How many deaths have you experienced in your lifetime?
I’m not really referring to beloved Pops, or your great aunt. I’m referring more to the things that have happened, things that have died, that have caused you to grieve.
Humans have a tendency to prepare for and attend these metaphorical funerals more times than one may think. We experience losses throughout our lives, and each comes with its own ceremony, with candles and flowers, which attempts to mend the breaks that life has unceremoniously punched into our hearts.
Sometimes it’s the loss of the clear and bright motivation that used to run through your veins like liquid gold, draining out like final breaths. Sometimes it’s the cruel betrayal of a friend, sudden as the car crash. And while a human and metaphorical passing aren’t the same by any means, the process is similar- like for a funeral, we find out the news, we gather flowers, we rehearse dull words over and over, we get dressed in black, and we drag our feet, heavy as cement, to the ceremony. And we watch a part of ourselves die.
For me, that was you.
It’s a Thursday. I hear your car outside my door- a familiar sound, burned into my memory by the past years. I don’t even remember how long you’ve been in my life at this point. Every movement I make feels like it’s in slow-motion, a moment that should be stamped in history, except no one seems to care except for me. This is probably the last time I’ll put on the dress you like, because I never really liked the way blue looks on my skin. This is probably the last time I’ll patter down the stairs, careful not to wake mom, to meet you outside, before it happens. My numb fingers turn the lock to open my door- this is the scariest one of all.
I get into your car, like so many times before. But the air is different today, dense with the spirits of doubt and heartbreak rather than your ocean breeze air freshener. I’m not surprised- though you may have thought you weren’t making it obvious, a man has yet to impress me with his subtlety. Because in fact, the day of finding out the news was many moons ago.
I'll admit, I don’t remember exactly when you stopped kissing me at red lights. I don’t know when I started noticing that when we drove down the streets next to the ice cream shop, you didn’t point at the huge sign, saying how its coloring reminds you of our math teacher’s face- splotchy and red. I don’t remember the last time I exclaimed you were being mean while giggling and dribbling strawberry ice cream down my chin. I can’t recall the first time I went to sleep without first smiling at the sweetest messages from you, that I actually always wrote down. I never told you because I didn’t want you to get embarrassed and stop. I can’t name the day your caring turned to indifference. I can’t pinpoint the day that your sarcastic jokes that used to tickle me lightly began to jab me in between my ribs.
But I guess if you took all those days, those days of warning signs, and averaged them, that would be the day I found out the news. The news that you simply didn’t love me anymore.
For a funeral, now would be the time to gather flowers- useless items to attempt to decorate and honor what we lost. Futile. Like decorating a skeleton with a bow. I guess that’s pretty close to what’s happening.
As we sit in the car, my leg burning with the absence of the hand you always used to place on it, I think about the preparations I’ve made- the neatly organized box filled with your sweatshirts, a teddy bear, and sports jerseys. I don’t usually organize things nicely, as my mom often points out. I guess in a way I was trying to honor you- almost make a shrine. Maybe if your orange sweater is folded well, I’ll feel better about it all. Maybe if I kiss the teddy bear before putting it in the box, you’ll feel it somehow, though it feels like you’ve stopped feeling kisses from my actual lips a while ago.
Like someone staring at the mirror in their black clothing for too long before the proceedings, I too surveyed myself today in my dress. I had known I’d wear this one, because I wanted you to see me in it for the last time, and it felt right. It seemed like a dress code I had to adhere to. I smoothed down my hair fifty times, like I’ve seen my mom do before her father got buried. As if he’d notice or care. As if you’d care. At this point, you’ve seen all of me, and I can’t fool you.
We pass by the ice cream shop. Traffic lights blur my vision, speckles of green and red and white tumbling down the roads. Like a child, I look out the window and distract myself by seeing how I can focus and unfocus my vision, making the lines on the road appear dashed, straight, and dashed again.
I see your hand reach out and turn down the radio volume, and brace myself for impact.
“Hey, I need to talk to you.”
Your voice is gentle, and which makes me hate this more, because I know you can’t help it, I know you didn’t want to hurt anyone. Souls that are meant to leave must, and there’s nothing us mortals can do about it.
You say a lot of words that don’t make a lot of sense to me, but it doesn’t really matter. Like a eulogy, rehearsed and numb, I say words back. I tell you all the things you need to hear, so that hopefully some part of this feels right, feels like it makes up for all the years we spent together.
I think you’re surprised that I don’t seem taken aback by any of this, but I may as well have been wearing black and covering my tears with a veil for the past days. I look into your big green eyes and don’t have the heart to tell you I’ve been mourning us for weeks.
We decide when I can come bring you your things, dutifully prepared. I think of ancient Egyptians getting buried with the things they will take with them to the afterlife. It is an afterlife in a way- life after me. It’s crazy that your red sneakers that I used to try on to laugh about how big your feet are will be skipping around the same Earth, but will never touch me again. They will touch the same grass, carry you across our same town. And above them, the orange sweater will be stolen by someone else, the teddy bear kissed by different lips wearing lipstick that wouldn’t suit me.
You drive me back, and you don’t turn the radio on this time. A siren slowly wails in the distance, like the ghostly music playing softly as a coffin gets carried to its final resting place.
I get out of the car, give you a hug, and walk towards my door. I look at you another time, and I feel a strange peace to see that while you’re sad, you look hopeful, revitalized, ready to carry on life without me. Meanwhile, I’ve never felt so stuck.
The siren’s music fades. Everything in the world seems to go still without your voice and your smile. It isn’t you being carried in the coffin. It’s me.