XIII / by Ronald Clark

This easel is so unattractive. So much of its beauty has been eradicated within the constraints of memories I can no longer attempt to replicate. Each time I sat at that easel, whether with my mother or alone, it was a time filled with wonder. And glee. And happiness. And the unknown. Art provided an outlook for the supernatural to become normal. And now, it is just an empty space. An infuriatingly empty space.

Why was she taken from me?

Somehow, my hands wrap around the easel’s neck. I squeeze, wrinkle the sheets like the aftermath of unprotected sex with strange… from what I hear. Violence overwhelms me. I tear at its blank pages with unbecoming rage. Scream at the top of Mt. Everest lungs. Stomp on its remnants like Kirk Franklin’s motivation to make street gospel. Put my knees to its throat. Suffocate its ability to create magic like Johnson’s AIDS announcement. Punch its lines like police guards through the center of the Selma bridge during one of God’s darkest hours.

This easel, this easel represents a life no longer known, a person I no longer am. My tears sound like they’re being chopped and screwed. I see you, Rudy. My cries ring of slave hymnals only making sound to renounce the pain, the inevitable setting of a sun that only darkens our skin, provides light only when oppression is looking for us.

I sit with my knees on what remains of the sacred in a backwards prayer. My easel is no longer. Crushed under the weight of a boy who defends himself with defense mechanisms created out of defense of an unknown enemy. I need an escape from this agony, from this realization that all that has provided me with outlet after outlet is severed, in this moment, at this time. But, somehow, I cannot let what has already happened dictate what will happen next. I know, I have seemingly lived my entire existence based on the past and the past has dictated my every step into the future. I must escape its grasp. I must relinquish its hold. And the only way to do such a thing is one final visit to the past. Don’t judge me. This is going somewhere.

Hello, mother…

I knew I would land here. At the feet of my mother’s grave, breathing deeply in a wind she now controls. Flowers fresh as her spirit holds them at an angle, shouldering all she left behind.

Her tombstone sits atop the earth. Her picture engraved in marble, my father spared no expense. It is one thing I give him credit for, though, his reasoning for doing so is still unknown to me. Love? Quite possibly. Image? Quite likely. Nevertheless, I am thankful that my mother was buried in a magical way, in a magical space, where our bond can meet in space, and time, at the edge of life and death. I know she is among the living, for thou art dead, as I am, among the dead, for thou art alive. We inch towards one another, the other striving for what the other already has left.

The wind, calm in its breeze, settles in around me. I am engulfed, one with it, and it soothes me. I take in a deep breath, breathe out as if it is for the first time. My heart palpitates in a familiar rhythm. I know this space, I know this air, I know this life, for only one can create such a thing in the dead of silence.

Hello, mother…

I came here to speak to you. I have settled into a dark space. I do not like it here. You were the only one who could take me out of my doldrums and place me back into reality. Without you here, I look like a reckless kid with nowhere to place my rage. I am taking out my anger on the innocent, those who are attempting to fill the void you left in their own way, but I am not accepting of their applications. I rip their energy to shreds, discarding the pieces until they no longer have the will to fight. I do not want to do this any longer, mother. But I am afraid of being hurt. I am afraid of connecting with anyone who may leave me behind. Our bond was not strong enough to save you and that worries me, mother. If our bond was not strong enough, what bond will be? Nothing compares to us, and yet, God severed us. She claims to only put on us what we can bear but how can I bear this? How can I set our love aside to allow someone else into my distorted view of this life? I have so many questions, mother. Can you - please - show me the light?

I am still within the breeze, ears open to the possibility of conversation. I am patient, at this time. A weakness of mine in the real world but this place is one of magic. One where bodies lie to rest, and humans come to make sure they remain that way. Our society has a fascination with vampires and zombies and the undead because we yearn for the possibility of seeing our loved ones on this earth, once again, in any capacity. It is one of the most selfish aspects of humanity. We argue with God about decisions She makes when all of us are a decision She has to make. Some of us come earlier than expected. Some of us last longer than we should. Either way, we all reach the point of decision, and we never come back from what it is that God decides. Her legendary sense of humor shows itself most readily in this way. I find myself chuckling from time to time at just how foolish we are to be upset with an inevitability. God could tell us our day of reckoning at the very beginning, if She wanted. But She wanted us to live a life of reckless abandon, one not governed by the time Her decision had to come to pass. It would be wrong of a loving God to take that freedom from us. And this God everyone speaks of is a loving one, no?

Yes, I am a loving God. And I am loving having your mother here among the angels where she belongs…

To God: What does it feel like to be me?

I am not you. But you are me. And I represent the only being capable of reaching the heights of love you and your mother have reached.

To God: Why did you take her from me?

I am a jealous God. I wanted that kind of love all to myself.

To God: You didn’t think to ask if I’d share?

I know you better than you know yourself, young man. Do you honestly think you would have shared?

To God: I see your point. But why produce the level of pain in me my mother’s death produced? What is the endgame of erasing her from this earthly existence?

You are stronger than you think, Vinnie. In order for you to recognize that strength, I had to remove the security blanket you were taking too long to grow out of.

To God: That’s bullshit.

It is that anger that must be corralled or you will choke on the bile of your own grief. Your mother is safe. Your mother is where she should be. But she cannot rest peacefully until she knows that you are going to be alright. And I do not know what to tell her.

To God: What happened to being all knowing?

You all are made in my image. My image is flawed, just as you are.

To God: That explains the whole white Jesus thing.

It does.

To God: You don’t speak to me like I think you should.

I speak to you every day. You just struggle recognizing my presence. But you will soon understand just how much I am in your life.

To God: Thank you for her. She was the ultimate gift.

There are more gifts on the way...