Sunday, August 11, 2013

Colored Shells (Letter to my father)

By Marcella Mattar - Translated by Nick Wong

I still remember those days that carried the airs of summer, same as when it wasn’t summer, and of the enthusiasm topping our new discoveries from the adventures at the beach. Adventures, Dad, because it was those days that meant the most to me. I remember all the shells and the tireless distance that we covered to pick them from the sand, one by one, so that when we arrived home – a home at that time didn’t fight with sobriety and darkness, that now, is there in some form – you could put them in a jar to decorate our room. But before we would align them, one by one with care, and we would select the most beautiful ones.

I always had a preference that, coincidentally or not, was the same as you had. It would be more colorful, with tons of pink and orange blurred with white, more than all that we remembered in that deleted space of colors nestled in the return of the sun in the blue sky of the beach. The jar would stay there, and I would never tire of looking at it, admiring our collection of the day.

The beach was ours – mine and yours, and nothing else mattered to me. You would know how to answer the questions I asked about the sea, the fish, the sky, the shells. Today I ask myself if all of what you said to my insistent questions had something scientific behind it, or if you played with my imagination. Doesn’t matter, I would think, and you would never leave me without an answer.

I was less than 10-years-old when you took me to walk on the beach to play with the world. The summer never had an end for us, and our house was never sad like it is now, because we had a closed jar of special shells and certain preferences that we would remember, and even during the cold days, the colors were there.

I only ask myself now, Dad, where all my childhood dreams stopped, if they were lost in some place far from here. Some place without you, without our beach, without the sunny days or shells. I ask myself at what moment the world stopped being our amusement park and those days, one adventure after another. What happened to that magic, Dad? I know that it hadn’t disappeared by itself. We had to have let it happen. I don’t know at what exact moment I lost the entire bond that joined us, and that certainty that I would never need another person in my life because I had you. Something was lost there, in that summer sky, and I don’t know if it died there, or simply wore out with time.

We let it go away, is what I believe. What I want to say to you is a little of this and much more: we let everything disappear. The beach continues to be there, Dad. Nature will never stop to exist. The one who moved places was us. The one that lost the magic was us.

And I don’t think to speak in guilt. I think about letting go, about creating within itself a barrier, to distance itself so strongly to a point of not knowing more what is important. Everything is complicated, now. All the jumbled ideas in my head that already do not have more to guide themselves.

And so I think to talk about the house.

When our living room turned dark, I remember the nights at the dining table where I could clearly see the days of the beach turned into a mere past. You kept on without knowing what broke between us, but I knew instantly through that tired look on your face that you were no longer my father (or at least the one that would play with me and appear full of life well into the night).

We would eat in silence, because your voice would be too spent to talk with me, and me, on the other side, wouldn’t know how to approach you without the closeness of our moments together. After, we would still eat in silence, because we would not have anything else to talk about with each other. One time or another, you would talk about your work, and you had worked too much. You would ask, with forced interest, what I am doing when I’m outside the house. And I was already no longer a child.

If the jar still contained the shells or if it was empty, I wouldn’t know. The truth is, I didn’t know where the jar was. It wasn’t here, that was the only thing I was sure of.

The jar represented everything to me. But I forgot the jar, and like that I forgot about everything for the future that I had planned years before when I still believed that all of life was still possible. I caught site of trips and travels we would take, and a house once more garnished with memories in the form of the pieces of the world that we would collect. Our house would smell of the sea, the sand, and I would keep the immensity of all that was outside in a space so small, a space that was ours. I thought that I would see this as a space to build, that I would count every step we would take. And I didn’t think that one day I would grow up. I didn’t see, I didn’t see our space destroy itself, nor see when it left inhabiting the hopes and dreams that you helped me deposit here. And you can’t deny that you had part in this, although I had easily done everything to the point of seriousness and to fatigue. I think I lost you to fatigue, Dad.

However, if you think that you made my childish fantasies go away, you’re wrong. They’re still there. They’re still the decoration of the furniture in our room, still presents on the dinner table, in those conversations that we left with one another. They’re in some space belonging to what almost ceased to exist. It would not be so easy. It would not be natural to wake for life in the same moment that you decided that you would. I still see all of this in some place, Dad. And I know that I didn’t forever lose these traces of childhood in me. What I lost, in truth, was you.

Our house would not smell like the sea, it would smell like mold. It would smell like an old thing left to rot on the side. The windows would always be closed, and I would no longer see the world. The world turned into a prison, one that I would not be able to enjoy no matter how much I dreamed. But I know that in some place, lost between the sofa where I sat looking at the floor and your room, much further down the corridor, where I know you would be.

Until one day you came and told me that our guest room, which was always empty, would be inhabited. But, Dad, it’s only you and me, it was always just you and me. It seemed that this wasn’t good enough anymore. It was a woman, and for some reason, I couldn’t see anything that weren’t dark eyes. When I asked you what she would be doing there, you told me that she would be in our house to take care of you, and to take care of me too. I wouldn’t need anyone to take care of me. I wish I would have said that to you before.

Now I know, there exist several facets of pain. There are those that burn, that throb in some place well inside, so deep inside that it feels that almost all the organs of the body are screaming, although the pain is not theirs. And there is that are less pronounced, that don’t exude disturbing sparks – they simply remain there in some form of absence. It’s not only empty, but an emptiness that at one time was full. The pain of losing what we already once had.

The silence and the darkness, the confused memories, the mixture of forgotten fantasies with the real world is all I see. But what part of these memories was really lost? If I could know, I would not need to worry myself in recalling, in getting over in my mind so many times an abandoned universe. If I could rescue a part of my imagination that was lost, maybe I would better understand why this cruel distance has established itself here – between me and the past, between me and you.

It was this that happened: you went after the dark eyes of that woman that entered our lives. I didn’t believe that she had taken you from me, because the only one capable of this was you yourself. However, in my view, no longer so childish, what it was is the chaos that you were trying to escape, and a fatigue that has bore the same life for years. I don’t blame you for the tiredness, for the desire to let a life pass before your eyes without caring. I don’t blame you for wearing away a job in where you always had to be the caregiver. You also needed to be cared for, and you didn’t have anymore strength to be worried with me.

I see clearly, now, the contrast between our two eras. We were already happy, Dad. But we were only happy because you were happy. At some point, a part of you desperately yearned to dodge all the obligations of life, and with me, has turned more relevant than those old walks on the beach, which now, only exist in a spent memory. And you were not happier, suddenly. I saw enter by some crack in the doors of our home an anguish of familiarity, a mediocrity of a routine without risk, and a mind that already wouldn’t house the capacity to share with me in my world of dreams.

And it is because of this, for much time, I left a big part of me inside that house and decided to flee, much like how you had done. Only that you did this without leaving physically. You can say that it was me that abandoned you, Dad, because I left the house without giving you the last goodbye or telling you about the hurt that resided in me for so long. You can attribute all the blame on me, the irresponsibility, the destruction of our bond. And I would tell you that there was no bond to destroy, and maybe then you would recognize that to continue living in the same physical space was not proof of anything. I simply left, and they can say that it was a cowardly act. It wasn’t. It was courage. Of resentment, but looking back, I don’t know in what form. I still had hope. An illusion, a small flame that tried to be extinguished, yet it continued in me to believe that life could still be beautiful. To believe that I can still achieve an immensity that I saw one day out there, to know there is more, that there is a whole universe on the other side of the ocean. There will be other homes that house more colors than mine, and it is possible that there will be still more colors that were there that same day. There exist other beaches, still with the same ocean, and many other shells to see there. They are brought by the sea, and if nobody collects them from the sand, what will happen to them? This was the question that I never asked you. Where do the shells go? Do they stay in the sand, stationary, forever? I’m sure that they go somewhere. The sea is in charge, or maybe the wind is in charge of taking the shells to some place. I guess I’ll have to find out for myself this time.

You would not believe it if I told you, but I believe and hope for more colored days, still. I believe in the sound of the ocean touching the sand, inside the rustling of the leaves when they fall upon the waves that run without direction. The waves don’t follow an exact pattern, isn’t that so? They go, simply. They don’t run back. Some are higher, much stronger, much faster. Some make more noise. I’m like one of those waves, Dad. I don’t know exactly where I’m going, but the only certainty that I have is that I’m moving forward. I’m going, that’s all I know. I go conforming with the movement of the ocean. I leave freely the past times, without fears of looking back. Without pain. The pain I no longer feel, I don’t allow myself to feel. And, if I close my eyes for some seconds, wherever you are, I can see that which I saw years ago, in a completely different sphere. It’s as if you could carry me there, because I can clearly see the blue sky mixing with the green ocean water and golden twinges. They were the rays of the sun. And I thought, also, that when the shells had yellow scribbles, they were the rays of the sun. It probably wasn’t, but for me it was an uncontestable reality. What matters, now, is that when you close your eyes, you can still hear the noise of the very bottom of the sea, of some form that I almost believe to be real. The anxieties are real, from one moment to another, and I continue here – in the middle of the vast ocean listening to the crashing of waves. I will continue there, unmoving, until I sink in the profundity of the water and realize it is just a memory, which becomes increasingly unrealistic with time.

And it is for this I was different from you, you that stopped searching for life where you could overcome the fears, the humility and the shortage of forces to act. I came to the world that I knew was always around the abandoned city of my childhood, and I let a life that belonged to you be solely yours. This moment, I put myself out. I eased a way for you to ease your pain – so that you can embrace depression in a way that suits you, so that you could save all the displeasure and the unwillingness for you. I left the past intact where it should be: inside my memories. I’ll pretend it did not happen the moment in which the charm was lost. I will save only the part where we were happy, you can be sure of that.

I didn’t have a mother. I also didn’t have a father, after a time. You want to know what I have then? I have fantasies, a sweet glance around the possibilities of what awaits me in this new life. And I have a jar full of colored shells that I stole from a home that no longer houses more beauty. I have the beach. I have my eyes, my hands, and while they are able to touch life, they will not give up so easily. 

With you, Dad, I learned so many lessons. One of them was about how easily it is to surrender to a dimension where there is no life, only loneliness that comes from fatigue. The other was a long time ago, I don’t remember very well, but it was something about seeing the world until it existed. It was something like you asked me until how far I could see the sea. I looked for both sides, for the back of the ocean, and I couldn’t see the end. I told you that it never ended. Just like how I could believe in everything that sounded beautiful, realistically, I believed in that moment that there was the ocean on all sides. “Then, if I start swimming without stopping until the front, are you saying that I won’t find the another land like this ever?”  I cannot remember what you said, but I can suppose, and I prefer to believe that they are words that I have in my mind now. I don’t know if they left your mouth that day, or if I invented them, it doesn’t matter, I prefer to save in my memory that your response was this: “It depends on what you are looking for – if you want land, you will swim until you find it. If you want infinity, it doesn’t matter which direction you go, it is infinity you will find.”

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