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"Up the Sea" excerpt

Thursday 3/18/21

I have a major story on the line here. I wasn't expecting this. I knew I'd be writing this story, but I didn't think it would be going into that "Fitty" and "Girls of the Nimbus" category, but it is. These are the first two sections. It's called, "Up the Sea."

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“You have the memory of the mother because you want to have the memory of the mother.”

These are words my therapist repeats to me from time to time as if he were interweaving Wagnerian leitmotif throughout our talks.

The memory that prompts his incredulity is of me flying through the air, aware of who has put me in motion this way, even turning as I fly—like I was hovering for a second—to see her and thank her with my eyes, look at her sans blinking and try to give her more strength for what she is about to experience, feel in her body, say to her, and pray to her, that it will not last long.

I was sixteen months old. We awoke without my father, because my father was away for work in another state that might as well have been another land.

In memories I am told I do not have, because it is not possible for me to have them, I recall the smoke, and how there was almost nothing I could see but the light of flames. They came through the door of my parents’ bedroom, where I slept that night, and had been sleeping so well in the hollow made by my father’s body.

I recall the speed with which my mother moved, despite the now-visible veins behind her eyes, which seemed like the tentacles of some tiny jellyfish. She had space between the eyeballs and their sockets, as if she’d been melting, and the jellyfish tentacles were all that had stopped the eyes from popping out and rolling under the bed, where they’d become like stains of gum.

I remember thinking she’d follow me down through the air. We’d both fly for a while, daughter and then mother. But I also knew she was about to fall. Not through the air, but to the ground. The days of going further had reached their end. There was, instead, a last effort, and I was it.

I heard the screams of a neighbor whose name I have never known. I have wondered if they still live in that former neighborhood, or what they would say if I was to find them, and communicate, “I was the girl you caught that night. You were the first person I touched after my mother burned, and my mother was gone.”


My father took the two of us up the coast—one might say that we repaired up the coast, but we were cautious with that word and all but horded its value given how well we understood the scarcity of what it evinced.

We would be inland people no more, and never again, in some ways. I think he believed the proximity of the sea naturally discouraged the eternal spirits that are responsible for the crafting of fire, and should those spirits have gotten out of hand and began to have their way over wood, over human skin, over those one seeks to protect, there was copious amounts of water present to douse, countervail, rebuff.

I played the games and made the friends and got the marks in school. Recited poems I had not written but which I knew line by line, without having to tend to the task of memorization, as though I had. Rode horses in a paddock that overlooked the ocean, a demarcation line of two dozen cedars trees all but saying, “Okay, this is terra firma right here, this is the azure, unbridled mass here, you two get along well as neighbors, you hear me?”

I’d imagine I was the “me.” The arbiter of bonding and how to do it best. Those who feel they have lost the most, often do the most to try and bring others together. I was this way, my father was this way, and that is perhaps why we were so close.

We built, cut, shaved, sanded, and reapportioned in the garage, which looked sufficiently rickety that a wolf might have walked up, taken a single hit on an inhaler—just to goose the bronchia—and blown the structure to splinters.

It was as wooden as wood could get, and dry. Which sounds fatuous, because, after all, wood is wood. But our garage, which, for all we know, had stood as such since the 1800s, was made of cedar shingling extended out into board form that conceivably came from another dozen trees that had once comprised that boundary line between copious sea and the manner of turf that seems to have more sand to it than dirt.

We could see the ocean as we built frames for paintings that my father sold as a hobby of his that we were both really good at, and patched up remote control cars that blazed their races in our driveway. Our nestling within this space surrounded by wood was my father’s way of saying, ‘We will not be deterred, your mother looks after us, there is yet another form of her over there, not thirty yards from where we sit on our sawhorses.”

We worked with the aroma of sawdust in our nostrils in our garage that was no more than ten feet deep and twelve across, its door perpetually open. But it was never just wood. There was always that brine. What we both decided was her protective touch. Just as I knew my memory was real, and that once my mother had really made me fly. Because she could.


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