This Is Us

The River

Bridges between me and those I’ve lost

Denise Clemen
Human Parts
Published in
11 min readMar 2, 2021

--

Black and white stepping stones in a river.
Photo: baona/Getty Images

When I got through the cold they made me swim in a river, and I forgot his name. I forgot all the names. — Sarah Ruhl, ‘Eurydice’

I cared for both my boyfriend and my mother in my house. My boyfriend died in his hospice bed in my living room. Afterward, whenever I stepped onto my patio, I passed through the physical space where he sighed his last breath as I held him in my arms.

Most nights, after helping my mother to bed, I’d stand in the salty air, staring out at the lights reflected in the marina. If I turned and caught my reflection in the sliding glass door, Dan stood near me. Less than two years later, my mother left this life too. For months, whenever I sat at my dining room table, I felt her next to me.

In the beginning of their absence, I spoke to my mother and to Dan, and they often spoke back. My mother was no stranger to communing with someone on the other side. Months before she died, she conversed with her deceased twin sister every evening. I witnessed her in this eerie borderland, hovering over her martini glass as if it were a crystal ball, her head bobbing in and out of sleep. Their conversation seemed as real as my conversation with my long-dead father, who visited me after the birth of my daughter. Sixteen years earlier, I’d given up my first child for adoption. “I never got to meet your son,” my ghostly father said as he sat down at my kitchen table, “so I really want to see your daughter.” I introduced them.

We, the living, are the vessels that house the dead. We shelter them from oblivion and silence by speaking their names. We wear their neckties, their pearls, and their wedding rings. We warm our cold grief inside their sweaters. We spend their money, drive their cars, play their guitars, listen to the music they loved. We are living, breathing receptacles for the vibrations that connect their world with ours. Remembering them is a holy practice.

Some nights, my laptop is a Ouija board, my fingers suspended above the keys, waiting for an answer to materialize. On my boyfriend’s Facebook page, I revel in the music he shared, reawaken my taste buds to the recipes we…

--

--

Denise Clemen
Human Parts

Birth/first mother, recovering wife, retired caregiver, traveler, collage artist. Advocate of #adopteerights and #reproductiverights and other good things.