My mother died in Kentucky on March 5, 2019, at the age of 72. She had been admitted to the hospital after a bleeding incident, attributed to the blood thinners she was on, when they discovered her pulse was abnormally low. She would need a pacemaker installed. A routine procedure. And then. Then, the attending surgeon pierced her heart. The sac surrounding her heart filled with blood, what the death certificate calls a cardiac tamponade. She was alive, or in that vaporous state between, for roughly an hour.
At 3:06 PM, I received a phone call from the attending surgeon while I was teaching a college composition class in western Massachusetts. My students were watching Don Hertzfeldt's animated masterpiece World of Tomorrow Episode 2: The Burden of Other People's Thoughts. In it, a clone named Emily 6 time travels to the original Emily in order to copy/paste Original Emily's personality and memories over her own. Life in the distant future is bad for clones like Emily 6, and Emily 6 does not want to continue to exist as she is. She would much prefer to be someone else, herself included.
I muted the call and sent it to voicemail. I was used to these calls from other procedures my mom went through, some far less routine than a pacemaker installation. I was used to the tired sounds of surgeons, all of them men, exhausted and seemingly annoyed that they had to tell me all had gone okay. As the film played in the dark classroom, Emily 6 dancing joyfully while the copy/paste operation begins, while she is beginning to disappear, I read my phone's transcription of the voicemail.
"Hey Mr. Volk this is Dr. M-- I am I want to tell you about um this is Volk your mom she's had a complication during ______________ um give us a call back at ---- and a [surgeon's name] on the cardiologist to work on her thank..."
I stepped out of the classroom and called the surgeon.
I remember only fragments of our conversation.
--in a healthier, younger person, I'd give it 40%+ chance--
--my mom's? her chance?--
--her heart stopped, but we got it going again--
--should I come home?--
--what? yes, I think, yes--
I live in Massachusetts, and my mother lived in Kentucky. The routineness of a pacemaker implantation had failed to prepare me. On my break between classes earlier that day, I'd gone to the tiny Chinese restaurant across the street from campus. I'd tried calling her. These procedures were always delayed, and my mother loved to complain about how long it took to get going. My call went to her voicemail.
When I got back into the classroom, the film had stopped playing, and the students were all sitting in static black silence. The projector was loud as it projected a black rectangle, still luminous, on the wall. I've marveled before at my students' hesitancy to do anything to re-shape the classroom. They'll plunge into a darkened classroom and keep it that way, until a teacher comes to flick the switch. How long had they been sitting there? How long had I been gone? Time was underneath experience, and it was immeasurable. She was still, and had not yet.
"Emily, I am slipping," Emily 6 tells Original Emily.
She tells Original Emily: "Tell [your friend] I am glad we were both alive at the same time."
My students stared at me, waiting for me to re-shape the classroom.
"I hope you enjoyed it," I said. "Have a good spring break."
This is an essay about the heart of my mother, which seized and stopped. It is also an essay about writing and the games people play, though my mother was not a writer, and she didn't love to play games. In this way, it is an essay about deflection, about avoiding the heart of the matter while circling endlessly around it. The blood fills the outside sac. It caves in the center.
My mother had the heart of a revolutionary. She grew up poor in the west end of Louisville, Kentucky, the first in her family to graduate from college, and so the first to go on to graduate school and become a doctor. I have no way to fact-check it, but the story told in my house was that she was the first pediatric gastroenterologist in Kentucky. As one of a handful of women in her graduating class in 1973, my mother had many stories about how hard it was for women to be heard in any room, much less the sterile ones of hospitals and academia. When she went up for tenure at the University of Louisville, she was passed over for her male colleagues, though she'd published more and been awarded Best Pediatric Professor in 1981. The predictability of my mom's career, and the treatment she received, is unremarkable for the time. This might explain why I never seek out male doctors for my own care: I think of their faces, and their exhausted voices, carelessly telling my mother no. In any case, she left the University of Louisville to form her own private practice. For a time the room was hers, and in it people listened to her.
My mother's politics was a mix of the reactionary and the revolutionary. She voted Republican up until 2016, when she disbelievingly told me she'd turned into a Democrat. When a nutcracker painting contest was held in the seniors home where my mother lived, my mom was widely expected to win. She was a gifted visual artist, drawing and painting coming naturally to her, and she'd won other arts and crafts contests (best door wreath, for one). But she lost the Best Nutcracker, coming in at a miserable third. Why? "I painted my nutcracker up like a hideous Donald Trump," she said. "That didn't go over well with the awards committee."
She certainly would have voted for Joe Biden in 2020 and, I like to imagine, Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary. She'd gathered a reputation at the seniors home of being "that crazy liberal one" the other seniors whispered about, the kind of woman who could make you so mad, so incapable of speech, you took out your teeth to throw at her as the final word.
Her revolutionary work was cultural and pragmatic. She opened a free medical clinic in the Portland area of Louisville in 1971. The pamphlet announcing the opening shows my mother listening to the heart of a child. She offered free, or nearly free, care at her private practice to patients in a state not exactly known for looking out for its neediest. She saved far more lives in material ways than I and, I imagine, many of us ever will.
And she was revolutionary, even decadent, in the kinds of culture she put before me and my brother. My first R-rated movie was Aliens, watched between my fingers, curled up beside her on the couch at six years old. I had never been so scared. Aliens remains my favorite movie, the one that comes most readily and effortlessly when the question is asked, even if I acknowledge it is nowhere near the best, not even in its own series.
My mother's cultural decadence caught suspicious glares. When Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut came out in 1999, she knew that I wanted to see it more than any other movie that year, since I'd been on a Kubrick binge recently, devouring The Shining, Clockwork Orange, and Dr. Strangelove. I was only 15, though, and couldn't buy a ticket myself. When we got to the counter at Showcase Cinemas, the ticket seller stumbled through his horror.
"It's a mature film," he said, looking past her to me. I'm sure I blushed: being noticed, at that age, was a blushable offense.
"My son can handle it," she said.
That most parents and children can't handle the taboo of watching a movie about sex together is, to me, hilarious. Every parent/child relationship is an innuendo, a gesture to the bedroom, and yet we, in America at least, are trained to never speak of it. In this way, Puritanism gets to have its cake and burn it for witchcraft; the sex-death cycle keeps stumbling endlessly forward in buckled shoes.
I don't remember anything about the awkwardness of watching Eyes Wide Shut with my mother. The film mesmerizes like most of Kubrick, and the stuff outside the pull of the focus roils less distinctly. My mother's sense that I could handle it was perhaps a kind of projection--she could handle it, and she sensed that there was at least enough of her in me to handle it too. She loved Kubrick and she needed me to love him. This explains the infinite sense of loss I carry with me, whenever my friends don't love the things I love: selfishness is a communal project, and we absolutely want and need others to be us too. Our friends and loved ones deny us constantly in ways that are both literal and psychic, they reject us from themselves, because they need us to surrender back to them. In this way giving an inch is mortal and social.
Back in the pre-pandemic times when it was possible to gather, I used to host movie nights. One Halloween, I unilaterally declared we'd be watching The Descent, one of my favorite scary movies of the past two decades. My friends rioted.
"This movie looks like shit."
"Every movie in the 2000s looks the same, like it's flat and overlit."
"Every actor in the 2000s is hot enough to be on TV, but not hot enough to jerk off too."
They talked the whole time. The movie slanted into a shadow in the light of their conversation. It made sense: I'd declared the night to be about myself, and my audience wasn't having it or me.
But I wanted to listen to my mother, and I wanted to be her. And this kind of want was practically Catholic, the religion of my childhood: the identity was divisible, into father, son, ghost, and the act of cohering was really an act of faith. It would all come together in the end.
I felt religiously about my mother. She was prone to the madnesses of spirit and psyche of the most ardent Christian mystics. She doubted and she despaired. She was, to be blunt, mentally ill. Much of my mother's mental illness was the environment echoing her despair back at her, only ten times louder. So it goes with so many, I imagine: we would be far healthier in a country that gave a shit about suffering, and used the immense apparatus of the government to do something to fix it.
And my mother's despair could pierce through the material.
I am eight years old, and my mother is screaming. I do not want to go downstairs. Her screams pick up, and I relent. I step down. I peak around the stairwell corner, into the kitchen. I see my mother reach for the knives.
Does she see me?
She stops. She picks up, instead, an uncapped ballpoint pen on the counter. She wrenches it above her and brings it down into her belly. Again. Again. She is jabbing herself, over and over, screaming. That she does not grab the knife speaks to her madness: it is sustaining, not annihilating, and it will eat through her slowly, not all at once. Later, when the madness has gone back to where it goes, I see her belly: a field of purple bruises, blooming in the brightness of her skin.
I said I wanted to be my mother: Jesus takes the cross for the father, he is also the father, the father is he. One day, in a better future, none of this talk will make any sense. But the present is an expanse of mystic madness. I used to think as a child that I would give anything, anything, to die before my mother. Her death never seemed distant; it was distinct, and in focus, just left of center frame. It circled endlessly the heart of any scene with her at the center. I told myself, and God, "Take me. Don't take her. Take me." I prayed for death to spare death. My annihilation seemed good, even bearable, if it meant not having to witness hers.
Mothers inspire this talk of transubstantiation, of bodies leaking into bodies. Once, we were a part of their bodies, they were a part of ours. Our first rooms were their bellies, the first place her madness had sent her to wound, over and over.
Did she see me?
My mother was drawn to movies where the women did the work and the men noticed. She loved Diane Keaton, for one, who dressed like the boys but retained some feminine core that was alien, and so unknowable, to the men who filmed her. Woody Allen chases after Keaton in Annie Hall, and she tells him no. Finally. And she loved Sigourney Weaver most of all, who also dressed like the boys (in space, no one cares about your inseam), but retained some feminine core that was alien and alien-less, and so unknowable and also uncontaminated, to the men who filmed her.
Sigourney Weaver embodied an idea of feminine possibility that my mom would never fully embody herself. Weaver was beautiful and hard, tall as the boys and yet skittishly thin as a doe, her face chiseled, even handsome, but not brutish or punishing. In both Alien and Aliens, Weaver's Ripley is competent, collected, and usually right, and people start dying when they fail to listen to her. My mother was beautiful but petite, and even smaller in her final years when she was bound to a wheelchair. In the various nursing homes and rehabilitation centers she cycled through in those final years, my mother gained a reputation for being bossy, demanding, rude. Her caretakers would often take me aside, in the bleached hallways, to say how difficult my mother was, expecting me to agree and commiserate. But I didn't agree and I didn't commiserate, in part because of the horror of these hallways: I watched through doors desperate, weak patients, pushing their call buttons just for a plastic cup of water, just to go to the bathroom, just to have someone to talk to, and I saw how long it took for answers. Hours. They fell asleep thirsty. They soiled themselves. They moaned and wailed. Sometimes, my mother included, they screamed for help.
"Aren't you wearing a diaper?" they would sometimes say to my mom, after she'd begged for hours for help get out of bed to use the bathroom. "Just go in your diaper."
The indignity was unbearable, and yet you survived what was unbearable, for long swaths of time. Though I didn't view most of my mother's caretakers as bad people, I saw them as members of a bad system that made monsters out of its most vulnerable. My mother knew the quality of care that was necessary for dignity, and she knew the gulf between that and what she received. That she named the gulf, pointed to it, and pressed desperately the call button for rescue, made her a monster to these exhausted caretakers. They despised her because she articulated exactly what was despicable about the whole matter of the place. They rarely listened, and there were no consequences for not listening. The monster could not stalk them through those bleached hallways. The monster could not lift herself out of bed to urinate.
Much has been said about how Ripley was originally written as a man in Alien, and that in order for a woman to be successful in film, she had to be imagined first as a man, then grandfathered into her womanhood. And in Alien, Weaver is iconic as an image, though as a character she is, like her crewmates, more schematic than constructed. The environments of Alien are the real stars, the pathetic fallacy made into the awesome fallacy, and the alien itself, that bionecrotic blend of H.R. Gieger's most perverted anxieties, of vagina dentata and phallocentrism, of motherhood and parasitism.
Ripley doesn't become a person until the sequel, Aliens, where we learn in a scene cut from the theatrical version, but restored and later canonized by the fans, that Ripley is a mother. Ripley's motherhood has launched a thousand dissertations, and I don't know what original thing I can add to the conversation, besides my own mother. But I love that even Aliens itself can't agree on Ripley's identity, and whether or not she needs to become a mother to also become a person. In the director's cut, she's a mother of a dead child, who we learn lived a full life while Ripley slept agelessly in cryogenic stasis. She receives a photograph of her deceased daughter, and time splits, just as the versions of the movie split.
Ripley's daughter literally lives beyond her, in a way that reroutes the mother/daughter order of rational time. This sci-fi conceit allows the daughter to become the mother, the mother the daughter. They are caught in the birth/death cycle, the maker and the made, and like the alien embryo pulsing beside the heart, it eats at Ripley from the inside. We leak and bleed. The alien's acidic blood becomes another convenient metaphor for the water that fills us, that gives us life: we are burning ourselves out from the inside, and the call is coming from inside the house.
In both versions, Aliens goes on to make Ripley a mother-through-adoption, with her assuming caretaker responsibilities of the child Newt. But the third film destroys the Newt storyline quickly and ruthlessly, with Newt dying off-screen before the title scroll. If Ripley is going to be a mother in the movies, the various men who've sketched her outline seem to be saying, it will only be as a mother and destroyer of the alien itself. In Alien 3, Ripley finally becomes impregnated herself, with a queen alien to add insult to pregnancy, and her final act is transcendentally sacrificial. The director David Fincher doesn't bother to make any of this subtle:
Hallelujah, daughter of Man, mother of God.
But Ripley's daughter lives on, and memorably at that, in the video game Alien: Isolation. Much like the first film, Alien: Isolation is a masterpiece of setting and mood. It follows Ripley's daughter, Amanda Ripley, after she learns that the flight recorder of the Nostromo, her mother's missing ship, has been discovered. The flight recorder is being held on the Sevastopol, a space station operated by the sinister corporation Weyland-Yutani. Communications are down on the station, and of course Things Are Not As They Should Be.
Alien: Isolation belongs in that genre of play known as "survival horror". Survival horror distinguishes itself mostly by mechanics that mean to replicate ineffectualness, where the player is outnumbered, out-resourced, and punishingly vulnerable. These games tell you, You are not enough. The Resident Evil series articulates your ineffectualness through scarcities of ammo and health packs, requiring the player to aim perfectly, or else be prepared to run frantically, as they are hounded by zombies, mutant dogs, and vegetable golems. But the player can still explode a zombie's skull with a gruesome splash. And you will likely end the game with a rocket launcher. (Reader, I do not think I could use a rocket launcher if I found one hidden in, say, the kitchen of the local bowling alley.) Alien: Isolation has entirely different ideas. Though you have limited resources yourself, there are no rocket launchers. Power returns to the monsters, where it belongs (a powerless monster is a tyrannical misnomer). The game teaches you early on that the alien stalking you can't be killed, it can only be endured.
And the endurance is grueling. I'm not sure I've played a more gruelingly nightmarish game before or since. The alien pounds through the ducts above you, it nail-clicks across the metal floor tiles, it hisses and pounces at a coffee mug that has fallen from a bumped table. The designers have programmed the alien's paths to be largely random, and the creature is that most horrific of things: unpredictable, and so unknowable.
The look and feel of the Alien universe is remarkably replicated. Hallways are ostentatiously ribbed in leather.
The computers and view-screens are deliciously bulged and cathoded, the typography chunky green.
In one delightful twist, the designers make saving your game a chance to doom yourself, with you desperately putting a card into a console and waiting...waiting...and waiting. The alien thunders up behind you, you hear its breath, and then:
It's no surprise that many players find all of this too exhausting. Games are largely fantasies of control and power, after all, and they demand that the puny acolyte you are at the beginning is not at all the god you become by the end. Games like Super Mario make you the god, because while Mario stays himself, you become better at being him, jumping, tossing fireballs, kicking shells, plumbing the plumbing. Games like Super Metroid make both you and the character god, because Samus becomes a better version of herself through various power-ups and extra life, at the same time you become better at being her. Though you pick up various tools in Alien: Isolation that slow the alien down, the path to godliness has vanished. And god, if he's out there, can't or doesn't care to hear you scream. You cannot stop this inevitability, which is alien and one-minded. I'm not sure what being good at this game looks like (though I'm sure those masochists exist). "I admire its purity," the android Ash says in the original Alien. "A survivor... unclouded by conscience, remorse, or delusions of morality." You exist to be annihilated.
I can't help but wonder what my mother would have made of the game, which I played in the months after her death, just as I can't think of Ripley without thinking of my mother. My mother hid in those hallways with me, and screamed when I was pursued. My mother loved Alien but she loved Aliens even more, a flaw in taste I've also inherited. By the end of Aliens, Ripley suits up in the iconic yellow work loader to take on the queen alien. The fight still doesn't feel fair, but she is at last able to step forward when faced with the alien, rather than stepping backward. The movie's director James Cameron is a popcorn auteur, and his instincts are to get even the most distracted ones in the audience, the ones necking in the back rows, to look up and cheer.
There is no stepping forward in Alien: Isolation. It's a game of retreat, deflection, and growing loss. You lose forward, in this sense, a disastrous run sometimes being just enough to make it to the next checkpoint, the next place to catch your breath, the next disaster to lose forward. When I made it to the end of the Sevastopol Station, I had no desire to go back or play again. I felt as I imagine Amanda Ripley must have felt, Amanda, who'd suffered with me the whole way. She deserved to be left alone. I turned the game off, and my mother seemed to turn off inside me too.
The last time I saw my mother was for Christmas. We made a trip to see The Favourite, the kind of outing that required planning all the contingencies ahead, given my mother's disabilities. As we sat in the dark of the theater, The Favourite playing out its story of 18th century women losing forward, my mother began to complain of a pain in her leg. A day before, a spot had appeared on the skin there, the skin that was always so contused and dead-looking, and fragile, so prone to breaking, given the vasculitis she suffered. She whispered to me that it hurt.
"Should we go?" I said.
"It really hurts," she said.
I had never known my mother to abandon a movie before the end, and this one wouldn't be any different.
"Let's wait," she said.
For the rest of the movie, she would reach her hand down to touch the spot, grimacing. She suffered forward.
Outside the theater, my mother needed to use the restroom. My mother's powered wheelchair couldn't fit in my car, so we'd had to use one of the foldable, powerless ones instead. But my mother wasn't strong enough to wheel herself around. She needed to be pushed. I couldn't help but see that pushing my mother with my hands was a kind of video game experience, she was my avatar, and so she was me, but less capable. The inputs were narrowed to the fewest levers of experience. The women's room accessible stall was out of order, and I felt the rage I usually feel when faced with these mundane problems of accessibility, when the game doesn't let you do what it should so obviously let you do.
"I really have to go," my mother said.
I wheeled her into the men's room, but my mother pleaded for me to turn around.
"No, please, no," she said. "It's embarrassing."
We went next-door to the Valu Market. Their women's room was dingy and lit by a single fluorescent light, half of it burned out, and the accessible toilet's wall-bar looked like it was positioned lower on the wall than accessibility code allowed.
"I can manage," she said, waving me out of the stall.
I wavered. These moments when she had to leave her chair, and so my control, what occupational therapists call "transfers", always felt balanced on the pinpoint of success and failure, of the highs and lows, the air and the floor.
After she'd finished, I heard the grunting sound she made when trying to lift off, to transfer back into her chair. It all happened so quickly. The gasp, the clatter of the wheelchair being pushed against its locked brakes, the dull sound of my mother falling to the floor.
"Help," my mother said.
I stepped into the stall, into a space that was not my mother's agony, but something like the confessional next-door. She was on the floor. The floor tiles looked smeared with ash. I knew what would happen next: if my mother fell, it always took two, sometimes three people to lift her back up. You had to be careful with her. Her skin was so fragile. And her spine was pulverized, what her orthopedist, another man, once exhaustedly described to me as a ball of "noodles". I couldn't lift her myself. Her cheeks were red from effort, from something I can't name. I can't write this without screaming. And the scream feels as shaped as the words. She hadn't been able to lift her underwear. Her bottom looked so smooth and clean, like a baby's, which astonished me. I covered her with my coat, sitting beside her on the floor. I made the call to 911.
Nothing I write could lift my mother off the floor. As the writer Joy Williams' dying mother wasted away, Williams describes how "the day would come and she could do none of these things, she could not even get out the broom and sweep a little. She was in such depression and such pain and she would cry, If I only could do a little sweeping, just that. ... To sweep with a good broom, a lovely thing, such a simple, satisfying thing, and she yearned to do it and could not. And her daughter, the writer, who would be the good broom quick in her hands if only she were able, could not help her in any way. Nothing the daughter, the writer, had ever written or could ever write could help my mother who had named me."
My mother returned to a nursing home after that fall, as she usually did after all the other falls. This nursing home was close to an Indian restaurant my mother loved, and so I would bring her butter chicken and garlic naan so she didn't have to eat the unsalted cuts of beef they served her, the child cups of canned fruit and the leathery pudding. My time in Louisville was coming to an end, and I'd be heading back to Massachusetts soon. I thought I'd get my mother to watch the film Annihilation, which I was certain she'd love, since it's about capable women in a science fictional setting. My mother was helpless for that kind of movie, and she was immediately hooked.
Annihilation follows a group of five women as they venture into the "Shimmer", an anomaly that has appeared in the Florida Everglades, where the laws of physics, nature, and all matter, for that matter, have ceased to be explicable. Organic and inorganic merge, blend, become. Matter into spirit, spirit into matter. In the Shimmer the women gradually get picked apart, absorbed, becomed: one is devoured by a bear that, when it returns to hunt the remaining women, screams with the scream of the woman it has devoured; on the skin of another, a field of flowers and vines begins to grow as she sanguinely disappears into a bower of weeping moss. This kind of Catholic conception of identity also leads the film to a Catholic conception of despair: the film is really about people faced with their unbecoming, with death and the life, if you could call it that, beyond life.
As directed by Alex Garland, Natalie Portman's character begins the film in grief, having lost her husband, a soldier sent into the Shimmer. A year or so has passed. She is lost in grief, or, more accurately, perhaps, she has become something new on the other side of grief, which is a loss and a gain. Becoming as shedding. She is upstairs in her home. Someone who looks like her husband opens the front door. He ascends the staircase. He finds her on the second floor. Crosby, Stills, & Nash's "Helplessly Hoping" plays on the soundtrack.
Wordlessly watching He waits by the window And wonders At the empty place inside Heartlessly helping himself to her bad dreams He worries Did he hear a good-bye? Or even hello?
They are one person They are two alone They are three together They are for-or each other
How had I forgotten? Crosby, Stills & Nash (and Young) was my mother's favorite band. I grew up singing "tin soldiers and Nixon's coming" well before I knew the raging history behind the lyrics. Crosby, Stills & Nash are a band of harmonies, first, in my thinking; I hear the merging and blending of their voices first, before I hear anything else. Garland must think of them this way too, for a movie about becoming and unbecoming, for the madness and beauty of blending.
And my mother is weeping in her nursing home bed. The song has opened her from the inside, and time has collapsed into other times. We are back in her car, listening to "Helplessly Hoping" as we drive to the movies to see Eyes Wide Shut. We are in the car listening again after the movie, in line at the White Castle drive-thru. We are driving home to the smell of sour onions. We aren't here, at the end of our time together.
"Do you want me to stop the movie?" I say.
"No, no, it's so good," she says.
When Marcel Proust lost his mother, he was said to have changed irreparably. They were close enough that she would read the love letters he sent women and men, sometimes tearing them up if his handwriting wasn't good enough. Their love was not without these kinds of eruptions. Once, she bought her son gray gloves instead of the green ones he wanted, and he smashed a Venetian vase like the vase was her, or their love, or both. In a letter to George de Lauris, whose mother had just died, Proust writes,
“Now there is one thing I can tell you: you will enjoy certain pleasures you would not fathom now. When you still had your mother you often thought of the days when you would have her no longer. Now you will often think of days past when you had her. When you are used to this horrible thing that they will forever be cast into the past, then you will gently feel her revive, returning to take her place, her entire place, beside you. At the present time, this is not yet possible. Let yourself be inert, wait till the incomprehensible power ... that has broken you restores you a little, I say a little, for henceforth you will always keep something broken about you. Tell yourself this, too, for it is a kind of pleasure to know that you will never love less, that you will never be consoled, that you will constantly remember more and more.”
To find pleasure in never being consoled seems to me like the annihilating attitude we bring to punishing games like Alien: Isolation, or to any art, for that matter, that leaves us bereft and glowing. There is a kind of pleasure to be found when what you've lost grows, as the negative space surrounding any life grows the longer one lives. There is a kind of pleasure when what you've become feels less and less like who you were. There are no words for this becoming. And the words that could never summon the heart of the matter become even more useless at being useless, if that's possible. The words fail, and their failure can't be reckoned against. No one can hear you scream. That's peace. That's heaven.