[CREATIVE NONFICTION] Things I Blame You For Now That You’re Gone
I try to write a poem about your knees but people tell me I can’t come right out and say that you were raped. Why are her knees so important? They tell me I have to hide the facts behind images of funeral flowers.
You used to sit me on your knees and bounce me. Your knees were a private roller coaster. That is my earliest memory of you. Your boney knees between my legs, your swollen and veiny hands tucked gently in my armpits as you jiggle me up and down. That was before your knees became too weak to hold me after all those years working at Champion Parts rebuilding fuel systems. There, your hands held carburetors and turbochargers and moved them along rollercoasters of conveyor belts and deafening machines. You remanufactured, reconstructed, rebuilt. You put back together what came to you broken but your hands couldn’t mend the trace he left on your bones.
I blame you for a lot of things once you are dead. The white sheet in the closet that I’ll never fold and the broken glass on your front porch and the fine china that I’ll never use.
They tear down McGhee elementary the year after you die. The headline reads: “McGhee Elementary put to rest.” They wouldn’t let us recover the brick with your name carved neatly on the surface. On the day the school opens, the principal places it there, brick against brick, as the bellows of your accordion oscillate under the promise of fame. Of something. But it’s gone now. Proof of your existence turns from brick to dust.
I stop pretending that I believe in the sort of God who doesn’t let children say goodbye.
You visit me in a dream, lying on your faded blue and white couch, wearing a striped pastel nightgown that falls just past your knees. In the fog of the dream, I still know you are dead, but you are not quite a corpse yet. Your knees look thinner than before, more knobby and frail. They curve, ever so gently resting against the back of the couch. I rouse you from your apparent slumber and you tell me it’s not my fault. I couldn’t have known that was the last night you had. I couldn’t have sensed with my eyes that your organs were failing. You whisper, “Never let me go.”
I paint those words between my shoulders.
Only later do I find out that it is just a line from your favorite Elvis song. The song that crooned from the funeral home speakers as they ushered us out for mourning too long. A comforting hand placed on weak shoulders. The next family is waiting. It was never a message meant for me.
I never heard you play the accordion.
After you’re gone, my mom never stops thinking I’m going to kill myself. I taste the weight of her thoughts in soggy cereal and feel the burden in the way she watches me put knives in the dishwasher. I start seeing a therapist to make things easier for her. She drives me to Dr. Newburg once a week and we sit on beige couches in the waiting room and pretend we aren’t thinking of you. She always pulls some silly supernatural romance novel from her ugly purple purse, and I always make fun of her for it until they call my name. I think, maybe, this routine—me and her pretending you’re not dead—makes things easier.
I think that people grieve in different colors.
You light a fire under my dormant daddy issues. You tell me my real dad is better, my real dad is an artist, my real dad wrote stories just like me. I didn’t know any better. You are the only reason I have images of my biological father in my head. You remind me of our connection by saying “you have his ass” whenever you hem my pants. So, I hate my stepdad just for you. When you are gone, I tell him I love him for the first time.
I can’t stop writing about the sheet that covered your knees as the paramedics took you away.
I tell Dr. Newburg about my dream. She tells me it’d be easier to cope with your loss if I just believed in God. I want to tell her she’s wrong, to tell her to fuck off, to tell her that prayers to God don’t fix warped and forgotten accordions in the corners of attics. But I don’t. Instead, I nod. Instead, I stare at the wooden ducks on the table as I take the Signs You Have Depression test. Instead, I make eye contact with the mallard as I circle wrong answers for each question.
I wonder if I only married a musician because of you.
You take me to the last company picnic before Champion Parts closes. A man in a Santa suit skydives while crowds of people watch. The newspaper publishes a blurry photo: “Skydiving Santa makes his annual stop.” No one in the crowd knows this is the last time we’ll celebrate Christmas in July. 7UP in hand, you sing along with the band and tell me that it could’ve been you on that stage. The sun is too bright for anyone to look up long. The clouds are absent today. I tell you I don’t believe in Santa anymore but you make me take a picture anyway.
I see death in the pebbles I crush beneath my boots, in the soup bowls in my kitchen cabinet.
You tell me, “Sweetie, you better marry young ‘cause I won’t make it to seventy.” I find your bones in the clouds on my wedding day. We light a candle for you but it’s not enough. You die on your 69th birthday. The clouds hold no rain. The candle burns longer than it should.
I listen for your heartbeat in the strum of his guitar but hear only sirens.
Your kids qualify your absence by the meals you’ll never make. Five missing pumpkin pies on Thanksgiving. Four missing gallons of eggnog on Christmas. We try to replicate recipes so we can feel your memory on our tongues. We try, but we never quite get the nutmeg right.
No one notices when I stop eating again. I play with food on apple-patterned plates, I talk, I redirect, I feed it to the dog. I stop going to therapy.
I don’t know what the headlines say on the day that you die. I never read your obituary and I stop listening to “Hey Jude.”
We move your piano into our house. I sit on the creaky black bench and pick at the peeling paint with my thumb. You painted everything black, even me. Your laugh is the music of my breathing. I press on out of tune keys. Fingers to imitation ivory. Dust. Three notes form the only song that you taught me. I feel the hum of the sound in red and blue lights flashing.
Courtney Mauck lives in the snowy Upper Peninsula of Michigan, where she writes and teaches at Northern Michigan University as she pursues her Master’s degree.