End of the Line

Rhiannon Catherwood

(USA)

At about seven years old, I got the notion stuck in my head that I was going to go to jail.

I never brought it up because I knew I could offer no explanation. I was not a troubled child in a behavioural sense, I wasn’t friends with a rough crowd, and I had no intention of committing any particular crime. Nevertheless, the thought kept coming back – it seemed inevitable. As though one day, I would be colouring or building Lego villages, and a police officer would approach and take me by the arm and say, “All right, that’ll be enough of that, you didn’t really think you were going to get away with it, did you?” And I would lower my head in resignation and say, “No, no, I knew this was coming sooner or later.”

In retrospect, the most likely explanation is that I was a child with a secret – something which made me bad and which would upset everyone to hear. It’s certainly possible that, being unable to clearly imagine the consequences of that secret coming to light, my flailing subconscious fell back on the idea of getting locked up. It’s also possible that I was just too young to conceive the concept of death, and so my mind’s first attempt to consider my own demise took the form of a gruff man in a blue uniform instead of a reaper in a black cloak. 

Or maybe these are both true, disparate fears bound up in each other. Maybe I suspected before the age of ten that the secret I carried might doom me altogether, that I was already somehow barreling toward oblivion. 

*****

A decade and a half later, I remained at large. I spent a lot of time on the road, exploring the country, though it’s just as fair to say I spent a lot of time on the run, hiding out. At least I found some interesting places along the way. For a while, I had a thing for the haunted ones. 

One of the best-known haunted houses in the United States was made by a woman who was also on the run, and it is also possibly the only house to be built explicitly for haunting. As the story goes, Sarah Winchester, East Coast heiress to the fortune of the Winchester rifle company, began seeing the ghosts shortly after her husband died in 1882. A psychic explained that she was haunted by all those who were killed by Winchester rifles. In an effort to escape the vengeful spirits, she fled west until she ran out of west, at which point there was no alternative left but to make a place for them. So, she bought a very small house on a very large plot of land in San Jose, and she began to build. 

By now, the house and its history have been the subject of dozens of documentaries and fodder for all kinds of supernatural fiction. Most agree that the continuous construction until her death nearly four decades later was designed to confuse the spirits with its twisting maze of corridors, to keep them from finding her as she slept in different rooms each night. According to some, she believed she had to continue building new rooms as more and more souls of more and more slain kept arriving. They say she received building instructions from the ghosts themselves, delivered through seances in the tower. Though, they also say she only insisted on building, building, building, without any blueprints whatsoever – the less logic to the design, the more easily she might escape into the labyrinth.

But none of those stories capture the experience of navigating it. 

I’ve always had a strong sense of direction, and the blueprints of buildings I visit etch themselves quickly onto my mind, but the details of the Winchester House dissolve out of my memory like a shaken sand mandala, leaving only disorienting impressions.

The exterior, with its opulent garden and tiered façade, Victorian to the extreme, painted olive and cranberry and banana, doesn’t immediately reveal the disorder within, save for the occasional minaret that dangles upside-down like a stalactite or second-story door that opens out to thin air. But entering feels like walking into an Escher painting. Some hallways bend around corners only to immediately stop at dead ends while others seem to extend farther than they physically should. At times, they lead in circles. Windows designed for exteriors offer glimpses between interiors, and doors are flat on floors, opening into rooms below. At points, it is as though many houses have collided, wedged together to share the same space. Staircases layer and cross over each other, intersecting in knots of steps and platforms.

There’s a stream-of-consciousness quality to it, so unplanned and continuous that its sequential additions often seem dictated by instinct and whim. It feels less built than grown, and less like an organism than a tumour – sprawling and clawing its way into the world, as pointless as it is unstoppable.

Yet here and there, behind some of those doors, there are such beautiful rooms. Gloriously trimmed, dense with intricate filigree, walls sparkling with mica paper and parquet floors changing colour in the sunlight, full of life and love. I could simply never explain how to find them.

And there is a strange cohesion about it. As disjointed and chaotic as the house looks from the inside, something in the delicate arrangement of these layered stairwells and windows and corridors makes me think that if only I could view every room in its entirety all at the same time, from the correct direction, at the right distance, it might all line up into a perfect image, like a constellation. Though I suppose I should be careful setting out in search of that vantage because any of these doors might abruptly lead somewhere unexpected.

*****

When I was nineteen years old, I went to a friend’s party hosted at his family’s house, which was not haunted. For years, he told us, they had believed it was – there were noises, the occasional huff of breath, drifts of cold from the basement. But no, he explained, it wasn’t a ghost. It was a person living behind the walls.

“Bullshit.” I was mildly incredulous. I think I would have more quickly accepted that a spirit inhabited his house than that a flesh and blood person had managed to live in the bowels of a midsize colonial going all but undetected.

So he showed us the basement closet with the wood-panelled walls, and the segment of panelling that could be easily removed if pried just right, and the hidden space within where they had found someone’s possessions. He showed us the back door leading from the basement to the yard, and the recently installed doorknob to replace one that had apparently been loose and easily jimmied open. He showed us the footage from the digital camcorder they left running the night they set the belongings they found in a box outside the door with a printout listing resources for the homeless.

The video resolution was low, the basement was dim, and the window in the door was foggy. But unmistakably, a shadowy figure appears, tests the door, bends down, and lingers for a moment before vanishing into the surrounding darkness.

Someone else said what I was thinking, “Woah. It almost looks like a ghost.”

My friend shrugged. “I’m pretty sure it was a real person.”

*****

Like many people, one of my most frequently recurring dreams involves hidden rooms in my home. I’ve had them all my life. Sometimes I move furniture and reveal a hatch or tunnel that I hadn’t seen before; at other times, a door or stairwell appears in such an obvious place that I feel silly for failing to ever notice. Across the thresholds, I find entire chambers littered with books and furniture, raked with the soft light of dusty sunbeams. I find collections of antique appliances. I find copies of the rooms of my house, as though it were a duplex and I had somehow never realized. I find impossible vaulting spaces. I find doorways leading out into altogether different streets than the ones I’ve always known.

And then there’s the little girl. She isn’t always around, but she lives in the hidden rooms. I worry about what she eats and whether she’s lonely, but she doesn’t seem concerned. She plays by herself, and she reads, and she waits.

Of course, as it turned out, she was a real person too.

*****

Somewhere, behind one of these doors, my father and I will be sitting across from each other in a restaurant booth, and I will finally confess. I won’t bother with words he doesn’t know like “transgender,” but I’ll tell him that for as long as I’ve known anything, I’ve known that I should have been born a girl. I’ll tell him that the next time he sees me, I’ll look a little different. I’ll tell him I’m sorry, and I’ll cry.

And the loose, spotted skin of his wrinkled and weathered hand will enclose mine, and he’ll tell me that he loves me, that he’s proud of me, and that he’ll help me in any way he can.

It will be beautiful.

If only it weren’t so hard to find my way there.

*****

Less than an hour from the Winchester House, most of the way up the peninsula toward San Francisco, there stands a necropolis, a city of the dead, the only one of its kind in the United States. As the story goes, around the turn of the twentieth century, space in San Francisco was at such a premium that they had no room for the deceased, outlawing any new internments and mandating that those already buried be exhumed and transported elsewhere. Elsewhere was the tiny town of Colma, California, where the excavated remains of 150,000 San Franciscans were deposited in mass graves, their headstones sold for construction material or dumped unceremoniously into the bay.

Following the migration of the corpses, Colma carried on as a burial site for the city. To this day, three-quarters of the town is taken up by cemeteries, and with a population of around fifteen hundred walking over a million and a half bodies, the dead outnumber the living a thousand to one. It has been called the “City of the Silent” and the “City of Souls.” Their official motto: “It’s great to be alive in Colma.”

The word “necropolis” conjures up imagery of the ancient world, but it is just as accurate to say that Colma was the logical evolution of modern burial practices. Until the 1830s, graveyards in the United States followed a European tradition of being placed beside churches. With so little room, coffins were sometimes buried in stacks five or six deep, and in areas prone to flooding, those coffins sometimes rotted away, their contents floating to the surface, and the streets would run with remains. When concerns over health risks (and real estate) arose, we began to build cemeteries separate from the cities of the living, as though we knew the dead didn’t belong with us, but we didn’t want to let go of them entirely either. So, we gave them prettier places to inhabit, nearby but safely separate. The first cemeteries were also, in a sense, the first publicly maintained parks, designed to house our departed and allow us to commune with them at our leisure in pristine natural spaces.

Colma certainly is that. To say the town is mostly cemeteries is really to say that most of the town is quiet, green, open, and brimming with austere sculptures and monuments. Even the rolling hills with thousands upon thousands of identical white markers standing like rows of blunted teeth are humbling in their stark elegance. Though I suppose, to a psychic, it might also be rather crowded.

*****

In my early twenties, the years after my mother’s death and before my gender transition, I lived in an apartment building that some people said was haunted. One of the oldest buildings in town, and the only skyscraper on a little island in the middle of a river running through a Chicago suburb, it certainly stood out. Like any poorly maintained building almost a century old, it groaned with the wind and the elevators regularly broke down. Like any building unusually tall for its city, it came with stories of suicidal women who leapt from high-up windows like mine to plummet to their deaths in the polluted river below – and theories that they still roamed the halls, moaning and stinking.

I liked it because it had a big bathtub.

I remember some nights in that apartment feeling strangely preoccupied with the space taken up by my body. I thought about the volume of it. The weight. I weighed around 140 pounds back then – so what portion of that 140 pounds was my left leg? What about my hand? My torso? Some nights, I would soak to the neck in that unusually large tub, and I would watch the level of the water change when I rolled to lift one arm out, or when I sat straight up and let it lower to my waist. I would get out and in and out again, oddly fascinated by the water rising and falling. Maybe I was thinking, then, about how much of my body was me, and what might be added or taken away while still leaving me me.

Then I would turn out the lights and put on some broody jazz and stand at my 17th-story window, naked, dripping dry over the radiator, looking down at the distant dark waters and up at the sparkling sky.

*****

To the Mesopotamians, the constellations Hydra, Corvus, and Crater came together to form a gateway to the afterlife. We have largely forgotten this as most of our names for star patterns are inherited from the Greeks, who didn’t associate any constellations whatsoever with death. This may be because the Greeks believed souls did not reside in the sky but rather below the earth, or at best on its surface, at the most distant edges of the world. Hence the possibility for their wandering hero to say to his ship’s crew, “Yes, yes, we’re going home, but first we’re going to literally sail to the afterlife so I can chat up a blind prophet and hang out with my mom.”

The fact that the hero’s men heard this and replied, “Fair enough, that seems reasonable” speaks to two understandings: first, a conception of the afterlife as a tangible physical place, and second, a knowledge that sometimes amid our journeys, before we can go forward, we have no choice but to reckon with the dead.

*****

I haven’t been to my mother’s grave since the funeral. In fact, I don’t know where it is. I made a point of failing to learn the name of the cemetery. I remember what it looks like, but that place for me is disconnected from the rest of the world to the point of being almost immaterial. Extradimensional. In my mental atlas, there simply is no route by which to drive there. This is not to say, though, that I never visited her.

To me, the cemetery had no connection to my mother’s life, only to her death – the kitchen in the house where I grew up, on the other hand… this was the place I could find her. Where she would always be standing soaked in the amber afternoon light and the smell of pasta sauce and the sound of Miles Davis playing on the stereo. The kitchen was the opposite of the graveyard, and this was the place I felt closest to her. Where she would sing songs and tell me about her dreams and I would practice figuring out what they meant. Where I could hop up to sit on the off-white laminate countertop and tell her anything.

Almost anything.

I was going to tell her. Eventually. I was. I was going to.

*****

For the survivors, death is not an ending but a shattering. The story isn’t finished, it’s broken – and all things planned and never written lay at our feet in shards.

We thought we knew the story, even if we didn’t like it. When mom mentioned that she had gone out shopping and got stuck in the parking lot because she was unable to remember not only where she parked her car, but what it looked like. When she forgot why she came into rooms. When she made dinner with a recipe she knew by heart but stood and watched us while we began eating in the adjoined dining room, as though she didn’t realize she should come along until we prompted her. We thought we knew where this was going – the word we whispered to each other was “Alzheimer’s.” 

Then she fell down the stairs.

*****

When the cells that make up our bodies age and whither, new cells grow to take their place – this happens every day. Sometimes, though, they begin to build without blueprints, multiplying beyond reason, expanding without control. When this happens in the brain, it can cause anything from confusion and partial memory loss to massive seizures, which in turn can cause death, especially if you have them in the wrong place. 

*****

I’ve always had a good memory, but the night my mother died is little but a churn of horrifying impressions. When I think back on that time, I invariably return to the image of her standing in the kitchen as we sat down to eat, smiling at us rather than coming to join us. As though she knew. As though she were a half step away already. But I realize that this is only me, in retrospect, trying to impose a narrative, to make something senseless make sense.

*****

Consider: constellations are only constellations to us – they have no objective existence. Of the four bright stars of Corvus, for example, the nearest is 87 light years from our sun and the farthest is over 318 light years from our sun; they are hundreds of trillions of miles apart. Their pattern and proximity are illusions entirely reliant on our position and perspective. They might still appear if we were to look for them from the surface of our neighbouring planets, which are fairly close in a cosmic sense, but from another solar system? Another arm of the galaxy? The stars are still there, but we would not recognize them. 

*****

It is not uncommon, sadly, for the parents of transgender people to react to the transition as though their child has died, or even to verbalize that response, their narratives peppered with words like “grieve” and “mourn” and “loss.” I’m not sure we should blame them. We may roll our eyes. And we may scoff, indignant. But we have a word for when someone calls us what we were called at birth. They are using our “deadname.” 

Still, we stand before them like ghosts in the flesh, faintly recognizable, having never left at all. We are still here – we moan as we rattle the chains we’ve thrown off. We are real people. Can’t you see us?

*****

In the haunted apartment building with the big bathtub, I had dreams in which my mother’s spirit visited me. At least, I was convinced of this at the time, of the indefinable sense that she was not a projection of my own psyche but a being in her own right. She was there, and she was angry.

The truth is, I had my reasons for not telling my mother my secret. If there were, in a sense, two different versions of myself (with two different wardrobes) of which my mother knew only one, then there were versions of her as well, and I knew more than one. 

I knew my mother who sang angelically and taught me how to write. I knew my mother the lioness who cursed out my grade school bullies and my grade school teachers who failed to stop them. I knew my mother who took care of me when I was sick and gasped with her hand over her chest when she saw me doing something dangerous. I knew my mother who cried when I went off to college and pumped her fists in the air and roared with pride when I finished my degree. 

But I also knew my mother who could never quite let go of the conservative religious sensibilities with which she was raised. She loved my writing, but she did not like it when I wrote stories about queer people. The word “disgusting” came up once or twice, but more often it was just the question regarding my characters: “Why does she have to be gay?” 

“I don’t know, mom,” I would say. “She just does.”

This was the mother I’d pulled away from in those last years. As close as we’d once been, the more I accepted my own truth, the more I felt separate from her. I came to think of her, of home, of family, as the opposite of that truth. Really, this had as much to do with the era in which it happened as anything else. It was a time when for so many of us, leaving the closet meant leaving home and finding the door locked behind you. We just expected this. 

And this was the mother who visited me after she died. The dreams weren’t all the same. Sometimes we would be among others, and sometimes we would be alone, sometimes at restaurants, sometimes at home, but in each one, she would sit, legs crossed arms folded, a half turn to the side, her face scrunched up, unwilling to look directly at me. I would try to talk to her, but she wouldn’t answer. She didn’t need to – the situation was perfectly clear. She knows absolutely everything about me now. And she absolutely hates me for it. 

And there was nothing and no one to tell me otherwise. 

*****

There was a professional psychic in the town where I grew up, the type who for a few bucks will contact your lost relatives or tell you your future. I went to see her when I was in high school, sat down in her front parlour draped with mismatched fabrics reeking of incense and sat at a small table in a rickety chair with stained upholstery. I didn’t have any lost relatives yet, so she took out her tarot cards. I don’t remember much of the reading except that somewhere along the line, she drew the DEATH card – a skeleton clad in black armour and mounted on a white horse trampling over a fallen king. 

In those days, I remember making morbid jokes about planning to die young. It didn’t make a lot of sense. I didn’t do drugs (yet) or have dangerous hobbies (yet), and I never would have acknowledged, even to myself, the kind of depression that might lead to suicide. But on some level, as surely as I once expected to go to jail, the idea of dying young stuck in my mind as a distinct possibility. Like I was still carrying within me the seeds of my own destruction. 

The psychic was quick to tell me, as I already knew, that the Death card does not necessarily indicate a literal death, but rather a change, a transition, the closing of one door necessary to open another. 

Anyway, her house caught fire a few years later, which presumably came as a surprise, so she may not have been very good. 

*****

And yet, behind one of these doors, my father and I will be relaxing on the couch and telling old stories, and he’ll shift his head to the side a little and squint and tell me that when I straighten my hair like that, I look so much like my mom when she was my age. It will be a beautiful thing to say. 

He will tell me about other versions of her that he knew before I was born. My mother, who ran away from home and fought with her parents. My mother, the nightclub singer, who could memorize songs in languages she didn’t speak in as little time as it took to read the sheet music. The mother, who pursued and proposed to my father at a time when women didn’t do that kind of thing. I’ll say that I wish I’d known her back then, as though we might break time and rearrange it to suit our desires, that we might meet as two people, the same age at the same time. 

“Oh, Rhi,” he’ll tell me, smiling and looking off someplace else at something I can’t see, “you two would have been the best of friends.” 

Of course, time being a hallway down which we march inexorably in only one direction, we will never know for sure. 

And he will tell me about other versions of her that never got the chance to be, but that he will be convinced are just as real – like the version of her that would have thrown off every past prejudice and loved me as her daughter. 

We’ll never know this for sure either. But that one’s my fault. I couldn’t find the way to that room soon enough. Or maybe it was right there, and I was too afraid to open the door and find out what was on the other side because it could as easily be an abrupt exit into empty space. 

*****

For a lot of westward road trippers, San Francisco is the logical end of the line. For a lot of queers too, in more ways than one. 

Historically, when queer people left the closet, they went to the city. By the 1970s, San Francisco earned a reputation as a gay promised land, a place at which to finally arrive. The place of the Castro Street Fair and Harvey Milk. It has been variously described as the “gay capital of America” and a “gay marriage Mecca.” A modern city, a place for progress. 

Though to explore some of its most striking architecture is to find a city groping backward in time. At the heart of Golden Gate Park, one can wander the tiered pagodas, stone paths, and taiko bridges amidst cherry blossom trees at the 16th-century Japanese Tea Garden. Near the marina, the Palace of Fine Arts stands like an Athenian temple, with its Greco-Roman style pillars and statuary half-circling a towering rotunda and a lush lagoon rippling with the splash of swimming swans. 

Then there are the houses. The “painted ladies” of Alamo square and similar rows of densely packed homes are designed with the same elaborate Victorian decadence as the expansive Winchester mansion. Gay essayist Richard Rodriguez wrote about these in “Late Victorians,” about the irony of these homes, so tailored to the traditional and multigenerational family, having been repurposed, converted into apartments rented out by gay men. His essay wasn’t really about architecture, though. It was about death. For a lot of gay men in the 1970s, San Francisco was the end of the line. 

From the presumed non-continuation of the generational family to the horror of the AIDS epidemic, from queer-coded vampires and murderers in fiction to the pop culture trope of gays and lesbians dying in TV dramas, maybe it isn’t surprising that there has been some cultural association fostered between the concepts of queerness and death. Something so deep in our collective unconscious that I sensed it as a young child. And when I started to accept my own queerness, even as I felt like I was finally coming to life, I simultaneously felt that now, I didn’t belong anywhere near the light of my mother’s kitchen. I belonged somewhere else. 

*****

The difference between death and life is a lot less clear than it sounds. 

Historically, defining the moment of death has been a shifting endeavour. At one point in time, a person was considered dead when they stopped breathing. Later, that definition was revised to the moment when the heart stopped beating. More recently, brain activity has been considered the most reliable indicator. Even now, debates continue over higher and lower brain activity and the status of coma patients. The tricky thing is the matter of resuscitation. Any layman’s definition of death would include a quality of being irreversible, but bodily damage that was irreversible a few decades ago is readily and easily reversible now. Still today, one can be brought back from a state of “legal death” or “clinical death.” 

But this kind of reasoning, however significant for matters of inheritance and insurance, will never answer the more essential questions – when does the person leave? When does the body become only a body? And where does the person go?

Pythagoras said that the spirit existed before life and after death. Descartes thought it was located in the pineal gland of the brain. In 1907, a doctor in Massachusetts tried to demonstrate the physical existence of the soul by weighing patients at the moment of death to observe a difference in mass. Based on a finding from only one of his only six total subjects, he felt comfortable arguing that the human soul weighed 21.3 grams. This, the scientific community widely responded, was bullshit. 

The truth, however, is much stranger – that there is no difference. That if I were to slip my head underwater in that big bathtub and dissolve into a lifeless cloud, the water level would not change. Our selves only exist in the complex positioning of it all. In some fundamental way, all of us are only a delicate arrangement, a constellation of particles, molecules, cells, tissue, memories, feelings, and the way we wear our hair. Can we really blame the more superstitious among us, the psychics and the ghost hunters, for believing that sometimes, if they just shift a little to the side and squint, they can still make out a person whose pattern has drifted apart? Maybe they’re right. Constellations are only constellations to the observer anyway. 

As much as we might spend our lives learning to understand ourselves and define ourselves, it always begins with an observer. Babies don’t recognize their own reflection in the mirror until around 18 months. So in that earliest time, before mirrors, before memory, before language, before therapy, how do we conceive of our own being? By the look on our mother’s face – we are the light reflecting in her eyes. She sees us, so we exist. She smiles, and so we are wonderful. Whatever else we might become, we are what we mean to others, and that doesn’t stop existing. 

So where does it go?

*****

The Greeks mapped five rivers flowing to the underworld. These included the Styx, across which the ferryman Charon guided the departed, and the Lethe, from which the dead would drink to erase their memories of the living world. And the Cocytus. On the banks of Cocytus resided the wailing shades of those whom the ferryman would not offer passage because they had not been properly buried. They seem to have understood – even the outcasts need somewhere to be. 

*****

When they made a horror movie about Sarah Winchester and her house, they played a little loose with the details. Winchester, for example, did obsess over the number 13 – 13 lights in a chandelier, 13 windows in a room, 13 parts of her will which she signed 13 times – but she did not confine the ghosts by boarding the doors with 13 nails. In fact, she didn’t try to confine them at all. The house might be called a maze or a labyrinth, but one thing it is not is a prison. She did not build the ghosts a jail; she built them a home – comfortable, beautiful, luxurious. 

At the same time, she built it for herself. Sections of the house have very low ceilings befitting a woman just under five feet tall. Others feature “easy riser” stairs – shorter steps over a longer area – for the sake of her arthritic legs. The design feels, in a sense, like a negotiation, a compromise between her needs and the needs of the spirits, a peaceful agreement that belies the more dramatic kind of haunting that makes for good scary movies. 

Maybe I just prefer to imagine that somehow, in the end, she and her guests put their differences aside and worked it all out.

*****

And maybe behind one of these doors, I will stand once more in the quiet of my mother’s kitchen, and without warning, I’ll see clearly. As though I’ve stumbled into that perfect vantage to which everything is aligned. I’ll see that version of my mother that my father was convinced would have been, and I’ll realize I’ve seen her before. The same mother that had been my first and fiercest defender, who had cheered and championed me at every turn… why did I ever think she would have stopped?

I will decide that if she was ever angry at all, it wasn’t because of the thing I’d never told her… but rather simply because I’d never told her. That my great crime wasn’t the secret I’d been born with, but rather the keeping of it. The failure to believe in her. I’ll believe with my whole heart then. I’ll weep with the sureness of it. It will be beautiful. 

But there’s only one way there. 

*****

Consider: constellations are really kind of silly. Corvus, for example, has four bright stars. To draw lines between them could result in a letter C or N or maybe just a rough trapezoid, but one thing it will never look like is a crow – not without a whole lot of imagination. They are less a pattern in the night than a pattern we impose upon the night, a sense we try to make of a senseless, random thing. 

On the other hand, senseless or not, those patterns we imagine can still show us how to get where we need to go. Sail onward, this way lies heaven. 

*****

Back in my haunted apartment, I stood again at the window halfway between the murky river and the starry sky, thinking about my mom.

The logical part of my mind knew, even in the thorniest thick of my grief, that the palpable sense of my mother haunting my dreams was only a projection of my own fear. I had never told her my secret – now, I never would tell her. The permanent absence of any real reaction she might have had created an empty space, an echoing void into which everything I dreaded rushed in and became manifest. Knowing this, however, didn’t make it go away, didn’t make my mother’s spirit any less angry or her icy silence any less painful. 

But it did bring me to another realization. For so long, I’d been so afraid of opening a door and stepping into a place of separation, loneliness, and rejection. All the while, I’d failed to see that I was already in it. And if I didn’t do something, I would be in it all over again, in it forever. There was still no guarantee that opening the door would lead anywhere better. There was no way to know that one day, I might look back on these fragments of memory and story shattered by the senseless horror of my mother’s death and make meaning out of them, that I might reflect that out of this separation came a greater connection than I ever could have hoped for. No, I couldn’t have known it back then. 

The threat of a deeper, darker, starless black still loomed. 

But I opened the door anyway. 

I put the phone to my ear as I stared out the window, held my breath while it rang, and finally said, “Hi Dad… Yeah, I’m back in town… I’m sorry, I know it’s late… No, no, everything’s fine, but… Can we get together for dinner soon?… There are some things I’ve been wanting to talk about…”

Rhiannon Catherwood

is a

Guest Contributor for Panorama.

Rhiannon Catherwood lives in Syracuse, NY, with her wife, son, and cat. She is a teacher, circus artist, photographer, and road-tripper. She believes that good fiction should expose truth and good creative nonfiction needs creation.

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