, frilly apron against the stainless steel world of our kitchen would mock any 1950s housewife ad; holding a white spatula, crying and laughing at all the cookies around you. Me, laughing too, but feeling something else as I surfboarded with you through the highs, and prepared for the reef-cutting lows.

When you said you were going away, I memorized the lines carefully etched under your eyes, as if your skin was made of Play-Doh. You told me that Grief follows you most places and you needed to run away. Grief sang me softly to sleep that night, the wood of your bed moaning under the release of your absence and I wondered why you didn’t take me with you.

At some point I convinced myself that I didn’t need you, and Grief would keep me company even on the brightest days, when the sun hit the sizzling concrete and pooled behind me in a shadow of inky blackness. I stopped trying to safeguard memories and told myself I didn’t need you, or the moments of your highs and lows; they only sailed me out into the middle of an unforgiving ocean, leaving me bobbing on a horizon where the sun didn’t wait for the earth to turn, instead rising and setting whenever it wanted to.

Grief has not left me since. It sits in crescent moon hollows under my eyes and contorts my body into the shape of flat notes and sharps. I can always feel it seeping through the cracks of tomorrow.

The woman has caught me staring, and pats down the twist in her hair and adjusts herself uncomfortably. I wonder if she’s seen you, riding the subway or through the grease-stained window of a cheap dim sum restaurant downtown. I scan faces in large crowds just in case you appear, even though I know you won’t. I imagine what you look like now, having outrun grief. But all I can picture are the lines below your eyes, some forking off into tributaries that catch your tears when you cry, others lone but strong.

It occurs to me then that too much time has passed for memories to conjure on their own anymore like they used to; me, doing algebra when the image of you suddenly appeared, laughing hysterically as you rubbed a red balloon against my hair so it stood straight up. Dropping a hanger while I shopped for maternity clothes and remembering that time you smashed a glass. Its tiny shattered pieces glinted in the sun and made our kitchen floor look like it had been sprinkled with a million broken icicles in the middle of summer.

I tell myself you have escaped Grief, but part of me will always know this is not true. It will always be there, in the straight rivers and tributaries of your skin, always flowing across your face and branching off in different directions. Sometimes it will rush towards you with such force you won’t be able to avoid it. Other times it will shatter unexpectedly in your hands. You will try to put the pieces together but you’ll forget how they fit. More time will pass.

Years from now, I will wonder- how am I supposed to preserve moments so precious they were always destined to break?

Branches

25th August 2013

I saw you yesterday in the sinuous branches of disparity, swaying and holding on to dear life like autumn’s last leaves.

I wanted to hold you, the way I used to, arms wrapped around your body, as if all the paper thin layers you hid from the rest of the world were destined to break.

Isn’t it funny how you were the strong one, yet needed my arms to fill all the cracks in your splintered porcelain; my arms like cotton wool, soaking up pain that never pooled out of you.

Instead it came out in occasional waves of sadness, tears filled with toxins, you choking out broken promises and words that didn’t belong together in a sentence.

How can you make sense of something that will never make sense.

I mostly see you in trees, sometimes in strong branches and sometimes in twigs. They always look as though they are following a season change that doesn’t exist; their leaves golding in July, or flowers blooming in October.

You were always running away from conformity, rebelling against seasons. Running away from pain that became too overwhelming to hide in the embrace of two arms. Maybe that’s why you ran away from me.

Neglecting pain is like leaving a baby to cry. It will eventually crescendo into a scream.

I heard you yesterday as the wind whipped through the trees, changing notes and keys as it whistled its way from calm to storm.