The Slow-Cooked Sentence

Vastation or how I say goodbye

Rachael Conlin Levy

vastation, n., A laying waste; a waste; a depopulation; a devastation.

Sadness embroidered the name of a friend into the dark lining of the wind, which carried it across the continent to my home. It lingered in the shadows until I opened the door to breathe in the salty blue sky that marked the year’s warmest day yet, then it swept down, caressed my cheek, slid into my lungs and left its message.

Once sadness enters the lungs it passes into the bloodstream and then to the heart, which unknowingly circulates it through the entire body so that by the end of the day there was a heaviness in my thighs, a roundness in my shoulders and a tightness to my scalp. I did not know that this was grief.

Let me tell you a story.

I am friends with a giant. Or was. For like most fairy tales, this giant does not live to hear the end of the story, and neither will my friend. He was a mountainous man whose face beamed like the morning sun peeking over the ridge. And though the blood of giants ran in his veins, he was but human and so he stumbled through life like the rest of us.

He found a lover whose kiss cut a thread within his heart that began to unravel an infinite amount of happiness and infinite amount of sadness, for the two emotions are but one, running in opposite directions along a vector. Time passed. A child was added, so perfect and small he could be cradled in the hand of his father, who sat for hours marveling that the round belly and moon-pink nails could contain all of his bulk and heft. With time, the child grew to grip his father’s thumb and take three steps for his every one. Together, they went to the beach and buried their feet in the warm sand. They watched gulls spiral like constellations in the sky. They chased the waves. When the boy grew tired, the man touched his son’s hair, lifted him onto his shoulders and carried him home.

But still. The loose threads within the man’s heart continued to unwind, stretching into the expanding corners of his internal vastation until they snapped and he was left to drift through the world with a broken heart. Sadness, if left unchecked, will attach itself to the liver, weaken the fingernails, pool in the base of the spine and overwhelm the body, which begins to smell like a Sunday afternoon spent with weak tea and a disappointing book. People assured him the heart could be restitched, repaired, reconfigured, and so he set about healing it. His efforts were giant and extravagant, monumental and tremendous. Their failures were equally great: Mistakes crashed about his ankles and the earth trembled.

If one lives with sadness for too long it begins to be mistaken for other emotions: The prickly eyes and itchy nose of dammed tears is thought to be a sneeze. The laughter that cannot escape from the gut is blamed on indigestion, while the ache to be touched is diagnosed as gout. The man decided his sadness was pain. Only. Knowing that pain fades into sweet memories and pretty scars, he dosed it, doused it, dulled it, until the day he found a gash in the granite face of his mountain and thinking that he could tie up the ends of his unraveling heart, he squeezed inside.

Silence filled the darkness and darkness filled the silence. There were no stars within this vast interior. The man did not know how long he walked before he heard a faint drip, drip, drip and headed toward the sound. It was longer still before water seeped through the walls and collected in rivulets about his feet, and still he lumbered. A drop landed on his head, then his arm. He looked up and water fell on his lip. He licked it away, tasted salt and, in the blackness, remembered the end of another day, tangerine sunlight throwing long shadows in the sand, his son sleeping in the shade his father cast, reaching to brush salt from the boy’s warm, freckled shoulder.

Far away people discovered the crevice in the mountainside, and, pressing their lips against the wall, they whispered: Come back! Come back! This is no way to heal a heart. A little wistfully he replied that he could not. Why, they asked. Because, he said, I am not your comic hero cut from the cloth of greatness, but only a man who is tired of looking at the color gray, who no longer wants sugar to taste of what I lost and salt to taste for all I yearn. They nodded for then they understood that his heart had seized up from blood thick with sadness. Neighbors walked home together, grateful for the company. Porch lights flicked on. Beds creaked under the weight of love. And like in all tales, this giant disappeared from the world.

Seven days have passed since I first breathed the sad wind, but I will not let grief clot my blood. I wish I could have smoothed the hair from my friend’s forehead and held his hand one final time. But, being a world away, I can only wave old pictures in my children’s faces: See how his arms were big enough to hug our entire wedding party? Look at his strength, lifting two of you at one time! They nod, weakly smile and worry over the sadness in my eyes. The youngest is tired. I put down the pictures, pull him close and sigh as sadness settles in the soles of my feet. I begin: Once upon a time, a giant was my friend …

7 responses to “Vastation or how I say goodbye”

  1. Cherylac says:

    Very beautifully put.

  2. anno says:

    Beautiful, but hard. I’m so sorry.

  3. Andrea says:

    I am so sorry. What a beautiful, heartbreaking tribute to your friend. So, so sad.

  4. Mason says:

    Thank you for this, Rachel.

  5. You really put your entire self into this piece. Amazing.

  6. Pat says:

    Beautiful … thinking of you both at this difficult time.

  7. Mel says:

    Wonderful. Reminds me a little bit of Byatt.

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