In her better moments, it seemed she would finally lose the thread.

When happy, she would forget the reasons for feeling the female Atlas. It was as though the sun had a mind, and it would decide from time to time to shine and the haze would drop away. When she was happy.

When she wasn’t well, she hung on to the spool with its ribbons of melancholy and dolorous feeling and she spun it out so that the whole landscape in front of her became a riot of gray and blue streamers — a grim ticker tape production she alone attended.

The trick, it seemed, would be to release the reel stopper, let all the drab color unfurl exhaustively, so that there was nothing left except a naked piece of cardboard. It would be a relief to stand there, holding it, and to know there was no more: no more yards of regret or weird weather or high sentimentality, and no more bobbins or spindles or mountains, and maybe no more poetry.

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Sore throat.

April 6, 2017

Her sore throat wouldn’t subside. A month after the death, she imagined it was not a sore throat, but in fact, the beginning stage of a disease.

This is how it was, what she wrote in her journal:

“Something is really wrong. Every time I swallow, drink something, talk, I feel the weight in my throat, a terrible and constant pressure against my larynx.” And then, because she could not help herself, she analyzed her throat problem obsessively. She wrote ego-lyrical prose like: “I cannot sleep in the frightful a.m. hours. At 3:00 a.m., all my fears find soil, take root, and blossom heartily. I continue to toss and turn, hour after hour, searching my mind, trying to fathom why God is descending this, some disease, down upon me when I am already lost. How far will He go to punish me for whatever I’ve done, to teach me whatever lesson I need to learn?” Unstoppably, she endlessly swallowed, to feel if the weight was still there. It always was. She was helpless from testing it, over and over, swallowing – these swallows on a continual loop, like some terrible, terrible conveyer in the starless dark.

The nights went by like this, and at some point, every night, while in the midst of this bleak cycle, one or both of her children would sleepwalk into her room and climb into bed with her. She would adjust the blankets, whispering, “I am here, I will be here, you are safe.” She would find peace in their breathing and she would forget, for a bit, about the throat problem.

Of course – it was, after all, not a disease. The doctors confirmed.

It was sorrow. It was the physical hitch in her throat, the inability to breathe deeply without feeling first the lips begin to tremble, then the eyes close in a sickening squint, and to hear both the muted silence of death and the roar of it, too. The sadness and fear of the loss closed up her throat, formed a grief-knot in it. And, it turns out, grief is the opposite of hope. Hope flies in the face of despair – it lifts up and soars above it; grief embraces it, coddles it to the chest, wraps itself around the pain and holds on tightly. Grief leans hard into the hurt, to see if it will give way. It won’t: the pain is made of concrete, and it will not crack.

She ached for what was lost. For the sake of those who lost the most, she put aside the worry about the sore throat, and it became easier some of the time. She eventually gave up wondering if karma was collecting its due. Thanks be to God, she stopped the midnight bargaining with the fates. She bought a little nail and hammer, jimmied a chisle. She set to work, finding the way to break the mean, mean concrete.

###

She found there was no such thing as “moving on.” There was only “moving along with.” There was the outward and propelled traversing of her life, because there were no other options: Life – it’s business and chores and joys, too –  would not stop and so she could not stop.

Death was a thing she regarded close up. She took it as a concept from inside a large cardboard box and set it on the table before her and gazed at it, at the mystery of it, from all sides. It was changeable and storied, it had elevations and hollows all along its surface.

(She put it back in the box but it was clumsy, to try and pack it back up. Somehow, it did not fit and the flaps at the top could not be taped down.)

This time of year, the wind begins to hum a song from the memorial’s hymnal. She catches it from the corner of her ear.

Everything is full of sunshine, suddenly, because it is finally April, yet she knows May will be landing soon. May and all its collapse will be opening the box and will set up for its concert. She can hear the sound become louder, nearly mezzo forte now.

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