Sensitive content: Death
Unpacking a whole life is exhausting, and any reprieve is enough to quickly excuse myself from the task. With the last rays of sun peering through the dated brownstone window, the smell of dust filled the room assaulting my lungs. Clouds of it swirled in the light displaying the toxins of my past: dirt, dead skin, and regret. As I sift through my belongings looking for any form of a distraction, I come across a box I hoped the movers missed while loading up the rest, but instead they found my past, dragging it along with me. Carefully, I ran my fingers under the tape, as if not to wake the beasts inside. With shallow breath, I lifted the cardboard flaps up to see the brushed, recycled aluminum with an Apple logo reflecting my face back to me.
I lifted the laptop out of its cardboard grave along with its lifeline, connecting the charger to the ancient outlet and back to the computer. Shortly after, it taunts me that it's coming back to life, awakening from the dead. Hesitating for minutes, avoiding the rest of the boxes that need to be unpacked, I type in the password and look at past FaceTime calls. The same name repeats itself day after day, missed calls, hours of logged calls, and texts, reminding me like it’s a type of electronic headstone, reading “Sonya.” Decades of friendship flash through my mind, memories of drunken graduations, embarrassing wedding speeches, getting our first “grown up” jobs, getting fired from those jobs, and the hospital visit to see the birth of a first born child. Sonya was everything to me.
Her spouse knew Sonya and I were each other's soulmates, we came to each other for everything. We spent hours on end, even sharing a bed for sleepovers in our early thirties when we realized it was late in the night and weren’t ready part. Age didn’t hold us back from being the same girls we were when we first met in middle school. I remember her walking into our first class together, being the one those were whispering about while peers steal side glances as she walked past the desks. It was only a rumor, but teenagers quickly learned the death of her brother, and exiled her for the bad omen of her supposedly causing his death. The new student wouldn’t survive on her own.
The first few weeks of school, no one dared to speak with Sonya, avoiding the superstition of bad luck she seemed to project. I couldn't stand it, the way she sat there in the lunchroom alone. It brought a weight to my chest, and I needed that weight to be lifted, so I sat with her. That chance I took was all we needed, and no one had come between us. After time, I had learned of the accident with her brother, and why she avoided lakes and oceans since then. Their depths swallowed her whole, leaving only room for terror. The trauma of her witnessing her younger brothers drowning never left her, and because of that, I could never leave her, either.
I begin to scroll intently through her Instagram, Facebook, our past messages and saved photos, trying to immerse myself back into old memories. I think back on those quiet moments we shared filled with secrets and confessions, how nothing we have encapsulated on this screen transmitting back to me can emulate the relationship we had, only a sliver of what I had lost. Everything she lost was incomparable.
It may have only been two months since the accident, but Sonya quickly started to withdraw herself. The first two weeks after her loss, she was nearly catatonic. I couldn’t leave her in that state, sheets twisted around her body in her bed, her partner grieving alone in the spare bedroom, blinds drawn down so it never appeared to be day. The smell of merlot and sweat permeated through the bottom slit of her bedroom door reeking of despair. After the fifteenth day, she had enough. I was shouted at, shown no mercy, and all my flaws and faults were exposed by her. I was forced out.
Days went by, I had called her incessantly thinking she would need me again. Declined calls and undelivered messages started a freefall of anxiety within me. All I could think to do was go by her home, pound at the doors pleading. Sonya would eventually open the door, a few days of silence, her weeping and dark rooms would continue, until she went into hysterics again, lashing out against me. Words are like whips to a bare back, and only your closest friends can commit such raw punishment. This repeated for months, and I let myself continue this as a form of penance, with each time taking longer for Sonya to let me in. Eventually, she stopped opening the door.
The news articles I had bookmarked to the browser. I forced the mouse over the links and clicked them to load the tabs until the computer reminded me it’s now after one in the morning, but I continued on, refusing to move forward with unpacking. In the dead of the night, I am stuck in the past, rereading what had happened. Loss and grief take up all edges of the darkness, and the only light is the retina display advertising my mistake from multiple news sites. What the articles don’t mention is the mistake of purchasing a rural home, the mistake of purchasing land filled with trees, fauna, wildlife, and streams. The mistake of trusting myself with him. The mistake of allowing his adventure to take hold, his curiousness to know no bounds, his playfulness leaving my line of sight.
Every Tuesday, I provided him time to explore that land. I would show him the trails, teach him to use binoculars to watch the different species of birds, and collect arrowheads we found along the way. As he neared the age of eight years old, I began to trust him that late spring to not wander too far. Another mistake.
Sonya regularly had to be at the network to report those evenings, so Tuesdays were our day. Josiah loved Tuesdays. Storms are unavoidable, cracking the sky open to leave floodings and drown the world out. Some days, they come unanticipated, taking new directions with no reverence for your plans. That day, Josiah’s small body wandered in and out of the woods, finding little treasures of fossils and pebbles from the stream for his mother when she arrived later that night to get him. A storm was originally headed East, but wanted to reroute itself and cleanse the North, moving in faster than expected. Right before, I made cookies and cake for a boy in the forest. Rain dropped in quietly and unannounced, then all at once. By that time, I was pushing through the screen door while the atmosphere started buzzing loudly. I ran for Josiah, screaming over the trees that were shuddering from the weight of the rainfall and vibrations of the thunder. My voice couldn’t carry far, and by the time I made it to the stream, it was flooding, begging to become a river.
Darkness allowed interruption for flashes of red and blue cast along the tree line, silence giving way to piercing wails of Sonya and police scanners. It took hours, but Josiah was found caked in dirt floating along the stream, lifeless. Sonya was reminded harshly of her brother, and the similarities between him and her son.
The mistakes were endless: leaving him alone, the purchase of the property, baking too much sugary sweet, letting him out of sight. Blame will always be put on me. The growing resentment outgrew the small moments of forgiveness Sonya rarely gave. She couldn’t bear to withstand my apologies, banging on the door, fixing her messy sheets, or restocking the merlot. Sonya let me drown in apologies, killing our friendship in the storm that this brought.
Closing the laptop, I noticed the dusk peeking through my new, unfamiliar windows, in a city where treasures can’t be found, streams can’t wash us away, and children can’t get lost playing in the woods. The brownstone home will only mimic the past with dirt, dead skin, and regret, where Sonya is far away, and can keep the memories of us buried with Josiah.