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The Ghost Grew Legs: Stories of the Dead for the More or Less Living (excerpt)

Tuesday 3/7/23

When I watched a movie in which blood featured, I shielded my eyes during the portions of sanguinity. Because they were unlike much else in the rest of that movie, I knew when they were coming. Those were movies I saw with my friends, in younger stages and stations of life, not movies I would have chosen on my own. Intervals when one tries to belong with others, before the arrival of those stretches in which one attempts to belong with one’s self. A day comes when you realize that was what was going on all along.

I was confident I wouldn’t bleed when I got a shot on account that I was so good at not bleeding, but I still looked away as the needle pierced my skin. It became such that I couldn't feel needles as they were administered, even if there was nothing else I didn’t feel in the extreme. That was the lone blunted edge, an irony given the nature of needles. But blow up anything big enough under a microscope and it can look like the wall of a fortress, two kilometers long. Who’s to say that’s not what it really is?

I took the Band-Aid all the same, just in case. I'd leave it on until it fell off, which usually happened in the shower about four days later with the clockwork of deteriorating adhesive. One lasted for a week, and I was saddened when the outward, visual evidence of the run of its heroism came to an end as a side fell away from my skin as the water hit it just so, and the other then followed. I crouched to retrieve the bandage and rushed it to the garbage can, in mid-shower, stepping from the tub, dripping freely the way one rains in one’s own bathroom. It didn’t seem right to place it in the soap dish to wait as I stood there feeling warmth on my neck.

My daughter thought my aversion to blood was funny. She'd say, "Look, mommy," and take off her own Band-Aid as soon as we left the doctor's office after she’d had a shot and we were restored to the car, beckoning for me to turn and see her in the backseat.

She’d have a smile of triumph on her face with a faint trace of benign gloat. Of being proud of herself. And her harmless remonstrance, so unlike the forms I applied to myself. It was a happiness that I’d somehow not taken from her yet, which I was sure to take in time. Diminish. To look at someone and want to keep yourself from them because of how much you love them is to not know how to live.

"Look at you," I'd say, because I liked how she teased me and that she had this information about who I really was, which is a requirement of true teasing. I was happy when she teased me. I would have liked that she could have teased me all the time, but that’s not how teasing works. Those were the moments I craved. The only moments. Moments that exist, and persist, under the banner of untradeable. I wish more had been there.

We all have our things. Whatever gives us pause and which we cannot work around. The key may be not to have too many of them, or, I think, have them be that which matters not too much in the grand scheme of anything.

When I died there was a pool of blood and I wasn't ready for it. All of that drastic overload after the cultivated absence. Sand in the desert when the great flood comes.

Do the individual particles of sand all wish to shout, “Give us time to prepare!” How much time would they want or think reasonable? For how long a period would they barter or beg? A year? A season? Month? A few days? Or would any time at all do because it was time that hadn’t been there in the end? Or would some among their number just say that the time had come?

I didn't feel pain. I felt my lack of preparation and understocked readiness. I felt a wave of a voice that sounded like “better off without you,” only minus tangible words and true sound, because I was past the point when I needed to hear that voice to believe what it had to tell me. The funny thing about painful truths is that you don’t require them said to you to know them or credit their existence; it’s the other kind that you have to hear and be told.

I felt the crystalline, oily glow of my awareness. A sharp-edged plane of focus. All of the blood all at once. I had always thought in the terms of blues and greens, because I'd also read that the blood inside of us is a shade of green, but that’s not what I saw. Red was abundant. Red was general. Red approached total.

My blood melted the snow. A further surprise. The inside of the car had been piping hot, a treat I allowed myself on rare days in winter. The heat lulled me and made me feel safer. The outside was so cold. A day when the trees themselves look as if they’re in for a struggle, never mind that they’re trees.

And the birds. Have you ever seen a cold bird? My mom once told me a story about a baby snowflake who was too cold to go out into the air with the other snowflakes, but really it was because she was scared. She wanted to stay behind in the cloud, tucked under a vapor. I thought of that, and how at the end of the story the snowflake eventually decided to fall, and she wasn’t cold or scared, she was happy and contented that she had stopped being silly. She was glad she went.

My cheeks didn't exist anymore but I could taste the glass of the windshield. There was a piece of it under my tongue, which annoyed me. What a strange thought to have. Just goes to show you how hard it can be to focus because of a minor nuisance. I used to feel that way about the garbage truck when it came early in the morning as I tried to think before I forced myself to stop and just have another day. The hiss of the air brakes always sounded deliberate in what I deemed was their over-usage. But to what ends?

I attempted to swim through the blood, that's how much of it there was. It seemed like there couldn't be more of anything else in the world. I was in the hills and now my body felt like a plain, a pasture on which to graze, come the thaw, which was a long ways off. But nothing ever really is. I always drove carefully when I wasn’t alone. Care holds a certain amount of pain in a certain state of abeyance. But I cared less when it was just me. I think I was coaxed into a belief that care is control and footing. The blood was useful in shattering the illusion.

Even as my blood rained upon me I was grateful for my ex-husband, who also used to tease me about my aversion to blood and how I'd demand that he "tell me when it's over," as I stuck my hand in front of my face during a scene of a movie we were watching. He'd be a good father, the perfect father, which he already was, but he'd be even better because that was necessary.

The blood covered my entirety. Covered all my thoughts. Covered my eyes and became a lens through which I viewed the world as I left it.

"What was the big deal?" I found myself thinking now that the blood was everywhere in this place in which I felt like I already knew all of the particulars. The blood was between every last strand of every last hair on my head. I’d never even washed that well.

I also wasn't really myself at the time as I had known myself. Awareness brings change, or is it change that brings awareness? The quantity of the blood may have been a form of compensation, a balancing of scales, for all of the years and decades in which I had managed to avoid bleeding, and the swimming was the period of adjustment.

I was most concerned that the blood I was in would flow down the hill to the house where my daughter was, in our house, and leak under the front door. It had to go somewhere. I didn’t want her to be saddled with the job of cleaning me up for the rest of her life, or even through winter break at school.

The snow, which was already saturated, couldn't hold the entire quantity. The output. It took no time for that snow to be possessed of my blood, taken over by my blood. Nor did I want her to find out that way, via the color of a mound on the side of the road. Or find out that way first. It'd be better if her dad knew before she did, so it was paramount I didn’t let the blood get away from me. I wanted it. All of it.

Even though my cheeks were back further up the road with some parts of the car, I had my mouth, more or less, and so I gulped at the blood, and drank as much and as fast as I could. I pretended I was a little fish trying to drink up a big ocean. I think I may have even looked cute for a second. A woman with girlish vitality. For the interval of a blink. But it was in there.

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