Nonfiction / Josie Kochendorfer
:: My Mother’s Ghost Follows Me ::
I saw my dead mother at Safeway. I saw her ash blonde hair and dark roots pulled back into a low pony and I was fifteen again. A woman with a cart asked if I was okay. I had dropped my red basket my face was wet and I could hear my breathing outside of my body. I looked around for my friends but I was alone, feet stuck, tunnel vision. The only thing in focus was my mother who was now looking at me down the aisle, frozen pizza in hand. She stood still, soaking wet, moss in her hair, rocks in her pockets. They had found her body a week ago and I began seeing her in every middle-aged blonde woman who crossed my path. That morning I bought a plane ticket to Arizona, where I would gather her things and drive her car back to my college campus. I was kneeling on the floor. A stranger put their hand on my back. I heard again, Are you okay? but I couldn’t stop crying and I was breathing too quick to get words out.
This car is too small and it reeks of cigarettes even with the air on it’s blasting Camel Lights out of the vents I remember my mother flicking cherry in the cup holder I’m seven again trying to read books by the light of the streetlamps everything in here is dead and stale if I slit open the cloth upholstery it would ooze black tobacco tar or maybe coagulated blood the way it thickens after the heart dies I can see the cars behind me in my mirrors getting closer I can hear them honking their horns telling me to go faster but I just got my license five years late and I’ve never driven on a road like this turns one after the next the edge right to my side one bump and I could fall off roll down bounce off the rocks into the water below and it would be my body they find next waterlogged and swollen identify me by my tattoos our death certificates would match cause of death: blunt force trauma
We had been estranged for five years, after her violent nervous breakdown. In the years between separating and her death, I imagined what it would be like to see her again. We would sit on a park bench. She would say I’ve missed you, I’m all better now, please come home. She would hug me and she would apologize for hurting me and I would apologize for leaving her. And when we were done hugging she would ask why I never wrote, tell me how much I hurt her, tell me I was a brat and a bitch, that I hadn’t changed at all since the last time she called me those names she would press her long nails into my cheeks and tell me how I’ve grown how I look just like her how I’ll become her if I’m not careful and what a shame that would be. She would press tighter and tell me I’m nothing without her she’s nothing without me we deserve each other.
Every night, I dream of dying in water.
I’m driving a car that gets hit and spins off a bridge.
I’m hiking and fall down a cliff.
I’m swimming in the ocean and get swept away.
I’m swimming with mermaids until I realize I don’t have gills.
I leave my sink running and my house fills with water while I sleep.
I didn’t start dreaming about drowning until after it happened, after my mind began making up images, trying to fill in the gaps, attempting to create memories from a moment that wasn’t mine. When I wake, I jolt, forget for a moment that I’m not dead. But her death has weaved itself into me, and every night, I die the way she did. Some nights we’re together again. She holds me, breathes into my ear, whispers: Do you understand me yet? Do you feel how much I hurt?
From the writer
:: Account ::
When I first started writing nonfiction, I was told my writing was too visceral and dramatic, that I hadn’t had enough distance from my trauma to effectively write about it yet. Over the years, I have learned how to reflect on past traumas with a clearer mind. As well as becoming a more experienced writer, I’ve also done quite a bit of healing and processing in therapy and on my own. I understand the strength double perspective and reflection gives to a piece. However, I think there is merit in the rawness that comes from writing inside the trauma. There is a period with trauma where it is often impossible to make meaning of an event for a while and sitting with it, not being able to do anything but remember it, feels suffocating. This collection of events is meant to show how trauma, or at least my personal traumas, manifested in that period of time: after the trauma before I was ready to process them. I wanted to create an experience for the reader to understand what it is like inside the mind of someone still working through their traumas, who has not yet gotten to the stage of reflection and meaning making. I am interested in the way we use form to match our content, and how we can manipulate craft like structure, syntax and grammar to parallel an emotional or physiological response to represent what it was like to live through events such as a flashback, panic attack, or depression. Additionally, I wanted to honor the space I believe most writers live in at some point—where they have experienced something but have not yet gotten to a place within themselves to go any deeper than simply remembering.
Josie Kochendorfer is an MFA candidate at The Ohio State University, where she is the Online Editor for The Journal.