Alumni Work: Clio Thayer and Erol Pierce
These alumni works were published in the Spring 2021 issue of the New England College Magazine.
IMAGE: “Success Is Relative: The More Success, the More Relatives”
Artist: Erol Pierce | Home State: Florida
BFA in Fine Arts ’21
Writer: Clio Thayer | Home State: New York
BA in Creative Writing ’22
I’ve never experienced literal whiplash. I don’t like roller coasters, and people always drive extra carefully with me in the car for the same reason: I get really bad motion sickness. I imagine whiplash would be even worse for me than for the person who can hold their food down on a regular basis. I’m very used to the rising, swelling, churning sensation of nausea, but I’ve never felt the snap of a harsh, dramatic movement. I’ve never had that physical response, but I can imagine it’s something like how I felt when my father died.
It wasn’t sudden, like the loss of my grandfather several years prior, or predictable, like my grandmother two months before. It was some kind of toxic smoothie of the two.
I was having a subdued two-year anniversary celebration with my boyfriend, my stomach filled with bubbly young love and my mind comforted by the warmth around me. We were inflating our egos with the accomplishment of being teenagers with a stable relationship. So healthy, so well-adjusted, so grown up for people our age. We were better at communicating our feelings than half the adults we knew, or so we told each other. The calm was scattered like a thousand startled birds when my mom called me into her office. I expected to get in trouble for being too loudly affectionate in the next room, or maybe she was going to give me The Talk again. I didn’t expect what she actually said.
She told me she’d found an email in her spam folder from my dad’s wife. I felt the usual anger twist at my lungs, this wife that suddenly appeared, who I’d only met a few times, whose wedding I wasn’t even told about until the week of. I wasn’t able to attend. My mom charged forward through my obvious frustration. She told me my father was “in hospice.” I don’t remember what I felt like immediately, but I remember asking “what’s hospice?” with some amount of disgust in my voice. I just knew he’d made some other life-changing decision without telling me, but I started to get worried at the tone of my mom’s voice. She explained to me that it was a place people go when they’re about to die, and there’s nothing anyone can do.
She said I should visit him as soon as possible. Always the pragmatist, I agreed. We should go the next day; it was a Saturday so I wouldn’t even have to miss school. She told me to ask my boyfriend if he could come with us, but in explaining what was happening, I couldn’t actually say the words and simply began to cry.
It was a three-hour drive from New York to Vermont. The drive up was thick with an awkward anticipation, but we tried to keep it light. We stayed talking, or listening to music, just generally keeping our minds busy. We passed the hotel where just a few weeks earlier, I’d celebrated my “sweet 16” with my closest friends. I felt all those memories in direct opposition to the current moment, like a drop of ice cream on a black and white photograph.
When we got to the hospice, we met up with his wife and a nurse. I didn’t know what to expect when they brought us to his room, but I certainly didn’t expect what I saw. He was lying there with his eyes open, breathing uneven and heavy. His wife said a few words to him, but there was no response. They left me alone with him.
To say goodbye.
I don’t remember exactly what I said to him. A bunch of rambling thoughts of guilt and sadness. It felt too close to praying, speaking aloud without even knowing anyone hears you. I could’ve been talking to myself. I only remember two things from that room. The first one is his breathing. It was uncomfortable, stiff, and off-beat. He was a drummer, a guitarist; he loved music, but he couldn’t even keep his breathing on rhythm anymore.
The second thing I remember is his hand. I remember staring at it, wishing he would reach out and grab me. Hold my hand, give me a hug, something. We always communicated through touch. I remember thinking that I should give him a hug, but I couldn’t think straight; and I was heartbroken at the thought that he wouldn’t hug back, that if I reached for his hand it would already be cold.
I left his room in tears. But then that whiplash came back. I couldn’t let myself linger in the sadness. I was only 16; I’d never experienced sadness that couldn’t be cured with ice cream and TV. This wasn’t the same whiplash as hearing the news; this was self-inflicted. I let my mind snap from bawling in my boyfriend’s arms to laughing at a cooking show in the waiting room. He understood that I was just looking for a distraction. He made jokes. I let the specter of my father fade in the background, let him loom over me invisibly like he had for years.
I went back to my life.
I went to school.
I went on Thanksgiving vacation.
Life went on like normal, and I forgot what had happened. I let myself forget.
My mom told me my father was dead during a flight connection. She said she thought it would be better than telling me before the first plane so I wouldn’t be as anxious and nauseated on the flight. I cried in the airport bathroom and then went on with my Thanksgiving vacation like normal. I remember emailing one of my teachers, telling him, “I’m sorry my assignment was a day late; my dad died.”