My father, Vernon Aspara, and I were three glass bodies rushing through the air. Legs and hands and face turning brown in the sun. But then this photograph became ephemera and our summer world turned cold out. Summer turned into winter as if by magic. Dogs bark. Scribbling the pavement and mud with urine and poo. The garden is pink with geraniums. The sun is golden. It brightens everything in its sphere. There is no shade. Shadow or vain retreat. Only bodies glistening with oily sweat. The day cries holy. Stems are anointed as much as patients going through cognitive behavioural therapy. Our bodies decay. We wither and die. Dying is an art. Seduction is a dazzling theory. My father is reaching for the light at the end of the tunnel.
I am at the end stages of a relationship. Regret, mourning after, denial and bereavement. I hope the powers of my mental health improve. There is something pure about the day. My dad’s hair, skin and boots are on fire. Flames of sun licking his ankles. I wish to forget the man and how he made me feel. That he claimed me like the sea claims and has ownership over humanity as individuals live, breathe, and sate their thirst with wine and beer. I think of David Foster Wallace. I think of the time he spent at Amherst. His depression and his suicide. I think of Anne Sexton. I think of her lovely face. I think of Emily Dickinson’s “Master” and her verses. Her religious father the Washingtonian congressman. Her invalid mother. Her sister Lavinia. Her sister-in-law. Her brother. Her Amherst.
It rained last night. The rain was pensive. I was in a mood too. Under the influence of an anxiety that tore at my garments. My hands are brown from sitting in the sun too long. I look older from sitting in this winter sun. I am also weary. I remember the time my brother caught a snake in the backyard. How absolutely thrilling that was. The killing. I wonder if the snake could hear ambulance sirens going off in the distance. I think of the spade twisting in the air as it came down upon the snake’s head. There was a writhing and a shudder passed through its entire body.
“When is your mother coming home?” he asks eating a hamburger. My father is poised in his eating. I watch his jaws snapping shut on the food. Lettuce hanging out of his mouth. His mouth opens wide receiving the tomato and the pickle.
“How’s your mother doing? Is she coping?” To this I don’t reply. He asks a different question, but I interrupt him.
“I don’t know daddy.” As if that explained everything.
“This was not nutritious. No vegetables.”
“Well, there was lettuce, a tomato and a pickle.” My father says brightly.
“Not real vegetables you can boil.”
“You wanted to make a kind of soup?”
“Well, I was kind of in the frame of mind to make a soup.”
“A vegetable soup?”
“A split pea, onion and potato soup.” I say almost defiantly. Almost shouting
“Daddy, I was being serious.”
“I do find your soups delicious, my girl.”
“Only you and Dr Allie call me that.”
“Call you what?”
“My girl. Yes, my girl. No, my girl.”
We walk inside the house balancing our plates in our hands.
“Daddy, I want to be happy. I wish I was happy.”
We stand at the kitchen sink. My father puts the kettle on. He takes two mugs from the cupboard above his head while I wash the plates. He makes us coffee.
“Happiness isn’t everything. Look at me and your mother. I’m selfless and giving. A humble man. She’s an obsessive-compulsive narcissist.”
“Let’s go outside again. Sit in the sun. You need some sun dad. We both need the sun to warm up our bones.”
“You should be with people your own age.”
“I am. When I am on social media.”
“Facebook is not real life. Aren’t you networking?”
“More than anything else.”
“No real relationships then. No friendship?”
“It sounds as if social media doesn’t offer me anything when you put it like that dad.”
“You’re my focus. You’re my turning point daddy.” I added as an afterthought.
“What happened to your man?”
“That guy I was seeing? He’s gone.”
“He left me.”
“Didn’t you try hard enough?”
“Didn’t I try hard enough. Doesn’t seem as if I did, does it? Seems I failed miserably.”
“Well, at least it was an opportunity to learn something.”
“What I learned was this. That I can’t depend on a man to dominate me and for my will to end up submissive.”
“Well, I don’t see the beauty in that.”
“My dear, it is like water in wild places. If you look hard enough for it, you’ll find it.”
“What about seed? Do you have a lesson on seed for me?”
“You put it into a blood knot of earth, water it and watch it grow. Watch it gather leaf and flora to it. Are you always this miserable?”
“I am never going to see Vernon Aspara again. So, of course I am miserable.”
“There was no honesty in that relationship.”
“How can you say there was no truth?”
“Maybe it was just a friendship.”
“That’s what it feels like now. I don’t know what is wrong with me. I feel unwell. My head hurts.”
“Go lay down. Get some rest. Take some paracetamol.”
“All I think about is that curiously inventive man.”
“Well, you had a role to play in that relationship. You were a stakeholder. You have to own the fact that you manipulated that entire situation.”
The church is found inside my heart. The golden circle. The arches of the cathedral at the university are spiked with Vernon Aspara’s substance abuse. The crowds are splendid at this time of day as I sit on a bench outside the library waiting for a friend. We are going to have pizza at this Italian dive. It is raining again. The rain’s spirit is glorious today. I am sitting in a raincoat with an umbrella above my head. I behold a fox in the grass. I am writing about a fox in my story for my creative writing class. It is dead or rather sleeping the sleep of the dead. I am swept away. Carried away by its spirit. As the world shows me its evil side on this afternoon. A girl had been raped on campus. I am ruined by the depository of love.
The man who was Christ-like to me, to others but he could not understand my school of thought and I could not understand his, so he left. He drank too much, and he was generally unhappy in life. A manic depressive with father issues that I had no depth of knowledge to understand. Life can be a shark. Have a shark’s breath. Bitter and bloody flesh saying beware. I’m coming after you. I am going to get you. Eat you up with my shark teeth. Tear your innards and heart to pieces. Now I know the score of the love affair. Tragedy has speeded up. I can’t see the point of waking, sitting here getting cold with an umbrella above my head pretending I am not crying. I am no longer in the mood for pizza. I am tired of waiting for my friend. I get up and make my way into the library. I find an anatomy textbook and sit down and read about ventricles. I can’t see the miraculous point of living with this kind of suffering. The king of sorrow at this edge and reason of time.
The relationship with Vernon marked a time of awakening for me. He moved out of my reality into another universe. He became the spunk of a photograph. I forgot who I was in the ensuing months after the relationship had come to an end. I was living in the shadow of his illusion and the apparition of himself that was found there. He was decay in the wilderness. I was plant sap. The wonder of all of that. Leaf falls to the ground. I cannot defy adversity anymore and nor do I want to. I don’t want to face this challenge of living’s proof of evidence. My heart was not left intact. This I know for sure. I am visiting my father for the weekend. My mother is out running errands. Stealing a smoke in the family car. She is going to meet her closest girlfriend for a coffee. This is what women do.
There are vegetable peelings on the countertop. I make soup with a vengeance. There is bright yellow rice in the sink for the betterment of milk-fed society. My professor wrote in red pen, “Please stop using the words brightening and bright repeatedly. It’s boring.” I am as pensive as winter and the haughty rain. I am a different person now. Before I didn’t know what my calling was. I think of Christ as a thief of hearts, and the church. I think of the earth, the sun, and a sword. The house slept. Stone cold sober in the faded warmth of winter. I remember thinking I would feast on any warmth I could get from the golden circle of the sun. On a hillside in Sutherland lay thick snow.
On a mountain, wildflowers could be found there under this thick snow hibernating until spring came to release them. The snow shining bright with speckled sun. Grace was allowed in the students’ hearts for the girl who was raped in a crowd of hearts. Her identity was unknown. But we marched in solidarity across the common. Young women and young men who thought of themselves as feminists. I fed on lithium and became fat that winter. My new spectacles made me look like an owl, said my friend who I was supposed to go and have pizza with that rainy afternoon. I thought to myself friends don’t say things like that to friends. I still remember how my face swelled up and my toes reached for air out of my shoes.
Lithium killed my personality as it flowed through me. Like a magic that was supposed to soothe. All winter I thought how good Vernon Aspara was. Oh, he had his moments. Inside my heart was an earthquake as I remembered the blood on my school uniform. That was a memory from a long time ago. Years. I remember worshiping the exotic Vernon in a kind of trance. Now I had books. Fat textbooks in this world of climate change and global warning. I heard my father’s voice telling me to go on living my life and to forget men. How could I forget how cool and sweet they were? I reasoned he had his reasons for leaving me. After two pregnancy scares, he vanished. It’s me, he said. As if that explained everything.
I always knew my place. My space. The swimming pool had the smell of chlorine. It was not deep enough to drown my fears and anxiety in. I would have to hold my breath for that. Now I remember the hours, the silences he filled but these are things a poet keeps to herself. I thought of how I was on a slope then or standing in the tropics living on my own terms. Past hurts still hurt. I was the drowning girl building her house out of driftwood on dry land. The girl who had never been the beneficiary of peace of mind. Poetry made me survive. It made me survive the hierarchy of boys I was surrounded by. I have curious hair. It is a reminder of my heritage.
Deception is a mask. Sabotage is a man. Wildflowers live in their own realm. And that year I invented stamina, will and discipline. I knew I had known redemptive instruction. Vernon Aspara had taught me that. I was cloud horse. I was horse bone. I was horse dead in a river. All around me the world was green.