There is a stir in the water that captivates me. I stand as statue, glaring and losing myself in the abyss of circulating water. It was the orange that handcuffed me at first, then a piercing blue followed by the subtle emeralds that mimic ocean floor. All of this, while stood in the entryway of home…
The fish-tank and the colours within it act as hypnosis to my weary mind. My ears can hear the trickle of water from pump to tank. But that begins to fade as thoughts of you become louder.
“Bright colours…” That’s what you used to say to us; and I hated every time you did. There was nothing bright about the day you left. And ever since that abhorrent day, I have struggled mightily to find brilliance in the chromaticity of this world you left behind. Scared and at times abandoned is how I now feel. Just as I did all those years ago when I was simply a boy listening to you say… “Bright colours, Matty-watt… I want bright colours…”
I must have been 14… maybe 15 on the day you said this to me. It wasn’t the first time, but this particular instance stands out to me because the expression left on your face was one that I had yet to see from you. It frightened me. But I said nothing. I simply acknowledged what you had said with a teenage reply of “okay…” and then continued to chew the Frosted Flakes that had now spoiled soggy in my mouth. My return of statement was not spoken in apathy; it was instead poisoned with angst.
My eyes remained glued to you as you sat at the table, staring off into God knows where… You looked tired and dissatisfied. A cloud of slow-moving smoke encircled you like a cancerous halo. A diseased angel and her cigarette. I wanted to ask if you were okay, but I didn’t. I’m not sure I knew how to back then. But I wish I did and I wish that I had… maybe then… maybe… maybe your day would never have come…
It’s been 3 years. I had hoped that this year would be easier, but it’s not. Instead, I am left with punishing contemplations of the unspoken words between us. They populate the landfill of my grief. I think maybe this year feels the way it does because it’s not just you that I am grieving. I’m sure you know by now, but Lisa died, too. January. After Christmas will be her 1-year. Plenty of unspoken words there, too. She was a good sister.
Last night, Sheena lay beside me, resting from a tiresome day. I broke from sleep in a panic. I even jolted in bed. It’s by luck that I did not disturb my sleeping beauty. I peered through the dark, stricken and without calm. Moments before, I was trying to save you. At least, that is the nightmare that my wayward mind had conjured for me. Your likeness was transposed atop of a suicide victim that I had once tried to save—but I was unable—she, just like you, slipped away from my grasp.
And now, several hours later, I stand at this fish-tank, gaping at the bright colours within, remembering all those times you asked for bright colours at your funeral.
“No sad suits. I don’t like suits. Not at a funeral, anyway…”
You spoke of death often. And as a kid, watching you suffer through cancer and depression, I always feared that death hungered for you and you for it. And if you died, I felt as though I would be truly alone. There were times where I didn’t even know where my siblings lived because you had cast them away and forbidden me to speak with them. You were always enraged with one of us at some point. The worst is when you would inform me that I was just like my father… A child molester? How could that be…? And so, when you crooned of death in a whimsical manner, I was both petrified and loathing in equal parts. A twisted dance of anxiety.
I can’t remember how old I was, but I was holding a Superman toy, playing in a sink of water when I first heard you say it; that you wished you were dead. I replied by letting you know that I didn’t want you to die. Not ever. And you gifted me with an angered scowl. So, I played in the sink some more… trying not to cry. But I couldn’t stop myself. You barked at me. You demanded I stop it at once. But I couldn’t… so you sentenced me to my room. Four walls of which to have my fears echo from. I think that’s partly why I hate hearing people cry today—because it was near deafening when hearing myself do it as a child. But my tears were in fear of losing you, while yours seemed to be by way of anger toward me—I’m sorry, mum.
Shortly after you died, I got to see the court documents regarding my father and what he had done to us. I read statements from Lisa, and from you. You spoke of refusing treatment of your cancer. Seemed you had wanted death for quite some time. It broke my heart to read our story as told by a stenographer. I never blamed you for Michael (my father). None of us did. But as per your note, you carried all the blame.
You haven’t had a funeral yet, so there have been no bright colours. In fact, everything has been grey. Even the sunniest of days.
I miss you, mum. I wish I could introduce you to Sheena. I think you’d really like her and her kids. She treats me really well. She is kind and considerate when I wake from my bad dreams. She is understanding of my peculiarities when it comes to public places. She seems to genuinely like me, which at times, freaks me out a little. I remember you once said… “None of my kids are going to win any awards for good looks, but you could all pass in a crowd.” Needless to say, confidence isn’t something I am very good at. She tells me I’m handsome sometimes… I never really know how to respond. It feels nice, but I feel selfish should I accept the compliment. And you called me selfish plenty of times growing up, so it’s something I really don’t want to be.
This letter isn’t supposed to be angry, but I am angry, mum. I’m angry that there are all these times with you that are horrible to recount. That you did and said all of these things. But then there was this unbelievably sweet and kind side of you, too. A Miss Jekyll and Miss Hyde. Sadly, for all of us, Hyde took you away.
I don’t know when there will be a funeral, mum. We are all still pretty banged up over the finality of your loss, and we are still coping with the reality that our sister, Lisa, is now gone too. We are a family forged in trauma… that has its lingering after effects.
What I can say, mum, is that on Friday, the 6th of November, I will wear a bright colour just for you. And when I do, I hope upon hope that wherever you may be, you can see it. I’m not celebrating your death; I’m remembering your life. And I’m thankful for the one you provided to me. Albeit not perfect, I still feel as though I was a pretty lucky kid. After all, I had you. And you’re one of a kind. It’s the imperfections that make something great. Mona Lisa’s crooked smile, the leaning tower of Pisa… and you… Good, bad and ugly… you were my mum.
God, I really miss you.
Say hi to Lisa for me. I’ll see you guys someday.