Now hear, you blissful powers underground –
Answer the call, send help.
Bless the children, give them triumph now.
Aeschylus, The Libation Bearers
Midnight finds me solitary and reminiscent, enshrouded in the hush of morning’s soft-footed approach. The canals are silent and utterly still, wisps of vapor hanging low above their dark waters. I sit cross-legged on these muddy banks, imbibed as they are with rainwater and memory, and listen for half-forgotten voices on the wind. It is on such evenings that I begin to miss my home: the russet-tinged mountains, the sprawling earth, the always changing seasons. But there is a rare beauty to this ancient city, its Stygian currents and blind alleyways, its many bells that chime and toll like shattered crystal in the streets. I hear the low, musical crying of the birds. I know the dim truth of their sorrow, because it was mine once, too.
I recall, even in spite of myself, the strange, sad sickness that moved through us like a frost. These months have made a ruin of my sanity, my recollection, but even now, I remember her. Were it not for love and language, those twin prophets of calamity, could either of us have lied? How has it come to pass that I am haunted by their sins, carry the burden of that reckless disavowal? I never wanted this. I would have done anything to prevent it. I learned to turn away, to close off, to disappear. But I cannot make it stop hurting. I can never make it stop hurting. So let your candles burn to nothing–allow each stanza to flare out and fade. They have no meaning now. Feel a deafening silence emerge, and betray no image of its expression. This is the sound of missing you.
But even as I write this, the winter howls itself away into springtime, and we all begin again. The evenings pass in warm flushes of pleasure, a rapture that breathes through the twilight of my body. Hours slip by with the sweetness of honey or blood. I have learned a new life, and new people to love. I was found, at last, in my misery-dimmed wanderings, the desperate capillaries I carved through this lonely place. I was forsaken, apostate, left for dead: they took my body home again, sheltered me from solitude, forged life from the wreckage of my mind. I am too full of hope now to suffer as I used to.
They loved me at my darkest, my most dismembered, my most disturbed. They loved me when you, my dear, would not. I don’t know how it happened, these months have passed with such swift strangeness: all I know is that I woke, one day, to the blinding knowledge that I was no longer alone. I do not roam those silent streets. I am not the ghost you are to me.
When I was still a child, I learned the double arts of loss and love, of desperation and desire, of the lingering hush that imbibes a blind and abandoned heart. I wander back into that suffusion of warmth across unblemished skin: I am four years old, and my father is bathing me, telling the stories that made me wish to write long before I could. But bodies change and break like promises: the desire that once filled each margin of my still-breathing flesh has been replaced now by glistening scars and spilled ink and little pools of Garamond font.
There will always be a horror now, another slow, defeated sorrow in the edges of my waking mind. In spite of myself, I sometimes still count ways back into the darkness, break my mind against the stories in the soil, press my ear to the ground and dream of returning to you. But each flash of thought grows fainter with the thawing of the earth: the world is turning and changing again, and I must not yearn for the irretrievable past.
I can feel the terror of that long catastrophe ebbing away, the madness and misery, the horrors of a year that I yearn to shed like a dying skin. I am a wound that is healing now: not a mutilated absence of matter but a real and unfamiliar woman. I am learning to live again: it has been so long that I scarcely remember how. Some things are lost to me forever, of course, and I feel each passing like another incision, born of that familiar surgical knife. But their deaths engendered a kind of dark beauty: a vindication, a coherence, a resolve. I have to finish what was started so many years ago, in the sanctuary of my mother’s arms. The absurdity of this life is my conscience and my calling. I have to live. I want to.
And my god, how the world has altered since they made their unforgettable, unforgivable choice. The carnal sweetness of new affections, another figure sprawled in this bed beside me. Her pulse is quickening, the sheets dampen with exaltations, my knuckles are knotted in the dark tendrils of her hair. In the pale fires of encroaching dawn, I can trace each curve of her form, every tongue of brilliance illuminating her bare skin, all the notches and impressions of her spine. I cannot feel love like I used to, but I have learned a new sort of ecstasy all the same.
The finding of this life was worth the burning of the first: these moments, I imagine, are the raw beginnings of joy. The contours of moonlight, the sacred memory of strange new souls, the possibilities that gleam like chips of glittering arsenic–I do not cower beneath disbelief or misery now. This is the scared art of outrunning the past, of enduring despondency, of surviving your own madness. I have raced my darkness, and for once, I have triumphed.
Let me keep this moment, just this one. It has been so long since I have felt like anyone, or anything, at all.