flash nonfiction

Where All My Sick Things Go by Liliana Rehorn

Where All My Sick Things Go | Liliana Rehorn

The realization that I wasn’t actually sick – at least not as sick as my mother told me I was – wasn’t as liberating as I thought it would be, probably because I never completely believed it. So when Dad came to visit me in Cork, I found myself talking about how not depressed I was, how functional I was because X (I was in Ireland),  Y (I was in yoga school), and Z (I would describe myself as happy).  

There really is a difference between having a mental illness and being a writer, I told him while we were walking along Oliver Puckett Street, and he laughed. It was Sunday in summer. The sky was grey and bright and the streets swarmed with people. There was the sound of cafe doors opening and shutting, and music playing on street corners.  

We walked and walked and the rain didn’t bother us. We walked around Camden Quay and circled back towards where I lived. We crossed the bridge near Rutland Street and the rain rippled the river. The air was neither clean nor dirty. It smelled like a hot kitchen with the door open, like soup and soapy water. 

We talked about books. About what Alexei and Karenna were up to. 

Near Douglas Street, we saw a man collapsed on the sidewalk. He was leaning with his back to the wall by the bridge. There were people crouched next to him trying to help. His face was contorted. It made me uncomfortable to watch something sad like that when there was nothing I could do, so I made it disappear and pointed out the gelato place down the road, and the organic shop where I would go to buy dates and Dutch peanut butter. 

Further up the road, Dad said the gate at home’s still broken. I thought of the gate and how the dog would stick her head through the gaping hole at the base, whining when we walked up the path to the front door. And the front lawn where Alexei and I would play paddleball, the red brick wall where I would sit with Rico in the sun. 

Thinking of all this did not evoke any sense of home. More than anything it evoked the feeling of an absence – one that allows you to think of things, but not feel them. Abstractly, I thought of Mom upstairs, sick in her room, the blinds cutting the yellow light, drawing stripes on the delicate clutter. 

For the first time, we talked about Mom – how her illness had complicated everything from fixing the gate to moving houses. I told him that since leaving home no one else had made me doubt things that had happened or been said. I told him I was never sick and it felt good to tell him that. Stepping over a soda can, I said things were the way they were because she loved me too much. I wasn’t what she wanted.

We crossed the bridge again, the water underneath tin colored and swollen. We walked by taxis waiting at the curb, then circled back the way we had come. I thought what a terrible thing it is to love someone too much. And how when you get sick you lie in bed and feel your body hurt and watch people die on television. 

We passed the spot where the man had collapsed but he was gone. It had stopped raining. There was a stillness to the air now, the puddles of water like an aftermath. 

Dad said she hasn’t been well but I knew that already. 

When we said goodbye later that night, I walked home alone and stopped at my usual place by the bridge. The two swans were on the river again, glowing grey by the branches, the reflections from the street lamps marking the water. One slept with its neck tucked in and the other just sat and was still. I felt the absence in my stomach. 

It was still there when I shut the door to my room. I sat on my bed, felt it turn over and grow. Now I wanted to remember. But it was strange – when I tried to picture my mother’s face, I couldn’t. It’s not that I didn’t remember – I just couldn’t find it. It was like walking into a room with no light and touching what’s closest – never the right things, never what you’re looking for. I found the ghost of her jawline and the pale green veins in her hands. I found the things related to her – the black bedside table with its drawers full of chewing gum and chapstick, the Buddy Lee dolls on the shelves, the stacks of clothes on the bed – but I couldn’t find her. 

The absence was terrifying in its incompleteness. Because you don’t forget, but you don’t remember either. It’s there but you can’t see it, like looking at something after standing up too fast, most of it thick black spots.

The absence exists because the thing that would otherwise occupy it is not practical to keep. Only sometimes does the thing resurface. It confronts you with the pieces. You remember some things but not all. And the more you look at it, the more it changes, and the less certain you are of what it was. 

I am sure of very little. Only the night that she slammed my bedroom door and said she didn’t after. Vaguely I can recall the day I died to her. I recall not leaving my room for eight days. Things swim detached – dust on the blinds and I hate you. I don’t know what happened. Maybe I am sick, or was.  

I haven’t been able to see my mother’s face in a long time. When I try I only hear the stairs. I see the doorway I would stand in sometimes when she was sleeping. I only half-remember things, like dead hummingbirds on the front porch. Getting pollen on my nose. I could write about home in a thousand different ways and never get it right. Just pieces of things like the sun on my neck and how heavy everything was – the leaves shaking at night, Rico on my lap, my Peter Rabbit light switch.  Transdermal patches that can make you sleep forever, and on my bookshelf rows of all my sick things: teeth in a box, my bad-dream monkey, my bones, my comb, my doll with the broken foot.  

Liliana Rehorn is from Southern California. She graduated from the University of New Mexico in 2016 with a degree in Languages, and since then has traveled and lived in Spain, Italy, Ireland, and France. Her poetry and nonfiction have appeared in such publications as Bayou Magazine and the Opiate Magazine, and she was the winner of the 2019 JuxtaProse Poetry Prize. She currently lives in Paris, France, where she is teaching yoga and pursuing a second degree in philosophy.