Existence is too much and too little, concurrently and compartmentalized in the same breath. There is too loud of a silence, yet too quiet of a noise — each should exist harmoniously, but the wretched clanging of opposition sets the brain ablaze. There is a chill beneath the heat, the feeling of sweating ice amid a tortuous fever. And as the rain beats against the window in a brown-noise rhythm, sunlight shatters the glass and sets the room on fire.

I want to read a book, write a novella, watch shitty television, and play comforting video games. Simultaneously, I want to spread myself thin on top of my bed sheets in excruciating silence and solitude, my limbs limping down the edge of the mattress. Still. Motionless. The air hanging loosely as sweat drips onto the carpet. I want to melt into a saltwater puddle to quickly evaporate to nowhere and become what I always wanted to be: Nothing.

Life is composed of the craving to do everything and nothing all at once, but each component moves too swiftly and remains outside my grasp. I hydrate my body with water in the morning, and by the evening, it is drained and flush with poison. I once said that life is speckled with the beauty of duality; I was wrong. The stark contrasts of light and dark, day and night, noise and silence, dull and bright — they beckon forth a strength that is exhausted in my frame. I am not the burgeoning pillar of fire and ice that defined my youth. I am an extinguished flame whose skeleton cannot bear the weight of even an ounce of fuel.

I came from ash, morphed into a phoenix who rose above the black clouds, and with an abrupt turn, fell and disintegrated into the earth. I hailed from nothingness only to return to nothingness, gripping just a fragment of memory that remained. That memory will, too, seep into the ground, leaving behind a fleeting whisper that will also be buried and forgotten. The duality of life is not beautiful or romantic or tragic. It simply is — until it is not. 

In the aforementioned juncture of existence, simplicity and complexity are identical. I wonder the purpose of trying in the first place; after all, the endless sleep consumes everyone eventually. Though even with the knowledge that battling the inevitable is futile, there remains a part of me that is morbidly curious of life’s dichotomy. From war emerges peace, and from secrecy emerges truth.

That is the purpose of existence, then — to encrypt and decrypt the codes of nothingness in an endless loop until we meet with death.

Existence is too much and too little, concurrently and compartmentalized in the same breath. I take off my glasses and spread myself across the length of the mattress; it is brimming with sweat. I want to do everything and nothing all at once, but I realize that I must sleep. The time to shrink into nothingness is now.

Easter Sunday

The sun rose today and descended upon the Earth its bright beacons, much like the sun shone brightly twelve weeks ago when you died. It is Easter Sunday, and I can still recall pastel- and neon-colored eggs adorning the backyard. Hidden amid the long strings of grass, within outdoor tea kettles, and inside planters filled with moist dirt, their plastic sheen glistened in the light.

We stopped painting chicken eggs when you first got sick. I have flashbacks of my youth as a mousy brown-haired girl with rimmed glasses meticulously painting each egg with a thin brush after waiting impatiently for the watercolor to dry. Your sister and her daughter sat adjacent to us at the kitchen table, a crooked wooden table furnished with a tablecloth of pink and yellow flowers reminiscent of the vernal equinox. Easter was among your favorite yearly holidays.

On Easter Sunday, I was supposed to see my father, your sister, and your niece today, twelve weeks after you died. Despite the gleaming sunlight and trills of children in neighboring yards as they discovered their own eggs, I was melancholic. Sometimes there is peace in nostalgia, but today I felt the absence and sorrow of memories. And as the light twisted corners into my bedroom from the open window, I endured the same sense of shock as I did twelve weeks ago on that uncharacteristically warm afternoon.

I told my father, “I’m sorry. I cannot celebrate Easter today.” I informed him of the depression that washed over me and expected understanding but was met with his words of disappointment. I felt like the enemy and realized nothing has changed. Even after your death, I’m still perceived as the escaped convict of the family — the abandoning daughter. Intertwined with childhood memories of laughter, egg hunting, and artistic expression were recollections of my father’s alcoholic rage and tension that permeated the household climate. And despite your warm demeanor, there existed underlying narcissism disguised as the “fun parent,” a familial relationship that resembled forced friendship, a jester among children.

As I grew older, I began questioning my own reality. Did the free-spirited, fun-loving mother actually exist, or was I being brainwashed into thinking you were such a motherly figure? When I attended your memorial service, family and guests alike revered you — your charisma, selflessness, unconditional love, and emotional strength. All spoke of you as a queen of light who held a torch of love. And as I sat as the rebellious princess in the front of the showroom, I understood that you had manipulated them as aptly as you did me. You were a hoax.

Don’t speak ill of the dead, they say. They don’t advise, however, how to speak when the dead are hurting you in the afterlife.

I was the mousy brown-haired girl with rimmed glasses, the studious book nerd whose life turned grim at the edge of a blade. Spending the formative years of my life in survival, I escaped your cage fifteen years later, albeit with scars littering my frame. And on this Easter Sunday, twelve weeks after your death, I vow to turn my survival into healing. I do not owe my life to you — I owe it to myself. And I will not apologize anymore.

The Rooster

I live in suburbia, but there is a rooster
Crowing two houses down.

Every five minutes, he opens his lungs
And inhales the humid air.
His gut deepens,
And he sings an all-too-familiar tune.

Except it’s 6 P.M. and he should be nestled
In his den, burrowed amid the hens.
He should not be outside,
When the sky is wrought with plunder
And threatens to open its lungs
With another familiar song.

I sit with the buzzing of silence,
Contemplating the fluidity of time,
Of what is backwards may be forwards,
And when the rain will baptize us,
Renewed, forgiven, bathed clean of uncertainty.

A brick of golden sunlight is tossed onto my porch.
The rooster is in slumber.
Perplexed, I recall your soft words:
“I do not love you
As much as you love me.”

I close the blinds and weep.

Red to Black

If you had told me that my mother would die when I was 30, I wouldn’t have believed you.

I’d shake my head, chuckle softly, and say, “I fuckin’ wish.”

When I was 11 years old, my memories came alive. This isn’t to say that I didn’t have a life prior to puberty, but whatever had happened — I had no recollection of it. My first birth was not in some hospital, but when I discovered the grimness of life. My conception took place down the corridors of junior high, my hair colored black with smudged liner beneath my eyes, rubber bracelets adorning my left wrist and a sweatband hiding my right, and some shitty-materialled, over washed dark pants covered in silver chains. I don’t remember why my mother allowed me to dye my hair, once a mousy brown, to pitch darkness; nevertheless, the era was a beckoning of sorrow.

I do remember the feeling of a cage around me as I had isolated myself in my bedroom while screaming ensued downstairs. I had once believed that I was a victim of my own self-imprisonment, but as the decades have progressed, I understood that my bedroom was the only safety I knew. I was not imprisoning myself; I was protecting myself.

My father was a bottle-a-day type of man. Though despite his Italian ancestry, he chose vodka as his vice. For years, I was convinced that I had Russian blood as the drinking came so naturally to him, but the stubborn German genes in my mother shattered the glass, literally and figuratively. Specks of time transitioned from minutes to hours, days to weeks, months to years, before I understood that my father was not the transgressor. In my teens, I forced blame on him, crediting him for the dissolution of my parents’ marriage and the turmoil that infected the house. I was wrong.

He sought the bottle to escape, much like I sought isolation from all livelihood. In our typical nuclear family there existed a hurricane, and the sharp winds of abuse touched upon my cheek like winter. The flood of alcohol down his throat complemented the drag of the knife across my skin, all the while my mother sat composed at the kitchen table with an evil, yet stoic grin.

Escapism was my middle name because I couldn’t change my legal name that bore her crest. As the blood crept down my arm, my fingers dashed wildly across the pages of a notebook. Fervent, desperate writing was inked into the paper. I couldn’t tell you what those words were now 19 years later. In reflection, much of those early years appear to me as a vibrant blur; the encompassing darkness of my bedroom illuminated by a light that silhouetted my hunched frame. Red to black.

I had wished for death. The subject of whose death was, at that time, uncertain, as I flickered between killing myself and killing my mother. Did I dare sacrifice myself, thereby not only ending my own servitude but also the colossal grip she held over me? Or did I dare unleash my insanity upon the woman, meant to nurture me, who perpetrated my imprisonment? These questions, monumental and unjust, drowned my thoughts nightly. I was unsure, and thus, stuck.

The mutilation then continued. I was eventually whisked away to a therapist at the age of 13, my mother’s crocodile tears coasting the office floor with cries of confusion, pleas toward God, affirmations of her alleged pristine treatment of me, her child, her only daughter. “I raised her so well,” my mother would insist. She would continue, “I did nothing wrong.” Oblivion jaded the therapist’s mind, and like a fool, she believed my mother. I spent the following month pretending I was clean, feigning forgiveness and assuring stability.

The therapist faded from my life, but my pain remained. I didn’t expect to live until 18 years old, let alone 30. I had begged for death upon my mother on countless occasions while the abuse splintered my mind, but I didn’t expect her death to be so swift. When you reach adulthood, parts of you discover denial, and that denial acts as gasoline to drive you forward amid whatever chaos laid elsewhere. I was in late-stage denial by my 30th birthday, unaware that my mother’s last days would be in approximately eight weeks. Blissfully unaware, I might say, as I had already resolved to estrange myself from my family in the forthcoming year.

Her death, nonetheless, came as a shock. In the span of six days, her once healthy face turned cold and pale, a virus raging through her lungs until her heart couldn’t save itself. She had died alone, and sometimes I wonder if there was even a nurse nearby. Not that my mother would notice had someone been by her side; in her final hours, she sat deluded, semi-conscious, empty. No tears pooled in her eyes. No hands reached forward for absolution. Her last rites were likely read behind glass, the chaplain decorated with a hazmat suit with his breath fogging his sight. Even if she wasn’t alone in person, she was alone in spirit. She died with nothing but voiceless thoughts and unanswered questions permeating her mind. Alone.

“I fuckin’ wish,” I had said in my teens. At 30 years old, I’m still not sure if those words held merit, if behind my pain existed empathy for such a sad soul. Postmortem, my senses are brimming with a toxic combination of grief, sadness, wonder, anger, relief, liberation, and confusion.

But there is no closure.

The closure that I sought died alongside my mother, set ablaze as her body turned to ash in the crematorium. While the fire licked the corners of the furnace, my opportunity for closure burned and burned and burned. Like newspaper clippings cast aflame in the forest, closure ascended into the canopy until bark turned to soot. My questions, still monumental and unjust, will remain unanswered.

Perhaps that’s how it was always meant to be.

Love: A Trilogy

We were born inside a monster’s cage.

We covered ourselves in mammalskin and rode the waves of down among veins and arteries and tissues, blood pumping around our heads like a constellation. And as we laid there, the blood in our hearts was sucked dry by the monster caging us until we were but parched souls, stained with youthful intimacy. You held me in your arms under that skin – amid the shakes and convulsions that spread upon us, you wrapped your limbs around me, in protection, in the feeble attempt to save me from your disease. And we rode the waves of down until our eyelids sparkled with tears and our legs collapsed, twisted in a bed of thorns.

We heard Mick Jagger’s voice through the thickness of the fog, rough and salty and burly just as you’ve always liked it, though on stereo, you could never match the swagger of his hips. Yet, the music pouring through the speakers still captivated us, our personal stereosinger. As we laid beneath that mammalskin, we fell into a meditative slumber between consciousness and unconsciousness, where the vibrations of your voice in your chest disappeared and became an entity all its own, tugging my heart down a road of bloom. And Mick Jagger’s voice leaked through my stereo and replaced our parched souls with something greater.

It was the first time I felt love. I felt love in the interlocking of our fingertips, the meeting of our lips, the jigsaw piece placement of our limbs, of our hips. Love is a cliché upon itself in the new millennium where terms of endearment are passed along as often as handjobs on a desperate Friday night. Our love was raw and primal, medieval in nature but grounded in the frenzies of the twenty-first century. We wanted nothing but love and to be loved in return, but we also sought blood between our teeth in a purple haze that distorted our bodies.

We clawed our way out of our monster’s cage.

I watched the sky bleed white nectarines and candy-coated steel, the only image in my mind that of you; you, with your eyes heavy, your lashes coated with a mist of sheen, and your lips parted slightly, as if pried open by the weakened fingers of slumber. In those wine-stained clouds, I saw you amid the phoenixes and dragons and skulls we carelessly pointed out every afternoon. We would lie there on your hammock, hip to hip, hands intertwined like vines, our visions framed by brilliant green treetops and glazed with the kaleidoscopically-changing forms of clouds. We would lay there for hours and churn our imaginations wild, laughing with our arms outspread and kissing until dusk would sweep the sky with its righteous hands, darkness wrapping itself around us.

But as I sat there watching the sun rise over the peaks of trees, I began looking for something to settle this empty chill in my heart. I don’t believe in God, but I looked to the sky for answers, hoping for a sign. Because despite my love and rejuvenated euphoria, I still cannot sleep at night. I lie awake, staring into my ceiling, the monsters surrounding my bed closing in and wrapping their virulent tongues around my limbs, holding me captive in my own insomnia. I would wish for slumber, but I would only receive lonesome questions and the feeling that my bed was too large. I would extend my arms to either side, and although I could feel the fabric of my sheets under both my palms, the bed felt vaster than the endless sea, as if it were meant to house two instead of one. Both of our bodies held close together, your hand beneath my head, my arm draped over your stomach like a safety belt. You would bury your face into the crook of my neck, and together we became one, and slept in unison.

There is a beauty in you which no one but I can see, rooted in the earth by two dirt-stained hands. Your mind appears to me, at first, as an enigma, wrapped in thick rope. I began to untie it, and as you opened yourself to me, music erupted in the soil and sang soft lullabies in my ear. You stung me on my eyelids, swelling them shut. You kissed me on the fingertips, curling them beneath your brow. You grabbed me around the waist and held me cheek-to-cheek, and you whispered that you loved me. And for the first time in my life, I believed it.

Because when that music sprung forth between your lips, I felt it quiver in my chest. It shook me deeper than skin, bone, tissue, cell. It reached the very pit of my soul, sheathed it in silk, and caressed it. The music in you uprooted an awakening in me, and together, we laid in the grass to become one with nature. I felt in you the strongest sense of security and enlightenment I had ever felt – the enlightenment I had been searching for desperately but could never find on my own. You were my ultimate Zen. And we sunk beneath the soil, spreading ourselves among the grains of time, and expanded. We flew.

We flew so wide, we touched the arctic poles simultaneously as colors burst before our eyes. We felt within ourselves the strength to become bigger than just human, to feel past the limits humans are supposed to feel, to experience and know the secrets of life that only acid-induced philosophers know. We escaped the material boundaries of our bodies and danced in tune to space, vanishing over the horizon.

We were free.