When I was eleven, my grandfather died and I got a writer’s block that lasted years. Death had not only halted his life, but also my ability to express myself. I had no words for this loss. It felt like he took everything that belonged to me with him. Without my consent or my knowledge. Maybe it had been attached to his life from the beginning, and I was unaware of the connection. And I felt robbed.
A double-edged affection went missing, an ambivalent grandeur, the image of him writing and contemplating wars and grief, a language between two people. I talked myself into his survival, him being in the same room with me, in the dark corner, looking at me, consoling me when I felt isolated and hopeless. But I was scared too. Scared to really conjure him up, to really see him there with me, his eyes, the horror of his tormented face that I evoked in my mind. His figure pressed against the yellow wall. Waiting for me, to move, to pick up where we left off, to re-ignite the conversation. I had called him. He was the initiator. I felt like I was unable to lead myself forward, or lead myself at all.
My sister must have known that I was crying. There was no light in my room. I didn’t need it. I wanted everything to be adapted to what I was feeling. My door was locked; that always gave me a feeling of protection and control, that I was in charge of who was worthy to be let in, that I chose to be the hostess, or not. That knockers were forced to reveal their identity to me before I said yes or no. That was my solace. My parents hated it when I locked myself in, but I had good reasons, it was a helpless effort to keep certain things at bay, to give myself space and possibly a prison. I exiled myself.
My sister would ask me what was wrong. I wouldn’t speak, I felt tongue-tied, as if I had nothing to say, ever, anymore, as if I had not been allowed to speak for several reasons. I felt observed and judged. In the limelight of a dead person. My sister and I exchanged notes written on a small piece of paper, shoved under the door. I would only use the weak light that came through the slot. I told her that he was in here with me. She asked, who. I told her, him. I can’t remember what she said, maybe that it couldn’t be, that he was dead and it’s over now and that I was scaring her, I don’t know. She felt my desperation and need for someone to pull me out of there, out of my mind and imposed guilt. The swooshing of the note brought me back to reality and I was afraid of myself, the power of my imagination, his breath on my neck. I can’t remember the exchanged words between my sister and me, but she was there for me. As I turned the light back on, my room felt surreal.
The death of my grandfather and my ensuing writer’s block are connected, I just never understood how. I think my imagination had the power to awake the dead. The suffering. What I had conquered. The liberation death had provided. I thought in my imagination I would meet him, again and again, in many forms, never to be able to escape all these feelings that choked me more than motivate me. I was sure he would be there, persist, stare at me, begging, not letting me off the hook, he would never be silent and I evoked a desert in my mind to be finally alone, all my emotions aligned without having to say a word or justify myself. I think, then, he resigned, pained, surely, and did what was probably best for me, leave me alone until my own words and thoughts came back to me and I lost the fear to put them on paper.
“Sappho” by Adolphe Piot (1825-1910)