I look for him with my eyes: in the empty room, on the worn-out carpet, at the chair next to the window, behind the bathroom door (always) left ajar. I look out for him from the window. The grass should have been mowed and the ground should have been plowed, long ago.
At night, I listen for the absence of his sleepless steps. There is nothing.
In the morning, I ate the last dry crescent roll, soaked in milk with butter. I bought it for Dad, when he was still able to swallow. Then I dyed Mom’s hair. For the first time in my life. After all, he used to be the one to do that, always.
I drive her to stores and offices, I carry her bags, I open the doors for her. I fry his favorite potato pancakes on a cast-iron stove. I bake his favorite cake, which he used to call “easy-peasy”.
The house without Dad is like Howl’s Castle without Calcifer.
Everything gets broken and falls apart. There is no water.
Marcin tries to repair the pump, he says he feels sad because if only Janek was here… He does not finish his sentence, he keeps trying.
He moves around, stumbles over piles of unused things. Over the pump, the wheels from Emanuel’s first buggy are fixed, Dad never let us throw them out. They look like haloes over Marcin’s head. Every time he hits his head against them, I burst out laughing, I burst out crying. The cellar was made for Dad’s stocky build, not for the slim elf that Marcin is. Someone will have to clean it all up one day.
Secretly, I open the wardrobes, looking for smells.
“When are you going to come back to us?”
I keep hearing this more and more often, but I also know better and better that there is no coming back. One cannot build a bridge over this hole. What I try to do is build the world from scratch, to establish a new order to fill in the lack of moments like this one:
Still sleepy, I take our dog out for a walk, like I do every morning. I stop for a moment on the porch. I put on my son’s shoes. I can hear the sound of urine trickling in the toilet. Dad would never close the door behind him. “Hi, Dad.” “Hi, Ula.”
There is no coming back, there is no consolation, there is only an attempt to live reconciled with the loss.
Memories recorded just in case #1
That night, the ambulance came for the second time. My turn to watch over Dad. I lay down in Mom’s place. It was almost two in the morning. Dad was lying calm, breathing lightly. He didn’t wheeze. He would raise his hands sometimes and move them as if he was threading something. I asked him if he was asleep, although I didn’t really expect any response. He said he wasn’t asleep. Clearly, consciously. We started talking, I have no idea about what.
“Uleczka, I don’t think I can make it,” he said it as if he was trying to explain himself, as if he felt sorry he had disappointed me. I promised to stay by his side. I stroked his hand. We didn’t say anything else.
Those might have been his last conscious moments. I woke Mom up and lay down in the next-door room. I heard every word they said as they were recalling the births of their children, the walks with their grandchildren, the quad ride on their last holiday together. I heard Mom’ singing. “The Father’s House”. She kept singing until early morning and I tried to stifle my sobs, so as to hear it better, so as not to disturb them.
Those hours have been the most beautiful (or perhaps the most important) ones in my whole life so far.
Lanzarote — an island of browns, dark greens, reds, and whites. Dad’s favorite colors. I used to tell him a lot about it. I used to think that time was uncountable, that we could go there together the following year.
I start crying over salmon tartare served on avocado and wasabi spread. Mom starts crying as well. The white tablecloths, the ocean, the wind in our hair, the Christmas trees on the tables, sprinkled with fake snow.
I look at Mom through tears; behind her, there’s a landscape of volcanic rocks and small white houses. The beauty of my Mother and the Island have something in common, a certain austere grace. This is first time I have seen her this way.
How can I steal cookies from myself?
Is it time I grew up?
Since my childhood, the time before Christmas has been full of devising plots how to sneak in and eat the freshly baked cookies. I was told off in the same way when I was ten years old and thirty years old. In the same way, I would sneak into their bedroom, in the dark, with a chair, to snitch a box full of cookies from the top of the wardrobe and to stuff my mouth with them.
Today, I baked them with Mom. Nobody reprimanded me, nobody told me to whistle (Dad knew I didn’t like to talk). I feel as heavy as an elephant, I miss this mouse-like lightness in hunting for crumbs. I did not cry today, I laughed.
Two questions, two sides of the same coin.
I wanted to give myself a present for my thirty-fourth birthday. Thirty-four mundane things that I always wished I could do but had never done. I wrote them down at night, before falling asleep.
— drilling a hole in a wall. — calling my Polish teacher to tell her how much she contributed to my future life as a high school student. — wearing hair rollers. — driving a tractor or an excavator. — eating a cream puff at Dad’s grave. — …
In the morning, it turned out that only the cream puff mattered.
There are two photos on Emanuel’s corkboard.
The first photo is black-and-white. Emanuel is three years old, I’m barely twenty. He’s holding a broken cup in his little hand. We are cuddling, his eyes say, “I want to eat you”.
The second photo shows an orchard. Dad planted it when I was a little girl. Those trees do not exist anymore. The photo preserved the now cut-down apple, plum, and cherry trees. Somewhere down there, buried in the ground, are the remains of my guinea pig, dead hens and bunnies. Among the trees, Dad is sitting on a tree stump, with Mom on his lap. Their arms and legs form a network around the solid shape of two bodies.
Love is all around.
Complete and incomplete.
The people and the objects in these pictures do not exist anymore. Some of them transformed. Some died.
„Urszulka.” „Usinka.” The nib runs smoothly on the unbleached paper.
The pen writes again. I found an easy way in Marcin Wicha’s book, Things I Didn’t Throw Out.
I’m not going to throw out Dad’s pen.
Sometimes, I don’t understand this absence at all. I am overcome with panic, as if some black pudding filled my skull.
Sometimes, I nestle up Marcin’s back.
Sometimes, I go to the cemetery. Piles of artificial flowers. Faded patches of plastic. Among them, one of the few graves decorated with real flowers, rotten now.
I feel a connection with their sharp smell. I see beauty in their slippery texture, unification of colors. And again, for myself, I want this stickiness of life/dying.
Mom is now using Dad’s phone number. I haven’t changed the name in my phone. So from time to time, “Dad” calls me.
I like those bits of seconds before I manage to remind myself that he’s not there anymore.
Afterimages are my treasures.
“Shall I put the potatoes on?” – his last text message from him.
The photo I didn’t take.
The end of summer, long shadows. Two large walnut trees. Behind them, a wall of corn and thick grass (it should have been mowed a long time ago). The sunrays have difficulty piercing the leaves. Greenery is devouring the world.
Between the trees, there is a hammock in the color of red clay. The folds of the material reveal tired feet with cracked heels (the old man) and the top of a bald head (the baby). As if the body changed its time-scale inside the red belly of the hammock.
I approach them. I look at Dad. He is wondering if he should enjoy the beauty of the moment or fear its finality. I know this and he knows this.
Scared, he gets up and walks away before I ask him if I could take a picture.
Nine months of the unbearable absence.
“The Time of the Stone” is a project on the borderline between art and literature – a story of the experience of mourning the death of a close person. Mourning is treated as a pretext to look inside oneself and to learn to perceive this difficult yet important time in life with great respect and humbleness: through mindfulness and seeking beauty, goodness, and love. The project is an attempt to stop questioning one’s feelings, to stop judging, explaining, or rationalizing them, to stop making them useful in any manner.
The visual part of the project consists of about thirty gourds which have been dried and preserved at various stages of growth and decay. Some of them are “healthy”, they can be processed and transformed into lamps, home decorations, or musical instruments. Others have wrinkled, decomposed skin or show traces of dry mold. All gourds carry golden veins that resemble the traditional Japanese method of repairing valuable ceramic ware – kintsugi.
Kintsugi is a long process of mending pottery, where the broken pieces are joined with lacquer and the seams are decorated with gold. This way, the scars on the broken objects function as ornaments and attach new meanings to them. The objects become even more valuable than before breaking. The harm becomes precious and the process of repairing draws attention to the notions of destruction and construction.
The texts accompanying the objects form a mourning diary which I wrote from the first day after my Father’s death for about a year. The diary is an intimate record of the particular stages of mourning as well as the search for different form of the deceased person’s presence, when the physical presence is impossible. In the journal, I look for a proper language, adequate words, descriptions of states and emotions that can be useful for speaking about loss openly and without fear. For me, bereavement is not something that comes from the outside, that can be met, found, encountered. Bereavement is created – it is an act of creation.