Disconnect

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Chapter I.XIII

I do not know who you are that reads this. To list those who I feel might eventually set eyes on these pages would become strangely exclusionary to those that actually do that are inevitably not listed here, and so I will refrain. For the moment, and in general, I am writing for myself, so this I will consider a note to myself.

Sometimes, in writing, I have found myself decidedly erring on the side of dramatization. I give people dialogue that was never relayed to me, outline characters that I know not even an outline of. I am thus fictionalizing my life. But sometimes, to exaggerate, to relay my half-informed conjectures, is to be completely and utterly disrespectful, and so though I know that there are more dramatic, and perhaps more entertaining, ways to start a chapter, I feel the need to here be plain and honest:

Mom died of cancer on my 35th birthday, January 1st, 2013.

She died at home, myself in the other room. I still beat myself up for not having been explicitly at her side, but I had sat next to her bed, which we took pains to put by the glass door looking out on her garden so she could admire the plants in her last days, for hours on end the entire previous week. Once it was clear that she would not make it to the end of the month, we decided together to stay home instead of in a hospital, for it was more important to have a few less days with all her homely amenities than it was to have a few more days in a sterile, white room, all the while plagued by the beeping of machines and greeted only with bad news and bland food.

And one morning, it was very clear to me, that, since Mom could no longer speak, and her eyes refused to remain open, and her breathing was becoming ever slower, it became clear to me that she was going to die; that what was said was said; that no more conversations were forthcoming; that she had already effectively slipped from my grip sometime during the night, though her lucidity had been in and out for the past three evenings; that the best course of action was to be at her bedside, hold her hand, and count the hours, while in the garden bugs would pick at flowers and beyond the fence a neighbor's barbecue was being as rowdy as was their right.

But I had once gotten up to get water, because my throat was parched, and when I returned from the kitchen, I strained to hear her thin and vaporous breath, but no sound came from those lips. I stared, dumbly, at her malnourished body, ravaged as it was by the disease, so small under the blankets. I breathed, I blinked. My jaw was so tense it hurt, my head throbbed violently. And, lacking the necessary gumption to bring to mind a course of action better fitted to the situation, lifted the glass of water to my lips and drank.


* * * * *


Mom's funeral was a humble event. Much like her wedding, it was sparsely attended, as was her wish, by only those closest of friends and companions she had; she had many times talked about wanting a tight-knit sweater more than a wardrobe of less fitting things. And so the meeting room at her veterinary clinic was appropriated.

Each member of that mournful, solemn party belongs to a story of their own, but to honor them and their connection to my mom I will chronicle their names in order: Tom Archer; Jai Gallup; Shika Ikeda; Ciara McCarthy; Austin McCloud; Barbara Offam; Amanda Tillerson; Faith Wallace; Tim Wilson; and myself.

After a speech I wrote regarding my mom's passing and positive influence on my life, a number of us read poems, some original, in honor of Mom's own aptitude for poetry. I myself read off a number of what I deemed to be her best, from collections that I have been meaning to try to get published. I firmly believe my mom can be a successful poet, and if she wasn't going to be able to do it in life, then perhaps she can, like many artists, flourish postmortem. But I digress. The point is that it was a very lovely and all around positive experience (in those few ways in which it could be), and while Mom's ashes sat in the middle of the table, adorned with flowers and stuffed animals, we talked as if she was someone we could still go meet. Spoke only highly of her, if sometimes we allowed ourselves to poke fun, as good friends do, at people's quirks and habits. Whatever jest there was, it was not mean, but in celebration of all the little things that made Mom Mom.

For example, the way she would cross her legs, rest an elbow on her knee, rest her head on her hand, and lean far forwards whenever she was getting really invested in listening or watching something; or how she couldn't bring herself to stay mad, even when she was fuming just moments ago; or how, the veterinarians present informed me, every pet she operated on would leave the clinic with a new nickname. The list continues.

But since no conversation, no matter how dear, can last forever, we all began to depart, as friends. Hands were shaken, though hugs happened more often, and all participants slowly left, one after the other, to head home for dinner and for rest. That was, until it was only myself left in that cramped office space with Tim, whom, for his time here, had seemed perhaps disproportionately affected. Had he not had a lowered head from the moment he came in? Had he not clutched at his chest, hand over his heart, at irregular intervals, breathing deeply as to calm himself? I don't think I had ever seen Tim less like himself. He was entirely without his smile, which he wore whether real or fake, and though such was expected, he did not join in on the more lighthearted conversation once minds had turned from grieving what was lost to celebrating what was had, a social atmosphere from which Tim's yarn-knitting mind drew its richest substance. For three hours, not a change had been seen within him.

And now, alone in this room, he had also failed to rise from his seat, neck still bent, hand still raised to his breast, breathing as if breathing was the only thing to do. I wondered for a moment if he knew I was still there, but I did not have to wonder long.

"Hey," he said, head still facing the table. "I wanted to say I'm really sorry."

A cold, wet shiver passed over my body from my feet to my head.

"We haven't seen each other in years. How long has it been? Half a decade? We've video called, sure, but we haven't seen each other. Just one state border away, and we haven't seen each other."

A well, untold fathoms deep, yielded its first bucket of emotions, and its viscous water was poured over me so that I stood there solid and stiff

"I've been so busy, I guess I thought there would always be time for me to visit again," he said. His voice was hoarse, his hair was unkempt. His pale skin told me that his habit of hiking had most certainly been kicked, or else he was suffering some sort of traumatic physical pain in that very moment, and I have concluded that whatever pain there was must have been solely on his mind. "I thought there were always tomorrows, and I'd never been wrong about that before, so… I just thought I could visit. Some other time."

A silence endured. I made my way around the table, and sat next to him, so that I could at least see the hints of his eyes.

"Just thought I'd drive down, when I had time, you know."

I placed a hand of mine over a hand of his, a form of comfort so simple I felt that to abstain would be an egregious disrespect, and rubbed those rough and calloused grooves between the tendons of his fingers. At this, though not without a delay, he looked up, and into my face. At our eyes meeting, the hand over his heart clutched harder, and I saw his jaw pull back under the strain. He required a response, and so I gave him one.

"You don't know what you have until it's gone," I said. A platitude so bare I might as well not have said it. Sometimes the simple truths are powerful. But this one, at this moment, wasn't. And I only hoped he didn't notice.

He nodded, and rubbed his dry eyes.

"Will you be here?"

He blinked twice. "Sorry?"

"To help look through mom's things. Sort out what's important from what isn't."

He swallowed, and returned to his table-gazing. "No," he said.

"Okay," I replied.

And without a proper goodbye, Tim stood, turned, and left. Tim, who was not Tim, but some ghost inhabiting Tim's body, a completely different side of the coin. In some respects, I pitied him. In some respects, I accepted his apology. But a larger portion of my brain devoted itself to the necessity of that apology, and how brief it truly was. And yet other portions debated the validity of turning the day of Audrey Fuch's funeral into a day about your own self-worth. And most of all, I doubted — all the while knowing fully well that such doubts conflicted directly with so obvious as the effect on Tim was — at the sincerity of such an apology, for truly, could he be so sorry now, the same man who knew that Audrey laid on her deathbed, only her daughter for consistent company, a woman for whom each new week was an uncertain gain, a miracle, a victory made Pyrrhic for every new day came with new pain, the only promised release a giving up of the soul, the loss of everything you loved, in an instant gone from sight, you from theirs, leaving the scarred battlefield behind but the cells of your brain, like indigenous tribes, genocided and discarded, nevermore to share their cultures, their practices, their wisdoms, their loves, their passions, their insights? All this, the world of this, at your fingertips — you, who could be another calming voice, you, who could be another calming voice, you, who once partook in passion with the passing, you, who loved and left her, could not return, not even for her final moments, not even for her death?

And you're sorry?

Before I knew it, I had grabbed a chair from its backrest, and brought its full weight down upon floor, the sound so ruckus that I startled myself out of this spiral, and came to my senses. I was alone, in the room, with Mom, or what was left of her. And now was not the time to be angry or resentful. So, having stood at some point without my realizing it, I sat back down, and collected myself.

Except that it hadn't happened at all. The chairs were still just as they had been, the corner of the room unmolested by overturned and now slightly-bent metal. It was just that the image had occurred in my head as something I could do, and now I pulled my hand back from its ruminating reach, extended as it was toward the chair to my right, and placed it firmly in my lap, covered by my other hand: as if I couldn't trust my right hand, but I could trust my left hand to dissuade it.


* * * * *


It was spring, and I had ordered a pizza all to myself, in a sort of mimicry of a work party. I was fully aware that there were those I could call to help me excavate my mom's house but I didn't want to. It was going to be a personal experience and I wanted to have my personal experience alone.

The house had remained untouched for several months, maybe four, during which time I still worked online and occupied the guest room, each day waking up and momentarily forgetting that I had to make breakfast for myself as there was no one else in the house to make it. Well, this morning, I had finally made myself venture into Mom's room, and I found that inside was an open Chinese takeout container so full of mold that it looked like a grassy knoll more than anything. It was so repulsive, and so central in the room, that I for a moment could not focus on anything else, and my emotional daze was replaced with an intense desire to clean and organize.

Doing a cursory dusting and vacuuming of the house felt good. Much like my shower I had taken when first arriving here in San Diego, it was an act that I knew, in the back of my head, was a sign of recovery. Depressed people don't often get up to clean. Was I getting better? I hadn't felt like it, no. But in the same way that you can make yourself feel happier by wearing a fake smile which gradually turns real, I thought that maybe performing functionality would get me into a better mood instead of a better mood making me finally functional.

With this power behind me, I set to a job I had been putting off since the beginning of the new year: going through Mom's belongings. I had to eventually leave the house anyways — even though it belonged to me legally I found no special connection to it — when I went back to New York, and to truly leave it behind I had to sell it, and to sell it it had to be empty. So I got a mountain of empty cardboard boxes; masking tape; markers of several colors to help organization; scissors; box cutters; and on a whim, a beefy bluetooth speaker. Once I got home, I turned on A Farewell to Kings by Rush, a favorite of mine that came out the year before I was born. The elegantly plucked acoustic guitar greeted my ears through the speaker as I put it down on the living room table, where I estimated it would reach the majority of the house.

The flowing finger-picking soothed me, and to it I closed my eyes, and centered. For the full minute of its existence, soon joined by some instrument I had never named but always imagined to be something akin to the xylophone, I just sat and listened, and prepared myself mentally for the task at hand.

Then, the electric guitar, drums, and bass came in, and I opened my eyes. Alright, I thought, go time. I turned the speaker to a deafening volume, and grabbed a slice of pizza. Geddy Lee came in on the vocals, and soon his voice could likely be heard by two houses in every direction, but I didn't truly care.

First, the kitchen.

For someone who lived alone, there was enough for a whole family to withhold from doing dishes for a solid three days. Pots of so many different sizes, pans of various widths, two can openers, nut crackers, garlic mincers, a blender and a food mixer (I have never fully understood the difference)… at least twenty forks, twenty spoons, and twenty butter knives, and speaking of knives, a good ten — both serrated and not, thin and thick, long and short — were stuck on a magnetic rack above the stove. There were a million rags and dishtowels, silky napkins, four different tablecloths (one for each season)… there was dish soap and drain cleaner that I decided were the type of thing I would do better to keep for myself, and so tossed in the "to New York" box.

Then it was to the dining room, where I found a hidden stash of fine china that made me wonder if she ever intended to host a Thanksgiving. The lounge room had a piano that made me wonder if I yearned to have one in my apartment back in New York (it was a rather small piano). I decided that it would be too much of a hassle, and if I wanted a piano I could just get one myself.

I sorted books in her library from ones I wanted to keep and ones I didn't much care about, tossing about five of the hundred or more novels into my "to New York" box. On reflection, I realized that I was very interested in knowing the type of stuff she read, so I made a list of books she had in case I ever wanted to pick one up at a later date. Then, into a "books" box they went.

I glanced at the garden, but decided weed whacking would be a task for another day. I took a quick run through the bathroom to grab toiletries and toss them in my personal box, both mine and what was sanitary to grab of Mom's. And then, up the stairs I went.

I entered Mom's room, which I had not seen since I pulled the moldy takeout from it. We had now passed through two Rush albums, and were beginning the song Subdivisions, which I nodded to, chuckling that I was indeed living in the raked-against suburbia detailed in the song.

My mom's room was deep red, sometimes erring on the side of purple, with its own bookshelf, which I treated like the one downstairs. I found her basket of stuffies which I sorted through, keeping two for myself and boxing the rest. I kept her journals and diaries, which to this day I have only scoured for poems she had never shared, opting to skip over her personal thoughts and feelings as they were private to her and should remain so. At some point I made it to her wardrobe, and was faced with the issue of deciding whether or not to keep any of it. Her clothes could fit me, but would that be honoring the dead, or would it be disgraceful? Would I be able to wear them without recollecting? Would it be bad to have clothes that I wore specifically to recollect? I decided to keep two dresses I felt were signature of Mom, but only to have them, and not to wear them. It was as I was pulling them out of her closet that I found something of particular interest to me.

Behind the clothes, there were some records, and I couldn't care less what they were, because one in particular caught my attention. I reached to the fourth from the front, and pulled it out. Mother Earth's Plantasia, by Mort Garson.

At once, I forgot what I was doing, and rushed down to the meager storage area next to the bathroom under the stairs, where I had seen the record player that I grew up with.

I dashed to my phone, turned off Rush — sorry Geddy — and almost tripped on my way back to the record player, which I then plugged in, put the record on, and got going. The needle began to trace the vinyl, and out came those sweet, synthesized notes. As soon as the whistle came in, I covered with goosebumps.

Mom had put this on when I was little, especially when we were cleaning the house but often when she was studying too. It came out two years before I was born: a fully synthesized album about plants no less. The timbre, so abrasive to Tim's ears, was what I grew to love. And at the time, holding no special significance, I had completely forgotten about it until just now. Almost 20 years I had lived since last even giving this album thought, but that was precisely what made its effect on me so powerful.

Time stopped. I was my young self again. Mom was tall; my friends and I played pretend, and had water gun fights; the city was infinite; the bay even moreso; and every time I came home, Mom would sit and read her textbook, catching up on her studies. And the soundtrack to it all was this album. My day of work stopped there.


* * * * *


"Your birthday is coming up!"

"Mhmm," I said, stirring a boiling pot of noodles.

"Not to mention Christmas. So, since I won't be able to wish you happy birthday or Merry Christmas in person, happy birthday! And Merry Christmas! Oh, and a happy New Year from New York!"

"Thank you, and to you too!"

"So, what's the weather like down there?"

"There's really only one season."

"Haha, that's what I've heard. Do you like it?"

"Like it?"

"Uh, yeah, do you like it?"

I looked out the window for a second, at the garden I had continued to let overgrow, which by all means should have been at least frosted by this time of year, December being what it is in the northern hemisphere.

"I don't know. I like warm weather. Grew up with it and all. Seasons actually exist in New York, but they just divide the year into when I can and can't go to the beach. Though I guess I didn't go to the beach all that much anyways."

"Uh-huh. Well, I'll tell you, this is a friendly call, but it's more than just a friendly friendly call, it's also a concerned friendly call." He paused to allow me to speak, but I didn't. "I really didn't want to bring it up, but, you've been gone for a year."

"I've been gone for more than a year."

"No, I know, I mean, you've been gone for a year since…"

"Ah."

"I'm so sorry. I just — Felix, I really thought we were hitting it off, and now I have to ask, are you ever coming back?"

I nearly choked on my own saliva. "Hitting it off?"

"Sorry to be so forward."

I contemplated for a second. "Duncan, I never meant to flirt with you."

His end was silent for a moment or two. "Okay."

"Sorry if I came off that way? Nothing against you, you're a nice guy, sincerely, but —"

"You don't swing that way?"

"No, I…" I was so taken aback, three to four trains of thought came and went. "I… don't." I lied for the same reason that I didn't correct his calling me "Felix". Tilting my head back, I strained my shoulder to keep the phone at my ear while I shook water out of the pasta.

"Wow."

"Yeah."

"That's not the vibe I got at all."

"Sorry?"

I poured the spaghetti back into the pot.

"I guess I would have found out."

"If we started interacting outside of work, yes."

"Which we didn't."

"No, which is another reason I'm surprised you thought we were 'hitting it off'."

"I was going to ask about it, but then you left all of a sudden. It took me a lot of asking people to figure out what had happened — I didn't want to call you because I didn't want to seem… uhh…"

"Clingy? Obsessive?"

"En— yeah. That. I'd still like to be friends! Look, seriously, sex was not my main goal. I just thought you're, you know, a nice guy, and… yeah. So, are you coming back?"

"Am I coming back?"

"Yeah."

I stirred in tomato sauce I had bought from the grocery store. "Umm, the plan has always been to come back."

"But is that the plan now? I mean, what are you doing in San Diego?"

I grabbed a bowl out of the cupboard, and started scooping spaghetti into it. "What am I doing here?"

"Uhh, yeah, what are you doing there."

I sat down at the table, fork in hand, and started twisting a bite onto my utensil. I took a deep breath, and looked around. The house was very empty now. Or, well, it was full of something other than before — boxes. Book boxes, china boxes, gardening boxes, tool boxes, and all other sorts of miscellaneous boxes. The walls were barren, the floors were barren, but the whole place was covered in strewn-about boxes. Some were still sealed with tape, but many had been broken into. For example, the plate I was eating off of I had to take out of one of the kitchen boxes. The fork, too, had been in a separate box which also had to be opened — not to mention the pot I cooked out of and the pasta fork I stirred and served it with.

"Are you there, Felix?"

"I don't know."

"Huh?"

"I guess I'm still figuring out what I'm doing in San Diego."

Duncan started speaking again, but I wasn't listening. My eyes had drifted, and they settled on the jar. The one thing I hadn't ever put in a box. Mom's ashes stood at the other end of the table, as if she took up her own spot — her own chair, her own plate, her own meal. Like she was waiting for me to serve her — but maybe it was a different question. A different request. She was wondering why she was still here. Why her ashes had yet to be spread out into the Bay. I started asking myself the very same question.


* * * * *


I paid, got out of the taxi, and pulled a jacket over myself. It was finally one of those days that was even slightly cold, and asked for an extra layer. It certainly wasn't a day to head to the beach, but that was alright. I wasn't planning on going anyways, and I liked being able to wear something cozy, which was not a thought I expected to have, as I had always pictured myself as a summer kind of woman. But here, in front of Cotton Soft Veterinary Clinic, I found myself somewhat enjoying the cold. A deep breath, and I was ready to enter.

The door swung shut behind me, and I took in the lobby. It was spacious; aromatic with the scent of animals (mostly dogs, but was a strong concoction of everything); full of people, with all the sights and sounds associated with owners trying to keep their rowdy pets in check; softly colored; graced by a wall covered in pictures of dearly departed companions; and surprisingly clean. Seeing that one of the receptionists was open, I walked up.

"Hi, I'm Fae Wilson, daughter of Audrey Fuchs, who worked here."

"Ohh, hi, I knew your mom, she was a lovely person."

"Yes, yes she was. Uh, I'm here to ask for Edna."

"Edna?"

"Yes, she was a coworker of my mom's so I thought she must be here."

"Nobody works here named Edna."

I gave her a look. "Nobody? Edna, Edna Wilson. Older woman."

"Ohh, Edna Wilson, sorry, I forgot. She must have been your grandma!"

"Must have been?"

"Yes, she passed away almost ten years ago."

I blinked a few times. "She did?"

"Yes, although I don't remember what of. I started working here after that, you see. All I heard were the stories. She was really well liked here."

I tried to do quick mental math for how old she must have been. She had Tim somewhat late for her first child — at least for her generation — at thirty. Tim had me when he was twenty-one to my memory. I was thirty-six, plus twenty-one was fifty-seven, plus thirty was eighty-seven. She must have died in her seventies.

"I guess… she was aging, wasn't she."

"But she had a young soul! Well, so I've heard."

I stood for a second, and then regained my senses. "Alright, thank you."

The receptionist waved as I left the building and onto the street. I guess Mom never mentioned Edna, though I have no clue why it wouldn't have come up. From neither Tim nor Audrey? One, her coworker, the other, his mom? That made no sense to me. Did they not want to upset me? I wasn't particularly attached to my grandparents, I hadn't known them very much even if I had met them a couple times. Did it not upset them? She was a mentor to Mom, and literally a parent to Tim. I was a little stunned on the street.

The only other family relation I might have still had in San Diego was Elliot, my grandpa. Looking up Wilson Taxidermy came up with nothing, so I concluded that he must have retired. I only went to my grandparents' house a couple times when I was young, and those memories were not enough to go off of so I could find it. My other most obvious option was to message Tim.

Tim. I shuddered with the image of my inbox. By the titles of his emails it seemed like Tim assumed I wasn't responding to him because of a prolonged period of mourning. That might have been part of it. But that was not the whole of it. To send an email would either be to lie or to explain. And, knowing myself, I would feel obliged to read each weekly email before addressing him. I didn't want to. For many reasons. There was another way.

I reentered the clinic, walked up to the very same receptionist, and spouted: "Do you still have her address?"


* * * * *


"Oh, Edna died of the flu."

"Really?"

I held the mint tea Elliot had made me close to my mouth to guard against the unnatural cold that permeated his house.

"Yes. Old folks like us can die of the flu. I know it must seem ridiculous, when you get it once or twice as a child and it doesn't do much but cause you some unfortunate visits to the restroom, but once you're old… well, things are different."

"I'd heard that people died of the flu, but I always assumed it was people without access to medicine."

"It's all sorts."

"Huh."

"And you never heard?"

"No, I never did."

Elliot, on his wide cushioned chair opposite me, took a long drink of his earl grey. When he was finished: "I find that really strange."

"You have no explanation?"

"No. Tim was the first to know, of course. He visited and attended the funeral. We had some catching up to do. I guess whether or not he told you never explicitly came up, but you came up, as part of catching up with the son is catching up with the grandchildren, and I think it was implied that you were told. Fuzzy memory, though. Not the type of conversation you remember each and every detail of, you know."

"Do… do you know how it affected my mom?"

"Oh, yes. She was at the funeral, too."

"Oh."

"A lot of the Cotton Soft people were. She was really well-liked at the clinic. One of those silent hard-workers — I'll be first to admit that Edna did not win people over with her natural charm. She won them over because she took each and every possible job she could, filled in for people without asking favors, and was at every turn acting at a hundred and ten percent. She wasn't abrasive either, no… I loved her, didn't I? But she was a quiet kind of soul. And she quietly got herself into everyone's business, and everyone quietly discovered that it wasn't such a bad thing."

I sipped my tea and waited for him to continue, but he didn't. "I wish I knew her better."

"You know her in your own way. A part of her went from Tim to you. You have Grandma-blood."

I took a deep breath. "I guess so."

"No need to guess." He smiled warmly at me, and drank.

"Did you talk to my mom?"

"Oh, yes. She gave a very passionate speech. Associated her success in her veterinary career with Edna's fervent mentorship. It was very touching. I think Edna thought of your mom much like a daughter; the very same type of doting and attention. Audrey felt like family. I was very much endeared to her, but I think Edna was more."

"Mhmm," I responded, and sipped.

"So why are you here?"

"Mmm?" I swallowed. "Am I not supposed to be interested in my grandparents?"

"No, no. That's perfectly normal. It's just that you're coming now, and not before. We've cohabited San Diego for years now. Why the sudden interest?"

I cast my eyes down into the tea and stirred it idly with a small spoon. "Well, that's a difficult question."

"I'm a patient man with nothing to do but wait. Take the time you need."

I used my moment in the living room of his small, one-floor house to contemplate my own motivations. As I drank my mint tea, I felt its warm honeyed fluid track down my throat, pass by my heart, and then disappear past my sternum into that place which I could never feel: the innermost workings of my being. Lungs, stomach, intestines, muscles. I am a machine and I only control the extremities. There are forces at work which guide me, and I sometimes do not take enough heed of them to temper them correctly.

"I guess…" I started. "I've come here as one in a series of decisions that I don't feel… have come from me. They've come from me, sorry, but they are…" Elliot remained silent and attentive. "They're not… may I start over?"

"Of course."

"Since Mom died, I have been doing only my essentials. I have been keeping up with my work, I have been buying groceries, sometimes I clean the house… I eat three meals a day, drink a lot of water, relieve myself when I need to, but that's all. I fulfill my basic needs: I eat, drink, sleep, maintain the shelter over my head, and gain money to secure the previously mentioned requirements, and… that leaves me with a lot of free time. And I don't know what to do with it."

"Mmm."

"But that doesn't mean I don't do anything. I do a lot of things. But they're… unplanned. I feel adrift. Like I'm a slave to my impulses. So one day I'll find myself in a shop looking at jewelry I don't plan on buying; or another I am driving down the highway in a random direction for hours, and then turning back. Sometimes I spend all of my day at home, but sometimes I don't go home, and I'll wind up in a hotel somewhere. And I don't… fully understand my own behavior. Am I self destructing? No. I'm financially stable — I can afford all these strange whims, but I don't like them. And I can't find their source, most of the time. They come from within me, that's what I was talking about. But they don't feel like me."

"And visiting Cotton Soft was…?"

"Another one of my… impulses. Today, I just knew that was where I was going."

"Mhmm." There was a long pause as we both sipped our tea. "Could I ask a question?"

"Please."

"Do you have any friends in San Diego?"

I placed my empty mug on the coffee table in front of me. "No, I don't."

"Hmm. I can't account for your usual rut, but, I can tell you, I think I know why you came to the clinic."

"Oh?"

"You're seeking out connection to your mom."

"Oh, well," I looked down again. "Yes. Yes I was."

"You must have remembered that Edna was a friend of your mother's, and wanted to… fulfill the connection through proxy. If you couldn't be with Audrey, you could be with Audrey's mentor. Not to mention she is your grandma. Do you… talk to Tim much?"

I shook my head. "No. I don't."

"I thought not. He's told me you've been out of reach recently."

I met his eyes. "I think I have."

"Mmm. You're feeling parent-less."

"I am?"

Elliot nodded in a sagely sort of way. "Tim is not filling the role you need because he is far away, but you can't leave San Diego to visit him because you haven't let go of your mom." That wasn't it, but it was close enough to the truth that I just nodded. "You sought Edna, a maternal figure, but she too is now unavailable. The next best thing is a paternal figure. And you've located one, I think."

He gave me a sad smile, telling me he had ended on a question. I thought on it. Was this all true? Why else would I have fought so hard to be here? I had old friends in San Diego I could have worked to reconnect with, but I came here. The only discernible difference is family relation, right? I sighed.

"I think so too."

His smile turned genuine. "Alright. Then I am here to do what you need me to. Would you mind if I made a comparison that might be seen as rude?"

"I don't think so."

"Alright. Ghosts linger in the land of the living due to some unfinished business. They are aimless, and yet in their wanderings are unerringly tied to one spot. Audrey died in that house, but Audrey does not haunt it. You do."

My face twisted into a frown. "I see what you mean."

"Let me be the priest, then, and exorcise you. What hasn't been done?"

I rubbed the cylindrical handle of the teaspoon inbetween my middle finger and my thumb, twisting the shovel-end in the air like a drill, and looked out the window. From Elliot's house, the ocean was plainly in view. It was not so close, no, but the horizon was brilliantly blue, just like the sky simply continued into the sea, and then came to greet the shore. I spied a flock of seagulls, there, before they disappeared behind a building, presumably to beach themselves.

"I haven't spread Mom's ashes in the bay yet."

Elliot nodded. "Our course seems clear, then."


* * * * *


Mom scattered to the waves beneath the pier on the second of February, 2014. It was a mild day, as most days are in San Diego. There were people on the beach, cavorting as was their right, and playing in the water. Boats peppered the ocean, dogs barked every once in a while. Life continued. And it was among such life that death could be accepted.

The ashes bore no resemblance to Mom. I wondered why I had kept them in the first place. To what was I holding on to? The carbon my mom once had, a count of all that one element within her? Was that all she was to me? No. And in no jar could she, or should she, be contained. So I emptied that ash into the sea, as was her wish — not because I thought her soul might finally be at peace, it had been at peace long before she passed, but because through the action another might be put to rest, a heart placed back in its chest, regulated, becalmed by the action.

The relief was so quick upon me that I felt drowsy. I turned around, and walked to Elliot, who had stood a small distance away, to hug him. His rough, wrinkled skin was still warm with life, his frailty made him no less a human being, and so to him I hung, and silently shared in that experience of letting go. It was clear no words needed to be said. I thanked him with a kiss on the head, and departed.

On the passenger seat sat my "to New York" box, which had two brothers in the backseat. The rest of her belongings I would begin to auction off on eBay, or else hold a yardsale for when next I made home somewhere. And that, truly, was the question.

To go back to New York would have been normalcy. I would, once there, revert to Felix, perform masculinity, possibly regain my title of controller (if they did not suspect me of being the type to leave so lengthily again), and have financial stability, if not prosperity. But the former concerned me more than the latter enticed me. For all its depressive aura, I had lived nearly six years with the freedom to be myself, and the thought of moving back was repulsive. How I lived like that in the first place confounded me. Was money so important, that I sacrificed my identity to have it?

But I could not stay in San Diego, because Grandpa was right. Audrey had long since moved on. I needed to do the same; on those beaches I could feel warm sun but it would always be under the cool breeze of my memory. Where to, then?

"You should go visit him sometime."

My hands gripped the steering wheel tighter. Tim. There were words I needed to have with him, weren't there?

I put the car into drive and set my sights for Oregon.




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