Jim – by Michele Anne-Marie Dickson

My tears made clumps in the ashes when I tried to wipe them from my hands, like Lady Macbeth. I felt your presence close by.

A wind gathered and you blew back up into my face, and I was left coughing. Now you’re in my lungs, in my very breath.

Here in Algonquin Park, near your favourite river, carrying this final piece. A hallmark of mistreatment. You were challenged to make a decent life, a point of healing, but you failed. The shift in trauma, adversity of unique perpetuity. Your sense of wholeness was not nurtured, and the roots were pulled out. Surviving with the lack of being loved, a soulful ache.

I was shocked when you jumped to turn up the volume when “I Want To Know What Love Is” came on the radio. A complex picture of anger and creativity, where previously stored experiences of loneliness made up your world. Your mind, maladaptive, evocative, yet flawed. Pervasiveness, connectivity, senses dulled. It left me broken, like shards of glass, biting and cutting.

In life, we just skimmed the surface, never revealing the undercurrent. Yours brought you down, into a dark world and you stayed there, not wanting assistance. I blossomed into the person I am now, despite the negative ties to my past, my childhood, filled with abuse and shame. You couldn’t overcome yours, and I wish our love would have become deeper, more a sharing experience, so that we would have had more in common than blood.

The trees waved in the wind as I fretted about being discovered and told to leave. I came to this couples retreat knowing why I was here, to accomplish this feat of letting go.

Melancholy had set in long ago, with severe, degenerative sources of internal pain. I kept forgetting everything that meant something to me. It manifested itself by my almost burying the whole process of coming here in my long term memory. I’ve never been able to face death. It affected my sense of self worth, my very existence. It shifted to what I should be doing, like a positive event gone awry.

Trauma, a cocktail of hormones, dysregulated. I interpreted letting go of you as having to upload the files that you should have honest conversations around. Unfortunately, these things kept happening. I was agitated and irritated.

People facing abuse have the same ethics, doing more to change the abuser. I knew you loved me and I you, but sometimes you showed an unhealthy adoration of me by letting little things slip. When I made a sculpture of my nude body, headless and without limbs, you fawned over it and told me how it turned you on, and I got the creeps. I overheard, when we lived with our maternal grandmother, you were talking about how aroused you were looking at me, to a family friend.

I struggled with loving you unconditionally and being hurt by you when you manipulated me for money. The ego giddy with pain, refusing a higher plane to inhabit. I exerted, loving you and being an enabler, while I stood, drinking in this beautiful peace, where I can see you laughing at me, and I, in wanting to heal, in dismay. The longing to hear your sarcasm, your voice critiquing my self portrait of you.

The stillness in time.

The urn, now empty, and as I turn to go, the gentle zephyr, now briskly blowing into a tumultuous wave of light, parting the sky. I am forever moved to tears, remembering your face against mine. A sweet embrace I will never lose sight of.  The gods and goddesses have given me a sweet smelling perfume. The scent of love, with a dire hint of sorrow, flowing to the heavens, encroaching on desire. Perhaps, we, in a different time and place, would be lovers, holding on to one another, in an endless grasp of sensuality and eroticism. I blush at the thought of it, like a thief holding his prized possession, endlessly and without effort. I can almost hear you speaking to me, saying, “Don’t.” I can’t bring myself to give it another thought.

The river pours over itself, rolling over rocks in the ‘bed, thrusting into crevasses where creatures lie, infinitely searching for food and protection. I’m one of them, foraging and sucking in oxygen, to only be frisked aside, in the construction of loss and pain. Sorrow makes my eyes bubble and froth, seeping tears. The urn poised in my hands, only to heave it into the rushing water, watching it float away. I break down, sensing your presence, as I await your appearance. I wish there was peace in this place.

I vacate your final resting place, heading back to the chateau where I made for my room, packed up my belongings, and drove away.

Ahead of me was a traveller on the road, walking in the same direction. As I passed, I glanced in the rear view mirror. I gasped. I saw your face, grinning. Stopping the car I got out and glimpsed nothing. You were gone. A message that alerted me that you were there, watching over me. I got back in the car and sobbed on the steering wheel, leaving the door open. Why did you have to die? My heart pained for you, my dear brother, Jim. I let the tears run down my face, not wiping them off. They left a stain on my shirt that couldn’t be scraped off.

My love for you is in full bloom and cannot be wiped away. You appeared to me out of love. But did God send you to me, along the side of the road? What if I’d not paid attention? What if I’d glanced the other way? I was made to see you. Perhaps, I should have empathy for you? Will you ever come back? Like an artist paints with his brush, God painted you there, on this road. You are trapped here with me, a vision of love and timely, in the universe. We blend together, between life and death.

I felt joy when I saw you. Your smile, your presence, fills me with hope.

Back in our home, our lives together are gone. The stacks of your records are remembrances to the past. I flip through them, thinking of the memories I had of you. The time you introduced me to Progressive Rock, when I was young. The albums were in pristine condition, but the jackets were dog eared. There were times I recalled specific songs that you were associated with. “The Knife” from “Trespass.” I remarked on a three dimensional image of a knife slashing through the artwork on the cover. I adored Peter Gabriel’s first solo album. I recall you explaining the story of him “talking” to the listener and I told you how creeped out I was. You laughed with abandon, your head tilted backward with your high pitched wail.

Mist clouded my eyes and I wept. A cry from the very depths, shivering cold with bitterness. We had decades together and it all went by so fast. I’m lonely without you. I’m afraid I’ll forget your mind, your humour, the way you scratched your nose. I keep a photo of you at age 13, beside my perfume bottles, wishing I could go back in time and say all I have left to say.

Something organic, something important.

I hold your black and white photographs in my hands, hurting. How can this be? You pursued life at all costs and you never needed others to build you up.

Were you watching me on that road?

Darkness unfolds and I get into bed, trying to find a comfortable place. I began to hurt, and sorrow, feelings of surrender were combined.  I’m filled with love for you, my dear brother Jim, my cypher in timelessness. I will never forget.

Michele Dickson (she/her) is a disabled self-taught multi-disciplinary artist, poet and writer of fiction and non-fiction. Michele identifies as someone with lived experience of mental illness, chronic illness, and a history of trauma and sexual abuse. These are some of the themes she explores in her art and writing, which she uses as a healing and coping mechanism. Her art has dignity, and it explores themes of abandonment and failure, dissolution. Michele attempts to show feelings of surrender, and the daily challenges of being disabled and ill. Beauty, darkness, joy and suffering are also in all her work.

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