[I wrote this on January 14th, 2016, and have been too much of a coward to post it till now. Here it is exactly as I wrote it.]
She is awoken by the chirp of her phone. “Is it true? The guy who was Shape died?”
Seeing immediately through the autocorrect, she delves into her network of tomes and reports to discover it is. She is filled with a deep sadness, but though she weeped openly at his on screen death, now her face is as dry as she is empty.
She is 18, and she stands there as the dirt is thrown onto the casket. It hits her that never again will she hear him talk about Fish Filets on Fridays, or statues from Portugal, or tales of bread and milk and the great depression. She stands there while her sisters weep on either side of her, and her boyfriend wraps his arms around her slim waist to discover her almost catatonic. The only drips on her face were from the rain.
Scrolling through facebook, she sees it. The man who first taught her that men can wear tights, and may have something inside them of interest, is gone. And while her heart breaks at the wealth of amazing things he was unable to bestow because of time cut too short, it shamefully pops into her head. She is a pop culture welfare queen, a taker. She will never give back in that way. So she sighs and she closes her phone and ignores it. Because pain can always wait, just like everything else.
She is 15, and in the small living room of the tiny house a woman lays on a bed wailing in pain. This woman who was once her grandmother is tended by her husband. The house smells of must and sweat and saline, the very sterile and the very opposite. As she is told that it is only a matter of weeks, she sits and stares at the statues from Portugal. She has to keep it together, because this is the way of it. It never ends.
That summer when the beloved comedian died, she was shaken. She couldn’t watch his movies with the others. Knowing the sadness behind the humor was not some kind of secret. She had seen that man behind the curtain many times, although from another wizard who was maybe not as great and perhaps more terrible. She laid there in bed and thought about all the things he wouldn’t do, and all the things he had. She rolled over and went to sleep.
She is 13, and sat in the car looking at a catalog to distract herself. If she was honest (which you shouldn’t be about the dead) she had never liked the woman, the old roommate of her beloved great grandmother whose passing earlier that year she honestly couldn’t even remember any more or ever again. The children were all left to sit and wait in the van as the body had been there for 4 days. Children should not be exposed to such tragedies, her mother said. “I hope someone cares about me enough to miss me after just one day” her sister weeps, the tears dripping from her cheeks into her champagne ringlets. She pulls her tiny sister in and whispers “me too,” although she knows that when you are dead you are gone, and it only really matters to those left behind.
A few Christmases ago, when the ache of her community a time zone away was pulling at her, she opened her timeline to see he died. It seemed such a terrible way to find out. Agony should have it’s own font, to do justice to news such as this. He was 14. He was going to be a chef. He was surrounded by family and friends and she wasn’t there. It seemed selfish to weep, her with her 2 children, healthy and whole. She went about her day as best she could. The loss of such potential weighed on her, the injustice of it. Nothing was fair. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust… but we are stardust, though some of us shine brighter than others.
She is 11, and her mother was with her great grandmother weeping in the bedroom. The children were told to stay in the living room and wait for the body to be picked up. While her father was distracted by the baby, she sneaks off to use the bathroom and finds her grandmother. Or what was her grandmother any way. It is shocking, how not you your body is once you die. She snuck back into the living room and never told anyone what she saw. Staring at the little statues and knick knacks on the table, she makes a promise to herself. She will live her life furiously while she has one.
Before the move, before her second child, she sits in her mother’s kitchen while her father tells her his kidney’s are failing. She was prepared for this. She had practiced this in elementary school that Easter, the first time the paramedics came to bring him to the emergency room. She had long known the dangers of chronic illness, the family history of autoimmune disease. As her mother frantically gave her grandmother instructions for caring for the 3 of them, her sisters clung to her. “Will daddy die?” one asked her. “No” she lied. She knew then that everybody dies. The only eternity is what you leave behind when you go.
She was not yet 2, this story more myth than memory. A ball of light and life and chaos she ran around joyful and loud. Except around him. He was weak, and wore a mask to cover a face ravaged by illness and surgery. She would crawl up into the bed and lay with him, intuitively aware that there were times of action and times to be still. Hopefully she will not forget.
She has an idea. Instead of making notes, she just does the whole thing, right now. Ignoring the other things, the distractions and obligations. What is fear when you know what will happen to the best of us? To put things off is the greatest disrespect to those who have come before. She writes, although she worries it is too personal, or too specific, or too self centered. Mourning, however, is always personal. It is always about those who experience it, those who are left behind. She decides that maybe she should leave something for those who come after her, so that there is something worth missing.
And she weeps.