The broken bones of words

by mymothersbrain

Last week I wanted to say, “Happy Thanksgiving,” and mean it. But my lungs were so clotted with the broken bones of words — stems, poles, loops and the odd comma — that I was unable to speak. The broken words bottlenecked in my throat, their jagged pieces piercing the skin of my mouth and lodging there, the detritus of failed communication: g, lo, b, h, yo. r! m! j!

I tried, then, to gather their remains, put them back together and commit them to the page. But my fingers in their eagerness, usually nimble and swift over the keyboard, were so gorged with bits of words they felt like bloated grapes and couldn’t move. How to put down the words when your hands are so full of them you can’t pick out each individual frame to lay it out against the white?

In the end, I believe grief is unspeakable, its depths not fully knowable until the darkness presses on your chest and your toes search for bottom. It is that sea in which we all drown a little bit, or a lot, surrounded by the fragments of words we cannot say.

Some days I surf the hours fluidly, get the stories written, the videos scripted, the invoices logged. I stay above water. Those are good days. Other days, a memory of my mother will stop me short and suddenly I’m in the depths again: She is looking at me with a question on her face, as if she has failed to understand what I’ve said to her — “I love you Mom. Do you love me?” Or we are back at the day two years ago when my dog died and I am picking his bowl up off the floor, and in her eyes, a spark of logic: “Oh. It’s a shame he didn’t get to eat again.”

I tend to hide – physically and metaphorically — during these moments because they defy explanation or description. We have become a people unaccustomed to and uncomfortable with the display of grief. We hide from that which we cannot fix.

When during a phone conversation I tell my sister about the instances when a rogue wave wallops me, I can see her nodding across the miles. “It usually happens to me when I’m driving,” she says. That’s all she can say. Neither one of us knows how to describe these moments, though we recognize them in each other’s life.

It occurs to me that this is what it must be like for my mother, her brain reaching for words that refuse to be corralled into proper sentences, letters that resist being linked to create proper words. Yet –

One day I was driving her back home from somewhere, a doctor’s appointment perhaps, when the tears suddenly forced their way past my lashes and down my face. My mother had already reached that stage where she emoted less and less. More often than not her face was a blank slate. To see me angry over losing my car keys, or to see me laughing at some joke, brought nothing more than a fleeting curiosity to her face. But now, she turned and saw me crying, and very gently leaned over and kissed me on the cheek, once, twice, pressing her lips against my tears. The irony: that was a good day, too.

©Beatriz Terrazas, all rights reserved

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