Vanishing Monuments by John Elizabeth Stintzi
English | 2020 | General Fiction/Classics | ePUB | 3.3 MB
Alani Baum, a non-binary photographer and teacher, hasn’t seen their mother since they ran away with their girlfriend when they were seventeen – almost thirty years ago. But when Alani gets a call from a doctor at the assisted living facility where their mother has been for the last five years, they learn that their mother’s dementia has worsened and appears to have taken away her ability to speak. As a result, Alani suddenly find themselves running away again – only this time, they’re running back to their mother.
Staying at their mother’s empty home, Alani attempts to tie up the loose ends of their mother’s life while grappling with the painful memories that-in the face of their mother’s disease – they’re terrified to lose. Meanwhile, the memories inhabiting the house slowly grow animate, and the longer Alani is there, the longer they’re forced to confront the fact that any closure they hope to get from this homecoming will have to be manufactured.
This beautiful, tenderly written debut novel by Bronwen Wallace Award for Emerging Writers winner John Elizabeth Stintzi explores what haunts us most, bearing witness to grief over not only what is lost, but also what remains.
When the doctor calls I’m standing in the kitchen in my little house in Minneapolis, drinking the microwav’d ends of this morning’s coffee, and as soon as the doctor says the words about Hedwig Baum—about Mother—the girl who runs away comes back into my bones. She takes over, like a surfer on a wave of fear. The first thing she does is put down the coffee and move me into the bedroom, to grab the old camera from its place atop the cabinet where I keep all my gear. As soon as she makes my hands lift that old, coated brass machine, and as soon as she’s slung its strap around my neck—something that I do most days, without her—I know she’s built up too much momentum to stop. To stay.
This camera, this old Leica III, was hers. Mother’s. The mother whose dementia the doctor is telling me appears to have taken completely her already dwindling capacity for speech. The dementia she’s been living with for about half as long as the seventeen years she had with me.
While the doctor talks into my ear, the running girl pulls out from under the bed the piece of luggage—luggage I don’t think I’ve used since Genny and I went to Chicago, in 2007, for a talk I was giving on the body as an indirect object in figure-based art. The talk that came after I’d watched the I-35W bridge collapse into the Mississippi from the bridge beside it—the 10th Avenue Bridge—that I was driving across, watched the bridge and Genny’s trust in engineering and infrastructure and our whole world fall out of sight. Luggage I hadn’t used since I’d tried to take her away from here to pull her out of that.
“We’ve been keeping an eye on her,” the doctor says, as the packing continues, “and she hasn’t spoken, as far as we can tell, in roughly a week. Her responsiveness to being addressed has also decreased. She has had accidents. Well, more.”
This is the first time the running girl has come to usurp my body since I ran away to Hamburg, Germany, in 1991, to escape Genny and the relationship I’d thought I was in, to try to get away from the me that I’d been living as, which had suddenly felt like a lie. The first time the running girl ever took over completely was when I ran away from Mother, from Winnipeg, with Genny, when I was seventeen. In the middle of the night, having removed my bedroom window with a pry bar. That was the last time I was there, in Winnipeg—almost thirty years ago.
That night was the first time the running girl grabbed the camera. The first time that girl got her way. Mother was not speaking then, either. But for a different reason.